By Reuben Archer Torrey
The story of Jephthah's daughter as recorded in the Bible has presented a great difficulty to many superficial students of the Bible, as well as to many critics of it. How can we possibly justify Jephthah's burning of his daughter as a sacrifice to Jehovah?
In the first place, we are nowhere told that Jephthah did burn his daughter. We are told that Jephthah vowed, "Whatsoever cometh forth of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the children of Ammon, shall surely be the LORD'S, and I will offer it up for a burnt-offering" (Judges 11:31).
The word translated "burnt-offering" does not necessarily involve the idea of burning. There is no record that Jephthah's daughter was actually slain and burned. The passage that relates what actually was done with her is somewhat obscure, and many think that she was devoted by her father as an offering to God by her living a life of perpetual virginity (Judges 11:37-39).
But even supposing that she was actually slain and burned, as some Bible students believe (though the Bible does not actually say so), even in this case we are under no necessity of defending Jephthah's action any more than we are of defending any other wrong action of all the imperfect instruments that God, in His wondrous grace and condescension, has seen fit to use to defend or help His people. The Bible itself nowhere defends Jephthah's action. If Jephthah really did slay his daughter, he simply made a rash vow without any command or other warrant from God for so doing; and having made this rash vow, he went further in his wrongdoing and carried that rash vow into execution.
So the whole story instead of being a warrant for human sacrifice is intended to be a lesson on the exceeding foolishness of hasty vows made in the energy of the flesh.