Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Be Careful Little Mouth...

Judges 10 through 12 are the chapters that continue this fascinating chronological journey through God's Word today, and in my opinion they present one of the most difficult and troubling texts yet.

Israel was again practicing idolatry and behaving rebelliously, and God was allowing them to suffer the consequences of their misguided choices. In chapter 10 we discover that things had gotten so bad they finally cried out to God, acknowledging their sin and begging for him to rescue them. At first he refused, but their repeated pleas convinced him to intervene because he was grieved by their misery according to verse 16.

It's amazing that God loves his children enough to be grieved by their self-imposed misery. What I want to highlight however, is what happened in chapters 11 and 12. Jephthah, a great warrior with a questionable pedigree (his mother was a prostitute and therefore he'd been shunned by his half-brothers and chased out of town) was summoned to lead Israel in battle against the Ammonites who were attacking them. His formerly hostile relatives promised to serve him and to elevate him to the position of ruler if he led them to victory.

Verse 29 of chapter 11 says that the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah and he led the people against the Ammonites. It was at this time that he made a vow to God promising that if God would give him victory over the Ammonites he would sacrifice the first thing that came out of his house when he returned in triumph.

Before I share the heart-wrenching details of what transpired, let me stop here and offer this warning: BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU VOW. I imagine that in his zeal, he gave little consideration to what his vow might require, and it's likely that he made the vow hoping to ensure that God was on his side. We are wise to learn from the story of Jephthah that it is always better to be on God's side than to try to "bargain" him onto our side. We are equally wise to recognize that despite the Spirit of the Lord having been "upon Jephthah," he made a foolish vow. God's Holy Spirit resides in the life of every Christian believer, but we still have the freedom to do dumb things and make unwise decisions, as evidenced by the vow that Jephthah made that day.

When Jephthah returned in triumph, the first "thing" out of his house was his virgin daughter, an only child. Is it possible that it never occurred to ole Jep that a beloved family member would be first to greet him? We won't know that until heaven, but we can know this--his little girl was either sacrificed physically or consecrated to become a tabernacle servant. (Many scholars believe that she wasn't killed because human sacrifice was strictly forbidden by Mosaic Law {see Leviticus 18:21 and Deuteronomy 12:31}. Jephthah's negotiations with the Ammonites proved his familiarity with the law, so it is possible that she was consecrated as a tabernacle servant according to Leviticus 27 rather than being sacrificed as an offering.

Whichever scenario depicted the actual outcome, the Bible does say that Jephthah kept his oath to God. Ecclesiastes warns of the foolishness of making thoughtless vows. As Christians, there are appropriate times to make vows to God, but they are never to be treated carelessly or casually. God takes what we say in the form of a vow seriously, yet we have become a people who place little value on words, often treating the promises we make to God as little "huh ohs". But what if the cost for speaking hastily and foolishly was as great for us as it was for Jephthah? I think we'd be singing the song "be careful little mouth what you say," at least once a day, and taking its lyrics seriously.

Father, I plead for your mercy if I have broken a vow made to you and thank you that you are a God who forgives and who strictly prohibits human sacrifice and loathes the devaluing of human life. Thank you for life, breath, and words--but please help me and help my loved ones speak only with wisdom and integrity. In Jesus' Name. Amen.

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