In the Bible, Hannah and Jephthah have something important in common – they both are recorded as having dedicated their child to God. What were the similarities in these events, and what was different?
Some Christian scoffers actually believe that Jephthah offered his daughter as a burnt sacrifice, but I will show that is false.
Hannah and Jephthah both uttered a vow. Hannah’s vow was specific – she vowed that if she had a son, she would dedicate him to God.
So Hannah rose up after they had eaten in Shiloh, and after they had drunk. Now Eli the priest sat upon a seat by a post of the temple of the LORD. And she was in bitterness of soul, and prayed unto the LORD, and wept sore. And she vowed a vow, and said, O LORD of hosts, if thou wilt indeed look on the affliction of thine handmaid, and remember me, and not forget thine handmaid, but wilt give unto thine handmaid a man child, then I will give him unto the LORD all the days of his life, and there shall no rasor come upon his head. –I Samuel 1:9-11
Hannah was making a vow that should God bless her with a son, that her firstborn would be dedicated to God, presumably as a Nazirite, because he would not cut his hair.
Jepthath, in contrast, made what some people believe was a rash, non-specific prayer. But was it rash, or was he moved by God’s Spirit as the passage indicates?
Then the Spirit of the LORD came upon Jephthah, and he passed over Gilead, and Manasseh, and passed over Mizpeh of Gilead, and from Mizpeh of Gilead he passed over unto the children of Ammon. And Jephthah vowed a vow unto the LORD, and said, If thou shalt without fail deliver the children of Ammon into mine hands, Then it shall be, that 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. So Jephthah passed over unto the children of Ammon to fight against them; and the LORD delivered them into his hands. And he smote them from Aroer, even till thou come to Minnith, even twenty cities, and unto the plain of the vineyards, with a very great slaughter. Thus the children of Ammon were subdued before the children of Israel. –Judges 11:29-33
Some people erroneously believe that Jephthah offered his daughter as a burnt sacrifice, but this cannot be. Human sacrifice was never practiced by any of the saints, and the pagan practices of such were expressly condemned. See analysis further below.
An interesting thing that we can observe is that while Hannah’s husband could have voided Hannah’s vow had he chosen to — in God’s eyes Jephthah’s vow was had to be paid. This evidence is in Numbers 30 – a woman was protected if she did something unwise and her husband chose to revoke it, but a man had to fulfill his promise to the Lord. Similarly a single woman could have her vow voided by her father. When Adam and Eve sinned, Adam specifically was pinned with the finalization of the sin, since he was not deceived (Romans 5:12, I Tim. 2:14). Since Hannah’s vow stood, we can assume that her husband endorsed it.
Did any of God’s Saints Practice Human Sacrifice? Let’s explore the evidence.
Human sacrifice was associated expressly with witchcraft and heathen practices.
“And they caused their sons and their daughters to pass through the fire, and used divination and enchantments, and sold themselves to do evil in the sight of the LORD, to provoke him to anger.” –Kings 17:17
“Twenty years old was Ahaz when he began to reign, and reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem, and did not that which was right in the sight of the LORD his God, like David his father. But he walked in the way of the kings of Israel, yea, and made his son to pass through the fire, according to the abominations of the heathen, whom the LORD cast out from before the children of Israel.” –II Kings 16:2-3
Manasseh was known as a very wicked man in Israel, and his idolatry, witchcraft, and other transgressions are recorded below.
Manasseh was twelve years old when he began to reign, and reigned fifty and five years in Jerusalem. And his mother’s name was Hephzibah. And he did that which was evil in the sight of the LORD, after the abominations of the heathen, whom the LORD cast out before the children of Israel. For he built up again the high places which Hezekiah his father had destroyed; and he reared up altars for Baal, and made a grove, as did Ahab king of Israel; and worshipped all the host of heaven, and served them. And he built altars in the house of the LORD, of which the LORD said, In Jerusalem will I put my name. And he built altars for all the host of heaven in the two courts of the house of the LORD. And he made his son pass through the fire, and observed times, and used enchantments, and dealt with familiar spirits and wizards: he wrought much wickedness in the sight of the LORD, to provoke him to anger. And he set a graven image of the grove that he had made in the house, of which the LORD said to David, and to Solomon his son, In this house, and in Jerusalem, which I have chosen out of all tribes of Israel, will I put my name for ever: Neither will I make the feet of Israel move any more out of the land which I gave their fathers; only if they will observe to do according to all that I have commanded them, and according to all the law that my servant Moses commanded them. But they hearkened not: and Manasseh seduced them to do more evil than did the nations whom the LORD destroyed before the children of Israel. –II Kings 21:1-9
“When thou art come into the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not learn to do after the abominations of those nations. There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, or that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch, Or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer. For all that do these things are an abomination unto the LORD: and because of these abominations the LORD thy God doth drive them out from before thee.” –Deuteronomy 18:9-12
Rebellious Hebrews sacrificed their firstborn, and God punished them.
I am the LORD your God; walk in my statutes, and keep my judgments, and do them; And hallow my sabbaths; and they shall be a sign between me and you, that ye may know that I am the LORD your God. Notwithstanding the children rebelled against me: they walked not in my statutes, neither kept my judgments to do them, which if a man do, he shall even live in them; they polluted my sabbaths: then I said, I would pour out my fury upon them, to accomplish my anger against them in the wilderness. Nevertheless I withdrew mine hand, and wrought for my name’s sake, that it should not be polluted in the sight of the heathen, in whose sight I brought them forth. I lifted up mine hand unto them also in the wilderness, that I would scatter them among the heathen, and disperse them through the countries; Because they had not executed my judgments, but had despised my statutes, and had polluted my sabbaths, and their eyes were after their fathers’ idols. Wherefore I gave them also statutes that were not good, and judgments whereby they should not live; And I polluted them in their own gifts, in that they caused to pass through the fire all that openeth the womb, that I might make them desolate, to the end that they might know that I am the LORD. –Ezekiel 20:19-26
”’And you took your sons and daughters whom you bore to me and sacrificed them as food to the idols. Was your prostitution not enough? You slaughtered my children and sacrificed them to the idols.” –Ezekiel 16:20-21 (NIV)
While those that rebelled against God and God’s law were known to follow the heathen practice of human sacrifice – in conjunction with idolatry and witchcraft – God’s saints rejected it.
What does God say about the blood of innocents?
“Surely at the commandment of the LORD came this upon Judah, to remove them out of his sight, for the sins of Manasseh, according to all that he did; And also for the innocent blood that he shed: for he filled Jerusalem with innocent blood; which the LORD would not pardon.” –II Kings 24:3-4
“But were mingled among the heathen, and learned their works. And they served their idols: which were a snare unto them.Yea, they sacrificed their sons and their daughters unto devils, And shed innocent blood, even the blood of their sons and of their daughters, whom they sacrificed unto the idols of Canaan: and the land was polluted with blood.” –Psalm 106:35-38
“And if the LORD thy God enlarge thy coast, as he hath sworn unto thy fathers, and give thee all the land which he promised to give unto thy fathers;If thou shalt keep all these commandments to do them, which I command thee this day, to love the LORD thy God, and to walk ever in his ways; then shalt thou add three cities more for thee, beside these three: That innocent blood be not shed in thy land, which the LORD thy God giveth thee for an inheritance, and so blood be upon thee.” –Deuteronomy 19:8-10
“Manasseh also shed so much innocent blood that he filled Jerusalem with it from one end to another. This was in addition to his sin that he caused Judah to commit. Consequently, they did what was evil in the LORD’s sight.” –II Kings 21:16 (Holman CSV)
“These six things doth the LORD hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him: A proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood,” – Proverbs 6:16-17
“For if ye throughly amend your ways and your doings; if ye throughly execute judgment between a man and his neighbour; if ye oppress not the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, and shed not innocent blood in this place, neither walk after other gods to your hurt: Then will I cause you to dwell in this place, in the land that I gave to your fathers, for ever and ever.” –Jeremiah 7:5-7
“Then spake Jeremiah unto all the princes and to all the people, saying, The LORD sent me to prophesy against this house and against this city all the words that ye have heard. Therefore now amend your ways and your doings, and obey the voice of the LORD your God; and the LORD will repent him of the evil that he hath pronounced against you. As for me, behold, I am in your hand: do with me as seemeth good and meet unto you. But know ye for certain, that if ye put me to death, ye shall surely bring innocent blood upon yourselves, and upon this city, and upon the inhabitants thereof: for of a truth the LORD hath sent me unto you to speak all these words in your ears.” –Jeremiah 26:12-15
“Egypt shall be a desolation, and Edom shall be a desolate wilderness, for the violence against the children of Judah, because they have shed innocent blood in their land. But Judah shall dwell for ever, and Jerusalem from generation to generation. For I will cleanse their blood that I have not cleansed: for the LORD dwelleth in Zion.” –Joel 3:19-21
A Chronological Examination – stories of Abraham, Jephthah, and Hannah
Certainly the Bible gives us an example of what is good with its books of law, statutes, history, prophecy, poetry and wisdom and perhaps the most influential – the stories about God’s faithful. Some things in the Bible will not make sense to someone who is not really interested in it, and Jesus admitted that he spoke in parables partly to confuse the people with hard hearts.
There is another example of where a child was to be offered up to God – and surprisingly, God is the one who commanded it. In chapter 22 of Genesis, God commands Abraham to take his precious, promised son Isaac, and to offer him as a burnt offering. Here was Abraham – the father of the faithful – commanded to do the unthinkable. But because of the covenant relation Abraham had with God, he knew he had to do what God commanded. There was no argument. Abraham knew God’s perfect character – he just had to trust God.
Abraham had to make the three-day journey with Isaac to offer his child as God had commanded. At the very last moment, God called out to Abraham to stop him from killing his son and offering him as a burnt offering. A ram was provided instead. God had both tested Abraham in covenant obedience, and had him experience some of the anguish of both God the Father and Jesus in Christ’s sacrifice for us on the cross.
Abraham was the grandfather to Jacob/Israel, who was the father of the Israelites, God’s chosen people to be a light to the rest of the world. God thought it necessary to give this very powerful example for us. Abraham was tested to the end — but ultimately, he was not asked to sacrifice his son, nor was that what God wanted.
The next story is how it came about that the mighty warrior Jephthah dedicated his only daughter to God. It should be noted that before Jephthah makes the vow in Judges 11:30-31, that the preceding verse of 11:29 says “Then the Spirit of the LORD came upon Jephthah…” So we can assume this vow was under inspiration of God’s Holy Spirit.
Here is a reading of Jephthah’s vow in Young’s Literal Translation:
And Jephthah voweth a vow to Jehovah, and saith, ‘If Thou dost at all give the Bene-Ammon into my hand — then it hath been, that which at all cometh out from the doors of my house to meet me in my turning back in peace from the Bene-Ammon — it hath been to Jehovah, or I have offered up for it — a burnt-offering.’ –Judges 11:30-31.
In the above translation, it is very important to observe the conjunction “or”. If that which preceded from his house had been a lamb, it could have been a burnt sacrifice.
Here is commentary on the text from The Defender’s Study Bible, compiled by Dr. Henry M. Morris:
offer it up. Some competent Hebrew scholars say this clasue could as well be translated, “and I will offer to Him a burnt-offering.” In any case, Jepthah was a true man of faith (Hebrews 11:32) and surely knew God’s prohibitions against human sacrifices (Leviticus 18:21). He would hardly make such a rash vow as to offer a human sacrifice or carry it out if he had. Jepthah’s daughter was his only child. Although he knew about God’s right to the firstborn (Exodus 13:2), he knew also that she could be redeemed (Exodus 13:15; Leviticus 27:1-4) with a payment of 30 shekels.
Here also is exerpted commentary from the Companion Bible (Kregel Publications, 1990):
and = or. The Heb. (Vav) is a connective Particle, and is rendered in many different ways. It is also used as a disjuntive, and is often rendered “or” (or, with a negative, “nor”). …. Here, Jephthat’s vow consisted of two parts: (1) He would either dedicated it to Jehovah (according to Lev. 27); or (2) if unsuitable for this, he would offer it as a burnt offering. He performed his vow, and dedicated his daughter to Jehovah by a perpetual virginity (vv. 36,39,40); but he did not offer her as a burnt offering, because it was forbidden by Jehovah, and could not be accepted by Him (Lev. 18.21; 20.2-5).
Jephthah was very upset that his only daughter (his only offspring) would be dedicated so that she would serve God in a virgin state and not have children, and Jepthah would not have grandchildren (Judges 11:34-40). However, Jephthah’s daughter was very willing to perform her part of this vow. She was left alone to be with her friends for two months and made no attempt to run away. Instead of any record of any killing sacrifice, it says in Judges 11:39: “… and she knew no man.”
God had respect that Jephthah would not try to go back on his vow to the LORD (Judges 11:35) and Jephthah received a special mention in the “chapter of faith” – Hebrews 11:32. Paul, the writer of Hebrews was mentored by Christ in the wilderness for 3 years before he was activated as an apostle (Galatians 1:17-18), and would have known the truth about this “difficult” passage of scripture.
Hannah’s dedication of Samuel came next. Samuel was a remarkable man, as he became a prophet (I Samuel 3:19-20), priest (Psalm 99:6, Jeremiah 15:1, I Samuel 2:18) and civil authority – a judge (I Samuel 7:15). Samuel was genetically a Levite (I Samuel 1:1 with I Chronicles 6), the tribe designated for prieshood, although he grew up in a location within the tribe of Ephraim (I Samuel 1:1). Being part of the priestly tribe of Levi which kept knowledge and taught the law (Malachi 2:4-7, Ezra 7:10), Hannah would likely know the story of Jephthah’s dedication of his daughter perhaps a couple hundred years before in the book of Judges. God honored Hannah’s dedication by making possible Samuel’s great ministry and service to God, and God blessed her with more children after Samuel.
The beautiful story is recorded below:
But Samuel ministered before the LORD, being a child, girded with a linen ephod. Moreover his mother made him a little coat, and brought it to him from year to year, when she came up with her husband to offer the yearly sacrifice. And Eli blessed Elkanah and his wife, and said, The LORD give thee seed of this woman for the loan which is lent to the LORD. And they went unto their own home. And the LORD visited Hannah, so that she conceived, and bare three sons and two daughters. And the child Samuel grew before the LORD. –I Samuel 2:18-21
Hannah’s prayer of thanksgiving is also recorded in I Samuel 2:1-10.
There was something very different about Samuel’s dedication and Jepthah’s daugthers dedication. Samuel fully dedicated to God, but was married and had children. Jephthah’s daughter’s dedication required her to remain a virgin. God willing, I will explore this difference in a later post.