Today we begin by examining the third type of Peace Offering of a vow, this being the “vow of destruction” (the Hebrew [חֵרֶם, cherem], or Greek [ἀνάθεμα, anathema]). Where have I heard the word ἀνάθεμα (anathema) before? Oh yeah. 1st Corinthians 16:22 (KJV)—If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be ἀνάθεμα (anathema). Paul uses it in a couple other verses (although translated into English rather than transliterated from the Greek). Galatians 1:8-9—8 But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed (ἀνάθεμα (anathema)). 9 As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed (ἀνάθεμα (anathema)). Let him be devoted to destruction. We read about things being declared חֵרֶם (cherem) in Joshua 6. The things dedicated to חֵרֶם (cherem) were, of course, those things in the city of Jericho that the LORD commanded them to destroy. Joshua, son of Nun, makes this warning very clear to all within the sound of his voice when he declares in Joshua 6:16-18—16 And it came to pass at the seventh time, when the priests blew with the trumpets, Joshua said unto the people, “Shout; for the LORD hath given you the city. 17 And the city shall be accursed (חֵרֶם (cherem)), even it, and all that are therein, to the LORD: only Rahab the harlot shall live, she and all that are with her in the house, because she hid the messengers that we sent. 18 And ye, in any wise keep yourselves from the accursed thing (חֵרֶם (cherem)), lest ye make yourselves accursed, when ye take of the accursed thing חֵרֶם (cherem), and make the camp of Israel a curse (חֵרֶם (cherem)), and trouble it.” Anything that was devoted to destruction for the glory of God was to be destroyed. Not just for grins and giggles, but so that all things which call themselves “God” (which are not God) may be obliterated and the true God be magnified.
A person could put under the חֵרֶם (cherem) either land, or beasts, or even people. Leviticus 27 is the first place we read about putting something (or someone) under חֵרֶם (cherem). In Leviticus 27:16-21—“‘16 If a man dedicates to the LORD part of a field of his possession, then your valuation shall be according to the seed for it…17 If he dedicates his field from the Year of Jubilee, according to your valuation it shall stand. 18 But if he dedicates his field after the Jubilee, then the priest shall reckon to him the money due according to the years that remain till the Year of Jubilee, and it shall be deducted from your valuation. 19 And if he who dedicates the field ever wishes to redeem it, then he must add one-fifth of the money of your valuation to it, and it shall belong to him. 20 But if he does not want to redeem the field, or if he has sold the field to another man, it shall not be redeemed anymore; 21 but the field, when it is released in the Jubilee, shall be holy to the LORD, as a devoted field; it shall be the possession of the priest.’” To make it simple: if you declare a portion of your field to be חֵרֶם (cherem) during the year of Jubilee, you get 50 shekels. For every year after that, they knock a shekel off the price. Let’s say you declare a piece of land חֵרֶם (cherem) 7 years after the last Jubilee. If you want it back, you have to redeem it by paying back what you received, plus one-fifth. Now, if you declare it חֵרֶם (cherem) and you get your 43 shekels, and then you turn and sell that land to someone who is not of your tribe—it’s gone. And even closer to our point here, if you declare that piece of land חֵרֶם (cherem), and the next Jubilee rolls around, and you haven’t redeemed it—tough luck, Lucy. It belongs to the priests. It is חֵרֶם (cherem) to YHVH. Period, paragraph.
Then, we read a little something that makes us pause. Leviticus 27:28-29—“‘28 Nevertheless no devoted offering that a man may devote to the LORD of all that he has, both man and beast, or the field of his possession, shall be sold or redeemed; every devoted offering is most holy to the LORD. 29 No person under the ban, who may become doomed to destruction among men, shall be redeemed, but shall surely be put to death.’” You could dedicate animals to the חֵרֶם (cherem), obviously. And once you declare that animal חֵרֶם (cherem) you could not redeem it. You dedicated it to destruction for the glory of God—it’s over, you don’t get it back. But the really odd thing here is you could dedicate people to the חֵרֶם (cherem). One could dedicate another person to destruction. That sounds bizarre to us. That sounds cruel and inhumane. BUT—let’s think about this, and not just rashly write this off as some insane addition that some corrupt scribe inserted here. For the most glaring example of rashly assigning one to חֵרֶם (cherem), we look at Jephthah. Judges 11:29-33—29 Then the Spirit of the LORD came upon Jephthah, and he passed through Gilead and Manasseh, and passed through Mizpah of Gilead; and from Mizpah of Gilead he advanced toward the people of Ammon. 30 And Jephthah made a vow to the LORD, and said, "If You will indeed deliver the people of Ammon into my hands, 31 then it will be that whatever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the people of Ammon, shall surely be the LORD's, and I will offer it up as a burnt offering." 32 So Jephthah advanced toward the people of Ammon to fight against them, and the LORD delivered them into his hands. 33 And he defeated them from Aroer as far as Minnith—twenty cities—and to Abel Keramim, with a very great slaughter. Thus the people of Ammon were subdued before the children of Israel. Sounds great, yeah? Good news, Jephthah led the people of Israel to a mighty victory. And as a Peace Offering, he makes a vow of חֵרֶם (cherem) of the first living thing that comes out of his house to greet him at home!
Not so fast. What was the first living thing to greet him when he got home? Judges 11:34-39—34 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. 35 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"…39 And it was so at the end of two months that she returned to her father, and he carried out his vow with her which he had vowed. What happened here? Well, this is one place where we must depart from the traditional translations. In verse 31, when Jephthah makes this fateful vow, what we have read had been the traditional rendering. However, it may not actually be accurate. At the risk of sounding like I have this notion that I have somehow solved one of the greatest difficulties in Scripture—one which the most learned of men have wrestled with for years—after pouring over much material, I must come to the conclusion that what happened here was NOT that Jephthah promised to take the first human that came out the door to greet him, take that person to the priest and have the priest kill, cut up, and burn that person. Let’s talk about this a moment.
If Jephthah had promised to offer the first person out the door as a Burnt Offering on YHVH’s altar, and if YHVH had held Jephthah to that vow—then any Israelite could put any other Israelite under חֵרֶם (cherem), and there would be all kinds of human sacrifice going on, and they would be no different form the pagans who worshipped Molech. Keil and Delitzsch—
“…the law concerning the ban and a vow of the ban [חֵרֶם (cherem)] could not possibly give any individual Israelite the right to ban [חֵרֶם (cherem)] either his own child or one of his household to the Lord, without opening a very wide door to the crime of murder. The infliction of the ban [חֵרֶם (cherem)] upon any man presupposed notorious wickedness, so that burnt-offering and ban [חֵרֶם (cherem)] were diametrically opposed the one to the other.”
So, what was the vow that Jephthah vowed? Well, Dr. William Hales, a Hebrew scholar from the 1800’s, interprets it thus:
“When Jephthah went forth to battle against the Ammonites, he vowed a vow unto the Lord, and said, ‘If thou wilt surely give the children of Ammon into my hand, then it shall be that whatsoever cometh out of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the children of Ammon, shall either be the Lord’s, or I will offer it up (for) a burnt-offering.’ According to this rendering of the two conjunctions…the vow consisted of two parts: 1. That what person soever met him should be the Lord’s or be dedicated to his service; and, 2. That what beast soever met him, if clean, should be offered up for a burnt-offering unto the Lord. This rendering and this interpretation is warranted by the Levitical law about vows.
“The נדר (neder), or vow, in general, included either persons, beasts, or things dedicated to the Lord for pious uses; which, if it was a simple vow, was redeemable at certain prices, if the person repented of his vow, and wished to commute it for money, according to the age or sex of the person (see Leviticus 27:1-8): this was a wise regulation to remedy rash vows. But if the vow was accompanied with חֵרֶם (cherem), devotement, it was irredeemable, as in the following case, Leviticus 27:28—‘“Notwithstanding, no devotement which a man shall devote unto the Lord, (either) of man, or beast, or of land of his own property, shall be sold or redeemed. Every thing devoted is most holy to the Lord”’
“…there are three distinct subjects of devotement to be applied to distinct uses: the man to be dedicated to the service of the Lord, as Samuel by his mother Hannah (see 1st Samuel 1:11); the cattle, if clean, such as oxen, sheep, goats, turtle-doves, or pigeons, to be sacrificed; and if unclean, as camels, horses, asses, to be employed for carrying burdens in the service of the tabernacle or temple; and the lands, to be sacred property.
“This law therefore expressly applied…to Jephthah’s case, who had devoted his daughter to the Lord, or opened his mouth to the Lord, and therefore could not go back…she was, therefore necessarily devoted, but with her own consent to perpetual virginity in the service of the tabernacle, and such service was customary, for in the division of the spoils taken in the first Midianitish war, of the whole number of captive virgins the Lord’s tribute was thirty-two persons (see Numbers 31:15-40). This instance appears to be decisive of the nature of her devotement.”
To summarize, although Jephthah did indeed offer his daughter to YHVH as an עֹלָה (olah), he did not necessarily devote her to destruction as a חֵרֶם (cherem). Therefore, she need not be slaughtered a bloody עֹלָה (olah), but she was presented, as Paul encourages us to present ourselves, as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God (Romans 12:1). And indeed, Adam Clarke bolsters this argument by quoting the great Hebrew scholar of the 1600’s, Charles Francois Houbigant on the last verses in this chapter, Judges 11:39-40, which have come to us as reading, And it became a custom in Israel that the daughters of Israel went four days each year to lament the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite. Monsieur Houbigant rather renders it thus: “But this custom prevailed in Israel that the virgins of Israel went at different times, four days in the year, to the daughter of Jephthah, that they might comfort her.” Mister Clarke concludes from this rendering (and, I believe, rightly so), that, “This verse also gives evidence that the daughter of Jephthah was not sacrificed: nor does it appear that the custom or statute referred to here lasted after the death of Jephthah’s daughter.” Many, many years later, Solomon would warn us about making hasty vows in Ecclesiastes 5:2-5—2 Do not be rash with your mouth, And let not your heart utter anything hastily before God. For God is in heaven, and you on earth; Therefore let your words be few…4 When you make a vow to God, do not delay to pay it; For He has no pleasure in fools. Pay what you have vowed—5 Better not to vow than to vow and not pay.
So that covers the Peace Offerings (שֶׁלֶם (shelem)) “of a vow”—the vow of devotion, the vow of abstinence (קָרְבָּן (qorban)), and the vow of destruction (חֵרֶם (cherem)). Next week we will turn our attention to the “voluntary” (or “freewill”) offering.