And Jephthah vowed a vow to the LORD, and said, If you shall without fail deliver the children of Ammon into my hands,…
Jephthah's conduct should be viewed in the light of his age and of his own conscientious convictions, and not judged by the clearer light and changed convictions of Christendom. Measured by modern standards, it may appear superstitious, cruel, insane; but measured by the only standards to which Jephthah could bring it, his conduct was noble beyond expression. From the incident generally we may gather the following lessons: -
I. THE HAND OF GOD SHOULD BE RECOGNISED IN OUR GOOD AND FRUITFUL WORKS. The eiders had called upon Jephthah to deliver them from the Ammonites. Yet the warrior saw that his own right hand could not secure the victory; if this came, it must be from God. Such conduct shows humility - a difficult grace for a popular hero to practise in the midst of his triumph; and faith in discerning the secret of success in the presence of God, and trusting to this before entering the battle.
II. IT IS RIGHT THAT WE SHOULD RECOGNISE GOD'S CLAIMS IN RETURN FOR THE RECEPTION OF HIS GRACE. The thank offering belongs not to the Levitical law alone, but to all religion (Romans 12:1). It is foolish to think to buy the help of God by promising him devotion in return (Genesis 28:20-22). But it may be helpful to our fulfilment of the duties of gratitude if we recognise the obligation of thankfulness even before we receive the special blessing of God, as we are more likely to realise it fully then than after we are relieved and satisfied. It should always be remembered that we have already received such great bounties from God that we are under constant obligations to him, that he claims our hearts, our possessions, our all, and that our true blessedness is only found in perfect surrender to him.
III. IT IS GENERALLY FOOLISH AND WRONG TO MAKE A VOW THE CONSEQUENCES OF WHICH WE DO NOT FORESEE. There may be an occasional advantage in the vow to bind the soul by a solemn recognition of its obligations; but we are equally required to give God our all whether we make a vow or no. Nothing is more weak than to vow at a time when we axe not called to make a sacrifice, and then to prove unequal to the sacrifice when this is required. It is better to count the cost and refrain from making the vow if necessary (Luke 14:28). The vow is often only a sign of presumption. It would be well for us to turn our vows into prayers, and instead of promising that we will do some great thing, to ask God to give us grace to do it. Still, viewed from the standpoint of devotion, there is something noble in the perfect surrendering of self, and the brave trustfulness of Jephthah's vow.
IV. WE SHOULD CONSIDER OURSELVES BOUND TO KEEP THOSE VOWS WHICH WE MAKE TO OUR OWN HURT SO LONG AS WE DO NOT FEEL THIS TO BE WRONG. Our own inconvenience is no excuse for declining to fulfil an obligation, just because we did not anticipate the trouble in entering into the obligation (Psalm 15:4). But our conviction of wrong is a reason for not keeping our promise. A promise to do evil is void from the first. It is wrong to make such a promise; to fulfil it is to add a second wrong. We can never bind ourselves by vow to do that which it would not be right for us to do without the vow. Therefore for us, with our Christian light, it would be sinful to fulfil such a vow as Jephthah's. Nevertheless, the great Hebrew hero clearly felt that it was his duty to fulfil it, and therefore to him the vow was binding. If we blame him, it must be
(1) for the rashness which allowed him to contract himself into an obligation which he would never have entered with his eyes opened, and
(2) for the ignorance of the character of God which is shown in his supposition that God could be pleased with the sacrifice of his daughter. Even the imperfect revelation of God then vouchsafed should have prevented such a frightful misconception if it had been rightly used (Genesis 22:12). But we may find more of good example than of warning in the whole incident. Pathetic as is the error of Jephthah, his magnificent fidelity is a model of religious heroism. - A.
Parallel VersesKJV: And Jephthah vowed a vow unto the LORD, and said, If thou shalt without fail deliver the children of Ammon into mine hands,