I read the daily reading for today and was shocked. I had never heard this story before. God’s spirit fills a man and leads him to promise to God a human sacrifice. Can someone explain this please.
From the Haydock Bible Commentary
Ver. 29. Therefore. Hebrew, “then.” Septuagint, “and.” The refusal of the king of Ammon was not precisely the reason why God endued Jephte with shuch wisdom and courage, though we may say that it was the occasion. (Haydock) — Jephte summoned the troops in Galaad, and in the two tribes of Manasses, to attend his standard. He also invited Ephraim, (chap. xii. 2.; Calmet) and we may reasonably suppose the other tribes also, who were near enough to be ready for the day of battle. Having collected what force he could in so short a time, he returned to Maspha, and thence proceeded to attack the enemy. (Haydock)
Ver. 30. He. Hebrew and Septuagint, “And he vowed.” A new sentence commences; (Cajetan) so that it is not clear that Jephte was moved to make this vow by the spirit of the Lord; else it could not be blamed. (Haydock)
Ver. 31. Whosoever, &c. Some are of opinion, that the meaning of this vow of Jephte, was to consecrate to God whatsoever should first meet him, according to the condition of the thing; so as to offer it up as a holocaust, if it were such a thing as might be so offered by the law; or to devote it otherwise to God, if it were not such as the law allowed to be offered in sacrifice. And therefore they think the daughter of Jephte was not slain by her father, but only consecrated to perpetual virginity. But the common opinion followed by the generality of the holy fathers and divines is, that she was offered as a holocaust, in consequence of her father’s vow: and that Jephte did not sin, at least not mortally, neither in making nor in keeping his vow; since he is no ways blamed for it in scripture; and was even inspired by God himself to make the vow, (as appears from ver. 29, 30.) in consequence of which he obtained the victory; and therefore he reasonably concluded that God, who is the master of life and death, was pleased, on this occasion, to dispense with his own law; and that it was the divine will he should fulfil his vow. (Challoner) — St. Thomas [Aquinas] (2. 2. q. 88. a. 2.) acknowledges that Jephte was inspired to make a vow, and his devotion herein is praised by the apostle, Hebrews xi. 32. But he afterwards followed his own spirit, in delivering himself, without mature deliberation, and in executing what he had so ill engaged himself, to perform. This decision seems to be the most agreeable to the Scripture, and to the holy fathers. St. Jerome (in Jer. vii.) says, non sacrificium placet, sed animus offerentis. “If Jephte offered his virgin daughter, it was not the sacrifice, but the good will of the offerer which deserves applause.”
Almost all the ancients seem to agree that the virgin was really burnt to death; and the versions have whosoever, which intimates that Jephte intended to offer a human victim; particularly as he could not expect a beast fit for such a purpose, would come out of the doors of his house to meet him. (Calmet) — Yet many of the moderns, considering how much such things are forbidden by God, cannot persuade themselves that Jephte should be so ignorant of the law, or that the priests and people of Israel should suffer him to transgress it. The original may be rendered as well, “whatsoever proceedeth…shall surely be the Lord’s, and (Protestants) or I will offer it up for a holocaust.” (Pagnin. &c.) — The version of Houbigant is very favourable to this opinion. See Hook’s Principia. — It is supposed that the sacrifice of Iphigenia, which took place about this time, (Aulis. v. 26,) was only in imitation of this of Jephte’s daughter. But the poets say, that Diana saved her life, and substituted a doe in her place; (Ovid, Met. xii.) which, if true, would make the conformity more striking, if we admit that the sacrifice of Jephte’s daughter was not carried into effect. Iphigenia was made a priestess of Dians, to whom human victims were immolated. The daughter of Jephte, whom the false Philo calls Seila, was consecrated to the Lord, and shut up (Haydock) to lead a kind of monastic life; as the wives of David, (2 Kings xx. 3.; Grotius) after they had been dishonoured, were obliged to live in a state of continency. Although (Haydock) forced chastity be not a virtue, (Calmet) yet Jephte had no reason to believe that his daughter would not enter into the spirit of his vow, and embrace that state for God’s honour and service. We know that she gave her entire consent to whatever might be the nature of his vow; and surely she would be as ready to refrain from marriage, however desirable at that time, as to be burnt alive, which would effectually prevent her from becoming a mother, ver. 37. To require this of her, was not, at least, more cruel in her father than to offer her in sacrifice. Then Chaldean paraphrast says, “Jephte did not consult Phinees, the priest, or he might have redeemed her;” and Kimchi gives us a very mean idea, both of Jephte and of the high priest, the great Phinees, whom the Rabbins foolishly suppose was still living, and of course above 300 years old, ver. 26. — “Phinees said, He wants me, let him come to me. But Jephte, the head of the princes of Israel, shall I go to him? During this contest the girl perished.” To such straits are those reduced who wish to account for the neglect of Jephte in redeeming his daughter, as the Targum observes, was lawful for a sum of money, Leviticus xxvii. 2, 3, 28. — But (Haydock) his vow was of the nature of the cherom, which allowed of no redemption, and required death. (Calmet) — On this point, however, interpreters are not agreed, and this manner of devoting to death, probably, regarded only the enemies of God, or such things as were under a person’s absolute dominion. (Haydock) — If a dog had first come out to meet Jephte, could he have offered it up for a holocaust? Certainly not, (Grotius) because it was prohibited, (Deuteronomy xxiii. 18,) to offer even its price, (Haydock) and only oxen, sheep, goats, turtles and doves, were the proper victims. If, therefore, a person made a vow, of a man, he was to be consecrated to the Lord, (Grotius) like Samuel, and he might marry. But a woman could not, as she was already declared the servant of the Lord, and was not at liberty to follow her husband. (Amama) — We need not herein labour to defend the conduct of Jephte. The Scripture does not canonize him on this account. If he did wrong, his repentance, and other heroic acts of virtue, might justly entitle him to be ranked among the saints of the old law. (St. Augustine, q. 49) — “Shew me the man who has not fallen into sin…Jephte returned victorious from the enemy, but in the midst of his triumph, he was overcome by his own vow, so that he thought it proper to requite the piety of his daughter, who came out to meet him, by parricide. In the first place, what need was there of making a vow so hastily, to promise things uncertain, the event of which he knew not, instead of what was certain? Then why did he perform so sorrowful a vow to the Lord God, by shedding blood?” (St. Ambrose, Apol. Dav. i. 4.) — This saint adopts the common opinion that Jephte really immolated his daughter. But he is far from thinking that he was influenced by the holy spirit to make the vow, otherwise he would never represent it in such odious colours. If God had required the life of Jephte’s daughter, as he did formerly command Abraham to sacrifice his son, the obedience and faith of the former would have been equally applauded, as the good will of the latter. But most of those who embrace the opinion that Jephte sacrificed his daughter, are forced to excuse or to condemn the action. They suppose that he was permitted to fulfil his vow, that others might be deterred from making similar promises, without the divine authority. (St. Chrysostom, hom. xiv. ad pop. Ant.; St. Jerome, contra Jov. i.) "I shall never, says St. Ambrose (Off. iii. 12,) be induced to believe that Jephte, the prince, did not promise incautiously that he would immolate whatever should meet him “at the door of his own house;” whence he seems to take whosoever in the same latitude as we have given in the Hebrew.
He concludes, “I cannot accuse the man who was obliged to fulfil his vow,” &c. We may imitate his moderation, (Haydock) rather than adopt the bold language of one who has written notes on the Protestant Bible, (1603) who says, without scruple, that by this rash vow and wicked performance, his victory was defaced; and again, that he was overcome with blind zeal, not considering whether the vow was lawful or not. (Worthington). — If Jephte was under the immediate influence of the Holy Ghost in what he did, as Salien believes, and the context by no means disproves, we ought to admire the faith of this victorious judge, though he gave way to the feelings of human nature, ver. 35. We should praise his fidelity either in sacrificing or in consecrating his daughter to God’s service in perpetual virginity: but if he followed his own spirit, we cannot think that he was so ill-informed or so barbarous as to murder his daughter, nor that she would consent to an impiety which so often disgraced the pagan superstition, though she might very well agree to embrace that better part, which her father and God himself, by a glorious victory, seems to have marked out for her. Amid the variety of opinions which have divided the learned on this subject, infidels can derive no advantage or solid proof against the divine authority of the Scripture, and of our holy religion. The fact is simply recorded. People are at liberty to form what judgment of it they think most rational. If they decide that Jepthe was guilty of an oversight, or of a downright impiety, it will in the first place be difficult for them to prove it to the general satisfaction; and when they have done so, they will only evince that he was once a sinner, and under this idea the word of God gives him no praise. But if he did wrong in promising, as many of the Fathers believe, he might be justified in fulfilling his vow, as God might intimate to him both interiorly, and by granting him the victory, that he dispensed with his own law, and required this sort of victim in order to foreshew the bloody sacrifice of Jesus Christ for our sins, (Serarius and Salien, in the year of the world 2850) or the state of virginity which his blessed Mother and so many nuns and others in the Christian Church embrace with fervour. — Peace, with victory. — Same. Hebrew, “it shall be the Lord’s, and (or) I will make it ascend a whole burnt offering.” (Haydock) — The particle ve often signifies or as well as and, and it is explained in this sense here by the two Kimchis, by Junius, &c. See Exodus xxi. 17. Piscator says, the first part of the sentence determines that whatever the thing was it should be consecrated to the Lord, with the privilege of being redeemed, (Leviticus xxvii. 11,) and the second shews that it should be immolated, if it were a suitable victim. (Amama)Ver. 33. Aroer, upon the Arnon, belonged to the tribe of Gad. Menith was four miles from Hesebon, towards Rabbath. — Abel was noted for its vineyards, 12 miles east of Gadara, so that Jephte pursued the enemy, as they fled towards the north for about 60 miles, and during the course of the war destroyed 20 of their cities, (Calmet) to punish them for their unjust revenges and usurpation of another’s property. (Haydock)
Ver. 34. Daughter. It seems the vow had been kept secret, as no precautions were taken to prevent the affliction of the general; (Calmet) and indeed to have done so, would have been injurious to God’s providence, and childish in Jephte, as he meant to offer whatever should come to meet him. It would have been very mean, and contrary to the meaning of the vow, for him to procure something for which he had no great value, to present itself. (Haydock) — Dances, as it was customary on such occasions, 1 Kings xviii. 6.
Ver. 35. Alas. These indications of grief are the effects of nature. (Salien) — St. Ambrose considerst them as the marks of repentance; (ver. 31,) and we might hence infer that the vow was not dictated by the holy spirit, who would have endued Jepthe with fortitude, as he did Abraham, though all may not possess the virtue of that great father of believers, Genesis xxii. (Haydock) — Deceived. We mutually expected comfort, from each other’s presence: but we must both experience the reverse. Hebrew may signify, “depressed, terrified,” &c. — Thing. Hebrew, “I cannot recede.” (Haydock) — It appears that he could not redeem what he had promised, (Calmet) as the condition had been fulfilled on the part of God. He might consider that he as no longer at liberty to use the privilege which the law allowed, when no condition had been specified, Leviticus xxvii. 4. (Haydock)
Ver. 37. Bewail my virginity. The bearing of children was much coveted under the Old Testament, when women might hope that from some child of theirs the Saviour of the world might one day spring. But under the New Testament virginity is preferred, 1 Corinthians vii. 35.
Ver. 38. Mountains. Such places were frequented in times of mourning, Jeremias xxxi. 15., and Isaias xv. 2. (Calmet) — Jepthe allowed his daughter this short respite, without any offence, (Deuteronomy xxiii. 21,) before he immolated her, (Menochius) or before he debarred her from the society of men. (Grotius, &c.)
Ver. 39. Father. Her fortitude is commended by St. Ambrose (Off. iii. 12,) as more worthy of admiration than that of the two Pythagorean friends, one of whom, being sentenced to die, procured the other to stand bond for his return; and, at the time appointed, came freely to deliver himself up; an instance of generosity which made the tyrant who had sentenced him to die, beg that they would admit him into the society of their friendship. (Haydock) — Whatever we may think of Jephte, “we cannot sufficiently admire the dutiful behaviour, and amiable simplicity of the daughter, who voluntarily submitted to her parent’s will, and exhorted him to do as he had vowed. To die to sin, to resign the pomps of a licentious world, to renounce those pleasures and incentives to vice, which are inconsistent with a clean heart, is a sacrifice truly meritorious, and acceptable to God; it is a sacrifice which was solemnly begun at the font of baptism.” (Reeves, in the year of the world 2817.) — No man. It is remarked by those who believe that she was not slain, that this observation would be very unnecessary in the contrary opinion. No mention of death is made. The virgin only deplores, with pious resignation, that she cannot be the happy mother of the Messias.
God’s spirit filled Noah - didn’t prevent him from sinning by getting drunk.
Saul was God’s anointed king - didn’t prevent him from falling into the sin of necromancy.
God’s spirit filled David - didn’t prevent him from committing the sins of adultery and murder.
The judges likewise, though spirit-filled leaders of their people, were not perfect. There’s Samson, for instance, a deeply flawed hero if ever there was one.
The story is a description of Jeptha’s action, much as in other places scriptures describe the sins of the worshippers of Baal and Astarte, or David’s crimes. Such description is not to be taken as meaning that God approved of what Jeptha (or any of them) did, much less that God inspired his or their actions.
I was quite shocked to hear it this morning as well! But in a homily it was put forth that perhaps the fact that it was the man’s own daughter (his beloved one and only child) was God’s punishment for having made such a rash and terrible vow. I get that.
If you look up Jephthah on wikipedia there is also a section that explains the Hebrew word used for “and” in the passage “shall surely be the Lord’s, AND I will offer it up as a burnt offering” could actually be interchanged with OR.
In this case it is assumed that he was offering his daughter to the Lord as a perpetual virgin.
This would explain why later in the chapter she goes out for 2 months to bewail her virginity since having children was a big deal in those times. If I knew that I was going to be sacrificed I wouldn’t go bewail my virginity but my impending death.
Of course there could be many different takes on this.
Interesting take on it. And I suppose if I were going to sacrifice someone and they said ‘let me go off into the wilderness for two months’ I’d be saying ‘nope, if I let you go you might run away and not come back!’
For that matter if I were going to be offered as a human sacrifice that’s exactly the sort of trick I might try myself…
In the homily this morning at Mass the priest touched upon that reading. One thinks of how much a father loves his child, but goes ahead and sacrifices because of the vow. The daughter encouraged him to keep his vow.
The priest then talked about how the Father promised us His Son, and kept His promise. And the Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, was in total compliance with the Father’s Will.
There are a lot of “types” in the Old Testament, that point to what will happen in the New.