Think before you make a promise…

Jephthah's Vow I am reading through the book of Judges and once again ran across the account of Jephthah (ch. 10, 11), which has often been misunderstood. I am reposting an updated version of something I wrote several years ago to help clarify this fascinating story.

Jephthah lived in the area of Israel called Gilead. Though he grew up in a large and important family, Jephthah was never accepted. This wasn’t something he imagined; his rejection was very real. You see, he was born as the result of his father’s sin. His mother was a prostitute and Jephthah was such an embarrassment to his family that they disowned him. In fact, he was considered such a misfit that the entire town rejected him.

He ran away to a barren land and started hanging around with other rejects. They actually became a gang and made Jephthah their leader, and they probably made their living by robbing traders and fighting as mercenaries.

In those days Israel was made up of a loose confederation of tribes with no central government or army. When attacked or abused by a more powerful nation-state, God would raise up a leader (Judge) who would be the means of rescue and protection. Gilead’s nemesis was the Ammonite nation just across its boarder to the east, which had just declared war on Israel.

The Elders of Gilead were desperate and so they sent a request that Jephthah and his little army come and help them. “Why do you come running to me after you didn’t lift a finger to help when I got kicked out of my family?” Jephthah said. “OK, we screwed up. We are sorry that we didn’t do the right thing. Hey, we’re eating humble pie here by asking you to come and help us,” the Elders replied. Jephthah agreed on condition that they take him back into the community and allow him to lead the entire army against the Ammonites. They agreed.

This was Jephthah’s chance to start over and he grabbed it. He moved his family back to his home town and was thankful to God for the opportunity to regain his honor and establish a heritage for himself when his beloved daughter (his only child) was old enough to marry and bear him sons.

Like a wise leader, he negotiated with the Ammonites trying to clear up some historical baggage between them and Israel. However, the Ammonite king was hell-bent on revenge and nixed the peace negotiations. He basically said what we hear from a lot of politicians, “My mind is made up, don’t confuse me with the facts.”

Jephthah had no other recourse except the sword. He gathered his troops and prepared to march toward the enemy. Before he left, he made a vow to the Lord that “if you give the Ammonites into my hands, whatever comes out of the door of my house to meet me when I return in triumph will be the Lord’s or/and I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering” (Judges 11:31).

This was not a bargain, but a vow of gratitude and devotion. Leviticus 27 describes this kind of vow in detail. There was a redemption factor built into most vows so that one could buy back a vowed item by paying a certain value set by the priest. However, if someone dedicated another person in the family (1 Sam. 1:11), animal or family property, these could not be redeemed because they became holy (set apart) to the Lord.

So, when Jephthah returned and saw that it was his beloved daughter who first came out of his house to meet him, he was horrified. Was it because he had to kill her as a burnt offering to the Lord? Here we need to interpret Scripture by Scripture; human sacrifice was an abomination to the Lord and was forbidden because Israel was not to be like the surrounding nations (Lev. 18:21; 20:2-5; Deut. 12:31; 18:10).

Instead, Jephthah was horrified because he had to sacrifice his only hope for a lineage that would come through the marriage of his daughter. Instead she would now live perpetually as a virgin, as one of the women who ministered to the Lord at the Tabernacle (Ex. 38:8; 1 Sam. 2:22). This is why she mourned her virginity; not because she was going to die, but because she would never have children.

The rashness of Jephthah’s vow was not because it condemned his daughter to death, but because it sacrificed her future. It also dashed his hopes; of a family he never had and a dignity that he had never experienced. “Do not be rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before the Lord…It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay” (Eccles. 5:2-5).

So, think before you make a vow to the Lord! Just a thought…

Addicted to Attention?

I remember reading a story in the Chicago Tribune a few years ago about a pro-life blogger known as “April’s Mom” or “B.” Maybe some of you remember  it as well. She posted the tragic news of the death of her newborn daughter, whom she had carried to term though diagnosed with a terminal case of Trisomy 13 and HPE.

This came at the end of a nine-month pregnancy which she shared with the internet world. She wrote about her Christian faith and pro-life values often quoting Bible verses and Christian music. People responded with prayers, gifts, and pro-life bloggers rallied around the cause. Twenty-six year old Rebecca Beuschausen could have ended there, but she decided to post a picture of the baby. The picture was identified by some readers as a toy doll. Things unraveled and Beuschausen admitted her deception.

Why did she do it? She told the Tribune, “I’ve always liked writing. It was addictive to find out I had a voice that people wanted to hear. Soon I was getting 100,000 hits a week, and it just got out of hand. I didn’t know how to stop. . . . One lie led to another.”

The name Beuschausen sounds a lot like Munchausen doesn’t it? Baron Karl Friedrich Hieronymous von Munchausen lived in the eighteenth century and he was known for his tall tales and exaggerations. In fact, Rudolph Raspe compiled a collection of his apocryphal stories in 1785. There is a disorder called Munchausen Syndrome which describes a troubled person who will fabricate illness or injury in order to gain attention or sympathy through treatment. In reality it is just a fancy name for lying.

Munchausen was a liar, a fabricator, and so was Beuschausen. Her main problem (and ours) was not her addiction to attention, but her sinful human nature which acted against what she knew to be true.

Let’s face it, there is a Munchausen/Beuschausen in all of us: our fibs, white lies, tall tales, and exaggerations (yes, and maybe some of our blogs and selfies) are designed to make ourselves look or feel better. Let us be humble people who love to tell the truth more than we want to escape our pain. Just a thought…

“Stinking Thinking”

I watched a program on the Animal Channel that I cannot get it out of my mind, so I’ll write about it. A group of five people were sailing on the ocean and their boat capsized by a storm. They ended up floating in a rubber raft for five days without food or water.

One of the women was injured and her wounds drew sharks- hundreds of them. Two of the men became so thirsty that they started to drink from the ocean. It did not take long for the effects of the salt water to produce a type of mental illness characterized by a state of altered consciousness and hallucination. One of the guys was convinced he saw a Seven-Eleven and stepped out of the raft to get some food. CHOMP! He became shark bait. The other guy saw his car parked just over yonder, stepped out of the raft and WHOMP! I

I think that following our own sinful desires is like drinking salt water. The more we drink the thirstier we become, and the thirstier we become the more we desire the things that do not satisfy. We begin to imagine the things that are not and ignore the reality of the things that are. It is like “the god of this world has blinded our minds” (2 Cor.4:4).

Alcoholics’ Anonymous has a phrase called “stinking thinking behind the drinking.” It is used to describe the fact that bad behavior begins in the mind; and when we start thinking wrong, we will start living wrong. I think Paul would agree because most of his letters are divided into two major parts: doctrinal and practical. Right thinking precedes right living.

We are all creatures of our culture, but we must be careful, brothers and sisters, not to drink the waters of this world and allow “stinking thinking” into our lives. (I’m thinking here not only of addiction, but also of the politics of hate that seem to accompany every cultural issue.) We have been made new creations in Christ and our conformity to his image rests in the renewal of our minds. (Rom. 12:2)

We are to no longer to think of others from a worldly point of view, but strive to be agents of reconciliation. (2 Cor. 5:16)  We are to drink in the pure water of God’s Word and to think like him; whatever is true, noble, right, pure and lovely. (Phil. 4:8)

If you are struggling with “stinking thinking,” do not go it alone; get some help from the community of faith. Send me a note and I’ll pray for you. Just a thought….