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Francine Erre is a teacher, speaker and writer.  God has given her the gift of teaching and a passion for women of the Bible, which she realized seven years ago while reading Proverbs 31.  At that time, the Holy Spirit led her to read a passage until she saw what she had been missing.  When Francine realized that the Biblical women would fit into today's society, she asked God to show her what else she didn't know about them.  Prior to that time, Francine had known only vaguely about five of the women.  However, God took her on a journey to learn about  more than fifty women and to get to know Him better.

She feels a need for today's women to know more about the women in the Bible in order to emulate their strength, service, and love for God.   However, Francine wishes to fulfill that vision in such a way that will not tear men down but help build up women.   

After seven years of studying and researching about the women in the Bible, Francine decided to put it all to good use.   F.I.N.E. Ministry was birthed, which is dedicated to teaching about the women in the Bible and the God they served.   F. I. N. E. is simply a play on her initials--Francine Ingrid Null Erre--and provides a good way to remember the name of the ministry.  She resides in Lexington, Ohio with her husband Tom.  They have two grown sons who are married and one grandson.

Did Jephthah Kill His Daughter for a Burnt Offering or Not?

 by Francine Erre

The debate continues as to whether or not Jephthah sacrificed his daughter as a burnt offering.  Since even Bible scholars are divided on the question, it is hard for laypeople to find the answer.  The best way for us to seek a satisfying answer is to sort though the ideas presented by the scholars and to look at the facts in the Bible.  I lean towards believing that Jephthah did not offer his daughter as a burnt offering and will show the reasons why I believe he didn't.

First, we need to look at an overview of the book of Judges.  In the book, this cycle develops.  The people would sin against God by worshiping the gods of the people in the land they failed to destroy.  God would become angry with them.  Usually, the country of the god they were worshiping at that time would come and bring oppression for many years.  Then, the people would cry out to God for deliverance.  God would hear their pleas and raise up a judge (ruler, leader) to free them, normally through a military battle of the oppressing nation.

As long as the judge was alive, the Israelites would be at peace, sometimes up to 40 years.  However, when that judge died, they would go back to sinning and worshiping other gods.  They just couldn't get the idea that God wanted them to follow Him through his prophets, and not just a human military leader.  

Evidence exists that not all the tribes were being oppressed at the same time.  Each of the judges mentioned ruled one or more tribes, but not all.  The tribes at this time were very loosely knitted.  It was almost as if they were 12 countries inside one country without a central head of government.   This factor is important for us to know because while part of Israel was worshiping other gods, no doubt some of them stayed true to God.  God has always had a group of loyal followers.  

In I Kings 18, God used Obadiah to save a hundred prophets by hiding those fifty to a cave.  In the book of Judges, although probably more, at least two prophets are mentioned--one was Deborah and one unnamed.  Therefore, God still had His prophets to guide the people.  Also, the Levites are never mentioned as part of the oppressed ones.  Also, it never says the tabernacle was captured or destroyed during the time of the Judges.  In fact, it was located in Ephraim during this time, which would indicate that priests and prophets still worshiped God in the land.  When we study about Jephthah, this point is important to remember. 

Some of the Biblical scholars point out that Jephthah lived during a time of semi-paganism.  But, did he?  The answer hinges on which part of the cycle they were in at the time his story takes place.  As I mentioned earlier, the tribes would be in a cycle of sin, oppression, crying out to God for deliverance, and being delivered followed by living in peace.  When the leader died, the cycle started over.

This cycle changed slightly in chapter 10 where the story of Jephthah began.  Yes, they had sinned by worshiping other gods; and yes, they cried out to the LORD for deliverance.  However, the wording is different in verse 10, "And the children of Israel cried unto the LORD, saying, 'We have sinned against You, because we have both forsaken our God and served the Baals!'" Here is the first time they have admitted their sin.  Previously, they would just cry out for deliverance.  The passage goes on with God telling them that each time they cried out to Him, He delivered them.   

Then, God says a very startling thing in verses 13 and 14 when He tells them "Yet you have forsaken Me and served other gods which you have chosen; let them deliver you in your time of distress."   Is God giving up on the Israelites?  Not really.  He wants them to prove they have truly repented and that they will follow Him.   Again, they admit their sin and ask God to do with them as He will, but to deliver them that day.  God had them where He wanted them.  To show God they mean business this time, they ridded themselves of the foreign gods they had been worshiping.  On their own, they began serving God.  Now that they are showing their sincerity and commitment to God, He has mercy on them.  Another difference is they didn't wait for God to choose a leader nor to deliver them.  All other times, God chose the leader; but this time, He did not, at least not 'til later. 

What kind of leader did the Israelites choose?  Chapter 11 tells us he was a Gileadite, the son of a prostitute.  His half brothers didn't like the idea of sharing their father's inheritance with him and threw him out.  He became an outcast, not actually someone we would choose to be a leader.  The first verse of the chapter tells us he was a mighty warrior. 

The Christian Answers website describes Jephthah as "a wild, daring Gilead mountaineer similar to a warrior Elijah.  When he was thrown out of his father's house, he went to live in a country called Tob where he gathered a bunch of ruffians.  The NIV calls them adventurers, and the KJV calls them vain men.  In reality, they were raiders.  Jephthah and his men attacked the enemy in raids on their camps, proving himself as a natural leader and a fighter.  He would seem the logical choice to lead the Gileadites to war against the Ammonites.  The problem, though, is that the Gileadites would have had to swallow their pride when they asked Jephthah to lead.  They had thrown him out because they hated him even though he would have forgiven them.  The irony is that he would become the leader of the very ones that would not share their inheritance with him.  

From the wording in 11:9, he seems to be a man who knew God and leaned on Him for wisdom and action.  He made them promise as an oath that he'd be their leader, which was a smart move indeed.  First, he tried a diplomatic way by talking to the king of the Ammonites.  Some commentaries say that Jephthah showed a weak nature through his diplomacy.  In my opinion, however, it really showed his true leadership ability.  He might have been able to have talked the king into reasoning that would end the war peacefully.  It would also give him time to gather and prepare the army needed for battle if the talks failed, which they did.  The message he sent to the Ammonites shows that he did know the history of the Israelites and how God protected them and their claim to the land.  This part of the passage shows that he was an intelligent man that knew God, the history and the laws. 

The people of Gilead had chosen him as their leader, and now God chooses him.  The Spirit of the LORD came upon him even before he made his "rash" vow in which he said, "If You will indeed deliver the people of Ammon into my hands, then it will be that whatever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the people of Ammon shall surely be the Lord's, and I will offer it up as a burnt offering." (11:31).  He wants to give God thanksgiving for the victory, but he doesn't seem to know what to give Him and is leaving it up to God to take what He wants.  Jephthah trusted God for victory as well as leaving it up to Him to choose what He wants for a sacrifice. 

What did he really mean when he said "and I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering"?  (NIV)  The Interlinear Bible reads:  "it shall be that anything which comes out from the doors of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the Ammonites, it shall belong to Jehovah, and I will offer it (instead of) a burnt offering." Also, according to some Hebrew scholars, the Hebrew word vav used here can be translated as "or" and a few other words such as "so, then, when, how, now, or, but and that."  Apparently, no hard and fast rule says that vav should be translated by the word "and."   If this statement is true, then a whole new meaning is given to his vow.  It would then seem that the vow Jephthah made would be if God gave him the victory, he'd give what came out of his household either as a dedication offering if it was unclean, or a burnt offering if it was clean.

God, in His wisdom and mercy, knows that some times people will make irrational vows.  He, in His wisdom and mercy has that covered in Lev. 27.   Part of the chapter speaks about being able to redeem animals and people dedicated to God because of a vow.  So, why didn't Jephthah just redeem his daughter?  Probably, he didn't redeem her because he devoted her to the LORD.   Lev 27:28 states that "nothing that the man owns and devotes to the LORD---whether man (in this case daughter) or family land---may be sold of redeemed; everything so devoted is most holy to the LORD.  

Now for the part of "whatever" which came out the doors of his house.  Their houses were built very different than ours.  When they spoke about their house, the courtyard was included and was built around the house where they cooked and carried on many of their activities.  It was also where many would keep their animals.  In some of the houses, half the flooring in the house was dirt where the animals would stay at night for protection.  In a time of war like they were then experiencing, they would do just that.  Therefore, it could very well have been an animal that would come out of the "door."   

Jephthah probably thought when he made the vow that it was more likely an animal that would be the first to greet him, not a human.   However, his daughter came to greet him, happy and singing his praises for winning the battle.  The way she greeted him was the normal way a victor was greeted returning from battle   as seem often in the stories about David and his victories. 

When he saw his daughter, he was in such grief that he tore his clothes and cried.  Some may say the sorrow he showed was proof he would be killing her as a burnt offering.  However, were his tears because she is about to die?  Or, is something else in play here?  Notice the Bible stresses she is his only child, "except for her he had neither son nor daughter." I believe the reason the Bible emphasizes this point is that it has something to do with the inheritance laws.  Since Jephthah had no sons and she was the only child, she would be the one to inherit his property, receive the blessing and carry the family name.  If for some reason she didn't have children, such as death, or remaining a virgin all her life, then the land would be left to his hated half-brothers, the ones that kicked Jephthah out of his inheritance.  Now, some would say that her being alone would be proof that she was offered as a burnt offering.

What puzzles me is her reaction.  Why would she be more concerned that she would not get married and have children than she was about dying?  Why would she want to cry for two months with her friends about "not being married"?  Why delay her death any longer than necessary unless she knew that it was not death she was facing but never having children?  Jewish girls longed to become a mother and be called the "mother of Israel" who gave birth to the son promised in Genesis.  It was a blessing from God to have children and not having a child brought overwhelming sadness.  Looking at the lives of Sarah, Rebecca, Hannah, and others, we agree.  Without a child from her, the family would be wiped out.   Likewise, she knew the land her father owned would go to his half-brothers, wiping out his name along with hers and causing a double tragedy. 

Now, did he offer her up as a burnt offering?  Some would say yes because of the semi-pagan time in which they lived.   I trust I have shown they were living in a time of serving God, not the Baals.  Actually, more proof exists that he couldn't have used his daughter as a burnt offering.  Remember, they were back to worshiping God, even before he was chosen as leader and went to battle, not after. 

Also, a priest would have had to be in the land to accept the burnt offering to offer to the Lord.  Burnt offerings were given voluntarily to make atonement for the offerer, not for thanksgiving. (11:30). All burnt offerings had to be a male lamb or bull, or birds for a sweet aroma before the Lord. (Lev. 1).  However, most importantly, human sacrifices were strictly forbidden in Deut. 12:31. "You shall not worship the LORD your God in that way; for every abomination to the LORD which He hates they have done to their gods; for they burn even their sons and daughters in the fire to their gods."  Not only would no priest in the land accept the girl as a sacrifice, but God, himself, would not accept it.  God cannot go against his own laws, and He hates the sacrificing of children.  

If she was not sacrificed as burnt offering, was a sacrifice made?  Yes, her life would be dedicated to God.  She would become a servant of God, serving at the Tabernacle's door.  This dedication vow is much like Hannah's when she vowed to give God the child if He would let her give birth to a son.  Hannah kept her vow, and so did Jephthah.  Both of their children were dedicated to God for the service of the Tabernacle.

Exodus 38:8 speaks of the women assembling in the KJV or "the women who served" in the NIV.  The Hebrew word translated as either assembling or serving means guarding.  Another alternative definition for the word is "ministering."  God had a strict rule that the women who guarded, ministered, or served at the Tabernacle were not to become prostitutes.  Jephthah's daughter was a virgin at the time she was "devoted" to God and would remain so as long as she stayed at the temple.  

This rule both protected the women and kept them from tarnishing God's name.  He did not want His women that served him (and in reality all the Israelite women) treated like prostitutes (Lev. 19:29).  According to The Illustrated Manners and Customs of the Bible, fertility religions (which included Baal and his counterpart Astaroth) placed great emphasis on reproduction of both the land and humans.  They stressed expressing this reproduction in sexual unions.  They had their "holy ones," which were homosexual priests and priestesses who acted as prostitutes.  God, on the other hand, was against this practice.  

Deuteronomy 23:17 states, "No Israelite man or woman is to become a shrine prostitute." The Bible points to just how God felt about turning His women that served in the Tabernacle into shrine prostitutes.   In I Samuel 2:22, God killed Eli's sons because they were having sex with God's women serving at the door of the Tabernacle.  These women were God's "holy ones" and were as close to being a priest as a woman could be.

The Hebrew word lamed is attached to the noun "daughter" in verse 40 of Judges 11 and is often translated as the word "to."  It could mean that the women would go yearly to the Tabernacle "to recount" to the daughter of Jephthah.  A living person can't talk to a dead person!  Another consideration is that Jephthah was one of the faithful mentioned in Hebrews 13.  If he had given his daughter as a burnt offering contrary to God's specifications, the Lord would not have honored him by including him in that great "hall of faith."

Although people may disagree with me, I trust I have shown the reasons why I believe she was not offered up as a burnt offering.   


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