We are taking a look at another judge this time (last time was Barak and Deborah). This time we will have a look at Jephthah and his life as he was judge over Israel for six years. The history of Jephthah begins in Judges 10:6 and goes all the way to Judges 12:7 where he dies and is buried in Gilead.
Oh Israel, you never learn. You continue to forsake God and when you do He allows you to be crushed beneath the heel of many enemies (Judges 10:7-9) and then you cry out and God gives you salvation in the form of a Judge. You right yourself and for awhile you walk with God only to forget Him in your hearts and then you fall again. The book of Judges is a clear example of not only the failing of a nation but a showing of how we sin and get comfortable in that sin. Like Israel we get complacent and we forget God in our hearts only to call out to Him during tragedy and need.
Yet every time, God is there showing us the way. Judges is an uncoated display of the forgiveness and patience of the Father who deals with a child consistently testing it’s boundaries and willfully disobeying the words (law) of the Father. This is something any father can understand because our children, like Israel are amazing and loving for a time but they have their spells where there is no way but their own. Dad does not know what he is talking about and he has way too many rules so we are just going to do everything we can to not listen to him. Yet, that is who is called upon when fear or pain sets in and we, despite our displeasure with our children comfort them and love them. There is nothing wrong with that relationship, it is an emulation of our own with God and one of so many reasons we refer to Him as Father.
We know some things about good ol’ Jep thanks to God’s word. He was a Gileadite meaning he came from the land Gilead. He is the product of a forbidden union between his father whose name is actually Gilead and a prostitute. His father’s wife also bore him sons who once old enough drove Jephthah away to the land of Tob. (Judges 11:1-3)
Eventually the elders of Gilead begged for Jephthah to return and help save them from the Ammonites. Jephthah in his anger condemned their actions towards him but he did accept their request. He was raised up above all over Gilead and tried to resolve the war with the Ammonites peaceably. This was refused by the Ammonite king and he continued to attack Israel. (Judges 11:10-27)
We’ve done this, we’ve probably all broken them as well. You get worked up or try to show sincerity by words and you say things like, “I swear to God…” or “I swear on my Grandmother’s grave…” and other forms of vow taking. We do this as a way to show we are being genuine and as a way to illicit a favorable response form whoever we are talking with. We do this as a way to get something we want, “If you do this, I will do this.”
This is the very mistake that Jephthah made. The Spirit of the Lord came on Jephthah (Judges 11:29) and he made a vow to God that if he delivered the Ammonites in to his hands that whatever came out of the door to his home first to meet him would be the Lord’s and that he would sacrifice it as a burnt offering.
God did deliver the Ammonites in to the hands of Jephthah and his army. He subdued twenty towns and then returned triumphantly to his home in Mizpah. As he approached his home his only child, his daughter came from his home to greet him while dancing to the sound of timbrels. Jephthah was devastated and he tore at his clothes. He told his daughter of the vow to God that he could not break.
Despite his misstep for making a vow he really did not need to make, his daughter said that she had only one request. She wanted to go to the hills for two months to weep with her friends. She showed great courage in God’s plans by returning and allow herself to be given up as sacrifice. In a way she was the antithesis to his actions. She did not make a vow to return, she did not try to persuade for better circumstances or plea for her life.
What We Learned
I would like to say that we learn things and not forget but that would be untrue. We must consciously make an effort to remember the things we learn from men in the bible like Jephthah. There are some key things we can learn from this judges tragic mistake;
- You do not need additional assurance from God that He will do what He promises. To ask for more than what He has promised is a failure in faith.
- God is not a bank, you cannot bargain with Him.
- Making rash vows to God can lead to grave consequences.
- Think about the outcomes of your words before they depart your lips.
A Commandment on Vows
One of the things I stressed to Bethany during our dating, our engagement, and will continue to do so in our marriage is that I am a man of my word. What I mean by that is that I will not tell you that I can and will accomplish something you ask of me unless I am certain I can complete the task. Marriage is a sacred vow. It is a serious proclamation of love and devotion that God endorses and allows man and woman to create a covenant with Him. This is why a vow is not a promise and a promise can never reach the importance of a vow.
A promise being not the same and something we often confuse with a vow. It is important to give an example; I can promise that every night until my death I will rub my wife’s feet before bed. There may be mitigating circumstances that force me to break that promise. I could be sick, away on a business trip or even paralyzed.
Understanding that, we can see why Jesus told us in Matthew 5:33-37, “Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ 34 But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.”
The vow of marriage is a specifically God endorsed vow that we are granted to take because it is the symbol of union between man, woman and God. The commandment that Jesus was giving during His sermon on the mount was against the practices that the Pharisees were using to control the people. There were vows being made on the heavens and earth, on the creatures of the sea and the land etc. Yet, none of those vows were truthful. They were being used to sound impressive and to subjugate the people of Israel under the hand of the Pharisees.
In short, if you say yes, mean it and allow it to be sufficient. If you say no, mean it and allow it to hold it’s own weight. You do not have to promise the heavens or the earth. Frankly you can’t. You do not own them, you have no sway over them and you never have. Only God has that authority and if we find ourselves doing that we are putting ourselves on the level of a Pharisee. Repent and allow yes and not to be enough.
Jesus told us it was enough. Jephthah did not take God’s word for what it was and faced dire circumstances because of it.