“For I desire mercy, not sacrifice”

The Letter vs. the Spirit of the Law
“For I desire mercy, not sacrifice”

I wanted to share my first glimpse into breaking from traditional interpretations of the Bible. My underlying assumption here is that God lays out the Letter of the Law well in the Old Testament, and if you look at Jesus’ testimony, especially in Matthew, Jesus shows that the Spirit of the Law had been in the wording the whole time, but humans saw things differently than God, and tended to interpret things in punitive ways when the option presented itself.

I consider Jesus to the ultimate rules lawyer. In roleplaying or board games, the rules lawyer is the one who, if challenged, will jump into the rulebook, and use any variation in wording to plead his case (I do this all the time by the way lol).

I also acted as an insurance agent for a period of time, which made me familiar with contract law to some extent, most importantly here the concept of a Contract of Adhesion. Paraphrased a Contract of Adhesion is where if one party does not have a chance to change the contract (like with most personal insurance, cell phone contracts, etc), and there is a contract dispute, anything that is unclear goes in favor of the party that did not get a chance to change the contract up front.

My thought here is that the Bible is a contract for life. Not only do we explicitly not get to change it, but we also (as far as I know) didn’t have a choice about signing it.

Additionally, we are not dealing with in imperfect government or profit driven business as the other party here, but with God. In this way, I believe we are far better off than we realize, and that not only will God not go out of the way to hold us to the punitive aspects of the contract, but since the eating of the fruit in Genesis has been looking for any opportunity to save us without violating the letter of the law.
So, with all that, here was what I read and how I saw it.

Judges 11:29-40 (NIV Bible). A story of Jephthah, his daughter, and a careless vow.
The common interpretation here (I’m assuming, and with good reason because it is by far the most obvious in this story), is that he sacrificed his daughter as a burning sacrifice to God.

The first thing I noticed was that in Judge 11:29 “Then the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah.”  Now the most obvious reason was to provide him victory against the Ammonites, but I believe it was also to prevent Jephthah from making a vow that would be entirely unacceptable to God, basically providing a loophole, possibly without the judge even realizing it when he spoke it.   In any event, I can’t imagine The Spirit being mentioned and then while still imbued Jephthah making a vow that was specifically so blasphemous as it appears on the surface.

Judges 11:30-31
“And Jephthah made a vow to the Lord: “If you give the Ammonites into my hands, 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.”

And then in Judges 11:34 his daughter came out to greet him.

What I noticed about this vow is that it is has three parts- first is “If you give the Ammonites into my hands” the second is “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 the third is “and I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering.”

When I looked again I noticed the pronoun mismatch and the two separate agreements made by Jepthah- nothing that would have exited the door to his house to meet him would have been an “it” so what qualifies in this vow as an “it.”  Looking at the middle portion of the vow, both the door of his house, and his house are valid references for “it.”

So, by this logic- his daughter would be dedicated or set aside for the Lord (similar to a nun was my thought), and Jephthah either ended up burning down his house or removing his door and burning that.

Reading on, there is a 2 month period where she got to roam the countryside before the vow was fulfilled, then:

Judges 11:39
“After the two months, she returned to her father and he did to her as he had vowed. And she was a virgin.”

To me, this last line of the section conspicuously omits anything like ‘he burned her,’ etc. In my opinion this further supports the fact that the vow was not what it appeared at first glance, or in the most obvious interpretation.

The last hing I noticed is actually in the beginning of the next chapter.  My thought was that if this interpretation were the case, there should have been some reference to burning of the house (or at least the door of the house).  This is when we see something very interesting.  The men of Ephriam were not happy they had been left out, and responded with a very specific threat.  Judges 12:1 “Why did you go fight the Ammonites without calling us to go with you?  We’re going to burn down your house over your head.”  This portion remained unfulfilled, at least they did not catch Jephthah in the blaze, but they may have done it while he was not inside, that is not stated either way.  In any event, it is an interesting threat, conspicuously interjected directly after the fulfillment of a foolish vow taken while imbued with the Spirit of the Lord, with a seemingly intentionally vague outcome.

So in the end, is this a stretch? Yes, of course it is. Does it violate the Letter of the Law though? Not that I see.

I believe that as long as an interpretation does not violate the Letter of the Law, and supports the Spirit of the Law as presented by Jesus, God will go for it hands down.

Hosea 6:6 “For I desire mercy, not sacrifice” quoted by Jesus twice in Matthew 9:13 and Matthew 12:7.

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~ by songoflove on January 29, 2017.

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