Jephthah’s Daughter: A profile in Courage

Posted By on May 25, 2021 |

…My father, you have given your word to the LORD; do to me as you have said…” Judges 11:36   

Imagine feeling elated anticipating your father’s return home after he was away at war for a long period of time.  Moreover, you have heard reports of his triumphant campaign and burst out the door of his house in celebration to greet him. Such was the case regarding Jephthah’s daughter (“… [she came] out to meet him with tambourines and with dancing…”),when her father and “judge” of Israel, arrived home (Jud. 11:34).  However, her exuberance quickly turned to sorrow after seeing and hearing her father express anguish upon seeing her, “…he tore his clothes and said, ‘Alas, my daughter! You have brought me very low, and you are among those who trouble me; for I have given my word to the LORD, and I cannot take it back.’” (Jud. 11:35).  Tragically, Jephthah so desperately wanted victory in battle over the Ammonites, that he made an imbecilic and costly oath to God: “If Thou wilt indeed give the sons of Ammon into my hand, then it shall be that whatever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the sons of Ammon, it shall be the LORD’s, and I will offer it up as a burnt offering.” (Jud. 11:30-31).  That pledge turned out to be his only child and precious virgin daughter, who emerged from his house.  Tragically, her jubilance for the occasion would prove to be in vain, for she inadvertently was celebrating her own sacrifice.  The New American Commentary’, Daniel Block notes: “Not only would she die, never having conceived and borne a child, but because Jephthah had no other children, his seed would die with her …with his vow Jephthah tried to secure his present, but through it he ends up sacrificing his future.” 1

Scripture does not reveal if Jephthah told his daughter the details of his vow, but her knowledge of her father’s triumph was accurate: “So she said to him, ‘My father, you have given your word to the LORD; do to me as you have said, since the LORD has avenged you of your enemies, the sons of Ammon.’” (Jud. 11:36, cf. Num. 30:2, Eccl. 5:4-5).  Moreover, Jephthah’s daughter spoke words that most of us, if not all of us, would never dare utter: “…do to me [kill me] as you have said [vowed]”.  If she was made aware that her father’s pledge entailed her being slain and offered as a burnt sacrifice, she appeared undaunted.  Her courage in the face of imminent physical death was monumental and a profound display of faith in the God who grants eternal life.  The only request she made of her father before his fulfilling of the vow was: “Let this thing be done for me; let me alone two months, that I may go to the mountains and weep because of my virginity, I and my companions.” (Jud. 11:37).  Incredibly, she lamented her virginity and the inability to produce an heir for her father, rather than the termination of her young life.

In conclusion, Jephthah’s daughter is a hero of faith who most likely is unknown by many readers of Scripture.  In fact, in the short passage introducing her [Judges 11:30-40], she is nameless and only identified as “Jephthah’s daughter”.  Yet, her courage was remarkable in the face of death and equal to that of any servant of God in the Bible.  Contrasting Jephthah and his daughter; Jephthah may have been a well-known and revered “judge” of Israel, yet he behaved pusillanimously prior to battling the Ammonites, by making a foolish vow to God.  While Jephthah’s daughter remains unnamed, her acts of courage in light of a tragic fate, left a powerful legacy for other women to commemorate: “Thus it became a custom in Israel,  that the daughters of Israel went yearly to commemorate the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite four days in the year.” (Jud. 11:39b-40).   

1 Daniel L. Block, The New American Commentary, Judges, Ruth, B & H Publishers, 1999, p 374