Man sacrifices his daughter
Main themes of the story
1. The danger of making rash promises to anyone, even God. This is an epic tragedy about a great man with a fatal flaw. He acts before he thinks. This flaw leads inexorably to his own downfall, and to the cruel death of the one he loves most. It has many points in common with Shakespearean tragedy:
2. The ends do not justify the means. Jephtah wants to win in battle at all costs - why? To be accepted and acclaimed by people who have previously rejected him. He puts his own desires above the sacredness of life - for he knows that something or someone must die if he wins the battle. He compounds the sin by failing to trust in God's mercy.
story of Jephtah’s daughter has two episodes:
The vow of Jephtah,
Judges 11:1-11, 29-33.
The consequences of the vow,
Jephtah was a man from Giliad. His family background was not what it could have been – he was the illegitimate son of a prostitute.
On two counts, therefore,
Jephtah was a
social outcast. The problem was made worse by his half-brothers, who ejected
him from the family home. This meant he did not even have membership
of the clan of his father.
ancient Israel, belonging to a family clan was essential, since it was a
person's main protection from danger. In times of trouble, the members of a clan
could usually be depended on to stand by each
other. The clan also acted as an economic unit, providing the food,
clothing and shelter a person needed to survive. When Jephtah's brothers
ejected him from their clan, they were effectively giving him something
close to a death sentence.
however, was not beaten. He may have been an outcast, but he had exceptional talents as a leader and a
fighter. Other outcasts gathered round him, so that in time he became the
leader of a sizable group of men who were also without a clan. They lived
outside the law, robbing trade caravans and raiding the herds of more
When war broke out with the Ammonites, the leaders of Gilead went to Jephtah and his men and asked for help. They believed Jephtah had the skills to lead their army successfully against the Ammonites.
Jephtah agreed to fight, because winning would make him a hero. It would wipe out the stain of his illegitimacy and give him full acceptance among the Israelites.
It was this
desire for acceptance that fueled his ambition, and under its influence he
made a stupid and cruel vow.
No doubt he had a shrewd and calculating nature - he would not
otherwise have survived. The vow he made showed he was also, at heart, a
No doubt he had a shrewd and calculating nature - he would not otherwise have survived. The vow he made showed he was also, at heart, a pagan.
‘And Jephtah made a vow to the Lord, and said “If you will give the Ammonites into my hand, then whoever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return victorious from the Ammonites, shall be the Lord’s, to be offered up by me as a burnt offering”.’
For Bible teaching on child sacrifice, see Bible Top Ten Perversions. It may be that the death of Jephtah’s daughter resulted in the banning of this practice.
Jephtah returned victorious from the battle, he was greeted by women
singers who went out to welcome him. They were led by his daughter.
‘Then Jephtah came to his
home at Mizpah; and there was his daughter coming out to meet him with
timbrels and with dancing.’
Meeting of Jephtah and his Daughter, Benvenuto de Giovanni
was a normal custom of the time, and Jephtah should have foreseen it.
Women normally went out to greet returning military heroes with songs and
poems. We know of this from other examples, including Miriam (Exodus
15:20) and the women who praised King David (1 Samuel 18:6). Deborah’s
epic poem is an example of the type of song they sang.
Jephtah saw his daughter and realized what he had done, he was distraught
with grief, but immediately ‘blamed the victim’, reproaching his
daughter for being the one whom he saw first, rather than blaming himself
f or the vow he had made.
or the vow he had made.
‘She was his only child; he had no son or daughter except her. When he saw her, he tore his clothes and said “Alas, my daughter! You have brought me very low; you have become the cause of great trouble to me. For I have opened my mouth to the Lord, and I cannot take back my vow”.
Blaming the victim is a common phenomenon in cases of domestic violence. Often too a woman who has been raped is blamed for 'bringing it on herself' or 'asking for it’.
Jephtah’s daughter heard of her father’s vow, she responded with
dignity and restrained anger. She accepted her fate, but on her own terms.
'She said to him “My father, if
you have opened your mouth to the Lord, do to me according to what has
gone out of your mouth, now that the Lord has given you vengeance against
your enemies, the Ammonites”.’
Modern writers object to the daughter’s passive acceptance of her death, wishing she had objected to her father’s vow.
But in the context of the times Jephtah had to sacrifice her, and she had to accept her fate. Her father made a promise on behalf of his people and he believed that God had accepted the promise, giving him victory in return.
the promise had to be honored despite the terrible cost, and the daughter
knew this and accepted it.
But here's a thought: is it possible she knew in advance about her father's vow, and deliberately came out of the house first, thus bringing the vow onto herself rather than on someone whom her father considered expendable, for example a servant? Could the girl have taken the place intended for someone else in order to show her father the terrible injustice of his action?
The daughter’s reaction to her fate is shown by what she did, not what she said. ‘And she said to her father “Let this thing be done for me: grant me two months, so that I may go and wander on the mountains, and bewail my virginity, my companions and I”.’
She preferred to
spend the last days of her life with her friends, not with the father whose
ambition and foolish vow caused her death. In these last days,
she wanted the company of those she could trust. With them, she mourned the
fact that she would never achieve the goal of all Jewish women: to hold her
child in her arms.
The exact method of her death is not known. If she was a burnt
offering, she would have been first killed with a knife, and then her body
This festival may in fact have been an ancient Canaanite ritual which became incorporated into early Judaism. It may have been a rite of passage for young girls as they entered adult life.
Bible Study Resource for Women in the Bible
Women of the Old Testament: Jephtah Sacrifices his Daughter