Jephthah made a vow to the LORD and said, “If You will indeed give the sons of Ammon into my hand, then it shall be that whatever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the sons of Ammon, it shall be the LORD’S, and I will offer it up as a burnt offering.” So Jephthah crossed over to the sons of Ammon to fight against them; and the LORD gave them into his hand. He struck them with a very great slaughter from Aroer to the entrance of Minnith, twenty cities, and as far as Abel-keramim. So the sons of Ammon were subdued before the sons of Israel.
When Jephthah came to his house at Mizpah, behold, his daughter was coming out to meet him with tambourines and with dancing. Now she was his one and only child; besides her he had no son or daughter. When he saw her, he tore his clothes and said, “Alas, my daughter! You have brought me very low, and you are among those who trouble me; for I have given my word to the LORD, and I cannot take it back.” So she said to him, “My father, you have given your word to the LORD; do to me as you have said, since the LORD has avenged you of your enemies, the sons of Ammon.” She said to her father, “Let this thing be done for me; let me alone two months, that I may go to the mountains and weep because of my virginity, I and my companions.” Then he said, “Go.” So he sent her away for two months; and she left with her companions, and wept on the mountains because of her virginity.
At the end of two months she returned to her father, who did to her according to the vow which he had made; and she had no relations with a man. Thus it became a custom in Israel, that the daughters of Israel went yearly to commemorate the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite four days in the year. – Judges 11:30-40 (NASB)
In the 1980s Jim Henson’s production company produced a series called “The Storyteller”. One of the stories, titled “Hans My Hedgehog”, was very similar to the story of Jephthah (although slightly less gruesome).
Watch The Storyteller – Hans My Hedgehog in Entertainment | View More Free Videos Online at Veoh.com
Unlike the familiar story of Isaac, this one ends without divine intervention. Jephthah fulfilled his promise and killed his daughter in God’s name. No ram was heard bleating from the thicket. No protest was issued from the clouds. No tomb was erected to mark the place where she lay.
But the women of Israel remembered.
Wrote the narrator, “From this comes the Israelite tradition that each year the young women of Israel go out for four days to commemorate the daughter of Jephthah” (vv. 39–40).
They could not protect her life, but they could protect her dignity by retelling her story—year after year, for four days, in a mysterious and subversive ceremony that perhaps led the women of Israel back to the same hills in which Jephthah’s daughter wandered before her death. It was a tradition that appears to have continued through the writing of the book of Judges. But it is a tradition lost to the waxing and waning of time, no longer marked by the daughters of the Abrahamic faiths.
Evans then goes on to write about taking the time to remember all of the “dark stories of the Bible“; that is, those stories in which people (particularly women) are abused, tortured, maimed, and killed. She writes about spending time to remember Hagar and Tamar and the concubine from Judges 19 and women across the centuries who have been used as objects by their culture and family.
Jephthah should not have sacrificed his daughter, because his daughter was not an object to possess. His daughter already belonged to God. You cannot sacrifice something that does not belong to you.
We need to spend time in honest reflection on how we treat the people around us. Are there classes of people which we treat as objects to be used? The poor, ethnic minorities, women, the homeless, work subordinates? People are not objects for us to use for our pleasure or sacrifice for our benefit. We need to remember those who have been treated as less than human, and we need to work toward creating a world in which no people are treated as objects.
- Find and support or volunteer at an organization in your community that brings people out of some form of bondage.
- Eliminate one habit from your life that may keep others in bondage.
- Think of one relationship you have in which you treat the other person as less than equal; repair that relationship.
- Do I treat all people as children of God worthy of honor and respect?
- What relationships do I have in which I am treated as an object?
- What habits do I have that keep others in bondage (drug use, pornography use, inequitable consumer goods, etc.)?