Summary: This message looks at the story of the Vow of Jephthah, what he could learn looking back, and what we can learn looking ahead.
A Tough Promise to Keep
Have you ever made a promise you regretted? Given your word and then realized the price was way too high but couldn’t find a graceful way to back out?
Happened different times in the bible. Herod had John the Baptist arrested because John wouldn’t stop harping on the fact that Herod’s marriage to his brother’s wife was both immoral and illegal under Jewish law. And if you remember the story, one night at a big blow out at the palace Herod’s Stepdaughter danced for the men present and in response Herod promised her anything, up to one half of his kingdom, seems a little over the top but he had been drinking. The media would later say, “Alcohol may have been a factor.” Well the girl went to her mother and asked what she thought and came back to Herod and demanded “Bring me John’s head on a platter.” Wasn’t what he was thinking, but what could he do? I mean besides saying “No”?
Judas promised to help the High Priest’s in their quest to stop Jesus, I’m sure he thought he was simply forcing Jesus’ hand, pushing him to establish his kingdom. But it soon became apparent that things were spiraling out of control and Judas went back and told the authorities, “I’ve changed mind.” But alas, it was too late.
And then there was Peter who when Jesus came to them in the storm walking on the water, Peter calls out and says “Lord if it’s you call and I will join you.” And Jesus said, “come on it, the water’s fine” That of course is a rough translation, and Peter had no choice but to get out of the boat.
This is week five of our Skeleton’s in God’s Closet series and we’ve been looking at some stories and doctrines in the bible that some Christians find difficult to explain and some non-Christians enjoy pointing out in an effort to shake our faith.
This morning we are going back into the Old Testament to look at a particular story that has bothered me since the first time I read it and when I was thinking of doing this series this was the first story that came to mind.
I kind of stumbled on it accidentally the first time. Years ago I was preaching on heroes of faith from Hebrews Chapter 11,which has often been called the “Faith Hall of Fame”. And I came upon this section that was read this morning and there are a pile of names that are just kind of tossed in. Hebrews 11:32 How much more do I need to say? It would take too long to recount the stories of the faith of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and all the prophets.
And I knew most of the names on the list. Gideon, King David and the Prophet Samuel, they were no brainers great stories, lot of faith. I’ve always considered Samson a bit of a sociopath but it is what it is, I can understand why some would put him on the list, even though he wouldn’t be my first choice.
But at first glance I was stumped with Barak and Jephthah. So I did what you did before Google, I dug some books out of my library and starting researching these guys. Barak turned out to be a commander in Israel when Deborah was the Judge of Israel. Being a Judge was kind of like being royalty without the palace and perks. So three thousand years ago Israel had a female ruler, kind of cool. And you can read her story, which includes Barak in Judges chapter 4. And you’ll want to read all the way to the end. Now if I had to pick I think I would have put Jael on the list instead of Barak but again, not my list.
And then I read the story of Jephthah and it nearly knocked me over, I went back and checked, thought maybe I’d spelt his name wrong in my research, but nope, same guy. And I thought that is just wrong, so I did what we usually do when we find something we don’t understand, don’t like or can’t explain in the bible. We stuff it back in the closet and slam the door shut.
But if there was ever a time to heed the advice of George Bernard Shaw who said. “If you can't get rid of the skeleton in your closet, you'd best teach it to dance.” This was it.
So let’s start with the story. You will find it in Judges Chapter 11. And it is an interesting story. Jephthah was the result of a dalliance between his father and a prostitute. But apparently he was raised by his father because we read in Judges 11:2 Gilead’s wife also had several sons, and when these half brothers grew up, they chased Jephthah off the land. “You will not get any of our father’s inheritance,” they said, “for you are the son of a prostitute.”