Tuesday 24th March 2020 Devotion
Scripture:- Judges 11:1-40
Topic:- Did Jephthah Actually Sacrifice His Daughter 
Text:- Judges 11:36
D. How Clear Is Jephthah’s Vow:
The vow is unique in the biblical record because of its puzzling specificity. To vow to make a sacrifice as a thanksgiving offering was a Biblical convention with the appropriate cultic apparatus available for fulfilling it.
In this case, however, who knows who or what might come out to greet him? As the rabbis pointed out, if an animal, it might be unclean, and therefore, unacceptable as an offering. Nevertheless, some ambiguity inheres in the actual wording of the vow. Jephthah made the following vow to God. See Judges 11:31.
The vow consists of two parts: firstly, that the one who comes out shall belong to the Lord, Jephthah would offer him/her/it up as a burnt offering.
The flexibility of the vav conjunctive linking the two statements would allow it to be read here as ‘and’, so that ‘belonging to the Lord’ meant the burnt offering mentioned immediately after.
But the ‘vav’ could also be read as ‘or’, so that whatever or whoever came out would be dedicated to God, and, only should it prove appropriate, would be sacrificed.
This latter suggestion runs the risk of sounding like apologetics, designed to give Jephthah a certain amount of leeway, but the ambiguity is present in the text.
E. Jephthah’s Daughter’s Request:
Jephthah’s daughter is the one who goes out to meet him and he must fulfill his vow through her. She accepts her fate but makes an unexpected request of her father before the vow was to be fulfilled. See Judges 11:37.
Jephthah agrees, and she and her women companions go and weep for her virginity on the mountains.
F. Why Jephthah may not have Sacrificed his Daughter:
Jephthah’s daughter returns two months later to her father and “he fulfilled his vow.” Does that mean he sacrificed her?
Two elements in the story push me to think that he did not:-
1. The Yearly Ritual of Lamenting Jephthah’s Daughter. The following verses note that “this was a statute in Israel.” and presumably the nature of this statute is to be found in the following sentence, that every year the daughters of Israel would go four days a year. Here too there are ambiguities and all translations are speculative. See Judges 11:29-40.
a. Most scholars assume that it refers to some kind of ritual lamentation for her fate, translating the preposition ‘lamed’ before ‘the daughter of Jephthah’ as “about.” However, it could mean “to,” i.e., that they are speaking to her and commiserating with her, implying that she is still alive. If this is true, then “fulfilling his vow” and “sacrificing his daughter” are not coterminous.
b. Along the same lines, the duration of this ritual is expressed as ‘miyyamim yamimah’, which, when associated with a ‘statute’, can mean ‘in perpetuity’. But it is also used of Hannah’s annual visit to Shiloh, which would limit it to a regular occurrence during the lifetime of a particular individual. See Judges 11:40; Exodus 13:10; 1 Samuel 1:3; 2:19.
c. If this is the intent of the verse, that Israelite women made a pilgrimage to her every year, it explains why this apparently institutionalized practice of lamenting Jephthah’s daughter as an annual rite is never mentioned anywhere else in the Hebrew Bible.
This suggests that the ritual was only institutionalized as long as she was alive; in other words, it belongs to the narratives concerning Jephthah recorded here, but we have no knowledge as to whether it became part of Israel’s holiday or ritual cycles.
2. The Extreme Emphasis on Virginity:
Immediately following the statement about Jephthah fulfilling his vow, we are told that his daughter “did not know a man.” If she is dead, then this information is hardly relevant, so presumably it belongs to some broader issue in the narrative.
a. This perception is strengthened by the extreme emphasis on virginity. She asks that she and her friends be allowed to cry for her virginity (not her death) for two months.
b. The request is granted and she and her friends do in fact cry for her virginity (not her death) for two months.When the vow is fulfilled we are told she never knew a man (a strange thing to say after recording the sacrifice of a virgin).
c. Why is the emphasis on her remaining a virgin and not on her death? I believe that this suggests that she wasn’t actually killed, and that she remained a virgin for the rest of her life.
Prayer Point:- Oh Lord God, help me not to make hash decision that I won’t be able to fulfill, in the name of Jesus Christ.
Have A Wonderful Tuesday!