Some stories in the Bible really bug me.
For example: the story of Jephthah and his daughter in the 11th Chapter of Judges. Jephthah is chosen by the elders of Gilead to lead their troops into battle against the Ammonites. He makes a vow to the Lord that if God will help him defeat the enemy, he will make a burnt offering of whatever comes out of his door when he returns home. He does win the battle and when he comes home, his daughter, his only child, runs out of the door to greet him.
Suddenly Jephthah’s joy is upturned into mourning because of the vow he made. He tells his daughter he must sacrifice her because of his vow to God, which he feels he cannot break.
The daughter agrees but requests permission to roam in the mountains for two months with her friends to mourn her fate. Upon her return, Jephthah keeps his vow and offers her as a burnt offering to the Lord.
Jephthah believed with all his heart he had to keep this vow or God would be displeased. One thing in the Old Testament, you did NOT want to displease God.
I know I am looking at this story through the eyes of the 21st century, but it still bothers me. I do not believe it was God’s will for Jephthah to sacrifice his daughter. First of all it broke the spirit of the commandment, Thou shalt not kill/murder. (See Exodus 20:13) Second, God had expressly forbidden this practice, “Thou shalt not do so unto the Lord thy God: for every abomination to the Lord, which he hateth, have they done unto their gods; for even their sons and their daughters they have burnt in the fire to their gods.” (Deuteronomy 12:31 KJV)
I am sure Jephthah did not expect his daughter to be the first thing he saw when he got home. But he did not dare to break his oath. My honest question is WHY NOT???
I have heard this story told to show the faithfulness of this man and the beautiful resignation of his daughter. Somehow they are supposed to represent honorable qualities of the heart in the worship of God.
How does doing something that goes against God’s will honor Him?
Jephthah only had a blind, nationalistic faith in God. If he had actually been on speaking terms with God, he would have heard God’s displeasure with his intention to sacrifice his daughter. If he had had a working relationship with God, he could have sought God’s guidance after he saw his daughter come out to greet him.
I understand Jephthah had a sense of duty and honor to keep his vow. Is there any way he could have gotten out of the predicament and saved his honor? What if he had inquired of the Lord if there was a way to save his daughter? There is no mention of him seeking God’s will. He only carried out his own blind faith and human will.
In case you hadn’t noticed, I feel strongly about this story. To me, it’s an object lesson to know God in such a way that you can hear and do His will even if you have promised Him you would do something else.
How does this apply to us today?
Well… have you ever made a bargain with God? How did it end up?
I’ve had friends who have tried to make a deal with God: God if You help me do well on the Chemistry final exam tomorrow (or ______________, fill in the blank with almost anything), I will go to church more often (or _________________). Maybe you should go to church more often whether you do well on the test or not. If you don’t do well on the exam, maybe you need to go to church even more for spiritual support. We should never make what we do conditional on God doing what we think we want Him to do. Surprise, surprise, He might have something even better for us than the deal we want to make with Him. Or you may be barking up the wrong tree altogether.
Bargaining with God is really like trying to manipulate Him to get what you want. Sorry, but that’s not the way it works.
Maybe this is what Jesus was getting at when he said, “ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths: But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God’s throne: Nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King. … let your communication be Yea, yea: Nay, nay.” Let your “Yes” be “Yes” and your “No” be “No.” Keep it simple. (Matthew 5:33-35, 37 KJV)
God knows what you need. He is ready to give it to you. But what we really need is to know God better, to do His will, and to seek first and foremost His kingdom and righteousness. That doesn’t necessarily have a whole lot to do with getting an A on the Chemistry final. Or does it?
If you are really seeking God’s kingdom and earnestly striving to do His will, you will probably have asked for His help all along the way during the Chemistry class and in studying for the test.
A better example
There’s another example in the Bible of a vow made to God – you could call it a bargain – when Hannah promises that if God will give her a baby boy, she will give him to God’s service. When her son Samuel is born and once he is weaned, she takes him to Eli the priest to serve God in the temple. (See I Samuel 1:1-28) What is the difference between Hannah’s vow and Jephthah’s? That’s a good question. I don’t have the perfect answer.
It’s sort of like the question: Why was Able’s offering to God more satisfactory than Cain’s? Both of Adam’s sons offered a sacrifice. Both Hannah and Jephthah sacrificed a child to God. But Hannah didn’t kill Samuel in the process, while Jephthah did kill his daughter.
There is nothing wrong with making a promise to God. But we need to carefully consider the consequences. Sometimes our human emotions and desires go beyond what they should. However, it is never too late to eat a piece of humble pie and ask for God’s guidance and forgiveness. If you have promised something that will cause harm, maybe, just maybe, God doesn’t want you to keep that part of the promise.
God doesn’t want you to bargain with Him. He’s not looking for a business deal. He wants a covenant relationship with you. When you commit yourself to God, He promises to care for you and guide you in all you do. It’s a two-way relationship. God talks to you and you listen. You talk to God and He listens. You get to know Him as He knows Himself, the infinite, divine Love that knows you inside and out and loves you with a love as large as the universe.
This is when it comes down to having a relationship with Him and being able to discern His will. How do we do that? We need to get to know God. The way that works best for me is to ask Him questions, admit that I don’t know the answer, and that I need His help.
If there is some honorable achievement you promise to pursue if God does certain things for you, what would happen if you just go ahead and start toward that goal without trying to make a deal with God. He has already promised to help you. Isn’t that enough?
God has great blessings in store for us. And they will not come without challenges. We yearn for His unconditional love toward us. Is our love and commitment to Him just as unconditional? Let us walk in that direction.
Blessings to you,
P.S. Please share your thoughts in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you.