Judges 11:29-32, 34-35
29 Then the Spirit of the LORD came upon 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.
34 When Jephthah returned to his home in Mizpah, who should come out to meet him but his daughter, dancing to the sound of tambourines! 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! My daughter! You have made me miserable and wretched, because I have made a vow to the LORD that I cannot break.” NIV
Who knows what kind of upbringing Jephthah may have had. His mother was a prostitute, and Gilead was his father. Gilead and his actual wife had many sons who were adamant that Jephthah, their half-brother, would have no part in the family inheritance, consequently they ran him out of town. So he made a life of his own, rejected and separated from his father’s home. But even with the deck stacked against him, still Jephthah had influence which caused men to follow him (though not men of the most scrupulous character); he even made a name for himself as a fighter and leader. But he also raised a daughter, his only child.
When the Ammonites came to Gilead to make war with Israel, all those half-brothers knew they did not have what it takes to win a battle. So they found Jephthah and asked him to take the lead. Jephthah agreed to do it with a few caveats.
But before he and his men went out to fight the Ammonites, Jephthah made a vow that if God would give him victory, “…whatever comes out the front door of my house to meet me…I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering to God.” (v. 7) Sadly, his daughter was the first one to come out the front door to meet him. Jephthah kept his vow.
Theologians, for years, have been found on both sides of the debate as to whether or not Jephthah actually sacrificed his daughter because of his vow, or if he never allowed her to marry and have children. Both sides make valid points. But still this obscure man is mentioned among the faith-heroes listed in Hebrews 11. Why would he be listed there after such a rash, hasty vow? Here’s why. Because he kept his word even though it was difficult.
All this leads us to consider our promises, our words, and our integrity.
Psalm 15:1, 4
1 LORD, who may dwell in your sanctuary? Who may live on your holy hill?
4 (He) who despises a vile man, but honors those who fear the LORD, who keeps his oath even when it hurts… NIV
How often have you ever made a promise, or given your word to someone only to renege on it because keeping it would be difficult or inconvenient? It’s easy to keep your word when everything fits into your plans, but what about when it’s going to cost you? In Jephthah’s case there was great cost in keeping his vow (regardless of which side of the debate you are on).
When a person gives their word to do something and then backs out, it devalues the person to whom the promise was made. But it also devalues the person who gave his word, but wouldn’t keep it. Think about it. All the way back in Genesis 3:15, God gave His word to give mankind a savior, then He kept that promise through His Son, because He valued us.
Let’s be mindful of Who our example is. Let’s be men of the Word, but also men of our word. Let’s be true to our word, and in doing so, valuing others as well as ourselves.