In Judges 11:29-40, we read a story about a father who made a foolish vow that affected the life of his daughter. Jephthah was a leader, a judge of Israel. One day he set out to do battle with the sons of Ammon. Instead of simply asking God to show him favor, he makes a vow that he will “offer up to the Lord” the first thing that comes out of his house to greet him if God brings him victory. The text seems to imply he was thinking of a sacrificial animal. God hears Jephthah’s prayer, and gives his enemies into his hand. Imagine his dismay when he returns home and is greeted by his one and only daughter. He realizes his vow will cost her dearly and affect him as well.
Some translations (and biblical scholars) indicate that Jephthah actually sacrificed his daughter as a burnt offering, but we know this cannot be true. God would never accept or approve of child sacrifice; He declares it to be an abomination. The context tells us what happened. Jephthah’s daughter asked for two months to go to the mountains with her friends and “weep because of her virginity.” In other words, because of her father’s vow, she would never marry, but be set apart in devotion and service to the Lord as an unmarried, single woman. She would never know the joy of having her own family, and as Jephthah’s only child, his family line would end. Judges 11:39 is clear: “At the end of two months she returned to her father, who did according to the vow which he had made; and she had no relations with a man.”
The course of Jephthah’s daughter’s life was irrevocably changed because of the actions of her father. We don’t know what happened after this event, but there are only two possibilities. The daughter accepted her fate and decided to embrace this new course of her life, maintaining a forgiving and loving relationship with her father, or she became bitter and broken, angry that her father had done something which to her mind was foolish and unfair.