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Elders of Gilead applied to Jephthah, their kinsman, a mighty man of valour,” whom they had expelled in his youth from his father's house, on account of the illegitimacy of his birth, or the foreign extraction of his mother, (for the Hebrew will bear either sense,) and who had retired to the land of Tob, to the North of Gilead, where he appears to have associated with a band of needy adventurers like himself.
“ And Jephthah said unto the elders of Gilead, If ye bring me home again to fight against the children of Ammon, and the Lord deliver them before me, shall I be your head ?" This condition was accepted and ratified by the unanimous voice of the Gileadites; and Jephthah was made their “ head and captain.” : No sooner was the recalled exile placed in this post of honour and danger, than he began to prove himself worthy of holding it, by his moderation and his justice. His first measure was to send messengers to remonstrate with the king of the children of Ammon, and to endeavour to make him sensible of the groundlessness of his claim to a certain territory, his pretended right to which, he alleged as his motive to the invasion. Soon convinced, however, by the obstinate persistance of the king in his design, of the inutility of any further efforts to maintain peace, Jephthah, indued by the Spirit of the Lord with the wisdom and courage necessary effectually to discharge the important office with which he was invested, determined not to wait for the attack of the enemy; but, passing over suddenly to the Ammonites, advanced to give them battle.
At the decisive moment which was to determine the fate of the two nations, the Chief, addressing Jehovah, the supreme arbiter of the affairs of nations, sought to secure his favour by this solemn vow: “IF THOU, LORD, HE SAID,
SHALT WITHOUT FAIL DELIVER THE CHIL
DREN OF AMMON INTO MINE HANDS, THEN
IT SHALL BE THAT WHATSOEVER
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
What was the precise import of this vow, and how it was fulfilled, are points on which interpreters are not agreed; some contending that Jephthah devoted his daughter to a life of celibacy, others that she was really sacrificed. From an examination of the grammatical structure of the passage, we can arrive at no certain decision; let us then seek, in arguments of another kind, for that information which the sacred narrative fails to supply. How improbable, say those who maintain the former opinion, that a man divinely inspired, and whose faith is celebrated by the Apostle Paul, should have pronounced and executed so barbarous a sentence as the death of his only child! Such a thing was never seen in Israel. Where could this sacrifice have been performed ? In the land of Gilead ?-Sacrifices were forbidden to be offered in any other place than that in which was the Tabernacle. In the Sanctuary?-It is impossible to believe that the people of Jehovah would have dared to pollute his altar with an holocaust of a kind so new, so hateful, and so expressly prohibited by the Divine law. Who could have officiated in this horrid service? Not the priests—for they must have been the first to oppose it. Not the magistrates—for they would have been setting the example of an audacious and incredible violation of the law. Not a private person—for the office was one which no private man was permitted to exercise. Not Jephthah himself-for such savage barbarity is beyond belief. Granting, however, that, deaf to the strong and terrible cry of outraged nature, he had designed such a sacrifice, and had been able to complete it, would his daughter, upon learning the fatal sentence, simply have demanded to be allowed to “ bewail her virginity,” without even naming the frightful death to which she was devoted ?
Such are the arguments of those who contend that Jephthah devoted his daughter to a life of celibacy. They, on the other hand, who hold that she was immolated, assert that no argument can be founded either on the commendation passed upon Jephthah by St. Paul—the Apostle having in view, in the passage alluded to, only his confidence in God; or on the expression, that “the Spirit of the Lord came upon” himnothing more being meant by those words, than that God endowed him with courage and skill to subdue his enemies; or, lastly, that the innocent victim of his rash vow asked “ to bewail her virginity,” and not her death—to die in celibacy being for women, among the Israelites, an opprobrium, and a kind of curse. The opinion that it was a real sacrifice, is supported by the suffrage of all antiquity, Jewish and Christian; while the contrary notion was never advanced till the twelfth century, about two thousand years after the event. Besides, had nothing more been contemplated than the consecration of the daughter of the Chief to the Lord, this consecration might have taken place without her being obliged to renounce marriage. , Samuel and Sampson were married, though vowed to Jehovah : nor do we find in the Old Testament a single instance of celibacy, observed on religious grounds. It is true, that the idea of a man's binding himself, by a solemn obligation, to sacrifice the first person he should meet, though it were his own child, is