Saturday, June 21, 2014

More on Jepthah

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As I’ve studied Jepthah’s life in Judges 11, I’ve started to see that his character is really amazingly good, considering he is the son of a harlot.  He exhibits excellent qualities that, if he had any other parentage, would make us think he had really good parents who taught him well.

--Even though his half brothers kick him out and won’t allow him to inherit, he doesn’t seek revenge.  He goes elsewhere to live.
--When the elders of Gilead appeal to him for help, rather than refuse, he forgives them and helps them.
--He agrees to rule over the people who previously cast him out, and he protects them.
--He parleys with the enemy king about why the king is invading and uses not just good judgment, but good religious reasoning. 
--He is anxious enough about securing victory for his people that he makes a vow—the one we generally refer to as “rash”— which actually gives the Lord the freedom to determine the cost of the victory.  This shows a ton of faith. 
--When the cost proves to be sacrificing his only daughter, he says he can’t break his vow.  His integrity is amazing.
--He is also sensitive to his daughter’s request for some extra time.
--He has evidently raised his daughter to be obedient and to keep promises too because she is united with him in the determination that he can’t break his vow.

The little bit about Jepthah’s daughter’s request for two months to bewail her virginity may not make much sense unless we consider that Jepthah, as an illegitimate child, had to be aware of the Law of Moses rule that “A bastard shall not enter into the congregation of the Lord; even to his tenth generation..” (Deut. 23:2).  With such good character, Jepthah would have brought up his daughter to this knowledge that it was absolutely imperative that she stay chaste until marriage so that future generations of their family would be able to enter the congregation of the Lord.  This would have been reinforced over and over, so her sacrifice meant that she had to give up that prospect of being married and having future posterity who could enjoy the full blessings of the house of Israel (which may have been church membership or may have been temple worship).  

Thus, the tradition to mourn the daughter of Jepthah yearly was actually an attempt to reward Jepthah’s daughter posthumously for giving up the chance for posterity who would continue her name; remembering her yearly and in the scriptures ensures she isn’t forgotten for her noble unselfishness.

Jepthah’s story is very similar to Abraham’s test to sacrifice Isaac, but the text makes us think that Jepthah seems to have had to go through with it.  

 If it makes anyone feel any better at all, supposing that he did offer her as a burnt offering, I doubt that he burned her alive.  Probably he did what would be done to any sacrificial animal—cut a vein and let the blood out, and once she was dead, then burn the body.   I’m not saying that would be any easier on Jepthah, I just suspect that it wasn’t the cruel burning her alive that everyone envisions..

On the other hand, the Law of Moses was pretty clear that there was to be no human sacrifice, and Jepthah could have dedicated his daughter to lifelong service at the Tabernacle, which would have fulfilled the vow, much like Samson and Samuel were dedicated to the Lord.

As I wrote in a comment on my previous post, 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 how he kept his vow.   I had a bit of a brainwave about it--maybe that was meant intentionally by the writer to cause people to think that he DID sacrifice her, in order to make it more like a type of Christ.