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Question and Answer

In Judges 11:29–40, did Jephthah actually offer his daughter as a human sacrifice?

Jephthah vowed that if the Lord granted him success against the Ammonites, then whatever greeted him first upon his return, he would offer as a sacrificial burnt offering (Judg. 11:30–31). Much to his sorrow, Jephthah’s daughter was the first to approach him. As a result, many conclude that Jephthah actually engaged in human sacrifice.

An alternative, and superior view, is that Jephthah sacrificed his daughter to lifetime service in the tabernacle, not as a burnt offering. The text says that Jephthah’s daughter accepted her father’s vow but asked to be allowed to go to the mountains and “weep … because I will never marry” (Judg. 11:37). If she were going to be killed, she would have far more to lament than her perpetual virginity. After the two months were completed, Jephthah “did to her as he had vowed. And she was a virgin” (Judg. 11:39). Notice that the text does not say, “she was sacrificed as a burnt offering.” Also, note the repeated emphasis on the unmarried, virginal state of Jephthah’s daughter. Committing her to remain unmarried implied another kind of loss for Jephthah; verse 34 clarifies that “she was an only child. Except for her he had neither son nor daughter.” So Jephthah did not keep his word literally by killing his daughter, but rather he sacrificed his daughter by giving her to tabernacle service. As a result, he would not have any heirs.

Believers need to take the vows we make to the Lord seriously; like Jephthah, we are responsible to keep them even if it will require us to sacrifice our hopes and plans for life.

Did the medium at Endor actually bring Samuel up from the dead (1 Sam. 28:3–25)?

Before Saul’s last battle with the Philistines, he wanted to consult with the deceased prophet Samuel. Contrary to the Law (Deut. 18:9–12), he disguised himself and visited a medium in the city of Endor. Surprisingly, Saul had previously been obedient to God’s commands about mediums. The woman herself told the disguised Saul, “He has cut off the mediums and spiritists from the land” (1 Sam. 28:9). Yet there he was, visiting the medium.

Mediums are not able to call up the dead. They are generally frauds or, if able to engage in some kind of supernatural interaction, they communicate with familiar spirits, not dead people. But the medium at Endor was surprised: “When the woman saw Samuel, she cried out at the top of her voice” (1 Sam. 28:12). On this occasion, it appears that the Lord sent the spirit of Samuel from the dead to communicate with Saul. He did this so Samuel could tell Saul for the third time that the kingdom would be taken from him (cf. 1 Sam. 13:13–14; 15:26–28).

This is the finale of Saul’s kingship, which started with so much promise. Even this visit to the medium is an example of Saul undoing the good he had originally done—first removing the mediums in obedience to the Law and then visiting one himself. Being a self-willed man, he disobeyed the Lord repeatedly and ultimately lost his kingdom.

The great lesson here is not really about spiritism but rather the need for those who follow the Lord to finish well. We need to strive to be like the other Saul, Paul the apostle, who wrote as he faced death, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness” (2 Tim. 4:7–8).

Why did God strike Uzzah dead when he reached out to steady the ark of God after the oxen stumbled (2 Sam. 6:6–7)? He was only trying to help.

The Lord’s actions seem capricious and unkind. Even David became angry (2 Sam. 6:8). After all, they were transporting the ark on a new cart and worshiping the Lord while moving it.

Yet the Lord was not acting capriciously. Instead, David and those with him were being disobedient. The Law specifically required that the ark be moved by inserting “poles into the rings on the sides of the ark to carry it” (Ex. 25:14–15). Those moving the ark were to treat it with reverence by lifting it with the poles and never touching the ark itself (Num. 4:15). David and those who moved the ark with him, including Uzzah, however, opted to use a cart for the sake of convenience rather than to obey God fully. Consequently, Uzzah was struck dead specifically “because of his irreverent act” (2 Sam. 6:7).

God’s actions may seem excessively harsh for a disobedience that resulted from Uzzah’s good intentions. But this perspective fails to take God’s holiness seriously and presumes upon His mercy. It is not as if God did not know that moving the ark on wheels would be more convenient. He understood the potential danger that carting the ark would bring and therefore required it to be carried on poles.

A righteous God requires absolute obedience and total reverence. Most often, God does not act based on His holiness but rather out of mercy. And because of His mercies, “we are not consumed” (Lam. 3:22). But in this exceptional case, to teach God’s people about His absolute holiness and the requirement of total obedience, Uzzah was struck dead.

BY Dr. Michael Rydelnik

Dr. Michael Rydelnik is professor of Jewish Studies at Moody Bible Institute and the Bible teacher on Moody Radio’s Open Line, answering listener Bible questions on over 200 stations nationwide across Moody Radio. The son of Holocaust survivors, he was raised in an observant Jewish home in Brooklyn, N.Y. As a high school student, Michael became a follower of Jesus the Messiah and began teaching the Bible almost immediately. He is the author of Understanding the Arab Israeli Conflict and The Messianic Hope: Is the Hebrew Bible Really Messianic? He is the co-editor of the Moody Bible Commentary, a commentary on the whole Bible by the faculty of Moody Bible Institute. Michael served on the translation team of the Holman CSB Bible and contributed to several other books and study Bibles. Michael is a regular contributor to the Day of Discovery television program and appeared in the Lee Stroebel video The Case for Christ. Michael and his wife, Eva, have two adult sons who call and write all the time. The Rydelniks live in Chicago, Ill., and enjoy leading study groups to Israel and hiking with their two collies.

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