Jephthah does one thing well: he recognizes God as the one true judge. He knew, and proclaimed, that he could only conquer his enemies with the help of the Lord. (11:27)
Unfortunately, he makes the grave mistake of unnecessarily bargaining with God. Out of fear of losing in battle, he bellows out a hasty vow to God that he will sacrifice the first thing that comes out of his house when he arrives home, if God allows him to prevail.
Scholars go back and forth on whether or not Jephthah actually ended up sacrificing his daughter. They all agree on one thing: God did not instruct, or condone this.
Not only is God’s voice missing from this narrative, but he strictly forbids human sacrifice in Leviticus 18:21 & 20:1-5). Ecclesiastes also mentions that God doesn’t like frantic promises made to him out of fear:
“Don’t make rash promises and don’t be hasty in bringing matters before God. After all, God is in heaven, and you are here on earth. So let your words be few.”
I can relate to Jephthah. I have no doubt that God is in charge, that he can deliver me from my enemies and is sovereign over my problems. But I get it wrong too, when I think he needs something from me. I’ve been there. Desperate for something to change, and believing that God is the only one who can change it. He is! But not because of anything I can do. This behavior, scrounging around and emptying our pockets to offer what we have, is very human-to-human. We are trying to bargain with the Creator. What are we thinking?
God doesn’t do things for us because he gets anything out of it. He loves us and has a plan for us. Let’s remember what we’re told in Ecclesiastes: God is in heaven and we are on earth.
More than our future promises to do good, he wants obedience. If Jephthah wanted to offer something to God, it should’ve been faith that God had a plan for him.
Let’s have obedient, trusting hearts that don’t act of desperation!