VII. JEPTHA’s DAUGHTER.
There is a tragical interest in the brief story of Jeptha’s Daughter. It contains the elements of physical, mental, and moral suffering, which have power over the imagination and the heart.
Jeptha a Gileadite, was an illegitimate son, (Jdg 11:1) and consequently subject to galling insults and cold neglect, which strongly marked his character. He became an independent, impetuous and fearless man, whose daring exploits won distinction for the youthful hero.
This enhanced the hostility of his brethren, until they banished him from the ancestral domain, and appropriated to themselves his patrimony. (Jdg 11:2.) He fled to the land of Tob, beyond the frontier of Israel, probably in the borders of Arabia, and supported himself in his solitude, by depredations upon the enemies of his people, a career not forbidden by the ethics of those primitive days. (Jdg 11:3.) His achievements soon gathered around him a band of lawless men—a company of brigands ready for the wildest onset, or the dark and patient vigil
“Of him who treasures up a wrong!”
“Even our different climate and manners afford some parallel in the Robin Hoods of former days; in the border forays, when England and Scotland were ostensibly at peace; and in principle, however great the formal difference—in the authorized and popular piracies of Drake, Raleigh, and the other moral heroes of the Elizabethan era.”
Jair, the judge in Israel at the time of Jeptha’s expulsion, died, and the Hebrews, yielding to that strange tendency of the human soul toward idolatry, because in his absolute personality Jehovah is invisible, introduced the forms of image‐worship which met their observation in all their intercourse with the tribes that hung menacingly upon their boundaries. The loss of influence and dignity, disloyalty to God carried along with it, besides the withdrawment of his protection, invited the hordes of idolaters to conquest—and like the northmen who poured resistlessly upon the plains of degenerate Italy, the Amorites on one side, and the Philistines upon the other, overswept the land.
Then the Jewish Elders turned to Jeptha, whose prowess alone could rally his inefficient and suffering countrymen. (Jdg 11:5-6.) His reply to the delegation who found him in his fastness among the desolate hills exhibits the spirited independence of the fugitive. “Did not ye hate me, and expel me from my father’s house? and why are ye come to me now, when ye are in distress?” (Jdg 11:7.) They conciliated the chief by offering him the generalship of the army. He accepted on condition as security against permitting again his banishment, while he was also conscious of his ability to govern, that if victorious, he should be made Judge in Israel. (Jdg 11:8-11.) That he was not an unprincipled bandit, is evident from his tactics in the projected war. He personally demanded of his foes the ground of their invasion; and when they asserted their original claim, he laid down an acknowledged principle in the law of nations, that the actual possessors of the land when taken by the Israelites, conferred a full and unquestionable title. (Jdg 11:24.)
The negotiation closed, and the opposing armies prepared for battle. Then appeared the religious element in the character of Jeptha, however obscured before, in a solemn vow, altogether rashly spoken. He pledged to the Lord, if he would overthrow the legions of Amorites and allow him to return a conqueror peacefully to his dwelling, the first living form he met as a burnt-offering upon the altar of thanksgiving. (Jdg 11:30-31.) It strikes one, from the fact his home was cheered by a loving and only daughter, he must have apprehended the possibility of her welcome upon his triumphant return—but in the brilliant prospects before him and his bleeding country, with the weight of responsibility so unexpectingly assumed, his enthusiasm and the doubtful struggle before him, absorbed all considerations of personal sacrifice, and gave no time for deliberation.
Girded with his tried sword, he led his army from the declivities, across Jordan where the enemy blackened the plain, and sent out their loud challenge to conflict. The might of the Lord came upon him, as on Barak the son of Abinoam, and he dashed like a falling bolt into the ranks of gleaming spears and waiting blades. They closed around Jeptha’s bands, then reeled and rallied, and again fell back as a forest before the hurricane, till the rout was complete. But Jeptha followed up the victory till twenty cities capitulated, and his weary soldiers refreshed themselves in the valley of vineyards, whose soil was reddened by the life‐blood that flowed in the trenches, with trodden clusters from the overshadowing vine. (Jdg 11:32-33.)
Then followed the trial and the offering. With a guard of his grateful warriors he marched towards Mizpeh—and “Behold, his daughter came forth to meet him with timbrels and with dances; and she was his only child.” (Jdg 11:34.)
In his wanderings and loneliness, she had been true, and lived in the smile that played upon his stern features when by his side; and had wept when sadness subdued the wonted brightness of his flashing eye. He had thrown around her from his strong arms in the affection of a great yet wounded heart, and twined in musing fondness her ringlets around the hand that foemen feared. And now more beautiful than ever, in the fine excitement of filial rapture, with a train of damsels who had gathered at the tidings of conquest to celebrate the splendid career of her father, she approaches him with a salutation in which was poured a tide of joy that spoke through every lineament of her lovely face. The fear that had made his brain reel at times along the way, was merged in the crushing certainty of a terrible reality. Rending his robes, he cried, “Alas! my daughter—for I have opened my mouth unto the Lord and I cannot go back.” (Jdg 11:35.)
When the rush of new emotion that met the subsiding swell of gratulation, as the gloomy surges of a sudden tempest chase the sunlit‐billows, was passed, and a mournful calmness succeeded, she stood there a touching monument of early piety and disinterested love, neither romance nor the pages of profane history can furnish. Then she said, “My father, if thou hast opened thy mouth unto the Lord, do to me according to that which has proceeded out of thy mouth; forasmuch as the Lord has taken vengeance for thee of thine enemies, the children of Ammon.” (Jdg 11:36.) Then pausing, while he was mute in the dread paralysis of grief and remorse, she asked the delay of two months in the execution of his vow, while attended by her companions, she went forth upon the solitary mountains to bewail her virginity. (Jdg 11:37-38.)
There the doomed maiden wandered like the very spirit of solitude, beamed a sky that seemed to mock her destiny with its cloudless glow, and reposed at night while the changeless stars beamed brightly, as when she strayed blithely there with the exiled Jeptha. The months vanished, and she returned with uncomplaining fidelity to yield her life upon the sacrificial altar. (Jdg 11:39.) (When the circumstances and evidences are carefully considered, the opinion that she was sacrificed “according to his vow” rests on the strongest probability, nor would, it is believed, be questioned, were it not for the fearful result it involves.)
Curiosity is left to conjecture in regard to the particulars of that last parting of Jeptha and his daughter—his fruitless lament while she hung upon his neck, and her soothing accents of cheerful resignation. And when she lay in robes of virgin purity upon the altar, and closed her mild eye, while the high‐priest lifted his burnished blade, what an illustration of the authority of conscience, that brought her there, and which echoes unceasingly when unperverted, the claims of immutable right. It has a whisper more awakening than the trumpet‐blast—and a power that invests a man with the majesty of an angel, or the dark sublimity of a demon.
The scene also illustrates the solemnity of covenant obligation to the Christian, and its eternal force. The individual consecration, and baptismal vow to train off-spring for God, compared with Jeptha’s hasty and criminal oath, are infinitely more fearful—and inscribed on the columns of the White Throne, will meet the gaze when “this mortal shall put on immortality.” (1Cr 15:54.)