Jephtah's Foolish Vow

August 18, 2016 0 Comments
Just A Reminder

From now until November, I will be sharing on this blog site excerpts from the book I have written (Strength For Today: A Daily Bible Study Guide) which will be released later this Fall. My hope is that you will get a "preview" of my book, a taste for what is coming, and in the mean time, be blessed by these Bible Studies.

Scripture Text

And Jephthah made a vow to the Lord and said: ‘If you will indeed deliver the people of Ammon into my hands, then it will be that whatever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me when I return in peace shall surely be the Lord’s, and I will offer it up as a burnt offering” (Judges 11:30).

The Outcast Becomes a Rebel Leader

Jephthah is quite an unusual character. Born of a harlot, as an illegitimate son of Gilead, he was rejected by his brothers from receiving any portion of the family inheritance, and driven out of the house. He formed his own vigilante squad of “worthless men” who went out raiding with him. This bitter and angry young man became famous for his fighting skills. When the elders of Israel needed a leader to help them in the war against Ammon, they made an appeal to this outcast rebel for help.

Let's Make a Deal!

It is at this point that Jephthah makes the first of two “deals”, or rash promises, for which he would become famous. He strikes a bargain with the elders of Israel, that if he becomes their captain in battle, and helps them win the war against Ammon, that they would reward him by making him Judge over all Israel. He would go from being a rejected, runaway gang leader in exile to the supreme Leader of Israel! This was his opportunity to reverse a life of bitterness and anger. Not a bad deal.
But it is the second bargain that he makes (this time with God), for which he is best remembered. In order to gain God’s favor, and be victorious in battle, he makes a very foolish vow. He promises God that if the Lord helps him win the impending war, he would offer as a sacrifice the first person who came out to greet him when he returned from battle. Now why Jephthah felt that he had to make this deal with God is not known. Was he superstitious? Was he desperate for fame? Did he think the person to be sacrificed would be a mere household servant, or maybe one of his brothers who had rejected him? Did he think God was impressed by his “zeal”? Or was he just plain foolish?

Vain, Foolish Promises

There are times in life when we want something so bad that we are willing to sell our souls to the Devil himself. As parents, we make so many vain promises to our kids that, even though it doesn’t result in their death, it results in their utter disappointment, again and again. These rash promises undermine our credibility, and only serve to hurt our children when they are not kept. Personally, I think God was ready and willing to give Jephthah the victory in battle without any kind of sacrificial vow. It was totally unnecessary.

You Can't Make "Bargains" With God

People who think they can make “bargains” with God sometimes end up with consequences worse than they ever imagined. You know how the story ends. Much to Jephthah’s dismay, the one who came out to greet him first was his daughter, his only child. She comes out of the door with timbrels, dancing in the street in joy, in celebration of her father’s great victory! But there was no joy in Jephthah’s heart when he saw her. “Alas my daughter, thou hast brought me very low, and thou art one of them that trouble me: for I have opened my mouth to the Lord, and I cannot go back” (verse 35). Yes, he kept his foolish vow. But bad promises that are kept are worse than good promises that are broken.

Summary

Don't make promises to God in order to get what you want. The Lord doesn't negotiate. And don't make hasty promises to your children you're not absolutely sure you can keep. As a Pastor, I have heard some people say: "If God would just do such and such for me, then I will get saved and turn my life over to Him". Salvation is a free gift of God and must be received as such, no strings attached. The songwriter expressed this truth so well: "In my hand no price I bring, simply to Thy Cross I cling!"

Richard Seefried
Harrisonburg, VA
Richard Seefried has a Master’s Degree in Christian Ministry, and is licensed & certified by the NCCA as a clinical pastoral counselor.