Posted in jephthah, oath, promises of god, vow

Making rash vows

Yesterday I wrote about Jephthah’s daughter. Her father had been pressed into military duty to oppose the invading Ammonites. It was a time of high apostasy for Israel and the cycle in Judges of repentance-drifitng-apostasy-repentance was well underway. Jephthah accepted the call of duty, but bargained with God.

And Jephthah made a vow to the Lord and said,“If you will give the Ammonites into my hand, then whatever comes out from the doors of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the Ammonites shall be the Lord’s, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering.” (Judges 11:30-31).

I’d said in the essay yesterday, that his daughter was the one who came out of the house first. The LORD was punishing Jephthah for his rash vow, his distrust of the LORD and his presumption to bargain. Further, his daughter had a better handle on how to worship the Holy God of Israel than her father did. Jephthah offered herself up, allowing her father to retain his honor and fulfill his promise to God.

The bible verses in that passage make it clear that Jephthah had no other children.

She was his only child; besides her he had neither son nor daughter
. (Judges 11:34b)

With his daughter’s death, his only solace would be gone, as well as his genealogical line dying on the vine.

Do we bargain with God? Do we suppose that God needed an offering of a virgin in order to succeed against the Ammonites? That the slave or daughter that exited the house first would be THE necessary ingredient to ‘help’ God solve the Ammonite problem?

Or do we distrust God in His sovereignty, making bargains as if we are full partners with Him? “God if you get me out of this, I’ll…” Or, “If You do this, then I’ll…” Foxhole theology is no theology at all.

Promises made to God, usually in the context of worship or religious practice. There was no requirement on any Israelite to make vows, but once made, they were binding and had to be kept. Manser, Dictionary of Bible Themes

Jesus said to pray this way:

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
(Matthew 6:9-10)

Or as Mary did,

And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her. (Luke 1:38)

Or this:

And Mary said,
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
50And his mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
51He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
52he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate;
53he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
54He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
55as he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”
(Luke 1:46-55)

We exalt Him, knowing His plans are to the good of those who love Him. He has all strength, all omniscience, all power to purpose His plans to fruition. He does not need us nor does He want us to make ‘If…then” statements which limit and qualify our love and devotion to Him.

Lyndon Johnson swearing the oath of office
aboard Air Force One after Pres. Kennedy’s assassination

Let’s look at the reverse of Jephthah’s vow. He’d said that IF the LORD gave the Ammonites into Israel’s hand, THEN Jephthah would deliver the first person exiting his home. What if God had not delivered the Ammonites into Israel’s hand? Would Jephthah’s faith had been shaken? Would he have thought God was smaller than He is? Or that He hadn’t been listening? Or that Jephthah didn’t pray hard enough or with enough faith (as Joel Osteen would say)

God is sovereign! HE decides when the breath of life goes out of a man!

Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said:
2“Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
3Dress for action like a man;
I will question you, and you make it known to me.
4“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding. (Job 38:1-4)

John Calvin said of vows involving life and death,

For example, when the assassins, of whom mention is made in the Acts, vowed “that they would neither eat nor drink till they had killed Paul” (Acts 23:12), though it had not been an impious conspiracy, it would still have been intolerably presumptuous, as subjecting the life and death of a man to their own power. Thus Jephthah suffered for his folly, when with precipitate fervour he made a rash vow (Judges 11:30). … In such perverse conduct they must not expect God to be their helper; let them rather remember the words, “Ye shall not tempt the Lord your God” (Deut.6:16).

Israel, Hannah, and Jacob famously also made vows, also including “If…then” promises. The difference with Jephthah’s vow is that

In contrast to Jacob, the Israelites, and Hannah, who gave back to the Lord something that they had gained from their vows, with Jephthah there is no direct relation between the two sections of the vow. (Source)

We make a lot of oaths throughout life. Boy Scout oath, Marine oath, police oath, work oaths and promises, Civil Servant oaths. But believers, be careful about vows, oaths, covenants, and promises you make to the Lord. Especially be careful about bargaining with Him. I know it’s tempting when in severe distress to say something like, “Lord, if you let my child live…” but Jephthah learned the hard way about the consequences of rash vows. We never know if we will be able to keep the oaths we swear. James said in chapter 5:

But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your “yes” be yes and your “no” be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation. (James 5:12)

Matthew Henry said of the James verse,

The sin of swearing is condemned; but how many make light of common profane swearing! Such swearing expressly throws contempt upon God’s name and authority. This sin brings neither gain, nor pleasure, nor reputation, but is showing enmity to God without occasion and without advantage it shows a man to be an enemy to God, however he pretends to call himself by his name, or sometimes joins in acts of worship. But the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain. In a day of affliction nothing is more seasonable than prayer.

Amen! Prayer, and resting in the promises God has made to US is the eternally gratifying way to peace under His sun.


Christian writer and Georgia teacher's aide who loves Jesus, a quiet life, art, beauty, and children.