A Foolish Promise?

(Today's post by Britt Ozburn)

Judges 11:29-12:15

How many times in a day do we make promises to the Lord, or hear others doing the same? “Lord, if I can just pass this exam, I’ll tithe double this Sunday,” or “Lord, if you could get me a raise or promotion, I’ll be able to give more to the church and have more time to read the Bible.” It’s easy to pull one of these quick promises out in a light prayer, but how often do we desire the end result to be God’s Glory, not our own gain? I am so guilty of making light, shallow promises to God, only to later forget that it ever even happened.

A few books back from Judges, Numbers 30:2 (NIV) states:

“When a man makes a vow to the Lord or takes an oath to obligate himself by a pledge, he must not break his word but must do everything he said.”

How easy it is to forget to take seriously everything we say to our Father, especially in making promises, or vows, as God’s Word calls it.

In Judges 11:29, we find Jephthah leading up to battle with the Ammonites. He knows that God is with him and his men as they are headed straight into Ammonite territory. As he’s going into battle, though, he cries out 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.” (30-31, NIV)

Why, oh why, is he vowing to sacrifice, with fire, whatever runs out of his front door when he returns? Is he so in the moment of battle that he’s not really thinking?

After a decisive victory for Jephthah and the Israelites, he returns home in triumph, beaming with pride. Upon arriving home, what runs out of his home to greet him, but his daughter, his only child, a dear love of his life? He falls down from his high of victory so hard that he rips off his clothes in such painful grief. He knows the vow he made, and he cannot (and will not) take it back. After allowing her to grieve for two months with friends, he fulfills his vow, and the chapter ends.

So did Jephthah know what he was doing when he vowed to God? Why did he select whatever runs at him upon arriving home to sacrifice, rather than something (likely) less painful? Is it that he is insane by the world’s standards, or that he’s so devoted to his God, that the Lord knew something we don’t?

I won’t pretend I know all the answers to these thoughts, but when I read this story, I see a man so devoted to his God that he gave back to God what he knew he should, though it brought more pain than I may ever know. God placed him in that position of leadership and brought victory for the Israelites. Though Jephthah may or may not have known what he was doing when he vowed to God, he took his vow seriously, and fulfilled Numbers 30:2 as he carried it out for God.

Though Christ’s final sacrifice upon the cross has released us from the Law and we are no longer required to offer burnt sacrifices, our God deserves the respect of sincere words from His followers and the effort and devotion to carry out our vows.

So what now?

Have you ever made a promise to God that you later regretted?

Do you have evidence today of God’s blessing for carrying out a promise or vow?

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  • James Rooks

    Great post Britt. If this passage were a movie it would one of those that ends weird and everyone is looking around saying “huh?”

    I do wonder about bargaining with God…seems like a bad move, especially in this case. You have to question why a leader like him would potentially put his family members on the line like that.

    • Britt Ozburn

      Yeah, I suppose we’ll never know why he did what he did. We just see the action and the sad consequences.

  • Steven Gregory

    Funny how I have learned to not try to barter or deal with God but to like Jeff said learn to pray for his will. We may not always want or understand where God leads us but many times we must learn to have the right and remember he is in total control.

    • Britt Ozburn

      Sometimes we may think we know what we’re doing when we deal with God, only later to feel the brunt of our weakness or ignorance. I totally agree, we just need to have faith and let Him retain control!

  • Jeff Morton

    I have made many foolish promises over the years to God, and in hindsight it has led to nothing but pruning and pain. Any time I have found myself in this situation a careful look revealed that what I had made the promise or vow in my heart stood before God in my life. I have learned and sometimes I pay attention to the fact that we serve an awesome, loving, and. jealous God. I have received tremendous blessing everytime
    the vow has been “God you have my best in mind and even if I don’t know why, I surrender to your lead” great perspective today!

    • Britt Ozburn

      Getting ourselves out of the way and surrendering to His lead may be the most important vow we make, after receiving Christ and repenting. Awesome Jeff!

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