The Lesson Of Jephthah’s Oath

Q. In Judges 11: 29-40 we read how Jephthah gave his daughter as a burnt offering to the Lord. Did he really? If so, why would God allow that, since He abhored the sacrifice of children? Or is it just that this man took his oath to the Lord literally, and he sacrificed her, and God just didn’t say anything about it? This really bothers me, and I hope you can answer this….no one else can.

A. There’s no reason to doubt the accuracy of the passage. But as you read it, notice there was no participation from the Lord in this matter at all. He neither sought the oath nor did he agree to it. The sacrifice of children was expressly forbidden (Deut. 18:10), and besides He had already determined to give Jephthah the victory, having sent His Holy Spirit to guide him (Judges 11:29). All we know is that Jephthah made the oath and felt obligated to perform on it. Upon learning of this, his daughter agreed even though doing so would require her life. Jephthah’s great victory was swallowed up in personal tragedy. But it wasn’t God’s doing.

(Some read the references to Jephthah’s daughter not marrying (Judges 11:37) and remaining a virgin (Judges 11:39) as indicating that she remained single all her life instead of being sacrificed. Others say it just means she didn’t become sexually involved with anyone while she was in the forest with friends.)

Later, Jesus warned us against making oaths to God, saying we should just do what we say we’ll do. He said anything beyond that comes from the evil one. (Matt. 5:33-37) Paul said that everything that was written in the past was written for our learning (Romans 15:4) so we’re supposed to learn from Jephthah’s mistake and refuse to make deals with God. All they can do is give the evil one a way to steal our victory.

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