Judges 11:30-31 was voted as the seventh worst Bible passage by visitors of the website Ship of Fools; “And Jephthah 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.'” (Judges 11:30-31)
I’m excited to say that so far Judges 11:31 was indeed the most difficult passage for me to tackle. The first six were easy as pie and clearly demonstrate the blind ignorance of people quick to point a finger without first identifying what they are pointing at. Talk about a blind faith. But their lack of research and biased attitude of the Bible make life easy for those of us that take the time to read and study. However, those “fools” got lucky on pointing a finger towards verse 11:31 of Judges. Good job, finally.
As believers, however, we don’t need to rely on luck. We rely on the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit comes out on top again. First, let me point out the obvious problems with the criticisms of this verse and then I would like to direct you to another authors commentary on the passage. There is no need to recreate the wheel here as this guy says it better than I ever could. But me first. As I have stated in regards to almost all the other “worst Bible passages” remains true for this one as well. Just because something is recorded in the Bible does not mean that God was behind it. People do stupid things. Think of the person you love most in your life. Now think of the worst thing you ever did to them. Does the fact that you did something bad to them mean you don’t love them? No – it means you are human. Christians are no different. We love God but far too often we do things to hurt Him and other people. He doesn’t like it, but He still loves us and forgives us. I for one am glad that He is a forgiving God because I have failed Him and every person I know time and time again.
But as you will see after reading the following commentary, the point is moot. There was no human sacrifice here. God never has allowed or blessed a human sacrifice. Quite the opposite, there are many laws recorded in the Bible against human sacrifice. But enough of my chatter, please read the following and God bless you for taking the time explore the Word of God.
|by||Dave Miller, Ph.D.|
In Judges 11, Jephthah vowed to God that if he were victorious in battle, he would give to God whoever came through the doors of his house upon his return from battle. The term used in 11:31 is ‘olah, the normal Hebrew word for a burnt offering or sacrifice (used 286 times in the Old Testament). Did Jephthah intend to offer his daughter as a human sacrifice? Are the ethics of God and the Bible shown to be substandard by this incident?
In the first place, if, in fact, Jephthah offered a human sacrifice, he did something that was strictly forbidden by Mosaic law and that is repugnant to God (Leviticus 18:21; 20:2-5; Deuteronomy 12:31; 18:10). It would be a bit bizarre for Jephthah to think that he could elicit God’s favor in battle by promising to offer Him a human sacrifice, that is, to do something that was in direct violation of the will of God. Such a proposal would be equivalent to a person requesting God’s blessing and assistance by offering to rape women or rob banks. God certainly would not approve of such an offer—though He may go ahead and assist the individual (11:32). God allows people to make wrong choices, even while He works out His own higher will in the midst of their illicit actions. He can even use such people to achieve a higher good (consider, as one example, Judas). When Israel clamored for a king—in direct opposition to God’s will—He nevertheless allowed them to proceed with their intentions, and even lent His assistance in the selection (1 Samuel 8:7,18-19; 10:19; 12:19; Psalm 106:14-15; Hosea 13:11; Acts 13:21).
Second, if Jephthah offered his daughter as a human sacrifice, no indication is given in the text that God actually approved of the action. The Bible records many illicit actions carried out by numerous individuals throughout history, without an accompanying word of condemnation by the inspired writer. We must not assume that silence is evidence of divine approval. Even the commendation of Jephthah’s faith in the New Testament does not offer a blanket endorsement to everything Jephthah did during his lifetime. It merely commended the faith that he demonstrated when he risked going to war. Similarly, the Bible commends the faith of Samson, and Rahab the prostitute, without implying that their behavior was always in harmony with God’s will. Abraham manifested an incredible level of faith on several occasions, and is commended for such (Romans 4:20-21). Yet he clearly sinned on more than one occasion (Genesis 12:13; 16:4; 20:2ff.).
Third, Jephthah’s action may best be understood by recognizing that he was using ‘olah in a figurative sense. We use the term “sacrifice” in a similar fashion when we say, “I’ll sacrifice a few dollars for that charity.” Jephthah was offering to sacrifice a member of his extended household to permanent, religious service associated with the Tabernacle. The Bible indicates that such non-priestly service was available, particularly to women who chose to so dedicate themselves (e.g., Exodus 38:8). [Sadly, Eli’s sons were guilty of taking sexual liberties with them (1 Samuel 2:22).] Even in the first century, Anna must have been one woman who had dedicated herself to the Lord’s service, since she “did not depart from the temple” (Luke 2:37).
Several contextual indicators support this conclusion. First, the two-month period of mourning that Jephthah granted to his daughter was not for the purpose of grieving over her impending loss of life, but over the fact that she would never be able to marry. She bewailed her virginity (bethulim)—not her death (11:37). Second, the text goes out of its way to state that Jephthah had no other children: “[S]he was his only child. Besides her he had neither son nor daughter” (11:34). For his daughter to be consigned to perpetual celibacy meant the extinction of Jephthah’s family line—an extremely serious and tragic matter to an Israelite (cf. Numbers 27:1-11; 36:1ff.). Third, the sacrifice is treated as unfortunate—again, not because of any concern over her death, but because she would not become a mother. After stating that Jephthah “did with her according to his vow which he had vowed,” the inspired writer immediately adds, “and knew no man” (11:39). This statement would be a completely superfluous and callous remark if she had been put to death. Fourth, the declaration of Jephthah’s own sorrow (11:35) follows immediately after we are informed that he had no other children (11:34). Jephthah was not upset because his daughter would die a virgin. He was upset because she would live and remain a virgin.
Hannah made a similar sacrifice when she turned her son over to the priestly direction of Eli for the rest of his life (1 Samuel 1:11). How many are willing to make such sacrifices? Actually, however, these tremendous acts of devotion were no greater than that which God requires of all Christians: to offer ourselves as spiritual burnt-offerings in service to God (Romans 12:1).
Link to the above comentary: http://www.apologeticspress.org/apcontent.aspx?category=6&article=1273