My Favorite Heroine: Jephthah’s Daughter

Some of you are asking: "Who is Jephthah's Daughter?
Childhood Dreams by Laura Rae Photography
"Childhood Dreams"
by Laura Rae Photography
Those in the know are asking: "Why Jephthah's Daughter?" Let me explain. When Jephthah defended Israel at war, he made a rash vow. One of those desperate "If You ... I'll ..." bargains prayed out of fear. He vowed that if the Lord delivered the enemy into his hand then "whatever comes out of the door of my house to meet me when I return ... will be the LORD's and I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering." WHAT?!! Why couldn't he have stopped before the fatal "and?!" As you've obviously realized, the first one to greet his arrival home was his daughter I don't know what Jephthah was thinking when he made that vow and to be honest I'm not particularly able to explain his idiocy. All I can say is the Bible gives us lots of examples we should NOT follow. "These things ... were written down as warnings for us." 1st Corinthians 10:11 Trust me, humanity hasn't evolved much the past few millenia and there's plenty to be learned from God's written account of us. Back to the story. (I'll be live commenting in parenthesis if you don't mind.)

"When Jephthah returned to his home in Mizpah, who should come out to meet him but his daughter, dancing to the sound of timbrels! She was an only child. Except for her he had neither son nor daughter.

"When he saw her, he tore his clothes (in grief) and cried, 'Oh no, my daughter! You have brought me down and I am devastated.'

(Excuse me? She brought you down? No she didn't! It was YOUR vow, remember? Can you please take responsibility for your own words and emotions?)

"'I have made a vow to the Lord that I cannot break.'

(Why would God want you to keep a vow requiring you to shed innocent blood?! God's clearly against child sacrifice in case you've forgotten Genesis 22:12!) It's her response that makes her my heroine.

"'My father,' she replied, 'you have given your word to the Lord. Do to me just as you promised ...

"'But grant me this one request,' she said. 'Give me two months to roam the hills and weep with my friends, because I will never marry.'

"'You may go,' he said.

"And he let her go for two months. She and her friends went into the hills and wept because she would never marry. After the two months, she returned to her father, and he did to her as he had vowed.

"And she was a virgin."

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If you've come this far, no doubt you're now feeling gut-wrenched. Yes, this is in the Bible. It's Judges chapter 11. Crazy book that one. A real messy saga. For all the sadness of this story, I have some hopeful observations. #1. Jephthah's Daughter Honored God She couldn't change her father's words or his commitment to fulfill them. Because she honored God first, she was able to treat him with respect despite his obvious failings. #2. She Mourned Brokenness happens. Our parents and our grandparents make choices ... some affect us our entire lives. Taking time to mourn is part of healing. #3. She Honored God ... With the Time She Had Left In her grief, she resisted the temptation to rebel. She died a virgin. It's so easy when we're desperately hurting to roam the world looking for places to vent. It would have been so easy for her to run away or find a loose man to experience. I mean, what consequences would there be? But no. She valued the cleanness of her heart more. In her purity, I'm certain she stood on those mountains and heard God's voice speak in the stillness comfort for her soul.

He was her Father first. And she would be with Him soon.

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Jephthah's Daughter is never named in the bible and this chapter is the only reference to her story. Her impact on my life goes beyond what I can convey. Many Thanks to Laura Rae Photography for allowing me use of her beautiful image. It so captures the hopes and dreams of an anonymous heart. Need some happy thoughts? Read my random thoughts about Hugs!

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  • This is incredible, Meg :) Thanks for sharing! I’ve never thought about that story in that way before

    • Meg

      Thank you Erin! A most encouraging “first comment” for my baby blog!

    • Thanks Erin! I couldn’t as for a kinder “first comment” on my baby blog!

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  • You may recall that I was inspired earlier this year by your “How I Read the Bible” video, and while there have been struggles along the way, I’ve been making steady progress through the Old Testament (and among other things, learning what it truly means to seek God). For the sake of your time, I won’t go into detail, but God has worked so much good in my heart along the way, and I’m grateful that His work continues (because there’s still a long way to go).

    Anyway, when I first read this post nearly two years ago, I had never read the book of Judges (or all that much of the OT), and I didn’t have nearly enough appreciation for why the story of Jephthah’s daughter resonates so much with you. Well, a week or so ago, while I was still reading through Judges, I was reminded of this post, and after reading it again all this time later, my appreciation for its meaning in your life was greatly increased.

    Now, as you very well may know, there are two different views on how the story of Jephthah’s daughter ends. Some argue that Jephthah actually gave up his daughter’s life as a burnt offering, while others argue that, instead, he dedicated her life to God (which among other things, meant perpetual virginity). I don’t claim to know which view is correct, but I think there are some strong arguments supporting the view of dedication (rather than death) which I’ll present next. Afterwards, I’ll compare the two views as far as meaningfulness is concerned (and as a preview, I’ll say that, to me, the meaningfulness of your blog post is not affected either way). And again, this is all just my opinion. I’m not trying to change your mind. If you continue reading, I’d love to hear your thoughts!

    So, here we go:

    1) As you mentioned, God is clearly against child sacrifice as per the story of Abraham and Isaac, but also as commanded in Deuteronomy 18:10 — “There shall not be found among you anyone who burns his son or his daughter as an offering … .” Would God ever accept child sacrifice? He didn’t from Abraham, though He tested him. Would He from Jephthah? God was clearly in control of whomever or whatever would be the eventual object of sacrifice, so why would He choose Jephthah’s daughter (or even give Jephthah victory) if the final outcome would be in direct opposition to His existing commandments, especially when it would not be an exercise of His judgement against Jephthah’s daughter? Even without her death, Jephthah’s faith could still be tested simply by the difficulty he would have in knowing the great sacrifice he had imposed upon his daughter and (perhaps even more so) that his family line would end (since he had no other children, a fact we conveniently learn immediately before he expresses his sorrow).

    2) Verse 31 (ESV) reads: “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.” The original word for “and” may also be translated as “or,” as it is in Young’s Literal Translation. For a more in-depth look at this, I highly recommend the following article: http://www.jba.gr/Articles/jbadec06b.htm (If you’re only interested in the aspect of translation, please skip ahead in the article to the first paragraph that contains underlined, boldface words.)

    3) Verse 37 (ESV) reads: “So she said to her father, ‘Let this thing be done for me: leave me alone two months, that I may go up and down on the mountains and weep for my virginity, I and my companions.'” If you were about to die, would you weep for your virginity for two months, or would you spend that time in prayer and with your loved ones? If, instead, you were about to be dedicated to the Lord (which included perpetual virginity), would it then make a lot more sense to weep for your virginity?

    4) Verse 39 (YLT) reads: “… and he doth to her his vow which he hath vowed, and she knew not a man … .” If Jephthah killed his daughter, why was it necessary to say that she knew not a man? It was already made clear that she was a virgin. If, instead, Jephthah dedicated her life to God, then “and she knew not a man” tells us an important part of her resulting life of dedication to God.

    So now, this leaves one remaining question in my mind: which view presents the most meaningful sacrifice?

    Honestly, I don’t know, but I think both are meaningful. Both views end the same way. She dies a virgin (sooner or later) and then spends eternity with God (and yes, there’s nothing better than that!). The only difference is in what happens prior.

    With either view, her acceptance honors both her father and God. Which acceptance is more meaningful? She can either live a very short time as a virgin (and miss out on the rest of her life, which may include a husband and/or children) or she can live a lifetime of virginity/singleness (in addition to many other sacrifices). Either way, she definitely won’t have a husband or children. Therefore, we need only consider that which she would miss out on via early death that she would still have in a life of dedication to God and then compare that to the extra sacrifices she would be making in a life of dedication to God. As far as I’m concerned, that’s a really tough one, and I’ll just leave it there.

    So, in any case, I only know that I still see the life of dedication as a very meaningful sacrifice, and to me, everything you’ve written in your blog post remains just as relevant and meaningful if instead we take on this alternate view. But again, I’m not trying to change your mind or say that I’m right. I only think that, if you haven’t already, this might be something worth mulling over or praying about. Either way, if you have any thoughts to share, it would be greatly appreciated. Certainly, there are many things I don’t see, and I trust God to remedy that as is pleasing to Him, which doesn’t preclude the use of a friend.

    Thanks so much for reading this very long comment and of course for many a meaningful blog post! :)