September 16, 2018

Jephthah returns

"Jephthah returns home"

The Sermon on the Mount in Matthew, Chapters 5, 6, and 7 is a long and wonderful discourse given by Jesus directly to the Jewish people. There is much wisdom, instruction, caution, and blessing. Whenever I get to the section on Oaths though, I always am reminded of the account of Jephthah:

Matthew 33-37 33. "Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.' 34. But I tell you, Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God's throne; 35. or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. 36. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. 37. Simply let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No'; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.

Jephthah was a judge in Israel during the 300 years or so between the conquest of Canaan by Joshua to the establishment of a monarchy by Samuel. There were around a dozen judges and Jephthah is positioned between Gideon and Samson. His story is intriguing and tragic and bible scholars have been debating its outcome since it was written. Expect no closure.

Did he or didn't he? With this narrative, it seems as if an Israelite has performed a human sacrifice to God. A sacrifice God will find "detestable":

Deuteronomy 12:31 31. You must not worship the Lord your God in their way, because in worshiping their gods, they do all kinds of detestable things the Lord hates. They even burn their sons and daughters in the fire as sacrifices to their gods.

If you Google this question, you will find lengthy and deep commentaries arguing both ways. People have been debating this incident for centuries without consensus. I choose to think he didn't sacrifice his daughter's life, but compelled her to a dedicated service to God. However, the arguments generally follow this pattern:

The Book of Judges is full of violence and political intrigue. Samuel is usually attributed as author, but there may have been contributions by Nathan or Gad during David's reign. It was a brutal time and it is fully possible the burnt offering was just what it seems, a human sacrifice. Perhaps quibbling over the shocking nature of Jephthah's oath and its outcome is not the point at all, but a lesson in ethics. Jesus would know and James reiterated:

James 5:12 12. Above all, my brothers, do not swear--not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. Let your "Yes" be yes, and your "No," no, or you will be condemned.