The eleventh chapter of Judges contains a strange and somewhat outrageous story. Jephthah makes a vow; if the Lord will grant him victory in war, he will offer as a burnt offering the first thing which greets him when he arrives back home. It is not clear what or who Jephthah expects to come bouncing out of his house upon his arrival, but his heart is grieved when he first sees his only begotten daughter. Jephthah, in anguish, tears his clothes and says, “Alas, my daughter! You have brought me very low, and you have become the cause of great trouble to me. For I have opened my mouth to the LORD, and I cannot take back my vow.” (Judges 11:35) In response, his daughter replies, “My father, you have opened your mouth to the LORD; do to me according to what has gone out of your mouth.” (Judges 11:36) She in essence replies, “Not my will, but thy word and will be done.”
To be fair, some believe Jephthah’s vow was rash. Others believe it was downright wicked. Some believe he actually followed the pagan practice of burning his daughter to death. Others believe he wiggled out of his obligation and did not keep his word. However, there is one other interpretation that might be preferred:
- Jephthah reasoned an animal or servant would be the first to welcome him home.
- Jephthah would offer the animal who greeted him as an acceptable burnt offering.
- Jephthah would offer the servant who greeted him as a lifelong servant in the Lord’s Tabernacle. A substitutionary animal would then be offered in his place. (Lev. 20:1-5; Deut. 18:10)
- Jephthah is broken-hearted when he realizes he will be parting with his one and only child.
- Jephthah’s daughter is broken-hearted, not over her death, but over her perpetual virginity.
- Jephthah and his daughter are individuals with great integrity; together they keep Jephthah’s word.
- Jephthah’s daughter was presented to the Lord as a perpetual virgin at the Lord’s house. (Ex. 38:8; 1 Sam. 1:11; Lk. 2:36-37)
Based upon this interpretation, Jephthah and his daughter are not foolish, but faithful. They are a father-daughter combo who value more the worship of God than personal preference and pleasure. Following their good example, may we be so honorable in the making and keeping of our sacred vows of marriage, church membership, church baptism, and those we take to become deacons and elders.
Also, based upon this interpretation, Jephthah and his daughter are seen as a picture of the Father and Son. The Father was the one who vowed to sacrifice his one and only Son. His vow was not rash or unintended, but made with full disclosure. The Son understood this vow and submitted himself to the Father’s will. Together, they would not break their vows. Together, they would be faithful to the end. Therefore, based upon this interpretation, Jephthah’s daughter could be a female type of Jesus Christ. She was one who valued the word of her father more than her own personal preference and pleasure.
And when one properly understands the covenantal vow of the Father and Son, one understands this is even more outrageous, ridiculous and offensive than that made by Jephthah. For in this vow, the Heavenly Father fully intended to crucify his Holy Son.