The book of Judges is filled with tragic stories of sin. So often, women were innocent victims of the sins of their fathers, husbands, or family members. Jephthah’s daughter is one of those women.
Jephthah was the son of a harlot who was used by God to deliver the Israelites from their enemies. Though he ruled as a judge, his understanding of God’s character was limited. Before heading out to battle, he made a vow to God that if God would give him victory, “then whatever comes out from the doors of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the Ammonites shall be the LORD’s, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering.” (Judges 11:31 ESV)
Jephthah won the battle, and as he returned home, his precious daughter, his only child, rain out to meet him with timbrels and dancing. This was the tradition, for the women to greet their men with celebration for their victory. Did Jephthah not keep that in mind when he made his reckless vow? Didn’t it occur to him that he’d be greeted by his daughter or wife? Apparently not.
When Jephthah saw his daughter, he tore his clothes and blamed his innocent daughter for his situation.
“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 ESV)
When Jephthah’s daughter heard the horrid vow that her father had made, committing to offer her up as a burnt offering to the Lord, she could have run in fear. Instead, she stood strong saying, “My father, you have opened your mouth to the LORD; do to me according to what has gone out of your mouth, now that the LORD has avenged you on your enemies, on the Ammonites.” (Judges 11:36 ESV)
She asked for only one request, that she be allowed to be alone for two months so that she might wander in the mountains with her friends and mourn the fact that she would die without ever marrying and bearing children.
He agreed to her request, so she and her friends left, but at the end of two months, she returned to her father “…who did with her according to his vow that he had made…) (v. 39a)
Chapter 11 closes by saying, “it became a custom in Israel that the daughters of Israel went year by year to lament the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite four days in the year.” (v. 39b-40)
Jephthah came from a pagan environment that encouraged human sacrifice. But the true God forbade it. Because of Jephthah’s foolishness in following pagan practices, his innocent daughter paid the ultimate price.
Jephthah’s father messed up big time, and when he did, rather than taking responsibility for his actions, he blamed his daughter. She could have begged and pleaded for him to change his mind. She could have run away and never returned. Instead, she bravely accepted her unfortunate lot in life and the daughters of Israel remembered and recognized her sacrifice. Though Jephthah was weak, his daughter was strong.
Read about Jephthah’s daughter in Scripture: Judges 11:29-40