Sometimes the western, sanitized variety of Christianity really bothers me.
I was raised in a Baptist home, where our Jesus was the Jesus of the common western Evangelical. In time I began to realize that the bible, and the Jesus of the bible, has a different view of the world than that with which I was raised. Yes there are some similarities, but the differences are striking. The God of the bible is refreshingly wild, and frighteningly so!
Take Hebrews 11, for instance. In it is contained a list of men and women of faith. Examples for us to follow, and learn from. Something controversial could be said about each name in this list, but the one I want to focus on is the man named Jephthah, or Jephthae;
32 And what shall I more say? for the time would fail me to tell of Gedeon, and ofBarak, and of Samson, and of Jephthae; of David also, and Samuel, and of the prophets: 33 Who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, 34Quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. Hebrews 11:32-34
Have you ever taken a look at this man? Judges chapters 11 and 12 are all we have to go by. Jephthah was the son of a harlot, probably a prostitute, who was kicked out of Israel, but later called back to lead their armies in a war. The passage describes how the Holy Spirit came upon Jephthah and gave him the victory, but his noteriety is the result of a vow he made to the Lord before the battle;
30 And Jephthah vowed a vow unto the LORD, and said, If thou shalt without fail deliver the children of Ammon into mine hands, 31Then it shall be, that whatsoever cometh forth of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the children of Ammon, shall surely be the LORD’S, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering. Judges 11:30-31
I don’t know what he was thinking when he made this vow; maybe his favourite dog always came out of the house to greet him, or maybe his wife. Maybe the dogs always came out first when he returned home.
Maybe he reasoned that God is opposed to human sacrifice, and so it would be safe to make such a promise. It is clear that he didn’t expect it would be his only child, his daughter. In any case, Jephthah gave God a way out. He gave God the final choice of that which he would sacrifice. God could have just as easily caused one of the dogs to run out to greet him!
It is also clear from the story that it was the Lord Himself who caused the daughter to run out of the house to greet him.
You think you know Someone…
34 And Jephthah came to Mizpeh unto his house, and, behold, his daughter came out to meet him with timbrels and with dances: and she was his only child; beside her he had neither son nor daughter. 35 And it came to pass, when he saw her, that he rent his clothes, and said, Alas, my daughter! thou hast brought me very low, and thou art one of them that trouble me: for I have opened my mouth unto the LORD, and I cannot go back. 36 And she said unto him, My father, if thou hast opened thy mouth unto the LORD, do to me according to that which hath proceeded out of thy mouth; forasmuch as the LORD hath taken vengeance for thee of thine enemies, even of the children of Ammon. 37 And she said unto her father, Let this thing be done for me: let me alone two months, that I may go up and down upon the mountains, and bewail my virginity, I and my fellows. 38 And he said, Go. And he sent her away for two months: and she went with her companions, and bewailed her virginity upon the mountains. 39 And it came to pass at the end of two months, that she returned unto her father, who did with her according to his vow which he had vowed: and she knew no man. And it was a custom in Israel, 40 That the daughters of Israel went yearly to lament the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite four days in a year. Judges 11:34-40
There are many human sacrifices in the bible. Most of them are condemned, but this one is not. Don’t forget that this man is named in the “Hall of Fame of Faith”! There is something more going on here than simply a human sacrifice! This has something to do with Jephthah’s understanding of the character of God. His mention in the “hall of fame of faith” has more to do with this action, than it does with his victory in the war!
I have heard more than one pastor speaking about the story of Jephthah, and taking the lesson from the passage, that one shouldn’t make foolish promises. To be fair this is indeed one of the lessons of the passage, but it is NOT the major lesson at all, but more of a corollary.
You see, Jephthah knew that it is a serious thing to lie to God! Don’t make foolish promises, especially to God, but if you do make one to God, make sure you follow through on it!
This is a principle that can be seen throughout the bible.
Offer unto God thanksgiving; and pay thy vows unto the most High: Psalms 50:14
Jesus emphasized that we need to keep our word;
But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil. Matthew 5:37
Even the Lord’s brother Jacob said the same thing;
But above all things, my brethren, swear not, neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any other oath: but let your yea be yea; and your nay, nay; lest ye fall into condemnation. James 5:12
In our society, men and women take vows before man and God, and say “there will be no one else” and then, years later, they take up with someone else. The excuses they make indicate that they don’t know God! But, Jephthah was a man of integrity, who knew the Lord! (Obviously not as well as he had thought, but he still knew Him!)
Jephthah had more of an excuse than most western adulterers. He had made a vow that turned into the promise to sacrifice his daughter! To our western minds this is a promise that should be broken! To our western minds what he did was one of the worst things one could do!
God, of course, did the same thing! He sacrificed His son for you, and like Jephthah’s daughter, the Son of God went willingly! The mindset of these people, and God, is very foreign to the western mind!
If Jephthah had broken his word, however, in the economy of God, that would have actually been a worse thing than what he ended up doing!
Notice that he actually gave his daughter the chance to escape. He let her go away for two months to “mourn her virginity”. At the end of the two months she returned knowing she was going to her death! I cannot help but wonder if her father gave her permission to go away, hoping that she would take–off into another country. It would have left him a way out, but she was a young woman of faith, also. This was a family of faith.
I believe she was led by the Holy Spirit to return, because this was a test of her father’s faith, and a lesson for those who were to come after. And, as a result of his action, Jephthah was included in the Christian Hall of Fame of Faith. I have no doubt that this event was harder for him than the defeat of the Ammonite armies! It was probably harder than the six years he spent as Israel’s judge. I am sure that he would have preferred to be remembered for his military victories, but those victories have been overshadowed by the sacrifice of his daughter, for all time!
Real faith is not always easy! I would like to suggest that true faith is NEVER easy! If our Christian walk has been easy, then it probably hasn’t been very Christian, and if you are truly saved I can guarantee there are tough times coming!
Does the story of Jephthah bother you? It does me, but he was truly a man of faith, and we can learn about faith from his story! We can actually learn about God from his story! I am sure that Focus on the Family disapproves of Jephthah. Nevertheless, this story puts into context Jesus’ words of Luke 14:26;
26 If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.