The rashest of vows!

Judges 11:30-35 “And Jephthah made a vow to the Lord and said, “If you will give the Ammonites into my hand, 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.  So Jephthah crossed over to the Ammonites to fight against them, and the Lord gave them into his hand. . . 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. 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.”

Throughout the Old Testament we have many shadows and types of what is explained more fully in the New Testament. Typically, these types point to Jesus in one way or another, for it is Jesus Who is the central theme of the entire Bible.  In some cases, these types point to Jesus in how they are like Him and His work. In other cases, it is the contrast with the type that is most significant. I think we see both in the story of Jephthah, one of Israel’s judges who led Israel to salvation over its enemies the Ammonites.

In the verses above we see that Jephthah made a very rash vow to God that if He would give Jephthah victory over the Ammonites, he would sacrifice the first thing that came out of his house as a burnt offering.  And although it was a very rash vow, it was a solemn vow, and vows to the Lord could not be broken.  So, what was the first thing that came out of the door of his house when Jephthah returned in victory?  It was his own daughter, Jephthah’s only child. And so, as far as we can tell from Scripture, Jephthah offered his only child as a burnt offering to God.  It was a scandalous and offensive thing to anyone’s sensibilities.  It caused great anguish to Jephthah, yet he followed through on the act because of his vow. 

So, are there any shadows in this strange account?  Well, for one, there are vows that God himself has made.  In Hebrews 6:13-20 we have these words: “For when God made a promise to Abraham, since he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself,saying, ‘Surely I will bless you and multiply you.’ And thus Abraham, having patiently waited, obtained the promise. For people swear by something greater than themselves, and in all their disputes an oath is final for confirmation. So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.”

It is by these words that we have the absolute certainty of the nature of God’s great promise to Abraham, that He would give him many children.  Since God cannot lie, this promise would have been certain based on the simple fact that God had stated it. However, we are told that God even went beyond the immutable reality of this attribute and made a vow to Himself regarding this promise.   He made the vow to Himself to double down on the fact that this promise would never be broken, just as Jephthah had made a vow that could not be broken in the account above.  But the nature of God’s vow went beyond the issue of Abraham being given Isaac as a son and the many physical progeny that then came through Isaac. You see, God’s vow to Abraham had a spiritual element, in that Abraham’s faith to believe God’s promise eventually led to the birth of Abraham’s greatest son, the Lord Jesus. 

In John 8 Jesus later explained that it was not physical progeny that God was pointing to in His promise to Abraham.  Jesus told the Pharisees, that they were not Abraham’s children (although they were Abraham’s children physically speaking), but rather that they were the spiritual children of the devil, as evidenced by their unbelief. Then in Romans 9:7-8 we are told “not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but ‘Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.’ This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring.” This “promise” is the very same promise that God vowed to Himself to keep, and as such it points to eternal life of all believers. No promise can be more certain! 

But back to Jephthah, we see that his vow resulted in the scandalous sacrifice of his own daughter. Similarly, God’s promise was based on the sacrifice of His only begotten Son, whose death of the cross was the reality that all Old Testament sacrifices pointed to. This act of atonement is so scandalous in some people’s eyes, that they have rejected the gospel because of it. They view God as some type of a monstrous child abuser, and they reject Him because of that view. What they seem to overlook, however, is that Jesus offered Himself willingly as this sacrifice. Unlike Jephthah’s daughter, who had no voice whatsoever in the matter of her death, Jesus saw the cross before time began (1 Peter 1:19-20), yet He gave Himself up willingly in obedience to the Father and for the sake of all believers, who are the beneficiaries of the Father’s vow. 

In Psalm 16, a messianic psalm that speaks of the Lord Jesus looking down through the centuries to the cross that awaited Him, we read these awesome words: “My heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure. For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy One see corruption. You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” And Hebrews 12:2 tells us that “Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, Who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”

The vow of God to Himself to save us through the death of His Son, and the Son’s willingness to lay His life down for us is something too wonderful to fully understand. It’s something for which we are not worthy. But it’s the truth and the only way of eternal life, for it’s a promise, no, more than that, an unbreakable vow of the God Who so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son for us. Praise be to His glorious name.

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