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is most holy unto the Lord. None devoted which shall be devoted of men, shall be redeemed, but shall surely be put to death." This devotement of a thing to destruction seems to have been an ancient custom, a relic of a barbarous age, which Moses retained on account of the necessity at times of giving an example of formidable severity. If this vow of cherem, or irrevocable curse, were uttered in respect to an enemy, it implied an utter destruction, and it was sacrilege for the conquering army to appropriate to itself any of the plunder or spoils thus devoted to destruction. Sometimes fields, animals, and men were thus devoted. It was apparently a custom which originated in a state of war, and was designed in its operation to bear only against enemies or the wicked, who were thereby made an example to others. We find the Israelites making such a vow against the Canaanites. The former said, “If thou wilt indeed deliver this people into my hand, then I will utterly destroy their cities. And the Lord hearkened to the voice of Israel and delivered up the Canaanites; and they utterly destroyed them and their cities.” (Num. xxi. 2.) In this way the city of Jericho was devoted to destruction. “The city shall be accused, even it, and all that are therein, to the Lord : and Moses commanded the Israelites to keep themselves from the accursed thing, lest they should make themselves accursed by taking the accursed thing, and make the camp of Israel a curse, and trouble it.” (Joshua vi. 17, 18, compare vii. 1–26.) The covetous Achan took and secreted a Babylonish garment, two hundred shekels of silver, and a wedge of gold of fifty shekels weight, which were among the things devoted to destruction in the city of Jericho. For this trespass Achan was stoned and his family with him, and all his possessions burnt up. Again, when the men of Jabesh-gilead refused to go out to Mizpeh at the requisition of Moses, they were all devoted to destruction by the vow cherem, or anathema. It was an incident of war, like letters of marque and reprisal. It did not relate to private property but only to aliens or public enemies. (Judges, xxi. 3-11.) No father, merely by his own authority, could put an offending child to death, much less an innocent one, upon any account except in pursuance of the sentence of the court of magistrates.
It was held by the Jews that if a Jew should devote his son or daughter, his man-servant or his maid-servant, who were Hebrews, the devotement would be void, because no man can devote what is not his own, or of whose life he has not the absolute disposal.
But Jephthah's vow was totally different in its nature and in all its circumstances from the cherem or devotement of an enemy or an enemy's goods to destruction. It was an act of thanksgiving and religious homage in return for the Divine favor in granting him the victory in the Ammonitish war.
It was called Neder, or vow of consecration, by which money, lands, any species of property, servants, children, or even the person who made the vow, might be consecrated to a sacred and religious use.
Animals thus given by vows to the Lord were offered as a burnt-offering if fit for sacrifice; if unclean, they were to be sold, or might be redeemed to the use of him who made the vow, by an additional payment of one-fifth part of their value.
When men were thus given to the Lord by vow, they became servants of the temple, unless redeemed ; and money, lands, houses, thus vowed, became the property of the temple, excepting that the land might be redeemed before the year, of Jubilee. (Lev. xxxii. 2-27.) Jephthah’s vow, being by its very terms intended as an act of thanksgiving, we are forbidden to suppose that it embraced within its scope anything so revolting as human sacrifice, which was condemned as impiety, sacrilege and murder, alike by the Law of Moses, by natural justice, and by the instinct of paternal love. Besides, if Jephthah had made so rash a vow as is generally supposed, the Law allowed a way of escape; for it had wisely placed the impulse of devotion under check, and provided for redeeming anything that had been thus offered up by vow, by paying a pecuniary equivalent. Bush says, “ Individuals might sometimes, under the influence of extraordinary zeal, be induced to consecrate themselves, their children, or their estate unto God, by what is termed a singular vow; and yet upon reflection, in a cooler moment, they might regret the step they had taken, or particular circumstances might render the literal performance of the vow inconvenient or unsuitable; in which case provision was made for the redemption of the persons or things thus consecrated; and the Mosaic Law prescribed the rates to be paid, according to the age and sex of the person making the vow."7
In order to keep alive a solemn memorial of the Providence which delivered the nation from Egypt by the death of the Egyptian first-born, the Law required that every first-born male, both of man and beast, should be sacred to the Lord; but the beast was to be sacrificed, and the child was to be redeemed.8 Thus the spirit and purpose of the Law were carried out, though the form of the offering was changed in particular cases. (Ex. xiii, 15.) “The Lord slew all the first-born in the land of Egypt, both the firstborn of man, and the first-born of beast : therefore I sacrifice to the Lord all that openeth the matrix, being males ; but all the first-born of my children I redeem."
But if Jephthah's daughter was not sacrified, the questions may be asked, What was her fate, and why did her father so lament her coming forth to meet him ?
These questions are answered in the following passage: " And Jephthah came to Mizpeh unto his house, and, behold, his daughter came out to meet him with timbrels and with dances : and she was his only child: beside her he had neither son nor daughter. And it came to pass, when he saw her, that he rent his clothes, and said, Alas, my daughter, thou hast brought me very low, and thou art one of them that trouble me: for I have opened my mouth unto the Lord, and I cannot go back. And she said unto him, My father, if thou hast opened thy mouth unto the Lord, do to mne according to that which hath proceeded out of thy mouth ; forasmuch as the Lord hath taken vengeance for thee of thine enemies, even of the children of Ammon. And she said unto her father, Let this thing be done for me; Let me alone two months, that I may go up and down upon the mountains, and bewail my virginity, I and my fellows. And he said Go, and he sent her away for two months; and she went with her companions, and bewailed her virginity upon the mountains.”—(verses 34–38.) Now this language does not leave on our minds the impression that she died, but that she was consecrated as a vestal virgin for life ; and this view is corroborated by the two following verses:
“ And it came to pass at the end of two months, that she 7 Note on Lev. xxxii. 3-8. 8 Ware's Life of the Saviour, p. 13.
returned unto her father, who did with her according to his vow which she had vowed : and she knew no man. And it was a custom in Israel, that the daughters of Israel went yearly to lament the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite four days in a year.”—not to lament her death, but her seclusion from society, and the hardship of her condition in being cut off from every domestic enjoyment.
We can easily understand that the unhappiness of Jephthah arose from the consideration that there was no one left to inherit and perpetuate his name. With that daughter his family would become extinct.
This he doubtless felt as a calamity. There was a peculiar solicitude felt by the Jews that when they should leave the stage there might be children to fill their places and to keep the line of descent unbroken. Solomon thanked God for the great kindness shown to David in giving him a son to sit on his throne. (1 Kings, iï. 6.) To have one's family cut off and be compelled to die childless is represented in the Bible as a sore calamity. It was a heavy judgment which was denounced upon
Baasha : “ Behold I will take away the posterity of Baasha, and the posterity of his house ; and will make thy house like the house of Jeroboam, the son of Nebat."
(1 Kings xvi. 2–3.) Jephthah erred in the strictness with which he interpreted his vow. In consequence of a too literal interpretation of it, his daughter was devoted to a life of celibacy and his name and family became extinct. Thus the grief of the father is accounted for, and we avoid the revolting and absurd idea of a Judge of Israel making a burnt-offering, and that of an only daughter, when the law of the land not only plainly forbade the sacrifice but provided a pecuniary equivalent by which she could be redeemed, and yet the vow he religiously fulfilled.
The Jews were very much addicted to putting themselves under special restraints, and “ instead of leaving everything to the free movements of the disposition, they said a man should force himself to do this or that good by a direct vow.” “Vows are the enclosures of holiness,” say the Rabbins. This tendency had been encouraged by the Mosaic Law, which had made vows to be very sacred and very binding.
9 Neander's Hist, Plant. Christ. p. 81, Bohn's Lib.
“ If a man vow a vow unto the Lord, or swear an oath, to bind his soul with a bond; he shall not break his word, he shall do according to all that proceedeth out of his mouth.” (Num. xxx. 2.) “ He that sweareth to his own hurt and changeth not ”'is commended (Ps. xv.4); but it is nowhere said that he that voweth to do a wrong act, an inhuman, diabolical act, is under any moral obligation to keep such a vow.
Shakspeare tells us, very justly, that
“ Unheedful vows may unheedfully be broken,
And he wants wit, that wants resolved will
'Tis a great sin to swear onto a sin,
The story of Jephthah and his daughter is the subject of one of Willis' Sacred Poems, which is very touching and beautiful, but it is essentially marred by the author's adherence to the old traditional notion of Jephthah's actually offering up his daughter in sacrifice, thus :
“ The sun had well nigh set,
But we think the poet does considerable violence to the sacred narrative; he plainly draws on his imagination for the dénouement ; for the notion that the Judge of Israel and the Priest of the Most High God joined in the execution of the Judge's daughter is so revolting to his muse and so utterly destitute of solid Scripture evidence, that he chooses to
10 Two Gent. Verona, Act ii. Scene vi. 11 Pericles, v. 3.