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In Case You Missed It -- Judges 10:6-12:15, Psalm 142

Two tragic events occur while Jephthah is judge. The second tragic event chronologically occurs as Gilead and the Ephraimites go to battle, Israelite against Israelite, and 42,000 Ephraimites are killed. This number tells us that a large portion of Ephraim’s tribe was destroyed. Yet the first tragic event portrays the decay of Israel’s understanding of YHWH just as profoundly. This is of course the vow Jephthah made about sacrificing the first creature to meet him when he returns from battle. Making this vow shows how little Jephthah understands God’s preferences, for the God of Israel desires faith and mercy over sacrifice (1 Samuel 15:22, Psalm 51:16, Hosea 6:6). Similarly, had Jephthah known God’s laws, he would have recognized two truths: YHWH detests human sacrifice (Leviticus 18:21, 20:2, Deuteronomy 12:31, 18:10), and exceptions were made for rash or disobedient vows (Leviticus 5:4-6), even though an appropriately made vow for animal sacrifice should be kept. In this case Jephthah could have sacrificed a lamb or goat as compensation instead of his daughter. Unfortunately, by this time, Jephthah knew only Canaanite religion, and he assumed that YHWH would prefer a human sacrifice. This story shows us that when God’s word is ignored, everyone suffers, and this willful ignorance may cause children to suffer worst of all.

Jeremiah Vaught