Posted by: edhensley | April 19, 2009

The Spirit of the Lord leads Jephthah to Burn his Daughter

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.



  1. This article refutes your claim, sir!

    • This article does NOT refute the bible – it rewrites the bible.

      For those who have not gone to this link, it claims that Jephthah did not burn his daughter but actually “sacrificed” her by making her become a nun. Here are his 5 points (I pulled exactly from the website):

      1) Jephthah’s daughter was ‘sacrificed’ by becoming a nun, not by being burnt alive
      2) Jephthah originally stated his intention to give a burnt offering, but that doesn’t mean he had to burn whatever he eventually offered
      3) The Mosaic Laws for sacrifice and for daily life forbid human sacrifice of any sort
      4) No matter what Jephthah did or did not do, God is not to blame for it
      5) God declares His hatred of human sacrifice many times (versus one alleged sanctioning of human sacrifice)

      Any direct reading of the bible results in the conclusion that Jephthah burned his daughter. Nowhere does the passage mention the word “nun”. I quickly researched as to whether or not there were nuns in the Old Testament, and a preliminary result of that research is that there were never any nuns in the Old Testament or in Judaism.

      What should be more troubling to any biblical literalist is the ability of this apologist to take a clear biblical passage (Jephthah burns his daughter) and reinterpret it into an entirely different meaning. How about the following reinterpretation, using the apologist’s 5 points as a template:

      1) Yahweh’s son Jesus was ‘sacrificed’ by becoming a priest, not by being crucified on a cross
      2) Jesus originally stated his intention to be crucified, but that doesn’t mean he had to actually be crucified
      3) The Mosaic Laws for sacrifice and for daily life forbid human sacrifice of any sort
      4) No matter what happened to Jesus, God is not to blame for it
      5) God declares His hatred of human sacrifice many times (versus one alleged sanctioning of human sacrifice)

    • Burning a daughter is an abomination. If a man vows to commit fornication 1000 times and to murder 1000 innocent Christians, would he be required to fulfill that? Nowhere in the narrative does God approve of this abomination, it is merely a narrative of facts. Just because the Bible records historical events does not mean that God endorses what people did. You cannot jump to such assumptive conclusions unless God has specifically endorsed it.

  2. u even wrote what it says and didnt understand it . it says as a burnt offering he didnt say he would burn his daughter he said he would give his daughter to god as people offered burnt sacrifices to their gods . he did not murder,his daughter. people without understanding should not make comments about these things

    • I know of many conservative Christians who interpret these verses as meaning Jephthah sacrificed his daughter. Your interpretation is in the extreme minority.

    • Read the scripture it says he promised the first person that greeted him when he returned. If that scripture is supposed to be a lesson on how to pay god back when he delivers, one would hope that it would be carefully worded to avoid any sort of confusion.

      How can a perfect god write so poorly words that have so many meanings ?
      Should not the scripture be written or include some text that demonstrates she was NOT sacrificed ? Its sad that it is not clear, think of how many girls died like this for lack of a few words where simpletons simply copied the text as it is.

  3. Nice reply and snark.

    I realize my post is long and somewhat rambling, so just to clarify with some excerpts that lend weight to my ‘alternate’ interpretation [and counterpoints to relating it to Jesus’ crucifixion in square brackets]:

    1) Verse 36 indicates the daughter’s won willingness to go along with Jephthah’s vow. [Compare with Jesus choosing the Father’s will in the garden of Gethsemene.]

    2) I cited Mosaic law because Jephthah clearly intended to offer a Mosaic-style burnt offering. However, there is no provision for human sacrifice, within the purview of burnt offerings or otherwise. [Whereas Jesus’ death was carried out in accordance with Mosaic punishments for blasphemy – not sacrifice – false though the charges were.]

    3) There are other methods for dedicating persons to the Lord (e.g. Nazirite vows, Samuel’s mother deal). Leviticus 27 even provides a cash-based redemption option. I grant that Jephthah could very well have been a strict literalist with his vow, but see next point.

    4) The daughter wept ‘because she would never marry’ and after Jephthah carried through his vows, it says simply ‘and she was a virgin’. I find these odd inclusions if she were faced with death – shouldn’t she rather have mourned her impending doom and the passage ended with ‘and she was burnt to a crisp’? These point me towards the no-sex dedication idea (which I describe with the term ‘nun’, not meant to be taken in the exact Roman Catholic sense).

    Nor does being an alleged minority necessarily mean that the minority are wrong. To cite some examples: Plate tectonics, heliocentrism, the Protestant Reformation (according to non-Roman Catholics anyway).

    In any case, through my experience debating in the comments, my view is that each person has their own personal standard of evidence. To some, a bunch of IPCC reports means CO2 causes global warming that will kill us all. To others, a bunch of exposes of the shoddy science behind the reports means that it’s just another environmental scare.

    Hence what may be a convincing set of points to me regarding Jephthah may not be enough to convince you. I see no problem with that – rather, it is to be expected.

    • Thank you for your reply. Minorities are sometimes shown to be correct over time as new evidence is gathered. I do not think you can equate the scientific evidence behind plate tectonics and heliocentrism with the theology behind the Protestant Reformation.

  4. Point taken. I prefer to liken them to AGW skepticism myself.

  5. Are you idiotic christians insane? It’s written plain and simply word for word from the bible. Currently the one I read is from “The Holy Bible” New International Version.

    The bible is contradicting BS, god only says its ok to sacrifice to him.

  6. Just read the verses in KJV, and the only possible conclusion is that god likes his virgins extra crispy.

    Wouldn’t it have been cool if god, the creator of and most powerful being in the universe, had written then ten commandments on some indestructible composite material that only he could make or etch? No, he took 40 days to write them on sandstone, or some othe local rock, that was crumbly enough to break into pieces when Mo cast them to the ground, before anyone even saw them. Guess Mo didn’t want anyone to see his chiseling. Chiseling’s hard!

  7. Another lovely example of a Biblical excerpt illustrating how women were oppressed in the OT. Jephthah did sacrifice his daughter because what holy man is going to “tear his clothes” in anguish over the fact that his daughter will remain a virgin the rest of her life? As a result, a man may “tear his clothes” off if he felt compelled to follow through with his promise to God and provide his daughter (a nameless daughter) as a burnt sacrifice to God AND this was his only child.

    Why would the “nameless daughter” lament then? Women’s primary roles and goals in life were to be married so they could have male children. She knew she was going to die without leaving the only legacy she could leave as a woman so she lamented over it. The daughter agreed to obey her father because what choice did she have? Women back then were property that had no rights; therefore, no ability to disagree. Even if she tried, who would listen to her? The courts back then wouldn’t even consider a woman’s testimony.

    Jephthah really put his foot in his mouth with this ordeal. He couldn’t dishonor his vow to God so what was worse for him, to kill his daughter or dishonor his vow to God? Assuming he really was a holy man and considering how women were/are “the weaker vessel” according to Paul, he chose to kill his daughter.

  8. Here is an interesting article that would explain why Jephthah “tore his clothes” when he saw his daughter come through the door….He was mourning her death. Please review the section under mourning.

  9. I found a possible explanation for why Jephthah may have sacrificed his daughter but it still doesn’t explain why it is stated: “that the Spirt of the Lord was upon him” when he did something so horrific. Deuteronomy, NKJV discusses “curses on disobedience” for those that didn’t obey God’s laws and it specifically states the following: 29:53 “You shall eat the fruit of your own body, the flesh of your sons and your daughters whom the Lord your God has given you, in the siege and desperate straits in which your enemy shall distress you”. This book was written about 300 years before the Book of Judges was written. Judges details the story of Jephthah and Jephthah was fighting his enemies so this makes sense. However and again, if this was punishment or a “curse”, why would the Spirit of the Lord be upon Jephthah? I don’t believe the Spirit of the Lord was upon him, therefore, that seems to be incorrect to me. Again, I do believe in the Bible and do believe that there is a lot of factual information in the Bible but we have to ask God for the discernment to understand what we are reading. Some Christians don’t even want to believe that he did kill his daughter but he did. What makes matters worse is that a burnt offering was consumed so I’m wondering if he ate his daughter also.

  10. The Spirit of the Lord came upon him, then he traveled a lot. Was the Spirit still upon him when he made that vow? The Spirit can come and go as it did Saul (1 Samuel 16:14). The Spirit was upon David who committed adultery and murder, does that mean God endorses adultery and murder? (1 Samuel 16:13)

    • The “spirit of the LORD came upon Jephthah.” Jephthah “made a vow to the LORD.” “My father,” she replied, “you have given your word to the LORD. Do to me just as you promised.” And finally, Hebrews 11:32 describes Jephthah as a good example of a follower of God.
      Sorry, but I just pointed out what the bible said. God could have stopped the abomination, but he chose to be silent (assuming this story really happened).

    • The “spirit of the LORD came upon Jephthah.” Jephthah “made a vow to the LORD.” “My father,” she replied, “you have given your word to the LORD. Do to me just as you promised.” And finally, Hebrews 11:32 describes Jephthah as a good example of a follower of God.
      Sorry, but I just pointed out what the bible said. God could have stopped the abomination, but he chose to be silent (assuming this story really happened).

  11. @ Grozzmann….I’m a Christian and I can’t counter-argue edhensley’s point. If Hebrews 11:32 describes Jephthah as a good example of a follower of God, why would he sacrifice his daughter and then eat her if that is an abomination? That is a blatant contradiction when we are told as Christians to take the Bible literally because it is the inerrant word of God.

    To answer your specific question, I don’t believe God endorses adultery and murder but men do. As a result, these men (particularly religious ones) will use the Bible and God to justify their sordid actions. Bottom line, I don’t believe the Bible can be taken literally because if the Spirit of the Lord was upon Jephthah, why would he kill and eat his own daughter? The passage never says the Spirit of the Lord left him and we are not supposed to read into Scriptures so we are supposed to believe what it says. However, when did murder and cannibalism become a “good example of a follower of God”? The Jewish people wanted a hero and Jephthah became one in man’s eyes.

  12. So many people want to create God as they think He should be, taking liberties with straightforward text. There is no reason based on any Biblical scripture that Jephthah was forever-after perfect and without any error after the Spirit came upon him. We have no indication that the Spirit remained for a day, a month or any timeframe whatsoever. In fact, one might reasonably think that, were he still in that Spirit state he would have no doubts as to the outcome of his campaign and would not have felt the need to make such a pledge, or deal.
    He very obviously loved his daughter but remember, the first law is to love God. [It’s ironic, but I’m reminded of the verse, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice”.] He was a man of God and having so brashly made such an extreme vow, he had to keep it. Yes, in this story he sacrificed his daughter – but there is nothing that I am aware of to indicate that he ate her. To claim it was Mosaic command is easy to say, but where did you (whoever introduced that in these comments) get that information?
    My last comment is on the role of women. The comments above, saying she wept because she would not fulfill the primary role of the female gender in the continuance of her family’s bloodline, make perfectly good sense. And that phrasing is a great way to say that she would not live out her expected life. As the only child of a man so devoted to God as Jephthah appears to have been, we might expect that he had raised his daughter with the same devotion to God. It is interesting to note that in the very same book (Judges) in which we find this narrative, we also read of one of Israel’s most beloved leaders, the judge named Deborah. She was not only a judge, but led a successful military counter attack against the armies of Canaan.

    • He very obviously loved his daughter but remember, the first law is to love God.

      And Abraham loved Isaac, but he was willing to kill him for god, and Christians, Jews, and Muslims are to be like Abraham. Muslim terrorists also agree that the first law is to love god.
      It makes a lot more since to read this book as tales from the Bronze Age rather than as a guide to live by.


      @ Ed…Please read this article. It states that burnt offerings were wholly consumed. It also states that during the time of Judges, this changed and they may have been wholly burnt but when exactly did that take place? We do not know so I’m still on the fence as to whether or not he ate his daughter. If Jephthah had no problem killing his daughter, then he wouldn’t have any problem abiding by the second clause of the law which was to eat “the offering” also.

      You mentioned that: “He very obviously loved his daughter but remember, the first law is to love God. [It’s ironic, but I’m reminded of the verse, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice”.]He was a man of God and having so brashly made such an extreme vow, he had to keep it”. By him murdering his daughter, he violated one of the commandments that God instructed him to follow so I disagree with your line of reasoning. If any man does that to their daughter today, they will be imprisoned and/or put on death row and rightfully so because even our “pagan” society today has enough common sense to see that that is wrong. Some pagans may call that evil!

      • Thank you for researching in alternative sources. I do not know whether or not Jephthah ate his daughter, or even if Jephthah was a real person. This story, like the one with Abraham and Isaac, were written to convey the message that obeying god is more important than they lives of your children, and that people should do anything god tells them, including killing their children. That is bad enough, whether or not Jephthah ate his daughter. Once again, this makes more since when the bible is viewed as a book written by primitive Bronze Age men and is not the work of a perfect god.

      • Your welcome and thank you for allowing my posts. Comments like yours (i.e., “that people should do anything God tells them, including killing their children”) have led me to come to the conclusion that the Bible isn’t the inerrant word of God because these acts seems to contradict the true nature of God which is love. I believe men have embellished, altered, misinterpreted or omitted original meanings that bred life to such excerpts: Leviticus 20:9 “If there is anyone who curses his father or mother, he shall surely be put to death; he has cursed his father or his mother, his bloodguiltiness is upon him”. If a commandment is “Thou shall not murder”, why was it ok for parents to murder their children? It is not ok! It doesn’t make sense to me unless men justify it with a law or an explanation of exceptions as evidenced by Jephthah. Jephthah, obviously felt it was more sinful to not fulfill his vow to God as opposed to murdering his nameless daughter.

        I understand you don’t believe in the Bible and I respect that based on these contradictions. I believe some can be answered, as evidenced by my previous posts but others are still unexplainable, sometimes due to man’s misinterpretations or fabrications. Men continue to misinterpret the Bible today. The only way to find the truth is to look for it yourself and based other excerpts in the Bible that are compared to historical documents/historical artifacts, I believe in the Trinity but not everything in the Bible.

  13. Oops 🙂 I guess that was meant for someone else…

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