From Judges 10-12
Making vows before the LORD were serious business. A vow was a contract between the person and the LORD. Basically the person promised to perform some sort of deed or make some form of payment if the LORD fulfilled his or her request. Quite often women would make vows for children. In today’s passage Jephthah (a judge and I don’t know how to pronounce his name) makes a very careless vow.
This post is part of my bible in a year series.
Passage and Comments
29 Then the Spirit of the LORD was upon Jephthah, and he passed through Gilead and Manasseh and passed on to Mizpah of Gilead, and from Mizpah of Gilead he passed on to the Ammonites. 30 And Jephthah made a vow to the LORD and said, “If you will give the Ammonites into my hand, 31 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.” (Jdg 11:29–31)
The wording Jephthah uses is very strange. He says ‘whatever comes out from of the doors of my house to meet me when I return’ (Jdg 11.31). What normally resides in his house other than his family? Did he expect someone to overhear and push through an animal instead? Did he leave it to God to make sure something other than a human being would pass through? There does not seem to be any logic to his vow. His vow is careless and he wasn’t thinking of the consequences.
32 So Jephthah crossed over to the Ammonites to fight against them, and the LORD gave them into his hand. 33 And he struck them from Aroer to the neighborhood of Minnith, twenty cities, and as far as Abel-keramim, with a great blow. So the Ammonites were subdued before the people of Israel. (Jdg 11:32–33)
The LORD fulfilled his end of the agreement. Now lets see about Jephthah’s.
34 Then Jephthah came to his home at Mizpah. And behold, his daughter came out to meet him with tambourines and with dances. She was his only child; besides her he had neither son nor daughter. 35 And as soon as he saw her, he tore his clothes and said, “Alas, my daughter! You have brought me very low, and you have become the cause of great trouble to me. For I have opened my mouth to the LORD, and I cannot take back my vow.” (Jdg 11:34–35)
Jephthah doesn’t seem to have considered the implications of his vow any further because if he had he might have attempted to control what comes out of his house. When he gets home his daughter (no name given) comes out with ‘tambourines and with dances’ (Jdg 11.34). Obviously in celebration of the victory of the LORD gave her father. But clearly she didn’t know about her fathers vow. Jephthah’s vow now assumes he will offer up his only daughter as a burnt offering. How horrible.
36 And she said to him, “My father, you have opened your mouth to the LORD; do to me according to what has gone out of your mouth, now that the LORD has avenged you on your enemies, on the Ammonites.” 37 So she said to her father, “Let this thing be done for me: leave me alone two months, that I may go up and down on the mountains and weep for my virginity, I and my companions.” 38 So he said, “Go.” Then he sent her away for two months, and she departed, she and her companions, and wept for her virginity on the mountains. (Jdg 11:36–38)
It seems the daughter has remarkable concern for her fathers reputation. She upholds her father and his careless vow at her own expense. Contrasted in the text are the opposite ways Jephthah and his daughter show caring and consideration for their own family.
Another cultural element in this story is what she weeps for. Not for her life, but for her virginity. She has no children. Jephthah (the Judge) obviously didn’t think of her family when he made his vow.
39 And at the end of two months, she returned to her father, who did with her according to his vow that he had made. She had never known a man, and it became a custom in Israel 40 that the daughters of Israel went year by year to lament the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite four days in the year. (Jdg 11:39–40)
Story of Israel
She was faithful to her fathers inconsiderate vow and Israel remembered her for it. Since she continued unnamed (remembered as ‘the daughter of Jephthah’) the people will remember that Jephthah made this careless vow which resulted in her death. Hopefully fathers in later generations were more considerate for their own families as a result of this tradition. Perhaps some were, but considering Israel’s history and dealings with the LORD right up to Jesus, probably some weren’t.
Story of Jesus
Jesus took his own stance against vows. He basically instructs people not to make them.
33 “Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ 34 But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil. (Mt 5:33–37)
Its possible Jesus is condemning the practice of making vows when he says ‘anything more than this comes from evil’ (Mt 5.37). Perhaps part of the reason Jephthah made the vow in the first place was to coerce God into winning the battle for him, rather than trust that God was using him for his own purposes.