Judges 11: Jephthah's Daughter

Discussion in 'OT Historical Books' started by dildaysc, Sep 18, 2018.

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  1. dildaysc

    dildaysc Puritan Board Freshman

    Did Jephthah really sacrifice his daughter? Really?

    If you are curious about this question, there has never been a better time to join this online Bible study. We are just getting into Judges 11, the Jephthah narrative, and by the end of the chapter we will be treated to an extensive discussion of Jephthah's vow and the implications for his daughter.

    Each Bible Study installment includes a translation of Poole's Synopsis, dealing with the interpretation of the text; and practical/spiritual comments from some of the greatest minds in the history of the Church.
  2. Reformed Bookworm

    Reformed Bookworm Puritan Board Sophomore

    I really appreciate the service you are doing by translating this. I am revisiting Judges now and started reading through some of these on your website.
  3. dildaysc

    dildaysc Puritan Board Freshman

    Praise the Lord. May the Lord bless your ongoing studies.
  4. dildaysc

    dildaysc Puritan Board Freshman

    In the "Comments" section of this post, Jonathan Edwards presents extensive argumentation that she was not sacrificed, but rather devoted to the Lord as a perpetual Nazarite.

  5. Jack K

    Jack K Puritan Board Professor

    When I teach this passage, I say that what Jephthah did is uncertain. He might have sacrificed her as a burnt offering, as the language in Judges 11:31 suggests. Or he might have had more sense and backed off, and dedicated her to the Lord as a figurative sacrifice. My students always seem relieved to hear that the second interpretation is one some good scholars believe, but I'm not sure it is the correct one.

    If Jephthah did make her a burnt offering, the downward spiral of leadership in Judges seems to reach a low point here, before we ever get to the deeply flawed leadership of Samson. Perhaps it is even worse than the total lack of leadership seen in the final chapters of the book.
  6. Bill The Baptist

    Bill The Baptist Puritan Board Graduate

    I think if we would remember the purpose of Judges, which is to graphically display the people’s descent into depravity, and stop trying to turn Judges into Veggie Tales stories, then we wouldn’t be so confused by things such as this.
  7. Romans922

    Romans922 Puritan Board Professor

    Verse 39 is clear. What’s the issue here?
  8. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    Now, I'm confused. Does v39 say, "He laid her on the altar, and lit it up?" There is precedent for that kind of clear language: Gen.22:9. However, that's not what this text says, or even comes close to saying. And because it doesn't, the meaning has been commonly debated over centuries.

    The sophisticated (not sophistical) exegesis that explains v39 in terms other than a fiery "burnt offering" is even less dependent on a priori convictions than the question of Samuel's presence in 1Sam.28.

    The "obliqueness" of the reference could bespeak a reticence to graphically describe a horrific moment (but Jdg.19, amirite?). Or, the obliqueness, in the context of other statements in vv38 & 40 re. the daughter's virginity along with v34, could as easily (and I think more rationally) be used to indicate that the vow was honored; but properly, and not profanely. Keeps the focus more on the vow/vower, and less on the girl.

    Plus, there's Jephtha (!) in Heb.11:32....
  9. ScottishPresbyterian

    ScottishPresbyterian Puritan Board Freshman

    This seems a very well reasoned argument, to the point of case closed. Is there any reason to believe that Jephthah (a holy man of faith) despised God by doing after the abominations of the people whom the LORD cast out of the land under the pretext of fulfilling his vow?
  10. Bill The Baptist

    Bill The Baptist Puritan Board Graduate

    I would agree that the passage is a bit ambiguous, but having preached through all of Judges, his having done this is perfectly in keeping with the thrust of the book.
  11. iainduguid

    iainduguid Puritan Board Sophomore

    Yes. The entire structure of the Book of Judges portrays a downgrade of God's people. Beyond, Jephthah there is only Samson who is even worse. The bumper sticker on Samson's chariot read "My body; my choice." These men are included in Hebrews 11 for one virtue alone: faith. That does not mean everything else they do is spotless, any more than David being a man after God's own heart means that he couldn't commit adultery and murder.

    Our English translations don't do us any favors in v. 31 in translating "I will sacrifice whatever comes out of the doors of my house" when the Hebrew clearly says "whoever." Jephthah clearly has a human sacrifice in mind. And when Israel comes home from battle, it is the women who come out to greet them not a pet sheep. Jephthah has in view a human sacrifice, and the text says he fulfills his vow.

    As for Edwards arguments, the text nowhere mentions a Nazirite vow; Nazirites were not required to live a special lifestyle beyond the specified restrictions. There was no ban on them being or becoming married, or engaging in marital relations (Manoah's wife must have, unless Samson was a virgin birth).

    The driving force behind these arguments is always an attempt to protect the sanctity of the judge. As Edwards says, "the nature of the case will not allow us to think that Jephthah in this instance committed such abomination. It is not likely but that he, being a pious person, as he is spoken of by the apostle, would have been restrained from it by God." You wonder, "Has he read the rest of the Book of Judges?" The lengths to which God will allow his people to go are remarkable. What is equally remarkable is that the Lord will not abandon his commitment to those who are his own, in spite of their manifold sin. As John Newton would put it: "Our sins are many; his mercy is more."
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  12. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    This is quite excessive a criticism. If I felt exegetically compelled to take the literal human-sacrifice view, then I should agree in advance that the content of the book of Judges (and not that book alone in the OT!) would more than justify that conclusion. Yet, there's a decent cumulative case argument that killing a human being was not Jephtha's intent, this in spite of the story-arc of the book.

    You could begin or end the argument with Heb.11:32. All the men of faith listed in that verse (and in the rest of the ch.) are certainly sinners and great sinners; but if nearly the last word recorded on Jephtha's life was that he offered an abomination to the LORD as a thank offering--a faithless act, surely--he would be the oddest man out for choosing, in my opinion. Is it possible that the writer of Judges wanted to tell us that Jephtha (for all the good he did) was a partaker of the basest wickedness of the Canaanites most contrary to Israel's statues (Lev.20:2-5; Dt.18:10; cf.12:31)?

    I suppose so, but it isn't obvious to me, mainly because the text is not explicit; but there is more. Num.18 speaks about the dedication of the first and best of many things to the LORD, some of which went to the flames of sacrifice, some which was "reserved from the fire," all which was herem, v14. And some things were redeemable, especially the unclean beasts, which things could not be sacrificed on the LORD's altar, v15 (which was any altar, not just the sanctuary's). Evidently, substitution was permitted in cases where devotion could not be consecrated strictly by olah. (See Lev.27 for regulation concerning dedication and redemption; note v11 where unclean animals are specified as sacrificially excluded.) And surely, human flesh was excluded! (cf. Jer.32:35, "...which I did not command, neither came it into my mind.")

    Of course, these concerns raise the question of how dedicated Jephtha was to the Law of Moses. Did he know (or care) what was acceptable, or how things (or animals, or people) could be dedicated? Or who was authorized to perform sacrifices, whether ordinarily or extraordinarily? Earlier in Jdg.11, Jephtha makes numerous references to the sacred history found in Num.20-21. This is prima facie evidence that he is at least modestly acquainted with the content of the Law of Moses.

    I feel sometimes like the pendulum swings the other way, and we're more than willing to assume that the worst-case scenario is the most likely, and minimize what contrary evidence is available, in favor of proving depravity.
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  13. Puritan Sailor

    Puritan Sailor Puritan Board Doctor

    I appreciate your arguments Bruce. I had not noticed that connection to Numbers 18 before. While I certainly hope that was the case, and that she was spared, I think the text is clear that Jephthah kept his specific vow without alteration.

    My own take is that Jephthah did sacrifice her, largely because he was treating God the same way the Canaanites treated their gods, promising human sacrifice in return for victory. He professed faith in the true God (which I believe was sincere per Heb 11), but wrongly imitated the piety of the Canaanites toward their gods and fell into the sin forbidden in Deuteronomy 12:31. This would not be surprising given that Israelite culture at the time was immersed into Canaanite culture and worship. The fact that she mourned her virginity gives additional support. Being given to temple service or just simply redeemed (per Lev. 27) did not keep her from marriage. There was nothing for her to mourn. And the fact that she obeyed her father in this likely indicates how much her own worldview had been shaped by Canaanite influence too.

    The true hero of the story here is not Jephthah but God, who graciously provided a deliverer to an unworthy people to relieve them in their distress. Jephthah's faith, though genuine, was small and weak, and like David and many others, we can see true believers doing horrible things. It breaks our trust in men, and forces us to look to Jesus alone as the true deliverer.

    Just my two cents...
  14. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    Thank you, and it's worthwhile (I believe) to hear a wide variety of the interpretive options, to help bring into view the strength and weakness of any case. Whose mind could ever be changed in a truly rationally satisfactory way, if this was not the practice?

    It's just a fact that we know precious little about women associated with the Tabernacle. They are first mentioned, Ex.38:8, "Moreover, he made the laver of bronze with its base of bronze, from the mirrors of the serving women who served at the doorway of the tent of meeting." It is not outrageous to think Jephtha's daughter could become part of such a class, if the evidence warranted.

    [Commentators observe that this service literally means to serve in the army, to war or fight; Levites work was also characterized by this term as they served in, and carried the Tabernacle about. Because sexual activity created a temporarily unclean situation (Lev.15:18, cf. Ex.19:15; 1Sam.21:4), it is conclusive that male priests and Levites were abstinent during extended periods of ministration in the purified precincts. Hence, it is a simple rational observation that any such serving women as were present were clean, chaste, and possibly unmarriageable while they continued in this status.]

    It was one of the specified offenses of Hophni and Phineas that "they lay with the women who served at the doorway of the tent of meeting." 1Sam.1:22. Obviously these women, regardless of where they came from, what they did for the Tabernacle or its servants (lawfully) or its worshipers, or how long they served, or whether they could leave and get married (or if they could be busily married and still serve)--these here should have been protected from this predatory behavior.

    We don't know much about Anna of the Temple, Lk.2:36ff, who spent about 60yrs of her life--after a presumably faithful marriage of only seven years--in constant service in the holy precincts. Except we know this: the text goes out of its way to highlight how she was first, once, a truly chaste virgin; and given her devotion to the Temple after her husband of seven years, we assume she was a chaste and virgin-like for the remaining six decades of her life in service. She had not remarried, perhaps because she had to choose between one life or the other.

    Again, these are not proposals that "shut the door" on other possibilities re. Jdg.11 and Jephtha. But to show that it is not simply a desire to preserve the upstanding reputation of some prominent Israelite that draws some away from admitting Jephtha murdered his daughter to honor Jehovah. He could have been using hyperbole in terms of his vow, and it is well within the realm of plausibility to conclude he was.
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  15. nickipicki123

    nickipicki123 Puritan Board Freshman

    I love what Matthew Henry has to say at the end of his commentary on this passage. He gives a few theories to what might have happened, but then he says this:

    "Concerning this and some other such passages in the sacred story, which learned men are in the dark, divided, and in doubt about, we need not much perplex ourselves; what is necessary to our salvation, thanks be to God, is plain enough."

    Sometimes when I'm reading his commentary, I think, "Was he writing this to me? How did he know I would be wondering about _______?"

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  16. dildaysc

    dildaysc Puritan Board Freshman

    I finished translating another section this morning, with additional exegetical data.
  17. Dachaser

    Dachaser Puritan Board Professor

    My understanding would be that he gave up his daughter to be a perpetual virgin, and so his line died that day.
  18. dildaysc

    dildaysc Puritan Board Freshman

  19. dildaysc

    dildaysc Puritan Board Freshman

  20. dildaysc

    dildaysc Puritan Board Freshman

    Jephthah's vow (and the fate of his daughter) is one of the great mysteries of the Book of Judges. This morning I completed Matthew Poole's summary of the history of interpretation (which includes a large digest of Louis Cappel's work on the subject, so formative in Poole's own opinion). I have included Jonathan Edwards' handling of the issue as well: Together they form a very full treatment.

    Now, into the mystery...
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