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Two Parts of Jephthah's Vow: 1. Dedicate it to God, according to Lev. 27 2. If suitable, offer it as a burnt sacrifice to Jehovah According to the most accurate Hebrew scholars, this twofold vow reads: "I will consecrate it to the Lord, or I will offer it for a burnt offering," meaning that anything fit for a burnt offering should be made one, and anything fit for the service of God should be consecrated to Him. Even if this translation is incorrect, we must understand that such a thought is implied in the vow since God would NOT accept a human sacrifice (Lev. 18:21; 20:2-5), or any animal other than the ox, bullock, lamb, ram, goat, heifer, pigeon, or turtledove. Therefore, the only thing Jephthah could do was offer her to the Lord by a perpetual virginity (Judg. 11:36-40). The law of vows (Lev. 27) provided that persons, beasts, and other things could be offered to God for holy uses even though all could not be used for burnt offerings. Furthermore, these could be redeemed with money, if the vow was a simple one, and the amount given to the priests and Levites (Lev. 27:1-25). Other things (as the firstborn of clean animals, all tithes, and anything dedicated to the Lord as a devoted thing) could not be redeemed. Devoted things were to remain in the service of God (Lev. 27:26-29). It was this nature of vow that Jephthah made to Him, so he devoted his daughter to God by perpetual virginity--this he was under obligation to do (Judg. 11:35). Without God Jephthah would not have been successful. He smote the Ammonites from Aroer, a river on the north bank of Arnon, to Minnith, a city 4 miles from Heshbon--a distance of 30 to 40 miles--and took twenty cities (Judg. 11:32-33). It was customary for women of a victorious army to go out with timbrels and dances to meet the returning heroes (1Sam. 18:6). Jephthah's daughter was willing to fulfill her part in the vow because God had given Israel victory over the Ammonites. She even made some terms which were accepted by her father (Judg. 11:37). She requested two months to mourn her virginity with other daughters of Israel. This confirms that it was not a question of her being offered illegally as a sacrifice to God; she was simply to remain a virgin all her days. This was a great sacrifice which meant she could never carry out her part in the life of Israel, keeping her own family alive. She was to be devoted to the tabernacle as a servant for life. That there were a number of such consecrated servants is clear from the fact that after the Midianite war certain virgins were to be devoted to God as the Lord's part (Num. 31:15-40). She knew no man. This again confirms that the vow was fulfilled by her perpetual virginity. This new custom was created in Israel by this devoting of a daughter to perpetual virginity. The daughters of Israel lamented the sacrifice of Jephthah's daughter whose consecration denied her the possibility of having a part in bringing the coming Messiah into the world. Her plight was mourned four days out of each year from that time on (Judg. 11:39-40). How long the custom was practiced is unknown, but at least it continued throughout the lifetime of Jephthah's daughter and was observed in Gilead if not in all Israel.
This idea that if the LORD gives a person something, then that person will likewise give the LORD something is found more than once in the bible, for example, Jacob's vow in Gen 28:20-22. The verse just before Jephthah's vow (Judges 11:29) indicates the spirit of the LORD came upon Jephthah. Perhaps Jephthah's vow was due at least in part, to the presence of the LORD's spirit, and so inspired by the LORD. If inspired by the LORD, then there is no reason to conclude that Jephthah's daughter was to be offered as a burnt sacrifice to the LORD or simply killed. The word "and" in the last part of the vow could also be translated as "or" (and likely should be) to include any animal fit for sacrifice. In my opinion, Jephthah's daughter was dedicated to the LORD, which means she was given to the Levites as a maid servant to help in their activities. Whether she remained a virgin all her life isn't clear, since she might have been chosen later as a "wife" for one of the Levites, as the idea of perpetual virginity isn't found in Mosaic Law.
A literal reading of this account makes it clear that Jephthah did indeed sacrifice his daughter "as a burnt offering to The Lord." Having been influenced by the surrounding cultures which thought human sacrifices were a supreme proof of devotion to a god, Jephthah made this vow. What else could have come out of his house? Surely not an animal suitable for sacrifice. This account is a warning to us, to keep ourselves unstained by the world's evil practices (James 1:27). Only by reading and studying the Bible and spending time in prayer can we know what God wants and how to obey Him.
We had to write a paper on this question in Judges 11:30-40 at Arizona Bible College (Phoenix, AZ) under one Professor Robert Bowles. And we may have even debated it (this has been over 50 years ago!) I took the view that Jepthah did NOT sacrifice his daughter literally, but that he dedicated her to perpetual virginity. I doubt that Jephthah’s friends and neighbors would have permitted him to kill his own daughter in order to fulfill a foolish vow. King Saul’s soldiers didn’t let him kill his son Jonathan, who had violated his father’s foolish vow (1 Sam. 14:24-46).
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