Jephthah, in Judges 11, makes a rash vow, and his only child, his daughter, pays the price. What debate prevails concerning this passage seems to be focused on the nature of the price paid by the daughter. Was she burned as an offering to God? Instead, was she dedicated to the LORD’s service for life?
Regarding this debate, which really is not intended to be the topic of this post, Deuteronomy 23:2 informs us that, “If a person is illegitimate by birth, neither he nor his descendants for ten generations may be admitted to the assembly of the LORD.” As Jephthah was the son of a prostitute (Judges 11:1), neither he nor his daughter were eligible to be dedicated to the LORD’s service, so that option is out of play.
The point I wish to demonstrate is that Jephthah was a monster. He was either an ignorant LORD-worshipper who killed his daughter or a prideful self-worshipper who killed his daughter.
That Jephthah made the vow is not in question.
That Jephthah’s daughter was the unintended victim of the vow is also not in question.
What is questionable is Jephthah’s response to his daughter becoming the victim of his vow. Deuteronomy 18:10 states explicitly, “There shall not be found among you anyone who burns his son or his daughter as an offering.” Either Jephthah was unaware of the law and followed through with his vow, or he was aware of the law and followed through with his vow anyway.
Even worse, Leviticus 5:4-6 allows the substitution of a female lamb or goat in the instance of making a rash vow. Jephthah could have killed a lamb or a goat instead of his daughter and still, from a legal standpoint, been right with God.
Yet worse still, Leviticus chapter 27, which explains the majority of the laws concerning vows, allows Jephthah to redeem his daughter from the LORD for thirty shekels of silver.
In the two months between Jephthah’s realizing the tragedy of his vow and the return of his daughter from the mountains to be burned to death, he didn’t pursue an alternative to her death. If he didn’t know the law, he was an ignorant religious leader who could have saved his daughter if he had sought out the law; however, if he knew the law and sacrificed his daughter anyway, not only did he directly disobey God, he knew the law provided for his backing out of the vow if he humbled himself and made the rash vow sacrifice or paid the redemption price.
For a more thorough treatment of this argument, see this page.
After that, check out this follow up page that answers questions readers posted in response to the first article.