Now Jephthah the Gileadite was a mighty man of valor, and he was the son of an harlot: and Gilead begat Jephthah.…
Among Jewish paraphrasts and commentators, the more ancient are mostly of opinion that Jephthah did actually sacrifice his daughter. They censure the rashness of his vow, but they do not appear to doubt that the sacrifice of the maiden was actually made. Some later Jewish writers, however, of great authority, have contended that Jephthah's daughter was not slain, but devoted to a life of virginity; being shut up in a house which her father built for the purpose, and there visited four days in each year by the maidens of Israel as long as she lived. Among Christian writers, perhaps all during the first ten centuries — certainly the exceptions, if any, were few and far between — believed that the maiden was sacrificed. Later Christian writers have not been so unanimous. Many, perhaps the majority, of those who have treated upon the subject, hold the opinion which, as we have seen, was universal in the early Church. Many others, of equal learning and eminence, have maintained that Jephthah's daughter was not offered by her father as a burnt offering, but that she was permitted to live; among these, there are some who believe with the modern Jews just mentioned, that she was shut up by her father and devoted to a life of seclusion; while others suppose that she was devoted to the Lord's service in a life of celibacy, and was numbered during the remainder of her life with the "women who assemble at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation," performing duties of sacred service in connection with the worship at Shiloh That Jephthah was "hasty in opening his lips before God" is generally admitted; although this rashness is singularly in contrast with his cautiousness and skill in negotiating and arguing with the Ammonite, and shows how elements the most opposite may exist in the same character. That he deliberately contemplated as possible the sacrifice of a human being is a supposition scarcely to be entertained of one who is spoken of in the New Testament as a man of faith. Yet that human sacrifices were familiar to him cannot be doubted; and it is possible that familiarity with the rites of the Ammonites, on whose borders he dwelt, and with whom human sacrifices, as is now the case in many parts of Africa, were religious rites of daily occurrence, may have blunted his feelings, and have caused him to forget how odious such offerings were in the sight of God. The excitement of the occasion, however, seems to have bewildered him, so that he forgot everything not immediately connected with his forthcoming expedition. His vow was utterly rash. He did not take time to consider, for example, that if an ass or a dog had first met him coming out of his house on his return, to offer it to the Lord would have been an abomination. Had he bestowed that thought upon the matter which reason itself would teach us to be necessary when we open our lips to our Maker, he could not have failed to reflect that it was possible, nay, likely, that his only and beloved child would be the first to greet him on his return. It was natural that he should offer a vow to the Lord; strange that he should have done it with such impulsive rashness.... The peculiar expression of the sacred text, that "her father did with her according to his vow which he vowed, and she knew no man," may lend plausibility to the opinion, that she was devoted to a virgin life. But against this view there lie three objections, which, when taken together, compel us to adopt the opposite view. The first is, that a celibate life formed no part of her father's vow. The second is, that the great distance at which Jephthah was from Shiloh, where the tabernacle was, and the absence of any allusion in all his history to its existence, render the theory of his daughter being transferred thither improbable. The third is, that the misfortune of his birth would alone have prevented such an arrangement. If the sons of a bastard, according to the law of Moses, could not enter into the congregation of the Lord to the tenth generation, it is scarcely probable that Jephthah's daughter could have secured admission among the privileged women who rendered service about the tabernacle. We therefore look upon the maiden as having been sacrificed. Upon the gloom of this painful history, however, an ethereal brightness shines. What can be more beautiful, more wonderful, than this pure and lovely maid, brought up among bandits, and far from the tabernacle of God, thus freely and sweetly giving up herself as a thank-offering for the victories of Israel? And who can fail to see, in the story of the meek and self-sacrificing maid, "a marvellous and mysterious adumbration of a better sacrifice of another soul, of an only child, perfectly free and voluntary, and of virgin holiness and heavenly purity, the sacrifice of Christ, who gave His spotless soul to death for our sakes"?
(L. H. Wiseman, M. A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Now Jephthah the Gileadite was a mighty man of valour, and he was the son of an harlot: and Gilead begat Jephthah.