Unsavory Passages

So, I’m writing about the Bible right now, and I’ve landed on what is, to me, the most unsavory story in all of scripture. It’s the story of Jephthah and the sacrifice of his daughter in Judges 11. What a horrific passage. But, in some strange way, I’m glad it’s in there — and that’s what I’m trying to write about, what’s good about this story…

  • barlow

    Did he sacrifice her or was it a matter of dedicating her to the temple as a temple servant – sort of like a Nun?The reason I ask is that part of her sadness relates to never being married, and so I wonder if she mourns entering the celibate life. Are there any arguments you’ve run across that try to establish that something other than human sacrifice is in view there?

  • Brian

    The story of Jephtah’s daughter, as I see it (and I don’t remember where I read this first) is a classic case of an attempt at piety gone drastically wrong. What God gave approval of was Jephthah courage in facing the ammonites, not in his foolish sacrifice of his daughter. As a number of scholars have pointed out, Jephthah did not need to follow through on his vow and in keeping his foolish vow he violated God’s commandments against human sacrifice. I think it serves best as a story of caution – a text of terror in the truest sense – as a story of how not do be piously devoted to God.

  • jeff

    On the surface, it seems this story is a lesson to all the drunk-sick guys, kneeling necxt to the toilet, making ridiculous promises to God, if He’ll just “get them out of this mess”…But on a deeper level, I believe Jephthah’s story is a picture of what has happened to christianity.Much like Jephthah, we have become so power-hungry… so victory-oriented… so politically motivated, that we have sacrificed the very thing that God would have, be so dear to us.I find it interesting that his daughter mourns the fact that she will never be a “bride”… something we, as the church are called to be.So what is the significance? I’m not exactly sure. But it seems that we, as the church have sacrificed our bridal-status, in exchange for politically motivated christianity. We’ve sacrificed the poor and impoverished of the world, for our own personal, spiritual, political gain.The very people God would have to be His bride: the “least of these”, are the very ones we’ve neglected for our christianized agendas…Or am I reading into this too much???

  • jeff

    Or even more, as a result of Jephthah’s desire for military victory, it was his “offspring” who became collateral damage…I guess I read this and I ask myself, “How does the nature of my spiritual life affect those generations who will follow me?”

  • Greg

    hey Tony. If you can get your hands on Gordon Hugenberger’s argument, I think you will get a new angle on things. He’s been working on a judges commentary for years now and has a refreshing approach. He’s the pastor of park street church in boston and adjunct faculty at Gordon Conwell. He makes a strong argument for what barlow suggested…that he doesn’t actually KILL his daughter.

  • Scott

    Isn’t there a similar story in Acts? It’s somewhat different, I think people were trying to kill or have sex with Paul(?) or something. He was hidden in a person’s house. The owner then sends his daughters out for th mob…Is this ringing a bell to anyone?

  • M. Pease

    Hi Tony, folks;I’m new to your conversation, but I couldn’t resist putting my nickle’s worth in.Perhaps this story is illustrative of what happens when we operate in pride. It sounds like wounded pride that made Jephtah claim leadership as a reward for helping to defend Gilead. Maybe it was boastful pride (hubris) that produced the vow of “whatever first comes out of the door” and it looks like stubbornness (another form of pride) that made him carry out the vow when he probably should have fallen on his face before God to ask for mercy. Jephtah strikes me as a very proud man. Maybe the good in this story is that he will learn humility.I think that perhaps because vows tend to come at least partly out of pride that Jesus tells us not to make vows, but have our yes mean yes and our no mean no.Not that I’ve done anything similar, …Naw, not me!

  • Anastasia

    the story about sending the daughters out is from Genesis. It was Lot.I think embracing the idea that he didn’t really kill her is the easy way out. I don’t really see that in the passage.

  • Daniel

    I definitely think that Jephthah murdered his daughter. It’s ironic that Jephthah was a leader of the revolt against the Ammonite oppression since the Ammonites sacrificed their children as a part of their worship of their national Molech. Jephthah’s life serves as a warning to all who try to manupulate God. God’s not our vending machine.

  • Christian

    Isn’t Jephthah listed in Hebrews 11 in the faith “hall of fame”? How does that grab us?

  • Anonymous

    I’m familiar with Gordon Hugenberger’s position on the judges which sounds radical at first, but I find pretty convincing. He stresses reading each of the judges in light of Judges 1 & 2, particularly 2:16ff. It was the Lord who raised up the judges; the Lord was with the judge; the Lord delivered Israel from their enemies through the hand of the judge. With a number of judges, including Jepthah, we are told explicitly that the Spirit was upon the judge. We should also see the judges in light of Dt. 18:15ff – the Lord’s promise through Moses to raise up a “prophet like me.” As we look at the leaders who follow Moses, we should see how they resemble him. Joshua is the first “2nd Moses” figure (he does Moses-type miracles – crossing the Jordan on dry land, writing the law, renewing the covenant-Josh. 24). The next “2nd Moses” figures are the judges, who, in Hugenberger’s interpretation of the biblical texts, are all admirable figures. Jephthah clearly knew the Mosaic law if you compare the historical material Jephthah narrates in Judges 11 with Numbers 21. He is a worthy covenant mediator, another 2nd Moses figure, and in GH’s view, he dedicated his daughter to the Lord’s service. How could someone who engaged in child sacrifice make it into the hall of fame of Hebrews 11?


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