To vow or not to vow. That is the question. From Judges 11:29-40

“Remember that something we do that may make us famous has an equal possibility of making us infamous as well. “

Okay, I admit it. I’ve made some pledges /promises to the Lord, vows if you will, over the years that I have regretted. Reading and thinking about the Biblical account of Jephthah’s vow in Judges 11:29-40 (the full text is below for your convenience) has been very instructional for me. There is a powerful lesson here regarding vows or commitments that we make to the Lord that we can miss if we focus only on the controversy over whether or not Jephthah offered his daughter as a human sacrifice (By the way, I don’t believe he did. I believe he offered her to the Lord in a life of celibacy and thus childlessness – See Jephthah’s words in v.31 – “shall be the Lord’s, his daughters words in v. 37, “Let this thing be done for me: leave me alone two months, that I may go up and down on the mountains and weep for my virginity, I and my companions”, the commentary on her in v.39, “She had never known a man” and the fact that Jephthah is in the Hall of Faith in Hebrews 11:32). This story provides me with 5 simple principles for evaluating whether or not to make a certain vow or pledge/promise to the Lord.

  1. If I am making a pledge/promise to the Lord as an attempt to bribe the Lord or to get Him to do something for me like defeat the Ammonites (v.30) or get a promotion, I shouldn’t do it. Jephthah’s vow didn’t get him favor with God and the victory that was won. God can’t be bribed. I shouldn’t insult the great God of the universe by acting like He can be.
  2. If I am making a pledge/promise in haste because of my emotions and or because of other’s around me, my peers (evidently others heard Jephthah’s vow v.36) than I should stop myself from making it. Rash decisions rarely work out and aren’t pleasing to the Lord.
  3. If there is a possibility I will regret this pledge/promise later than I shouldn’t make it either. “Will I be willing and able to fulfill my pledge/promise on another day?’ might be a good question to ask. Jephthah didn’t think through the consequences and thus lost his joy in his victory because he would have no heirs having committed his daughter to a life of celibacy (v.35)
  4. If my pledge/ promise will affect others negatively or positively I shouldn’t make the pledge or vow. If I take the time to consult them and if I allow them to freely opt in or out of my insanity then I might be all right. In our story Jephthah wound up imposing his rash vow on his daughter who was stuck with his foolish words (v.37-38).
  5. If my pledge/promise has the possibility of being epic for good or bad, if it has the chance to make a blog 3000 years after I’ve done it or at least the gossip around the office or neighborhood it would be a good idea to refrain from that pledge or vow. Jephthah’s vow and its ramifications were commemorated by the Jewish woman for years afterwards (v.40) and are inscribed in Holy writ for us today. Remember that something we do that may make us famous has an equal possibility of making us infamous as well.

When it comes to vows in general the advice of Solomon in Ecclesiastes is wise and is to be heeded. He says in Ecclesiastes 5:4–5 “When you vow a vow to God, do not delay paying it, for he has no pleasure in fools. Pay what you vow. 5 It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay.”

The words of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ on the matter are as always highly instructional. He says in Matthew 5:34–37 “But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.”

The vow of Paul and its subsequent issues in Acts 21:21-24 provides another example for the need of caution regarding our pledges/promises to God

Finally, as a New Testament follower of Christ I am wise to remember that there is no compulsion for me to vow, pledge or promise. I am free to do so if I want to but I’d be wise to follow the Biblical principles we’ve outlined lest I really regret doing so.

Judges 11:29–40 – Then 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. 30 And Jephthah made a vow to the Lord and said, “If you will give the Ammonites into my hand, 31 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.” 32 So Jephthah crossed over to the Ammonites to fight against them, and the Lord gave them into his hand. 33 And he struck them from Aroer to the neighborhood of Minnith, twenty cities, and as far as Abel-keramim, with a great blow. So the Ammonites were subdued before the people of Israel.

34 Then Jephthah came to his home at Mizpah. And behold, his daughter came out to meet him with tambourines and with dances. She was his only child; besides her he had neither son nor daughter. 35 And as soon as he saw her, he tore 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.” 36 And she said to him, “My father, 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 avenged you on your enemies, on the Ammonites.” 37 So she said to her father, “Let this thing be done for me: leave me alone two months, that I may go up and down on the mountains and weep for my virginity, I and my companions.” 38 So he said, “Go.” Then he sent her away for two months, and she departed, she and her companions, and wept for her virginity on the mountains. 39 And at the end of two months, she returned to her father, who did with her according to his vow that he had made. She had never known a man, and it became a custom in Israel 40 that the daughters of Israel went year by year to lament the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite four days in the year.

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