Jephthah’s Daughter: A Girl Without Angels

Judges 10-11

Jephthah’s Daughter ©MicahHayns
Hamlet:    O Jephthah, judge of Israel what a treasure hadst thou!
Polonius:  What a treasure had he, my Lord?
Hamlet:    One fair daughter and no more; The which he loved passing well.

William Shakespeare, Hamlet

TW/CW: Domestic Violence/Abuse

The story of Jephthah’s daughter is a grim tale that has echoes throughout literature across the ages, from Iphigenia in Greek mythology to Offenbach’s operettas to Shakespeare’s Hamlet. It is the story of a proud father, an innocent daughter and a misguided vow.

Although we don’t know her name we know that Jephthah’s daughter loved to dance and this is how we first meet her. Her father is returning from battle and she goes out to greet him ‘dancing to the sound of tambourines.

She was the only child of Jephthah, who was an exile from the Gileadite tribe having been sent away by his brothers as his mother had been a prostitute (or perhaps that’s just what they called her!). He’d made a home for himself in Tob and had become a successful leader of ‘a gang of scoundrels’.

War had broken out and the Gileadites decided they needed Jephthah’s fighting skills and so they begged him to return to join them, which he reluctantly agreed to. However, rather than relying on his skill and on prayer he made a rash vow to God which would be his undoing:

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.. will be the Lord’s, and I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering. 

Judges 11. 31

What was he thinking!

Perhaps he imagined a goat would come out of the house first, or a servant he had no regard for.

But he can’t surely have intended for it to be his beloved only child. And so when his daughter came out of the house singing and dancing he cried out in dismay. Not, as you might think, in concern for her, but for himself!

When he saw her he tore his clothes and cried, ‘Oh no, my daughter! You have brought me down and I am devastated. I have made a vow to the Lord that I cannot break.

Judges 11.35

So she’s to blame… nice!

Her reaction was remarkable. She told him he shouldn’t revoke his vow to the Lord but asked him for two months freedom to mourn all that she was about to lose. She spent that time with her friends in the hills and then went back to her death:

and he did to her as he had vowed

We might recall a similar story from Genesis where Isaac was to be sacrificed by his father Abraham. Isaac was saved because an angel appeared just before the final deed and a goat was sacrificed in his place.

Sadly, no there was no angel to save Jephthah’s daughter.

Reflection and Prayer

‘As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love’ 
  John 15.9

Was this sacrifice something that God ordained, or was it just the foolishness and pride of a father unwilling to back down on a promise? My view is that this tale that reminds us that many terrible things have been done in the name of religion but which are nothing to do with God’s will. Jephthah’s daughter showed remarkable courage and strength in the face of a terrible injustice done to her by the very person who should have protected her. It’s another hard story to reflect on, but it’s also important to remember in prayer all those who are harmed at the hands of those they trust.

Let us pray:
For those who suffer at the hands of fathers who harm them;
For those who work with survivors of domestic abuse;
For those who do use God’s name to justify their own destructive actions; And let us remember that we have a heavenly father who loves us and will do us no harm, and He calls us to rest in that love. Amen

Author: clarehayns

College Chaplain and Welfare Coordinator of Christ Church, Oxford | Mum of three boys | wife of a juggler and magician | Council of Reference of ZANE - | enjoys board games, dog walking, films, eating out.

2 thoughts on “Jephthah’s Daughter: A Girl Without Angels”

  1. Clare Thank you very much for these postings – a welcome respite from other news. I am hoping you may publish these as a book later?

    I hope you and your family are keeping well. Katie Jones ( St Edward’s school)

    On Fri, 20 Mar 2020 at 06:33, Consider the Lilies wrote:

    > clarehayns posted: ” Judges 10-11 Jephthah’s Daughter and Her Friends Rush > to Meet Her Father, Dancing and Making Music. Engraving by Gustave Doré > (1832-1883) Hamlet: O Jephthah, judge of Israel what a treasure hadst thou! > Polonius: What a treasure had he, my Lor” >


    1. Thanks Katie, so glad you’re enjoying them. We are all keeping well so far thanks.. what strange days! I’d love to publish them as a book – just need to work out how to do this! Blessings to you and all at Teddies


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