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Psychological Healing
in the Catholic Mystic Tradition

Questions and Answers

I don’t understand the story of Jephthah and his daughter. Why did God stop Abraham from sacrificing Isaac but then allow Jephthah to sacrifice his daughter? It doesn’t seem fair.

Outline of the Answer
• Abraham and Isaac
• The Story of Jephthah
• Jephthah’s Psychology
• The Psychology of Jephthah’s Daughter
• A Vow Fulfilled
• The Foreshadowing of Christ’s Sacrifice

When God told Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, God had no intention of allowing the sacrifice to be completed. It was all a test, meant to teach Abraham total trust in God, so as to get the chosen people—Abraham’s descendants—started off on the right foot, so to speak.

The story of Jephthah is, well, a different story.

The Story of Jephthah

The story of Jephthah isn’t very well known to most persons, but it does occur in the readings for the weekday Mass. In fact, it occurred the day before you asked this question.

In this story, Jephthah, on his own initiative, without God’s asking him, made a vow to offer a sacrifice if he were successful in battle. To understand what that vow signified, and what happened as a result of it, let’s examine the underlying psychology of the characters involved.

Jephthah’s Psychology

Jephthah had been born as the illegitimate son of a harlot, and the legitimate members of his family disinherited him. Doing what many persons do when feeling victimized by their families, he acted out his anger through disobedience, taking up the life of a rogue bandit. Harboring a grudge against his family, he held them in no esteem, and when they came to him in need, asking for his help, he said, “Are you not the ones who hated me and drove me from my father’s house? Why do you come to me now, when you are in distress?” (Judges 11:7).

Considering this attitude, we can understand the vow he made. Outwardly making it seem like an act of thanksgiving to God, he really imagined that his vow to offer in sacrifice “whoever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me” would be a perfect opportunity to inflict revenge on his family. He was hoping that the victim of his sacrifice would be a nice “pay back” for his own injuries. Remember, it never entered his mind that this “victim”—this cunning revenge for his having being victimized—would be his own beloved daughter, rather than some despised relative.

Now, speaking of Jephthah’s daughter, let’s look at the psychology of her demise.

The Psychology of Jephthah’s Daughter

On hearing the news of her father’s victory, Jephthah’s daughter made a flamboyant show of triumph with dancing and music—much like sports fans do today when a favorite sports team wins a game. It was this show of vanity that doomed her, for if she had stayed quietly at home giving thanks to God in modesty and humility, things might have been different.

A Vow Fulfilled

In the end, the vow had to be fulfilled. God didn’t let Jephthah off the hook. Why? To make a point about two grave sins: triumph and revenge.

When Jephthah’s daughter mourned her virginity (Judges 11:37), she had to reflect on the fact that she would die childless. She had to lament the fact that her vain show of triumph had denied her father his progeny. And Jephthah had to lament the fact that his desire for revenge had denied him his own progeny. Thus, unlike Abraham’s sacrifice that set his progeny off on the right foot, Jephthah’s sacrifice put an end to his progeny before it got started.

The Foreshadowing of Christ’s Sacrifice

In this story, then, the deep meaning of Christ’s sacrifice is foreshadowed. On the cross, Christ put an end to triumph and revenge, and He left us a Bloodless Sacrifice to sustain us in our journey to our own crosses.

And how sad it is that many so-called Christians today reject the cross as socially irrelevant and blindly send themselves to their own doom by continuing to imitate Jephthah and his daughter in their vanity of triumph and revenge.


Who wrote this web page?


Psychological Healing in the Catholic Mystic Tradition

by Raymond Lloyd Richmond, Ph.D.

A treasure of a resource for psychological and spiritual healing. Information gathered from my websites is now available at your fingertips in book form with a comprehensive index.
Psychological defenses help to protect us from emotional injury, but if you cling to the defense mechanisms that were created in your childhood and carry them on into adulthood—as most everyone does unconsciously—your quest for spiritual healing will be thwarted by overwhelming resentments and conflicts.
Still, God has been trying to show you that there is more to life than resentment and conflict, something so beautiful and desirable that only one thing can resist its pull: hate.
So now, and in every moment until you die, you will have a profound choice between your enslavement to old defenses and the beauty of God. That decision has to come from you. You will go where you desire.

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