A Note on Jephthah

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Remember Jephthah? In exchange for a victory against the Ammonites, he vowed to offer as a burnt offering whatever comes out of his house to meet him when he returns. That happened to be his daughter, whom he then offered up as a burnt offering.

Jephthah’s vow is tragic. What did he expect to come out of the house to greet him that he would feel good to sacrifice?! (Maybe he didn’t care much for his wife??) Surprisingly, his daughter takes it pretty well, spends two months with her friends in the mountains, and returns to be burnt. You can read the whole account in Judges 11.

What should Jephthah have done? I’d claim that any good father would rather suffer on his own person the consequences of a vow unfulfilled before putting to death his child, but there’s an even better answer! In my reading plan I am going through Leviticus. In chapter 5, starting in verse 4, God says: “or 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.” (Leviticus 5:4–6 ESV)

Rash oath, check. And I’d say Jephthah “realizes his guilt” as soon as he sees his daughter. But he does not take it back, despite God’s provision for foolish oaths! Why didn’t he sprint to the priests with a female lamb under his arm? Ignorance, most likely. Not only did he not know God’s word and its promises, he did not know that God would certainly not be pleased with child sacrifice. Sadly, that is the state of the whole time period of the Judges: β€œIn those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” (Judges 21:25 ESV)

I find it amazing that God uses sinful people to do his will, especially during this time: Some of the most bizarre events of all the bible take place in Judges, and yet God delivers his people time and again. And lest we think we are better, he uses his holy-but-sinful Church today, too! Our foolish oaths stand in contrast to God’s good promises, so let us be diligent in knowing God through his Word, and not just to get out of situations our mouths got us into!

Photo by Concha Mayo on Unsplash