Fright Nights ~ Daughter of Jephthah

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Judges 11:29-40

This week is the last week of our Fright Nights series and we will spend it with the Daughter of Jephthah.

When we shake down this text to its core we uncover the sin that seeds the terror.  The sin is an unfaithful vow and the terror that results is child sacrifice.

In Genesis 22 we read another story of child sacrifice, but it is stopped before the dagger meets flesh.  Abraham is instructed to take his son Isaac – his beloved long-awaiting son Isaac – and sacrifice him.  Abraham is obedient.  He builds the altar.  He gathers wood for the fire.  He binds his son and draws back the blade.

(dramatic pause)

And God provides a ram in the thicket.  The animal is sacrificed.  The boy is spared and father and son journey down the mountain.

God does not intervene to spare the daughter of Jephthah.  This does not mean that God cares less for women than men.  Rather, as commentary writer J. Clinton McCann writes, “the literary and theo-logic of Judges 11:29-40 does not permit God to intervene.  In Genesis 22:1-19, God proposes the test, not Abraham.  In Judges 11:29-40, Jephthah proposes the vow, not God.  Abraham’s faithfulness in response to God’s test shows that God does not will human sacrifice.  Jephthah’s unfaithfulness and self-assertiveness in sacrificing his daughter also show that God does not will human sacrifice” (Interpretation: Judges (Lousville: John Knox Press, 2002) 86).

McCann suggests that God intervenes in the tale of Abraham because God set up the scenario.  God cannot intervene in the case of the daughter of Jephthah because the scenario was completely Jephthah’s own.  In making his unfaithful vow Jephthah limited and revoked God’s ability to act.  Jephthah made the vow; Jephthah had to carry it out.

I think McCann’s suggestions raise some interesting questions.  God set up the scenario with Abraham; so, God can intervene.  The Genesis text is pretty clear to reveal that Abraham knew what he was supposed to do.  God gave Abraham the procedure and Abraham was completely committed to pull the trigger but then didn’t have to at the last moment.

But what about us?  I am sure we would all prefer to have constant direct communication with God like Abraham did.  “Okay Sarah, now I want you to do “X” and this is your procedure: #1…#2…#3…”

It’s not always that way is it?  More often I think we may fall into the line of thinking that Jephthah did.  We set up scenarios.  We create opportunities.  We execute activities and then reap the consequences good or bad.  We do this because God blessed us with the faculties, the knowledge, the gifts, the abilities to reason, to dream, to scheme, to act.

So how do we guard ourselves from falling down the slippery slope of Jephthah – how do we stop from falling into disobedience and making faithless vows?

I believe we are able to stop ourselves because of God’s grace in our lives.  God’s grace is an expression of God’s love for us.  And with that grace and that love God will never compel us or force our hands.  God wants us to use the gift of free will to make our own decisions, to create opportunities for ourselves, to seek our own way.


God wants us to do so with our foundation being in God’s grace.  If we vow out of God’s grace, if we decide out of God’s grace, if we live and move and breathe and steward out of God’s grace then we will be guarded from disobedience and faithless vows.  And our decisions will not limit or exclude God from intervening because we will have been with God – as God intended –  from the beginning.

Reflection: What will you have to change about your decision making process or your creation of opportunities process to make sure it is grounded in God’s grace so that God can intervene and guide?  Will this be an easy change to make or a difficult one?  Recall a time where you cut God out of a decision or an opportunity.  What did you learn from that experience?  How could grounding that decision or experience in God’s grace have altered the outcome?

Prayer: Great God, we seek to be a people of grace.  By your grace ground us, shape us, guide us.  May our decisions and opportunities flow from you and be rooted in you.  Forgive us when our decisions and opportunities exclude you.  Redeem our disobedience and in doing so, draw us closer to you.  In your name we pray, Amen.

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