Jephthah’s Daughter:
A Living Sacrifice

Her eyes never left the road as she waited for her father to return. News that God had given his army victory over the Ammonites had arrived hours earlier. She had practiced her song of praise with her servants and companions. Now they chatted while they watched the horizon for his approach.

“There he is!” They grabbed their tambourines and ran for the doorway. Jephthah’s daughter made sure she was the first out so she could be the first to greet her father.

Her joy faded when she saw his stricken look and watched him tear his traveling clothes in anguish. Had the messengers been wrong?

 “Oh! My daughter! You have made me miserable and wretched, because I have made a vow to the Lord that I cannot break.” Before Jephthah went into battle, he made a vow to the Lord to offer the first to meet him when he arrived home: “I will consecrate it to the Lord, or I will offer it for a burnt-offering.” [Clarke’s Commentary, alternate translation of Judges 11:30-31.]

He had not given his vow the thoughtful consideration that such a vow requires. He may have assumed that he would meet an animal from his herd. If it was clean (an acceptable animal for a burnt offering), he would bring it to the tabernacle to be offered as a thank offering. If it was an unclean animal, such as a camel or a donkey, he could redeem its value in money and offer the money instead. A servant also could be redeemed with money. It didn’t occur to him it would be his daughter. (Leviticus 27, laws of redemption; Leviticus 20:1-5 forbids human sacrifice.) 

Jephthah had only one child. His daughter was his only hope for descendants. His line would die out if she did not marry and have children. 

An Israelite girl looked forward to being a “mother in Israel,” a high calling in their culture. If she did not give her consent, her father would be guilty of breaking his vow. If she gave her consent, her personal dreams would be destroyed forever.

In that moment she decided to willingly dedicate herself to the Lord. “My father,” she replied, “You have given your word to the Lord. Do to me just as you promised, now that the Lord has avenged you of your enemies, the Ammonites. But grant me this one request,” she said. “Give me two months to roam the hills and weep with my friends, because I will never marry.”

Her father worshipped and trusted God; he had taught his daughter the same devotion. And yet he still didn’t know that God actually wanted to be a part of his life. God did not require vows (Deuteronomy 23:22), or burnt offerings, or the death or celibacy of his daughter. God wanted righteousness, mercy, and humility from those who worship him. (Micah 6:6-8.)

The daughter of Jephthah “renounced marriage because of the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 19:12) This was her sacrifice out of love for her father and gratitude to God. She chose this way willingly, but she asked for time to grieve. During her two months of mourning, she had time to accept and envision a new purpose for her life..

“After the two months, she returned to her father and he did to her as he vowed. And she was a virgin.”

Jephthah’s daughter became a living sacrifice who, in type, acted out the dedication every woman in Christ should have whether we marry as Ruth did, or remain unmarried as Jephthah’s daughter. When we dedicate ourselves to God through Christ, we choose to give up goals that conform to the world’s view. We choose to become living sacrifices, consecrated to doing the will of God.

Note: Some Bible scholars believe Jepthah actually killed his daughter and offered her as a burnt offering. Adam Clarke in his commentary argues convincingly that Jephthah’s daughter lived out her life as an unmarried woman who served in the tabernacle. Anna (Luke 2:36-37) is a New Testament example of a widow who served in the temple.

Scarlett Stough

For the scripture reference list and related Bible Study Guide, go to Bible Study Guide: Offer Your Bodies as Living Sacrifices