There’s nothing that makes me angrier than reading a tragic story that was completely preventable.
A child dies after being left in a hot car. A family sinks into debt and poverty because the breadwinner can’t stop gambling.
Or a young girl loses her life because her father made a promise to God.
That last one is the story of Judges 11. It’s one of the most confusing stories in the Bible. It’s one of the most frustrating stories in the Bible.
Who was Jephthah’s daughter? Why did she die? And why didn’t God do something about it?
Jephthah was a man shunned by his own people. His mother was a prostitute, so his half-brothers wanted nothing to do with him. They threw him out of the town named after his father, Gilead. Years later, after Jephthah had made a name for himself as a warrior and Israel fell under attack by the Ammonites, the Gileadites wanted him back.
So he came back, on the condition that they would make him their leader. The stakes were high for Jephthah. He was determined to win back his people and his reputation.
He tried reasoning with the Ammonites. They were having none of it. So Jephthah gathered an army.
And then he made a desperate plea to God.
“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 from the Ammonites will be the Lord’s, and I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering.”verses 30-31
Verse 32 says that God gave the Ammonites into Jephthah’s hands.
Victorious, respected, and finally a leader, Jephthah went home. What would come out of his house to meet him first? Some animal, surely? A chicken? A lamb? A goat?
It was his only child.
There had to have been some way around this, right? He didn’t have to sacrifice his daughter, right? How could the loving God of Israel accept a human sacrifice? How could the God who wrote the Ten Commandments with His own finger condone Jephthah breaking one of them in order to thank Him?
But the answers to those questions didn’t matter. Jephthah gave his daughter two months to mourn, and then he offered her as a burnt offering to God.
No easy answers
This story, like many of the gruesome stories in the book of Judges, is not explained.
There are no helpful moral landmarks, no asides explaining that God was displeased or that what Jephthah did was wrong.
It just happens, and then we move on.
But why did it happen? What was the point? What was the message? Why did God allow this?
Why didn’t God stop Jephthah from needlessly killing his daughter?
It’s a question that is eerily similar to the moral questions we all have asked or heard asked before. We wrestle with the evil we see in the world around us, the disasters that haunt our history. We compare it with the words we’ve been taught – since birth, in church, in our Bibles – that Jesus is all-powerful, all-loving, all-knowing.
But if God is all of those things, then how can He allow atrocities to be committed daily here on Earth?
Of course, there’s the free will argument. God does not force any of us to do anything. He allows us to decide, and humans are fantastic at making horrifying decisions. But God is still God, and He is still love, and through it all He wants us to realize that the only good decision is to follow Him, and not ourselves.
On top of that, we know that God wrestles with us. He tells us what’s right and what’s wrong. He calls us to Him. He must have called Jephthah away from his awful decision. Jephthah must have ignored Him.
And I’m sure there are more theories and philosophies and explanations.
But do you ever ask a question, and receive an answer, but something still doesn’t feel right? “Yes, yes, I know all of that. But why didn’t God do something?”
“In every story, every event, every situation – I am right there in the middle.”
Sometimes it feels like God is hiding. Avoiding the question. Avoiding the answer. Remaining silent. Slipping out of view.
But in this chapter, God is front and center. Jephthah prays a stupid prayer. God specifically answers. And because of God’s answer, Jephthah commits a horrific crime.
God’s presence is what throws me off about this story. But God’s presence is also what keeps me calm about this story.
Because there must be an explanation. There must be an answer. God is a lot of things, but He is not illogical. He is not a contradiction. He is not a hypocrite. He is not a black box. He is not an impossible riddle.
He is just. He is loving. He is listening for our questions. He is eager for us to talk to Him, to get closer to Him, to lay it on Him. He is going to answer us. He is willing to bless us with truth and understanding.
But even if there are some questions that our human intelligence is unable to grasp, following God means having faith in God even when there are gaps in our understanding.
So let’s keep asking God question after question after hard question. And let’s allow our faith to hold us steady while we wait for the answers.
What do you think? Why do you think God didn’t step in before Jephthah killed his daughter?