Rash words are so often regretted. Why do we ever say them? Maybe because we don’t give as much weight and gravity to words, or we mistakenly believe that we could handle the consequences of whatever we said. But their power to effect our lives and the lives of others is huge. Take the case of Jephthah, the main judge in the reading today.
Israel needed a savior desperately. Once again they had grown unfaithful — have you gotten the message about how important faithfulness is yet? — and God had allowed the Ammonites and others to invade successfully. Although Jephthah was an illegitimate son and had been on the outskirts of Israelite society (which explains some of his behavior) as what could be construed an outlaw or a “war lord”; he is the lone leader in Gilead with battle experience, and Israel approaches him to be their leader against the Ammonites. And wanting to prove himself, he does a reasonable job of trying to diplomatically resolve the conflict, but when that fails, he appeals to God with a rash vow for victory on the battlefield — a burnt offering of WHATEVER should come out of his house first to greet him on his return. As you have hopefully already read, the first thing is his daughter, his only child.
This rash vow, which was paid by Jephthah, has been the topic of many a discussion. We’re horrified to think that human sacrifice was made to God — and indeed it is. It could have happened as a real burnt offering sacrifice; Jephthah was living in a time in which everyman did what was right in his own eyes — there wasn’t much teaching of the Law going on in those days. But it is possible that his daughter might have been given to the service of the Tabernacle, too, since (for example) the citizens of Gibeon were under the ban, but not killed, instead given to the service of wood cutters and water bearers for the Tabernacle. Sadly, my opinion is that she was actually killed.
This has a couple of important lessons for us. First, don’t make rash vows or utter any sort of rash words. You can’t “reel” them back in later, when you’re sorry. How many marriages have been ruined by rash or hasty words — in either taking the marriage vows to begin with (and taking them too lightly) or destroying the marriage with rash, angry words? We will be judged by our words, the Scripture says — the rash ones, the swearing ones, the vows, the angry words, the insincere words, the lying words, the deceptive words, the angry words. The “for better or for worse” ones. Our blogging words and Facebook words, and ranting words The “I’ll pay the debt” ones. The “I have decided to follow Jesus” ones.
And second, if you make a vow (promise, covenant, contract, etc.) keep your word. The Psalmist wrote, “Who may abide in Your holy tent…who swears to his own hurt and does not change” (Ps 15). Our words mean something, whether we want them to or not. God takes them seriously, and others do too. Would you be willing to follow through on a rash vow? You have to hand it to Jephthah, he kept his word to God, no matter how much it cost him. May his example, the tragedy of his rash vow and his willingness to keep it at great personal cost, make us weigh our own words more carefully.
See you tomorrow, Lord willing.