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Sermon: Did Jephthah Sacrifice His Daughter as a Burnt Offering?

Sermon: Did Jephthah Sacrifice His Daughter as a Burnt Offering? Judges 11.29–40


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Did Jephthah Sacrifice His Daughter as a Burnt Offering?

If you make a vow, you must be kept at all costs

Judges 11.29–40

Don Ruhl • Savage Street, Grants Pass, Oregon • January 3, In the year of our Lord, 2016


  1. Is it foolish to make vows? 
    1. No, vows can be very good.
    2. However, when we make a vow we must keep it at all costs.
      1. Joshua 9.18–20 shows Joshua vowing to spare the Gibeonites.
        1. The leaders said that they knew wrath would come
        2. if they attacked the Gibeonites.
      2. Later, in Second Samuel 21.1–2 King Saul killed some Gibeonites.
        1. God sent a three-year famine in Israel because of it.
        2. King David remedied the situation.
      3. Psalm 15 asks a question that we all want to know,

        1 LORD, who may abide in Your tabernacle?
        Who may dwell in Your holy hill? …

        4 He who swears to his own hurt and does not change…
        (Psa 15.1, 4)

      4. Ecclesiastes 5 I read to all couples before weddings.

        2 Do not be rash with your mouth, And let not your heart utter anything hastily before God. For God is in heaven, and you on earth; Therefore let your words be few. 3 For a dream comes through much activity, And a fool’s voice is known by his many words. 4 When you make a vow to God, do not delay to pay it; For He has no pleasure in fools. Pay what you have vowed— 5 Better not to vow than to vow and not pay. 6 Do not let your mouth cause your flesh to sin, nor say before the messenger of God that it was an error. Why should God be angry at your excuse {Literally voice} and destroy the work of your hands? 7 For in the multitude of dreams and many words there is also vanity. But fear God (Ecc 5.2–7).

  2. Let us now learn from a man 
    1. who did what these passages teach, and
    2. whom the Bible honors as a man of faith in Hebrews 11.


  1. Judges 11.29 – The Spirit came upon Jephthah

    29 Then the Spirit of the LORD came upon Jephthah, and he passed through Gilead and Manasseh, and passed through Mizpah of Gilead; and from Mizpah of Gilead he advanced toward the people of Ammon.
    1. Great things happened when the Spirit of the Lord came upon someone.
      1. Judges 3 reminds us that the Spirit of the Lord came upon Othniel.
      2. Judges 6 recalls the beginning of Gideon’s defeat of the Midianites.
      3. First Samuel 16 recalls the beginning of the legendary life of David.
    2. Look at Jephthah advancing toward the enemy.
  2. Judges 11.30–31 – Jephthah’s vow

    30 And Jephthah made a vow to the LORD, and said, “If You will indeed deliver the people of Ammon into my hands, 31 then it will be that whatever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the people of Ammon, shall surely be the LORD’S, and I will offer it up as a burnt offering.”
    1. If Jephthah had remembered his own words to Ammon (vv. 23–24),
      1. there would have been no need for this vow,

        23 “And now the LORD God of Israel has dispossessed the Amorites from before His people Israel; should you then possess it? 24 Will you not possess whatever Chemosh your god gives you to possess? So whatever the LORD our God takes possession of before us, we will possess” (Jdg 11.23–24).
      2. Why vow, if God already gave the land?
    2. In verse 27, Jephthah had already indicated that he put his trust in the Lord,

      27 “Therefore I have not sinned against you, but you wronged me by fighting against me. May the LORD, the Judge, render judgment this day between the children of Israel and the people of Ammon’” (Jdg 11.27).
      1. Jephthah was in the right.
      2. God was the Judge.
      3. Why make a vow?
  3. Judges 11.32–33 The Lord delivers Ammon into the hands of Jephthah

    32 So Jephthah advanced toward the people of Ammon to fight against them, and the LORD delivered them into his hands. 33 And he defeated them from Aroer as far as Minnith—twenty cities—and to Abel Keramim, {Literally Plain of Vineyards} with a very great slaughter. Thus the people of Ammon were subdued before the children of Israel.
    1. God delivered Ammon into Israel’s hands, because
      1. Ammon had no claim to the land,
      2. Ammon was wrong for attacking Israel, and
      3. God honored Jephthah’s vow.
  4. Judges 11.34–35 – We cannot go back on vows

    34 When Jephthah came to his house at Mizpah, there was his daughter, coming out to meet him with timbrels and dancing; and she was his only child. Besides her he had neither son nor daughter. 35 And it came to pass, when he saw her, that he tore his clothes, and said, “Alas, my daughter! You have brought me very low! You are among those who trouble me! For I have given my word to the LORD, and I cannot go back on it.”
    1. Remember the examples of Joshua, Saul, and David with the Gibeonites.
      1. Also remember what David wrote in Psalm 15.
      2. Remember what his son Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes 5.
    2. Let us think before we speak, even in desperate situations.
  5. Judges 11.36 – A submissive daughter

    36 So she said to him, “My father, if you have given your word to the LORD, do to me according to what has gone out of your mouth, because the LORD has avenged you of your enemies, the people of Ammon.”
    1. Like Isaac, who willingly submitted to his father as a sacrifice (Gen 22.7–10).
  6. Judges 11.37–40 – Jephthah keeps his vow

    37 Then she said to her father, “Let this thing be done for me: let me alone for two months, that I may go and wander on the mountains and bewail my virginity, my friends and I.” 38 So he said, “Go.” And he sent her away for two months; and she went with her friends, and bewailed her virginity on the mountains.
    1. What did she bewail?
      1. Her life or
      2. her virginity?
        1. He did not sacrifice her, but
        2. gave her in complete service to the Lord.
          1. Compare First Corinthians 7.
          2. Compare Hannah giving Samuel to the Lord.
      3. If she was about to die,
        1. lamenting her virginity does not make sense, and
        2. she would have spent time with her father!
      4. Verse 39 emphasizes that she knew no man.
        1. Again pointing to her remaining a virgin, and
        2. not emphasizing her death.
    2. She would never know the double blessing of marriage and children.
    3. Jephthah would never know the double blessing of a son-in-law and grandchildren.
    4. Jephthah kept his vow,

      39 And it was so at the end of two months that she returned to her father, and he carried out his vow with her which he had vowed. She knew no man.
      1. Before you criticize Jephthah, keep these things in mind:
        1. The Bible never speaks negatively of Jephthah.
        2. Hebrews 11 commends him as an example of faith.
        3. Why would God commend human sacrifice?
        4. The Book of Judges has already shown:
          1. 11.9–11, he was a man of God, who
            1. knew the Lord would deliver the enemy in his hands;
            2. knew the Lord saw everything;
            3. knew of the Lord’s presence.
          2. 11.12–27,
            1. He knew his Bible;
            2. He knew God’s hand in history;
            3. He knew God’s promises;
            4. He knew that God is the Judge.
          3. 11.29–39,
            1. He gives the Lord all the credit;
            2. He worships the Lord;
            3. He keeps his word, regardless of the costs.
        5. Moreover, put your self in his shoes in the face of war.
      2. [The following is paraphrased from Adam Clarke]
        1. The text could be translated:
          1. I will consecrate it to the Lord,
          2. OR I will offer it for a burnt-offering; that is,
            1. If it is an animal, it shall be a burnt-offering.
            2. If it is a person, it shall be in service to God forever.
          3. Or leave off “it” in verse 31.
          4. Consider:
            1. Dogs could not be offered as burnt-offerings.
            2. He did not have a right over people not in his household.
            3. Human sacrifices were sinful.
      3. Why did verse 39 end with these words, “She knew no man.”
      4. She would live at the tabernacle and never marry.
      5. Aside from the difficulty of the text,
        1. Hebrews 11.32ff uses Jephthah as an example of faith.
        2. He lived by faith in God.
    5. A custom becomes established,

      39b And it became a custom in Israel 40 that the daughters of Israel went four days each year to lament the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite.
      1. “Lament” could be
      2. “commemorate,” or “celebrate,”
        1. hardly what people would have done,
        2. if it was her death.


  1. Commit yourself to Jesus today. 
    1. Is it foolish to make vows?
    2. Jephthah has shown that they can be good, because
      1. God gave the man what he wanted, but
      2. he had to give up something precious.
    3. When you become a Christian,
      1. you are making a commitment
      2. from which you cannot go back.
        1. You will have to give up some things, but
        2. you will gain so much more.
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