This post is meant to offer guidance to common “what now” questions that could emerge from Pastor J.D.’s sermon “Jephthah: Hot Dog Faith; Judges 10–12,” preached at The Summit Church Saturday-Sunday June 13-14, 2015.
If you’ve not heard the sermon, I would highly encourage you to listen to it. J.D. does an excellent job of developing the character profile and social context of Jephthah. I won’t go into those here. But I do want to think through one of the primary dilemmas of the passage – what should Jephthah have done with his stupid promise to God; to kill the first living thing he saw come from his house when he returned home from war (which turned out to be his daughter).
The obvious answer is – don’t do it! But how do we arrive at this conclusion? After all, consider these passages:
“When you vow a vow to God, do not delay paying it, for he has no pleasure in fools. Pay what you vow. It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay.” Ecclesiastes 5:4-5
“Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.” Matthew 5:33-37
Based on these passages, some people would say, “The answer is to avoid making stupid promises to God. But if you make one, you have to keep it because two wrongs don’t make a right and nothing is worse than lying to God.” That logic may be sincere, but it’s sincerely dangerous.
You may be saying, but it’s obvious he shouldn’t have killed his daughter. To which I reply, “Absolutely!” But how many of us have tried to make private deals with God where we promise, “If you just get me out of this situation, then I will [blank].” And, usually, what goes in the blank is some flavor of stupid – extreme, unsustainable, impossible, in conflict with other moral commitments, etc…
What do we do with that? And, as important, how do we prevent our response to these stupid promises from making us cavalier in our attitude towards God?
I would propose a two-fold response.
- Repent of stupid promises to God instead of sinning to “make God happy.”
- Learn from the impulsivity or false beliefs that led you to make the stupid promise.
I believe this response is both God-honoring and protects your character.
God is not pleased or amused because we’ll do extreme things; which portrays God as an immature teenage audience chanting “Do it! Do it!” God is pleased with us because he sees us clothed in the righteousness of Christ when we accept his death on the cross as the penalty for our sin.
Part of the reason we are prone to promise God stupid things in the first place is because we think he’s impressed with our grandiosity. The sooner we relinquish this idea the better. Therefore, we should repent not just of our stupid promise, but the immature view of God which led us to think he would be impressed by it.
Until we have a right view of God, nothing we do to please him will be wise or healthy. That leads us to the second point. We should learn from false beliefs and mature from the impulsivity that both (a) put us in the mess that tempted us to make the stupid promise and (b) made the stupid promise seem like it would increase the probability God would answer our prayer.
When God sees repentance producing this kind of maturity, he smiles like a good father. God is not a prosecuting attorney trying to catch us in the verbal contract of our past words. Neither the mean attorney or taunting teenager image represents God well or mature us. God is a good father wanting us to learn from our every mistake.
When you see your relationship with God in that light, you will not take your words lightly anymore.
God would rather forgive an empty promise in a maturing child than the offensive action of a wayward child still embracing their folly. God is more glorified through forgiving us for making-breaking stupid promises than he is through us keeping stupid promises and misrepresenting what it means to have “great faith” to the world.
If this post was beneficial for you, then considering reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Character” post which address other facets of this subject.