And Jephthah made a vow to the Lord: “If you give the Ammonites into my hands, 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.” (Judges 11:30-31)
In a world where we face broken promises from politicians, celebrities, and others, promises don’t seem like that big of a deal anymore. But they should be. Your word should mean something. When you make a promise, you should follow through with it… which is why you should be careful what you promise.
The story of Jephthah and his incredibly stupid promise is a puzzling one in the book of Judges. How could he have promised something so vague and foolish as “whatever meets me first?” What if it had been his wife or his neighbor’s child or an unclean animal that would be detestable to the Lord? Would God accept such a vow from someone and then honor it?
No doubt, God expected Jephthah to follow through with what he had promised, but perhaps the situation wasn’t quite as tragic as it sounded. In all likelihood, Jephthah did not make a human sacrifice of his daughter – he merely sacrificed her and her future to service in the tabernacle. I shouldn’t say “merely,” because it was a big sacrifice. The poor girl was unmarried, and surely she had hopes of a family in her future. However, she obediently did as she was asked by her father, and after a period of mourning, she likely committed her life to service in the tabernacle.
The lesson here is that Jephthah should not have made such a foolhardy promise to the Lord. He could have easily promised to offer a generous sacrifice after the victory, but instead he promised something that would cost him and his daughter dearly. Be careful what you promise, and before you make promises, make sure that you will be able to carry them through. Don’t make foolish promises to anyone.
Lord, help me to be a man of my word. Help me to be do exactly as I promise to do, and keep me from promising those things that are either outside of my intentions or outside of my abilities.