“…or if anyone utters with his lips a rash oath to do evil or to do good, any sort of rash oath that people swear, and it is hidden from him, when he comes to know it, and he realizes his guilt in any of these; when he realizes his guilt in any of these and confesses the sin he has committed, he shall bring to the LORD as his compensation for the sin that he has committed, a female from the flock, a lamb or a goat, for a sin offering. And the priest shall make atonement for him for his sin.” Leviticus 5:4-6
The story of a man named Jephthah is one of those really disturbing stories in the Bible. It’s not disturbing because he was a mighty man of valor. It’s not disturbing because he was the son of a harlot. It’s not disturbing because of the rough time Jephthah had in his family. See, his dad’s wife had other sons who didn’t care much for Jephthah and how he came about. They threw him out and excluded him from the inheritance. They wouldn’t acknowledge him as a son or brother. So Jephthah fled from them and lived in Tob where these worthless kind of fellows gathered around him.
Well, that’s all pretty harsh. Poor Jephthah. And isn’t that pretty harsh to say that “worthless” fellows gathered around him? That’s this word “reyq.” It’s also called vain, but not the same word for vain used in a lot of other places in Scripture. It is a word worth shuddering over though. “Empty, worthless, of no value, morally depraved or taken away are all within the range of reyq.” It’s the word used in Proverbs 28:19 where it says, “Whoever works his land will have plenty of bread, but he who follows worthless pursuits will have plenty of poverty.” In Genesis it signifies emptiness, like an empty pit devoid of water, of anything, or an empty ear of corn. Proverbs tells us that those who follow people like this are void of understanding, and wind up in poverty. It’s like dreaming about eating, but waking up and finding your stomach is still empty.
Chasing the wrong things will wreck a life. Sometimes reyq is about chasing wealth or a dream. Couldn’t it be about chasing bitterness and revenge? Couldn’t it be about chasing recognition by others? Aren’t there a lot of things we could chase that can wreck our life because we aren’t chasing after God, the Thing that really matters, the One that keeps us from being empty? Yes, there are worthless ventures but it’s not about the venture. It’s about a disregard for You God and Your sovereignty in my life and in Jephthah’s. Were You really in charge or did Jephthah take charge? Here were all these people who counted him worthless. But You didn’t count him worthless. The one that the brothers discarded, You chose. Sometimes we directly pursue our own interests without having any directive from You, Lord. That’s pretty foolish. But sometimes, we pursue things with a twisted idea of Your directives and that’s just as foolish and leads to the same emptiness. Both lead to fates worse than death.
But I digress. So here is Jephthah, surrounded with other men pursuing their own desires and the Ammonites rise up against Gilead, Jephthah’s “family.” So the men of Gilead run to Jephthah, this mighty warrior, and ask him to be their head and lead against Ammon. Now, Jephthah is not devoid of the Lord and what God has done for the Israelites. He tells them, “If you bring me home again to fight against the Ammonites, and the Lord gives them over to me, I will be your head.” And the Gileadites agreed. So Jephthah sends messages back and forth to Ammon and basically tells them that because of their past choices in dealing with Israel coming out of Egypt, God gave their land over into Israel’s hands. They were privy to the land their god Chemosh gave them, but the people of Israel would possess the lands that the Lord their God had given to them. But Ammon didn’t like that, so war was on.
Now, I know that You, Lord, were with Jephthah, because in Judges 11:29 You tell us “the Spirit of the LORD was upon Jephthah, and he passed through Gilead and Manasseh and passed on to Mizpah of Gilead, and from Mizpah of Gilead he passed on to the Ammonites.” Now here is this empty vessel, that You have now filled with Your Spirit, but somehow, there was still some emptiness in him. He makes this vow with all good and honorable intentions. “If you will give the Ammonites into my hand, then whatever comes out from the doors of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the Ammonites shall be the LORD’s, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering.” (Judges 11:30,31) Was Jephthah trying to control the outcome? Was he bargaining with God as though You need a burnt offering? I’m just wondering what good promising a burnt offering would be if a burnt offering was all about ones sin? How is that appropriate? How is that an appropriate gift to a God who just delivered Your people from an invading army? Can God be manipulated? Can we satisfy God with gifts? Is that rather shallow thinking and a rather empty understanding of You?
So God gave Ammon over to the children of Israel and Jephthah returned in victory. Only that victory was short-lived because the first thing out of his house was his daughter, his only child. Upon seeing her and knowing his vow, he rent his clothes, and said, “Alas, my daughter! You have brought me very low, and you have become the cause of great trouble to me. for I have opened my mouth to the LORD, and I cannot take back my vow.” And like a dutiful daughter, she submits to allow her father to offer her as a burnt sacrifice. Yeah, that is very uncomfortable. Did You really require that, Lord?
But then I’m taken back to Your sacrifices and the reasons for them. And I come to this sacrifice that we could offer for the stupid, stupid vows we make out of our mouths that should have never been released from our lips in the first place. Now, I’m not a Jew, but I’ve found this verse about this sacrifice for vows made. Why didn’t Jephthah know? Is it because he had been doing things his own way for so long? Is it because of the emptiness that surrounded him, filled with agendas of being recognized? Was that more important than surrendering fully to Your ways and being recognized only by You? Jephthah should have known about this vow. Jephthah didn’t have to sacrifice his daughter because of his idiotic words.
It wasn’t really his daughter that brought him low, it was his own words spoken from a prideful heart. It wasn’t his daughter that had become a cause of great trouble to him, it was that heart following his own desire, his own need to be someone, his lack of understanding who You really were. Yes, he opened his mouth to the Lord, but he spoke what he shouldn’t have spoken. God, You gave him a way out. When he realized at this moment his guilt, he could have confessed it, and offered a sin offering, and You would have forgiven him. He couldn’t take back his vow but You could have forgiven it.
But instead, he taught an empty thing. He taught that his own words were more binding than Yours. He just didn’t get it, maybe because he was focussed more on his own honor than on Yours. And so neither did his daughter know the truth. And so she, in order to appease a God she was taught needed appeasing, offered her life for her father’s image. I’m sorry, this is just so sad. “My father, you have opened your mouth to the LORD; do to me according to what has gone out of your mouth…” How empty is that thinking that my faulty mouth and heart ought to mandate what is acceptable to God! Especially when You, Lord, have already opened Your mouth, and given me ways to live and speak and love and honor and glorify You. And one of those ways is to eat humble pie when I realize my sin and my errors, and kneel before You in confession and receive Your forgiveness. See, it’s never been about my image, but always been about upholding Yours. Sacrificing my child as an appeasement is so pagan, it’s so empty, it’s so devoid of really knowing God.
It’s so easy to try to be a good man or woman. There’s so many motions we can go through to appease God. But the Real God is not a God who can be appeased. The Real God has already set His standard of holiness and righteousness. And the only way we can meet that standard is His way, through trust and faith. And trust and faith means walking in obedience. It means honoring His words, not mine. Anything else is absolute emptiness. There’s only one sacrifice that makes a difference before our holy God, that’s His required sacrifice. Jephthah didn’t offer it because he didn’t even know it. What about us? Do we understand the sacrifice that is required? Because the sacrifices of the Old Testament didn’t cease to exist, but they all came together in God’s Son, the Messiah, Jesus. Will I be a Jephthah and offer my own sacrifice my own way, or will I surrender to a God who has already delivered me from my sins His way? How empty am I? I don’t have to be empty because I was created to be filled with God. It’s time to throw off our pride, and surrender to God’s way, not ours. It’s time to confess our sin and offer the lamb required and not our sons and daughters who can’t atone and can’t appease. It’s time to get back into Your Word, Lord, and know You and Your requirements, and not be making them up on my own. It’s time to know You for real.