The Unnamed Daughter

Judges 11:36 “My father, you have given your word to the Lord. Do to me just as you promised…(but) give me two months to roam the hills and weep with my friends, because I will never marry.”

Observation: Israel had been severely oppressed by the Ammonites for years when Jephthah, one of Gilead’s sons, rose up to defeat Israel’s enemies (11:32). Ahead of the battle Jephthah, filled with the Spirit “…made a vow to the Lord: ‘If You give the Ammonites into my hands, whatever comes out of the door of my house to meet me when I return in triumph…I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering.’” When he came home, his daughter came out of the house, dancing with timbrel in celebration. Jephthah tore his clothes in anguish saying, “I have made a vow to the Lord I cannot break.”

Application: “…because I will never marry?” Never marry?! Is that the reason for your weeping? What about crying over your coming sacrifice, oh innocent one? What about shedding tears over the fact that your dearly beloved father is soon to bind your hands and feet, lay you on the altar and plunge his knife into you? I can hardly conceive that this unnamed maiden of Israel responded as she did: “Do to me just as you promised.” Yet she did. And I can hardly imagine Jephthah following through on his vow. Yet he did. She was still a virgin, obviously devoted to her father, and an only child. All she asked of him was a two-month delay to give her time to roam the hills to weep with her friends because she would never marry. Ultimately she apparently returned home so her father could sacrifice her to the Lord.

This story conjures images of another father generations earlier who would sacrifice his only son, another innocent. Abraham was old and frail; Isaac was a strapping young man full of strength who could easily have evaded Abraham’s knife. Yet he willingly carried the wood for his own funeral pyre up the mountain with his father, and then submitted meekly as Abraham bound his hands and feet. Scripture contains not a hint of struggle; Isaac became a willing sacrifice just as did Jephthah’s daughter.

I have often thought about Christ’s willingness to lay down His life for me and have wondered whether His supernatural pre-knowledge of the plan for mankind’s salvation might have somehow made it easier for Him to willingly surrender to the Cross. Of course at some level I see evidence of how very hard it was for Him…the bloody sweat at Gethsemane, for example. Yet today I read of a daughter of Israel willingly laying down her life to honor her father’s vow to God. Surely she had no foreknowledge whatsoever of any redemptive purpose in it; her sacrifice came centuries before the Cross and the empty tomb. And I wonder: what sort of sacrifice does God require of me? What do I count as loss in light of all that He has done? He tells me I must lose my life in order that I might gain it. But really…in light of all the daily noise and tasks of life, have I laid down anything at all that is worthy of His sacrifice?

Prayer: Heavenly Father, You call on me to surrender everything, and You hold out eternal life as my reward. You have promised me so much more than Isaac or Jephthah’s daughter could have hoped for. Stir in me such zeal that I would willingly, gladly die to still more of life’s attractions. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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