IS GOD CRUEL?
An In-Depth Analysis of
God's Apparent Acts of Cruelty in the Bible
One of the most
heart-rending and perplexing stories in the Bible is the story of Jephthah
and his daughter. Jephthah was the son of Gilead and a harlot. His
brothers, sons of Gilead’s wife, drove Jephthah out so as not to share their
inheritance with him. “Then Jephthah fled with from his brothers and dwelt
in the land of Tob; and worthless men banded together with Jephthah and went
out raiding with him” (Judges 11: 3).
later, the children of Ammon
made war against Israel, and so the elders of Israel went to seek out
Jephthah to convince him to come back and lead the army against the
Ammonites. Jephthah accepted the offer and became the leader of the army.
Before the confrontation between the two armies took place, Jephthah made the
now infamous vow: “ If you will indeed deliver the people of Ammon into my
hands, then it will be that whatever comes out of the doors of my house to
meet me, when I return in peace from the people of Ammon, shall surely be
the Lord’s and I will offer it up as a burnt offering”
God delivered Israel
and gave them a great victory and “the people of Ammon were subdued before
the children of Israel” (Judges 11:33). Ecstatic Jephthah returned home
“with timbrel and dancing” but, unfortunately, the first one to welcome him
was his only child. Jephthah was devastated by what he saw and “tore his
clothes” and said to his daughter, “Alas, my daughter! You have brought me
very low! You are among those who trouble me! For I have given my word to
the Lord, and I cannot go back on it” (Judges 11: 35).
reacted with a total spirit of submission. She simply asked her father that
she be allowed to wander on the mountains for two months to “bewail her
virginity” (Judges 11:38). At the end of the two months, “she returned to
her father and he carried out his vow with her which he had vowed” (Judges
God watched the whole
story and did not intervene—a totally perplexing decision. After all, had He
not intervened with Abraham and Isaac? Is God not averse to human
sacrifices? Did God not cleanse the land of Canaan of its inhabitants
because, in large part, they “passed their children through the fire” (That
is, they sacrificed their children to their gods). How could that same God
allow Jephthah to kill his own daughter?
Let’s go back to
Jephthah’s original mistake. Jephthah promised that he would sacrifice
“anything” that would come out to welcome him upon his return. By that he
also included humans—most probably his servants. Could it be that that was
the reason God allowed him to go through his excruciating experience?
Jephthah’s callousness may have deserved a sobering consequence. His
callousness and cruelty toward others ended up rebounding onto himself.
What if God had
intervened? What if God had sent an angel to stop him from his horrific act,
like He did with Abraham?
If He had intervened, we would
have been reassured as to God’s seeming kindness and forgiveness, but what
would have happened to Jephthah? What would have happened within Israel? What
effect would it have had on the multitudes that would have read or heard
about it in Israel?
We can speculate
that if Jephthah would not have been consequenced, he might have remained
hasty and foolish. Israel would have had a written record that God is
somewhat weak and that He forgives foolishness all too easily. God had
wanted Israel to “fear” Him. The carnal nation of Israel was not motivated
by love and gratitude toward God, but by fear. Oaths are promises made before
God, and they must not be made hastily. The book of Deuteronomy emphasizes
the seriousness of making vows to God: “When you make a vow to the Lord your
God, you shall not delay to pay it; for the Lord your God surely will
require it of you, and it would be sin to you” (Deut. 23:21).
If God had intervened, the
seriousness of the event would have been undermined. The fact that oaths
must not be taken lightly would not have been emphasized nor would have the
reality that foolishness has a way repaying us with disastrous consequences.
Therefore, what appears to have been an incomprehensible act of callousness
on God’s part once again shows much wisdom and justice, as do all of His
IS GOD CRUEL?
Michael Caputo, 2013
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