Judges 11: Jephthah's Daughter
Our story is of a girl who lived in the land of Gilead beyond the Jordan. We must call her Jephthah's daughter, for we do not know her name. Jephthah, her father, was leading the soldiers to a battle with the Ammonites, who also lived beyond the Jordan and were making war with the people of Israel who lived in Gilead. They said that the children of Israel had taken away land that belonged to them. The people of Gilead made Jephthah leader, and the Spirit of the Lord was with him.
As Jephthah went out to the battle with Ammon, he made a vow to the Lord, that if the Lord would give him victory, "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." So Jephthah went to the battle and the Lord gave him the victory. The Ammonites were conquered, and Jephthah came home in peace. As he came to his house, his daughter, his only daughter, his only child, came to meet him with tambourines and dances. The father remembered his vow, his promise to the Lord. He rent his clothes in grief. "Alas, my daughter," he said, and told her of his vow. She knew that what he had promised to the Lord must be, but asked that she might go into the mountains for two months with her maidens and bewail her lot. So she went into the mountains for two months with her maidens, and afterward she came back to her father. How sad that people should think that the Lord could wish for such a sacrifice. But they knew no better. "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."
Read the story of Jephthah's daughter as I have told it to the younger children. It is a touching story. You feel the sense of duty in Jephthah and in his daughter in keeping the vow which had been made to the Lord. But did the Lord desire that children should be sacrificed to Him, as they were sacrificed by many heathen people to their gods? Read again the account of Abraham's offering of Isaac, in Gen. 22, and see what answer that story gives you.
You will be interested to learn more that is told in the first part of our chapter about the reason for this war between the children of Israel living in Gilead and the people of Ammon. Have before you your map of the country east of Jordan. Gilead is the beautiful district with streams and groves along the Jordan beyond the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea. Mizpeh and Tob, where Jephthah lived, were probably in the northern part of Gilead. Ammon you find farther to the south and east. Notice in verse 13 the charge of the Ammonites that the children of Israel on their journey with Moses had taken away their land from the Arnon to the Jabbok, the Arnon flowing into the Dead Sea at the middle of its eastern shore, and the Jabbok flowing into the Jordan near the middle of the land of Gilead. Jephthah denied this charge and said that the children of Israel on their journey had been very careful not to disturb the land belonging to Edom or to Moab or to Ammon. They asked to go through the land of Edom, but were refused, and went around it. They left Moab and Ammon undisturbed and had no war till they met the Amorites under their king Sihon, north of the river Arnon. They took the country between the Arnon and the Jabbok, but they took it from the Amorites, not from Ammon. Jephthah accused the Ammonites of being no better than the Moabites who had tried to do Israel harm, sending for Balaam to curse them. Now Ammon was trying to rob them. Was Jephthah right, or was Ammon right, as to what Israel had done on their journey with Moses? You can learn in the book of Numbers, chapter 21. The Edomites and Moabites and Ammonites were related to the children of Israel, the Edomites being descendants of Esau, Jacob's brother, and the Moabites and Ammonites being descendants of Lot, the nephew of Abraham. For this reason the Lord commanded the children of Israel to leave them undisturbed, and they took land only from the Amorites, who were native people, not related to them. Moses solemnly reminds the people of these things in Deut. 2:1-9, 19. Was Jephthah right, or were the Ammonites right in their dispute about the land?
Reading this story of the people living beyond Jordan, we remember that this country outside the strict limits of the land of Canaan represents external states of life, natural not spiritual. We have learned this in connection with the settlement of two and a half tribes beyond Jordan, and in connection with our Lord's ministry in this comparatively gentile country. We see in Jephthah a spirit of duty to the Lord, but very unenlightened. In particular the land of Gilead and the tribes of Gad and Manasseh, which occupied that district, represent an external goodness in which is much of self-confidence. We associate this land with the rich young man who met the Lord there and claimed confidently to have kept the commandments. (E. 434, 435, 514)
Moab and Ammon lived in this same country beyond Jordan. They were descendants of Lot, the nephew of Abraham, who chose the low plain of Jordan as his home. Lot represents the enjoyment of pleasant things of the senses and the world. The two nations descended from Lot represent the two elements of good and truth in such enjoyment, Moab the good and Ammon the truth. Both may be useful to the spiritual life, to which they are related, and the children of Israel on their journey from Egypt were not allowed to fight with Moab or Ammon, or to disturb their land. (Deut. 2:9, 19) But more often Moab and Ammon appear as enemies of Israel, representing evil and falsity in the enjoyment of external pleasure, Moab the evil and Ammon the falsity. This is the meaning of Ammon in our story. We can see how such false thinking may be a dangerous enemy of an external goodness such as is represented by the land of Gilead. But the Lord is present even with such external goodness, as He was with Jephthah, giving him victory over the Ammonites. We find a similar story with a similar spiritual lesson in the attack of Ammon upon Jabesh-gilead, when Saul was first made king, and its deliverance by Saul strengthened by the Spirit of God. (1 Sam. 11; A. 2468)
The sacrifice of Jephthah's daughter brings to us in a personal and touching way the custom of sacrificing children which was common among heathen people. The origin of this custom is explained in the passages of the Arcana referred to below. One reason for the Lord's permitting the sacrifice of animals was to prevent the sacrifice of children. This lesson is taught in the story of Abraham's offering of Isaac. (Gen. 22) The Lord accepted Abraham's faithfulness, but forbade the sacrifice of his son, showing him the ram to be offered in his stead. We join the daughters of Israel in their lament for Jephthah's daughter. Yet in her sacrifice we may see a more lovely meaning. A maiden represents spiritually an affection for truth for the sake of good life. May the sacrifice of Jephthah's daughter, in connection with the victory over Ammon, mean a new consecration of the affection for truth to the Lord, raising it to a state of fuller enlightenment? Compare this statement in relation to the sacrifice of Isaac: "By these words, that Abraham took a knife to slay his son, is signified even to the death of all the merely human." Read two interesting numbers in A. 2818 and 8080.