13 Minute Read + Scripture readings

Today’s Bible Reading:

Judges 11:12-40
Acts 15
Jeremiah 24
Mark 10

Today’s Bible Verse(s):

Judges 11:30-31 (CSB): “Jephthah made this vow to the LORD: ‘If you in fact hand over the Ammonites to me, whoever comes out the doors of my house to greet me when I return safely from the Ammonites will belong to the LORD, and I will offer that person as a burnt offering.’”

Reflections on Today’s Bible Verse(s):

If you are a conservative evangelical Christian like myself, you almost certainly believe in the inerrancy of Scripture. By that, we mean that the Bible does not contain a single error in its original writings. We also affirm that the Bible has been incredibly, even miraculously, preserved. (If you want to read about this, one of the many books I would recommend is “More Than a Carpenter,” by Josh McDowell.)

To get even more technical, let me quote from The Baptist Faith and Message 2000, a credal statement of Southern Baptists that I wholeheartedly agree with.

Baptist Faith and Message 2000: “The Holy Bible was written by men divinely inspired and is God’s revelation of Himself to man. It is a perfect treasure of divine instruction. It has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter. Therefore, all Scripture is totally true and trustworthy…”

So, when we approach our Bible reading, we have full confidence that what we are reading is “true and trustworthy.”

There are various genres, various types of literature, in Scripture. There is history, prophecy, letters, narrative, parables, and so forth.

So, let’s apply our understanding of the inerrancy of Scripture to the stories (narratives) of the Bible. We believe that the stories are true, “without any mixture of error” and are “totally true and trustworthy.” By that, we mean that God’s Holy Spirit led the writers to accurately convey the events of the story. But it doesn’t mean that God affirms the moral choices of those in the story.

For instance, the Bible accurately and truthfully tells us that Peter denied Jesus three times. But it certainly doesn’t suggest that we follow Peter’s actions.

The Bible accurately and truthfully tells us that Judas hung himself. But it certainly doesn’t suggest that we are to do the same thing.

So, when we read the stories of the Bible, we realize that the accounts are “true and trustworthy.” They are told exactly the way the events transpired. But the Lord doesn’t necessarily want us to make the same choices or do the same things. We must compare the story with the rest of Scripture to determine if the statements and actions were right or wrong.

With this understanding of inerrancy, let’s look at the story that appears in today’s Bible reading. I’m not joking when I say that it makes me mad every time I read it.

It starts off fairly well…

Judges 11:29 (CSB): “The Spirit of the LORD came on Jephthah, who traveled through Gilead and Manasseh, and then through Mizpah of Gilead. He crossed over to the Ammonites from Mizpah of Gilead.”

In the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit did not fill every God-follower like He has done ever since the day of Pentecost (Acts 2). Instead, the Old Testament reveals that the Holy Spirit only came on Israel’s kings or prophets … and could even depart from them as He did in the case of King Saul.

In Judges 11:29, we are told that the Holy Spirit temporarily came on Jephthah as he went throughout Gilead and Manasseh to gather his troops. But, clearly, the Spirit of the Lord had absolutely nothing to do with the utterly reckless vow that Jephthah made in an attempt to guarantee a military victory.

Judges 11:30-31 (CSB): “Jephthah made this vow to the LORD: ‘If you in fact hand over the Ammonites to me, whoever comes out the doors of my house to greet me when I return safely from the Ammonites will belong to the LORD, and I will offer that person as a burnt offering.’”

As I browsed other translations of the Bible, I realized that the Christian Standard Bible (CSB) is the only one I saw that assumes that Jephthah was talking about a person and a human sacrifice.

All of the other Bible translations seem to convey that Jephthah might not have specifically been talking about a human burnt offering. Maybe he thought a dog or some other animal would meet him as he approached his home.

Regardless, his promise to offer a burnt offering of whatever “comes out the doors of my house to greet me when I return safely” was utterly stupid and reckless. This has more to do with the pagan, Canaanite religion than it did with the worship of the one true God. God nowhere affirms Jephthah’s oath.

The only time God called someone to offer up a human sacrifice (which God stopped before any injury occurred) was Abraham and I have written previously about the significance of that event: “God, Abraham, and child sacrifice.”

So, with a reckless, stupid, vile oath, the story continues.

Judges 11:32-33 (CSB): “Jephthah crossed over to the Ammonites to fight against them, and the LORD handed them over to him. He defeated twenty 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.”

Jephthah was victorious and it was the Lord that did it through him.

From the text, we understand that God’s Holy Spirit came on Jephthah to rally the troops and obtain a victory.

But the Bible is completely silent on God’s involvement with Jephthah’s oath. I believe that is because God had nothing to do with it.

God had already guaranteed Jephthah’s victory. It was Jephthah’s weak faith that moved him to hedge his bets with a reckless oath.

Judges 11:34-35 (CSB): “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. 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.’”

And this is where my blood pressure rises.

God had nothing to do with Jephthah’s oath to sacrifice whatever came out his door to meet him as he arrived home. His daughter met him … and he, a dad, felt morally obligated to kill her since he made an oath. This is nothing short of barbaric.

Jephthah never consulted God when he made the oath. Then, to demonstrate his conviction, he would rather take what he thought was “the moral high ground” and kill his daughter than to do the right thing by sparing his daughter and letting the consequences fall where they may.

Remember, we’re reading the book of Judges. The people had rejected the Lord and were doing “what was right in their own eyes.” So, we are reading stories that are far from God’s ideal, and some are downright wicked.

Judges 11:36-37 (CSB): “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.’ She also said to her father, ‘Let me do this one thing: Let me wander two months through the mountains with my friends and mourn my virginity.’”

I can only imagine what the conversation was:

Jephthah: “Oh, daughter! I had no idea that you would be the first one to meet me when I got home. But since you ran through the front door to give your daddy a hug, and since I made a vow to God, I have to kill you.”

Friend, God didn’t approve of this! Someone should have had a come-to-Jesus talk with Jephthah and conveyed to him that God would have never approved of such a vow. He should have been told that if he followed through on the vow that he would be breaking a clear commandment of God: “You shall not murder!”

But, apparently, no one had a copy of God’s Law. And if they did, they didn’t respect its authority to speak into life’s circumstances.

Friend, this is a great time to make it clear that God’s Word is our final authority for what we believe and what we do. I don’t care what someone has said God has revealed to them or what promise they apparently made to God, God’s Word is the final authority.

I will never forget an instance when a lady presumed to speak for God in a business meeting. To express her disapproval at what was being discussed, she publicly proclaimed: “God is not happy with …” This was in spite of the fact that the Bible never addressed the matter under consideration in word or spirit. It was yet another instance where someone’s word, someone’s personal reasoning, wrongly trumped Scripture and forced words into God’s mouth that He never said.

Friend, Jephthah was dead wrong in what he did because he allowed his words and his experience to trump God’s clear written Word.

If God’s Word had been consulted, Jephthah’s bizarre fulfillment of his vow would have never happened.

Judges 11:38-40 (CSB): ” ‘Go,’ he said. And he sent her away two months. So she left with her friends and mourned her virginity as she wandered through the mountains. At the end of two months, she returned to her father, and he kept the vow he had made about her. And she had never been intimate with a man. Now it became a custom in Israel that four days each year the young women of Israel would commemorate the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite.”

So, friend, when you read the stories of the Bible, they are told truthfully. They present the facts of the story exactly as they happened.

But, the Bible stories rarely ever tell us whether the words or deeds were moral or immoral. The stories are simply given to us, the reader, to consult the rest of God’s known, written Word to determine the morality of the events of the story.

After considering this story, let’s determine to read, study, and submit to God’s Word. Let us commit to never allowing our own suspicions, impressions, convictions, or anything else to ever take precedence over God’s revealed Word.

Doing so will enable us to stay on the narrow path of holiness that will allow blessings upon others, even our children who run out the front door to greet us when we get home.

* * * * * * * * * *

Lord Jesus, I want to be a competent student of Your Word. I not only want to know it, I also want to know how to understand it and apply it. While Your Word is easy to read and relatively easy to understand, it sometimes takes a very focused, thoughtful person to grasp the message that You are conveying in a text. I want to develop that ability. Help me in this endeavor. Amen.

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