Scripture references: Judges 10; 11
Date: About 1250 b.c.
Main contribution: Jephthah’s daughter illustrates the limitations on women’s freedom of self-determination.
Jephthah was the illegitimate son of an Israelite who was expelled by his family and clan after his father’s death. But Jephthah was an exceptional leader, and when the Ammonites attacked the Israelites, Jephthah was recalled to lead them in battle.
When Jephthah was about to lead the attack on the enemy forces he made a vow to the Lord, that “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” (Judg. 11:31 niv).
To Jephthah’s dismay, his only child, a daughter, was the first to come out to meet him! Crushed and miserable, Jephthah told her of the vow “that I cannot break” (Judg. 11:35 niv).
Many have concluded from this dialog that Jephthah did kill and burn his daughter as a sacrifice. However, this is unlikely, in view of the wider context of Scripture. What actually did happen is suggested in the following:
The Old Testament displays an absolute revulsion toward human sacrifice (Lev. 18:21; 20:2, 3; Deut. 12:31; 18:10). While some argue that Jephthah must have fulfilled his vow by killing and burning his daughter, this is not required by the text or by Hebrew practices. Old Testament law introduces a principle in Exodus 28:8 and illustrates it in 1 Samuel 1:28 and Luke 2:36, 37. This principle is that a person or thing dedicated to God might fulfill the vow by a lifetime of service as well as by the surrender of a life.
Indications that this is what happened in the case of Jephthah’s daughter are: (1) the knowledge Jephthah had previously displayed of Old Testament history and law, as in his letter to the Ammonites (10:15–27a); (2) every sacrifice to the Lord required that a priest officiate, and no Hebrew priest would offer a human sacrifice; (3) the reaction of Jephthah’s daughter who went out with friends to lament not over her imminent death but “because I will never marry” (11:37). All this leads us to the conclusion that Jephthah did fulfill his vow by dedicating his daughter’s life to the service of the Lord.
While the text tells us little about Jephthah’s daughter, it does tell us much about her relationship with her father. Like other daughters in Israel, she lived under her father’s authority. He had the right to make decisions that would set the direction of her entire life.
The fact that this was not the direction she herself would have chosen is reflected in her response to her father’s revelation:
“My father, you have given your word to the Lord. Do to me just as you promised, now that the Lord has avenged you of your enemies, the Ammonites. But grant me this one request: Give me two months to roam the hills and weep with my friends, because I will never marry” (Judg. 11:36, 37 niv).
Like other young women in Israel, Jephthah’s daughter had looked forward to marrying and having a family of her own. Now this would be impossible.
Yet the young woman never questioned her father’s right to dedicate her life to the service of God. She realized that her father must not break his vow, even though he as well as she was devastated at its unexpected impact on her life.
There could hardly be a more powerful example in Scripture of a father’s right in Old Testament times to exercise authority over the women in his household. At the same time, the deep emotion displayed by Jephthah and by his daughter reveals that bonds of mutual love rather than legalities motivated members of loving families.
JEPHTHAH’S DAUGHTER: AN EXAMPLE FOR TODAY
- Singleness is not a curse, though it may not be what we initially expected from life. Remaining single will free some to have more time to devote to the Lord.
- The experience of Jephthah’s daughter illustrates how another’s decisions may impact our lives and our happiness. We will not always have control over what happens to us. When this happens, may we respond with a love and grace like that displayed by this young lady.
- Jephthah’s daughter’s courage to go on even when her life had been irrevocably changed by the actions of others can be inspiring to us. The grace she showed in supporting her devastated father and her submission to God’s will challenge us all.
Scripture reference: Judges 13
Date: About 1200 b.c.
Name: none given
Main contribution: She carefully followed God’s instructions concerning Samson’s birth and nurture.
Samson was one of the last judges to appear in Israel. While gifted with extraordinary physical strength, Samson was morally and spiritually weak. His feud with the Philistines who dominated the Israelites in the 11th century b.c. was rooted in personal animosity rather than a passion to free his people. While Samson killed many Philistines during his lifetime, he never won freedom from oppression for his people.
It is clear from the story in Judges that Samson’s flaws were his own and cannot be traced to his mother or to his father, Manoah. Both parents are portrayed as godly and good persons who did their best to respond to God and to give their son guidance.
The mother’s relationship with God (Judg. 13:3, 9)
Manoah’s wife is described as a woman who was sterile and remained childless (13:2). It is impressive that many of the most significant women of the Bible remained childless for long periods of time before giving birth. In almost every case, the children produced had significant roles to play in God’s plan for His people. It may be that the delay in bearing children had a significant impact on the spiritual life of the woman. Certainly in Rebekah and Hannah’s case, the delay in childbearing drove the women to seek God’s face in prayer.
Her relationship with Manoah(Judg. 13:8, 12, 17–23)
While Manoah did not doubt his wife’s report of the angelic encounter, Manoah was uncertain. He prayed that the “Man of God” might visit them again to tell them how to bring up the boy who was to be born. When the Angel of the Lord came again, He added nothing to the previous instructions.
Manoah pressed for more information and urged the angel to let them prepare food. When the food was brought, “flame went up toward heaven from the altar” (v. 20) and the Angel of the Lord ascended in the flame. Both husband and wife fell with their faces to the ground, aware that their visitor had been God Himself in human or angelic guise. The couple’s reaction is significant. While Manoah wailed, “We are doomed to die,” his wife sensibly responded, “If the Lord had meant to kill us, he would not have accepted a burnt offering . . . nor shown us all these things or now told us this” (13:23 niv).
Her relationship with Samson (Judg. 14:3)
The text tells us that Samson’s father and mother tried to counsel him against seeking a wife among the Philistines when Samson saw a woman he desired. It’s clear that the parents were in harmony in urging Samson to marry an Israelite. But Samson was not to be deterred by his parents. As an adult Samson was guided by his passions, rather than by wisdom or by respect for his parents.
Samson insisted that his father “get her for me” (Judg. 14:4). As Samson’s father, it was Manoah’s responsibility to negotiate for his son’s bride. In this case Manoah submitted to his son’s demands, rather than the son submitting to his father’s guidance. We can only assume that both parents, while they loved their son and had followed the Lord’s instructions in raising him, weredisappointed in his decision.
SAMSON’S MOTHER: AN EXAMPLE FOR TODAY
- Samson’s mother was an obedient and godly woman. When the Lord spoke, she listened and obeyed. We too are responsible to listen and obey.
- Samson’s mother did her best to follow the instructions God gave her. Yet Samson made choices she advised against. Parents nurture their children, but children are responsible for their own decisions. They must decide whether they will heed their parents’ guidance.
- Samson’s choices in women caused his downfall and his death. His parents urged him to find an Israelite wife, but Samson would not listen. It’s hard for parents to watch their children make disastrous choices in selecting a spouse. We can offer advice and pray, but we cannot choose for them. Often we will need the grace to live with things we cannot change and to have faith in the God who works in all things for our good.
Scripture references: Judges 16
Date: About 1175 b.c.
Name: Delilah [duh-LI-luh: “small,” “dainty”]
Main contribution: She tricked Samson into revealing the secret of his strength to his enemies.
Samson had shown himself to be an implacable enemy of the Philistines. Although he had not led any organized Israelite resistance against the Philistines who dominated them at the time, Samson himself had fought and killed hundreds of Philistines. Because of Samson’s great physical strength, a gift from God, no Philistine force had been able to overcome him.
But Samson was morally weak, a victim of his passion for women; a person unable and unwilling to exercise self-control.
When Samson began an affair with a woman named Delilah the Philistines saw an opportunity to learn the secret of Samson’s strength. They offered her a fortune to discover the secret and betray it to them. Delilah, eager to gain the promised wealth, complied.
At first Samson put Delilah off with lies, telling her that fresh thongs or new ropes or braiding his hair would weaken him. Three times when Samson slept, Delilah tied him, and then awoke him with a cry that the Philistines were upon him. Each time Samson easily broke free, ready to fight.
But with each fresh lie Delilah complained, insisting that if Samson truly loved her he would confide in her. Finally Samson gave in to her constant nagging and told her the truth. The secret of his strength lay in the fact that as a Nazirite his braided hair had never been cut. This time while Samson slept Delilah let a man slip in and cut off his braids. Samson lost his strength, was captured by thePhilistines, and blinded.
The biblical text gives us a clear picture of Delilah. She was a calculating woman. She was aware of the power her sexuality gave her and quick to use sex for personal gain. While Samson had fallen in love with Delilah, she only pretended affection for him. Delilah was more than willing to let Samson use her body, for she was using him to become rich.
Delilah was determined to get ahead, and chose to use sex to advance herself. In so doing Delilah betrayed not only her lover but also herself. Sex is a gift from God given to bind a married couple together in ever-deepening commitment. When a man or woman engages in sex outside of that context, and especially in a calculated way, then he or she is as much a victim as the sexual partner.
- Delilah hounded Samson for the secret of his strength. If someone hounds us to do or say something we know we shouldn’t, it’s time to make adamantly clear that the issue is not negotiable. The other person needs to drop it, or risk the loss of the relationship.
- The story of Samson and Delilah serves as a warning. We will all lose God’s empowerment should we step out of fellowship with Him.
- Delilah reminds us that fleshly weakness can topple even the most powerful person.
Keeping ourselves sexually pure and equally yoked protects us from people like Delilah and is vital for empowering God’s people.