The story of Jephthah and his daughter, and his
rash vow to God in free Bible art
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What Came Before:
ALTHOUGH Gideon had refused to become a king, even when
all the tribes desired him, after his death, one of his sons, whose name was
Abimelech, tried to make himself a king. He began by killing all his brothers,
except one who escaped. But his rule was only over Shechem and a few places near
it, and lasted only a few years; so that he was never named among the kings of
Israel. Abimelech is sometimes called the sixth of the judges, though he did not
deserve the title. After him came Tola, the seventh judge, and Jair, the eighth.
Of these two judges very little is told.
After this the Israelites again began to worship the idols of the Canaanites,
and again fell under the power of their enemies. The Ammonites came against them
from the southeast and held rule over the tribes on the east of Jordan. This was
the sixth of "the oppressions...
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The man who would set Israel free was named Jephthah (pronounced jef'thu). He
called together the men of the tribes on the east of Jordan—Reuben, Gad, and the
half-tribe of Manasseh—and fought against the Ammonites.
Before Jephthah went to the battle he said to the Lord: "If thou wilt give me
victory over the Ammonites, then when I come back from the battle, whatever
comes out of the house to meet me shall be the Lord's, and I will offer it up as
This was not a wise promise, nor a right one; for God had told the Israelites
long before what offerings were commanded, as oxen and sheep, and what were
forbidden. But Jephthah had lived on the border near the desert, far from the
house of God at Shiloh, and he knew very little about God's law.
Jephthah fought the Ammonites and won a victory, and drove the enemies out of
the land. Then, as he was going back to his home, his daughter, who was his only
child, came out to meet him, leading the young girls, her companions, dancing
and making music, to welcome his return. When Jephthah saw her he cried out in
sorrow, "Oh, my daughter, what trouble you bring with you! I have given a
promise to the Lord, and now I must keep it!"
As soon as his daughter had learned what promise her father had made she met it
bravely, as a true daughter of Israel. She said: "My father, you have made a
solemn promise to the Lord, and you shall keep it, for God has given to you
victory over the enemies of your people. But let me live a little while and weep
with my young friends over the death that I must suffer."
For two months she stayed with the young girls upon the mountains, for perhaps
she feared that if she was at home with her father he would fail to keep his
promise. Then she gave herself up to death, and her father did with her as he
In all the history of the Israelites this was the only time when a living man or
woman was offered in sacrifice to the Lord. Among all the nations around Israel
the people offered human lives, even those of their own children, to the idols
which they worshipped.
But the people of Israel remembered what God had taught Abraham when he was
about to offer up Isaac; and they never, except this once, laid a human offering
upon God's altar. Perhaps if Jephthah had lived near the Tabernacle at Shiloh,
he would not have given such a promise, for God did not desire it; and his
daughter's' life would have been saved. From all these stories it is easy to see
how the Israelites lived during the three hundred years while the judges ruled.
There was no strong power to which all gave obedience; but each family lived as
it chose. Many people worshipped the Lord; but many more turned from the Lord to
the idols, and then turned back to the Lord, after they had fallen under the
hand of their enemies. In one part of the land they were free; in another part
they were ruled by the foreign peoples.
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