After the king of Ammon refused the path of peace, “the Spirit of the LORD came upon Jephthah, and he passed through Gilead and Manasseh, and passed through Mizpah of Gilead; and from Mizpah of Gilead he advanced toward the people of Ammon. And Jephthah made a vow to the LORD, and said, ‘If You will indeed deliver the people of Ammon into my hands, then it will be that whatever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the people of Ammon, shall surely be the LORD’s, and I will offer it up as a burnt offering'” (Judges 11:29-31). Before we focus our attention on this vow Jephthah made, let us note the victory that God gave to him. He successfully subdued the Ammonites before the children of Israel. This is what he desired to do, and God’s Spirit made it possible!
Now, regarding the vow, let it first be observed that Jephthah pledged to God–if victorious–whatever came out of his house to greet him. This could perhaps be an animal, but it would be much more likely to be a human! Surely Jephthah realized this possibility. Some scholars believe that the “and” of 11:31 could be properly rendered as “or.” That is, Jephthah promises to either devote to the LORD (a person) or offer a burnt offering (animal), depending upon what greets him. Although we may have an understandable hesitancy to change the “and” to an “or” in the text, if correct the difficulty we struggle with here dissolves. But, I’m not absolutely certain that this is the proper solution, so let us assume that the “and” of 11:31 is correct as is. Does this mean Jephthah would offer a human sacrifice in order to keep his vow if a human greets him first when he returns? Reflect upon that as we read the rest of the narrative. Carefully consider all of the recorded details.
“When Jephthah came to his house at Mizpah, there was his daughter, coming out to meet him with timbrels and dancing; and she was his only child. Besides her he had neither son nor daughter. And it came to pass, when he saw her, that he tore his clothes, and said, ‘Alas, my daughter! You have brought me very low! You are among those who trouble me! For I have given my word to the LORD, and I cannot go back on it.’ So she said to him, ‘My father, if you have given your word to the LORD, do to me according to what has gone out of your mouth, because the LORD has avenged you of your enemies, the people of Ammon.’ Then she said to her father, ‘Let this thing be done for me: let me alone for two months, that I may go and wander on the mountains and bewail my virginity, my friends and I.’ So he said, ‘Go.’ And he sent her away for two months; and she went with her friends, and bewailed her virginity on the mountains. And it was so at the end of two months that she returned to her father, and he carried out his vow with her which he had vowed. She knew no man. And it became a custom in Israel that the daughters of Israel went four days each year to lament the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite” (11:34-40).
Although some argue that Jephthah offered his daughter as a human sacrifice, I do not believe that to be the case for seven reasons, which I will expound upon in our next lesson.