Thursday, June 19, 2014

Jepthah and Jepthah’s daughter as a types of Christ

Jepthah is the guy who made the rash vow that if the Lord would deliver the Ammonites into his hands then he would offer as a burnt offering the first thing that came out to meet him from the doors of his house when he got home.  (It makes you wonder if he had some animal that always came out to meet him..)
30 And Jephthah vowed a vow unto the Lord, and said, If thou shalt without fail deliver the children of Ammon into mine hands,
31 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.
32 ¶So Jephthah passed over unto the children of Ammon to fight against them; and the Lord delivered them into his hands.
33 And he smote them from Aroer, even till thou come to Minnith, even twenty cities, and unto the plain of the vineyards, with a very great slaughter. Thus the children of Ammon were subdued before the children of Israel.
34 ¶And Jephthah came to Mizpeh unto his house, and, behold, his daughter came out to meet him with timbrels and with dances: and she was his only child; beside her he had neither son nor daughter.
35 And it came to pass, when he saw her, that he rent his clothes, and said, Alas, my daughter! thou hast brought me very low, and thou art one of them that trouble me: for I have opened my mouth unto the Lord, and I cannot go back.
36 And she said unto him, My father, if thou hast opened thy mouth unto the Lord, do to me according to that which hath proceeded out of thy mouth; forasmuch as the Lord hath taken vengeance for thee of thine enemies, even of the children of Ammon.
37 And she said unto her father, Let this thing be done for me: let me alone two months, that I may go up and down upon the mountains, and bewail my virginity, I and my fellows.
38 And he said, Go. And he sent her away for two months: and she went with her companions, and bewailed her virginity upon the mountains.
39 And it came to pass at the end of two months, that she returned unto her father, who did with her according to his vow which he had vowed: and she knew no man. And it was a custom in Israel,
40 That the daughters of Israel went yearly to lament the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite four days in a year.  (Judges 11:30-40)
As we see, it was his daughter who was first to meet him when he came home, and then he realized what a rash vow he made.

Commentators are pretty anxious to show that he never actually kept the vow, but Judges 11:39 says that he did to her according to the vow.

The amazing thing was that she was willing to allow herself to be offered as a sacrifice.  That should tip us off that this story makes her into a type of Christ.  Her sacrifice was directly tied to the victory of Israel over the enemy, just as Christ’s sacrifice was directly tied to the victory over death and sin.  She was the only child of her father, just as Jesus was the Only Begotten of His Father.  Again, she was a willing sacrifice, just as Christ was a willing sacrifice.

In Jepthah, of course, we see a type of the pain our Heavenly Father felt in sacrificing His son Jesus.  You have to give him credit as he says, “I have opened my mouth to the Lord and I cannot go back” (v35).  The idea of breaking his vow was unthinkable to him, even though it put him in an extremely painful position.  That shows us just a glimpse of how seriously Heavenly Father takes His covenants.

Jepthah himself also has aspects to his life that make him a type of Christ. 

He was born of a harlot in such a way that there was doubt about who his father was, though he was widely considered a son of Gilead.  Christ was born of a virgin, but those who disbelieved that would be much more likely to believe that Mary played the harlot.  Jesus was considered the son of Joseph and also the son of God.

Jepthah was rejected by his brothers who were determined he would not inherit.  He was cast out.  Similarly, Jesus was rejected by much of Israel, His countrymen.

There are other events of Jepthah’s life that typify events to come that Jesus will be a part of, such as the way Jepthah’s people turned to him in their national distress, when hounded by their enemies.  Similarly, the Jews will turn to Jesus Christ in their national distress and look for the Messiah to save them, promising to make Him their head and be ruled by Him if He will save them, as the elders of Gilead promised Jepthah.

Not only this, but the solemn oath made to Jepthah by the elders of Gilead to make him their ruler if he would save them is a type of how we promise to make Christ our ruler (and obey his commandments) if He will save us from sin and death.


Sean Healy said...

We don't know for certain that Jephthah actually offered his daughter as a burnt offering.

1) The Hebrew particle translated and in "shall surely be the Lord’s, and I will offer it up" can also be translated or; that is, Jephthah knew it might be something he could not offer as a burnt offering, so he gave two options for the type of sacrifice.

2) Such a vow would have been invalid because it violated the Torah, so he would not have been obligated before the Lord to keep it. (As one rabbinic commentary asks, what if an unclean animal had been the first thing he saw? Would he have offered it as a sacrifice?).

3) The daughter bewails her virginity, not her life, and spends the last two months before the sacrifice in the mountains, not with her family.

These circumstances, among others, have led many Jewish and Christian commentators to conclude that she was sacrificed by being dedicated to the Lord's service. (Remember that the English word "sacrifice" means "make holy"). Compare the cases of Samuel and Samson.

Of course, this is not definitive; God's people do not always follow God's law, and the "burnt offering" interpretation is both older than the "dedicated to the Lord" interpretation, and better supported by a literal reading of the extant text.

Michaela Stephens said...

Thank you for sharing those points, Sean.

It is fascinating that the text doesn't say exactly what Jepthah did to keep his vow; it just says that he kept it, and now everyone is left to wonder, and maybe that was meant intentionally to cause people to think that he DID sacrifice her, in order to make it more like a type of Christ.