Grace Reformed Church (GRC) Malaysia

Jephthah's Vow

by Peter Kek


Our leaders Pastor Peter Kek

Peter Kek

Pastor Of Grace Reformed Church

Sermon Info


Okay, again glad to be here with you, and glad I suppose we are all to come now to the Word of God. Now just before that, I hope you remember what the RMCO is. So “R” is not reverting to MCO alright. “R” is Recovery MCO. When a person recovers alright from an illness, I suppose it means that the person becomes progressively better and better. So we hope that is the case with our MCO, we are getting better and better. And so that’s why we are in an incremental manner, gradually recover our ministries in church. So that is the reason why we slowly try to reopen up as much as we can. If we can follow the SOP, we will try to reopen. 

Now, just now it was mentioned that the only thing unchanged is the Wednesday Bible study, where that will remain as online or through Zoom. But the other one actually remains is our lunch after church. So that means we are not starting our lunch fellowship like before, where we will bring our food and so on. So, the lunch break simply means that we, you know, make our own lunch arrangement, and then we come back here for the afternoon Bible study. Alright, so those are the arrangements. I will be sending out these church advisories and directives through chat groups and online hopefully by tomorrow so that we have it in print. And also for those who are following us online, you know the updates.

Alright, let us now come to the Word of God. Today, we are looking at Jephthah’s vow alright. And I think that graphic there looks familiar to many of you because yesterday you saw Abel’s vow alright. And so I thought perhaps this morning we’ll look at Jephthah’s vow. And afterward alright in a sense we will have Tat Heng and Ejin’s vow alright. Not that they’re going to say vow to each other again, but it is between them and the church alright. So it is about vow alright, and we are going to look at the story of Jephthah. Whether you know maybe the media team think that this is part of the “Amazing Stories” series, well I was thinking, why not? I think this is an amazing story alright by any measure. And so okay let us look at the story of Jephthah. 

And I’m not sure how many of you have heard or never heard of this guy, Jephthah. I think he’s not a very well-known figure in the Bible. We know Moses, we know David, we know Abraham, and so on. But who is this guy, Jephthah? Now Jephthah is actually one of the judges, and that’s why it appears in the book of the Judges, one of those deliverers that God has raised to deliver the children of Israel. And you see that just like the prophets, there are two groups of judges. Remember the prophets, we have the minor prophets and the major prophets. And so also, we have the minor judges and the major judges. 

So, the difference between these groups of judges are is this: basically, the minor, you know the minor judges, you know in the Bible are those judges where we are given not much details or very brief information about those judges. And mostly those judges, we don’t have any negative connotations. But when it comes to the major judges, we have a lot more information about them and also with negative connotations you know, characters and so on, and with tragic endings. Alright, so this is the category. And Jephthah here falls under the second group alright. He belongs to the second group of judges, the major judges. More details about this guy, and the tragic ending, as you might have already taken note of, and also his negative connotation alright about his character and so on. 

Alright now, what we are going to do this morning as we look at this judge alright is not to look at his whole story, but I want to focus our attention on just one particular incident in this man’s life, and that is so instructive I believe for all of us. And that makes this story so amazing alright. And so that is what we want to look at. And it is recorded in the passage that was read to you just now in Judges 11:29-40, that’s through the end of this chapter. Alright, so this is an amazing passage telling us this amazing account of this man alright- of this man. 

Now what this incident is about is that it concerns a vow. And that’s why I call this “Jephthah’s Vow”, a vow that he made to God. So what I’m going to do is that I’m going to look at this under three headings. And we, first of all, we’re going to look at Jephthah’s promise or his vow. Remember a vow is a promise. We’ll look at Jephthah’s promise. And then secondly, we look at Jephthah’s problem, the problem the difficulties that arose out of this promise that he made to God. And then finally, we shall look at Jephthah’s response alright. And so let us look at this incident in Jephthah’s life, Jephthah’s vow. 

First of all, Jephthah’s promise alright- Jephthah’s promise. Now, what did Jephthah do here in this passage? Well, we are told he made a vow to God alright- he made a vow to God. And that we see in verse 29 right through verse 31 alright. We read here in verse 29: “Then the Spirit of the LORD came upon Jephthah, and he passed through Gilead and Manasseh, and passed through Mizpah of Gilead; and from Mizpah of Gilead he advanced toward the people of Ammon.”. Now the context here is that Jephthah is now being called back by the Israelites to help them alright deal with their enemies, the Ammonites. 

Now Jephthah was initially, if you read the earlier part of this chapter, and go back you can read the rest of the story, that he was disowned by his family. He was in a sense kicked out right, but and then he went and mixed with the gangsters right. And the reason why the family kicked him out was that he was the son of, he was kind of illegitimate son, a son of a prostitute, so do not belong to the other family members. And so the family, the brothers, the sibling kicked him out. And then he joins the, you know, this samseng alright. The gangster, the group of people, and he became a gang leader. And he was a great fighter. So you’re kind of notorious alright, a great gang leader. Now because of his capability to fight, and so when the nation of Israel was in need, they wanted a fighter to come back to them alright to fight their enemies. And so he was called back to fight the Ammonites. 

And so here in verse 29 that God was helping in fact Jephthah in fighting the enemies alright. And then in verse 30, before he went to fight the enemies, now in verse 30, now “Jephthah made a vow to the LORD, and said, “If You will indeed deliver the people of Ammon into my hands, then”, verse 31, “it will be that whatever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the people of Ammon, shall surely be the LORD’s, and I will offer it up as a burnt offering.”. 

Now so this is what Jephthah did. He asked God for help to fight the enemies of Israel, and he promised God that if God helped him to fight his enemies alright and to win the battle, now he will upon return offer the first thing that comes out of his house or the door and offered it as a burnt offering to God alright. So that is what he did. In other words, he made a vow or a promise to God to offer a burnt offering to God, whatever that comes out the door of his house.

Now, what is a vow? Of course, that is important to take note of here. What is this vow that Jephthah made to God? Well, look with me at Numbers 30:2. Numbers 30:2, and here we have a description of what a vow is. Numbers chapter 30, 3 0 and verse 2, and the Bible says here: “If a man makes a vow to the LORD, or swears an oath to bind himself by some agreement, he shall not break his word”. Now underline that right, take note of that. Now that is what a vow is. When you make a vow, now you must not break your word. “He shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth”. Now that is a vow. That is what this promise is. It’s a pledge right that you do what you have pledged or said. 

Or in the Deuteronomy alright- Deuteronomy chapter 23 alright. Deuteronomy 23:21. Now listen also to this verse. Deuteronomy 23:21 says: “When you make a vow to the LORD your God, you shall not delay to pay it; for the LORD your God will surely require it of you, and it would be sin to you.”. So when you make a vow to the Lord your God, do not delay to pay it. It will be sin if you do not fulfil your vow. So I’m sure that Jephthah knew what he was doing. He knew when he said I’m going to make a vow to God, he knew these passages of Scripture alright and what a vow is, and hope that we all know what a vow is. It is a solemn pledge or solemn promise. Now that is what a vow is. 

Now, why did he make that vow? Why did he make the vow to God? Well, it is really to express his gratitude to God in response to God’s help or to God’s mercies. He made the vow you know, and that is indeed the right thing for us to do when we make a pledge, it’s always in response right to God’s goodness and mercy to us. But what exactly? Now, what exactly was Jephthah promising? Now if all these are important things to note right what it is and the content of that vow, what is it that you have promised to God? Now what about, in this case, Jephthah? 

Well look back again in Judges chapter 11 right, and look again at verse 31- verse 31. Now, this is key right to understand the whole story here. Now in verse 31, this is the content right. This is what he vowed to God. He says that “it will be that whatever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the people of Ammon, shall surely be the LORD’s, and I will offer it up as a burnt offering.”. Now that is the content of the vow. When I come back in peace, whatever that comes out, I will surely offer it to God as a burnt offering. Alright, so that is the meaning. You know the meaning or the significance of a burnt offering, now in the Bible or in the Old Testament, a burnt offering is offered to God to symbolize, to indicate our total devotion alright to God. So that is what he vowed to do.

Now let me before I go on to the next point just to point out a few things that we should take note of here in by way of lessons alright that we should learn. Now let us learn that it is only right that we openly and publicly commit ourselves to God. Now, this is what Jephthah is doing. He is very open about it. He says this is what I will do. I promise to do this. That is what we ought to do, to make an explicit commitment to God. Now you see the problem with many people, when the people, I mean Christians. The problem with many Christians is that they have never opened their mouth to make any commitment to God. There are those who may come to church, but they have never felt it their duty to make any commitment in a public way. That’s what I will do. That’s how I will live my Christian life, and that is a promise. I will come to church, that is a promise. I will serve my God, that is a promise. I will give, I will get involved.

You see, there are a lot of Christians who have never made that commitment before in their life. They live their Christian life as if you know there is no commitment. It’s like perhaps many people who get married. Now don’t pretend as if they had never made any commitment before alright. You live your life you know the way you want. No, there is a commitment involved in a Christian life. That’s a promise that we have made, to seek first His kingdom, to give our life to Him. Now for these people who have never made any public commitment to God, you see it’s very hard to count on them alright- it’s very hard to count on them. 

If you have been living in JB before, you know you have a lot of the Singapore influence on the songs, their patriotic songs. One of their songs is “Count on Me, Singapore”. Count on Me, Singapore alright. But you see, if you have never made any commitment publicly or in an explicit manner, no you cannot be counted on because you say I never say that. Who said I’m going to come to church? Or who said I’m going to come regularly? Who said I’m going to get involved in this or in that? Who said that? I never say that. Now you see, this is what Jephthah is teaching us alright. We have to give our word. And Jephthah here has given his word to the Lord. This is what I will do. Jephthah’s promise.

Now that leads us to the second point this morning and Jephthah’s problem alright. With this promise comes a problem. And then we see from verse 32 onward alright- verse 32 to verse 35. Let us first of all note that after the vow, after the promise made to God, and then he went into the battlefield. He fought and God helped him. And then we are told in verse 32: “So Jephthah advanced toward the people of Ammon to fight against them, and the LORD delivered them into his hands. And he defeated them from Aroer as far as Minnith—twenty cities—and to Abel Keramim, with a very great slaughter. Thus the people of Ammon were subdued before the children of Israel.”. Now you see, they went into the battlefield and they won, and they recognized that as we see here in verse 32, it was the Lord who delivered them. It was God who saved them from their enemies. And so, God gave him a great victory.

And then we see the next thing alright that the victorious Jephthah now returns alright, now returns to his home in verse 34. And so, in verse 34, we read: “When Jephthah came to his house at Mizpah”. If you are those who make movies like Hollywood and so on alright, then you have to think of some kind of suspense. Maybe suddenly the light change alright and suddenly they go slow-motion alright, or something like that because this is the kind of suspense alright. So, what’s going to happen? He made the promise alright, and then he’s now coming back with this great victory, and then something is going to come out. And then we read in verse 34, he came back to his house, “there was his daughter, coming out to meet him with timbrels and dancing; and she was his only child. Besides her he had neither son nor daughter.”.

Flashback to Abraham bringing his son, Isaac. His one and only child, Isaac, has to be sacrificed upon Mount Moriah. Now you see, that is verse 34. So, we see here the second thing you know, about I mean, this is his problem. When he comes back from the battlefield, he was met at the door by none other than his daughter. And then it dawns upon him, and then he realizes his problem. His problem, what is his problem? Verse 35: “And it came to pass, when he saw her, he tore his clothes, and said, “Alas, my daughter!”. Like why? Why on earth you know it must be you, be the first to come out of my house? Why? So, he realized his problem. Then he said: “You have brought me very low! You are among those who trouble me!”. You are giving me a big trouble now. “Who trouble me! For I have given my word to the LORD, and I cannot take it back.”

Now you see that Jephthah now sees the full import or the full meaning and implication of his vow. As I said before that there is something we must understand. First, we must be people who must have made a vow, a pledge, a commitment to the Lord. And second, it is to realize the meaning and the implication of that commitment, of that promise that we made to God. Perhaps Jephthah is thinking, I opened my mouth too fast. I shouldn’t have said that unthinkingly. No, we should think about the vow that we say. Perhaps he has not considered the full implication of it. So, what can we learn from this? Well, we must at least first of all learn that we must be very careful in opening our mouth, in making a pledge or a vow to God. Yes, we must make that vow. Yes, we must make a promise to God as a Christian. But think about that promise. Think about the vow, the meaning, the implication of that vow.

And that’s why in the Bible, we read passages like Ecclesiastes 5:2 alright- Ecclesiastes 5:2. And this is Solomon’s counsel alright to us in Ecclesiastes 5:2, where he says: “Do not be rash with your mouth, and let not your heart utter anything hastily before God. For God is in heaven, and you on earth”. So, don’t be so quick. Think carefully before you say it, before you make the commitment. And we see that Jesus kind of underscore us again and again when He was on earth and when He challenged people to follow Him. You remember that time in Luke chapter 9 where these three men wanted to follow Jesus, and one of them said: “Lord, Lord, I will follow You wherever You go.” And Jesus said, wait. Is that a commitment? Is that a promise that you will follow Me wherever I go? Now think about it. The “foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.”.

You understand what you are saying? Now you see, Jesus constantly challenge people to think about the commitment that they’re going to make to Him. And that’s why in Luke chapter 14, He said the same thing to the multitude, says “anyone wishes to come after Me but does not hate his father and mother, and wife and children, and himself also, he cannot be My disciple.”. Do you understand what it means to follow Me? But that is a question we all have to answer: Do we understand what it means to be a Christian? I see the problem with a lot of people is that they don’t understand, and that is how and why Jephthah is so useful here, so beneficial to us here. So I mean, it is a rebuke, it’s a challenge to us to think very carefully about our Christian life. And so we see here about Jephthah here and what we can learn from him.

Now that leads to the third alright and the final thing I want to highlight here about this incident in Jephthah’s life. So we have looked at his promise, looked at the problem alright that came about because of the promise he made. He saw that it’s a big difficulty he is in now. So what is he going to do? If you have made that promise and God says to you that hey, did you not promise? And what are you doing now? He said, did I promise that? Then you realize that yeah, that is part of the promise. And then what are you going to do?

So we shall now look at Jephthah’s response alright. So his response is in the second part of verse 35 actually until the end of this chapter alright. And so we look at Jephthah’s response, and we look at it in four parts. So one, that is his first thought alright. Now, what was Jephthah’s first thought when he saw the implication? I mean now he sees the difficulty that he is in now. So what was his first thought? Now, this is his first thought because, in the second part of verse 35, he said this: “For I have given my word to the LORD, and I cannot go back on it.”. You see that? If you have given your word to the Lord, you must not go back on it. Now that was his first thought, and that is noble. And that is what we all need to do, whether in you know in a vow in our marriage or to the church or to God directly. Now you see, that ought to be our stance, our position all the time that we cannot take back. We cannot go back.

So that was his first thought. Now, this is amazing, considering that Jephthah did not have a good background because as I said if you read in the earlier part of this chapter, you read about his background alright. Being an illegitimate child, he, you know, he was a gangster and so on and so forth. And yet he learns this principle. Now people can have a good background, well educated and so on. But you’re not, you’ve never learned this alright, there’s nothing, nothing to boast about. We must be people of our words. And then secondly, we see here his daughter’s reaction in verse 36. Now his daughter said to him in verse 36: “My father, if you have given your word to the LORD, do to me according to what has gone out of your mouth”. Now you see, the daughter’s reaction reinforces the quality highlighted here in this passage, and also you know in Jephthah. And now you see the daughter, she said father, you just do to me.

Now you see, she is now involved in this whole thing, but says we have to be people of our words. Now that’s what we ought to encourage one another. If someone makes a promise, and he breaks his promise either to man or to God, what do we say to people like these? We should tell these people and say, you must keep your word. That’s what the daughter is saying to your father: keep your word and sacrifice me. And thirdly, though difficult alright, this is really you know a situation where they find, that you will be thinking: What would you do? What would you do? Remember you have to sacrifice your most precious thing, whatever that might be. I don’t know what is most precious to you in your life now. Think about it: What is most precious to you now in your life? And God says, give it to Me.

So though difficult alright, yet verse 39 tells us alright this: verse 39- “so it was at the end of two months that she returned to her father, and he carried out his vow with her which he had vowed.”. He carried out his vow with which he had vowed. The point is, you see, many people actually debated on this. Did Jephthah really sacrifice his daughter as a burnt offering to God which he promised? Now some people say it’s difficult to imagine that Jephthah would do it. Of course, it is difficult. It’s difficult to imagine anyone would do a thing like that. And so people would think that maybe Jephthah did, you know, offered an alternative. No, not my daughter. Maybe my car or my cow, whatever it is. Or maybe some, you know, they do some gymnastics to think of you know what Jephthah could have done. Now that is probably what we might have, you know, we might have done alright. 

We will tell God and bargain with God: No, I made a promise. Yes, yes, yes, you know, but I was too hasty. Can I give you something else? Can I do this as alternative? Can I substitute? That is our tendency. But I think these lines, these words here in verse 39 seem to me that Jephthah did exactly what he said because he said that “he carried out his vow with which he had vowed”. He’s not going to go back on his word, however difficult that might be. Yes, it’s always difficult, but however difficult, Jephthah says I am going to do it. Indeed, it is like what the psalmist says: one “who swears to his hurt and does not change”.

What can we learn from this? I think we should see first of all that like it or not, if you are a true Christian, you actually have given your word to the Lord. If you are a true Christian, you actually have given your word to the Lord, whether you know in an implicit or explicit manner. And I’m afraid that many Christians have not realized that alright. You have not realized that by becoming a Christian, you have actually given or made a promise to God. And the point therefore is: There is a commitment that we all have to live up to as a Christian. So because we have made a  commitment, we need to realize that, and we need to realize that there is a commitment that we need to live up to. Now it’s not uncommon for Christians to be kind of unaware of this because even in other contexts, maybe even in marriage you know, some couples, they failed to realize that there is a commitment that they have to live up to alright. They think they have no commitment.

Or in the church. Now we are part of the church, we join a church, we fail to realize that there is a commitment that we have to live up to. You see, that failure to realize that, and therefore the failure to live up to a commitment is what we ought to be conscious of. And here we learned that we have given our word to the Lord. And that’s why Jesus could say words like this: and “why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ but do not do what I say?” alright, Luke 6:46. And Jesus say hey, how come you’re not doing what I tell you to do? Hey, we never say we want to do what you tell us to do. Really? You mean you call yourself My follower, and you don’t realize that there is a commitment, that you don’t realize that you are supposed to do, what I tell you to do? You know that there is a commitment as a Christian to put Christ above everything else. And that’s what Jesus said to Peter: if you love Me, “do you love me more than all these things?”.

You see, there is a constant reminder to His people. You see all over the Scripture, all over the New Testament to people, Jesus said don’t you realize what it means to follow Me? It means that you put Christ above everything else. It means that you obey Him. It means that as Paul tells the people in Rome alright, the Christians in Rome that they are to offer themselves as a living sacrifice to God. Have you done so alright? Have you made that commitment to God? But sometimes you know, we do encourage people to make their commitment. Something it could be privately. Maybe you have done so privately like at the beginning of the year, you know you make a resolution like this year 2020 you know, I am going to do this. I am resolved alright to do this and that and so on, and be more committed to God. And so that is a commitment. That is a resolution we make. And then by the end of the year, we evaluate and see whether we have lived up to that commitment.

Maybe you have done something like that. Then keep your word alright- keep your word, do not go back on it. Now sometimes we do so publicly. And don’t you realize when you take the step of baptism, you are actually making a public commitment to God? You are publicly alright, in a sense giving your word to the Lord before witnesses. Or even in singing hymns, don’t you realize that every Sunday, as we open up our hymns and we sing songs or hymns like “Take my life and let it be, Consecrated, Lord, to Thee”. What are you singing? What are you singing to God? Aren’t you addressing God: “Take my life and let it be”? Or you sing hymns like “All to Jesus I surrender”. Really? This, I mean, don’t you realize that God is listening and God hear you saying that “all to Jesus I surrender”? Are you really surrendering everything? Or “O Jesus, I have promised to serve Thee to the end”. Now, what are you doing now? It’s not end yet.

Now you see even in singing, we are publicly, in a sense, making promises to God, and we need to be conscious of that. Maybe sometimes in displaying posters, we have some posters on the wall, and some of you may have your poster in your house, wordings like “as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD”. Is that a promise? Are you making an explicit promise to God that here, you will serve the Lord, and so on? So sometimes we do so alright, either sometimes privately and publicly. And remember, whenever we make a promise, it is always before God. Don’t think that sometimes you make promises, God is not aware you know. It’s always before God.

And so, like Jephthah, we must remember that when we have a given our word to the Lord, we must not go back on it. We must not go back on it even if it is difficult, even if it is impossible alright. But Jephthah teaches us that whatever it might be, let our “yes” be yes, and our “no” be no. So, let me ask: Do you ever say to Jesus: Lord, Lord, “I will follow You wherever You go”. Have you ever said to Jesus: “O Jesus, I have promised to serve Thee to the end”? Then keep your word. Whatever lies before you: the fiery furnace, the lions’ den, whatever the difficulty, I will go forward. I will go forward and fulfil my promise to God. Let us pray.

“Our Father in heaven, we know that in this story, there is nothing spectacular in terms of fires, waters, but Lord, we see in this man’s life, though with a bad background, but yet he came up as an example for us all to follow as one who showed integrity. He’s one who keeps his promise. And Lord, we pray that we will all be people of our word. We know that as people who have professed faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, we have already given our word. Now we know that whatever the difficulties, and grant us grace to be faithful to the promises that we made, for this, we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.”

This transcript has been lightly edited for readability.