When was the last time you read something in the Bible and it really messed with your head? It happened to me really bad on Saturday. What I mean by messed with my head is that I didn’t like what I read. Not even a little. I was reading from Judges 11 about Jephthah and his “Tragic Vow” (that’s an understated heading from the ESV). Here’s a rundown of what happend and the verses that really bugged be.
- Jephtah’s dad, Gilead, had a wife and other kids, but Jephtah’s mom was a prostitute. Not the greatest start to life.
- His brothers drove him away from the family to keep him from getting any inheritance. Being an outcast isn’t fun.
- It’s noted that he was a “mighty warrior” and that Israel turned to him for help against an enemy.
- He agreed to help them if they put him in charge once he came and destroyed their enemy.
Alright that sets up the part of the chapter that really, really bugged me:
Judges 11:30–39 (ESV)
And Jephthah made a vow to the LORD and said, “If you will give the Ammonites into my hand, then whatever comes out from the doors of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the Ammonites shall be the LORD’s, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering.” So Jephthah crossed over to the Ammonites to fight against them. . . . Then Jephthah came to his home at Mizpah. And behold, his daughter came out to meet him with tambourines and with dances. She was his only child. . . . [Jephtah] tore his clothes and said, “Alas, my daughter! You have brought me very low, and 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.” And she said to him, “My father, you have opened your mouth to the LORD; do to me according to what has gone out of your mouth. . . . And at the end of two months, she returned to her father, who did with her according to his vow that he had made.
As a father of two young girls this chapter bugs me. In fact, it makes me nauseous. Why in the world would a dad do this to his daughter? Why would God allow this to happen? Why is this even in the Bible?
So I did some digging and some things started to rise to the surface. There are a couple takeaways I learned:
- Jephthah’s background was with foreign gods whose religions taught that child sacrifice was one of the only ways to appease them. This no doubt shaped the way he thought of Yahweh God.
- The major difference between this episode and Abraham’s near sacrifice is that God initiated the sacrifice, but here Jephthah was in a sense testing God. In fact, throughout this narrative God’s voice is never heard.
- Jephthah’s reaction to his daughter was selfish. He was more concerned about his own feelings of loss than his daughter.
- His daughter was completely accepting of the “fate” that was dealt to her. There’s no mention of God’s role here.
There’s quite a bit more that I could write about this because I have a lot more thoughts and feelings on the matter, but I want to know what you think. What does this passage teach you about God? About how people put God to a test? About the Bible as a whole?
I’ll share some more thoughts tomorrow, but share your thoughts today in the comments below!
UPDATE: Read more of my thoughts about Jephthah here.
7 thoughts on “Sometimes Scripture Messes With My Head”
This passage has always bothered me, too. I recognize that God did not ask for such a vow, and the fact that He honored the request, does not mean that He respected the vow. I don’t believe God would have punished Jephthah if he had repented of the foolish vow, for God is always ready to accept a repentant heart. This story also highlights how our own foolish actions almost always hurt someone else, along with us.
Good point about our foolish actions hurting someone else. Makes me think of people excusing their “bad behaviors” because they’re “not hurting anyone.” That’s simply not true.
I’m not sure that God actually honored the request. It doesn’t explicitly state that in the text. Jephthah assumed that God did, but maybe God had planned on giving them victory all along, so Jephthah was simply making a trite vow. What do you think?
This is definitely one tough passage. I do believe God honored the request too.
Jephthath was bargaining with God instead of relying on God’s grace and mercy from the beginning. Like most in the Bible (and in life) who bargain with God – the outcome is frequently less than satisfactory.
The preferred way is, of course, to simply acknowledge that we have nothing of commensurate value to give God in exchange for his grace and mercy then accept his generous offer on his terms instead of ours.
It’s one of those gritty lessons the Bible contains that resides alongside the many equally sublime lessons. The Bible is, after all, the ultimate reality series.
Good insights Mike! This is definitely NOT a sublime lesson, for sure.
Be careful what you promise God. Jephthath initiated it, he didn’t have to say what he said. He obviously knew or should have known someone dear to him would come out if the door. At least he did what he promised God. It teaches us that sometime we say things when we really want something, that have very dire consequences later. Guard your tongue. Obviously don’t temp God. Just some things I learned.
God made his position on child sacrifices clear in Jeremiah 19-5 amongst other earlier passages. Jephthath may have thought an angel would show up to stop him like with Abraham but nope. If he did actually go through with it, he was a terrible person. What loving parent would or could do this?? What he should have done was offer himself up instead of his innocent child since he made the mistake. He had a whole month to figure out a solution. And where was his wife? The grandparents? Was no one with any sense around to stop this madness? No laws to abide by? I remember this being one of the several passages that made me distrust the validity of the Bible as being “God-inspired.”