Sometimes Scripture Messes With My Head, Part 2

Yesterday, I wrote about Judges 11 where Jephthah made a vow to God, which ended up with Jephthah “sacrificing” his only child (a daughter) to God. Today I want to expand on a few things.

First, I think it’s really, really important to remember that in this situation God did not ask Jephthah to sacrifice his daughter. In fact, God’s voice in this section is completely silent. Nowhere does the Bible say that God was pleased with the sacrifice. In fact, I know from other Scriptures that God was no doubt was repulsed by it. There are quite a few Scriptures that strictly forbid human sacrifice (Lev. 18:21; 20:2; Deut. 12:31; 18:10; Jer. 19:5;). The reason this prohibition was needed was the other pagan religions surrounding Israel encouraged child sacrifice in order to appease their gods.

Second, Jephthah had the option of not killing his daughter. Take a look at what Leviticus 5:4-6 has to say on this:

If anyone utters with his lips a rash oath to do evil or to do good, any sort of rash oath that people swear, and it is hidden from him, when he comes to know it, and he realizes his guilt in any of these; when he realizes his guilt in any of these and confesses the sin he has committed, he shall bring to the Lord as his compensation for the sin that he has committed, a female from the flock, a lamb or a goat, for a sin offering. And the priest shall make atonement for him for his sin (ESV).

This law makes it completely clear that he could have repented of the sin of making a rash oath to God and there was a means to forgiveness. I get the impression that Jephthah was more interested in his own reputation than doing what would ultimately please the Lord. He made an oath and thought he would appear weak to others if he admitted he was wrong.

Third, I think this passage shows us how terribly wrong things can go when we act out of our own selfish impulses instead of seeking God’s will. When we make rash promises to others we can let them down. When we make life decisions without dedicated times of prayer our lives can be impacted negatively, to say the least.

Overall, I’m both perplexed at this passage and in awe of it at the same time. What makes me respond in awe is that it is included at all in the Bible. The Bible is a raw, uncensored look at humanity in both its purest and most raw forms. We can do terrible things to each other, and yet, somehow, God chooses to love us.

Thank you, Lord, for loving a sinner like me.

Sometimes Scripture Messes With My Head

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Jephthah’s reaction to his daughter was selfish. He was more concerned about his own feelings of loss than his daughter.
  4. 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.