p 29 Then the Spirit of the Lord came on Jephthah. He crossed Gilead and Manasseh, passed through Mizpah of Gilead, and from there he advanced against the Ammonites. 30 And Jephthah made a vow to the Lord: “If you give the Ammonites into my hands, 31 whatever 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.” Judges 11:29-31
Wait. What? Huh? Err...hang on, what?! Yeah, the whole idea of the book of Judges is that the people were a goofed up, violent, fearful, disorganized mess!
I tend to look at this as a cautionary tale that reminds me not to be stupid, magical, or bianary in my relgious thinking; the way I think (hope) ole Jeff was doing here. It doesn't end well.
He get's home after a great victory and surprise surprise his own daughter walks out of the house!
Seems to me, this is the moment to repent of that stupid promise and make things right. He goes a different route.
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.” Judges 11:35
She brought him down? She didn't make that oath. Also, why? Why can't he break that vow?
Are we to assume that the J man has never broken a vow to God? Did Jephthah ever choose to do something for himself that he thought God might frown on? But here, he must keep that promise.
I know the text says that the Spirit led Jeph to Ammonites. But, I wonder if we shouldn't point out that after the Spirit was said to be with him, he (Jeph, not the Spirit) adds to the situation and makes this oath, there's no indication that I can see at all suggesting that God feels about this promise.
That said, I think we do this foolish bargaining bit with God all the time. I can remember when I was 19 or 20 praying from the back of a police car, "God get me out of this and I'll serve you in every moment, church tomorrow God I promise!" he didn't, instead, my criminal record grew on that day. But, today I think it was gracious that he didn't. Our world and our hearts are often filled with little magical prayers. God I'll give once you give me enough to give. God when you do this...I'll do that. God, I'm willing to pay, but I'd like to see the results first. I think that was the game Jeph was playing. Then this...
She and her friends went into the hills and wept because she would never marry.39 After the two months, she returned to her father, and he did to her as he had vowed. And she was a virgin. Judges 11:38-39
So, he followed through. (I know, there are some who claim that he only dedicated her to God here, and thus she only lost her virginity rather than her life, but...I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering! v.31)
God is with you...but, maybe don't do the crusades?
God is with you...but maybe don't alienate everyone around you with your religious magical weirdness?
God is with you...don't betray friends and family and call it faithful.
God is with you...don't make your little group beter than everyone else.
Guess what God is with you and that doesn't cost you anything. The gift of God's love and presence in our lives doesn't require a burnt offering---the false gods require appeasment or propitiation, its a gift, so none shall boast.
Of course when you start to share that same gift with others you'll find that love will cost ya...love is indeed a bloody mess of sacrifice...but it's you that's called to walk it out rather than redirect your fears in a switch a roo prayer with God (that's never honored in the text.) It's you that sets aside potential victories for the sake of the next generation. It's you that does the Jesus stuff today, he showed us how--but bargaining with God through spiritual sounding prayers has always been one of the primary ways that the people of God avoid being the body of Christ, it's just easier to sacrfice someone else than it is ourselves. Most of us decide that love is too hard. Just my take.