One of the most disturbing incidents in the Bible involves a man named Jephthah offering his daughter as a sacrifice to God after leading Israel to military victory.
A bit of background is in order. Jephthah was one of those Old Testament figures known as judges. They were leaders or champions of God's ancient people Israel. The judges were used sometimes by God to call the people to repentance when they fell into sin, including idolatry and its usual concomitant, injustice.
At other times, the judges were used by God to deliver Israel from enemies God had allowed to conquer tHis people for their sin; once they repented, turning back to God in faith, God would send a judge to free them from their conquerors.
Jephthah was one of these judges. He lived in the twelfth-century BC. Empowered by the Spirit of God, Jephthah led Israel to a military victory over their enemies, the Ammonites.
But as he faced battle, Jephthah made a rash vow to God. “If you give the Ammonites into my hands, whatever comes out of the door of my house to meet me when I return in triumph from the Ammonites will be the Lord’s, and I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering.” (Judges 11:30-31)
Jephthah should have known better than to have made such a vow for two main reasons.
First, God has never conditioned His acts of mercy, grace, or help on human performance. God acts with mercy, grace, and love because that's Who He is and how He operates. All He asks us to do is trust in Him.
God called Israel into being through the elderly Abraham and his post-menopausal wife, Sarah, building a people that would be a light to the nations from this unlikely seed.In his personal farewell address to the people of Israel, Moses told God's people three centuries before Jephthah was born, "The LORD did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples." (Deuteronomy 7:7) There was nothing that Abraham, Sarah, or the people of Israel did to earn God's favor. God acts for us out of fatherly goodness and grace that we can neither earn nor deserve.
"The Lord said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites: ‘Any Israelite or any foreigner residing in Israel who sacrifices any of his children to Molek is to be put to death. The members of the community are to stone him. I myself will set my face against him and will cut him off from his people; for by sacrificing his children to Molek, he has defiled my sanctuary and profaned my holy name. If the members of the community close their eyes when that man sacrifices one of his children to Molek and if they fail to put him to death, I myself will set my face against him and his family and will cut them off from their people together with all who follow him in prostituting themselves to Molek." (Leviticus 20:15)
“Don't hurt the boy or do anything to him,” he said. “Now I know that you honor and obey God, because you have not kept back your only son from him.” (Genesis 22:12)At that moment, Abraham looked up and saw a ram, caught in a thicket of thorns, and sacrificed it to God instead. Abraham called the place where this happened, the Lord will provide, because at the right moment, God had provided the appropriate sacrifice for Abraham to offer.