April 30: “An Old Testament Story that Makes My Blood Boil”

18 Minute Read

Today’s Bible Reading:

Judges 11:1–12:15
John 1:1-28
Psalm 101:1-8
Proverbs 14:13-14

Today’s Bible Verse(s):

Judges 11:30-31 (NLT): “And Jephthah made a vow to the Lord. He said, ‘If you give me victory over the Ammonites, I will give to the Lord whatever comes out of my house to meet me when I return in triumph. I will sacrifice it 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 affirm.

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 read our Bibles, we have complete 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 quickly 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 story’s events. 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 do the same thing.

So, when we read the Bible stories, 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 morally 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 reasonably well…

Judges 11:29 (NLT): “At that time the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah, and he went throughout the land of Gilead and Manasseh, including Mizpah in Gilead, and from there he led an army against the Ammonites.”

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): “And Jephthah made a vow to the Lord. He said, ‘If you give me victory over the Ammonites, I will give to the Lord whatever comes out of my house to meet me when I return in triumph. I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering.’”

His promise to offer a burnt offering of “whatever comes out of my house to meet me when I return in triumph” was utterly stupid and reckless. This has more to do with the pagan, Canaanite religions 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): “So Jephthah led his army against the Ammonites, and the Lord gave him victory. He crushed the Ammonites, devastating about twenty towns from Aroer to an area near Minnith and as far away as Abel-keramim. In this way Israel defeated the Ammonites.”

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 entirely 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 returned home to Mizpah, his daughter came out to meet him, playing on a tambourine and dancing for joy. She was his one and only child; he had no other sons or daughters. When he saw her, he tore his clothes in anguish. ‘Oh, my daughter!’ he cried out. ‘You have completely destroyed me! You’ve brought disaster on me! For I have made a vow to the Lord, and I cannot take it back.’”

This is where my blood begins to boil.

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.

If I could be so bold as to attempt to put words in Jephthah’s mouth, he might have said something like this:

“Oh, daughter! I’m such a man of integrity. I have made a promise to the Lord, and I must keep it even though it requires me to murder you.”

Jephthah never consulted God when he made the reckless 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 (if there would even be any consequences).

Remember, we’re reading the book of Judges. The people had rejected the Lord and were doing “whatever seemed right in their own eyes” (Judges 17:6; 21:25). So, we are reading stories that are far from God’s ideal, and some are downright wicked.

Judges 11:36-37 (CSB): “And she said, ‘Father, if you have made a vow to the Lord, you must do to me what you have vowed, for the Lord has given you a great victory over your enemies, the Ammonites. But first let me do this one thing: Let me go up and roam in the hills and weep with my friends for two months, because I will die a virgin.’”

Friend, God didn’t approve of this! Someone should have grabbed Jephthah by the collar and made it clear 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 an explicit commandment of God: “You shall not murder!” He should have been warned that if he didn’t immediately abandon his wicked notions, he would be turned over to the authorities.

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):” ‘You may go,’ Jephthah said. And he sent her away for two months. She and her friends went into the hills and wept because she would never have children. When she returned home, her father kept the vow he had made, and she died a virgin. So it has become a custom in Israel for young Israelite women to go away for four days each year to lament the fate of Jephthah’s daughter.”

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 story’s events.

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 ourselves and others … and even our children who run out the front door to greet us when we get home.


Matt Ellis is the pastor of First Baptist Church in Polk City, Florida (fbcpolkcity.com). His latest book is God’s Grace in the Real World. Connect with him on FacebookTwitter, or LinkedIn.

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

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I have an incredible wife that God gave to me on May 10, 1997. Since then, the Lord has blessed us with three wonderful boys. I am also the pastor of the First Baptist Church of Polk City, Florida.

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