Jephthah’s Sacrifice :: By Mark A. Becker

Judges 11:29-39


One of the most misunderstood and perplexing passages of Scripture is the story of Jephthah and his vow to the Lord found in the book of Judges.

Some think that Jephthah actually offered his daughter in human sacrifice to appease the vow he had made unto the Lord when the Lord delivered into his hands the children of Ammon, the enemy of Israel at that time.

But is this really what happened? Could – what has been said of Jephthah – a righteous man actually sacrifice on an altar his own daughter and, even more concerning, would God actually honor such a detestable offering?

If this view is correct, and Jephthah actually did sacrifice his daughter, what does this say about God, and wouldn’t this be in contradiction with the revealed Word of God? Why would God ever put more credence in a vow over the life of a child? Isn’t this an indictment of God and His character?

God Abhors Human Sacrifice

In ancient Israel, child sacrifice to Molech and other pagan deities is revealed to be an abomination unto God. The LORD repeatedly condemns the evil practice. Below is only two of many examples:

And they have built the high places of Tophet, which is in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire; which I commanded them not, neither came it into my heart” (Jeremiah 7:31). (Emphasis mine)

There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, or that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch. Or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer. For all that do these things are an abomination unto the Lord: and because of these abominations the Lord thy God doth drive them out from before thee” (Deuteronomy 18:10-12). (Emphasis mine)

There can be no doubt as to God’s abhorrence of such wicked practices.

The Vow

Then the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah, and he passed over Gilead, and Manasseh, and passed over Mizpeh of Gilead, and from Mizpeh of Gilead he passed over unto the children of Ammon” (Judges 11:29).

“The spirit of the Lord” was upon Jephthah and, immediately, he “vowed a vow unto the LORD”:

And Jephthah vowed a vow unto the Lord, and said, If thou shalt without fail deliver the children of Ammon into mine hands, Then it shall be, that whatsoever cometh forth of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the children of Ammon, shall surely be the Lord’s, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering” (Judges 11:30-31). (Emphasis mine)

Institute for Creation Research founder, Henry M. Morris, in The Henry Morris Study Bible, wrote the following in regard to this passage:

11:31 “and.” The Hebrew conjunction, vau, can mean “and” or “or” depending on context. Here it is better rendered “or.” That is, whatever first came forth would be dedicated to the Lord: if a person came out (Jephthah was probably thinking of a servant), he or she would be dedicated to God’s service at the tabernacle, as Samuel would later be (1 Samuel 1:11). If an animal came out, it would be offered as a burnt offering. Jephthah apparently kept small flocks of clean animals in his “house” (enclosed area where he lived) and fully expected it to be one of these.

Virginity vs. Death

The story continues:

And Jephthah came to Mizpeh unto his house, and, behold, his daughter came out to meet him with timbrels and with dances: and she was his only child; beside her he had neither son nor daughter.

And it came to pass, when he saw her, that he rent his clothes, and said, Alas, my daughter! thou hast brought me very low, and thou art one of them that trouble me: for I have opened my mouth unto the Lord, and I cannot go back.

And she said unto him, My father, if thou hast opened thy mouth unto the Lord, do to me according to that which hath proceeded out of thy mouth; forasmuch as the Lord hath taken vengeance for thee of thine enemies, even of the children of Ammon.

And she said unto her father, Let this thing be done for me: let me alone two months, that I may go up and down upon the mountains, and bewail my virginity, I and my fellows.

And he said, Go. And he sent her away for two months: and she went with her companions, and bewailed her virginity upon the mountains” (Judges 11:34-38). (Emphasis mine)

Jephthah’s daughter was “bewailing her virginity.” She was not “bewailing her impending death,” which is what one would certainly think someone who was about to die would be lamenting.

Another consideration is the fact that Jephthah allowed his daughter to leave for two months with her friends before he fulfilled his vow. If he was intending to sacrifice his daughter, he most certainly would have wanted her around with himself for the last remaining months of her life.

Also, why would she come back, knowing that her father intended to kill her in honor of his vow? This wasn’t an Abraham/Isaac situation where God requested the sacrifice as a test of faith – this was a man’s, seemingly, hasty vow made in the passion of the moment.

The Verse 39 Summary Determinant

To emphasize the context, verse 39 is most clearly the determining factor signifying Jephthah’s daughter’s virginity – and not her life – that was the source of her sadness:

And it came to pass at the end of two months, that she returned unto her father, who did with her according to his vow which he had vowed: and she knew no man” (Judges 11:39). (Emphasis mine)

She returned to her father. Her father carried out his vow. She knew no man. These are the facts. No human sacrifice is mentioned, let alone implied here.

Theological Problems, ‘Hall of Faith’ Commendation, and A Warning

Those who believe Jephthah sacrificed his daughter have some problematic theological issues that don’t align with the revealed character of God.

Because Jephthah is regarded as a righteous man, this would imply that God puts more stock into someone who keeps a rash and hasty vow over the murder and sacrifice of a human being, which is strictly prohibited by God Himself.

Jephthah is even mentioned in the “Hall of Faith” in Hebrews:

And what shall I more say? for the time would fail me to tell of Gedeon, and of Barak, and of Samson, and of Jephthae; of David also, and Samuel, and of the prophets:” (Hebrews 11:32). (Emphasis mine)

I think the overwhelming evidence – Jephthah’s daughter bewailing her virginity, the ‘vau‘ translation issue, the verse 39 summary determinant, the commendation of Jephthah in the New Testament, and the spirit of the Lord being upon Jephthah – makes this interpretation the more reasonable, logical, and factual of the two. Personally, I don’t think the other view has any merit whatsoever.

But there does seem to be a lesson to be learned here, especially in regard to the New Covenant: One shouldn’t make rash and hasty vows in the passion of the moment, or at all!

Better is it that thou shouldest not vow, than that thou shouldest vow and not pay” (Ecclesiastes 5:5).

Jesus warned His disciples:

Again, ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths: But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God’s throne: Nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King. Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black. But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil” (Matthew 5:33-37).

The Greek word for “swear” is 3660omnuó” and means to swear, take an oath, promise with an oath. [Definition from]


Jephthah’s Sacrifice was most certainly a sacrifice for both himself and his daughter. For Jephthah, he would not be able to see his daughter grow up into a young woman, marry, and have his grandchildren as a father ought. For his daughter, it was the same; unable to be under the perpetual loving influence and guiding care of her godly father, and with no marriage and children in her future.

Both paid a supreme sacrifice in their desire to honor Jephthah’s vow.

Sincere and yet, seemingly, foolish in the eyes of some – yet both are noted for their righteousness and thankfulness to the Lord in delivering Israel from the children of Ammon.

Love, grace, mercy, and shalom in Messiah Yeshua, and Maranatha!