Judges 11:31 | Burnt Promises
Have you made promises to God? If I win this lottery I promise to serve you all the days of my life. What about the foxhole prayer? Lord get me out of this situation and I will make it right. Be careful dear reader of this kinds of promises because God will hold you to them. Jephthah made a promise like this and it leads us to a controversy. Did Jephthah sacrifice his daughter?
Success and Promises
Jephthah is the son of a prostitute and a scoundrel outcast who has proven to be a strong leader of all the other outcasts and worthless men. The people of Israel find themselves at war and they need a strong leader so they make a deal with Jephthah to give him leadership of Israel in exchange for winning the war. He makes one of those promises to God. Lord if you help me through this tight spot and I win the lottery then I will do something for you.
29 Then the Spirit of the Lord was upon Jephthah, and he passed through Gilead and Manasseh and passed on to Mizpah of Gilead, and from Mizpah of Gilead he passed on to the Ammonites. 30 And Jephthah made a vow to the Lord and said, “If you will give the Ammonites into my hand, 31 then whatever comes out from the doors of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the Ammonites shall be the Lord’s, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering.” Judges 11:29-31 ESV
Promise to Sacrifice… Something?
Before we continue it must be made clear that Jephthah going to war makes a vow to God that if he wins the battle that he will offer a burnt sacrifice to God of “whatever comes out from the doors of my house”. Jephthah is saying that he will sacrifice something of his personally to give honor to God. One assumes that livestock of sheep for example might have been first in his mind. Unfortunately…
34 Then Jephthah came to his home at Mizpah. And behold, his daughter came out to meet him with tambourines and with dances. She was his only child; besides her he had neither son nor daughter. 35 And as soon as he saw her, he tore his clothes and said, “Alas, my daughter! You have brought me very low, and you have become the cause of great trouble to me. For I have opened my mouth to the Lord, and I cannot take back my vow.” Judges 11:34-35 ESV
Unstoppable Force Meets Immovable Object
Jephthah made a promise to God and this promise ends up being that his daughter would be that burnt offering. So, what now? We have a major conflict of moral issues on our hands. A promise made to God that ends up being contrary to our moral being that God has written in our hearts.
Don’t Make Vows or Promises You Can’t Keep
33 “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. Matthew 5:33-37 ESV
Jesus is telling us to not make promises because we are so weak we can’t know if we have the ability to fulfill them. If someone asks me to do something I will tell them “Yes”. Never “promise” to do something because you can’t know if you will be able to fulfill the promise.
Honor and Character are Eternal; This Life is Short
We are all rightly horrified at the idea that Jephthah could have sacrificed his daughter. So what takes priority here her life or the promise he made to God? The obvious answer seems to be her life but let me flip this around for a moment. The vow is a promise by a king to God. God is eternal. His daughter given to him by God is eternal also but her life on earth is temporary. Does this change our mind about the priority?
For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. 2 Corinthians 5:1 ESV
While child sacrifice is an evil from demons his daughter is no unwilling and unaware child. See her response to her father.
36 And she said to him, “My father, you have opened your mouth to the Lord; do to me according to what has gone out of your mouth, now that the Lord has avenged you on your enemies, on the Ammonites.” 37 So she said to her father, “Let this thing be done for me: Judges 11:36-37 ESV
Dangerous Authority of a King
I have written in the past that the authority of the King comes with it the moral authority by God to use the sword. Only the government can kill. Through war and punishment. Japheth technically as the newly appointed leader has the authority to kill his daughter. Her willingness to go along with this death sentence frees up the moral impacts of this heavy promise even more.
God in his providence brings her out of the door setting off the conflict and, in his providence, allows her to yield to the injustice of this death sentence.
Gideon a few generations before Japheth told the people of Israel that he would not be their King. There is only one King and that is God (Judges 8:23). Jephthah wanted to be King and while God allowed him to be victorious and allowed him to be a Judge over Israel; God also through providence tempered those earthly desires to rule.
Don’t Promise Just Live
Dear reader don’t make promises to God or man. Live life the way God has called you. Jephthah did not need to make a promise that ended with his daughter sacrificed. You will fail and you will not be able to keep your “yes” at all times so don’t make a promise.
Jesus boils everything down into one sentence for the disciples that we should love him. Out of that love we will follow through on everything else the best we can.
15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. John 14:15 ESV
Jephthah had ambitions and while he was a leader of a motely crew he honored God the way he lived his life. He raised his daughter to know God. Jephthah for whatever his flaws and whatever pains in this life lived. He is listed in the hall of faith as someone who loved God and kept his commandments.
32 And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— 33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions Hebrews 11:32-33 ESV