Friday, December 01, 2006

Most Christians know the story of Abraham, and how he almost sacrificed his son on an altar (Genesis 22).  When I was younger, I remember asking a Sunday school teacher why God would ask Abraham to do something, and then stop him.  His answer was basically, “God would not allow Abraham to kill Isaac because Abraham was acting in faith.  When acting in faith, it would be impossible for God to allow Abraham to kill Isaac, because we know that murder is wrong.”  I accepted that answer for a while, but there is another passage where God did allow it to happen, and I have no idea how to interpret it or how to deal with it.

Most Christians may not know the story of Jepthah, and how he sacrificed his only daughter because of a vow he made to the Lord (Judges 11).  Unlike Abraham, Jepthah was allowed “to do with her according to his vow he had made” (39).  Unfortunately, this Sunday school answer cannot be applied in this instance, and it gives me heartburn trying to make sense of it.

Besides the obvious reaction of disdain, this makes me question the purpose of sacrifices.  I understand that sacrifices were made to atone for the sins of man.  Without the shedding of blood, there is no remission of sins (Hebrews 9:22).  Since Jesus was the ultimate sacrifice, other sacrifices are no longer necessary.  In this case, however, it had nothing do with covering the sins of Jepthah, but seems to be Jepthah keeping his end of the deal.


  1. Anonymous said...
    There's a lot of interesting stuff going on in the Jephthah story. It's best to look at it in the context of the whole book of Judges.

    In the early period of the judges, the judges were judges of faith, and their judging was very effective. Israel was in unity and the land had rest.

    But as you move on, you'll find that the judges started acting more like the surrounding countries.

    Ask yourself which happened first -- God granting His spirit or Jephthah's vow?

    The fact is that God gave Jephthah his spirit freely. Jephthah sought to control it with a vow. Jephthah dealt with God as if He were like the gods of the Moabites, and therefore Jephthah had the same kind of hardships. And, at the end, there was a civil war in Israel, Jephthah only judged 6 years, they had only gotten rid of one of their two enemies, and the land did not have rest.

    God had given a free gift in the spirit. Jephthah had sought to bind God, and then he found out what the cost is of binding God.

    Another interesting point is that God frequently does not fulfill his own vows out of compassion. Yet Jephthah never tries to find a way out of his vow, despite the fact that he has skillfully negotiated just about everything else in his life.

    Anyway, some food for thought on the subject.
    Brett said...
    I want to make a quick point. I am searching for the truth in the scriptures, but I am not doubting that the scriptures are inspired or infallible. The post seems harsh, and the tone was mainly because of my hard questions. I want to come to grips with this (and other passages) that seem so harsh and wrong. I still love reading and studying the scriptures.
    Anonymous said...
    Hi Brett!

    I hope it is ok if I post on your Sunday School's page since I am not a member of that class. I just wanted to add to the discussion. I have the Henry Morris Defender's Study Bible, which I believe has commentary on this subject, but I have found an article written by Dr. Morris that explains this verse. In summary it says...

    Judges 11:31 states:

    Then it shall be, that whatsoever cometh forth of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the children of Ammon, shall surely be the LORD's, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering.

    The important thing to notice here is the use of the word "and". In Hebrew this is the word "waw" which can mean "and", but can also mean "or" or "but". I took Biblical Hebrew in college and can verify this. In this case it is probably best to translate waw as "or". If you then read the passage as "shall surely be the LORD's, OR I will offer it up for a burnt offering" then it makes more sense. Taken like this you can see that he is saying if a person comes out of the house (he probably envisioned a servant) they will be dedicated to to a live of service at the tabernacle as Hannah dedicated Samuel. If it is an animal, however, it will sacrificed. The sadness of Jepthah still makes sense in this context because those in service to the tabernacle do not marry or have children. His lineage will not continue as his daughter is an unmarried virgin and as the passage points out he has no other children to continue the family tree. This also better explains why she wanted to mourn her virginity, since her ability to marry is what is being sacrificed. If she was being offered as a burnt sacrifice she would more likely be mourning her life.

    Verse 39 states:
    And it came to pass at the end of two months, that she returned unto her father, who did with her according to his vow which he had vowed: and she knew no man. And it was a custom in Israel

    We see again, if doing according to his vow meant killing her, it would not emphasize that after he carried it out that she "knew no man" as this wouldn't be the worst part.

    I hope this helps. This one was challenging for me as well, and I had to go looking for some answers too. Here is a link to the article

    Great blog btw, very interesting!
    -Heather Selfridge-Ariyeh
    Brett said...
    all comments are welcome, this is not just for my sunday school class.
    I was wondering why everyone seemed to be weeping over her virginity, when she was going to be sacrificed as a burnt offering.
    Your post makes a lot of sense. Thanks for healing my heartburn. I looked at the Henry Morris Defenders Study Bible, and it looks pretty neat. I am currently working on a Sunday School Thoughts store on, where I put some recommended reading. I will be sure to add it to the store. I should have the store up either tonight or tomorrow night, at least on a limited basis.
    Anonymous said...
    As for the "life of virginity" theory, I would personally opt for that except that the interpretation is unheard of until the 1200s I think. However, for a good defense of that reading, you should read the book "Jephthah and His Vow". He mentions several other considerations to take into account. (I just finished a seminary paper on this story)
    Anonymous said...
    Interesting question regarding the origin of theory. I tried to look into this a little last night, and found one article that says that the theory may have began around that time. I will continue to try to find if that is the earliest mention of it. My only issue is that, to me, the passage doesn't make sense unless it is read that way. Not just the theological problems, but the question of why everyone would be mourning her virginity if she was dying. I can see being upset that if she died, he wouldn't have children, but I don't think this would have been the central complaint for everyone involved. Especially verse 39 when it is almost seems that she “knew no man” as a consequence of him fulfilling his vow.

    Also, despite when the theory became popular, we do know that waw has several meanings. Just b/c people didn't think to look at that doesn't mean that that was not what was intended. On the one hand, traditional interpretations can be a clue into what the people of the time considered the meaning to be. On the other hand, considering that at some points in history the Catholic Church had more control over how information was interpreted and translated to a more illiterate population and there wasn't exactly a free exchange of ideas I wonder if that has something to do with why only certain interpretations were accepted. Not sure about this, but maybe you have some insights on the subject. Also, I wonder how the ancient Jews interpreted this and if there is any record of that. I did read that the tradition of mourning Jephthah's daughter's virginity did not seem to survive long. Maybe that’s because she was present? By this I mean that it was the custom only among her and her friends to mourn her virginity annually.

    Thank you for the book recommendation, I will definitely look into that! It would be interesting also if you posted your paper.

    Also, I read your article "The Rise of the Liberal Academy is the Conservatives' Fault". It is great. I have expressed the same thing, in different words, so many times. The way you sum up the two stories is so true in my experience, and so sad. When you are in high school you usually do not face the tough questions. Most people are fed a conservative world view and buy this whole-heartedly without question. Then you go to college where most professors are liberal. You realize what a “fool” you’ve been and you accept your professor’s view whole-heartedly and are now enlightened. I don’t think most people stop to question this at any point along the way. They were conservative b/c someone told them to be, then they were liberal because someone else told them to change. Like you said, you never really come to your own conclusions and there are no substantial reasons for your beliefs. This extends to so many other topics as well. In high school you are told the U.S. is the greatest country in the world. In college you are told we are the worst. Most people just regurgitate whatever information they are being told without ever really forming their own beliefs.
    Anonymous said...
    Here is my paper.

    I'm glad you like my site!
    Lorna said...
    it is about obedience. Abraham promised to OBEY God.

    Jepthah made a vow.

    But God's ways sure are strange ! Even today. He closes doors and open windows, etc etc
    Anonymous said...
    It is from the web site

    Did Jephthah offered God a human sacrifice?

    In Judges 11:31, Jephthah vowed to God that if he were victorious in battle, he would give to God a sacrifice (olah: the normal Hebrew word for a offering or sacrifice) whoever came first through the doors of his house upon his return from battle.
    Majority of the church goers believe Jephthah offered his daughter as a burnt offering. Some sunday school teachers tells their kids that when Jephthan did the vowed he thought his pet (some even say dog) would be the one that first come through the doors of his house upon his return from battle.
    Dog, that is abomination because it is one of the unclean animals (Lev. 11:4-8, 29-31, Deut. 14:7-8). Would a muslim offer pig as a burnt offering to Allah?

    Let's look at what bible says about the human sacrifice. Bible says that it is abomination to do human sacrifice (Leviticus 18:21; 20:2-5; Deuteronomy 12:31; 18:10). Some ask why then God told Abraham to sacrifice his only son. Gen 22 is all about the greatest prophecy of what God (Father) would later (in New Testement ) do to his only son (Jesus ). The whole time Abraham is acting out a prophecy (A prophecy about The One who will put an end to sacrifice and offering - Daniel 9:27).

    1) Look at the location -> Moriah is the place God asked Abraham to offer his only son. Moriah is also the place where Solomon later built the temple for God where all the sacrifices were made (2 Chron. 3:1). Would it help if I told you that Calvary/Golgotha was part of Moriah mountain area and could even conceivably have been the same spot on which Abraham stood with his son Isaac. It took three days for Abraham to reach the destination, Jesus spent three days in a tomb to save the world. There were two other persons beside Abraham (father) and Isaac. There were two others with Jesus on that day (good friday).

    2) Genesis 22:8 KJV "And Abraham said, My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering".
    Note: only the original King James Version beside Hebrew and Greek text has this exact phrase. Other Bible translations put "for" in between which changes the whole meaning.
    For example: I will cook for myself a meal and let you eat vs I will cook myself a meal and let you eat.
    In Genesis 22:8 Abraham is prophesing God will provide himself as a burnt offering!

    3) The name of the location (genesis 22:14). After he and Isaac provide the burnt offering (ram) Abraham named the location "Jehovah Jireh" which means on the mountain of the Lord it will be provided . Clearly Abraham named it not because of what God did to him and his son but he named it for an event that is not taking place yet. We all know what another Father did to his only Son 2000 years ago on that mountain. Praise be the Lord, He did indeed provide a salvation on that mountain as Ahraham prophesied.
    God is love that's what the bible says right? And Genesis 22 is the very first Chapter in the bible the word love starts to appear! Coincidence? don't think so.

    Hebrews (11:32) merely commended the faith Jephthah demonstrated when he risked going to war. Author was using ‘olah (sacrifice) in a figurative sense.

    So what did happen to Jephthan daughter?

    I believe she spent the rest of her life as one of those nuns! nuns in OT!!!??
    As a Nun presented her body/life a living sacrifice to God. The Bible indicates that such non-priestly service was available, particularly to women who chose to so dedicate themselves (e.g., Exodus 38:8 -> women assembling, which assembled at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation).
    (1 Samuel 2:22 -> the women that assembled at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation). Every one who studys Judaism knows the meaning of this line women assembled at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation. These were nuns of OT. These women were not allowed to marry.
    What's that mean to Jephthan?
    It means the extinction of Jephthah’s family line (she is the only child) which is an extremely serious and tragic matter to an Israelite ( Numbers 27:1-11; 36:1-13).
    In Judges 11:39 -> "He did with her according to his vow which he had vowed: and she knew no man. And it was a custom in Israel". This statement would be a completely superfluous and callous remark if she had been put to death.
    There is another parent Hannah who also made a similar sacrifice (a living sacrifice) when she offered her son to God by sending him to the temple to the priestly direction of Eli for the rest of his life (1 Samuel 1:11)
    In Romans 12:1 -> Paul is asking us to do just that -> "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service".

    Are you ready to give a sacrifice to God?
    Anastasios said...
    On this posting concerning Jephthah, I agree with somebody that posted previously and said that it is a wrong translation in Judges 11.31 that has created the confusion. Jepthah did not sacrifice his daughre and in fact he didn't promise to sacrifice it! There is an excellent article written on the topic, by Bible scholar E. W. Bullinger. It also explains the passage that says that “the
    daughters of Israel went yearly to lament the daughter of Jephthah...”

    You can find the article here

    Jephthah's daughter: Was she really sacrificed?
    Victoria said...
    Of Human Sacrifice
    Abraham and Isaac
    The Biblical record of the offering of Isaac has been a source of confusion and misunderstanding for many years. It is difficult to understand why God apparently asked Abraham to offer Isaac as a burnt offering. If God is the giver of all life, how could He ask Abraham to offer up his only son whom God had promised him? The account of Abraham and Isaac simply has not made sense, and thus critics have constantly wrestled over it.
    The record of Abraham and Isaac in Genesis 22:1 begins, "And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham ...." The first misconception has stemmed from the word tempt. In Hebrew "tempt" is bachan, meaning "to prove." "Tempt" must be incorrect because James 1:13 says that God never tempts: "Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man." 
    Although God never tempts, it is possible for Him to prove man: God proves us as we prove ourselves. He gives us His Word and as we walk on it, we are proved. But God does not tempt us. Only Satan tempts.
    Hebrews 1I:17 records, "By faith [believing] Abraham, when he was tried [proved] offered up Isaac ...."
    Genesis 22:1,2-:
    And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt [prove] Abraham, and said unto him, Abraham: and he said,. Behold, here I am.
    And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of.
    According to these verses, God told Abraham to take his son Isaac and offer him for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which God would tell him.
    Our whole problem. may be that we do not understand what a burnt offering is.
    ( For Biblical research students it is of interest to note that in the Aramaic Peshitta text the word ykda, "burnt;'' is never used in this story. The word alta, "offering," is used throughout. Thus, could it be that every sacrifice is an offering, but not every offering a sacrifice?)
    God never asked Abraham to put a fire under Isaac. This idea has come to us because of teachers we have heard, books we have read and pictures we have seen. We have in mind the image of Abraham walking Isaac up the mountain, gathering the sticks, building the altar, tying Isaac and preparing to slay him when suddenly a ram is noticed behind them. This is not the Word of the Lord. What did the Lord tell Abraham to do?
    Genesis 22:2:
    ... Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of.
    This is all that God commanded Abraham to do. So when we understand what a burnt offering is, we will then have the key to the correct understanding of this verse.
    To most of us a burnt offering concerns burning something with fire. But in Eastern custom a burnt offering does not indicate the presence of fire. When speaking of people as being a burnt offering, it did not mean sacrifice by fire. A burnt offering was a total, unreserved commitment of self to God. Let us note carefully this truth so plainly taught in the record in Judges 11 of Jephthah who gave his daughter as a burnt offering.
    Judges 11:30-40:
    And Jephthah vowed a vow unto the Lord, and said, If thou shalt without fail deliver the children of Ammon into mine hands,
    Then it shall be, that whatsoever cometh forth of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the children of Ammon, shall surely be the Lord's and I will offer it up for a burnt offering [Carefully notice Jephthah's promise.] .
    So Jephthah passed over unto the children of Ammon to fight against them; and the Lord delivered them [the children of Ammon] into his hands.
    And he smote them ....
    And Jephthah came to Mizpeh unto his house, and, behold, his daughter came out to meet him with timbrels and with dances: and she was his only child; beside her he had neither son nor daughter.
    And it came to pass, when he saw her, that he rent his clothes, and said, Alas, my daughter! thou hast brought me very low, and thou art one of them that trouble me: for I have opened my mouth unto the Lord, and I cannot go back.
    And she said unto him, My father, if thou hast opened thy mouth unto the Lord, do to me according to that which hath proceeded out of thy mouth; forasmuch as the Lord hath taken vengeance for thee of thine enemies, even of the children of Ammon.
    And she said unto her father, Let this thing be done for me: let me alone two months, that I may go up and down upon the mountains, and bewail my virginity, I and my fellows.
    And he said, Go. And he sent her away for two months: and she went with her companions, and bewailed her virginity upon the mountains.
    And it came to pass at the end of two months, that she returned unto her father, who did with her according to his vow which he had vowed: and she knew no man. And it was a custom in Israel,
    That the daughters of Israel went yearly to lament [visit] the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite four days in a year. (King James has the marginal note "talk with." Young's Concordance says "to give praise.".)
    Eastern custom teaches us that an unmarried maiden is a disgrace not only to the girl herself but also to the family; An unwed daughter indicates that a curse of God is on the family. Often such parents give these maidens as servants to serve at the temples for the rest of their lives. But before the young lady is committed, the maiden vacations in the mountains with relatives and a few close friends and together they have consecration ceremonies for two months, bewailing her virginity--that is, lamenting the fact she did not marry and produce offspring. Then the maiden bids farewell to all her relatives and friends. Once the girl enters into the service of the temple, she cannot be released to go back to her friends, relatives nor parents.
    Jephthah gave his daughter permission to go to the mountains for two months. When she came back, her father took her to the temple. There she followed the ceremony all such girls go through. Her head was shaved at the door of the temple and she put on a long robe. She then remained in the temple the rest of her life. During special times each year, people would go and praise her, talk with her and compliment her far obeying her father's will. This account of Jephthah's daughter shows that a burnt offering means that she was living in temple serving God.
    Jephthah had promised God that whatever first came out of the doors of his house to meet him when he returned from battle he would give as a burnt offering. Having no other son or daughter, this child was the only hope of perpetuating Jephthah's family line. The total commitment of his only daughter to God's service was Jephthah's burnt offering. Jephthah felt especially bad because his family line had come to an end.
    Just as Jephthah's daughter was dedicated to temple service for her lifetime, so Isaac was totally dedicated and consecrated to the commitment for all Israel believers for all ages as God's people. All Israel was called in Isaac.4
    Now let us go back and carefully examine God's command to Abraham. God did not say that Abraham should take wood with him to start a fire. God told Abraham to take Isaac to a mountain and to offer him. Then we read that Abraham prepared himself with all those other things. This shows us that Abraham deliberately went beyond God's commandment.
    Genesis 22:3:
    And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and saddled his ass, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son, and clave the wood for the burnt offering . . .
    This is the first place we get the idea that Abraham was going to burn Isaac. God's revelation was one thing; Abraham's sense-knowledge was something different:
    As you recall, God had revealed long before that He was going to give Abraham a son by Sarah; but Abraham did not believe this until he was old. In the meantime, he took Hagar as his wife and Ishmael was born. Abraham did this by his sense-knowledge. God did keep his promise and Isaac was born to Sarah in her old age. Abraham again acted by his erring sense-knowledge regarding God's commandment concerning the offering of Isaac. Abraham lived near the Canaanites and had seen them burn human sacrifices to their gods. So when God said to Abraham, "Take him and give him as a burnt offering," Abraham immediately injected his own ideas and thought, "Well, that means I'd better take the wood along."
    Genesis 22:3-6:
    ... and rose up, and went unto the place of which God had told him.
    Then on the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes, and saw the place afar off:
    And Abraham said unto his. young men, Abide ye here with the ass; and I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you.
    And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering, and laid it upon Isaac his son; and he took the fire in his hand, and a knife; and they went both of them together:
    Isaac was not just five or six years Old at this time. He was a grown adult, age thirty.
    Verses 7-9:
    And Isaac spake unto Abraham his father, and said; My father: and he said, Here am I, my son. And he said, Behold the fire and the wood: but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?
    And Abraham said, My son; God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering: so they went both of them together.
    And they came to the place which God had told him of; and Abraham built an altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar upon the wood.
    The Scriptures do not say that God told Abraham to build an altar nor to lay wood on the altar nor to bind Isaac and lay him on the altar. God had told Abraham what to do, but Abraham was the one who thought of a literal burning. He was using his own imagination, influenced by the actions of his unbelieving neighbors, and interjecting his own ideas.
    Verse 10:
    And Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son.
    Look how really wrong Abraham was.
    Verses 11,12:
    And the angel of the Lord called unto him out of heaven, and said, Abraham, Abraham: and he said, Here am I.
    And he said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad ....
    Had this been God's will, as Abraham thought it was, there never would have been an angel needed to suddenly terminate the action because God cannot contradict Himself, He cannot change His will. It was not God's will to literally burn and kill the young man. This was Abraham's idea. Yet, even though Abraham went beyond God's request and was wrong in so doing, he proved his utter willingness to relinquish his son. Therefore the angel of the Lord could make the following declaration in Genesis 22:12, not because Abraham went beyond God's request, but because he was committed to total relinquishment of his son.
    Genesis 22:12:
    ... for now I know that thou fearest [has awe or reverence for] God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me.
    Paul wrote concerning sacrifice in the book of Romans to us who are in the Church age.
    Romans 12:1,2:
    I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present [yield] your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.
    And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.
    What good are we to God as dead sacrifices? He needs us as living, active sons to be faithful and carry out this work, totally committed to Him until death. By living according to God's Word, we are proved by Him and are "burnt offerings."

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