I’ve been reading through the book of Judges in the Holman CSB recently, and I came to the 11th chapter, the story of Jephthah and his tragic vow. As you may or may not remember, Jephthah was a judge over Israel, and at this point in the story, he is going to go out and fight the Ammonites, but is very concerned about the possibilities for his success, and he makes this vow to the Lord:
“If You will hand over the Ammonites to me, whatever comes out of the doors of my house to greet me when I return in peace from the Ammonites will belong to the LORD, and I will offer it as a burnt offering.” (Judges 11:30b-31 HCSB)
Jephthah then proceeded to go out and beat the living daylights out of the Ammonites, and then he returned home. But who should come out of the door of his house to greet him as he approached, not a pet lamb, not a puppy, not a goat, but … his only daughter!
Of course, we can talk all day about how foolish it was for him to make such a vow, and maybe how foolish it was for him to follow through on it, because as it tells us a few verses later, he did follow through on it, killing her and offering her as a burnt offering to the Lord. How horrifying!
Now, back to the place in the story where Jephthah comes home and is met by his daughter, verses 34-35. The HCSB has it this way:
34 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. 35 When he saw her, he tore his clothes and said, “No! [Not] my daughter! You have devastated me! You have brought great misery on me. I have given my word to the LORD and cannot take [it] back.
You can just feel the anguish! “No! [Not] my daughter!” How could he make a burnt offering of his only daughter? I have three daughters, and it floors me to think that anybody could even think of such a thing!
At any rate, I think the HCSB translators nailed it on this passage. The words in verse 35 are very early, basic Hebrew words; very basic phrases, not complex sentences, much like we might say, “No! Augh! Argh! It can’t be! No God, NO!”
Now compare this with a few other translations, particularly those of the Tyndale tradition:
KJV: “And it came to pass, when he saw her, that he rent his clothes, and said, Alas, my daughter! thou hast brought me very low, and thou art one of them that trouble me: for I have opened my mouth unto the LORD, and I cannot go back.”
NKJV: “And it came to pass, when he saw her, that he tore his clothes, and said, “Alas, my daughter! You have brought me very low! You are among those who trouble me! For I have given my word to the LORD, and I cannot go back on it.”
ESV: “And as soon as he saw her, he tore his clothes and said, “Alas, my daughter! You have brought me very low, and you have become the cause of great trouble to me. For I have opened my mouth to the LORD, and I cannot take back my vow.”
NASB: “When he saw her, he tore his clothes and said, “Alas, my daughter! You have brought me very low, and you are among those who trouble me; for I have given my word to the LORD, and I cannot take it back.”
Even the TNIV: “When he saw her, he tore his clothes and cried, “Oh! My daughter! You have brought me down and I am devastated. I have made a vow to the LORD that I cannot break.”
Maybe that was fine back in the ‘olden” days, but people don’t talk that way now. I think a Jephthah of today would say it just like the HCSB puts it: “No! Not my daughter!”
I don’t think it’s right even in the Message:
“Ah, dearest daughter—I’m dirt. I’m despicable. My heart is torn to shreds. I made a vow to God and I can’t take it back!”
Dr. Peterson even misses on that one. I expected him to nail it, too, but it’s almost like he didn’t understand the situation here.
If you were in Jephthah’s shoes, what would you say? “No! Not my daughter! Not my daughter! Omigod omigod omigod! What am I gonna do?! Not my dear, sweet daughter!”
Yup! The HCSB nailed it!