Bible Brutality: Meet Jephthah
Who is Jephthah?
Jephthah was born an illegitimate child and with too many H's in his name, so his half-brothers kicked him out of the house. He decided to move to some place called Tob and raise hell as an outlaw. Not even kidding. He would go raid places. Depending on which version of the Bible you're reading, it says he was followed by scoundrels, needy men, or vain men.
So Jephthah fled from his brothers and settled in the land of Tob, where a gang of scoundrels gathered around him and followed him.
- Judges 11:3
Around the time Jephthah was up to all sort of wacky shenanigans, God was mad at the Israelites (again) and let them get conquered (again). This time it was the Ammonites who decided to go pay Israel a visit. Despite the fact that Mister Jephthah was probably a wanted felon, the elders decided to ask him to be their leader to help send these godless heathens back to wherever they came.
Jephthah was able to turn his scoundrel skills into general skills, and he gave those pesky Ammonites a good whooping. So good, in fact, that this doofus vowed to God that if God let him conquer the Ammonites, he would sacrifice the first thing that came out of his house when he returned.
“If you give the Ammonites into my hands, 31 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 then punches the whole nation of Ammon in the face and then decides to call it a day. He then decides to go home. Lo and behold, the very first person to come out of his house to greet him is his only daughter.
What Happened Next?
This is where things get a little bit sketchy. There's a whole bunch of conflicting reports, mainly stemming from the fact that this happened way too long ago and anyone who actually knew anything is dead. Some say that Jephthah did end up sacrificing his daughter. Others say that he just turned her into some sort of nun or holy virgin, as opposed to, you know, murdering someone. Heck, God stopped Abraham from stabbing his son to death, because "hey man, I was just testing you."
But Wait, There's More
Some dudes called the Ephraimites arrived, and Jephthah wanted to kill them, because they did not help him out with the whole Ammonite problem. So they solved this in the only way they did back then: with war and bloodshed.
Jephthah gathered an army and struck down a whole slew of these Ephraimites. The army then proceeded to the fords of the Jordan river leading into Ephraim, because they had not killed enough people that day. Problem is, they couldn't tell if someone passing by was an Ephraimite or an Israelite. They devised a method to distinguish one race from another and solve their little dilemma.
4 Jephthah then called together the men of Gilead and fought against Ephraim. The Gileadites struck them down because the Ephraimites had said, “You Gileadites are renegades from Ephraim and Manasseh.” 5 The Gileadites captured the fords of the Jordan leading to Ephraim, and whenever a survivor of Ephraim said, “Let me cross over,” the men of Gilead asked him, “Are you an Ephraimite?” If he replied, “No,” 6 they said, “All right, say ‘Shibboleth.’” If he said, “Sibboleth,” because he could not pronounce the word correctly, they seized him and killed him at the fords of the Jordan. Forty-two thousand Ephraimites were killed at that time.
- Judges 12:4 - 6
Yes, you read that right. They asked all these people to say one word, and if they couldn't say it, they got the pointy end of the sword sent straight through them. And they killed 42 thousand people just like this. How many people even pass by this river? That was that, and Jephthah went back home, but this time his daughter did not come out to greet him.
In what has to be one of the most anticlimactic ends to a character in the Bible, Jephthah just died six years later. No giant explosion or mountain come to life killed him. Not even a bear or anything. Dude just died.
Probably because nothing could kill him anyway.