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Judges 11:31

ESV then whatever comes out from the doors of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the Ammonites shall be the LORD’s, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering.”
NIV 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.'
NASB then whatever comes out the doors of my house to meet me when I return safely from the sons of Ammon, it shall be the Lord’S, and I will offer it up as a burnt offering.'
CSB whoever comes out the doors of my house to greet me when I return safely from the Ammonites will belong to the Lord, and I will offer that person as a burnt offering."
NLT I will give to the Lord whatever comes out of my house to meet me when I return in triumph. I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering.'
KJV Then it shall be, that whatsoever cometh forth of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the children of Ammon, shall surely be the LORD'S, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering.

What does Judges 11:31 mean?

This verse, and its relationship to Judges 11:39, are among the most debated phrases in all of Scripture.

Jephthah is making a vow—a solemn, serious promise to God (Numbers 30:1–2)—which will eventually bring him enormous pain. Some commentators suggest Jephthah made this vow carelessly, in a moment of insecurity or fear about impending battles with the Ammonites (Judges 11:4, 28). Others point out that Jephthah seems to be a natural negotiator. He carefully approached the leaders of Gilead about their offer to become their leader (Judges 11:5–11). He attempted to reason with the king of Ammon before going to battle (Judges 11:12–15). Now he seems to bargain with the Lord; or, as some see it, he attempts to manipulate a victory from God.

What Jephthah asks for is twofold: the defeat of the Ammonites and to return from the war to his own home in peace. What he vows in return is described using phrasing which can be interpreted in several ways. He refers to either a person or a thing. He does not specify "the first thing" but simply indicates "whatever / whoever." Those things or persons will belong to the Lord; either "as" a burnt offering, or "like" a burnt offering.

Virtually all commentators agree Jephthah's vow is foolish, though some believe he was speaking out of deep piety and conviction. Where most disagreement comes regards his intent. Did he imagine an animal coming out to meet him? Was he planning on a human sacrifice? Did he mean to commit a person to the Lord completely, "as if" they were a burnt offering?

Arguments abound for almost every possible combination of these views. Israel had, in fact, been serving all the gods of the region. They may have been practicing human sacrifice before repenting and serving the Lord once more (Judges 10:10–16). God's law strictly forbade human sacrifice of any kind (Deuteronomy 12:31; 18:10). Yet Jephthah clearly hadn't lived in close devotion to God's law: until recently, he led bandits in the land of Tob (Judges 11:1–3).

It is at least possible Jephthah intended to offer to God a human sacrifice, perhaps of a servant. He may have wrongly imagined God would be pleased with this offer and would grant victory over the Ammonites. It's also possible Jephthah knew that many people and animals would come from his household to meet him when he came back in victory and planned to devote some or all of those to God in some way.

God's strong distaste for human sacrifice and Jephthah's sincerity of faith—flawed as it was—strongly reduce the likelihood that he deliberately planned to kill someone for this vow. Most likely, his intent was to entirely devote something to God, either by animal sacrifice or personal dedication.

As it happens, Jephthah will obtain victory, then face the consequences of this ill-advised promise to God.
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