The daughter of Jeftah died?

David Stabnow dstabno at
Mon Sep 30 15:12:56 EDT 2002

Matthew Miller wrote: "A couple of things to note about Jeptah:
1. He is never praised for keeping his oath, but only for winning the
2. Even if he did kill his daughter, it cannot be right. For, this would
mean that, anytime one desires to sin, all he need do is "vow" to sin, and
then he will be morally obligated to sin."

I didn't mean to imply that Jephthah was "right" to keep his vow.  When
Jephthah's daughter came out of the house and when Jonathan confessed to
eating honey the one who had made the vow was caught in a no-win situation
-- there is no longer any "right" thing to do.

Saul and Jephthah each came to the place where they had to choose between
two sins, and they went opposite ways.  Saul went back on his oath.
Jephthah committed human sacrifice.  The consequence to Jephthah was the
loss of his daughter.  The consequence to Saul was the loss of his dynasty
-- that was the outcome in history of "may God do such-and-such to me and
add more to it" (1 Sam 14:44).  It appears perhaps that breaking an oath
has worse consequences than heinous sin in the long run and in the great
scheme of things.  Jephthah had success in his next major military campaign
(Judg 12:1-6).  David committed adultery and murder but (after confessing)
was able to keep his dynasty.  But there's no "control group" in history
(we don't know what would have happened if Saul had executed Jonathan or if
Jephthah had gone back on his vow) so we don't know for sure whether it is
always the lesser of evils to keep the vow.

Concerning vowing to sin: It is true that Jephthah came to the point of
being morally obligated to sin.  But that is because he put himself in the
no-win situation that I described above.  That does not mean Jephthah
somehow cicumvented justice by vowing to sin and then carrying it out -- he
wasn't thereby cleared of culpability and consequences of the sin.
Further, he didn't vow to sin, his vow was, on the surface, morally okay.
That is, he didn't vow to commit human sacrifice, he vowed to offer a
sacrifice of thanksgiving.  However, he did so in a way that, for some
reason, God in His sovereignty turned his words back against him.  We have
questioned the rashness and the timing of the vow.  Perhaps instead (and
I'm speculating here) the problem was as obvious as, when you vow to offer
a sacrifice, be specific as to what you will offer.  I think it might have
been acceptable to God if he had vowed, I'll give the best sheep, or the
fattest calf, or the best ram I find at home.  But as it was, what would
Jephthah have done if an unclean sheep, a dog, a camel, or a pig had met
him?  In effect, he was saying, I'll offer any old thing from my house --
whatever "randomly" comes up.  That was unacceptable to God, and God
punished Jephthah severely for the loose nature of his oath.

Dave Stabnow
Bible Translation Editor
Broadman & Holman Publishers
Nashville, Tennessee
david.stabnow at

    Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do,
do everything for God's glory.  (1 Cor 10:31, HCSB)

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