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4/29/12 “Young Girls in the Bible: The Daughter of Jephthah” Judges 11:29-40
A. A difficult passage, a significant debate, with two very different interpretations
1. Human sacrifice
2. Jephthah gave up his daughter to a life of celibate service at the tabernacle.
II. Reasons why I don’t think Jephthah killed his daughter
A. The words don’t mean “burnt offering.” There’s no reference to fire or burning in the terms. They mean to ascend or lift up. Now smoke rises and so this is fitting language for a sacrifice which is burned. But burning isn’t necessarily what’s in mind.
B. The Bible is clear and emphatic on child sacrifices, long before Jephthah came along.
1. Leviticus 18:21 “You shall not give any of your children to offer them to Molech, and so profane the name of your God: I am the Lord.” (Cf. Leviticus 20:1-5)
2. Deut. 12:31 “You shall not worship the Lord your God in that way, for every abominable thing that the Lord hates they have done for their gods, for they even burn their sons and their daughters in the fire to their gods.” (Cf. Deut.18:10)
3. For one, a person can’t be sacrificed because he’s defiled by sin.
C. Those who argue that Jephthah killed his daughter must therefore portray him as a despicable, paganized lowlife who didn’t know enough not to think God approved of child sacrifice. And yet there is no indication of that in the story.
1. 29 “the Spirit of the Lord was upon Jephthah” and v.30 “Jephthah made a vow to the Lord”
2. He displays an impressive knowledge of Israel’s history and clearly distances himself and the rest of Israel from their pagan neighbors in his debate with the king of the Ammonites earlier in ch.11.
3. You don’t get the impression he would be ignorant of God’s prohibition of child sacrifice.
D. There is no known case of child sacrifice in Israel until 400 years later (during the reign of Manasseh).
E. Sometimes language of child sacrifice is used symbolicly in the Bible.
1. The firstborn was to be sacrificed to the Lord. E.g. “Consecrate to me all the firstborn. Whatever is the first to open the womb among the people of Israel, both of man and of beast, is mine.” (Exodus 13:2, cf. Num.8:14ff.)
2. But when it came to human children, this was fulfilled by means of an animal substitute. (Lev.20 This is what was happening at the temple when the baby Jesus was brought by His parents and they met Simeon and Anna — Lk.2:22ff.)
3. The point is that there is language in the Bible about children being sacrificed to the Lord which doesn’t refer to them literally being killed, but is symbolic.
F. The mourning in the story was with regard to her virginity not her death.
1. 37 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.”
2. 39 And at the end of two months, she returned to her father, who did with her according to his vow that he had made. She had never known a man.
G. We know that there were also women who served at the tabernacle.
1. “Now Eli was very old, and he kept hearing all that his sons were doing to all Israel, and how they lay with the women who were serving at the entrance to the tent of meeting.” (1Samuel 2:22)
2. This verse may also imply that they were supposed to be virgins.
3. Some have argued that the idea of a vow of chastity is unknown in Israel’s history. But in Mt.19:10-12 even Jesus speaks about the fact that some take a vow of chastity.
a. The disciples said to him, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” But he said to them, “Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it.”
H. Parallel from the same era when Hannah promises in 1Sam.1:11 to give her son to the Lord if He answered her prayer.
1. She vowed a vow and said, “O Lord of hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your servant and remember me and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a son, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life.”
I. The sweet and heroic portrayal of the girl
1. “The portrait of the young girl is painted in most sympathetic and attractive colors.” D. I. Block
2. Her willingness: Go ahead, Dad. Kill me? If she supported her father in his evil deed, she becomes an accomplice, not a hero. Her willingness to go along would have been evil, not good.
J. The problem of no one objecting
1. A priest would have had to actually offer the sacrifice.
2. Only male sacrifices were acceptable.
3. What about Jephthah’s wife? Do you think she was going to stand by and let her husband murder their daughter?
4. Jephthah continued serving as a judge in Israel after the incident, even though the law of Moses imposed the death penalty upon anyone who sacrificed one of his children (Leviticus 20:2). If Jephthah had sacrificed his daughter, why was there no outcry from his fellow Israelites?
K. “the daughters of Israel went year by year to lament the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite four days in the year.”
1. The word translated lament is used only one other time: to remember in a positive, celebratory way. So, it might be better translated “the daughters of Israel went year by year to celebrate the daughter of Jephthah.”
2. There was nothing to celebrate if she was sacrificed.
3. The four days of commemoration could easily have been four days when the women went to visit with Jephthah’s daughter and celebrate her for her sacrifice on their behalf.
a. She had given up the thing they prized most dearly (her ability to have children) in order for them to have it.
L. No criticism of the act at all, but only praise for Jephthah
1. “What more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— 33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight... 39 All these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised.” (Hebrews 11:32-34, 39)
2. The Book of Judges: cycles of faithlessness/trouble/desperation/deliverance. But the judges themselves were the heroes, the deliverers. Four of them make it into the faith hall-of-fame.
III. Application re: faith
A. When you’re at the bottom of the pecking order, a lot of times your life isn’t about your own choices.
1. You need to be able to rest in the fact that there is Someone making the choices for you.
B. The daughter of Jephthah, along with the other young women we’ve studied, had such good attitudes in the face of undesirable circumstances.
1. She LONGED to be married, so much that she needed two months to grieve.
2. She knew that her virginity made it possible for all the other young women in Israel to get married and bear children. Like Jesus, she willingly sacrificed her own preferences for the good of others.
C. There are two dangers: being too compliant, and being too resistant.
1. There’s a time to resist and a time to comply.
2. And when there’s nothing we can do about something, it’s the time to comply, and trust in God.
D. Sometimes we are put in a situation different than what we want, what we always thought we’d be.
1. Single, barren, unhappy marriage, abandoned, cancer, MS, type 1 diabetes, etc.
2. Ready to accept our lot.
3. Does this kind of message get you depressed? I understand. I often have the same reaction. But, we really shouldn’t find it discouraging that the One who knows all things and who loves us more than we love ourselves has kept for Himself the prerogative of choosing what is best for us.
4. “The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.” (Psalm 16:5-6)
IV. Application re: marriage and singleness
1. Not good for man to be alone Gen.2:18
2. And yet, some are called to singleness (1Cor.7:25-38)
1. The aloneness, growing old alone, Never being adored physically, Never being a parent
2. There are advantages to being single: Temptations avoided, 1Cor7
3. The friends have a special role in supporting the single person. Just as your friends stand with you at the important moment of your wedding, so they must stand with you if the Lord chooses to keep you single.
a. The widow
C. The power of the fear of singleness
1. Many young women deep down are haunted by the possibility of being left alone.
2. Foolish marriage choices are often fueled by a fear of singleness, especially on the part of young women.
3. Jephthah’s daughter is an example of a women who didn’t make an idol out of getting married. And in this we would be wise to imitate her.