Tom: You are listening to Search the Scriptures Daily, a program in which we encourage everyone who desires to know God’s truth to look to God’s Word for all that is essential for salvation and living one’s life in a way that is pleasing to Him.
Dave, as you know, last week we left our listeners with an assignment. They were to read in the Book of Judges about the vow of Jephthah and come to a conclusion about what God is telling us about that situation, which is a little bit difficult.
But a little background on Jephthah. He’s one of the judges of the Book of Judges, and this is chapter 11. He was the son of a harlot—his father, would that have been Gilead?
Dave: Well, he’s a Gileadite.
Tom: Yes, and his brothers, because he had a different mother, they threw him out of the house and he went off to become a raider. There were groups of people who went around raiding villages and so on, so not exactly the best of occupations. But then when his people got into some trouble . . .
Dave: . . . with the Ammonites . . .
Tom: . . . with the Ammonites, the people of Gilead went to him and said, “Hey, could you become our captain, our leader, and fight the Ammonites?” So he said, “Yeah, if you make me, basically, the captain and I run the whole show.” They agreed to it, but where do we go from there?
Dave: They supposedly agree to this, and Jephthah sends a message to the king of Ammon. He tells him a little bit of the history—how various ones, Sihon, king of the Amorites, and the Moabites, and so forth, have opposed Israel, what God has done to them, and he says, “We haven’t sinned against you and so forth.” He will not hearken to Jephthah, and the spirit of the Lord comes upon Jephthah, and he passes over Gilead and Manasseh and so forth. And he’s got to engage the battle.
Tom: Now, Dave, it’s interesting because it says, “And the spirit of the Lord came over Jephthah,” just as you read.
Tom: And . . . but then it looks like he had some successes. He passed over Gilead and Manasseh and passed over Mizpeh of Gilead . . .
Dave: Well, he’s going through these groups, and I don’t think they’re helping him.
Tom: Oh. “And Jephthah vowed a vow unto the Lord, and said,” . . .
Dave: Verse 30, yeah.
Tom: “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.”
Dave: Tom, this is horrible stuff to read. First of all, you don’t have to bribe God. That’s kind of the way we are.
Tom: That’s without faith, if you have to . . .
Dave: Yeah: “Well God, if you do this for me, I’ll do this for you.” God doesn’t need anything from us, so He’s off to a really bad start here. That’s a problem, number one.
Tom: But, Dave, you would think—now, I’m getting a little ahead of ourselves here, but you would think, then, God would object to what he’s doing and not give him success. But it says, “So Jephthah passed over unto the children of Ammon to fight against them; and the Lord delivered them into his hands. And he smote them from Aroer, even till thou come to Minnith, even twenty cities, and unto the plain of the vineyards, with a very great slaughter. Thus the children of Ammon were subdued before the children of Israel.”
So he had great success, so God didn’t hold that against him there, but . . .
Dave: Well, it doesn’t necessarily mean that God is honoring Jephthah. He is delivering His people from an enemy. Jephthah happens to be the one who’s the leader.
Tom, the whole thing is difficult to understand, because he says “whatsoever cometh out of my house . . . ”— “whatsoever cometh forth from the doors of my house to meet me,” and it doesn’t sound like he is including human beings. You wouldn’t call a human being “whatsoever.” So he’s thinking of an animal.
But look, first of all, Tom, there are only certain animals that you could offer. How does he know that maybe his dog comes out? Dogs are not to be offered. Or a pig—well they wouldn’t have pigs. Well, they could have had anything in the days of judges.
Dave: Everybody did what they wanted to do.
Tom: And that was part of the problem, because their understanding of God was sort of mixed in with the other gods of the area.
Dave: Yeah, but then his daughter comes forth. Well, he would have to consider her to be included in “whatsoever.” He could still have said, “I never had in mind a human being. Suppose my wife came through the door! No, I was thinking of an animal.” But that was even a wrong thing to do because the animal might not have been a proper animal to offer to the Lord. The guy is way off in many ways, of course, as we learn that throughout the entire Book of Judges. Tom, you carry on, I’ll listen. This is such bad stuff.
Tom: Well, that’s one of the reasons it’s a question. Well, I’m going to repeat the question that we talked about last week. This was found in your book In Defense of the Faith, which we’re using as a sort of syllabus for this segment of the program. But the question is: “The Bible records some of the most horrible deeds ever perpetrated by men. There is, for example, Jephthah’s vow to sacrifice his daughter to Jehovah—a vow which he then fulfilled. How can one reconcile a God of love with the acceptance of human sacrifices?”
Now I think this questioner is pushing it a bit, because these verses that we are looking at, Dave, just as you alluded to, they don’t have to be understood specifically or explicitly that he was sacrificing his daughter—you know a human sacrifice or a burnt offering.
Dave: But he does specify that.
Tom: But . . .
Dave: He says “I will offer it up for a burnt offering.”
Tom: Okay, now I am looking at—this is a Ryrie Study Bible, just to give another perspective . . .
Dave: All right.
Tom: Okay? He’s as good as anybody else out there, commentary-wise. He says, “The latter part of the verse may be translated ‘shall surely the Lord (if a human being comes first) or I will offer it up for a burnt offering if an animal appears first.’” Now, let’s keep going with this, picking up with verse 34: “And Jephthah came to Mizpah 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.”
Dave: But, Tom, there again it’s a strange expression: “You’re one of them that trouble me.” Now, blaming his daughter that she came out first because she loved him and she was eager to meet him?
Tom: Yes, it is strange.
Dave: It is all strange.
Tom: Well, maybe he . . . it could be, Dave, that after he made this vow—you know how you . . . sometimes we shoot off our mouths, and we’d like to pull it back; we’d like to withdraw it because of the implications of what we’ve said.
Dave: Tom, I think we have a lot of lessons in here, and one of them is not that God accepted his daughter as a burnt sacrifice. I do not believe that, and it doesn’t tell us that that specifically happened, but we certainly get some lessons about going off half-cocked, making a vow to God and you don’t even know the consequences of it, not being careful with what we say, not carefully considering the consequences of what we say, but, most of all, bribing God: “You do this for me; I’ll do that for you.” God doesn’t need that from us! Why would Jephthah even think that God needed that? “God, I am going to give you the sacrifice of the first thing that comes out of my house. Now isn’t that wonderful? On that basis, then, you will deliver my enemies.”
Now these are God’s enemies, and it’s for the sake of his people Israel. So he’s off to a wrong start. But, Tom, I guarantee you, that a lot of the people out there listening have said something similar: “Well, God, if you do this, I’ll do that. Just let me out this time!” It’s almost like the people in hell. One of the reasons there is no escape from hell is because you couldn’t make a reasonable choice, you couldn’t respond to the gospel out of genuine repentance and love for the Lord and gratitude for Him for dying for our sins. You can only think of one thing—the pain to get out of there, to escape! You would do anything to escape, and here a man seems to think that . . . well, he’s in a tight spot! “Let me out of it, God, and I’ll do this for you.”
Tom: Dave, one of the Bible studies I’m involved in, we are going through the Book of Galatians. The Galatians had a problem similar to what we’re talking about—and we all have! It’s a matter of legalism. It’s a matter of turning to ritual or something that’s efficacious.
Tom: Here we have Jephthah. He wasn’t going by the books of Moses. He had a mixed bag of how he related to God, and some of these things enter in. We do it all the time, especially as young believers. We come in with baggage. As a Roman Catholic (now a former Roman Catholic), there were a lot of things that I just sort of saw with regard to God out of that belief system. It gave me problems. And they were problems of mixing false religion with regard to the teachings I now was reading in the scripture.
Dave: The whole idea that I can buy God off! The idea of ritual, sacraments, wearing a scapular [“Whoever dies wearing this scapular shall not suffer eternal fire], or you have enough Masses said for you that you get out of Purgatory, or you pray to some saint, or . . . . See, it denies the whole basis of man’s relationship with God—it’s on the basis of justice. And we cannot pay the penalty for our sins. Therefore, God must forgive us. Justly, the penalty must be paid, all of the sacrifices in the Old Testament looked forward to the Lamb of God, who would die for our sins.
And Jephthah thinks that God wants something from him—that if he will make this vow—and, Tom, again it doesn’t make sense, because supposing a mouse ran out first. It could have been something that was so insignificant. “Whatever first cometh out of my house, I’ll sacrifice it to you, Lord, and on that basis, because I’m willing to do that, wow, you’re going to give me the victory!” It doesn’t make sense, but Tom, I think it shows up—it is as foolish as thinking, I’m going to take this wafer and I’m going to turn it into the body and blood of Christ, and I’m going to offer it again.—that somehow this is going to help. Or I could do some great deed—the Crusaders, what they did. Or I’m going to give some great gift to charity. I’m a wealthy person, and won’t this get me a lot of points with God? Forgetting that we’re nothing! Tom, it’s just wrong from the very beginning!
Now, maybe God could have prevented the daughter from coming out. Maybe God allowed it to teach a lesson not only to Jephthah but to teach us a lesson.
Tom: Let me pick with that because there’s a possibility, everybody out there assuming that this is a sacrificial thing and that . . .
Dave: Of course, that’s what he says, “a burnt offering.”
Tom: Well, but let’s go on with this. Now picking up with verse 37, “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. 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. And it was a custom in Israel, that the daughters of Israel went yearly to lament the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite four days in a year.”
So somebody could reasonably say that he had turned her over to the Lord, not to a man, and she was going to serve the Lord. And it’s a sad situation with regard to not her death necessarily, and we don’t know that that took place, but that he had no children. This was Jephthah’s only child, and it affected him. So my point is that you don’t necessarily (according to this questioner) you don’t have to go that route.
Dave: Well, Tom, I guess you could make a case for that: “she knew no man.” Or “bewailing her virginity,” but that would simply mean that she had not lived long enough—could mean—she had not lived long enough to be married and so forth. You could say, well she would be bewailing the shortness of her life, or her death, and so forth. This seems quite specific, so it would sound as though she was dedicated to God to remain unmarried and to serve him in His service, or whatever. You could possibly make a case for that, and I would love to believe that was the situation.
Tom: But, Dave, how dogmatic can we get about either view?
Dave: I don’t think we can, but he does say “I will offer it up for a burnt offering.” Now maybe that word in the Hebrew (and I don’t know what it is) that was translated “burnt offering”—maybe that could have another rendering.
Tom: What I’ve read along this line is that you can possibly split that verse up: “Surely be the Lord’s”—again, this is . . . Ryrie says: “If a human being comes first,” or “I will offer it up a burnt offering if it’s an animal.”
Now, Dave, there’s another aspect of this that I want to go back to: the business of sacrificing before the Lord. It’s my understanding that the first indication . . . you said earlier that sacrifices point to the supreme sacrifice—Christ dying on the cross. But we can go back to the Garden of Eden. After Adam and Eve sinned, God brings forth two skins to cover them.
Dave: Animals were slain.
Tom: Right. The first indication that—well, let’s see, does that come after . . . ? That comes after Genesis:3:15, so it’s really the second indication but the first physical indication. Then afterwards in Genesis we have the sacrificial offering of Cain and Abel—one rejected, one accepted. The blood offering, accepted. The grain offering of Cain’s labor in the fields, rejected. Now, here’s what I’m getting at. From that time, we have, throughout many cultures, you have sacrificing people. It’s all a distortion of what God had presented in the beginning, which was to point to Christ.
Dave: Well, there were many gods, the gods of the heathen, who accepted human sacrifices. Allah was one of them, of course. Abdul Allah would have been . . .
Tom: Well, explain that. This is prior to Muhammad making Allah a monotheistic God.
Dave: Well, Muhammad’s grandfather was going to sacrifice the man who became Muhammad’s father to Allah because he took human sacrifices. And a sorceress suggested that he sacrifice a camel in his place. Now the father of Muhammad, his name was Abdul Allah, which means “the servant of Allah.”
Now, that God (the God of the Bible) would accept a human sacrifice—that’s one of the things, Tom, I think would substantiate more the view you’re presenting to us. That she was devoted to the Lord, she wasn’t sacrificed to the Lord, because you don’t get any commentary, you don’t get any objection, you don’t get the statement that God would not accept a human sacrifice, which he surely would not.
Tom: Dave you could also go to Hebrews 11, the heroes of the faith chapter, and you find Jephthah there.
Dave: Yes, you find Jephthah there. Well, Tom, some of these things are beyond my comprehension. God’s ways are beyond our ways.
Tom: Well, Dave, as long as you’re admitting that, I want to get a little tougher here.
Dave: All right.
Tom: Why would—along this line—you know, as I said earlier, we find false religions corrupting what God has said, turning it into something of their own use for their own gods and so on. Men have a way of doing that. What about Isaac? Why would God even intimate that this would be something that He would want when it seems to run counter to . . .
Dave: Well, the scripture tells us: Hebrews 11 tells us that he—Abraham knew . . . You see, God’s promise was in Isaac. Everything that God was promising Abraham was in Isaac. Therefore, Abraham knew if he literally sacrificed him, God would raise him from the dead. Because He had to! In fact, the scripture tells us that in Hebrews 11: “ . . . judging that God would raise him from the dead from which also he received him in a figure,” it says.
That’s a different case from this. But God never intended that he would sacrifice Isaac. He does not accept that kind of sacrifice, but Abraham knew that. Well, he tells the men, “You stay here; the lad and I will go up and offer and return to you again.” So, he’s counting on Isaac being alive. In other words, Abraham is not going to be a murderer, and he doesn’t know how God is going to do this. But, in fact, on the way up, Isaac says, “Well, Father, here’s the wood, and here’s the fire, but where’s the lamb for a burnt offering?” And Abraham says, “My son, the Lord will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering.”
Tom: Or a ram?
Dave: No, a lamb, actually. He says, “The Lord himself will provide a lamb for a burnt offering.” Now it was a ram that was caught in the thicket with its horns, but there again you have a prophecy. The Lamb of God will be a provision of God that will pay the penalty for the sins of the world. So, that was a different case. Abraham knew that Isaac would be resurrected if he was killed, or that most likely he wouldn’t be killed.
Tom: Dave, some of the lessons in this for us. You certainly mentioned earlier about Jephthah not making vows, and the problems, you know, when we sort of speak—we’re supposed to be slow to speak and so on. But, Dave, what I’m thinking about here is we read lots of stories of people who call themselves Christians doing really bizarre things in the name of God and according to the scriptures. But that’s a lesson to all of us that really have to take what God’s Word says very seriously, look at it carefully, really get to know the heart of God, so that we’re not drawn off to some of these more bizarre kinds of things we see taking place.
Dave: And coming back to where we began, Tom, one of the things that we can learn for sure out of this is you don’t buy God off. Look, whatever God does for us is by His grace, His mercy. We’re not worthy. There’s nothing we could offer God that could possibly merit His favor upon us, His blessing.
So don’t say, “God, if you’ll do this, I’ll do this. We’ll make a deal.” You don’t make deals with God. He doesn’t need anything from us. He does not need anything from us. And you’re not going to change God’s will. You’re not going to make God do something He wouldn’t otherwise do so it will fit in with your plans, and you’re going to bribe Him to do that.
And yet, people do this all the time, and we would just caution—one step in the wrong direction leads down the wrong path, and that was where Jephthah went. It’s a tragic case. What really happened? Well, I guess we haven’t settled it. But, anyway, I think we learned some lessons from the Lord.