Another word on Jephthah and his daughter

In our Sunday school class at The Sanctuary UPC in Hazelwood, MO this past Sunday, I spoke briefly about Jephthah, his vow, and its consequences for his daughter. This was in the context of a series of lessons drawn from a book I’m in the process of writing, tentatively titled The Holy Spirit: An Apostolic Pneumatology.  I’m attempting to examine every reference to the Holy Spirit in the entire Bible. Jephthah is one of the judges upon whom the Spirit of the Lord came (Judges 11:29).

Although I didn’t include anything about the outcome of Jephthah’s vow in the study guide, which is posted here on this blog, I mentioned that there are various ideas on what actually happened after Jephthah’s daughter was the first to greet him on his return from his victory over the Ammonites. Jephthah had made this vow to the LORD: “If You will indeed deliver the people of Ammon into my hands, then it will be that whatever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the people of Ammon, shall surely be the LORD’s, and I will offer it up as a burnt offering” (Judges 11:31, NKJV).

When Jephthah returned and his daughter came out to meet him, he said, “Alas, my daughter! You have brought me very low! You are among those who trouble me! For I have given my word to the LORD, and I cannot go back on it” (Judges 11:35).

She answered, “My father, if you have given your word to the LORD, do to me according to what has gone out of your mouth . . . . Let this thing be done for me: let me alone for two months, that I may go and wander on the mountains and bewail my virginity, my friends and I” (Judges 11:36-37).

Jephthah granted her request, and “at the end of two months . . . she returned to her father, and he carried out his vow with her which he had vowed. She knew no man. And it became a custom in Israel that the daughters of Israel went four days each year to lament the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite” (Judges 11:39-40).

I mentioned that Jephthah is listed among the “heroes of faith” in Hebrews 11:32 and that it is a challenge to think of him this way, especially when we think about his vow and the statement “he carried out his vow with her which he had vowed.” For this reason, many commentaries seek to find a way around the idea that he actually offered his daughter as a burnt offering, a pagan practice.

In a discussion after the class, one of the attendees told me he had long puzzled over this problem, and that he had thought I was going to “pull a rabbit out of the hat” to solve it. I told him I had looked for the rabbit, but I hadn’t been able to find it.

But it occurred to me last night that I hadn’t checked to see what my favorite seminary professor, Dr. John H. Sailhamer, had said on this subject. Dr. Sailhamer is deceased now, but he was a world class Old Testament scholar, whose Ph.D. was in ancient near eastern languages from UCLA. He wrote many books and was involved in three Bible translations.

Dr. Sailhamer wrote, “The words of Jephthah in [Judges] 11:31 should be rendered, ‘Whatever comes out of the door . . . will be the LORD’s, or I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering.’ In other words, Jephthah dedicated his daughter to the service of the LORD” (John H. Sailhamer, NIV Bible Study Commentary [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011], 124-125).

I looked at the Hebrew, and this hinges on the fact that the conjunction typically translated “and,” which begins the phrase usually translated something like “and I will offer it up,” has the following range of possible meanings: and, so, then, when, now, or, but, that. The Hebrew conjunction is vav, sometimes spelled waw.

Dr. Sailhamer chose the meaning “or,” which is perfectly legitimate.

Most translators have chosen “and,” but I noticed that Young’s Literal Translation also uses “or.”

This makes me feel a lot better about Jephthah![archive]