At Balboa Park in San Diego a group of Atheists each weekend setup a booth to try to build a community of unbelievers for fun and fellowship. They also like to challenge Christians on certain passages from the Bible. They have available a flyer with 5 objections to the God of the Bible. I will post a response to each of them.
Judges 11:30-40 is the story of Jephthah who makes a vow to God that if He would allow him to have victory over his enemies that he would sacrifice whatever comes out of the door of his home as a burnt offering. The text says that God gave the enemies Jephthah to him and he had a great victory over them.
We then read about his return home in Judges 11:34-36: When Jephthah came to his house at Mizpah, behold, his daughter was coming out to meet him with tambourines and with dancing. Now she was his one and only child; besides her he had no son or daughter. 35 When he saw her, he tore his clothes and said, “Alas, my daughter! You have brought me very low, and you are among those who trouble me; for I have given my word to the LORD, and I cannot take it back.” 36 So she said to him, “My father, you have given your word to the LORD; do to me as you have said, since the LORD has avenged you of your enemies, the sons of Ammon.” According to the vow the burnt offering was to be his daughter.
Two months later Jephthah fulfills his vow to God and sacrifices his daughter. For the atheist, this is a clear case of God approving human sacrifice. They contend God affirmed the vow by giving Jephthah victory. Did God honor the vow and approve of the sacrifice of his daughter? If they are right God is obviously evil. As I read the text and studied the passage, I reached a few conclusions about the incident.
- Nowhere in this passage or previous verses do we see God requiring Jephthah to make a vow. This was completely his own decision. It was his vow and not God’s.
- Plain and simple the vow was stupid. I don’t how else to describe the fact that Jephthah made a vow that put the life of another person in jeopardy. Why would he do such a dumb thing? God is not obligated to stop us, even at the expense of human life. God allowing is not equal to God causing. God allows the free will decisions of humans even if they are ill-advised.
- God’s desires for us are if we make a vow we should keep it. However, in this case, Jephthah is in a moral dilemma. Both options are wrong. It is wrong to break a vow to God and likewise, it is wrong to sacrifice a human. Both Leviticus 18:21 and Deuteronomy 12:31 speak out against human sacrifices. In a moral dilemma, when two objective wrongs come into conflict, the person is to choose the greater good. Since human sacrifice is a far greater evil than breaking a vow, the choice was obvious. Jephthah did not choose the greater good, which was evil in God’s eyes. He clearly broke God’s laws in sacrificing his daughter.
- Similar to God’s relationship with King David, just because God was with Him in one area doesn’t mean He supports other areas. God called David a man after His own heart. And yet God judged him for having sex with Bathsheba and having her husband Uriah killed to cover up the mess. We have no reason to doubt, God would have granted victory for Jephthah without the vow.
- Finally, this is a description of what Jephthah did and not a prescription of what we should do. Nowhere do we read God approved of the sacrifice.
God does not approve of human sacrifices. We read in Leviticus 18:21 God warning the Israelites, “Neither shall you give any of your offspring to offer them to Molech, nor shall you profane the name of your God; I am the Lord.” Molech was an evil pagan deity that the nations worshipped. They would regularly sacrifice infants to him by heating his arms and placing a baby upon his outstretched arms and the infant would shrivel up and fall dead into a cauldron. It was a horrible practice that God prohibited. A similar warning God provided in Deuteronomy 12:31 against the sacrifice of infants to pagan gods.
Jephthah is solely responsible for the death of his daughter. God never approved of his actions.