Jephthah has agreed to fight the Lord’s battle against the Ammonites for Israel. I think he is confident in his heart of a victory but he offers an “incentive” to the Lord. A promise he will regret making for the rest of his life.
Jephthah’s promise reminds me of the promises we often make to God. The desperate promise. “God, if You will just save me from this I PROMISE to go to church EVERY week!” “If You will get me to the gas station I promise to witness to the attendant!” Promises that we think will win God’s favor and cause Him to act, “according to OUR will”, on our behalf.
I wonder what was going through Jephthah’s mind as he made this promise. Did he have a dog or a goat that always ran to meet him when he came home? Did non-human things regularly come out of his house to greet him? Didn’t he consider that a person might come from his doorway? Was he hoping or expecting a specific person to be the first one out? Was it a thinly veiled excuse to get rid of someone specific? WHAT WAS HE THINKING!?!?
I KNOW that God does NOT sanction human sacrifice. There are two people in the bible that were asked for as a sacrifice. The first was Isaac and the second was Jesus. Both times it was their father/Father who offered them up. With Isaac, God had requested this task of Abraham as proof of his faith but God stopped the sacrifice as the knife was raised in obedience. With Jesus, He gave up His life at His Father’s request but it was not given in the form of a burnt offering. God HATED the sacrifice of children to the false gods! So why was this sacrifice allowed?
When Jephthah was communicating back and forth with the Ammonite king he made statements that set this whole predicament in motion. The first is: “Will you not possess what Chemosh your god gives you to possess? And all that the Lord our God has dispossessed before us, we will possess” (verse 24). The second is: “The Lord, the Judge, decide this day between the people of Israel and the people of Ammon” (verse 27b).
These statements made by Jephthah draw a line between the gods of the Ammonites and the God of Israel. God will be defending His name and authority in this battle. He will NOT back down from this fight, even when the man He chooses as His champion makes an EXTREMELY painful blunder. God had already committed to win this battle. He needed no more “incentives” to persuade Him to act on Israel’s behalf.
Why didn’t God shut Jephthah’s mouth? Why didn’t He pull him from the battle? At the very least, why didn’t He tell him that it was alright for him to go back on his promise?
When God created us He gave us free will. He allows us to determine our direction. If He didn’t, we never would have had sin in the first place. We are not toys that God is playing with in some cosmic game. We have the ability and responsibility to make our own decisions, no matter how bad they may turn out to be. Jephthah had EVERY RIGHT to make this promise, no matter what he thought might come through his door.
So that is why he was allowed to make this promise but why did he have to keep it? In Israel there was no higher promise than one made to the Lord. Promising something to the Lord, in private or before witnesses was binding. I’m betting that Jephthah had witnesses to his promise. I’m also betting that those witnesses were around when the conditions for the promise came to pass. He was the new leader of all Gilead and his word had to stand for something. If he didn’t honor his promises to the Lord then NOTHING he said would carry any weight. He would be a dishonest and dishonorable man.
Our words carry weight. If you make a promise, you NEED to keep it. Sometimes other things get in the way that prevent you from keeping your promises, but as much as it is within your power to do so, honor your words.
Jephthah had a way out for his promise. IF his daughter had refused his authority over her and run away he would have had no way to fulfill his promise. Because his daughter recognized his promise to the Lord as vital, she submitted herself to his hands. Any time, beginning with her father telling her of his promise to the completion of her two month reprieve, she could have removed herself from his reach. She had as much to do with Jephthah keeping his promise as he did. “No one takes my life, I give it willingly.”
As odious as this promise was, Jephthah, his daughter AND her mother honored it. I don’t doubt that it changed Jephthah’s relationship forever with his wife. I would expect Jephthah’s own life was altered in a profound way too. We will read next time that he only ruled for six years before he died. I wonder if the death of his daughter is what robbed him of a long life.
Bottom line is words have consequences. “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:36-37). “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits” (Proverbs 18:21). “Do you see a man who is hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him” (Proverbs 29:20).
Father God, I want to be a woman of my word. I want to also watch my words so I don’t wind up in a desperate place like Jephthah did. Please put a guard over my mouth! Please put a guard over my hands too as they function as my mouth for You. Guard my heart as I share Your words. Let my words and the meditation of my heart be pleasing unto You. Let me not be afraid to speak Your truths in love too, even if those words are not popular with everyone who may come across them.