Whoever comes out of . . . my house to meet me . . . I shall offer him up as a burnt offering.
The Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Memorial)
What a horrifying story! Jephthah makes a vow that, if he is victorious, he will sacrifice the first person who greets him when he returns home from battle. And who comes running out of the house to celebrate the victory? His only child! That hasty vow ended up costing him the life of his daughter.
Now, just because this story is in the Bible, that doesn’t mean God approved of Jephthah’s actions. Child sacrifice, although practiced in ancient times, was never accepted by God.
Jephthah’s story is a chilling example of the chaotic nature of this time in Israel’s history. Moses and Joshua were gone, and the tribes of Israel struggled to remain faithful to the God who had brought them to the Promised Land. Without a leader, the people “did what was right in their own eyes” (Judges 17:6; see 21:25). The culture that surrounded them chipped away at their tradition and their moral compass. In the end, they tolerated many practices of the surrounding pagan nations, including child sacrifice.
Jephthah’s tale should shake us up. The fact that he was one of the leaders God raised up for his people was not enough to gloss over this horrible sin. Yes, his military victories for Israel confirm that he was blessed by God. But he made and, even worse, carried out a vow that was abhorrent to God. Obviously, there’s a difference between being raised up by God and staying raised up.
There’s no way around it: we have to fight to stay faithful to the Lord. You know that you have been touched by God. But you need to keep moving forward in your faith. That’s why it’s so important to do things like pray every day and seek out the sacraments. That’s also why it’s important to seek the support of a brother or sister who loves you and knows you well enough to speak God’s word to you. Jephthah appears to have had no close friends or counselors. Such a good friend might have saved him and his daughter.
God has given us so many ways to be sure we stay close to him and not go our own way like Jephthah. Let’s take hold of them!
“Father, help me follow you with all my heart.”
Psalm 40:5, 7-10
Word Among Us