posted on May, 29 2020 @ 05:00 PM
The sacrifice of Jephthah’s daughter was an aberration, a borrowing from the customs of the nations around Israel.
The Lord God of Israel was always against the practice. Half the point of the so-called “sacrifice of Isaac” story is that Isaac was not
sacrificed, and was never going to be sacrificed. The order was cancelled, and a substitute was accepted, once Abraham had demonstrated his obedience.
The only sacrifice that is really acceptable to God is what Paul calls presenting ourselves as a “living sacrifice”, offering our own lives to him
in faith and full obedience. Even the death of Jesus was a sacrifice of that kind.
Ezekiel implies (ch20) that the Israelites discovered “sacrifice of the first-born” on the eastern side of the Jordan, at the end of their journey
through the wilderness. One example of the practice was the king of Moab who offered up his son on the walls of the city (2 Kings ch3), and Moab is
certainly on the eastern side of the Jordan. For that matter, it is very telling that Jephthah himself was brought up in Gilead, and Gilead is also on
Jephthah was fulfilling an ill-considered promise; “If thou wilt give the Ammonites into my hand, then whoever comes forth from my house to meet me,
when I return victorious from the Ammonites will be the Lord’s, and I will offer him up for a burnt offering” (Judges ch11 vv30-31, RSV).Other
translations say “whatever” as if he were expecting an animal, which is how the story is usually explained. In fact his daughter was the one who
came out to meet him.
His fault was either in the wording or in the understanding of the promise. He should have known that the possibility of human sacrifice is alien to
the laws of Moses. Sacrifice among the Israelites was originally the act of sharing a meal with the God who provided the food in the first place. You
killed an animal for a feast, or you harvested your corn, and God should have his allotted portion. So the animals that were sacrificed were also the
animals that were eaten. Any animal that was “unclean” for food, like the ass or the pig, was also unclean for sacrifice. Necessarily.
Can humans be eaten and sacrificed? This can be checked in Leviticus ch11. If humans are counted as animals, the law says that any animal which does
not part the hoof and chew the cud is unclean. Do humans part the hoof and chew the cud? No. Then humans are unclean. They cannot be eaten. If they
cannot be eaten, then they cannot be sacrificed.
The proper legal wording of Jephthah’s promise should have been “I will offer up the first sacrifice-able thing that meets me”. Failing
that, the promise should have been read as though it did include that wording. Any legal advisor would have said so.
Jephthah would have responded by pointing out that his oath was a binding promise to God, and a promise to God cannot be evaded. What should we say to
There is a principle in English law, and probably in the law of many other countries, to the effect that “A contract which obliges someone to do
something which is illegal cannot be enforced in law”. If you hire a hitman and he doesn’t do the work, you cannot sue him for breach of contract.
That is surely true about moral obligations as well as legal obligations. A promise to do something which is wrong in itself cannot be binding. If
Frederick had only understood this point, the opera “The Pirates of Penzance" would have had no plot. He was agonising over an unnecessary
If the two options are “breaking a voluntary and unrequested promise made to God” and “doing something which God doesn’t want you to do”,
then the first is undoubtedly the lesser evil. I think I can guarantee that the God of Israel would not have enforced that promise.
The problem is that he wasn’t asked. As far as we know, there was no consultation of priest or prophet to get a ruling. Jephthah just went ahead on
his own interpretation of his stupid promise. The outcome was a tragic misunderstanding of God’s will.
One of the morals is; If you are putting together an indictment of the God of Israel, don’t put the death of Jephthah’s daughter on the list. The
God of Israel had nothing to do with the matter.