The Power of the Vow
So a friend private messaged me on facebook asking If I had any insights to a passage of scripture. After a bit of a back and forth, I really thought the discussion lead to some interesting thoughts. So, why not share them all with you? The passage in question was Judges 11. Let me ‘splain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up.
Jephthah is a judge in Israel and he is dealing with the leader of Ammon, and they are on the verge of war. So in preparation for war Jephthah goes before the Lord. At this point He makes a vow. “If You help me defeat Ammon, I will give you a burnt offering. I will offer up the first thing that comes out of my house.” You can verify this for yourself in Judges 11:30-31.
So He goes into battle, and the Lord gives Him the victory. When he makes it home, His daughter comes out of the house with a tambourine and a dance, celebrating His victory… (Judges 11:34)
This is a devastating moment. He gave His word to the Lord that he would give a burnt offering in exchange for the victory, but at the time It never occurred to him that it could mean sacrificing His only daughter. However, her response is even more baffling. She is saddened, but then asks if they can wait for two months before the sacrifice so that she can mourn. She was a virgin and never got the chance to have a child of Her own. Now you would think she would protest the vow and decline being offered, but instead she agrees, only asking for time to prepare herself.
As I mentioned, this whole discussion began with a facebook message from a friend and here are some of the questions we discussed.
1. What does administering a burnt offering have to do with celibacy?
2. Did early Jews long to be in the genealogical line of the Messiah?
3. What exactly did Jephthah do to her to fulfill his vow to the Lord (v39) to fulfill the burnt offering?
4. Plus, this judge was listed in Hebrews 11 of having great faith. Did this one flippant vow disqualify him?
Now, these are some interesting and loaded questions. But I think they are wonderful. Instead of Just reading the story and thinking, “Wow, thats messed up.” My friend really wondered about the meaning and significance of this story. So lets take a look at these questions. I will answer them to the best of my abilities.
1. WHAT DOES ADMINISTERING A BURNT OFFERING HAVE TO DO WITH CELIBACY?
This one is simple. Absolutely nothing. The celibacy was not directly linked to the burnt offering or the vow itself. The issue here was that this daughter, who never gets a name mind you, was His only Child. She was a virgin. This was significant not to the burnt offering, but the the legacy and inheritance that was being Lost.
For the Jews (and this will tie in a little to question 2) the family line was significant, and the blessing was highly valued. This is why we have the story of Jacob and Esau, and the blessing from Genesis. There was a high prize, and legacy given to the Children. Because Jephthah did not have any other children, he knew that offering His daughter would cut off His family line. He knew that fulfilling His vow to God meant that he was cutting off His lineage.
Now let us move right into the second question.
2. DO JEWS LONG TO BE IN THE LINEAGE OF MESSIAH?
This is a much more difficult question to answer. I am not an expert on ancient Jewish culture. This question arose after I explained my answer in the first question. However, let me give you the same answer that I gave my friend, and you can correct me if you know better. I welcome it actually.
I believe that Jews did indeed desire to be in the lineage of the Messiah. It was promised in Genesis 3:15. God promised that the Seed of Eve, or as modern scholars like to say it the seed of the woman, would crush the head of the enemy. However, I also believe that this aspect of the lineage is less important.
There is a blessing in having children. It was the command that God gave to Adam and Eve. Genesis 1:28 is where God told them, “…Be Fruitful and multiply.” God’s design for humanity was that we would replicate ourselves. That we would have children. But, when your only child is herself childless, and you now have to offer her up to God, that makes it much harder to experience this fruitfulness.
Later this week we will focus on the crux of this story and the remaining two questions. As always comments and questions welcome.