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The Curse of Hasty Words: Jephthah’s Daughter

In 2004 the Metropolitan Museum of Art reconstructed the tomb of Perneb, replacing the discolored protective glass over its limestone carvings and reconfiguring its entrance. Now visitors are able to see how ancient Egyptians buried their dead and which objects they considered necessary for the afterlife. We can learn much about what Egyptian families valued by what they chose to put in the tomb as well as what they chose to omit.

As careful readers of Judges, we can learn a great deal by examining the text. What details are included? What is left out? What details proved to be most necessary to this story? Understanding what is left unsaid in the book of Judges can be as important as what is explicitly stated in helping us understand what Scripture considers valuable.

Today’s reading about Jephthah omits some key information that we’ve seen in earlier accounts in Judges. In the story of Sisera’s death, for example, the text describes in detail the ironic hospitality offered by Jael. In the story of Gideon, attention is paid to Gideon’s fear and God’s reassurances. Both stories provide ample military details. Jephthah’s story, however, includes no clear mention of his call from God, and no language of God raising up a savior/ deliverer. Little airtime is devoted to the battle between the Ammonites and Israelites. And we don’t even know the name of Jephthah’s daughter, the victim of his rash vow!

The divinely inspired biblical text certainly could have included these details. Their absence highlights that the spiritual condition of Israel had spiraled further. Women are no longer named but victimized. Jephthah seems to have a murky understanding of God; even the deliverer of Israel ends up condemning his own child to death.

Apply the Word

It’s helpful to remember three things when studying the story of Jephthah. First, every human person is a bag of mixed motives and compromised intentions. Second, God isn’t using morally upright people in Judges, and that’s the whole point. Finally, what the Bible records isn’t necessarily what the Bible recommends.

BY Jennifer Michel

Jen Pollock Michel is a regular contributor to Christianity Today’s Her.meneutics blog. Her first book, Teach us to Want: Longing, Ambition and the Life of Faith, is published by InterVarsity Press. Jen earned her BA in French from Wheaton College and her MA in Literature from Northwestern University. She lives in Toronto, Canada, with her husband and five children, and serves on staff at Grace Toronto Church.

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