Daughters in the Bible: daughter of Jephthah, Remained Faithful

The daughter of Jephthah is a heartbreaking story, but is also a testament to true faith and true love.

The Return of Jephtha, by Giovanni Antonio Pellegrini from Wikipedia

Let’s set the background.  Jephthah is described as a “mighty warrior”.  He is the son of Gilead and a prostitute and his half-brothers drives him away.  Later the elders of Gilead ask him to lead them in the battle of Ammonites.

Before heading into battle, “ 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}

More than likely he was used to the family dog or a family goat or sheep rushing out to greet him.  He never dreamed when he made his vow, what he was sacrificing.

Jephthah beats the Ammonites and “the Lord gave them into his hands”.  {Judges 11:30}

Jephthah was a man of God and praised the Lord for delivering the Ammonites into his hands.  He realized that it was not by his own power that he beat these enemies.

Jephthah daughter was loved by her friends and father

When Jephthah returned to his home in Mizpah, who should come out to meet him but his daughter, dancing to the sound of timbrels! She was an only child. Except for her he had neither son nor daughter.  {Judges 11:34}

Imagine the joy on Jephthah’s face as he approaches home.  Then his daughter dances out in celebration.  His face must have dropped from that of joy to disbelief and heartache.  His one and only child was the first person out his door.  Of all the times he had been greeted by their livestock, why did it have to be 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}

One can hear the pain in Jephthah’s voice.  Maybe he even fell to his knees in sorrow and disbelief.

“Like other young women in Israel, Jephthah’s daughter had looked forward to marrying and having a family of her own.  Now this would be impossible.”  {Women—the Life and Times}


His daughter had so much hope and promise ahead for her.  Even if she did not have a beau, one day she would marry and have children.

 “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.  {Judges 11:36}

But, his daughter is the one that comforts him.  She tells him that he gave his word and has to do what was promised.  After all, the Lord delivered his enemies into his hands.  Such wise words and advise for one so young.

“The deep emotion displayed by Jephthah and by his daughter reveals that bonds of mutual love rather than legalities motivated members of loving families.  Both Jephthah and his daughter seem deeply away of each other’s pain, and both were eager to do whatever they could to alleviate that pain.”  {Every Woman in the Bible}

Jephthah was heartbroken when his daughter appeared

This was Jephthah’s only child.  We do not know if his wife was still living or not.  The two of them were very close and extremely close to one another.

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 11:37}

Her request seems very reasonable.  If I was told at 14, 15, 16, 17, or 18, that I would never marry and have children, then I would also mourn for what I would never have.  She did not question her father’s vow, but asked for the chance to mourn this twist in the plot.

“Yet the young woman never questioned her father’s right to dedicate her life to the service of God.  She realized that her father must not break his vow, even though he as well as she was devastated at its unexpected impact on her life.”  {Every Woman in the Bible}

“You may go,” he said. And he let her go for two months. She and her friends went into the hills and wept because she would never marry.  {Judges 11:38}

How could her father deny such a request?

Jephthah daughter ran out to greet him

After the two months, she returned to her father, and he did to her as he had vowed. And she was a virgin.   {Judges 11:39}

He did what he vowed.  Does this mean he actually sacrificed his daughter?  One of our commentaries has a very different, and much more logical, solution.

“While some argue that Jephthah must have fulfilled his vow by killing and burning his daughter, this is not required by the text or by Hebrew practices…this principle is that a person or thing dedicated to God might fulfill a vow by a lifetime of service as well as by the surrender of a life.”  {Every Woman in the Bible}

map showing Gilead

So, how did she dedicate her life to God?  We do not know, because the scripture does not tell us.  However, what is important is the legacy she left.  A legacy that led to a yearly celebration.

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.     {Judges 11:40}

The daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite was never forgotten, regardless of what happened to her.  Each year the young women remembered her for four days.

She left a legacy of devotion, praise and commitment to your promises.

Today, we find that it is so easy to vow to do something and then not follow through if we do not want to.  However, when we make a vow before God, that is a vow we are expected to fulfill and keep.  Too often today, we make vows only half-heartedly without thinking about the consequences or cost.

Jephthah made a vow that ended up being very costly.  However, both he and his wife honored this vow and kept their promises.

What vows have you made to God and held?


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