Judges 11: The Other Side of Jephthah’s Story

My blogging has been quiet through the Book of Judges so far.  Israel was doing what it did best at that time, serving God and then whoring after other gods.  God was keeping His promises, the positive ones as well as the negative ones, and ensuring that in His way of doing things, the beneficial or bothersome consequences of a nation’s actions would be seen, heard, and felt.  Unfortunately, Israel seemed to be a nation of followers, quickly turning away from God’s ways whenever they did not have a solid leader at the top.  When we come to Chapter 11, Israel had once again been handed over to their enemies due to disobedience to God’s ways.

Songdove Books - Jephthah's DaughterChapter 11 is the story of Jephthah.  Generally when we read this story, we read it from the perspective of Jephthah the Warrior and Jephthah the Father.  This story is generally held up as an example of the dangers of making rash vows to God.  It is quite reasonable to assume that Jephthah was not anticipating his one and only daughter to cross the threshold of his house first, but perhaps an animal happy to see him home instead, or a servant, or someone not related to his household when he made his rash promise to God that if God came through for him, he’d sacrifice whatever passed over his threshold when he first got home.  Not only was this a rash promise, but he had not thought through the potential consequences of such a promise before uttering it.  It is always wise to count the cost, to consider the consequences, to make sure you can live with the outcome after following through.  Now we know that Jephthah followed through on his vow to God.  He was a man of his word no matter how difficult the outcome would prove to be.  But there is another side to this story.

For most of us, self-preservation and family-ties are strong.  Most of us don’t want to see harm come to others in our bloodline, nor to ourselves.  For most of us, if a person’s promise to someone else involves harm to ourselves, we will usually talk that person out of the promise in some fashion.  When we consider the other side of Jephthah’s story, we meet a young lady with amazing respect for both God and her Father, and amazing understanding of just how binding one’s promise is to God.  These understandings would have been enough to mark that young lady for greatness among her people.  But the greatest mark of maturity both spiritual and social as well as relational, is when Jephthah’s daughter learns of her Dad’s promise and actually encourages him to follow through, knowing full well it meant her own life!  All she asked was for two months to mourn the fact she would never marry and she is granted this request.

Judges 11:36-37 And she said unto him, My father, if thou hast opened thy mouth unto the LORD, do to me according to that which hath proceeded out of thy mouth; forasmuch as the LORD hath taken vengeance for thee of thine enemies, even of the children of Ammon. 37 And she said unto her father, Let this thing be done for me: let me alone two months, that I may go up and down upon the mountains, and bewail my virginity, I and my fellows.

How many of us would willingly lay down our lives for the sake of another’s dedication to obey the voice of God and follow through on their word to Him?  I understand that Israel made it a custom to mourn her four days each year.  But what jumps out at me today as I read this chapter afresh, is her maturity toward God and her Father.  She knew what she was agreeing to and God let Jephthah follow through on his word.  At this point it is important to understand the differences between Abraham and Isaac, and Jephthah and his only daughter.  In the first case, God was the one to test Abraham’s faith and provided a ram, because God had plans for Isaac.  In the second case, it was Jephthah making a promise to God and this time no ram could substitute because Jephthah is not God and couldn’t make substitutionary provision.

We are not giving the name of Jephthah’s daughter in Judges Chapter 11, but she is the epitome of God-honouring selflessness to the point of death.  She clearly loved God and Jephthah more than her own life, and I believe we will get to meet her in heaven because of that.  Now one could say her dedication and selflessness had been grossly taken advantage of, but to say such a thing would be to deny the gravity of keeping one’s word before God and man.  This young lady clearly understood such gravity and she wasn’t going to have her Dad renege merely on account of her being his only child.  She was a wise young lady for sure!

The lessons I take from this today are these:

Songdove Books - Making Vows1) Perhaps today’s society no longer takes a person at their word and even signed contracts often end up in court over technicalities and omissions to the document.  However, God still takes us at our word and expects us as believers in Christ, to take each other at our word as well.  We are His Children after all, and we are told be like Him in all our ways.

2) Taking care that what we agree to or promise has consequences we can live with, is important.  Because God takes us at our word, we should never make promises to God or to each other that we can’t keep.  It is better not to make a promise, or not to agree to something if we in any way question our ability to keep our word when the time comes.  As a parent, this has been difficult at times when children ask for something and I am not sure if I’ll be able to follow through or not.  Many times I had disappointed or upset kids because I couldn’t in all good conscience, promise that a given event or item could be obtained or engaged in.  We need to count the cost whether that cost is time, money, safety, loss, gain, or whatever it might be.  If the cost is unrealistic or uncertain, we should refrain from making the promise.

Songdove Books - Elderly Couple3) When we make a promise, we need to follow through!  We need to swallow the consequences and do what we said we’d do!  reneging on one’s promise leads to distrust by others and by God.  God needs to know that He can trust us no differently than others around us need to know they can trust us.  If we can’t be trusted, we won’t be trusted.  Our words won’t be trusted, our actions will be questioned, etcetera.  Always follow through on your promises!

4) Don’t hold too tightly to selfish interests, no matter how noble they might be.  The young lady in this story did not hold her need for self-preservation above God or her Father.  She did not hold her desire to one day get married above God’s demand for trustworthiness.  She is an example of laying down her life so that others could go on in God’s plans for them.  How many of us get in the way of God’s plans for others in our lives, because we won’t set our selfish desires aside?  How many of us interfere with the worship of others toward God because it inconveniences us??!!  I’d say that death is probably the biggest inconvenience a person could ever suffer at the hands of another’s worship before the Lord, but I highly doubt in today’s society, that such an ultimate end would be forthcoming.  For most of us, we just simply need to back off and let another person dance, raise their hands, give out of their savings, donate the truck, or go down into the dangers of the inner city to carry out their worship before the Lord and keep their promises to Him.  We need to stop being selfish, even when we think that selfishness is of noble desire, and allow others to go deeper into their relationship with God instead.

Tough lessons out of this chapter, no?  Is God calling you to step out of another’s way today?  Are you refraining from doing it, or trying to get that person to renege on their word to God because of how much it might cost YOU?  What will you do about it?  Your response is just as important at the person against whom you are fighting.