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Jephthah’s Vow (part 2): His Daughter’s Faith

In part 1 of this study, I reviewed the account of Jephthah’s life and activities recorded in Judges 10–12. His public career began in faith, but later descended into self-inflicted tragedy.

His daughter, meanwhile, is almost overlooked in some commentaries I have reviewed. Admittedly, she is a minor character in the narrative and only brief details are given. But I believe she demonstrated faith in that brief account, and now provides a surprisingly detailed picture of the Lord Jesus Christ in His humanity and sacrifice for sinners.

An unexpected picture of Christ

Reading again in Judges 11, “Then Jephthah came to his home at Mizpah. And behold, his daughter came out to meet him with tambourines and with dances. She was his only child; beside her he had neither son nor daughter” (v. 34).

In Israel, large families were desirable to maintain inheritance rights. A son often symbolized the family rights and legacy, while a daughter often pictured human weakness.1 Yet Jephthah had just one child, his only daughter. Do we find a greater picture here? The Lord Jesus was and is the only begotten Son of God the Father (Jn. 1:14,18; 3:16–18; 1 Jn.4:9). He appeared and grew “like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground,” (Isa. 53:2) and God from Heaven would publicly declare, “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Mt. 3:17; 17:5).2 But to others who did not understand His value, “He [had] no form or majesty that we should look at Him, and no beauty that we should desire Him” (Isa. 53:2).

Also, He did not assert His Son-rights while here on earth. Instead, He emptied Himself, taking on a servant’s form and going into death (Phil. 2:5–8). To the natural man, the Lord appeared weak: why die at the hand of enemies whom you could destroy at whim? But we read “though He were a Son, yet learned He obedience by the things which He suffered” (Heb. 5:8).

Praise and prophecy

Jephthah’s daughter came out of her father’s house singing praises. The Lord came from His Father’s house to redeem a people for Himself. What does He do in their presence? “As it is written, ‘Therefore will I praise You among the Gentiles, and sing to Your name’” (Rom. 15:9). And in Hebrews, quoting from the Psalms: “For He who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one origin. That is why He is not ashamed to call them brothers, saying, ‘I will tell Your name to My brothers; in the midst of the congregation will I sing Your praise’” (Heb. 2:11–12).3

Jephthah then declared his vow against his daughter. She responded, “My father, you have opened your mouth to the Lord; do to me according to what has gone out of your mouth, now that the Lord has avenged you on your enemies, the Ammonites” (Judg.  11:36).

Jephthah’s daughter could speak of her father’s victory over Israel’s enemy before giving herself in sacrifice. At the beginning of human failure on earth, God spoke against Satan through the serpent which he had used: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Gen. 3:15). The Lord’s victory was confirmed by this and numerous other prophecies that followed.

Why was a sacrifice necessary? It was because the Law was Jephthah’s adversary. By His own pride he had put himself under judgment, and he must pay the price of his foolishness. But his daughter, innocent of his sin, was ready and committed as a willing substitute: “Do to me according to what has gone out of your mouth” (Judg. 11:36).

More than 700 years before the Lord’s advent, Isaiah prophesied: “the Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame” (Isa. 50:7). When on earth, the Lord spoke to the Father before the cross as though it were completed: “I have glorified You on earth, having accomplished the work that You gave Me to do” (Jn. 17:4). When one of His disciples tried to fight the arresting officers in the Garden of Gethsemane, the Lord prevented him from continuing: “Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given Me?” (Jn. 18:11).

The Lord’s humanity appeared in the Garden of Gethsemane when He cried out in deep distress, “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me,” yet He never asserted Himself and the divine purpose remained firm: “Nevertheless, not My will, but Yours, be done” (Lk. 22:42). Also, even before those final moments He said, “‘Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour?’ But for this purpose I have come to this hour’” (Jn. 12:27).

No Posterity?

Jephthah’s daughter was granted two months to mourn her virginity. As someone who had no husband and thus no right to sexual relations, her virginity speaks of uncompromised purity. Far greater was the Lord’s perfection in everything, for He took the form of a man yet remained divinely God. As a man He was tested in all points as we are, “sin apart” (Heb. 4:15, DBY).4 He knew no sin (2 Cor. 5:21), He did no sin (1 Pet. 2:21), and in Him was no sin (1 Jn. 3:5). But the price of sin weighed heavily on His soul, for He knew that in becoming the offering, He must be made sin (2 Cor. 5:21).

In her unmarried state, it was only right for Jephthah’s daughter to be a virgin. But the knowledge that she would end her days in this unmarried state gave her, and her companions, a reason to mourn: she would die childless in Israel. That end was usually associated with divine judgment, for she would never have a family inheritance in the land of Canaan, and no hope of being chosen to bring the Messiah into Israel.

Similarly, the Lord did not come to earth to raise a natural family, as would otherwise be expected of a firstborn son in Israel. Instead, He submitted to divine judgment in the prime of His life. A prophet once asked, “By oppression and judgment He was taken away; and as for His generation, who considered that He was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of My people?” (Isa. 53:8). Likewise a Psalmist wrote, “‘O my God,’ I say, ‘take me not away in the midst of my days—You whose years endure throughout all generations!’” (Ps. 102:24). And yet, the Lord was taken away at just 33-½ years, roughly the middle of a human lifespan.5

The prophet Isaiah again writes, “Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush Him; He has put Him to grief; when His soul makes an offering for sin, He shall see offspring; He shall prolong His days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in His hand” (Isa. 53:10). The Lord did not raise a family in the way natural men would expect, yet in resurrection He declares triumphantly, “Behold, I and the children God has given Me” (Heb. 2:13).

A remembrance

Jephthah’s daughter had only her companions during her time of mourning. At times, the Lord had only the twelve disciples and a collection of faithful women for His companions. And even then, much of what He wanted to share was too much for their natural minds to understand. They could see Him in His times of grief and loneliness but could not fully enter into His heart. God alone could comprehend it.

In her two months of mourning, Jephthah’s daughter could have planned her escape. But she completed her mourning and returned, submitting herself to the judgment (Judg. 11:39). As we have already seen, the Lord was always in subjection to the divine purpose, and He lived His life on earth steadfastly until the very moment when He could state those final words, “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit!” (Lk. 23:46). There was no hesitation or turning back.

Finally, we read: “She had never known a man, and it became a custom in Israel that the daughters of Israel went year by year to lament the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite four days in the year” (Judg. 11:39–40). The result of her faith was that a remembrance was made. She never had children, yet the generations who followed were so impressed by her faithfulness that they made a regular remembrance.

The Lord Jesus Christ went to the lowest place of suffering so that sinners could be redeemed and have life, and now God has raised up a family for Him in resurrection power. He was raised first, and His children are then raised up together with Him. It is now their privilege and responsibility, every Lord’s day, to remember Him (1 Cor. 11:23–26).


Jephthah began his public career in faith, but then tried to deal with Jehovah according to self righteousness. He brought himself under the Law’s judgment. Jephthah’s daughter submitted herself to the judgment of the Law on behalf of her father, who had sinned, and he was spared from judgment. She could not know that her story would produce such a vivid picture of the Christ who would come to earth, or that the Spirit of God would record it in the Bible for all time. She simply demonstrated godly character, which can only come from faith given by God.

Jephthah’s daughter submitted to the Law without any consideration for herself, and so a little portrait of Christ emerged in a time and place where the people of God were very far from their God. How amazing that our Lord would come into a world where everyone was very far from God and deserved only judgment, yet show unbounded grace. “Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Rom. 5:20); and “God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).

As you read through Scripture, and especially while studying a book like Judges that plainly shows how far man has fallen and failed, I encourage you to seek out and enjoy the portraits of Christ. It is His Word, and He can be found everywhere within its pages.


1.  In saying this, note these are pictures we are discussing, not necessarily the individual people. As a patriarchal society operating under the Law, ancient Israel’s success or failure to maintain inheritance depended upon a succession of sons to carry the family name. God’s work with individuals, both male and female, demonstrates that in spite of the context He always desired, and honored, faithful obedience.

2.  Also recorded or referenced in Mark 1:11; 9:7; 12:6; Luke 3:22; 20:13; and 2 Peter 1:17.

3.  Notice that Scripture never says that we should call Him our brother. From His side, the relationship is so close that He calls us brethren; but to us, He is the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God who willingly became the Son of Man and perfect Servant.

4.  For Hebrews 4:15, many translations including ESV conclude “yet without sin” or similar. The wording is ambiguous and could imply the Lord was tempted by sin, but carefully avoided doing it. Darby uses “sin apart” to emphasize that complete separation is meant. Scripture is very clear that sin was not in His nature (Heb. 7:26; 2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Jn. 3:5). His temptations involved the normal difficulties of being human, such as hunger, thirst, fatigue, grief, anger, and so forth. We see Him experience these things in the gospel accounts. Meanwhile, we experience these things and are tested not only by the natural limits of our bodies and minds, but also the sinful desire of our flesh to act out in response.

5.  Prior to Noah’s flood, life-spans in the book of Genesis are often recorded into the hundreds of years, but after the flood, the average lifespan decreased rapidly. By the time that David’s kingdom was established, a natural old age seems to have been in the range of 70 years, an approximate lifespan that continues today (compare Psa.90:10).

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