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. We already discussed the first two questions, but now let us take a look at the remainder.
3. WHAT DID JEPHTHAH DO TO HER TO FULFILL HIS VOW, TO OFFER THE BURNT OFFERING?
This one is a pretty straight forward answer. Though the Bible does not describe the process of this burnt offering, we can infer from other examples of the burnt offering. Take for instance the story of Abraham and Isaac in Genesis 22. In this story, Abraham went up to the mountain with Isaac. Isaac mentions the wood and fire, and they were building an altar. So I would imagine that it is similar in this story. There was an altar upon which he offered His only child. Its not certain, but this is how I perceive the story given the rest of our Biblical understanding.
Now before I move on to the final question, I want to focus on what I believe is the central issue of this story. The power of the Vow. You see, no where in the story did God command Jephthah to make this vow. He made the vow of His own free will. Furthermore, in making the vow, He could have put a bit more thought into it.
If he had vowed to slaughter His best calf, it would have still been a vow, but he didn’t. He flippantly vowed to sacrifice the first thing that came out His door. Think about that for a moment. What is going to come out of the door to your home? Chances are it will be someone who lives there.
God honors the vow Jephthah made, and when he comes home, it is his daughter. Now he has a conundrum. Either Sacrifice his daughter or break his vow to the Lord. What a terrible day. But this is not the fault of the Lord, this is the fault of someone who should have known better not properly thinking it through.
So as you read the story, you find that Jephthah follows through on his covenant with God. However, I would like to commend his daughter. This girl doesn’t even get a name in the Bible, yet she exhibits a level of Honor before God that most of us probably don’t have. She agrees to allow herself to be the burnt offering. would you be willing to do it?
But now, lets take a look at the final question.
JEPHTHAH IS LISTED IN THE HEBREWS 11 HALL OF FAITH. WOULDN’T THIS FLIPPANT VOW DISQUALIFY HIM?
This is te beauty of the Bible for me. From Genesis to revelation we have heroes who are terrible. Moses? Murderer! David? Adulterer! Jephthah? Hasty! Samson? Womanizer! Peter? Violent! Coward! I could continue the list, but I will stop for now. The beauty of the Bible is that despite our shortcomings, God has plans and purposes and destiny for our lives.
Jephthah was honored in the Hall of Faith. Despite the flippant vow, and the sadness of having to sacrifice your only Child, He was still a hero, becuase He lead the armies of Israel to victory over their enemies. He was still used by the Lord.
This is a great parallel to the life of the Believer. We all have done terrible things that we could say should ‘disqualify’ us from being used by God. But in the same context, we have the grace of God that helps us move on from our mistakes and move into the destiny and purposes of the Lord.
In light of the story of Jephthah, there are two main lessons we need to learn.
1. Be careful with your words, vows, and promises. You have to be accountable to follow through on them.
2. Do not be discouraged because you have failed before. Learn hard into the Grace of God and let Him pick you up and put you back on the path He has for you.