While reading Judges 11, I reviewed some notes from one of my favorite books of pop analysis on the Bible, James Ferrell’s The Hidden Christ: Beneath the Surface of the Old Testament, where he draws parallels between many figures there and Jesus Christ. Ferrell notes the following about Jephthah, the protagonist of Judges 11:
- He was hated and expelled by his people
- The people turned to him when they were in distress
- When the people turned to him, he became their deliverer
- He subdued the enemy on behalf of the people who had made him head and captain over them
This pattern of comparison with Jesus is clever and valid, but as I read the chapter, I was much more impressed with the character of his unnamed daughter, and the story of her sacrifice. Consider these points of similarity–the sacrificed person:
- Obediently agreed to be a sacrifice in accordance with the plan of their father (Judges 11:30-31, 36)
- Was sacrificed in a way reminiscent of a “burnt offering” (11:31)
- Was sacrificed as part of the salvation and deliverance of Israel (11:32-33, 36)
- Was the “only child” of the father (11:34)
- Was sacrificed despite their loss causing the father great anguish (11:35)
- Was sacrificed to satisfy the demands of justice (11:35)
- Immediately before the sacrifice, solemnly went out from the people to a mountain area with their closest associates (11:37)
- Was morally pure (11:37)
- Inspired the behavior of those who followed (11:39-40)
- Had their sacrifice memorialized in a regular ritual (11:40)
It’s not especially relevant here to debate whether her sacrifice was literal or metaphorical (the LDS Institute manual, however, opts for metaphorical), but either way, her position as a Christ figure is strengthened:
- If her sacrifice were literal–and she died–her symbolism for Jesus is obviously much more graphic. Even Abraham didn’t actually have to kill Isaac!
- If her sacrifice were metaphorical–and she was put in perpetual service in the tabernacle in some way, for example–then her life of selfless, consecrated service still directs us to think of Jesus.
Jephthah’s story certainly has strong elements that remind the reader of Jesus, but I think the lesson is stronger–more focused on the atonement–if he stands in for God the Father, and his loyal, anonymous daughter is a symbol of Jesus Christ.