Judges 11 Jepthah's vow

I was talking with a young woman this morning regarding a “vow” she felt she had made ( foolishly) and what she should do about it. She showed me Jepthah’s vow as we discussed her situation

What did Jephthah really do, did he really use his daughter as a burnt sacrifice or rather perhaps redeemed her life with an animal and then dedicated her to God as a virgin?


Hello, Tami @Palmtree! Wow, the passage speaking of Jephthah’s vow and what followed is certainly one of those that make even mature Christians shudder! But yes, the text does say that Jephthah performed his vow concerning his daughter, which did not involve substituting with an animal. It was, indeed, highlighting his foolishness. Earlier in that chapter, Jephthah himself said, “So whatever the Lord our God takes possession of before us, we will possess” (v. 24). So if he knew that they could possess nothing God had not already taken possession of, why did he feel the need to make a foolish vow to “secure” something that was not in his control to begin with? He was attempting to manipulate God like other peoples of that day did with their “gods.” This reminds me Cain and his offering just a bit. Also, Esau’s foolishness in carelessly giving up his birthright for momentary fleeting satisfaction. Jephthah’s lack of trust in God and his trust in his ability to manipulate with a promised sacrifice (which was not proper, anyways, according to Levitical law–so it was not God’s way) costed him greatly. This only affirms and teaches what was taught and affirmed from the beginning in Adam’s and Eve’s foolish decision: our way leads to death; God’s way leads to life.

I am wondering, what do you think about what Matthew 5:33-37 concerning the young woman’s vow, and what do you think the gospel message would say to her? Let me know your thoughts :slight_smile:


Hello Tami,
Thanks you for sharing this dear lady’s concern. In addition to what Lindsay said, I have heard other theologians say that given that God has expressly banned human sacrifice, it would have been an abomination for Jephthah to have sacrificed his daughter. At times I feel like it is one of those things in the Bible that I might have to ask God when we meet in heaven. However, like Lindsay said, I also think the point of this passage is to show the foolishness of Jephthah’s vow and not what God expects of his children, given that God gave many warriors victories without vows. .

That being said, I am thinking that the issue here might be her concerns about dealing with the vow she made. Is she feeling bad that something she vowed for and expected did not come to pass or is she feeling bad about making a vow to do something and did not do it? While there were vows made in the New testament (eg Apostle Paul), there seems to be no indication in the gospel message that we would have to go as far as Jephthah if we made a vow. It is true that we are warned about vows in Mathew 5, but again 1 John 1:9, 1John 2; 1 Hebrews 4 from verses 14-16 and 16 especially encourages us to approach the throne of grace to obtain mercy and find grace in time of need. We can take courage in the scriptures that there is nothing we would do that the Father has not provided remedy for and that nothing could separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus (Romans 8: 32-39). Again, I do not know the full scenario but I am hoping that these insights could offer clues as she reflects on what God would have her do…


Hi, Nancy, thanks for expounding. Notice, I didn’t just bring up Matthew 5 and brought up also the gospel message and what that would have to say to that. I think you answered what I was trying to get at with my questions regarding those two things and how they play off each other. Although people made vows in the Old Testament era (I believe there were other vows made that were not foolish like Jeptha’s), Jesus’ work on the cross shows us we only have ever to believe on him–that he died for our sins and was raised again–and that in Him, all God’s promises are yes (2 Corinthians 1:20). We never need look outside of that or make a vow to God about anything, thinking to secure something for ourselves, because Jesus has secured everything that is needed for us! When we think we have done something foolish (as we all do! Not one of us hasn’t!), all we need to do is bring ourselves to the foot of the cross. Forgiveness, grace, and mercy have already been provided for us in Jesus.

Thanks again, @Nancesah. Great response!


Thanks Lindsay, for bringing this to my attention, oh sorry about the Mathew reference only, I understood your pointer to the gospel message and was trying to elaborate. I probably edited the message upon corrections, as I type and post and highlight sections to edit after typing on word.
*The original sentence actually reads…It is true that we are warned about vows in Mathew 5, but again the gospel message as Lindsay said as shown in 1 John 1:9, 1John 2; 1 Hebrews 4 from verses 14-16 and 16 especially encourages us to approach the throne of grace to obtain mercy and find grace in time of need…
Oh yes indeed, the finished works of the cross and his resurrection is all we need. I pray for our dear sister, that the Lord guides her to find solace in this situation


No apologies necessary! I thought you did a great job elaborating on what I was getting at, and you brought up GREAT Scripture references, so even without the original, you made it obvious you understood what I was saying :slight_smile:. (I also appreciated your bringing up the child sacrifice, as that was where I was going with the comment on the Levitical law and then forgot to elaborate on that, too! Sometimes my mind is lighting up with all these things in Scripture, and I forget to finish a point :slight_smile: ). And yes, will be praying for our sister in Christ and hope these responses are helpful to you, Tami @Palmtree! Looking forward to hearing your thoughts!

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Something on a related topic: I once heard a sermon in which the speaker claimed that, to the author of Judges, a good metric for the moral state of the Israelites was the treatment of women. In the first chapter, we see a woman (Acsah) being provided for by her father and husband. By chapter 5, we see women (Deborah and Jael) being thrust into warfare when the men refuse to live up to their obligations. In chapter 11, we see Jephthah’s daughter being unintentionally used as a bargaining piece with God in an effort to ensure victory. Finally, in chapter 19, the Levite’s concubine is intentionally sent out to be raped and killed to protect the cowardly Levite and his host from the depraved townsmen, and after a civil war decimates the tribe of Benjamin, the men of Israel allow their own daughters to be taken as war captives to ensure the tribe’s survival.

Regardless of what happened to Jephthah’s daughter, it’s a potent symbol of how deeply Israel was mired in depravity. If she was sacrificed, then her life was taken from her; if she was forced to remain celibate in devotion to God, she had her primary life goals and purpose (marriage and childbearing) taken from her.


Thanks for the interesting angle, @MicahB. I think that the author of Judges emphasized a lot that pointed to Israel’s moral decay and that this was perhaps just one of the indicators. As far as what happened with Jephthah’s daughter, the text indicates that his daughter went to bewail her virginity for two months before Jephthah carried out his vow with her, so she was, indeed, sacrificed. The statement at the end that she knew no man does not mean she wasn’t sacrificed. It simply means she was sacrificed as a virgin and emphasized that for, I believe, the reason you stated:

When the text refers to Jephthah’s carrying out of his vow with her, there was only one vow, and so it could only be referring to the vow in which he swore to sacrifice whatever first came out of the door as a burnt offering. What do you think (since this was one of Tami’s questions :slight_smile: )? I enjoy your insights on all things biblical!

I think when people read things like this, especially people who are not Christians (but even Christians!), there is a tendency to think that God approved of the behavior, but like you pointed out,

I’ve heard it suggested that Jephthah may have had an alternative to sacrificing his daughter, but it’s not something I’ve devoted a great deal of attention to. You do have to wonder, though, what he was thinking when he made the vow, considering that it was customary for the women to greet men returning from battle. Then again, this was a time when animals were usually kept in the lower level of the house.

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Interesting thought concerning what he might have been thinking, considering what you pointed out about women being the first out to greet men coming back from war. Wow. Thanks for the diagram! It certainly helps with some perspective.

As far as the suggestion, the text does not at all support it, so do you think that it’s possible that it was brought up by someone who was trying to make the scenario “okay,” someone who maybe thought the passage reflected poorly on God? I’ve even noticed my tendency to do that with some passages in the book of Psalms. I think we have to be very careful with those suggestions (knowing I have done it myself), because there are cases where the text is very clear and we are adding to it. There is nothing there to suggest an animal was sacrificed instead. While that seems to line up with the levitical law to some degree, as you pointed out, the author of Judges was showing the moral decay of the society as they got further and further away from God, so it is doubtful this was done. Either way, the way the text reads, it seems to confirm that he sacrifice her, though. Some of the scenarios in this book are the hardest to read, I think.

Thanks Micah and Lindsay, this is definitely one of those texts wherein I have heard opposing perspectives and with convincing details, and resolved that the Heaven meeting would clarify me:)


Hi, Nancy, I’m glad to hear you made up your mind :slight_smile: To help Tami, though, (and I’m not sure which perspectives you’ve studied up on, but there seem to be main ones people tend to lean towards) I will post an article from Answers in Genesis I thought was helpful that lays out and points out error in the different perspectives/interpretations:

The Jepthah’s vow story is a hard story to read - emotionally, as is the whole book of Judges. As mentioned above Judges is really about the moral depravity of Israel.
In Sunday school we hear these stories as if it is about great heroes doing daring and brave things - but the point is that even the ‘Judges’ used by God are all deeply flawed. We are supposed to be shocked and outraged by their behaviour, so:

  1. The making of the vow was wrong in the first place. In Joshua, the leaders fall for a trick of the Gibeonites and make a treaty with them without consulting God, even though it was against God’s orders. Later in the story God makes the Israelites honour that treaty and fight on behalf of the Gibeonites! The moral learned? God takes vows very seriously.
  2. Did God approve of Jephthah’s vow? No. In fact, as mentioned above, God finds human sacrifice an abomination. But He would still have held Jephthah accountable for making the vow in the first place. That does not mean He wanted it fulfilled (I hope that makes sense ::thinking:) Jesus says we will be held accountable for every ‘careless word’ (Matthew 12:36), so we see that He is the same yesterday, today and forever, but thankfully for me, as mentioned above, if we confess our sins He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
    I don’t think I’ve added anything to the discussion or clarified anything - but it’s been good to process :slight_smile:

After the long weekend and a hectic day at work, I will attempt to thank and answer all of you lovely people. I do so appreciate ALL of your thoughts. I did glean some great tidbits to tuck away to ponder. After reading and rereading and then looking in some of the resources you listed, I figured it all out! Now I know that I don’t know anything! lol… Yes I think that heaven will hold the answer. However, after reading all the the passages in Leviticus, considering the judges’ history, the faith chapter and so on, I might lean to the fact that the young woman was given to serve the Lord as a virgin. I will certainly not be dogmatic on that stance. It just seems odd to me that the sorrow expressed was for her “virginity” and hence, being an only child, the end of Jephthah’d line altogether. If she were being killed, I somehow think the lament might have been greater. Also, I have some question in my mind that God would have actually allowed a person whom he used for several years to represent Himself to the people (as a judge) to have set an obvious example of child sacrifice. Also the fact that the spirit of the Lord coming upon him was right before he said his vow. It just makes me pause. But I will never teach a sermon on it! These types of passages are best left to the Lord! Thank you so much for coming alongside and helping me think this through. I am going to pass on some of the wisdom you all have given regarding VOWs to my friend. I know she will be so appreciative.