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31 Then it shall be, that whatsoever cometh forth of the doors of my house [delet of my bais] to meet me, when I return in peace [ b'shalom] from the children of Ammon [Bnei Ammon], shall surely be Yahweh's, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering [olah].
This vow as we read here is quite irresponsible because had a dog or some other unclean animal come out, it could not be offered as a burnt offering despite the vow because the Mosaic Law of clean and unclean animals forbade it. If a neighbour, friend, or their wife, son, or daughter had come out of his home, his vow would have had no right over them.
However, the conduct of Jephthah as read in verses 14-27 indicates that he was not a heathen, and he is listed and identified with such heroes of faith as Gideon, Barak, Samson, David and Samuel in Heb 11:32-34 as one, "who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises..."!
According to ancient Hebrew scholars, the grammar of Jephthah's vow was more in line with, "I will consecrate it to the Lord, or I will offer it for a burnt-offering." "It" originally read as "HIM," i.e. YAHWEH. What Jephthah really vowed was: "Whatsoever cometh forth of the doors of my house to meet me-shall be the Lord's; and I will offer HIM a burnt-offering."
Jephthah consecrated his daughter to YAHWEH, just as the prophet Samuel and Samson were consecrated to HIM! The burnt offering did not refer to his daughter. Jephthah kept his two-fold vow in separating his daughter for the LORD's service, and being a man of faith, knew to offer an acceptable burnt offering to HIM - the "whatsoever" being any clean animal of either cattle - bulls (Lev 1:3-9); flock, either sheep or goats (Lev 1:10-13), and of fowls, either turtledoves or pigeons (Lev 1:14-17).
Jephthah's vow was not reckless or foolish. Vows were very common in Biblical times, and were frequently practiced as a kind of "credit card worship," if you will, that if Yahweh would favourably intervene, the individual would be motivated to offer back something as gratitude for His favour. Numerous examples of vows are found throughout the Bible (Gen 28:20-22; Lev 27; Num 6; Num 21:1-3; Judg 13:note v. 23; Jon 1:16; Jon 2:9; Acts 18:18; cf. Acts 21:23).
Jephthah did not practice heathen idolatry in sacrificing his daughter as the heathen did, which Yahweh hated and found abominable (Lev 18:21; Deut 12:31). Likewise, in Deut 18:9-12, we read that anyone who would have done any of these things faced the death penalty! There is no way his name would have been recorded among the heroes of Faith!
Furthermore, if Jephthah's daughter was to be put to death, it doesn't make any sense why she and her friends (Judg 11:37) would have bewailed her virginity instead of her upcoming death!
No, she bewailed the fact that her entire life was to be one without a husband and children, performing services to YAHWEH per her father's vow (v. 38), who, in turn, was saddened because of this for she was his only child, never expecting her to come forth. She was, nonetheless, a willing participant, being a woman of faith, and for this the daughters of Israel honoured her by celebrating and commemorating her decision for four days every year. The word, "lament" in v. 40 is incorrect. It is the Hebrew word, tanah, which conveys the idea of honouring and ascribing praise.
When Abraham would have sacrificed his son, the angel of Yahweh stopped him (Gen 22:11-12). When Saul was ready to put his son, Jonathan, to death (1Sam 14:24,42-45), the people were stirred to prevent it. They knew it would be a sin for even a king to kill an innocent person for a foolish vow! Keeping vows is a serious issue with Yahweh (Deut 23:21-23), but there were times when rash, or reckless vows were over-ruled (cf. Num 30:8-15).
There is no record here to indicate that the people rose up against Jephthah, or of any outcry because in those days it was the father's right to give or not give their daughter in marriage. Besides, Yahweh would never accept or honour a human sacrifice. Only He was to provide a human sacrifice - His son.
How is it that Jephthah when he received the Spirit of YAHWEH (Judg 11:29-30) would immediately after make a foolish vow, which he would later regret, and even worse, in doing so, profane the very name of YAHWEH? Not everything is as "cut and dry" as it may read, or we may think. It is for this reason we must compare Scripture with Scripture and diligently search out the whole matter (Prov 25:2).
Sis. Valerie Mello [in isolation, TN, USA] Comment added in 2012