Word of Honor

Judges 11:34-40

34 When Jephthah returned to his home in Mizpah, who should come out to meet him but his daughter, dancing to the sound of timbrels! She was an only child. Except for her he had neither son nor daughter. 35 When he saw her, he tore his clothesand cried, “Oh no, my daughter! You have brought me down and I am devastated. I have made a vow to the Lord that I cannot break.”

36“My father,” she replied, “you have given your word to the Lord. Do to me just as you promised,now that the Lord has avenged you of your enemies, the Ammonites. 37 But grant me this one request,” she said. “Give me two months to roam the hills and weep with my friends, because I will never marry.” 38 “You may go,” he said. And he let her go for two months. She and her friends went into the hills and wept because she would never marry.

39After the two months, she returned to her father, and he did to her as he had vowed. And she was a virgin. From this comes the Israelite tradition 40that each year the young women of Israel go out for four days to commemorate the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite.

Pinky Swear

Have you ever done “Pinky Swear or Pinky Promise” before? A “Pinky Swear or Pinky Promise” is crossing or interlocking of pinky fingers to signify a promise between two persons. Others include touching of thumbs as a seal.

While “Pinky Swearing” is cute ritual, should believers seriously imitate such practice? What could happen when we swear?

It says in James 5:12, Above all, my brothers and sisters, do not swear—not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. All you need to say is a simple “Yes” or “No.” Otherwise you will be condemned.

Of course, everyone knows that we do not hold the future. One may swear to do something but cannot control the outcome. Before Jephthah and his gang defeated the Ammonites, he made a vow to the Lord.

He said: 30“If you give the Ammonites into my hands, 31whatever comes out of the door of my house to meet me when I return in triumph from the Ammonites will be the Lord’s, and I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering.”

God granted him victory not because Jephthah swear something but God has already decided to make him victorious before the battle began. Jephthah’s swearing was never necessary, and God did not require him to swear.

It was a tragedy that his only child came out first when he returned home.

1. Tragedy

34 When Jephthah returned to his home in Mizpah, who should come out to meet him but his daughter, dancing to the sound of timbrels! She was an only child. Except for her he had neither son nor daughter. 35 When he saw her, he tore his clothes and cried, “Oh no, my daughter! You have brought me down and I am devastated. I have made a vow to the Lord that I cannot break.”

Why did Jephthah swear to sacrifice whatever comes out of the door of his house? Was it to show his gang how serious he was? Interestingly, Jephthah has a house and child. Although, a group of gangsters followed him, he did not live a vagrancy lifestyle, not a drifter. He made sure that his family lived in a house.

When his daughter came out dancing to the sound of timbrels, it implies that she was not ostracized or excluded from social gathering. She must have learned from friends how to play timbrels or tambourine. When she heard her father arrived, she ran out ahead of everyone. Such cheerfulness may suggest that she must be a father’s daughter, and she missed her father so much.

Tragically, she did not know that her father made a promise to God. Jephthah was devastated. He grieved that his only child will be sacrificed. The very person that Jephthah treasured so much was the one he sacrificed.

36“My father,” she replied, “you have given your word to the Lord. Do to me just as you promised, now that the Lord has avenged you of your enemies, the Ammonites. 37But grant me this one request,” she said. “Give me two months to roam the hills and weep with my friends, because I will never marry.” 38“You may go,” he said. And he let her go for two months. She and her friends went into the hills and wept because she would never marry. 

Previously, Jephthah could have been consumed with bitterness after his half-brothers rejected him. The response of his daughter as willing sacrifice suggests that Jephthah may have raised his child in a godly way. Rejection for his half-brothers and group of gangsters did not restrict him from good parenting.

Swearing to God in the hearing of his gang may have been his limited way of expressing his sincerity in saving Israel from the Ammonites. Swearing implies that people who surrounded him can easily break their promise, and by swearing to God, they make sure that they would fulfill what have been promised.

Grab Attention in Public

What do you do when a child grabs attention in public? Many children cry in public to pressure parents to buy toys, why? The inclination of human heart is evil even from childhood. Should parents promise just to keep children quiet? Would it not be much helpful if parents tell them their financial limitations?

The Lord Jesus says in Matthew 5:33-36, 33“Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made.’ 34But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; 35or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. 36And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. 37All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.

Jephthah learned it in the most tragic way that swearing to God is not advisable practice for believers. His painful story may be an isolated case but it teaches that swearing to God may result to miserable tragedy. And, a tradition in Israel was practiced after Jephthah fulfilled what he swore to the Lord.

2. Tradition

39After the two months, she returned to her father, and he did to her as he had vowed. And she was a virgin. From this comes the Israelite tradition 40that each year the young women of Israel go out for four days to commemorate the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite.

Israel’s tradition for young women to commemorate the daughter of Jephthah may imply that she might have been well-loved in the community.

Jephthah may not have experienced fair treatment from his half-brothers before they defeated the Ammonites, but his child had been accepted by her friends. And after she was sacrificed by her father, Israel expressed sympathy and kindheartedness toward her by commemorating her tragic circumstance.

Traditional practices of commemoration signify that a person must have done something beneficial to the community.

It says in 2 Chronicles 35:25, 25Jeremiah composed laments for Josiah, and to this day all the male and female singers commemorate Josiah in the laments. These became a tradition in Israel and are written in the Laments.

King Josiah and the daughter of Jephthah were the only individuals that inspired Israel to practice a tradition of commemorating a significant person. Josiah did his best to prevent possible invasion from the king of Egypt but he died in battles. The daughter of Jephthah accepted her tragic fate for his father to fulfill his promise before God. Josiah and Jephthah’s child sacrificed for others.

There’s inconclusive discussion of how Jephthah fulfilled what he promised to God. While some scholars may suggest that Jephthah sacrificed his daughter as burnt offerings, others suggest that she may have served in the Tabernacle all the days of her life and never married so that she remain virgin until her death.

Nonetheless, while it’s healthy for intellectual exercises to discuss how Jephthah offered his child, the Bible remained silent on the particulars and details of how the sacrifice was performed. Did God intentionally keep that part secret so that we may focus on the seriousness and tragedy of swearing to God?

Did God intentionally keep the details how Jephthah sacrificed his child so that the importance of fulfilling a promise to God would be highlighted? When Israel practiced a tradition to commemorate Jephthah’s daughter, what lesson can we learn from it? When we keep a promise even if it means we sacrifice what’s most valuable to us, the Lord would certainly honor our sacrifice.

Brother Lawrence

Brother Lawrence desired to serve the Lord but he was not intellectually and physically fit. So, he served in the monastery as assistant cook. His journal testified how he practiced his spiritual life in God’s presence. Those individuals he served who have dignified positions in the monastery were never mentioned in history. In contrast, seminarians study his spiritual life as a potato peeler, and preachers around the world occasionally mention his lifestyle at the pulpit.

It says in Proverbs 22:1, A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.

Jephthah preserved his good name when he fulfilled his promise before God and his daughter helped fulfill his promise. May God recognize your lifestyle as worthy of honor! Pray that you have word of honor!

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