Jephthah’s Top Ten Thoughts

As Jephthah launched his assault against the Ammonite enemies, he pledged that if God would give him the victory, he would sacrifice the first thing coming out of his house. After the victory, he heads home ..and out walks his daughter. When she realizes what she’s done, she goes off into the mountains to mourn for her virginity for 2 months.

Top 10 things that were running through Jephthah’s mind as his daughter was off for 2 months:

10. Did I say “*first* thing to come out of my house”? I’m pretty sure I said “third”. After all, three is a holy number.

9. Lord, didn’t you mean to send a goat or cow or chicken out the door?!

8. Lev 27:29! Lev 27:29! Lev 27:29! Lev 27:29!

7. Krud! How am I going to convince the wife that this is the right thing to do?

6. A man’s word is his bond, and I’m a man of my word…

5. Well, God brought her out so clearly it’s the will of God.

4. Look on the bright side honey… at least it least it wasn’t a son.

3. Y’know, If the neighbors were serious about God, they’d be making serious vows too. Then they’d understand.

2. Honey…. she’s a smart gal. She’ll run away while she’s off in the mountains. Don’t worry -She’s not coming back…

1. This is a test of faith! God is going to stop me at the last second, provide a lamb, and I’ll go down in the faith hall of fame!! I’m special!

Some Background

This story comes form Judges 11, with particular focus on the last few verses. It’s clear from Jephthah’s negotiations with the Ammonites that he’s well versed in Israel’s history. It’s a safe bet that he’s also familiar with the Law of Moses. …or at least a popular version of it. Not too different from any Christian in our day and age, eh?

The plot thickens.

[+] Then the Spirit of the LORD was upon Jephthah, and he passed through Gilead and Manasseh and passed on to Mizpah of Gilead, and from Mizpah of Gilead he passed on to the Ammonites. 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.” (Judg 11:29-31)

The context suggests that this was a vow/prayer he made while “the Spirit of the LORD” was upon him. That’s interesting, to say the least. And when Jephthah sees his daughter come out of the house to greet him, he’s now faced with two contrary ideas:

  • On one hand, he has this nagging feeling that he probably ought not kill his daughter.
  • On the other hand, he’s believing something. And whatever that “something” is, he’s convinced that the truth of it outweighs the former idea.

We’re not told what he believed and why he believed it, so, with tongue in cheek, I’ve tossed out 10 suggestions in order to churn our thinking about what his rationale might have been.

What Is Truth?

The point here is epistemology, of course. Epistemoloy is the investigation of what distinguishes justified belief from opinion. (Read more at Wikipedia.) It is not a simple undertaking.

  • Regardless of what exactly Jephthah believed and why he believed it, something convinced him that the latter – and not the former – was the path of truth and righteousness. What was it?
  • And more to the point, whatever YOU believe, why do you believe it’s the path of truth and righteousness? [My 9th grade algebra teacher would mark all answers wrong if you couldn’t show your work. Can you ‘show your work’ for your truth claims?]
  • How do YOU know you’re not being a Jephthah?
  • How do YOU test truth claims, and show them to be Truth?
  • How do YOU know that you’re reading your Bible correctly?

It’s easy for us to dismiss Jephthah as a wild and crazy guy in an insane time of Israel’s history, and just kinda gloss over the impact of the whole “spirit of the Lord” being upon him. But one doesn’t necessarily divine truth by observing situation, tradition, emotion or bad hermeneutics. So it’s a pretty serious challenge, and affects us all in more ways than we might think.
Especially if we haven’t thought about it at all.


Hermeneutics is the art and science of Biblical interpretation. suffice it to say that there’s a right and a wrong way to interpret the Bible. How did Jephthah interpret his Bible? Let’s speculate a bit, and try to get in his head for a sec, because there’s probably more here than meets the eye:

  • Jephthah did have Lev 27:29 on his side, mind you.
    [+] No one devoted, who is to be devoted for destruction from mankind, shall be ransomed; he shall surely be put to death. (Lev 27:29)
    Doesn’t this verse mean what it says? Wouldn’t this then apply to Jephthah’s daughter? After all, God was the one who sovereignly led her out first. (one of the guys in our class really struggled with this one)
  • If we wanted to get technical for a sec, Jephthah only has 5 holy books at his disposal: Genesis-Joshua. ..and possibly Job. He cannot be judged by any future revelation of Scripture! And almost all of the verses he has about offering children as sacrifices speak specifically of offering children to **pagan** gods, like Molech (Lev 18:21; Lev 20:3; Deut 12:31). Where are the verses about “..neither shalt thou offer your children as burnt offering to the LORD your God”. Nowhere! Sure, Deut 18:10 comes close, but look at v9: it’s in the context of following Canaanite idolatry, not following God. It wouldn’t take much for a wobbly theologian to conclude that v10 is, therefore, about pagan sacrifices – just like all the other verses in Lev and Deut.
  • Besides, when God told Abe to offer Isaac, Abe didn’t counter with “Nay! For it is not lawful for me to sacrifice my son to Molech nor unto any other god, for such a thing is an abomination to the Righteous Judge of all the earth. I shalt not abide by this command!” No, Abe went through with it, reasoning [ie, thinking, concluding and therefore believing] that he would indeed kill and burn his son, and that God would indeed raise him from the dead ..something Molech couldn’t do for the children sacrificed to him.
  • If we fast-forward 1200 years, we see that Jephthah gets mentioned in Heb 11’s Faith’s Hall of Fame (v32). Not bad for a guy who was “an abomination to the LORD, eh? [re-read Deut 18:12 to see why this is an important point].

So what legitimate expectations should we have of Jephthah’s understanding of Scripture?

Let me be perfectly clear: I am NOT suggesting that Jephthah was correct in offering his daughter. Nor do I believe he was correct. I think he was dead wrong, and his daughter paid the price for his error.

I am, however, suggesting that oftentimes, we rely on emotion or accidental circumstances or tradition or wobbly hermeneutics in search of Truth. But if we rigorously examine the evidence and rationale behind our truth-claims, we might occasionally be disturbed to find that the distance between faith and heresy is a much finer line than we’d like. And it takes serious study to properly differentiate truth from heresy.

There are other examples in the Bible of this fine line. We’ll leave those for another day.

The Antidote

There’s only one antidote. It is both simple and difficult: While studying your Bible for the rest of your life, continue to refine your epistemology AND your hermeneutics …for the rest of your life.

In my observation, many Christians do not do this.
That’s not good.

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