Every verse in the Bible has only one valid interpretation. There are many applications for Scripture, but only one valid interpretation. In addition, there are no revelations in the Bible. A revelation is a previously unknown truth, and all of the truth in the Bible has already been revealed. Therefore, anything new we learn may be a revelation to us, but that’s it. It’s better to consider any “revelations” as illuminations and move on. Every so often in my Biblical studies, I find a verse that has conflicting interpretations. Some commentators think one thing, and others think something else.

This leads me to a Jephthah. Jephthah was one of Israel’s judges who delivered them out of the hands of their enemies. He was considered worthy enough to appear in Hebrews 11 as a man of faith who “conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised” (Hebrew 11:32 NIV). Jephthah was also the only Israelite to perform a human sacrifice. Well, depending on how you interpret these verses.

And Jephthah made a vow to the Lord: “If you give the Ammonites into my hands, “whatever comes out of the door of my house to meet me when I return in triumph from the Ammonites will be the Lord’s, and I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering.”

Judges 11:30-31 (NIV)

Last year I was discussing ways in which our rash behavior could lead us into undesirable circumstances, I brought up Jephthah and this vow he made to the Lord. In case you didn’t know, the first person who came out of Jephthah’s house to greet him was his daughter. An only child. Here was Jephthah’s response when he saw her.

When he saw her, he tore his clothes and cried, “Oh no, my daughter! You have brought me down and I am devastated. I have made a vow to the Lord that I cannot break.”

Judges 11:35 (NIV)

It seems clear that Jephthah had made a vow to the Lord to sacrifice the first thing that came out of the house to meet him when he got home. However, this interpretation, while widely accepted as the only acceptable interpretation, for hundreds of years by our forefathers, was greeted by another that posits she wasn’t sacrificed as a burnt offering. Instead, she lived the rest of her life in seclusion as a virgin. This view comes out for several reasons that might be explained by her response to learning about the vow as seen here in the text.

“My father,” she replied, “you have given your word to the Lord. Do to me just as you promised, now that the Lord has avenged you of your enemies, the Ammonites. But grant me this one request,” she said. “Give me two months to roam the hills and weep with my friends, because I will never marry.”

Judges 11:36-37 (NIV)

Having children was a sign of prosperity for the Israelites. We know that infertility can exist in a man or a woman. However, the Bible only tells us about barren women and the disgrace they suffered. One might gather that while dying was awful enough. Dying without having any children was worse. Either through infertility or otherwise. Hence, Jephthah’s daughter’s request to mourn with her friends for two months. Another problem with determining whether or not Jephthah sacrificed his daughter appears to be wrapped up in how these two verses are interpreted.

After the two months, she returned to her father, and he did to her as he had vowed. And she was a virgin. From this comes the Israelite tradition that each year the young women of Israel go out for four days to commemorate the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite (emphasis added)

Judges 11:39-40 (NIV)

Again, it seems clear that Jephthah’s vow was to give to the Lord as a burnt offering, the first thing that came out of the house to greet him. Some people interpret the statement that she was a virgin as an indicator of her fate as a spinster dedicated to the Lord.

I think that Jephthah literally sacrificed his daughter as a burnt offering to the Lord. Perhaps it’s nothing, but something Jephthah said to the king of the Ammonites stands out to me.

Now since the Lord, the God of Israel, has driven the Amorites out before his people Israel, what right have you to take it over? Will you not take what your god Chemosh gives you? Likewise, whatever the Lord our God has given us, we will possess.

Judges 11:23-24 (NIV)

Without a doubt, Jephthah had been educated in the history of the Israelites. This is evident by his demonstration of the history surrounding the land the Ammonite king wanted to possess. However, Jephthah doesn’t argue that the Israelites should keep the land because it was given to them by the One true God. Indeed, he uses no such epithet to differentiate the Lord from Chemosh, as David did, when Goliath besmirched the Lord.

David asked the men standing near him, “What will be done for the man who kills this Philistine and removes this disgrace from Israel? Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?” (emphasis added)

1 Samuel 17:26 (NIV)

Although Jephthah does differentiate between the god of the Amorites and the God of the Israelites, there’s no indication of any other difference in the way that David spoke of God. David correctly calls the Lord, “The living God” because all other gods are not. They were made up by people. If Jephthah only saw Yahweh as the God of the Israelites and not the only living and true God, then isn’t it possible that adopting the behaviors of the surrounding people might not be so unpalatable? Both Chemosh and Molech were gods that the people around the Israelites worshiped, and human sacrifice was part of that practice. Obviously, Jephthah would have been aware of this, but his understanding of God was clouded by what he knew about other gods that served the people around them. Therefore, offering up a human as a sacrifice wouldn’t have been that out of place given the ethos of the period.

We could debate whether or not Jephthah was aware that human sacrifice was an abomination to the Lord. They’re certainly are enough arguments out there as to why Jephthah didn’t murder his daughter. Some point out that the Jews wouldn’t have celebrated such an awful event; a human sacrifice. However, other than this mention of it in Judges 11:40, there isn’t such a celebration done by the women of Israel regarding Jephthah’s daughter. Therefore, it was likely a local event that died out and went no further. Regardless, what was celebrated was the heroism of Jephthah’s daughter. Not her murder. It’s like Passover and Purim. Both celebrate the Jew’s deliverance from their enemies, but one could easily see them as macabre in a different light.

Some people have a problem with the idea that Jephthah sacrificed his daughter as a burnt offering because it doesn’t fit within the character of God or Scripture about God. This is why the story bothers them, but we should be bothered by this story. However, the story of Jephthah and his daughter isn’t a story about God per se. It’s more of a story of God’s people and how they behaved when they were not following him wholeheartedly. We can offer a sugar-coated interpretation that doesn’t fit within the context of the time, or we can choose to accept that people do brutal and ignorant things when they lean on their own understanding.

Do you know God? God knows you, and he loves you. He sees you as significant because you are. No one is insignificant to Him. He’s with you today, and he wants you to know him. Jesus died for your sins and mine so we could be free of guilt, be free from death, and live eternally with him. Eternal salvation is just a prayer away.

Pray this prayer with me to accept the gift of salvation today:

Lord Jesus, forgive me for all my sins. I repent from my ways. Wash me in your blood and cleanse me from all unrighteousness. I believe that you died on the cross, were buried, and on the third day, God the Father raised you from the dead. Right now, Lord Jesus, I open the door to my heart, and I receive you into my heart as my Lord and personal Savior. Amen.

If you prayed that prayer, then congratulations! You are on the first step of a brand new life. Allow me to be the first to welcome you to my family, the family of God. There are abundant resources available online for new Christians. You can visit here for more information on what to do next. You can also leave me a comment, and I’ll do my best to help you on the next step of this incredible journey.