Today’s reading begins with the story of Jephthah’s judging of Israel and concludes with Samson’s deeds against the Philistine’s after his betrayal at the hands of his wife.
Jephthah was the son of a prostitute. His father had been unfaithful to his wife and had relations with a prostitute. As a result of the circumstances surrounding Jephthah’s birth he was regarded as an outcast from his family and was driven away from them after his brothers had grown up.
Jephthah must have been considered a valiant warrior, because when the Ammonites began warring with the people of Gilead, the elders of Gilead went to the land of Tob where Jephthah had fled and urged him to return and fight against the Ammonites. Obviously, Jephthah was angry and indignant at the way he had been treated through no fault of his own, but he agreed to come and fight against the Ammonites as the leader of the Gileadite army.
Before he began his campaign against the Ammonites, Jephthah sent word to the Ammonites asking why they were seeking to war with the people of Israel in Gilead. The Ammonites responded that they were angered by the Israelite conquest of their land during the Exodus from Egypt to the Promised Land. Jephthah, knowing the history of the conflict between Israel and the Ammonites, responded that had the Ammonites simply allowed the Israelites to pass through their land that they would never had made war with the Ammonites and taken their land.
God was with Jephthah in his campaign against the Ammonites, but in his zeal to defeat the Ammonites, Jephthah made a vow to the LORD that if he would give him victory in the fight against the Ammonites that he would offer a burnt sacrifice to the LORD of the first thing that greeted him upon his return from the fight. To his great dismay, the first thing to come out to Jephthah upon his return was his one and only daughter. Jephthah mourned greatly for his actions, but knew that he should keep his vow to the LORD. His daughter after learning the circumstances surrounding her father’s vow, agreed to be offered as a sacrifice to the LORD after being permitted to mourn two months with her friends. Upon her return from her time of mourning, Jephthah’s daughter was offered as a burnt offering to the LORD.
The story of Jephthah and the offering of his daughter as a burnt sacrifice to the LORD is one of the more confusing passages in the Bible. God condemned the practice of human sacrifice that was a regular part of the worship of the pagan peoples in the Promised Land, but in this passage there is no mention of God’s outrage over the act. I don’t have a good explanation as to why God is silent about the event’s of this passage.
I’m sure there are explanations from scholars much wiser than me about why God is silent here, but to me it will always be a perplexing series of events.