It seemed as if the night didn’t seem to end. The clouds had covered the moon. Heavy rains lashed through the night. Lightning slashed through the dark clouds as thunders ran shivers down the spines of many. The night was never so dark since years. A certain unusual unrest ran through the camp. Not a soul was visible on the streets as the elders of the camp made their presence felt around. People sat in their houses in anxiety fearing uncertain futures. As time passed, minutes seemed to be hours as people eagerly awaited the word. Suddenly, a rustle ran through the forests. A shadow cut through the forests, as a man riding on his horse came towards the camp. The elders girded up their loins and made their hands firm on their swords. As the man approached near, silence chilled the hearts of the elders. He removed his sword and raised it high in the air and cried out with a loud voice,
“Hurrah!! Hurrah!! We’ve won…we’ve won the battle. It’s all over! We’ve won!!! The LORD God of Israel and Jepthath has defeated the Amorites with a great slaughter. Jepthath and his army are now returning back and will be here soon.” The victory cry echoed through the camp. Immediately the trumpets played the music of victory and people came running out of their houses in joy and happiness. The long sting of the night was over. Relief and comfort broke the barriers of anxiety and uncertainty. As celebrations began, the family of Jepthath was getting ready to meet their champion of war.
They weren’t just happy as the others were, their joys knew no bounds. Jepthath had just achieved something which the others dreaded and had proved everyone wrong. Although it was past midnight, the joy of victory echoed through the wilderness. Jepthath’s wife ran to the farm and chose the best of the lambs and got herself preparing a grand feast for her husband. Jepthath’s daughter was planning something very special for her father. She ran to the nearby houses and called all her close friends. Her excitement knew no bounds. They got together and prepared a big welcome ceremony for her father.
Morning dawned. Birds chirped sweet melodies and the cock crowed its familiar tone. The sun shined its first rays of light as the dark clouds gave way to a bright new morning. Preparations were still going on in the camp when suddenly the trumpets sounded. Far away yonder, light shone through the forests. Horses and chariots paved their way through the woods as people marched their way to the camp.
“Here comes Jepthath! Here comes Jepthath!!” the messenger cried out his lungs. A wave of excitement ran through the camp. From the old to the young, all the people gathered themselves together at the entrance of the camp to welcome Jepthath and his army. Jepthath arrived with his army as the elders of the camp greeted them with a great pomp. He got down from his chariot, and gathered the attention of the crowd. He thanked God Jehovah for this great and awesome victory. Then he looked onto the multitudes standing besides him and cried with a loud voice, “Glory to God, we‘ve won the battle” Then the crowd roared in excitement and the shouts of victory echoed through the forests.
Jepthath, now all tired and worn out after the battle, longed for the company of his family. Then he looked around the crowd for his family. But they couldn’t be found. He ordered his chief general to search for his family. While they searched through the crowds, a small girl came running making her way through those hundreds of people and saluted Jepthath. “My lord, my lord, your family awaits your arrival at your home, “she told him as she tried to raise her soft voice over the mad rush of celebrations around her. Jepthath was all surprised to hear that his family didn’t come to meet him with the others. Disturbed, he saddled his horse and went towards his house.
As he arrived close to his house, he saw from afar lights arranged in a rather interesting pattern with the whole street decorated. As he approached closer, he saw a group of young girls and boys dancing in front of his house. A huge crowd of people had already gathered around his house by then. He got down from his horse and walked towards his house. Music got louder, and the celebrations got wilder. These young girls and boys put out a fascinating performance for Jepthath through music and dance. Then as he approached the door of his house, his daughter came dancing out of his house dressed in her best apparel and sang songs and played music on her timbrel.
Jepthath walked towards his daughter to hug her when suddenly his heart skipped a beat. His hands and feet began to shiver and his smile sulked. His joy broke like a jar of clay and despair got hold over him as he stood taken aback. “Alas, Alas…” he cried out walking backwards as if he had seen something terrible. He fell down on the floor and took the mud of the ground and covered himself with it renting his clothes. The whole crowd stood shocked. Music stopped. Not a sound was heard in the camp. His daughter seeing this sight stood speechless. She immediately threw down her timbrels and ran towards him.
Inside in the kitchen, Jepthath’s wife was putting her final touches on the feast that she had prepared for Jepthath. Her heart was overflowing with joy on hearing that Jepthath had arrived home. She just couldn’t wait to see him. While she dressed herself to meet her husband, one of her maids came and told her that something had gone wrong outside. Suddenly her daughter came running home crying and weeping. The beautiful dress that she wore was all muddy and dirty. The timbrels were missing in her hands. Things didn’t at all seem alright. She cried out and told her mother, “Mummy, something terribly has gone wrong. Something has happened to daddy. He’s crying and weeping. He’s even rent his clothes! Come quickly!!” Before she could even finish, her mother ran outside the house. At the doorstep, Jepthath’s wife stood dumbfounded at the sight she saw. She ran towards her husband who lay like a dead man on the ground. She fell down on to the ground and wiped of the mud from his body and tried to lift him up. Her tears covered his body. Then her daughter came towards him crying and weeping.
When Jepthath saw his daughter coming towards him, he got up and started walking away from her. He pulled out all the decorations in anger. He broke the instruments of music. He took the lamps that lit the place and threw it on the ground. No one moved as everyone stood shocked. “No!! No!!...” he cried in dejection. He then walked towards his daughter and caught her on her shoulders and shook her crying, “Why? Why, my daughter, why? Why did you have to do this?” She didn’t know what to say as she was all confused. He then bent down on his knees near the feet of his daughter and looked to the ground and softly said,
“Alas, my daughter! You have brought me very low, and you are one of them that trouble me: for I have opened my mouth unto the LORD, and I cannot go back…” He then lifted his head to the heavens and cried, “I cannot go back!!…” he cried in disappointment, “LORD why did you have to do this? Why? Why only her? My only daughter! Take me instead of her. Why??” He kept beating the ground and throwing mud on his head.
He then took his daughter apart and privately told her, “My daughter, I’m sorry. I know you will never forgive me on this.” He paused and cried. “What is it my father, what is the matter?” she asked him looking worried. He gathered up courage and went to close to her ears and whispered to her, “My daughter, I have vowed a vow before the LORD that I will offer to the LORD as a burnt offering, anything that first comes out of the door of my house. And you were the first one to come out. You my daughter, you!”
She shoved him off her shoulders and stood astounded. She slowly turned her face from him and left him weeping out there running towards her house. She barged in her room banging the door right on the face of her mother who didn’t know anything about the vow and locked herself in her room and started crying loudly for hours and hours together. Soon the whole camp came to know about Jepthath’s vow. The whole camp stood shocked at the whole incident. Celebrations were suspended and silence was observed in the camp.
Evening ushered in sooner than ever. As the sun began to set, Jepthath went over to the top of a mountain and sat there overlooking the sunset. Thoughts ran through his mind. The day of victory turned out to be a day of great loss. His hands shivered as he thought of his vow. Killing his daughter!! He just couldn’t think about it. He cursed himself for making such a foolish vow before the LORD. And now he couldn’t go back on his word. He bowed himself and sat weeping and crying for his daughter. He was completely shattered and broken. No one dared to come close to Jepthath. It was all silence in the camp. Suddenly, a hand came from behind and embraced Jepthath on his shoulder. Jepthath turned behind only to see his daughter standing. She caught his hand and lifted him up and hugged him. As tears flowed, emotions expressed itself through silence and tears. She then bend down on to her knees and told her father,
“Father, my father, if you have opened your mouth unto the LORD, do to me according to that which has proceeded out of your mouth; For the LORD has avenged you of your enemies. The LORD has done so great a thing for you. I am ready for whatever you’ve promised the LORD. But please give me permission that I may go up into the mountains with my friends…” she said broken and crying. “Let me alone for two months for I want to weep with my friends because I will never get to enjoy marriage. I want to bewail my virginity,” she broke out in tears and sat down on the ground weeping. Her father lifted her up and hugged her dearly and told her, “My daughter, you may go. Certainly go.”
Early next morning, she got up and embarked on a journey with her friends to the mountains and bewailed her virginity for two whole months. At the end of two months she returned back home and submitted herself into the hands of her father. She still was a virgin and never had any relationship with any man. Jepthath then performed before the LORD according to his vow. What kind of an agony Jepthath would have gone through while sacrificing his daughter! Indescribable indeed! He sacrificed his love, his only child for a person who loved him greater than anyone. At the same time, the sacrifice of his daughter was unspeakable. She gave herself, willingly, completely to God. Amazing! The whole camp stood amazed at the commitment of Jepthath and the sacrifice of his daughter. Yearly, for four days in a year, they remembered Jepthath’s daughter for her great sacrifice.