Wednesday, February 26, 2014
David Murray and Jephthah’s Vow, Part 2
Here is the link to David Murray’s original post. I forgot to put it in my last post: http://headhearthand.org/blog/2014/02/24/jephthahs-perfect-vow/
In the previous post, I dealt with the first eight reasons Dr. Murray gave for his opinion. I stopped at that point in part because I couldn't really figure out how to deal nicely with his ninth point. I’m still not sure I can do it nicely, but I’ll try. Murray’s ninth point is that Jephthah would have lost his leadership credibility if he had sacrificed his daughter. Really!? Let’s look at the Israelite penchant for choosing leadership: in the wilderness, the people wanted anyone but Moses. After the death of Saul, most of Israel spent seven years trying to follow Saul’s ne’er-do-well son Ish-bosheth. After the death of Solomon, most of Israel went after Jeroboam, who promptly led the people into idolatry and apostasy. Why wouldn't these people follow Jephthah? People throughout history have followed bad leaders: Hitler, Stalin, and Castro, to name a few. The fact that Jephthah sacrificed his daughter would probably have had little impact on Israel. Given the state of Israel during the period of the judges, there may have been more than one man in Jephthah’s army who had sacrificed his own child. As with Dr. Murray’s other points, this one simply doesn't hold up to examination.
Murray’s final reason for holding that Jephthah didn't sacrifice his daughter is the fact that he is listed in Hebrews 11. He says, “Given that Judges 11 is the only thing we know about Jephthah, he would hardly have been included in such exalted company if the only thing we know about him was a gruesome sacrifice of his daughter.” Except that really isn't all that we know about Jephthah. We know that he led Israel to victory against its enemies at a time when any leadership in Israel was in short supply. We know that he was filled with the Spirit of the Lord to accomplish that feat. We know that he was a worshiper of Yahweh, even though that worship was expressed in a horribly heterodox manner. And let’s look at some of Jephthah’s “exalted company” in Hebrews 11. Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him for righteousness (Gen 15:6). And in the very next chapter, he accepts Sarah’s half-baked scheme to get the son of promise through Hagar. Moses committed murder and spent forty years herding sheep in the wilderness for his father-in-law. Gideon made an ephod for the Israelites that they then worshiped. And then there’s Samson. It sounds to me like a Jephthah who sacrificed his daughter, thinking that he was doing God a favor, fits right in there.
We have to remember that Hebrews 11 was not written to exalt the persons named there, but to exalt the God who saved these people in spite of their weak, halting, and sometimes ignorant faith. Fundamentally, they believed God, and He credited it to them as righteousness.
It should also be noted that the idea that Jephthah did not sacrifice his daughter is a rather late development in the history of interpretation, not showing up until the Middle Ages in some of the Jewish commentaries.
In short, as awful a thing as it is to contemplate, it does appear that Jephthah indeed vowed to make his daughter a burnt offering, and after allowing her two months to mourn, did exactly that. Even true believers can be guilty of horrendous beliefs and practices. We need to remember this under two conditions: one, when we are tempted to abuse some Christian who has sinned in an obvious and painful manner; and two, when we are tempted to think that our sins are so bad that God couldn't possible save us.
I would also encourage readers to read Matthew Henry’s thoughtful comments on this passage.