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Before even beginning the exposition and application of the message, we need to determine at the outset the fundamental question of what actually happened in this historical account. The two most widely held views are:

1) Jephthah’s vow involved sacrificing whoever first came out of his door to greet him and he actually carried through and put his only daughter to death

2) Jephthah’s vow resulted in dedicating his daughter to perpetual virginity as she served the Lord at the tabernacle (similar to Hannah’s later dedication of Samuel)

In favor of position #2 = serving in the temple:

– We are horrified to think that a man identified as a hero of the faith in Heb. 11, a man in whom the Holy Spirit was working to accomplish a mighty victory for God’s people would be so crass and ungodly as to sacrifice his daughter as a burnt offering (Deut. 12:31; 18:9); look at the evidence in the text that Jephthah was godly in many respects; look at the relationship he enjoyed with his daughter who so freely submitted to her circumstances and did not try to argue or flee

– The emphasis seems to be on her resignation to perpetual virginity rather than her acceptance of death

– Some commentators (and even bible translators) attempt to make an argument for translating the waw conjunctive as “or” instead of “and” in verse 31 leading to the possible dual options of “shall be the Lord’s (dedicated to service if a person) OR I will offer it up as a burnt offering (if it is an animal)” – [but this seems contrived]

Brensinger: As well intended as such views might be, they simply confuse the issue. Jephthah’s deed, though unarguably detestable, must be allowed to stand.

In favor of position #1 = putting his daughter to death as a burnt offering sacrifice:

– It is always best to favor the simple reading of the text and the one which requires the least amount of interpretative gymnastics; word for “burnt offering” would normally be taken in this light

– This had been the consistent interpretation recorded down through history, at least until the Middle Ages (cf. quotes by Josephus and others)

– The filling of the Holy Spirit to accomplish a specific task for the Lord was never any guarantee of holy living in other areas of life; cf. the major character flaws we have witnessed in the other prominent judges like Gideon

– Argument related to the emphasis on virginity explained by the great tragedy to die childless – especially when that would mean the end to all possibility of family succession

– When Jephthah made the vow, certainly his expectation was that it would be a human coming out of his house (animals did not live in the house) to greet him (animals would not be greeting him)

– Jephthah was influenced by the pagan culture around him and familiar with human sacrifice; his actions, though bizarre and horrific, must be viewed within the context of the violent times in which he lived

– The victory which he was trying to secure (not trusting in God simply to give it to him on the basis of grace) was of huge enough proportions to merit the ultimate type of sacrifice

– The intensity of the lamenting by Jephthah (including the tearing of his clothes) seems more consistent with death; the scriptures are presenting us here with the most extreme example possible to bring home the warning against foolish vows, against bargaining with the Lord – and emphasizing the need to keep our commitments to the Lord

– The annual four day commemoration observed by the daughters of Israel seems more consistent with death; otherwise why not just go to the tabernacle to visit her?

I do not think we can be dogmatic here, and maybe there are additional circumstances or complexity which we are missing … but I favor position #1 – despite how ruthless and unattractive it makes Jephthah appear. In taking this position, we need to avoid tarring Jephthah’s entire character with the brush of ungodliness. While he is criticized for his foolishness, he is applauded for his unwavering commitment – as strange as that seems to us. We must not get so sidetracked by this difficulty in interpretation that we miss the point of the passage and its application.


Don’t be a Yo-Yo – You can’t take back your commitments to the Lord;

We live in a society where commitment has become a rare bird – an endangered species; look at the marriage and divorce statistics – yet when you go to the next wedding the solemn vows are once again exchanged

It used to be that a man’s word was his bond, but we live in litigious society – complicated contracts – lawyers that just specialize in the verbiage of contracts; business today is made difficult by the complexity of the contracts

Look at the worthlessness of the treaties entered into by countries; not worth the paper they are written on

What type of commitment have we made to the Lord?

Rom. 12:1 “present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice” – certainly Jephthah’s daughter fulfilled this

Numbers 30:2 “If a man makes a vow to the Lord, or takes an oath to bind himself with a binding obligation, he shall not violate his word; he shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth.”

Deuteronomy 23:21-23 “When you make a vow to the Lord your God, you shall not delay to pay it, for it would be sin in you, and the Lord your God will surely require it of you.. However, if you refrain from vowing, it would not be sin in you. You shall be careful to perform what goes out from your lips, just as you have voluntarily vowed to the Lord your God, what you have promised.”

Ecclesiastes 5:4-7


A. (:29) Boldness of Jephthah – prompted by the Spirit of God

“Now the Spirit of the LORD came upon Jephthah, so that he passed through Gilead and Manasseh; then he passed through Mizpah of Gilead, and from Mizpah of Gilead he went on to the sons of Ammon.”

Gathering an army to prepare for battle; able to muster the troops to follow his leadership; this was the region most at risk to the oppression of the Ammonites; no turning back now that he has taken up the mantle of leadership and is committed to engaging in warfare with the superior enemy forces

B. (:30-31) Bargaining of Jephthah – prompted by faith mixed with presumption

“And Jephthah made a vow to the LORD and said, ‘If Thou wilt indeed give the sons of Ammon into my hand, then it shall be that whatever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the sons of Ammon, it shall be the LORD’s, and I will offer it up as a burnt offering.’”

Whole burnt offering; that which goes up to the Lord on the altar; Judges 6:26

Jephthah intended this to be a very difficult vow for him to fulfill

Left it to the providence of God to determine the one to be sacrificed

Wolf: The words “when I return in triumph” are identical with those of Gideon in 8:9, as he grimly promised death to the men of Peniel

Brensinger: The noun olah, whether in OT contexts of celebration or petition, consistently refers to a burnt offering (Gen. 8:20; 22:2; Lev. 1:4; 1 Sam. 7:9; Jer. 14:12).

C. (:32-33) Blessing Upon Jephthah – prompted by the grace of God

“So Jephthah crossed over to the sons of Ammon to fight against them; and the LORD gave them into his hand. And he struck them with a very great slaughter from Aroer to the entrance of Minnith, twenty cities, and as far as Abel-keramim. So the sons of Ammon were subdued before the sons of Israel.”

Not just one battle involved here; this was an entire military campaign that was victorious against twenty cities


A. (:34-35) Commitments Can Be Costly

“When Jephthah came to his house at Mizpah, behold, his daughter was coming out to meet him with tambourines and with dancing. Now she was his one and only child; besides her he had neither son nor daughter. And it came about when he saw her, that he tore his clothes and said, ‘Alas, my daughter! You have brought me very low, and you are among those who trouble me; for I have given my word to the LORD, and I cannot take it back.’”

Brensinger: In the traditional role of jubilant women welcoming home their heroes, this unsuspecting child dances in total celebration (Exod. 15:20-21; Judg. 5:28-30; 1 Sam. 18:6-7).

“tore his clothes” – Lev. 10:6 – sign of intense mourning at time of death

B. (:36) Commitments Call For Submission

“So she said to him, ‘My father, you have given your word to the LORD; do to me as you have said, since the LORD has avenged you of your enemies, the sons of Ammon.’”

C. (:37-40) Commitments Worth Commemorating

“And she said to her father, ‘Let this thing be done for me; let me alone two months, that I may go to the mountains and weep because of my virginity, I and my companions.’ Then he said, ‘Go.’ So he sent her away for two months; and she left with her companions, and wept on the mountains because of her virginity. And it came about at the end of two months that she returned to her father, who did to her according to the vow which he had made; and she had no relations with a man. Thus it became a custom in Israel, that the daughters of Israel went yearly to commemorate the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite four days in the year.”

Block: No memorials were erected for Jephthah, but the memory of his daughter was immortalized in a festival celebrated in her honor. Nothing specific is known of this festival, except that it was observed four days each year by the women of Israel. It is doubtful this observance ever became a national event. The absence of any external attestation probably may be attributed to the fact that the events described to this point have all concerned only the Transjordanian tribes, whom their Cisjordanian countrymen tended to marginalize from the beginning.


1 Thess. 5:24 “Faithful is He who calls you, and He will also bring it to pass.”

Look at all the passages that speak to the faithfulness of God

Not saying “Don’t make any commitments to the Lord”

But be careful in what you pledge and follow through and keep your commitments; don’t make commitments as part of some bargaining interaction with a God who graciously gives good gifts to His children.

“O Jesus I have promised to serve Thee to the end”