Judges 11:30-36 30 Jephthah made this vow to the LORD: “If You will hand over the Ammonites to me, 31 whatever comes out of the doors of my house to greet me when I return in peace from the Ammonites will belong to the LORD, and I will offer it as a burnt offering.” 32 Jephthah crossed over to the Ammonites to fight against them, and the LORD handed them over to him. 33 He defeated 20 of their cities with a great slaughter from Aroer all the way to the entrance of Minnith and to Abel-keramim. So the Ammonites were subdued before the Israelites. 34 When Jephthah went to his home in Mizpah, there was his daughter, coming out to meet him with tambourines and dancing! She was his only child; he had no other son or daughter besides her. 35 When he saw her, he tore his clothes and said, “No! Not my daughter! You have devastated me! You have brought great misery on me. I have given my word to the LORD and cannot take it back. 36 Then she said to him, “My father, you have given your word to the LORD. Do to me as you have said, for the LORD brought vengeance on your enemies, the Ammonites.”
One of the greatest dangers in the Christian life is the danger to compare. Comparing your spiritual life to others will most likely result in false pride or needless depression. We compare ourselves to those who are struggling or new to the faith, and it makes us look wonderful when we could be anything but. We compare ourselves to spiritual mature believers who spend hours in prayer each day, and we feel unworthy and pathetic next to them.
Comparisons are destructive because they make us into something we are not. They turn us into petty critics who know nothing of grace and mercy. In comparison to other prayers in the Bible Jephthah’s vow may be the worst, but may we not be people who are puffed in pride because of his foolishness May we be humble to avoid walking in the same mistakes.
The Importance of Vows
We don’t pay enough attention to the place that the Bible gives to the making of vows. There are entire sections of the Mosaic Law dedicated to vows. (Lev 27, Num 6, and Num 30). Jesus attacked those who abused vows on multiple occasions in his own ministry (Matthew 5 and 23). James 5 is a warning against rash, proud vows. There is more teaching on the taking and fulfilling of vows than we typically consider. Vows given to God in prayer are sacred and we are required to fulfill every vow taken.
The reality of the importance of vows is illustrated in the sober warning found in Judges 11. Jephthah made a foolish vow before his battle with the Ammonites. He vowed to offer whatever first exited his home at his return from battle as a burnt offering to God. After his return from defeating numerous Ammonite cities, Jephthah’s daughter runs out the door to greet her father.
In shock and horror Jephthah says, “I have given my word to the LORD and cannot take it back.” After a period of mourning with her friends, Jephthah’s daughter is offered in sacrifice to the LORD in fulfillment of his vow. Vows are never taken lightly in the Scriptures. If you vow to never drink a drop of alcohol, God expects you to remain alcohol-free for the rest of your life. If you vow to remain faithful to your spouse, God expects you to stay in your marriage in the good and bad. If you make a vow don’t underestimate the importance of your promise.
The Danger of Vows
Vows are not only important, but they are also dangerous. We see the danger in shocking clarity as Jephthah’s daughter loses her life to a foolish vow. Vows can take away blessings that God would have otherwise wanted to keep in your life. Vows can harm your testimony when you make a promise that is impossible for you to fulfill and back out on your word. Please count the potential costs of your vows before every promise. Think through both the consequences of breaking your word and fulfilling your word. Don’t lose sight of what can be lost through a rash vow made in prayer.