When I began this series, I didn’t want to do any “don’t be like them” posts but then I ran across Jephthah’s story. As I read the tragic tale we discuss today, I noticed something that he did that I’m sure we all do – a habit God is inviting us to break.
For many years I wanted to be a lawyer. I’m pretty good at arguing, I rarely back down from something I’m passionate about, and love doing research – it seemed like the perfect profession for me!
Whether we know everything about the law or nothing about it, I feel like sometimes we take on the role of a lawyer in the courtroom of God. He’s cleared the chambers and it’s just you sitting there as your own lawyer, pleading your case before him. As you’re talking about your situation, begging and pleading for things to go your way, suddenly you begin to panic, wondering if he’s listening to you at all. Maybe he’s dozed off with his eyes open or he’s daydreaming about what he’s going to have for lunch. Your mind begins to race as you try to conjure up something that will regain his attention. Then a simple phrase slips out of your mouth: “If you’ll do ________, then I’ll __________.”
Have you ever made one of those “bargains” with God?
In the Bible, Jephthah makes arguably the most tragic vow in the entire Bible. He’s leading the Israelites into battle against the Ammonites and makes this promise to God:
“If you will give the Ammonites into my hand, 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 11:30-31
I have so many questions for this guy, namely: why was that your choice? Followed quickly by “who did you think was going to come out of the house?”
The story goes on, Israel defeats the Ammonites and Jephthah returns home, anxiously waiting to see who comes out of the door.
“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. 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
How heart-wrenching!! I don’t have children so I can’t begin to fathom the horror that struck him upon seeing his daughter’s face and the pain that flooded his body as his heart was torn in pieces. The wave of regret and shame and anger that must’ve washed over him was, I imagine, unbearable. This man had made a tragic mistake.
I think there are so many valuable lessons contained in this incredibly horrible story. Namely, God doesn’t need our bargains or our deals or our quid pro quo agreements. God’s plan was to give the Ammonites into the hand of Israel, he didn’t need Jephthah’s rash vow – he didn’t and doesn’t desire human sacrifice!
I don’t want to focus on the vow that Jephthah made, but the heart behind it. His actions reveal that he didn’t believe that God was good or that God was going to give Israel the victory he had promised. Jephthah’s doubt and misconceptions about the Lord led to a horrible tragedy taking place. I wonder what would’ve happened if Jephthah had taken a moment to examine his heart and motives before the vow left his lips.
This story leads me to examine what I believe about God. Do my actions show that he is an angry dictator who wants to take things from me? Do I live like God is out to ruin my fun through rules and regulations? Do I focus more on following a behavior modification plan or on the relationship Jesus has secured?
I encourage you to take some time today to examine what your actions reveal about how you view God. Do you respond in fear to him? Do you respond with works? Do you respond with faith? Some combination of the three? Or something completely different? The Lord loves you and wants a relationship with you – just you, not what you can give to him or do for him, just you. Let’s boldly approach the throne of grace today!
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