Jephthah’s daughter said to him, “My father, if you have opened your mouth to the Lord, do to me according to what has gone out of your mouth, now that the Lord has given you vengeance against your enemies, the Ammonites.” Judges 11:36
Jephthah was the son of a prostitute, banished by his family and his community, and forced to make a life among a band of thieves. He was an outlaw. But when the community of Gilead needed a conquering hero, they readily invited Jephthah back into their fold with the hope that he would lead them to victory. Victory was had, but the price was the life of Jephthah’s own daughter, who willingly accepted being a sacrifice—a burnt offering—to the glory of God.
We might rightly cringe at the gory nature of the supposed glory of God in this passage. This is an awful story of a vow kept against what we might consider to be better judgment. But in the midst of this gruesome story stands the innocent faithfulness of Jephthah’s daughter. She speaks through this ancient text, telling us that vows before God should be taken seriously and kept faithfully—not discarded in moments when they begin to cost us more than we had expected. She reminds us that more often than not, the work of faith has to do with parting with that which is most dear to us. And in her story, we see a foreshadowing of the story of Jesus, the only son of God who was sacrificed to the world so that victory over sin and death might be won.
What costly vow do you need to keep?
Lord, I don’t like this story. I claim my dislike stems from a careless vow, even more carelessly kept. But, perhaps, it is the underlying message that most disquiets me. Vows are serious business. Faith requires sacrifice. Vows kept and sacrifices made are a central part of Your gift to us. I do not fully understand…or perhaps I do not entirely want to understand, but I still pray this all in the name of Jesus. AMEN.