Judges 11:29 Then the Spirit of the LORD came upon Jephthah. He crossed Gilead and Manasseh, passed through Mizpah of Gilead, and from there he advanced against the Ammonites. 30 And Jephthah made a vow to the LORD : “If you give the Ammonites into my hands, 31 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.”
32 Then Jephthah went over to fight the Ammonites, and the LORD gave them into his hands. 33 He devastated twenty towns from Aroer to the vicinity of Minnith, as far as Abel Keramim. Thus Israel subdued Ammon.
34 When Jephthah returned to his home in Mizpah, who should come out to meet him but his daughter, dancing to the sound of tambourines! She was an only child. Except for her he had neither son nor daughter. 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.”
36 “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. 37 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.”
38 “You may go,” he said. And he let her go for two months. She and the girls went into the hills and wept because she would never marry. 39 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 40 that each year the young women of Israel go out for four days to commemorate the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite.
This story was possibly read on Sunday mornings during my life, but not often. I have a beautiful daughter, and I can not imagine, under any circumstances, doing what this man of faith did. It is hard for me to even type the words “burned his daughter alive” when thinking of myself as a father. I have read many excuses for the actions of God and Jephthah, but none make any sense to me. Some excuse God by claiming this was all Jephthah’s fault, but note that “the Spirit of the LORD came upon Jephthah.” God could have caused an animal to come out of the door of Jephthah’s house, but he did not. God could have said “you do not have to kill your daughter” but he did not. God could have provided an animal at the last moment as a replacement (as with Abraham and Isaac), but he did not.
This story seems to be saying that good, god-fearing people should be willing to burn their children to death if that is required to keep a promise to God.
In the new testament, Jephthah is noted as a man of great faith to be emulated (see below). Do biblical inerrantists really believe that someone who kills his own child is a model for all Christians to follow?
Hebrews 11:32 And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets, 33who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, 34quenched 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.