Human Sacrifice in the Bible

Then the Spirit of the LORD came upon Jephthah. He crossed Gilead and Manasseh, passed through Mizpah of Gilead, and from there he advanced against the Ammonites. And Jephthah made a vow to the LORD : "If you give the Ammonites into my hands, whatever comes out of the door of my house to meet me when I return in triumph from the Ammonites will be the LORD's, and I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering."

Then Jephthah went over to fight the Ammonites, and the LORD gave them into his hands. He devastated twenty towns from Aroer to the vicinity of Minnith, as far as Abel Keramim. Thus Israel subdued Ammon.

When Jephthah returned to his home in Mizpah, who should come out to meet him but his daughter, dancing to the sound of tambourines! She was an only child. Except for her he had neither son nor daughter. When he saw her, he tore his clothes and cried, "Oh! My daughter! You have made me miserable and wretched, because I have made a vow to the LORD that I cannot break."

"My father," she replied, "you have given your word to the LORD. Do to me just as you promised, now that the LORD has avenged you of your enemies, the Ammonites. But grant me this one request," she said. "Give me two months to roam the hills and weep with my friends, because I will never marry."

"You may go," he said. And he let her go for two months. She and the girls went into the hills and wept because she would never marry. After the two months, she returned to her father and he did to her as he had vowed. And she was a virgin.

Judges 11:29-39 (NIV)
Was Jephthah right to sacrifice his daughter to fulfill a vow? Discuss.


  1. 2 timothy 2:15 tells us to study and rightly divid...

    by ANONYMOUS on 17 FEBRUARY 2009 at 3:02AM
    2 timothy 2:15 tells us to study and rightly divide the work of truth. 2 timothy 3:16 tells us that all scripture is given for our learning. I wish i had the original to translate this story from because it would probably clear up a lot that is lost in the indefinate english language. whether the daughter was sacrificed (against the biblical laws)or set aside??? but I guess that we can learn that all He had to do was ask God to help him, not bargain with God. And the importance of promises made to God and in this case foolishly and sinfully. You asked why God didn't send something else out first because he could have yes. but perhaps God wanted US to learn a lesson from the story. (your Feb 26 2007 comment) and wanted him to learn the lesson as well.or to see if Jephtah really meant what he said. after all it would be easy to sacrifice a chicken it that was the first thing out the door. or as a punishment for the sinful act of bargaining ( in the long run a whole lot more painful to him than his daughter as he would have to live with his decision ) however, being the "sacrifice" seems to be deemed acceptable to God and we know this because he remained the judge of Isreal for a number of years later and not immediately taken down, that she was probably set aside. I hope you refind your faith. And i want you to know its alright to question what you do not understand. I don't think God wants robots to worship him blindly.

    by ANONYMOUS on 09 NOVEMBER 2008 at 2:44AM
  3. Yes, the argument that Jephthah is being held up b...

    by TIM C on 29 NOVEMBER 2007 at 8:32PM
    Yes, the argument that Jephthah is being held up by the author of Judges as a model NOT to follow is pretty strong, as is the case for God not interfering. This was not an Abraham-Isaac situation where God actually commanded Abraham to sacrifice his son.

    There are, however, at least three main points which stand out particularly regarding Jephthah's understanding of Torah. (1) Burned sacrfices had to be male (Leviticus 22:18-19) which Jephthah's daughter quite clearly wasn't; furthermore, sacrifice of children was strictly forbidden in the Torah (Deuteronomy 12:31) and there is no other evidence that human sacrifice was carried out in Israel during the era of the judges. Burned sacrifices were clearly linked to judgment/condemnation of evil, NOT thanksgiving to the Lord in the case of fulfilling vows. One final point in this section: at which cultic site would Jephthah have been able to sacrifice his daughter to the Lord? It seems rather unlikely that the priesthood would even sink to this level at this time.

    (2) Jephthah's inheritance, whether his daughter were sacrificed on an altar or wholly dedicated to the Lord's service, would not have been passed on to Jephthah's descendants; so it would go to someone else. Patrilineal precedence or not, this would be a blow to Jephthah.

    (3) As others have noted, why would Jephthah's daughter lament her virginity if she were going to be sarcificed on an altar? Although some figures who were dedicated to the service of YHWH were able to marry (e.g. Samuel), it is not clear that all such people did, or that anyone would be willing to marry the woman anyway. Jephthah's own lineage was not great and he was the leader of an armed gang who went raiding (cf. Judges 11:1-3); add to that the fact that Jephthah's daughter was the victim of a blunder on her father's part - could she be trusted? Like father, like daughter, as the old adage has it. Subsequent female admirers of her noble acceptance of her predicament appear to have celebrated her action rather than "lamented" as many translations have it (cf. Judges 11.39-40). It has been pointed out that the verb often translated as "lament" in v.40 is not the same as used of the daughter and her friends in the first place. A comparable use of the latter verb is found in Judges 5:11 where the righteous acts of the Lord are "recited" or "rehearsed". The NIV translates this verb in Judges 11:40 as "commemorate".

    All in all, I think the evidence points towards two things: (1) Jephthah wasn't the brightest of people; and (2) his daughter was not sacrificed on an altar, but dedicated to the service of YHWH.
  4. Dear Stu et al. I think some of the posts have bee...

    by ANONYMOUS on 27 NOVEMBER 2007 at 10:26AM
    Dear Stu et al. I think some of the posts have been quite helpful - but just to clarify a couple of things.

    1 - I think Jephthah did sacrifice his daughter 'He did with her as he had vowed'. Just because it mentions she was a virgin and an only child only heightens the sadness - and why should she go and weep for 2 months if she was only going to be dedicated as a virgin for life? She would have the rest of her life to do this! Also the people dedicated to the temple wouldn't have to stay single. So I think she was killed.

    2 - Jephthah was wrong to sacrifice his daughter. it's showing us how corrupt Israels deliver is.

    3 - Why doesn't God stop him like with Isaac? Well why doesn't God intervene and stop all suffering? Why should God allow any evil to happen if he could intervene? Just because God allow it to happen doesn't mean he approves, nor does it mean he is weak to help. If God came and wiped out all suffering now... well thats another question, but he is biding his time, not wanted anyone to perish but all come to repentance.

    4- It all about Jesus. I think the writer is wanting to show us how flawed all the Judges are, including Jephthah, and how the victory that they rbing against God's enemies doesn't free them from sinning and turning away from God again. Only the rescue of Jesus can do that. Its not a Moses nor a judge, nor King David who can completely rescue us from the power of death and sin. Only Jesus can do that - thats what the story of Jephthah (and the whole Bible) is about. God doesn't require the life of another to do this, he offers of himself in the person of Jesus Christ.
  5. A few things I wanna clear up:<br>- Wouldn't Jepht...

    A few things I wanna clear up:
    - Wouldn't Jephthah's line have "died out" anyway since only patrilineal descent was considered significant in the OT? (you have only to look at the genealogies to know that: women are almost never mentioned).
    - If the sacrifice in question was simply dedication of Jephthah's daughter to celibacy, then what did Jephthah "do to her"? The fact that Jephthah "did" something to her suggests that the "sacrifice" required some sort of action; it probably wasn't just celibacy, which seems quite passive to me. Did Jephthah perhaps lock her up or perform genital mutilation on her so it would be impossible for her to have sex or something?
    - Has the term "burnt offering" been used figuratively in the Bible prior to this occasion?
    - Why would Jephthah's daughter need the 2 months to "go to the hills and weep" if the sacrifice required was only celibacy? Surely she could still have met up with her friends (especially since none of them were male - "she and the girls" according to NIV) even if she wasn't allowed to marry? (Unless, of course, Jephthah locked her up for the rest of her life, which is a possibility I suggested earlier)
  6. I totally agree with Anon#2 and I came to this sit...

    by DBARR on 11 JUNE 2007 at 7:24AM
    I totally agree with Anon#2 and I came to this site looking for a rational explaination of this in the Bible because I'm a Christian and this has always troubled me. The reason that I am posting at all is to address stu's question of "why did God allow this to happen?" As a former Christian I'm sure you know that the world as it is today is not what God intended, He intended Eden. But He gave man a choice. I think the answer to the question "why don't we live in Eden" must be answered but each of us individually. I always think on how Pharoah allowed God to take the firstborn of everyone in Egypt. I know it's easy to say the Pharoah was give 9 other chances to let the Israelites go but think on the Egyptians themselves. Imagine everyone in Egypt waking up to find there firstborn dead. Now THAT was an atrocity. My heart breaks everytime I see "needless" suffering of the "innocents"(the quotes are very important here), but I know God's heart breaks too, and I have to trust him.
  7. Hi Stu,<br>I agree with anonymous 2 in what he/she...

    by SIM on 06 JUNE 2007 at 7:40AM
    Hi Stu,
    I agree with anonymous 2 in what he/she says. However, did Jephthah sacrifice his daughter? This has been a point of debate down through the centuries. Personally I don’t believe that he did and I will throw in my evidence for believing that, for what it is worth.
    1. It is a commonly held (and correct) view that the writer of the book of Judges is assessing what happens in the light of the Law. Thus, for example, he will censure Gideon for making an ephod, stating that ‘all Israel went a whoring after it’ and that it was a ‘snare’ for Gideon and his house. The awful conditions at the end of the book will receive the comment that ‘everyone did what was right in his own eyes’. There is no such censure here. Jephthah’s act does not appear to have been as bad as Gideon’s, yet human sacrifice, according to the law, is an abomination to God. It is strange that such a heinous act receives no comment.
    2. According to the writer Jephthah’s vow is made when he is under the influence of ‘the Spirit of the Lord’.
    3. The vow was made deliberately, not on the spur of the moment. That is, it was before Jephthah went into battle not a rash promise made in the heat of battle. I accept the fact that the judges were all seriously flawed, but rationally Jephthah must have known that there was a possibility that what met him when he returned would not be acceptable as a blood sacrifice – either human or an unclean animal.
    4. A lot is made of the fact that Jephthah’s daughter was his only child. It seems strange that when she receives the news, if she is going to die, she wants to spend the last two months of her life on a camping trip with her girlfriends not with her father. What’s stranger is that Jephthah lets her!
    5. Even stranger in her actions is that she is not lamenting the fact that she is going to die or celebrating the life that she’s had so far, but lamenting the fact that she is still a virgin! To do so only makes sense if she is going to be staying alive but remaining a virgin. Similarly the phrase at the end of v. 39 ‘he did with her as he had vowed: and she knew no man’ – why make so much of the fact?
    I’m sure there are more points from the narrative that could be made, but those will do for now. What, then, do I think happened? Jephthah promises that whatever comes to meet him will first of all belong to the Lord. Secondly it will be (literally and very clumsily) ‘caused to go up as an ascending offering’. This particular offering was the only one that was all for God – in the case of blood sacrifices the whole animal went on the altar. I believe that Jephthah’s daughter was to be a ‘living sacrifice’, wholly devoted to the Lord. Hers would be a life of dedicated service and as such she would remain celebate, hence the repeated stress upon virginity and not sleeping with anyone. Jephthah’s letting her go into the mountains for two months makes sense under this interpretation – he would be able to see her again. She wasn’t going to be lost to him completely. Then why the long faces? She was his only child. There would now be no chance of an heir being produced for Jephthah. His family name would die out. This was a cost that he had not envisaged, but he goes through with it and his daughter is prepared to willingly submit to it. Finally it is by no means certain that ‘lament’ is the right translation in verse 40. The word only occurs twice in the Old Testament, the other place being Judges 5 v 11 where it means to ‘rehearse’ or ‘recount’, there used of the righteous acts of God. That being so, it would turn this from a lamentation to a celebration of the devotedness of Jephthah’s daughter and the sacrifice she was prepared to make.
    I throw these thoughts into the ring, for what they are worth. Whilst agreeing with anonymous 2 I don’t personally believe that this story falls into that category.
  8. I actually agree with anonymous #2 (and anonymous ...

    by STU SHERWIN on 06 JUNE 2007 at 12:44AM
    I actually agree with anonymous #2 (and anonymous #1 but that's beside the point ;-)). However, if you think this is a true story, answer this: Could God have caused something else to greet Jephthah other than his daughter? If so, why didn't he?
  9. The previous comment was excellent! Clear, rationa...

    by LAUGHING BOY on 26 MAY 2007 at 3:24AM
    The previous comment was excellent! Clear, rational, biblical. Good work, whoever you are.
  10. With our modern sensibilities, we recoil from the ...

    by ANONYMOUS on 23 MAY 2007 at 4:02AM
    With our modern sensibilities, we recoil from the story. Why did Jephthah sacrifice his daughter? Since God would never receive a human sacrifice, does that mean that if we say stupid things we should do them even if it is against what we understand about God?

    In this case, an unfamiliarity with the nature of Scripture and how the Israelites used narrative to communicate theology causes us problems in hearing this story. There are many things in Scripture that recount past events that are not meant to be presented as positive or as models for our actions today. The book of Judges is an especially good example of that. The entire book of Judges is basically a negative book to show how Israel failed to live up to what they were called to be as God’s people. It is the negative counterpart to the book of Joshua in which the Israelites did respond faithfully to God. In Joshua, they were faithful and gained possession of the land. In Judges they blended the worship of God with the worship Ba’al and began to lose the land as well as fall under the oppression of surrounding people. Recall, the summary statement of the book of Judges (21:25): "all the people did what was right in their own eyes." For most of the stories in Judges, the point of the story is not made with a single verse summary. We are left to conclude the message of the individual story from the whole context of the book, read in light of this concluding theological statement at the end of the book.

    Throughout Judges, most of the leaders (called a shophet, a "judge" or tribal military chieftain) that emerge are seriously flawed. They were only able to accomplish anything because God worked in spite of their failures. For example, Gideon, who is often presented as a hero, was most likely a Ba'al worshipper, was certainly a coward, was greedy, and finally led his entire family into the worship of Ba'al with the result that his entire family was killed. Samson, who is often the subject of heroic children’s stories, was a weak womanizer, and too often drunk, who simply could not control his sexual impulses (Ba'al worship was a fertility religion; see Ba’al Worship in the Old Testament). He ended up a pitiful slave whose final act was suicide. The most positively portrayed of the judges was Deborah, with the deliberate irony that the best of leaders during this period was a woman!

    We are supposed to recoil from the monstrosity of Jephthah’s actions. The later community of Israel who included this story in the biblical traditions knew how wrong child sacrifice was, so there would be no mistaking this for a model of right behavior. It would be another example of what happens when God’s people become confused in their thinking about who is really God and how God works in the world. This becomes another lesson for Israel that God will not be manipulated by magical incantations or bargains that we strike with him on our own terms. That is precisely what Jephthah tried to do in making his vow to sacrifice the first thing that met him on his return home, if only God would help him win a battle. God did not need that bargain to aid Jephthah. Jephthah was yet another tragic figure in Judges who had not yet learned enough about God to know that God does not respond to magic or bargains, which lay at the heart of Ba’al worship. Jephthah’s battle against the Ammonites was not won because of his vow, but because of God’s presence (11:32). His lack of faith in God, and understanding of who God is, cost him his daughter.

    The biblical traditions recall that as a great tragedy (11:39-40):

    So there arose an Israelite custom that for four days every year the daughters of Israel would go out to lament the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite.

    There is nothing positive about the story of Jephthah. Except it is a heartrending model of what not to do.
  11. Hey Matt, thanks for your comment. You must admit ...

    by STU SHERWIN on 26 FEBRUARY 2007 at 11:13PM
    Hey Matt, thanks for your comment. You must admit though that whatever answer you give to the question, further problems ensue. If it was right to sacrifice his daughter to fulfil a vow, then it would appear that human sacrifice is the right thing to do under certain (specific) circumstances, and that a vow is more important to God than a child's life (in certain circumstances).

    I would hope no-one out there believes the above. However, the other alternative is that he was wrong to do it. However, this still leaves God in the position of accessory to the crime, as there was nothing to stop him creating another Abraham/Isaac situation. E.g. "Hey Jephthah, stop! You've proved you're willing to sacrifice your daughter. Actually, there's no need to do that, sacrifice this ram instead. Well done, go in peace." But nooo. Death to the child. That'll teach him to think twice before he makes a vow. He won't do that again in a hurry.
  12. Hey Stu - only got time for a quick comment, sorry...

    by MATT JERMYN on 03 JANUARY 2007 at 11:57PM
    Hey Stu - only got time for a quick comment, sorry.
    Er, Yeah. Until I read the above comments, I'd never heard anyone even come close to claiming this was an example of 'moral' behaviour.

    This includes, I think, the writer of the book of Judges (where I think this comes from) who includes the repeated phrase 'in those days Israel had no king and every man did what he saw fit', or summat like that. Frequently in the bible, what is recorded is not a 'good' example, but just what happened. (Issues of biblical reliability nowithstanding).
  13. Tim are you serious? There is no way anyone can ju...

    by MARGOT on 30 NOVEMBER 2006 at 11:00PM
    Tim are you serious? There is no way anyone can justify this behaviour (Sacrifce of humans) yet your only come back is to say "read the bible all the way through"
    Well I've done that and still find this appalling and horrific.
  14. Anonymous - Have you ever read the Bible all the w...

    by TIM on 20 NOVEMBER 2006 at 1:36PM
    Anonymous - Have you ever read the Bible all the way through? From your inane comment I suspect not. Give it your careful attention as you cannot afford to ignore its message.
  15. If anyone today came forward with such a story and...

    by ANONYMOUS on 16 NOVEMBER 2006 at 1:35AM
    If anyone today came forward with such a story and professed it to be true they'd be thrown in jail immediately and be viewed as a nutcase. Was it right? Of course not by any humane standard regardless of whether it was today or 3,000 years ago. The bible is a morally bankrupt piece of fiction...period.

    Max from the USA
  16. His daughter got it wrong. She shouldn't have aske...

    by DANIEL on 07 OCTOBER 2006 at 11:37PM
    His daughter got it wrong. She shouldn't have asked for 2 months - she should have asked for 80 years.

    Sort of a suspended sentence...

Contribute your words of wisdom

Don't just stand there ... say something!

Sorry, I couldn't add your comment just yet, please check the following things:

*denotes a required field