In Judges it is recorded where Jephthah made a vow to God. He said, “If You will indeed deliver the people of Ammon into my hands, then it will be that whatever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the people of Ammon, shall surely be the Lord’s, and I will offer it up as a burnt offering” (Judges 11.30-31). God subsequently enabled Jephthah to win the victory over Ammon, which made Jephthah a euphoric man. However, his joy was short-lived.
When he returned home, the first thing that Jephthah was likely expecting to meet him was one of his animals; instead, a terrible thing happened. What came out the door to meet Jephthah was none other than his daughter! We can only imagine what Jephthah thought or how he felt, but undoubtedly, he was “sick to his stomach.” The Scriptures say, “that he tore his clothes and cried out” (Judges 11:35).
Much debate and discussion have taken place on whether or not Jephthah actually sacrificed his daughter. Without delving into that controversy, there are still several important lessons to be learned from what happened.
First, we should NEVER make rash vows to God. In Ecclesiastes, Solomon tells us, “When you make a vow to God, do not delay to pay it; For He has no pleasure in fools. Pay what you have vowed-Better not to vow than to vow and not pay” (5.4-5). If we do not plan to make good on our vow, then we need to “keep our mouth shut.”
Secondly, since we cannot predict the future, we cannot know for sure what will happen. On one occasion, my wife and I made plans for a great evening that was to begin after we put our daughter to bed for the night. However, our wonderfully planned evening soon turned into a very late night in the ER after our daughter’s arm became dislocated! We may plan for things to turn out one way, yet they take a very unexpected turn, and sometimes that unexpected turn can be devastating.
Lastly, our actions (including what we say/promise) CAN affect the lives of others. I knew a preacher one time that had an affair. His selfish behavor hurt his wife, his daughters, a fellow brother in Christ, that brother's children, the entire congregation where he preached, and countless lost souls (he was fired immediately after his actions found him out). Undoubtedly, he did not fully realize nor take the time to consider the consequences of his actions, and the width and depth of those who would be affected.
Let us learn from the poor choices and decisions of Jephthah and not repeat his mistakes in our own lives. It is not a simple thing to promise God something and then not fulfill what we said we would.