29 Then the Spirit of the LORD came on Jephthah. He crossed Gilead and Manasseh, passed through Mizpah of Gilead, and from there he advanced against the Ammonites. 30 And Jephthah made a vow to the LORD: “If you give the Ammonites into my hands, 31 whatever comes out of the door of my house to meet me when I return in triumph from the Ammonites will be the LORD’s, and I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering.”
32 Then Jephthah went over to fight the Ammonites, and the LORD gave them into his hands. 33 He devastated twenty towns from Aroer to the vicinity of Minnith, as far as Abel Keramim. Thus Israel subdued Ammon.
34 When Jephthah returned to his home in Mizpah, who should come out to meet him but his daughter, dancing to the sound of timbrels! She was an only child. Except for her he had neither son nor daughter. 35 When he saw her, he tore his clothes and cried, “Oh no, my daughter! You have brought me down and I am devastated. I have made a vow to the LORD that I cannot break.”
Talk about a big “Whoopsie!” moment.
Jephthah was a powerful man. He was a great battle leader and was the defender of Israel during his time. He had the Lord’s favor. In fact, verse 29 states that the Spirit of the Lord was already upon him. That kind of anointing is the same one which enabled the mighty Samson to destroy Philistines with nothing more than a donkey’s jawbone and helped a cowardly Gideon turn into a mighty conqueror.
So, why did Jephthah say something like that?
Now, I can’t say that I know exactly what was going on in his mind. All I can try to deduce is that Jephthah had the same human tendencies as I have. He wanted full assurance and a share in the glory.
I need to point out that God didn’t ask Jephthah to offer anything. This was his choice. He was trying to manipulate God into granting his request so that he can enjoy the glory that was to come afterwards. After all, if he returned to Israel as a mighty warrior, wouldn’t glory and honor be credited to him? Then, he can tell everyone that he won not just because of God’s hand, but because of the sacrifice that he chose to make. It was a smart hand to play. The only problem was, he forgot who he was playing with.
God is not one to be mocked. He knows exactly what was on Jephthah’s mind. So, He called Jephthah’s bluff by letting his own daughter walk through that door and be the first one to meet him. His daughter became the price he had to pay for his folly. This is one lesson he would never forget.
This story can sound a bit too dark for our taste. We can have the tendency to turn our back at Jephthah and say that we will never make the same mistake. However, we are also prone to committing that same error. We love bargaining with God.
Have you ever told God something like, “If you help me pass this examination, I’ll come early to church on Sunday.” or, “Just heal my child and let me be the one who’s sick in her stead.” There’s also that famous, “Here I am, Lord, hurting myself, you have to forgive me now, eh?” Big or small, the principle is still the same.
Can’t we just trust the fact that God is in control. We already have His favor. The Spirit of the Lord is already upon us. We just have to claim it and believe that we have no part in the process. If we have success, it isn’t because of a promise we made to God. It was because of His grace.
That’s how salvation works, too. We were saved by grace through faith and not because of the things that we did or do. God knows about man’s inclination to boast about doing “our part” when the whole thing was actually God’s handiwork. Instead of trying to add your name to the equation, just take God’s free gift and be thankful.
Stop trying to tempt God into helping you. He doesn’t need our efforts in exchange for favor. Remember 1 Samuel 15:22?
But Samuel replied: “Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the LORD? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.
So, instead of making prideful vows, start obeying God. That will please Him even more than our unnecessary sacrifices.
WHEN YOU BARGAIN WITH GOD,
YOU’LL LOSE SOMETHING.
WHEN YOU GAIN SOMETHING,
BRING THE GLORY TO GOD.
And that’s my two cents on that.