Jephthah’s Tragic Vow

Jeff Munroe Devotional

READ: Judges 11:29-40

Jephthah made a vow to the Lord. (v. 30)

This is disturbing. I wonder if Jesus had this story in mind when he said what he did about making vows in Matthew 5:33-37. “All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one” (Matt. 5:37 NIV). The results of Jephthah’s tragic vow certainly look like the work of the evil one. The downward spiral of the judges continues.

Jephthah’s name in Hebrew means “he opens,” (there is a linguistic relationship to the Aramaic word “ephphatha” Jesus uses in Mark 7:34 to open the ears of a deaf man) and both Jephthah and his daughter agree he had to keep his vow after opening his mouth to the Lord. Besides the sad result for his daughter, the problem for Jephthah came from the way he made the vow in the first place. He was trying to control God through making a promise. People do this all the time—I wonder how many “if you get me out of this I will serve you forever” prayers God hears in a day. But God does not respond to human attempts to bribe or cajole him.

Although there are parallels to the story of Abraham’s near sacrifice of Isaac in Genesis 22, what stands out are the differences between the two stories. God commanded Abraham and provided a substitute offering. God did not command Jephthah. The vow was Jephthah’s misguided attempt to control God, who stayed terribly silent through the whole ordeal.


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