What does Judges 11:34 mean?
ESV: Then Jephthah came to his home at Mizpah. And behold, his daughter came out to meet him with tambourines and with dances. She was his only child; besides her he had neither son nor daughter.
NIV: When Jephthah returned to his home in Mizpah, who should come out to meet him but his daughter, dancing to the sound of timbrels! She was an only child. Except for her he had neither son nor daughter.
NASB: But Jephthah came to his house at Mizpah, and behold, his daughter was coming out to meet him with tambourines and with dancing. And she was his one and only child; besides her he had no son or daughter.
CSB: When Jephthah went to his home in Mizpah, there was his daughter, coming out to meet him with tambourines and dancing! She was his only child; he had no other son or daughter besides her.
NLT: When Jephthah returned home to Mizpah, his daughter came out to meet him, playing on a tambourine and dancing for joy. She was his one and only child; he had no other sons or daughters.
KJV: And Jephthah came to Mizpeh unto his house, and, behold, his daughter came out to meet him with timbrels and with dances: and she was his only child; beside her he had neither son nor daughter.
NKJV: When Jephthah came to his house at Mizpah, there was his daughter, coming out to meet him with timbrels and dancing; and she was his only child. Besides her he had neither son nor daughter.
Verse Commentary:
Jephthah had offered a foolish vow to God (Judges 11:30–31) in hopes of military success over the Ammonites. This was a victory God clearly already intended to deliver. In exchange for victory and safe return of himself to his home, Jephthah promised an extreme sacrifice. Depending on his exact intentions, this could infer a wide range of meanings. It may imply human sacrifice, animal sacrifice, or being permanently devoted to God's service. Whatever Jephthah intended, he clearly had not planned to include his daughter.

Triumphant following the utter defeat of the Ammonites, Jephthah returns to his house in Mizpah. He was fully aware of his vow to the Lord and probably anxious to see who or what would be required. Rather than a servant, or animal, it is his joyful daughter. She comes out dancing, shaking tambourines, and celebrating his success and return.

The weight of Jephthah's vow grows as we see how happy and full of life his daughter is. It amplifies further when the text notes she is his only child. Jephthah will not take this well (Judges 11:35).
Verse Context:
Judges 11:29–40 begins with God's Spirit coming on Jephthah and empowering him to raise an army from Gilead and Manasseh. Before attacking the Ammonites, Jephthah makes a vow regarding victory in the war. When Israel wins the victory, Jephthah's vow surprisingly binds him to offer his daughter, his only child, as an offering to the Lord. She agrees that her father must follow through on this sacred promise, but she first spends two months grieving that she will not marry or have children. Jephthah fulfills his vow, though scholars have long debated how, exactly, he did so.
Chapter Summary:
A man named Jephthah is driven away from his home in Gilead by jealous brothers. He settles in Tob, where he becomes warrior chief of a criminal band. Gilead's elders later recruit Jephthah to lead the fight against their Ammonite oppressors. After a failed negotiation attempt, Jephthah vows to make a burnt offering to the Lord of whatever comes to meet him if God gives him victory over the Ammonites. Israel thoroughly defeats Ammon, and Jephthah's daughter, his only child, greets him. Jephthah carries out his vow after his daughter grieves never marrying or having children.
Chapter Context:
Judges 11 answers the question raised at the end of the previous chapter: who could lead Gilead's fight against the Ammonites? The elders recruit Jephthah, a warrior driven away by his family in Gilead. Jephthah agrees to return and is appointed leader of Gilead. Jephthah raises an army and makes a foolish vow to the Lord in exchange for victory. Israel defeats Ammon, but Jephthah's vow costs him his only child, his daughter. His victory also creates civil strife in Israel, leading to a minor civil war.
Book Summary:
The Book of Judges describes Israel's history from the death of Joshua to shortly before Israel's first king, Saul. Israel fails to complete God's command to purge the wicked Canaanites from the land (Deuteronomy 7:1–5; 9:4). This results in a centuries-long cycle where Israel falls into sin and is oppressed by local enemies. After each oppression, God sends a civil-military leader, labeled using a Hebrew word loosely translated into English as "judge." These appointed rescuers would free Israel from enemy control and govern for a certain time. After each judge's death, the cycle of sin and oppression begins again. This continues until the people of Israel choose a king, during the ministry of the prophet-and-judge Samuel (1 Samuel 1—7).
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