Choose Belief?

One of the challenges we have, as followers of God, is to relate to Him as He is, rather than as we want Him to be.  It’s the false intimacy, imagining God different than He reveals Himself in Scripture, which forms our “iniquity”; the twisting of our relationship with Him.

Now the Spirit of the LORD came upon Jephthah, so that he passed through Gilead and Manasseh; then he passed through Mizpah of Gilead, and from Mizpah of Gilead he went on to the sons of Ammon.  Jephthah made a vow to the LORD and said, “If You will indeed give the sons of Ammon into my hand, then it shall be that whatever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the sons of Ammon, it shall be the LORD’S, and I will offer it up as a burnt offering.” (Judges 11:29-31 NASB)

The wording of this vow of Jephthah may seem peculiar, but what does it actually say about Jephthah’s belief in, and about, Yahweh?  Whatever comes out of his door will belong to Yahweh.  The options of things that could potentially come through his door are greater than we might think.  They could include some livestock.  The options could also include his family.  In a sense Jephthah is taking a risk about what will come out of the door, but the vow gives Yahweh the choice.  That detail is often overlooked in commentaries.

The practice of making vows isn’t unusual in Scripture, but it’s not common either.  Jacob made one at Bethel (Gen 28:20-22), the entire nation of Israel while migrating through the wilderness (Num 21:1-3), Hannah made one in order to get Samuel (1 Sam 1:11).  The unusual thing here is that what is vowed to Yahweh isn’t specified, which is why I believe it was left up to Yahweh to choose.

Leviticus 27 has some very interesting things to be said about vows, redeeming what was vowed, and when that’s not possible.  Animals, land, and people (slaves?), were given values by the priests for redemption.  But, particularly interesting is verse 29, where anyone “devoted” to Yahweh for destruction can not be redeemed.  Since Jephthah has, as his dedication, a whole burnt offering, whatever is chosen by Yahweh is to be destroyed.  Granted, it won’t be “disassembled” as is often implied by the process, but there won’t be anything left either.

Therefore, whatever Yahweh chooses will be completely destroyed for Him, regardless of value, and without the option of redemption.  And so we come to the triumphant return:

When Jephthah came to his house at Mizpah, behold, his daughter was coming out to meet him with tambourines and with dancing. Now she was his one and only child; besides her he had no son or daughter.  When he saw her, he tore his clothes and said, “Alas, my daughter! You have brought me very low, and you are among those who trouble me; for I have given my word to the LORD, and I cannot take it back.” (Judges 11:34-35 NASB)

There are few, if any, commentators or scholars who will agree that Yahweh chose Jephthah’s daughter.  It goes completely against His character to choose a person to be sacrificed to Him.  It does, right?  Does it?  Jericho might disagree, as may Achan, who violated the devotion to destruction of Jericho.  If one worships an idol, they are utterly destroyed since what they do is detestable.  Cities following other gods are to be destroyed, devoted to Yahweh completely in destruction.  In a way, this is a religious practice of sacrifice where human beings are destroyed completely.

Jephthah’s daughter understood completely what her father did, and what that meant for her.  Did she understand herself as chosen to die by Yahweh?

When he saw her, he tore his clothes and said, “Alas, my daughter! You have brought me very low, and you are among those who trouble me; for I have given my word to the LORD, and I cannot take it back.”  So she said to him, “My father, you have given your word to the LORD; do to me as you have said, since the LORD has avenged you of your enemies, the sons of Ammon.” (Judges 11:35-36 NASB)

The response of the daughter to her father implies she understands herself to be about to die.  Keep in mind that the people of Judah, reading or hearing this for the first time, knew of kings who had “made their sons pass through the fire”. Yet, the abomination was idolatry, the worship practice of a pagan.  Perhaps they wouldn’t see this as an abomination to God as much as a tragic sacrifice to God.

My challenge here is to understand my Master as One who would choose the loss of an only daughter.  I have only one child, and she is a daughter.  This whole chapter freaks me out because I see a character of God where He just might require my child of me.  He gave Isaac back to Abraham, but he doesn’t condemn Abraham for his willingness to sacrifice.  In fact Abraham is honored.  Here Jephthah as a similar challenge, but Yahweh permits him to follow through with it.

Why would my Master choose such a thing?  How could He?  I desperately want a passage that clearly states that my Master does not permit or that He detests human sacrifice.  I’ve looked, and I can’t find anything but possible allusions to such a thing.  Please comment on this with something tangible, a verse reference, specifically on this topic.  Because, otherwise we’re left with following a Savior Who will ask of us to hold nothing back, and is deadly serious about that requirement.  Can I follow such a King?  Can you?

What do you see (and please let it be that God does not accept human sacrifice)?


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