Judges 11:31
Then it shall be, that whatsoever cometh forth of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the children of Ammon, shall surely be the LORD'S, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering.
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(31) Whatsoever cometh forth.—The true rendering undoubtedly is, Whosoever cometh forth (LXX., ὁ ἐκπορευόμενος; Vulg., quicunque). Nothing can be clearer than that the view held of this passage, from early Jewish days down to the Middle Ages, and still held by nearly all unbiased commentators, is the true one, and alone adequately explains the text: viz., that Jephthah, ignorant as he was—being a man of semi-heathen parentage, and long familiarised with heathen surroundings—contemplated a human sacrifice. To say that he imagined that an animal would “come forth of the doors of his house to meet him” on his triumphant return is a notion which even St. Augustine ridicules. The offer to sacrifice a single animal—even if we could suppose an animal “coming forth to meet” Jephthah—would be strangely inadequate. It would be assumed as a matter of course that not one, but many holocausts of animals would express the gratitude of Israel. Pfeiffer sensibly observes (Dub. vexata, p. 356): “What kind of vow would it be if some great prince or general should say, ‘O God, if Thou wilt give me this victory, the first calf that meets me shall be Thine?’” Jephthah left God, as it were, to choose His own victim, and probably anticipated that it would be some slave. The notion of human sacrifice was all but universal among ancient nations, and it was specially prevalent among the Syrians, among whom Jephthah had lived for so many years, and among the Phœnicians, whose gods had been recently adopted by the Israelites (Judges 10:6). Further than this, it was the peculiar worship of the Moabites and Ammonites, against whom Jephthah was marching to battle; and one who had been a rude freebooter, in a heathen country and a lawless epoch, when constant and grave violations of the Law were daily tolerated, might well suppose in his ignorance that Jehovah would need to be propitiated by some offering as costly as those which bled on the altars of Chemosh and Moloch. Human sacrifice had been “the first thought of Balak in the extremity of his terror” (Micah 6:7), and “the last expedient of Balak’s successor” (2Kings 3:27)—Stanley, i. 358. If it be urged that after the great lesson which had been taught to Abraham at Jehovah-jireh the very notion of human sacrifice ought to have become abhorrent to any Israelite, especially as it had been expressly forbidden in the Law (Leviticus 18:21; Deuteronomy 12:31, &c), one more than sufficient answer is that even in the wilderness Israel had been guilty of Moloch-worship (Ezekiel 20:26; Jeremiah 49:1; Melcom, Amos 5:26; Acts 7:43). The Law was one thing; the knowledge of it and the observance of it was quite another. During this period we find the Law violated again and again, even by judges like Gideon and Samson; and the tendency to violate it by human sacrifices lasted down to the far more enlightened and civilised days of Ahaz and Manasseh (2Chronicles 28:3; 2Chronicles 33:6). Indeed, we find the priests expressly sanctioning, even in the palmiest days of David’s reign, an execution which, to the vulgar, would bear an aspect not far removed from human sacrifice, or (rather) which might easily be confused with the spirit which led to it (2Samuel 21:1-9). If, again, it be said that the possibility of Jephthah’s being guilty of so rash and evil a vow is excluded by the phrase that “the Spirit of the Lord came upon him,” such reasoning is to substitute idle fancies for clear facts. The Spirit of the Lord “clothed” Gideon, yet he set up an illegal worship. The “Spirit of the Lord” came upon Saul (1Samuel 19:23), yet Saul contemplated slaying his own son out of regard for no less foolish a vow (1Samuel 14:44). The “Spirit of the Lord” came upon David from that day forward” on which Samuel anointed him (1Samuel 16:13), yet he could sink into adultery and murder. The phrase must not be interpreted of high or permanent spiritual achievement, but of Divine strength granted for a particular end.

And I will offer it up for a burnt offering.—The margin gives the alternative reading or instead of and. This is due to the same feeling which made our translators adopt the rendering “whatsoever.” They are practically following R. Kimchi in the attempt to explain away, out of deference to modern notions, the plain meaning of the Bible. It is true that vau, “and,” is sometimes practically disjunctive (or, rather, is used where a disjunctive might be used), but to take it so here is to make nonsense of the clause, for if any person or thing was made “a burnt offering” it was necessarily “the Lord’s” (Exodus 13:2, &c.), so that there can be no alternative here. The “and” is exactly analogous to the “and” between the two clauses of Jacob’s (Genesis 28:21-22) and of Hannah’s vow (1Samuel 1:11). The “it will I offer” ought to be, “I will offer him.”

Jdg 11:31. Shall surely be the Lord’s, and I will offer it up for a burnt- offering — Dr. Waterland translates it, shall be consecrated to the Lord, or, I will offer it, &c. “It is very evident,” says Dr. Dodd, “that this translation of Dr. Waterland must be right, because it was impossible that Jephthah should mean to offer for a burnt-offering whatever came forth of the doors of his house to meet him, since it was possible for him to have been met by several things which it would have been sacrilegious for him to have offered to the Lord; and indeed the event sufficiently proves the propriety of this interpretation, since he was met by that which no vow, however solemn, could justify him in offering up. This is Mr. Locke’s opinion, in his gloss upon the place.” See the note on Jdg 11:39-40.

11:29-40 Several important lessons are to be learned from Jephthah's vow. 1. There may be remainders of distrust and doubting, even in the hearts of true and great believers. 2. Our vows to God should not be as a purchase of the favour we desire, but to express gratitude to him. 3. We need to be very well-advised in making vows, lest we entangle ourselves. 4. What we have solemnly vowed to God, we must perform, if it be possible and lawful, though it be difficult and grievous to us. 5. It well becomes children, obediently and cheerfully to submit to their parents in the Lord. It is hard to say what Jephthah did in performance of his vow; but it is thought that he did not offer his daughter as a burnt-offering. Such a sacrifice would have been an abomination to the Lord; it is supposed she was obliged to remain unmarried, and apart from her family. Concerning this and some other such passages in the sacred history, about which learned men are divided and in doubt, we need not perplex ourselves; what is necessary to our salvation, thanks be to God, is plain enough. If the reader recollects the promise of Christ concerning the teaching of the Holy Spirit, and places himself under this heavenly Teacher, the Holy Ghost will guide to all truth in every passage, so far as it is needful to be understood.The words of this verse prove conclusively that Jephthah intended his vow to apply to human beings, not animals: for only one of his household could be expected to come forth from the door of his house to meet him. They also preclude any other meaning than that Jephthah contemplated a human sacrifice. This need not, however, surprise us, when we recollect his Syrian birth and long residence in a Syrian city, where such fierce rites were probably common. The Syrians and Phoenicians were conspicuous among the ancient pagan nations for human sacrifices, and the transfer, under such circumstances, to Yahweh of the rites with which the false gods were honored, is just what one might expect. The circumstance of the Spirit of the Lord coming on Jephthah Judges 11:29 is no difficulty; as it by no means follows that because the Spirit of God endued him with supernatural valor and energy for vanquishing the Ammonites, He therefore also endued him with spiritual knowledge and wisdom. The Spirit of the Lord came upon Gideon, but that did not prevent his erring in the matter of the ephod Judges 8:27. Compare 1 Corinthians 12:4-11; Galatians 2:11-14. 31. whatsoever cometh forth of the doors of my house to meet me—This evidently points not to an animal, for that might have been a dog; which, being unclean, was unfit to be offered; but to a person, and it looks extremely as if he, from the first, contemplated a human sacrifice. Bred up as he had been, beyond the Jordan, where the Israelitish tribes, far from the tabernacle, were looser in their religious sentiments, and living latterly on the borders of a heathen country where such sacrifices were common, it is not improbable that he may have been so ignorant as to imagine that a similar immolation would be acceptable to God. His mind, engrossed with the prospect of a contest, on the issue of which the fate of his country depended, might, through the influence of superstition, consider the dedication of the object dearest to him the most likely to ensure success.

shall surely be the Lord's; and [or] I will offer it up for a burnt offering—The adoption of the latter particle, which many interpreters suggest, introduces the important alternative, that if it were a person, the dedication would be made to the service of the sanctuary; if a proper animal or thing, it would be offered on the altar.

No text from Poole on this verse.

Then it shall be, that whatsoever cometh forth of the doors of my house to meet me,.... If this phrase, "to meet me", is meant intentionally, then no other than an human creature can be meant; a child, or servant, or any other of mankind; for none else could come forth with a design to meet him: but if this is to be understood eventually, of what might meet him, though not with design, then any other creature may be intended; and it must be meant what came forth first, as the Vulgate Latin version expresses it, or otherwise many might come forth at such a time:

when I return in peace from the children of Ammon: safe in his own person, and having conquered the Ammonites, and restored peace to Israel:

shall surely be the Lord's; be devoted to him, and made use of, or the price of it, with which it is redeemed, in his service: and I will offer it for a burnt offering; that is, if it is what according to the law may be offered up, as an ox, sheep, ram, or lamb; some read the words disjunctively, "or I will offer it", &c. it shall either be devoted to the Lord in the manner that persons or things, according to the law, are directed to be; or it shall be offered up for a burnt offering, if fit and proper for the service; so Joseph and David Kimchi, Ben Melech, and Abarbinel, with others, interpret it; but such a disjunction is objected to as improper and ridiculous, to distinguish two sentences, when the one is more general, and the other more special.

Then it shall be, that whatsoever cometh forth of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the children of Ammon, shall surely be the LORD's, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering.
31. whatsoever … it shall be … I will offer it up] whosoever … he shall be … I will offer him up, so LXX, Vulgate, Peshitto Jephthah had in his mind a human victim1[44]

[44] Early Arabian religion before Mohammed furnishes a parallel: “Al-Mundhir [king of al-Ḥîrah] had made a vow that on a certain day in each year he would sacrifice the first person he saw; ‘Abîd came in sight on the unlucky day, and was accordingly killed, and the altar smeared with his blood.” Lyall, Ancient Arabian Poetry, p. xxviii, cf. p. xxvii.

. It is unnecessary to mention the various expedients which have been adopted in order to escape the plain meaning of the words. Nothing is said about Jephthah’s rashness; nor are we told that there was anything displeasing to Jehovah in the nature of the vow; the narrative emphasizes in the issue the grief of Jephthah and the pitiful fate of his daughter. At a crisis or under the influence of despair, when ordinary sacrifices seemed unavailing and at all costs the divine help must be secured, Semitic religion had recourse to human sacrifices. Among the Hebrews in the rude, early days such a sacrifice was possible (as here), but in time it was felt to be contrary to the spirit of the religion of Jehovah (Genesis 22); the hideous practice revived, however, in the period of Ahaz and Manasseh (2 Kings 16:3; 2 Kings 17:17; 2 Kings 21:6 etc., Micah 6:7), and was denounced by the prophets (Jeremiah 7:31; Jeremiah 19:5 etc., Ezekiel 16:20 f., Ezekiel 23:39) and forbidden by the law (Deuteronomy 12:31; Deuteronomy 18:10, Leviticus 18:21; Leviticus 20:2). Among the neighbouring peoples, e.g. the Moabites (2 Kings 3:27), the Canaanites or Phoenicians (Philo Bybl., Fragm. Hist. Gr. iii. 570; Porphyry, de Abstin. ii. 56 etc.), the Babylonians in Samaria (2 Kings 17:31), the practice continued. In 1 Samuel 15:33, 2 Samuel 21:1-9 the reference is not to human sacrifice, but to a religious execution or ḥerem. Recent excavations in Palestine (e.g. at Gezer) have revealed many remains of human sacrifices; see Stanley A. Cook, Religion of Ancient Palestine, pp. 38 ff.

Judges 11:31Before commencing the war, however, he vowed a vow to the Lord: "If Thou givest the Ammonites into my hand, he who cometh to meet me out of the doors of my house, when I return safely (in peace, shalom) from the Ammonites, shall belong to the Lord, and I will offer him for a burnt-offering." By the words אשׁר היּוצא, "he that goeth out," even if Jephthah did not think "only of a man, or even more definitely still of some one of his household," he certainly could not think in any case of a head of cattle, or one of his flock. "Going out of the doors of his house to meet him" is an expression that does not apply to a herd or flock driven out of the stall just at the moment of his return, or to any animal that might possibly run out to meet him. For the phrase לקראת יצא is only applied to men in the other passages in which it occurs.

(Note: Augustine observes in his Quaest. xlix. in l. Jud.: "He did not vow in these words that he would offer some sheep, which he might present as a holocaust, according to the law. For it is not, and was not, a customary thing for sheep to come out to meet a victorious general returning from the war. Nor did he say, I will offer as a holocaust whatever shall come out of the doors of my house to meet me; but he says, 'Whoever comes out, I will offer him;' so that there can be no doubt whatever that he had then a human being in his mind.")

Moreover, Jephthah no doubt intended to impose a very difficult vow upon himself. And that would not have been the case if he had merely been thinking of a sacrificial animal. Even without any vow, he would have offered, not one, but many sacrifices after obtaining a victory.

(Note: "What kind of vow would it be if some great prince or general should say, 'O God, if Thou wilt give me this victory, the first calf that meets me shall be Thine!' Parturiunt montes, nascetur ridiculus mus!" - Pfeiffer, dubia vex. p. 356.)

If therefore he had an animal sacrifice in his mind, he would certainly have vowed the best of his flocks. From all this there can be no doubt that Jephthah must have been thinking of some human being as at all events included in his vow; so that when he declared that he would dedicate that which came out of his house to meet him, the meaning of the vow cannot have been any other than that he would leave the choice of the sacrifice to God himself. "In his eagerness to smite the foe, and to thank God for it, Jephthah could not think of any particular object to name, which he could regard as great enough to dedicate to God; he therefore left it to accident, i.e., to the guidance of God, to determine the sacrifice. He shrank from measuring what was dearest to God, and left this to God himself" (P. Cassel in Herzog's Real-encycl.). Whomsoever God should bring to meet him, he would dedicate to Jehovah, and indeed, as is added afterwards by way of defining it more precisely, he would offer him to the Lord as a burnt-offering. The ו before העליתיהוּ is to be taken as explanatory, and not as disjunctive in the sense of "or," which ו never has. But whether Jephthah really thought of his daughter at the time, cannot be determined either in the affirmative or negative. If he did, he no doubt hoped that the Lord would not demand this hardest of all sacrifices.

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