Jephthah’s Daughter

DECEMBER 3, 2023

When Jephthah returned to his home in Mizpah, who should come out to meet him but his daughter, dancing to the sound of timbrels! She was an only child. (Judges 11:34, niv)

Only Child

When we think of allusions to Jesus in the Old Testament, stories like Isaac’s sacrifice, David’s strength, and Job’s suffering all come to mind. But can the story of an obscure Judge and his daughter allude to the Savior? Hopefully, a closer reading of this strange and tragic story shows that all Scripture points to Christ (Luke 24:25–27; John 5:39).

Here’s a quick recap: Jephthah was born illegitimately and became a mighty warrior (Judges 11:1–3). When the Ammonites started attacking Israel, Jephthah’s legitimate brothers came to him for help (11:4–11). Jephthah then asked the Lord for help, and God gave him a great victory (11:29–33). But in the 

midst of this, Jephthah promised that he would sacrifice whatever he saw when he returned home from victory (11:30–31). When the first thing he saw was his only child, he was devastated (11:34–35). She, too, was devastated and realized that she would never get the chance to bear children of her own. But rather than resist or rebel, she accepted her fate, asking only for a chance to mourn in community with her friends (11:36–40).

This story is often interpreted along moral lines with the application “Don’t make rash vows.” That’s probably good advice, but I don’t think it quite gets at the depth of the story and how it points to Christ.

Here are three ways it connects: First, both Jesus and Jephthah were rejected as illegitimate, but by the power of the Spirit, they would come to deliver their people and become their judge and leader. Next, notice that the word for “only child” in Judges 11:34 (Septuagint) is the same as the term (monogenes) used in the New Testament to describe Jesus as “only begotten” (John 1:14; 3:16; 1 John 4:9) and Isaac as an “only son” (Hebrews 11:17; Jephthah also appears in 11:32).

Finally, in all three stories, a loving father offered his only child as a sacrifice for the glory of Yahweh. In Isaac’s story, God spared the boy and provided another sacrifice, which looks forward to Christ dying in our stead. In Jephthah’s story, a woman longs for a child. Many years in the future, the child that the world longed for would come to a righteous woman who accepted her fate as the bearer of God to the world (Luke 1:26–38). This Christmas let’s glorify God for the Only Child that was given.

Dr. John Dyer
Vice President for Enrollment Services and Educational Technologies Assistant Professor of Theological Studies