He did it.
(Judges 11:30-31) And Jephthah made a vow to the LORD and said, “If you will give the Ammonites into my hand, (31) then whatever comes out from the doors of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the Ammonites shall be the LORD’s, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering.”
And her daughter came to greet him. There is ambiguity on the details of what happened to the daughter. And it is to be expected, as it is not an easy nor particularly stable period in the nation of Israel up to that point.
Few elements have to be properly put into place before intepreting the actual events.
1) The context of the book of Judges; each are chosen man (one woman) of God in a time of spiritual decline. As the story progressed, every one is flawed, especially the Judge themselves. And the highlight of the issue is ‘there were no king in Israel’. No king, referring to the spiritual king which God rightly should be crowned (refer to 1 Samuel). The whole book is a detailed example of what spiritual declension is all about.
2) Whatever the actual detail was, the main lesson is that actions are not to be made by emotions and particularly to soothe a person’s conscience. The vow was wrong.
3) God is not a God of contradiction. His chief characters that has to be upheld is His Sovereignty, His Holiness and His Love/Grace. One predicates the other. There is no Holiness unless He has absolute Sovereignty. There is no Love, unless it is done in Holiness. Some people (even non-believers) construe that it is God’s DUTY to love, which is rubbish. That is our humanistic point of view that has been perverted by satan and the world.
Having these 3 general elements in place, it is most likely that the daughter was sacrificed to God. How she was sacrificed, we have no conclusive idea (like Abraham and Isaac? or as a burnt offering). It is meant to shock us. One thing that most modern readers have forgotten is the context; these people (in the period covered in Judges) were vile idol worshippers and have a few centuries of pagan idolatry. The mannerism in which they deal with their idols, some remain in part within even the best of its leaders (look at Gideon). That should not shock us.
Well, it is to be noted that the daughter had to be the one to steady the father’s hand in this decision. The lamenting of virginity is obvious since she is leaving no posterity to her father’s comfort (a single, childless daughter is not common in those times, and still is in some cultures). This manner of intepretation is consistent with the Jewish scholars themselves and many of the reformed commentators. Contrast this with those who suppose the daughter was to remain single for the rest of her life. Singleness has never been used as a ‘punishment’ for any person. It is a gift and is used because of one’s desire to devote that part of the person to God. But even for Samson and Samuel, there were not under any prohibition to marriage. Besides, if it was a perpetual virginity that she is set, she does not need 2 months to wail for that, she has a whole life to do that!
Anyway, the point is that Jephthah could have done something. He could have just obeyed God’s commandments and be a man, and take the punishment of severing a vow. I remember reading Clements’ small commentary on this (before his 1999 problem), and agreed with him on the fact that; there was a way out. He could have acted as David had, and throw himself to the mercy of God in this foolish decision. Instead, the spiritual condition of the nation (that again) brought it home that no one could see any problem with that or were too afraid of Jephthah (since he being the ruler over all) and to point out the commands of the law about such things.
Regardless, it is a sore point for the Israelites (not only Jephthah), to allow a man to make such vows and to allow him to go through it. It takes more to own up and to throw one self to the mercy of God, rather than just to uphold a principle that only benefit the single person.
Jephthah did it.
It is a shame that he did not see otherwise.
Even the best of leaders (judges) has feet of clay.
O man, how sin destroys whatever comes out of your mouth?