Judges 11:29-33

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Monday, January 2, 2017 0 comments

by Katie Erickson

“Then the Spirit of the Lord came on Jephthah. He crossed Gilead and Manasseh, passed through Mizpah of Gilead, and from there he advanced against the Ammonites. And Jephthah made a vow to the Lord: ‘If you give the Ammonites into my hands, whatever comes out of the door of my house to meet me when I return in triumph from the Ammonites will be the Lord’s, and I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering.’
Then Jephthah went over to fight the Ammonites, and the Lord gave them into his hands. He devastated twenty towns from Aroer to the vicinity of Minnith, as far as Abel Keramim. Thus Israel subdued Ammon.” (Judges 11:29-33)

After a few weeks writing on different topics around Christmas, we’re coming back to the story of Jephthah in the book of Judges. I’d encourage you to go back and review the context here. In short, Jephthah has been trying to reason with the king of Ammon in order to avoid war, but the king has essentially ignored him.

Fortunately, Jephthah has God’s Spirit with him as they go into battle. Jephthah did what he could to try and avoid a bloody battle, but now it has become unavoidable. So Jephthah begins gathering troops from his fellow Israelite tribes of Gad and Manasseh.

Jephthah really wants victory, even though he knows God’s Spirit is with them, so he makes a vow to the Lord. It says in verses 30-31, “And Jephthah made a vow to the Lord: “If you give the Ammonites into my hands, whatever comes out of the door of my house to meet me when I return in triumph from the Ammonites will be the Lord’s, and I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering.” The intention of this vow was to show Jephthah’s honor to God, but instead it could be indicating his lack of belief. Did Jephthah have a lack of faith? Or was this his way of saying that he totally trusted God?

In the vow, this NIV translation says, “whatever comes out the door…” That could also be translated as “whoever,” as the language isn’t clear on that. Was this intended to be a human sacrifice, or an animal one? The text isn’t clear on that. An animal sacrifice would not be an unusual thing, since those happened all the time. A human sacrifice, however, would be very unique as even back then, that was considered to be murder. Sacrificing humans was clearly forbidden in the Law of Moses (see Exodus 20:13, Leviticus 18:21, and Deuteronomy 12:31). Killing another person, for whatever reason, would not have been ok with God. Many pagan nations surrounding Israel at the time would sacrifice their children for religious purposes in worshiping their pagan gods, so that may have been an influence on this. We really don’t have enough detail to say for sure. What’s clear is that victory in this battle was SO important to Jephthah that he was willing to kill for it.

As it turns out, Israel was given victory in this battle (verse 32). Many Ammonites died in the battle, but the land belonged to Israel again and they had gotten rid of the threat. What happened with Jephthah’s vow? Tune in next week to find out.

While this is an interesting story from Israel’s history, what does it have to do with us today? One thing that is clear is that we should not make vows like this one. We have passages in the New Testament that discourage this sort of thing. Matthew 5:34 says, “But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne.” James 5:12 says, “Above all, my brothers and sisters, do not swear—not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. All you need to say is a simple ‘Yes’ or ‘No.’ Otherwise you will be condemned.” We should simply keep our word, then people will be able to count on us; oaths or vows are not typically necessary.

Jephthah making this vow is like he’s trying to make a deal with God. He says something rash without necessarily thinking it all the way through. Have you ever done that in your life? Maybe you’ve committed to something that sounded great, but then once it comes down to it, you really don’t want to follow through. Or maybe you’ve pleaded with God: “God, if you get me out of this situation (usually one that I’ve gotten myself into), I’ll read my Bible every day and go to church every Sunday!” While these may be heartfelt in the moment, often they’re just rash statements that we either break later, or regret making in the first place.

With the new year just starting, maybe you made a new year’s resolution that you’re already regretting making. Be careful about what you commit to; make sure that you can keep your word in all situations, and part of that is by not being hasty in our statements.

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