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Jephtha's Sacrifice

Pastor of Iglesia Conexiones, a baptist church in Jessup, MD. B.A. in Bible, B.S. English Ed., M.S. in Educational Leadership.

Teaching about God's Will for The Modern Woman

This week, at Iglesia Conexiones (Spanish for Connections Church), I began a series on God's will for the modern woman. The purpose of this series is to teach what God's word, the Bible, really teaches about women. I have been reading some online material by feminists who argue that Christianity is the greatest enemy of women's rights, and I think teaching Christian men and women about this issue is necessary.

Summary of Judges 11:29-40

My first sermon in the series is based on Judges 11:29-40. In this passage, Judge Jephtha was led by the Spirit of God to battle against the Ammonites. However, before going into battle, Jephtha vowed to God that, if he was victorious, he would sacrifice to God anything that came out of his house to meet him after his return.

Jephtha was victorious, and when he returned home, it was his only child and daughter who came out of his house to meet him. Jeptha was greatly vexed, but because of his oath he did sacrifice his daughter to God.

Is God Unjust?

This Bible passage greatly concerns modern readers and provokes many questions, particularly among those critics of the Bible who argue that the Bible is anti-women.

  • What does this passage say about God's view of women?
  • What does this passage say about God's view of human sacrifice?

Jephtha's action is outrageous and offensive—why would the Bible teach something so horrible?

Be Careful of How You Interpret the Bible

But this passage was not meant to teach God's perspective about women or human sacrifice. In fact, the passage is not even meant to teach us to do as Jephtha did.

We need to understand the context of the passage and its theological context in order to discern what the Bible really wants to teach us through this passage.

The Context of Judges

Early in the book (Judges 2:7-23), we are told that acient Israel repeatedly fell into disobedience against God despite the judges that God sent to them. It is important that we understand, then, that many of the events that the book of Judges records are not examples for us to follow, but examples of what we should not do. In fact, even some of the judges were themselves disobedient to God (for example, Samson).

The Doctrinal Context

God clearly told Moses He is merciful, gracious, patient, good, and true (Exodus 34:6). As we navigate through the difficult passages of the Bible, we must keep God's character in perspective and let it be our light. Therefore, it is not possible that the God of the Bible would have desired Jephtha to sacrifice his daughter to Him.

Jephtha's Error

Jephtha was wrong in many ways. Because the author of Judges 11:29-40 does not explicitly tell us this, we must allow God's character and clear passages in the Bible to lead our thiking in this matter.

Error 1

Jephtha failed to trust God. Although the Spirit of God was leading Jephtha to battle against the Ammonites (Judges 11:29), Jephtha bargained with God (if you give me victory, I will give you a big sacrifice). This shows that Jephtha did not fully trust God—maybe he doubted God's character, or maybe he questioned his own experience of the direction provided by the Spirit. Whatever his reason was, he felt that he needed to make sure God was going to give him victory.

Error 2

God does not want human sacrifices. He made it clear in His Law that He hates human sacrifices (Deuteronomy 12:31). Jephtha was vowing to God that He would do something sinful and hateful—obviously, he was open to the possibility of sacrificing anything, even a human. How do you think God felt about this? You need not wonder, because God has already revealed that He hates human sacrifices (Deuteronomy 12:31).

Error 3

The Bible neither commands nor prohibits making vows to God. However, if we make a vow, we are commanded to keep the vow (Deuteronomy 23:21, Matthew 5:33). Nevertheless, God obviously wouldn't want us to vow to Him that we will do something that He hates—much less would He want us to keep such a hateful vow! Jephtha had given in to a legalistic interpretation of God's Law (see Matthew 9:13).

Error 4

Jephtha allowed his interpretation of his circumstances to guide him in what He would do. He vowed to sacrifice anything that came out of his how to greet him, and now his daughter was coming to greet him. Jephtha obviously thought that this was God's wil—he was wrong. Rather than allowing his own interpretation of his circumstances to guide him in what he should do, Jephtha should have obeyed Deuteronomy 23:21, prayed, asked a prophet or a Bible teacher for direction, and considered that maybe God had allowed his daughter to come and greet him so he would change his mind about his vow.

Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth

As you can see, there are many factors we must consider when we read problematic passagea in the Bible. We must consider the context of the passage, the purpose of the author, what God had already said about the issue at hand, what other passages in the Bible teach, and what God's character is actually like.

Anyone who would use this passage to teach that God looks down of the lives of women is simply wrong: they don't understand how the Bible is to be interpreted. This passage is not meant to teach about the value and the rights of women.

The point of the passage on Jephtha's sacrifice is that we need to trust God's character (that He is good, true, merciful, gracious, and patient) before we interprent the Bible and the circumstances in which we find ourselves.

Other Problematic Passages

Of course, there are other problematic passages in the Bible—this was just one of them. In my series on God's Will for The Modern Woman, I hope to clearly explain what God has revealed his will for women to be. However, if there are other problematic passages you would wish me to consider and respond to, feel free to ask. I don't have all the answers, but I think that through this article I have at least began to lay a foundation for how to rightly interpret such passages.

© 2020 Marcelo Carcach