Courageous Faith Series
Keeping Your Promises:
“Even When It Costs You!” – Jephthah
23 February 2020
Let’s remember that we seek to follow the Divine Promiser and His promise which transforms ordinary people into “children of promise” (Gal. 4:28). It is God’s promise which encourages our hearts and lifts our souls. His promise keeps us going when the going gets tough.
So far in our series on Courageous faith we have discussed Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, Daniel and now Jephthah.
Everybody wants to be loved. By nature, people crave acceptance, and they fear rejection. Nobody wants to be rejected. In fact, some people spend an entire lifetime in the pursuit of acceptance. They seek it in business, academics, athletics, and romance. Some people are so hungry for love and acceptance that they will pay any price to get it.
Others have been rejected so often that they have given up. They just settle for rejection as a normal part of life. Unfortunately, many times they reinforce their rejection through depressed behavior patterns such as drug or alcohol abuse.
The book of Judges (chapters 10-12) include a strange story of acceptance and rejection. It, too, is set in a time when the promise seemed to be fading. It is a story about keeping your promises and not breaking your vows. It’s the story of Jephthah the Gileadite – a most unusual hero.
The Bible says in Judges 11:1, “Now Jephthah the Gileadite was a mighty man of valor, but he was the son of a harlot; and Gilead begot Jephthah.” Needless to say, this illegitimate son was not exactly the family favorite. In fact, Gilead’s other sons expelled him from the family.
Hurt by their rejection, Jephthah fled to the land of Tob, on the edge of the wilderness. There he gathered a band of rogues and rebels around him. He survived, but not without the pain of rejection in his heart.
After a while, the Ammonites from the Transjordan attacked the communities in the district of Gilead. And the family sent for Jephthah to come rescue them. What audacity! What hypocrisy! What desperation! His own relatives threw him out, and now they wanted him to come back and defend them.
Rejection may be understandable, but it does have a way of toughening us to deal with the realities of life. Just as the human body develops immunities to resist disease, likewise our personality develops skills to resist rejection. We can,
1. Avoid it
2. Attack it
3. Deny it
4. Compensate for it.
Jephthah had become an expert at compensation. He had developed a barrier that would not allow anyone or anything to penetrate. He had become a “mighty warrior.” He could take your head off and never flinch. But down inside, his heart longed for acceptance.
Nothing Like a Crisis to Pull Things Together
The Ammonite invasion was just what Jephthah needed – a chance to reconcile with his relatives, an opportunity to be restored to leadership and prominence. In Judges 11:6 we read, “Then they said to Jephthah, "Come and be our commander, that we may fight against the people of Ammon.” Listen to what Jephthah says to them in Judges 11:7, “So Jephthah said to the elders of Gilead, "Did you not hate me, and expel me from my father's house? Why have you come to me now when you are in distress?" With this response they promised to make him their captain and put him over all the cities of Gilead. Jephthah accepted their offer. Necessity is not only the “mother of invention,” it is also often the “mother of acceptance.” Nevertheless, the threat of a common enemy drew them all together.
Jephthah had a heart for God despite his background as the illegitimate son of a prostitute, a desert bandit, and a social outcast. And yet, he was a person of great faith in God.
Perhaps the rejection Jephthah felt had driven him closer to God. He may have turned to the Lord as the only One who would accept him. People can feel rejected for a variety of reasons:
1. Personal rejection (“You don’t want me.”)
2. Social rejection (“Nobody wants me”)
3. Conditional love (“You only love me if…”)
4. Deprivation of love (“You don’t love me”)
5. Divorce (“You left me”)
6. Desertion (“You left us all”)
7. Dysfunction (“You don’t understand me”)
8. Abuse (“You hurt me”)
9. Insecurity (“I don’t like myself”)
10. Death (“You’re not here for me”)
Jephthah may well have had to deal with several of these factors. Like many of the other judges of this period, he had to overcome great personal limitations and difficulties. It is clear, however, that somewhere along the line, he had made peace with God over these issues.
In order to overcome rejection, we must come to grips with certain key factors in our lives. We must:
1. Accept God’s love for us
2. Stop blaming ourselves
3. Stop blaming others
4. Start living like a new person
Most of us have to learn to deal with rejection sooner or later. You may have to overcome rejection from your own father, mother, family, or friends. While your life may be shaped by that rejection, it does not have to be limited by it. You can learn to overcome it. In fact, you can even become a better person because of it.
Can’t We Work This Out?
Jephthah tried to settle things with peaceful negotiations, but it didn’t work. He sent a message to the Ammonite king asking why he was invading their land. The king insisted that the land belonged to the Ammonites and that the Israelites took it from them in the conquest under Joshua.
“Wait a minute,” Jephthah implied. “we never fought you over this land. We took it from other people. Besides, we’ve been here for over three hundred years. Why haven’t you raised this issue before?”
It didn’t make sense, but then again, it didn’t have to make sense. It’s that same centuries – old argument over who owned the land – Jews or Arabs. Negotiations didn’t work much better then than they do now.
Finally, Jephthah took his case to God in Judges 11:27 he says, “Therefore I have not sinned against you, but you wronged me by fighting against me. May the LORD, the Judge, render judgment this day between the children of Israel and the people of Ammon.'”
This was an unusual appeal. It recognized then that God alone is sovereign over the land. Biblically speaking, He is the landlord and the people are His tenants. It also emphasizes that God can give the land to whomever He chooses. So on this basis, Jephthah appealed to God to settle the issue. After all, He was and still is the ultimate judge.
Unfortunately, the Ammonite king rejected Jephthah’s appeal, and he continued to advance toward the Israelites. The Jews and “Jordanians” were preparing to face off.
Then it happened, just like it did to Gideon for Judges 11:29 says, “Then the Spirit of the LORD came upon Jephthah, and he passed through Gilead and Manasseh, and passed through Mizpah of Gilead; and from Mizpah of Gilead he advanced toward the people of Ammon.” Jephthah rallied a great army and crossed Gilead and Manasseh to meet the enemy at Mizpah. En route to the battle he made a solemn vow to God in Judges 11:30, 31, “And Jephthah made a vow to the LORD, and said, "If You will indeed deliver the people of Ammon into my hands, 31 "then it will be that whatever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the people of Ammon, shall surely be the LORD'S, and I will offer it up as a burnt offering."”
A vow was a solemn promise to God. The Hebrew term nadir conveys the idea of a consecration to God, meaning a serious commitment or pledge. It represented not only a person’s work, but also his character. Such vows were not to be made or taken lightly. Psalm 50:14 says, “Offer to God thanksgiving, And pay your vows to the Most High.”
In the New Testament, Jesus reminds us to speak the truth when we take an oath or make a vow in Matthew 5:37, “But let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No.' For whatever is more than these is from the evil one.” The keeping of one’s word was viewed as a serious matter. It meant keeping of a covenant and, ultimately, the honor of one’s character.
Jephtah’s vow was certainly made in all sincerity. And he did, in fact, win a great triumph over the Ammonites. He returned home in triumph as Israel’s great hero, lauded by his neighbors and welcomed by the excited throng.
But when Jephthah reached his house, to his utter dismay, his own daughter ran out to meet him dancing and playing a tambourine (Judges 11:34). It wasn’t a sheep or a goat, it was his only child! He had promised to sacrifice her to God as a burnt offering!
Now what would he do?
Many new believers make the mistake of overcommitting themselves. They are so excited about their new life in Christ that they want to experience everything they can. So they volunteer for every job in the church. The problem is, they often do so at the expense of their families.
Keeping Your Word
Jephthah’s vow was made in good faith. The question is, What did it involve? One view is that he promised to sacrifice whatever came out of his house as a burnt offering to God. In those days, animals were often kept in the house: a sheep, a goat, or a cow (which happen to be appropriate sacrifices). A dog, a cat, or even a mouse could have come running out of his house as well. Those animals would not have been appropriate sacrifices to God.
That is why some translators prefer to translate the passage: “Whatever comes out of my house…will be the Lord’s or I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering.” The original Hebrew allows for either translation. That way if what comes out of the house is not appropriate for sacrifice, it can be dedicated to God’s service.
For example, in biblical times, animals not suitable for sacrifice could be given to the priest and sold. The proceeds would then go to the temple. Leviticus 27 gives various amounts to be paid for the redemption of persons who had been vowed to the Lord or animals that had been dedicated to the Tabernacle.
The issue at stake over Jephthah’s vow is whether he actually slew his own daughter and offered her as a burnt sacrifice to God. Commentaries on this passage are equally divided over whether he did or did not actually kill her.
Notice what the text itself says about what happened:
1. He was brokenhearted over the vow (verse 35)
2. His daughter accepted it: “Do to me just as you promised” (Verse 36)
3. She asked for a two-month delay to weep because “She would never marry” (verse 37)
4. He later fulfilled the vow: “He did to her as he had vowed” (verse 39).
The Bible does not actually say that he sacrificed her. It says only that he kept his promise to the Lord. Now it is often suggested that Jephthah was a rogue, the son of a harlot, and a man of war. Therefore, it is implied that he could have killed her.
However, consider the reasons why he would not have killed her:
1. Child sacrifice was forbidden by the Law of Moses (Leviticus 20:2-5; Deuteronomy 18:10).
2. Child killers are universally condemned in Scripture: king of Moab (2 Kings 3:26, 27), Ahaz (2 Chronicles 28:3), Manasseh (2 Kings 21:6), and Herod (Matt. 2:16).
3. Jephthah had just defeated the Ammorites, who were notorious for child sacrifice to the gods Molech and Chemosh.
4. God would not let Abraham sacrifice Isaac to Him (Gen. 22:12)
5. Jephthah is described as being filled with the Holy Spirit (Judges 11:29).
6. The daughter eagerly accepted the consequences of the vow – perpetual virginity (not death).
7. The Israelites commemorated this vow every year as an annual practice (Judges 11:40). It is highly unlikely they would have celebrated a wong or sinful decision.
Baby Dedication is Serious Business
Dedicating a child to the Lord’s service was a common Old Testament practice. Samuel’s mother “loaned” him to the Lord. She presented him to Eli, the priest at the Tabernacle. She said in 1 Samuel 1:28, “Therefore I also have lent him to the LORD; as long as he lives he shall be lent to the LORD." Samuel was given to God’s service shortly after his mother weaned him at age three or four.
We also read about “young virgins” dancing at the annual festival of the Lord at the Tabernacle in Shiloh (Judges 21:19-22). Those mentioned in this passage were taken by the Benjamites to be their wives. Thus, the precedent of dedicating a daughter to the Lord’s service in a life of perpetual virginity is well established in Biblical history.
I believe Jephthah fulfilled his vow by dedicating his daughter to God’s service. This would mean she could never marry or bear him any grandchildren. Though victorious in battle, he would have no offspring to perpetuate his family line. In ancient times, this was considered a great tragedy.
Whatever view one takes on how Jephthah fulfilled the vow, the fact remains that he fulfilled it. It cost him dearly either way. He was devastated. His heart was broken because the keeping of his vow meant that he would have no more heirs. Thus, his great victory was bittersweet at best.
Dedicating Ourselves To God
The Emphasis on accountability in Scripture rests solely with the parents. We are accountable to God for how we raise our children. The Bible clearly emphasizes the importance of parental:
1. Image: What we are;
2. Influence: What we do;
3. Instruction: What we say.
If our example contradicts our instruction, we send a confusing message to our children. Whether we realize it or not they are watching and listening to us. And we need to be showing them as well as telling them what to do. Parents model behavior as much as they teach it.
Ask yourself, “Does my life back up my instruction?” Am I saying, “Do as I do,” or am I really saying, “Do as I say”? Consistency is the key to parental example. It is the most effective way to reinforce your instruction and solidify your dedication. When you are determined to be the godly example your children need, God will bless them through your influence.
Fathers are especially important in a child’s development. Your children need to know their dad will be there for them when they need him. They need to be able to look up to him for strength and security. And they need to know they can count on a father at every stage of their development.
Children ought to be able to look at their father and say, “If anybody knows God, my dad does! I can tell by the way he lives, by the way he talks, and by the things he does.”
If our children cannot look at us and tell what is really important, we are failing to communicate our values. The items on which we spend out rime and money are probably the most important things in our lives. And the people we spend our time with are probably the most important people in our lives.
If our children evaluated our lives, what would they most likely say about our love for them, their mothers, and God? The answers to those questions tell them who we really are. They also speak volumes about what is important to us.
Making promises is one thing. Keeping them is another. Going from a promise maker to a keeper of promises begins in our own hearts. It begins by giving ourselves totally to God and letting Him become the object of our love and devotion. Only when we are fully committed to Him can be become fully committed to our wives and children. Only then can we really keep our promises.
As we near the end of our lesson this morning we want to ask ourselves some questions based upon our study this morning:
1. Have you ever felt rejected? How? By whom?
2. How did you deal with it (or how are you dealing with it)?
3. Have you ever made a promise that you later wished you had not made?
4. Have you ever made a vow that really cost you something?
5. Would God ask us to keep a promise that violated His Word?
6. Do you have a difficult time keeping your promises?
7. What usually goes wrong?
8. What should you do differently in the future?