This site uses cookies to provide you with more responsive and personalized service and to collect certain information about your use of the site.  You can change your cookie settings through your browser.  If you continue without changing your settings, you agree to our use of cookies.  See our Privacy Policy for more information.

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.

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.

Find Monthly Issue Content by Date