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Jephthah's Tragic Vow

by Ken Barnes  
5/24/2019 / Christian Living

And Jephthah made a vow to the Lord. He said, “If you give me victory over the Ammonites, I will give to the Lord whatever comes out of my house to meet me when I return in triumph. I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering.”  (Judges 11:30-31 NLT)

Sometimes we can do things to bring about a good result with a bad action.  Jephthah made a vow before he had thought it through.  Often, we try to give God things he does not want.

Tragically, when Jephthah returned from battle, Mizpah, his daughter, and only child, ran out to meet him.  His heart sank (Judges 11:34-35).  Zeal for the Lord is good if it has been measured by wisdom.  Jephthah spoke before considering the consequences of his words.

Bad methods never bring about good results.  The Bible tells us that obedience is better than sacrifice (1 Samuel 15:22).  Surely, compliance does often include some form of sacrifice, but sacrifice is not a prerequisite for obedience.   We frequently try to negotiate a deal with God.  Jephthah made a proposition, if you give me victory, then I will return the favor.  God deals through a covenant relationship, not by contract. We sacrifice because we already have God’s favor not to obtain it.

Obedience has no contingency clauses that say to God if you will, I will.  If we relate to God on a contractual basis, we will always end up giving him things that he does not require.  The problem with this strategy is that everything depends on what we do and not what God does.  Sacrifice, unless directed by God, is futile.  When we give up just to get from God, it always has the opposite effect, as Jephthah found out due to his tragic vow.  


I worked for seventeen years as a missionary with Youth With A Mission. My missionary work has taken me to Mexico, Canada, Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, Spain, and the Ukraine.I hold a Masters of Education in curriculum and instruction from Virginia Commonwealth University. [email protected]

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