How can someone actually kill their own daughter?

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  • How can someone actually kill their own daughter?

    Judges 11:31-40 "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... 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 custom that each year the young women of Israel go out for four days to commemorate the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite. Question submitted by cmnahrwold.
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    God seeming to condone or promote evil is where the theology of the proto-orthodox Ebonites and Marconites come in. These heretical groups from the early church could not comprehend certain content of the Old Testament including such passages as the one above. They developed a teaching that there were two God’s… an angry, jealous and vengeful one of the Old Testament and a loving, forgiving and supportive one of the New Testament.

    As much as the early church fathers largely disliked the teachings of these Gnostic groups, who were later suppressed and reduced, I sympathetically understanding why such thinking might have occurred when one surveys these scriptures. They seem to be in conflict with the overall portrait of what Jesus represented.

    However, what the early bible students lacked in part was the history of the ancient empires, traditions and customs. It was customary during ancient times to sacrifice the first born to the God’s in nearly all civilizations. Today, it seems like an outrage, then, it was as accepted as homosexuals are today. Perverse, absolutely, accepted by the culture as a toleranted choice, absolutely. When Abraham prepared to sacrifice his son Isaac, he was in compliance with the customs of that time. God tested Abraham to see his intention by transit of the customs, but we know from Deut. 12:31 that God abhorred the practice of human sacrifice. This was never the intent of God, to propagate Isaac's death.

    This brings us to the story of Jephthah as found in Judges 11. His father was a warrior but his mother was a prostitute. When he grew up his father's legitimate sons drove him away. Jephthah was forced to leave the safety of the cities and fend for himself. Jephthah managed fairly well and gathered around him what the bible calls worthless men or adventurers depending on which translation you use. The word used to describe these men is also used to describe an object as empty. He had managed to surround himself with men who were willing to do whatever had to be done.

    Some time later, the Ammonites attacked Israel and the elders from his home town came to him and asked for his help to fend off the Ammonites. They offered to make him the head of the region if he is successful. It's a rags to riches kind of story, and yet, you know that if they are willing to come to someone who was kicked out and offer to have him be their leader if he's successful that this is no small task they're asking him.

    It's interesting that the first thing Jephthah tries to do is actually negotiate a peace treaty with the Ammonites. He doesn't just jump into war. But, the Ammonites weren't going to change their minds. In fact, after a lengthy letter he sends to the King of Ammon, Judges 11:28 tells us “The king of Ammon, however, paid no attention to the message Jephthah sent him.” The King of Ammon wasn't worried about losing and didn't see it worthwhile to even acknowledge Jephthah with a response.

    So here is Jephthah, about to go against the Ammonites who don't see him as any threat and at stake isn't just his life but a chance to be seen as respectable in the eyes of his own people. But he has to do something that odds are, nobody really thinks he can do. So what does he do? He makes a deal with God. In Judges 11:30 we read “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.'”

    What is Jephthah offering to sacrifice? Even he doesn't know. It's hard to tell what his intent was. Was he thinking about a favorite pet that usually greeted him from the house? Was there a servant he didn't like? Who knows. What we do know is this. The word “whatever” that he used is a word that means not just whatever but also whoever. It's a very general and vague term that is used to refer to animals, people, objects, you name it.

    Judges 11:32-33 reads “Then Jephthah went over to fight the Ammonites, and the Lord gave them into his hands. He devastated twenty towns from Aroer to the vicinity of Minnith, as far as Abel Keramim. Thus Israel subdued Ammon.” Note that it states clearly that God gave the Ammonites into his hands. It's obvious and clear when God is giving a person victory. He makes sure of it. He makes it so glaringly obvious that no man could possibly accomplish the task in the manner he did without God's help that people look and say “God is behind this”. God had accepted Jephthah's vow and had held up his end of the bargain.

    When Jephthah returned home who should come out of his home to greet him but his only child. His daughter. Judges 11:35 “When he saw her, he tore his clothes and cried, “Oh! My daughter! You have made me miserable and wretched, because I have made a vow to the Lord that I cannot break.” He never saw it coming. Somehow, when he made his vow he hadn't thought it through. He obviously hadn't planned on this. He was shocked. And yet, he had made a vow to God and God had given him what he asked for. What should he do? What would you do?

    There's no real relationship with God being shown here. As children of God, when we make a vow to God, He takes it seriously. This is something Jephthah did understand about God. But God has never asked us to sacrifice children in his name and in fact destroyed entire nations over the practice of sacrificing children to false Gods. This was something Jephthah didn't seem to understand.

    Making oaths to God and swearing by his name was loosely practiced without reverence, and Jesus taught the Jews in Matthew 5:33-37 saying "Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.' But I tell you, Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God's throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. Simply let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No'; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.”

    Judges 11:39 reads “... she returned to her father and he did to her as he had vowed. ” He chose to fulfill his vow. Was he right to do this? It's a hard question because in Hebrews 11:32-34 we read “And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies.” Here Jephthah's faith is being compared to David, Samson, Samuel, even the prophets as a whole. There is also the white elephant in the room that God already knew that Jephthah's daughter would be the one to greet him and that Jephthah could and would fulfill his vow. God could have let Jephthah be defeated and yet, he accepted the vow and fulfilled his end of the deal. I think it shows us something that is both wonderful and terrible. We have the ability to enter a contract with God, and He will even do his part first already knowing that we will do our part.

    In all this, we learn that Jephthah made a foolish vow to the Lord. The Bible never specifically tells us whether Jephthah actually sacrificed his daughter as a burnt offering. Judges 11:39 seems to indicate that he did, "he did to her as he had vowed." However, the fact that his daughter was mourning the fact that she would never marry, instead of mourning that she was about to die – possibly indicates that Jephthah gave her to the tabernacle as a servant instead of sacrificing her. Whatever the case, God had specifically forbidden offering human sacrifices, therefore God never would have wanted Jephthah to sacrifice his daughter (Leviticus 20:1-5). Jeremiah 7:31, 19:5, and 32:35 clearly indicate that the idea of human sacrifice has "never even entered God's mind." Jephthah serves as an example for us, not to make foolish vows to God in a moment of passion. Momentary zeal and unbridled emotions can be a sure stumbling blocks for foolish choices.

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