And Jephthah made a vow to the Lord and said, “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.” So Jephthah crossed over to the Ammonites to fight against them, and the Lord gave them into his hand. And he struck them from Aroer to the neighborhood of Minnith, twenty cities, and as far as Abel-keramim, with a great blow. So the Ammonites were subdued before the people of Israel. 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. 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 11:30-35)
How many decisions have you made in church this past year? The past six months? This past month? Now, how many of those decisions do you remember? Think of all the vows to the Lord that you have made in your christian walk. From the conferences you have attended, to the church services you attend weekly. For many christians the number is immense. We make promise after promise to God, but then we forget. He take a holy vow haphazardly because we make a decision in a fleeting moment. We put our hand up when the pastor asks for a response without even thinking about what we are doing. My friends, this ought to so to be.
The Bible teaches us that vows to the Lord are a serious matter. From the condemnations that King David imposed on himself, to the covenant that Isaiah made to God, we can see that when men in the Bible make a vow to God, God keeps it. The most prominent example of this, I believe, can be found in Judges 11. The story of Jephthah shows explicitly the severity of the vows we make to God. It shows us what happens when man only looks to the present, what happens when man makes a haphazard decision to God, and the consequences of when man forgets the severity and sanctity of vows to God.
The first problem that Jephthah had was that he only concerned himself with the present. Verses 30 and 31 show us that Jephthah plea was for immediate gratification. All he cared about was his present state because he was living in the heat of the moment. He wasn’t concerned with future consequences and the only thing he could think of was the here and now. Isn’t this how we feel in church many times? We hear a message, and we feel pressured to make a decision. Or maybe we hear a message, and our emotions are spoken to and we have a funny feeling and we think that is God speaking to us. We want to affirm our conscience, our inner man, and we make the message mean what we want it to mean. We affirm it, many times, because WE want to affirm it. The band ‘Beautiful Eulogy’ explained this idea well in their song “Symbols and Signs”. “But don’t you find it interesting How most of the time Your self-interpreting seems to coincide With what’s deep inside Your heart’s desires Seems rather convenient, doesn’t it?”
We see Jephthah only looked at the present state he was in, but we also can see that he made a covenant with God haphazardly. It is important to remember that when we, as fallen men, take anything that has to deal with a perfect and holy God in stride, we are walking in dangerous territory. Modern christianity tends to look at God as a happy, kind, almost wimpy pacifist. They over look the God in the Old Testament who crushed his enemies into a bloody mess underneath His feet. They forget that God waged war on his enemies VIOLENTLY because they were unjust. Now, this is the God we make promises too. The same unchangeable, immutable God, is the God we vow too. And we think it’s not a big deal. No, the very fact God revealed ANYTHING about himself to us is a big deal. We take the most powerful being in the world and make half-hearted, in the moment decisions. Friends, God is FAR bigger than being taken in stride. The decisions we make to Him, the covenants that we promise him, need to be taken far more seriously, because our God demands to be taken seriously every time we mention his name.
Jephthah’s mistakes began when he only concerned himself with the present, and they only got worse when he didn’t take his vows to God seriously. In verses 34, we see that Jephthah realized the weight of his mistake. When Jephthah made his vow, we saw in verse 31 that he promised to offer as a burnt offering to the Lord. That offering was the first thing to come out of his house, and to Jephthah’s horror, that was his daughter. We see here that God expects us to follow through with our promises that we make. Even if that promise is difficult. Jephthah knew he couldn’t take his vow back. He says that in verse 35, and he was distraught over it. A haphazard commitment. A decision made in a fleeting moment, changed the course of Jephthah’s and his daughter’s life forever. This brings up another point: many times when we make a vow with the Lord, and He follows through with that vow, it isn’t what we want. Our small human minds don’t understand many times the immensity of what we say. God is faithful to His promises, and God WILL follow through with His promises. Even if following through creates consequences for us.
We can see an application of this in the NT. In Matthew 13:1-23 Jesus gives the parable of the sower and he gives examples that, I believe, apply to our text in judges. Jesus lists out three negative examples and one positive example when it comes to receiving the root of God. He uses three specific instances in regard to sowing, but they all have the same overarching principle. These people heard the word but it didn’t take root in the individuals lives, so the fruit from the seed died out. These people tried to take root in themselves. Jephthah made a vow to the Lord but when he was making that vow, the words he said didn’t take root. He didn’t understand the true meaning of what he said, and that cost him.
Jephthah had consequences for his decision because he made a haphazard decision and only concerned himself with the immediate future. Then, we saw an application of this in the New Testament in the parable of the sower. We hear the word of the Lord many times through out the week, and I’ll be the first one to say that if you don’t actively meditate on the things being said, it is easy for the Bible to lose meaning. From these examples one thing is clear: WE HAVE TO ROOT OURSELVES IN THE WORD OF GOD. Anything less than that and the word won’t grow and you run the risk of becoming apathetic and will forget the severity of God.
When we forget the severity of God in our lives it becomes easy to make whim decisions. You can raise your hand and make a decision to God in church without thinking of the consequences of your decision. The commitments you make to God are a serious matter. If you don’t take them seriously, if you don’t think about what you are doing, you are doing an injustice to yourself. But, even more importantly, you are doing an injustice to the almighty creator of the universe, and that is terrifying.
“If the word of God isn’t speaking to you, it is probably hardening you” -John Piper