30 Jephthah made a vow to the Lord, saying, “If you really do hand the Ammonites over to me, 31 then whoever is the first to come through the doors of my house to meet me when I return safely from fighting the Ammonites—he will belong to the Lord and I will offer him up as a burnt sacrifice.” 32 Jephthah approached the Ammonites to fight with them, and the Lord handed them over to him. 33 He defeated them from Aroer all the way to Minnith—twenty cities in all, even as far as Abel Keramim! He wiped them out! The Israelites humiliated the Ammonites. 34 When Jephthah came home to Mizpah, there was his daughter hurrying out to meet him, dancing to the rhythm of tambourines. She was his only child; except for her he had no son or daughter. 35 When he saw her, he ripped his clothes and said, “Oh no! My daughter! You have completely ruined me! You have brought me disaster! I made an oath to the Lord, and I cannot break it.” The NET Bible (Biblical Studies Press, 2005), Jdg 11:30–35.
Jephthah is an interesting and tragic figure. The son of a prostitute, he was shunned by his 1/2 brothers and the community. Then, when it was expedient – because they all knew he was a pretty tough guy, these came back and contracted with him to defeat their enemies in exchange for recognition as their leader. Tough to refuse for a guy always struggling to legitimize himself.
But there are 2 very important lessons (among others) to be learned in this odd account. As the text notes, Jephthah “made a deal” with God. If God gave him success in his military campaign, he would offer to God by way of sacrifice the first thing that came out of his door to greet him after victory. Sadly, it turns out that was his only child – his daughter. And apparently, he kept his vow.
The first thing we need to note here is: Some vows we have no right to make at all since they (like this one) contradict the known will of God. God’s law strictly forbade human sacrifice. But either ignorance of God’s Word or in a callous disregard for it – Jephtha made and carried out this vow. Instead, he ought to have repented before the Lord and acknowledged his sin rather than fulfilling this travesty. As Proverbs 6:2–5 (ESV) notes: “if you are snared in the words of your mouth, caught in the words of your mouth, 3 then do this, my son, and save yourself, for you have come into the hand of your neighbor: go, hasten, and plead urgently with your neighbor. 4 Give your eyes no sleep and your eyelids no slumber; 5 save yourself like a gazelle from the hand of the hunter, like a bird from the hand of the fowler.”
Maybe you’ve foolishly bound yourself to some “deal” with God you know now was foolish. Go to Him. Confess it, repent of it and move on. He is very gracious in the face of our foolishness. He would never have us bind ourselves to things which in the final analysis have no foundation in Scripture. No matter how pious it may have seemed at the time, God does not countenance our persistence in such things when they were in error to begin with. He cannot be bribed by such things anyway. So do not compound the offense the way Jephthah did.
Secondly: As in this case, Jephthah makes an assumption that there is direct causation between his vow and the victory. This is SO important. We MUST beware making the coincidental the absolute arbiter of truth for us. Having not sought God’s counsel first, he puts himself in a very foolish and costly position, binding himself to what ought never to have been binding. And he assumes that the reason he gained his victory was the fact he made his vow. But God would not countenance such a vow. and to imagine that the 2 things were tied together made him err in a most horrible fashion. God’s providences cannot be read through the lenses of our superstitions. The tendency to assign a direct cause/effect principle to things can get us imagining God is either condoning or condemning all sorts of things when neither may be the truth. That one has an inner “peace” over a situation or circumstance is no true indication of God’s approval. Only the Word can give us that infallible direction. Just as unrest may be no indication that something is amiss. Jesus’ agony, wrestling, anxiety and consternation in Gethsemane was no means of ascertaining that He ought not to go to the Cross. He knew His mission. And He stuck to that. Sometimes our sinful desires can give us peace over wretched things, and make us uncomfortable when following the right course. “To the teaching and to the testimony!” Isaiah 8:0a. That is the only truly safe place. And if Jephthah had followed that, he would still have won his battle, and his daughter would have lived.