Jephthah: Keeping Your Vows and Vowels

Scripture: Judges 11:29-40, Judges 12:1-7
Date: 06/24/2000 
The second in a two part series of an ancient judge in Israel named Jephthah. In this sermon we learn of the importance of keeping vows. Jephthah's daughter represents Christ who was the "only begotten" of God.
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Note: This is a verbatim transcript of the live broadcast. It is presented as spoken.

Morning. You know I had Pastor Branner over to, we had the Branner’s over to our home for dinner a couple of Sabbaths ago and Art and I were looking over some of the sermons on the computer and I hadn’t done this in a while. I counted about 350 sermons that since I’ve been here in ’93 and I thought, “Boy, that’s a lot of studying.” I hope that you know that I appreciate the privilege of being your pastor because I have to study a lot. And it’s really been a blessing for me. You know we’ve been going through since I’ve been here a number of different Bible characters, both New and Old Testament. And we’ve been talking about Jephthah. And when I first looked at this a few weeks ago, considering doing a brief series on this, I thought, “Well, that’s sure a short subject. I don’t know. What am I going to get out of that?”

You know how many times I’ve said that? And then I’m astounded at how much there is in the world of God and how broad and deep the scriptures go into these things. Now if you’re just joining us and you were not here last Sabbath we’re continuing a study on one of the judges of Israel. His name was Jephthah. Jephthah means; why don’t you say that with me? Jephthah. I heard someone say it this week and they didn’t know how to say it. And I thought, “Well, there might be others that struggle with that.” Jephthah, it’s a Hebrew word that means God will open, God will open. And as we reach the end of our study today, and this will be the last part of the two part series, you’ll understand why his name means that. Quickly review, chapter 11 of Judges, and you may want to turn there right now. We discover that Jephthah is a mighty man of valor, but he was an outcast because his mother was, well she had a questionable reputation. She may have been a harlot. She may have simply been a Canaanite innkeeper.

The word was used both ways. His brothers from his father’s legitimate Hebrew wife evicted him and he was an outcast from his own homeland. But because he was a mighty man others who were in distress were attracted to him and he was out working like a Robin Hood raiding the surrounding enemies. And when they were in distress they realized that he had natural leadership ability. And the men of Gilead, the elders, came and said, “Lead us in this battle against the Ammonites.” Jephthah was a man of peace. He tried to affect peace first. He tried to reason with them, but that did not work. He was courageous. He was able to rally the men. He prayed. He had a vow. We read that he knew the scriptures. He recited the biblical history. He was well acquainted with the writings of Moses. But when everything else failed he rallied the people, they went into battle. Just before he went into battle he made a vow. Now our subject today is Keeping Your Vows and Your Vowels. And we’re going to be dealing with two parts.

We’re going to finish chapter 11 and starting with verse 29, chapter 11 of Judges, and then we’ll go from chapter 12 to verse 7 and we’ll talk about your vows and your vowels. Now I want you to notice as we return to Judges 11, go to verse 29. I’m backing up just a little bit so we can build momentum again. “The Spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah,” just before this battle he tried to reason with the Ammonites. They wouldn’t listen. We discover he is Spirit possessed, with the right Spirit. “And he passed through Gilead, and Manasseh, and he passed through Mizpeh of Gilead, and from Mizpeh of Gilead he advanced towards the people of Ammon.” Now as he’s passing through these different territories like the pied piper he is gathering his army. Israel back then during the time of Judges did not have a king and they did not have an on-call military. They were sort of like the American Colonies when we fought against England. They were all minutemen. When there was a battle they put down their hoe and they, they’d take the hoe with them and make a weapon out of it.

They went into battle. And so he passed through and he rallied all of these agricultural people, these shepherds and farmers and they followed him and he led them into battle against the Ammonites. And as he was preparing to leave Jephthah prayed. And he makes a vow to God, verse 30, “He said, If you will indeed deliver the people of Ammon into my hands, then it will be,” now first of all, notice he’s giving God the credit. “Lord, you have to do it. If I win it’ll be you that does it.” “It will be, that whatever comes from the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the people of Ammon, surely it shall be the Lord’s, and I’ll offer it as a burnt offering.” Now you can tell by the context that what he’s saying, he is not anticipating that it’s going to be his only child that will be first out of the gates. And a little review, you remember back then they had their little ranches and they had the family cow and the oxen that used to pull the plow and they’d have the donkey and they had the sheep and the goats. And because they were all like a little family, domestic situation, when someone came home a lot of their critters would come out of the gate and meet them.

They were so used to following the patriarch in the family because he would feed them in the morning and he’d milk them and they would always come out. I used to have goats and I used to help my uncle take care of his sheep and cows in New Mexico. And they’d follow you around just like dogs and cats. He expected whatever came out to meet him it might be the family milk cow and that would be a sacrifice. He said, “Lord, everything I have is yours. I’m not going to tell you what I’m going to give you. I’m going to let you choose through Providence.” So he makes this vow and he presents this quasi-fleece if you will, “Whatever comes out of the doors first, I will offer that to you as a sacrifice.” Well he goes off against the Ammonites and has a stunning victory. And eventually word reaches his home that the people of Israel were victorious. The couriers preceded him. His daughter found out, his only daughter. Matter of fact, the Bible doesn’t even tell us if he had his wife. His wife may have been gone.

Never mentions her. And all he had was a daughter. And she comes out to meet her father and the Bible says she comes out with timbrels and dancing. She’s singing and rejoicing. And he comes and he remembers his vow. And he’s watching very carefully because he’s made a promise and he plans on keeping his promise. He’s a man of his word. And as he rounds the bend and the family sees him and he sees the family, he’s watching to see what will be first out of the gates because he’s going to consecrate it to the Lord. If it’s an animal it’ll be sacrificed, burnt offering. And his daughter, in her enthusiasm, beats everything else out of the gate, you might say. And when he sees this he thinks, “No!” Now why is this? He’s come back with good news. He’s had a great victory. He and his daughter have been outcasts from their own family. He’s coming to tell her, “Now we’re victorious. We can go home. We can live among our people. I’m now going to be a judge.” But what is his victory without his only child? I’ll tell you why this is so important. In the Hebrew economy, you know people are so over-population conscious in America. You know, you walk into a restaurant and you’ve got five kids and people glare at you. “How irresponsible.”

One of our families here told me that. I won’t repeat it, who it was. But in the Hebrew economy they were told, “Be fruitful and multiply. Happy is the man who has his quiver full.” Your children were to carry on the family name. Well he only had a daughter, but at least he could hope for grandchildren. To take away his only child meant he would have no posterity. As I said, maybe his wife was gone. No future prospects. Jephthah was probably older when he led the people into battle because he only judges Israel for six years beyond this victory and then he dies and it appears he may have died from natural causes. He’s too old to spawn any new children. And his only child, all of his hopes are centered in this child. She’s the first thing to meet him out of the gates. Let’s go back to the story in the Bible here. It says here, “And it came to pass,” let me back up. Verse 34, when Jephthah came to his house at Mizpeh there was his daughter, “coming out to meet him, with timbrels and dancing: she was his only child; beside her he had neither son nor daughter.”

It’s emphasizing that all of his hopes were centered in her. His only begotten child, you might say. Are you getting the analogy here? To be offered. Now we always think of Jesus as being offered as a sacrifice for sin. You know the Bible talks about thank offerings. This vow was a vow of thanks for victory. Have you ever thought of Jesus as the thank offering? He’s the symbol of all the offerings in the Bible. Would you agree with that? The sacrifices all pointed to who? They were not all sacrifices for sin. Some of them were sacrifices for thanks. You know why Jesus is our thank offering? Every blessing that you enjoy, whether you’re converted or not, you need to thank God for that. Because when Christ died on the cross He bought probationary time for every human being on the planet. Let me say that again another way. The penalty for sin is death. How many have sinned? Little survey. How come you’re not dead? It’s not because you accepted Jesus because you were lost before you accepted Jesus, but you were alive physically. Maybe spiritually dead.

Why do we have life? Why do we have time, probationary time to choose? Jesus, by His sacrifice, not only bought the potential of everlasting life, He bought the time in which we have to choose. He bought all the blessings that we receive from our Father when He opens His hand to satisfy the desire of every living thing. It’s through the sacrifice of Christ that we have everything we have to be thankful for. Amen? But it was very costly for God to give us the blessings that all come through Christ. I remember reading in the book Desire of Ages I believe, or Steps to Christ that every bread, every loaf of bread that we eat is stamped with the cross of Christ. Every blessing that we get we must thank God for. Because it’s because of Christ that every good thing comes. So in that sense Jesus is our thank offering. The only begotten child is given. She comes out. I don’t want to rush past this. I don’t get to talk about it very often. “With timbrels and dancing,” probably singing, too. Was that wrong? No, I think it was very appropriate. You notice in the Bible, first of all the Bible does not condemn dancing. Some of you are getting real excited now. When it’s done at the right time in the right place for the right reason. OK? The Bible tells us there’s a time for every purpose under heaven.

There’s a time to dance, there’s a time not to dance. You notice that dancing principally is done in the Bible by women who are celebrating victory. Miriam and the women went out and danced because of the victory when the Egyptians were swallowed up in the Red Sea. Dancing, celebrating timbrels for victory. These were not seductive dances. Miriam was already an old prophetess at this time. These were exuberant expressions of gratitude to God. You remember when Saul became angry with David? Why did Saul become furious with David? Because they came back from a victory, the women were dancing and singing and they said, “Saul has slain his thousands and David his ten thousands.” And so they were celebrating victory. Here she comes forth dancing, celebrating victory. You never see; the only man in the Bible I find dancing there was David when he danced alone before the ark. You do not see men and women dancing together. That was unthinkable. Matter of fact, if you go to Israel today during the folk dances and the marriages in the Orthodox community the, even in America.

My Grandparents are Jewish and I’ve seen it even here in America. The men dance with the men and the women with the women. Because they saw it as immoral for men and women to dance together was completely sexually suggestive like Salome danced for Herod. That’s the wrong kind of dancing. The reason you know that is because John the Baptist lost his head. The fruit of it is evident. So there is a time to celebrate. Remember when Moses was coming down the mountain and Joshua said, “I hear the sound of war in the camp.” What did Moses say? “It’s not the sound of those who cry for being overcome, neither is it the sound of those who shout for victory that I hear.” It’s appropriate to shout for victory. When somebody gets baptized I think you could all shout, “Hallelujah,” and I think the angels are singing with you. Doesn’t the Bible say that?

That’s the kind of thing we ought to be celebrating. But sometimes we get our timing off and it’s the wrong time and the wrong place. Anyway, so she goes out to meet her father. I’ve taken that too far so I’m going to stop right there. She goes out to meet her father and he, verse 35, when he saw her he tore his clothes, a sign of mourning and total agony. He tore his clothes and he said, “Alas, my daughter! You have brought me very low.” “You’ve brought me to the bottom.” Even though he was; have you ever noticed that sometimes low points follow high points? Comes away from the victory over the Ammonites. An inferior force fought against a superior number. They were victorious. He’s riding on the clouds. And the high points are often followed by the low points. After Jesus is on the mountain God the Father speaks, He’s in the clouds talking to Elijah and Moses. The voice of God identifies Him. Right after that He goes down to the valley and there’s a boy filled with demons. The high points, David is at the pinnacle of his victories over all of his enemies and then he looks at Bathsheeba.

High points are often followed by low points. You know there’s a verse in the Bible where Ahab defeated the Syrians. And the Syrians said, “The reason that he defeated us is because we fought him in the mountains. But if we fight him in the valley our gods are the gods of the valleys. Their gods are gods of the mountains. We’ll beat them in the valleys.” And God says to Ahab, even though Ahab was a wicked king, “I’m gong to give you victory against the enemy because I want them to know that I’m not only the God of the mountains, I’m the God of the valleys.” I love that verse. Our God is not only the God of the mountains He’s the God of the valleys. Not only the high points when you’re on the mountain with Moses and Elijah, but sometimes when you’re in the valley with the demons God’s God there, too. Not only when you’re; the Holy Spirit’s coming down in the Jordan River, but when you’re in the wilderness and the devil’s tempting you, God is there, too. Even though you can’t see Him or hear Him. And God had to sustain Jephthah now. What would you do? Oh, wait a second.

I first better establish something. There’s been a lot of question about did he put his daughter on an altar bound and kill her? No, I don’t believe that. I’m quite confident he didn’t and I’ll give you some biblical reasons. But let me first read this. He says, “You have brought me very low,” verse 35, “you are among those who trouble me: for I have given my word to the Lord, and I cannot go back on it.” Look at the resolve. When you make a promise to God it’s for good, amen? “So she says to him, My father, if you have given your word to the Lord, do to me according to what has gone out of your mouth; because the Lord has avenged you of your enemies, the people of Ammon.” In other words, she’s saying, “What is my life compared to all the people that have been saved in this battle? If you’ve made a vow keep your vow.”

She knew her father and she probably was able to anticipate what he had vowed. Now what did the vow say? Literally he said he’d offer it as a burnt offering. And then it goes on to say he did to her according to what he had vowed. But notice what it says here. “She said to her father,” in verse 37, “Let this thing be done for me: let me alone for two months,” 60 days, “that I might go and wander on the mountains, and bewail my virginity.” What is she bewailing? Her death? No, her virginity. I’d like to submit to you that what Jephthah did with his daughter was the same thing that Hannah did with Samuel. He brought her to the sanctuary, she was consecrated to the service of the Lord, but unlike Samuel, unlike the men, the women were to remain celibate. You remember Anna in the New Testament who remained a virgin from her widowhood, 80 years serving the Lord in the temple? You remember that in the New Testament? When they served before the Lord in the sanctuary like that they would not remarry. And here she had not had any children yet. She was to stay in the sanctuary.

Now let me give you several reasons here that I’ve mapped out why I believe this is biblical. First of all, human sacrifices; I just want to cover this thoroughly because I run into people that are still unclear on why God would have him burn his daughter. He did not do that. I’ll prove it to you here. Human sacrifices were ever an abomination to Jehovah of which Jephthah could not be ignorant and consequently he could have never made such a vow and then carried that into execution. We are expressly told in verse 29, I’d like to thank the bible study notes from my Bible for this, that Jephthah was under the influence of the Spirit of God.

Didn’t the Bible say, “The Spirit of the Lord came upon him”? You think with the Spirit of the Lord upon him he then executed his daughter? That he was under the Spirit of the Lord, which would effectually prevent him from imbruing his hands with the blood of his own child. Three, he had it in his power to redeem his daughter. Leviticus 27:4. You know if your child was the firstborn or if you made a vow, it says in Leviticus 27, you can read in verse 2, “Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them, When a man consecrates by a vow, certain persons,” you can consecrate persons by a vow, “to the Lord.” You could do it with your servants. You could do it with your family that was subordinate to you. “According to your valuation.” You could redeem these people. In other words if your firstborn was consecrated to the Lord you didn’t offer him as a sacrifice.

You could either pay a price or offer an animal in its place. He would never have killed his daughter. Knowing the scriptures the way he did he certainly knew this. Furthermore, besides, if he was going to sacrifice his daughter who would carry that out? Only a priest was allowed to make an offering. Remember how Saul got into trouble when he tried to take the prerogatives of the priest. And Uzzah was stricken as a leper when as a king he offered sacrifice as a priest. What priest was going to offer her, knowing this was an abomination? Who would carry that out? Number five, the Bible says she bewailed her virginity, that she knew no man and that the Israelite women went up yearly to comfort or lament with her. Where did they go up? They went to the temple to comfort and lament and mourn her virginity. You notice that in the book of Esther when they established a holiday the Jews still celebrate that today. But the only place that you find the daughters going up to lament Jephthah’s daughter, whose name we do not even know, was during her lifetime because they went to the temple four days each year to mourn with her the sacrifice that she had made to thank God for the victory against their enemies. Her life was consecrated to the Lord. They went to where the sanctuary was to lament with her.

So is it clear to everybody here he did not kill his daughter? I know folks are going to say, “Well, God asked Abraham to kill his daughter.” And God stopped Abraham from doing it, right? No, wait, I’m sorry. His son, thank you very much. I heard a ripple of correction go through the congregation as that came out of my mouth. It’s because my mind is way ahead of my tongue when I’m preaching. Abraham did not kill Isaac his son. God prevented him from doing that. And if here Jephthah was being led by the Lord and given victory by the Lord and fulfilling a vow to the Lord don’t you think God would stop him before he would shed his only child’s blood? And so I think it’s clear from the context what happened. He consecrated his daughter to the service at the sanctuary where she was to remain celibate. And his family line died out when he died.

That’s why he said, “You’ve brought me very low.” No children, no grandchildren or no further children. Well let’s go on with our story here. I don’t want to rush past some very important points. First of all, notice that Jephthah’s daughter was a willing sacrifice just as Isaac was. That she was the only child. Also I want you to notice that he kept his word. Keeping your vows. Now the Bible tells us don’t make a vow unless you plan on keeping it. Is it inappropriate to make a vow, to make a promise? Now the Bible says Jesus said, “Do not swear by heaven above, or by earth beneath.” Swearing, I’m not talking about cursing; I’m talking about making an oath, is not the same as vowing. Swearing is saying, “I say by the Lord or by the heavens or by the altar and the temple,” and you’re like, you know, “on my mother’s grave.” You’ve heard when people swear like that. Jesus said never to swear. He said, “Let your yes be yes and your no be no.” But a vow was something different. A vow was a promise. When you get baptized you take a vow. That’s appropriate. When you get married you take a vow. That’s appropriate. Vowing is something Christians do. You make promises. Be very careful how you make them because Christians are to always, always keep their promises. Just checking there.

I tell you, you know the reason I’m worried is because situation ethics is an epidemic that we have been infected with. Situation ethics, that’s the idea that, “Well, you know, if the situation is hard enough God’ll understand if you don’t keep your word.” I don’t accept that. I think that the story of Jephthah is in the Bible to say that even if your child is on the line a promise to God is a promise. The Bible says that God must come first. Matthew 10:37, “He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me. He who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” We must love God and our promises to God must be supreme. Amen? Deuteronomy 23:21, “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 a sin to you. But if you abstain from vowing, it shall not be a sin.” In other words, you’re better off not vowing. “That which is gone from your lips you shall keep and perform; for you voluntarily vowed it to the Lord your God, what you have promised with your mouth.”

You know sometimes we make these very flippant promises. People say, “Yeah, I’ll be there,” and then they don’t show. Or they say, “I’ll be there a certain time,” and they’re late, chronic late. Is that a kind of dishonesty? You rob people of their time. You say you’re going to do something and you don’t do it. Christians ought to strive to fulfill their word in every respect. We say we’re going to pay something and we don’t pay it. We get baptized and we make some promises to God and then we say, “Well, you know, it’s a ceremony.” God doesn’t view it as a ceremony. God views it that you’ve made a promise. And He wants us to keep our promise. Now I’ve got some good news for you. If you have made vows and you have not been keeping your vows you can repent, change your mind and start keeping them. That’s good news. Let me read something to you. Matthew 21:28 Jesus is speaking, “What do you think? A man has two sons; and he came to the first, and he says, Son go work to day in my vineyard. He said, I will not: but afterward he regretted, he repented, and he went. Then he came to the second son. And he answered and said, I’m on my way, go work in your vineyard: but he doesn’t go.”

Side two

“Which of the two did the will of the father?” And His enemies said, “Well, the first.” He said, “No,” but he repented and he went. Now if we’ve made promises to God and we have been negligent about fulfilling those promises you can repent and follow through with your word, amen? God sent Jonah to Nineveh. Jonah didn’t want to go to Nineveh. Finally God got Jonah’s attention. Jonah said, “I’m sorry,” and he went to Nineveh, amen? You know it is possible, God is longsuffering, He is merciful and if there is something you promised, if there is something you vowed and you have been lax or negligent or you’ve been trying to put it off or put it away you ought to say, “Lord, forgive me,” and then follow through. Some people have broken their marriage vows. Not only by not loving and cherishing and honoring and respecting, but some have violated morally their marriage vows. The good news is that you can repent and you can choose to be faithful and you can find mercy both with your spouse if God gives them grace (and it’s a hard thing to do), but God can give them grace and you can find mercy with God. That’s the good news in this message is if we’ve made a vow and if we’ve been negligent and if we’ve been remiss then we can restore the pledge. We can repent and we can do the thing that we’ve spoken.

God doesn’t take it lightly when we don’t. You heard in our scripture reading, Ecclesiastes 5:4, “When you make a vow to God do not delay to pay it; for he has no pleasure in fools: pay what you have vowed. Better not to vow, than not to pay.” You know I think that when people enter into marriage they should be very, very serious about it because you’re making a promise for life. Better not to marry than to marry and not mean your commitment. Amen? If you’re going to get baptized, it’s a kind of marriage to the Lord. It’s a very, very serious commitment. Better not to get baptized than to enter into a relationship with your Creator in a flippant way. Say, “Well, you know.” I know somebody that got baptized one place and they read all the vows and they made certain promises and then I noticed shortly after the baptism they weren’t’ keeping it.

I said, “Sister so-and-so,” I said, “you made these promises.” She said, “Well I was just feeling guilty. I needed to get baptized. I really had not intention of doing these things, but I knew you wouldn’t baptize me unless I said I would.” Had every intention going into the baptism of breaking her vows as soon as the baptism was over. Just felt that somehow there was some magical abracadabra qualities in the water and baptism was going to save her, while she lies to God. There’s no virtue in doing that. God wants our hearts and He wants us to keep our word. Amen? Psalm 15 very important. “Lord,” verse 1, “who may abide in your tabernacle? Who will dwell in your holy hill?” Translation: Who’s going to be in heave? OK? Answer verse 4, “He who swears to his own hurt, and does not change.” Now what does that mean? Swearing to your own hurt. You make a promise, maybe you invest in something and you promise somebody and then it backfires, but you still follow through with your commitment, you still pay. You swear to your own hurt and you change not. Jephthah swore to his own hurt and he did not change. He will be in the holy hill of the Lord, amen? He’s listed in the chronicle of the faithful in Hebrews 11. Jephthah’s going to be saved. That’s another reason I know he didn’t sacrifice his daughter.

How many of you remember the story where the Gideonites fooled Joshua and the elders of Israel? They dressed up like ambassadors from a far country. You remember this story? And they got some moldy bread and some old rotten moccasins and they got these worn out starving horses and they came hobbling into the land of Israel. And they said, “We’re ambassadors from a far land. Now make a vow and a covenant with us that we can be at peace with each other.” And they tricked the Israelites into making peace with them. Joshua and the elders forgot to consult the Lord or they would have been updated. But this was their enemy that lived around the corner. But they made a vow. And then later the children of Israel found out, “These were the Gideonites that are around the corner. What are we going to do?” And the elders said, “We have opened our mouth to the Lord. We’ve sworn to our own hurt, but we cannot change.” Are you aware that King Saul, who was not a good king, he attacked the Gideonites because he thought, “Well, they’re the enemy and who cares if we made a vow.” And a curse came on the land of Israel because Saul did not keep the vow that Joshua and the elders had made hundreds of years earlier. Does God write these vows down? When God makes a promise to Abraham 3,000 years ago. Has God forgotten that promise? And we shouldn’t forget ours. God means what He says. Aren’t’ you glad? Can you trust the word of God that His promises are sure? Now if you’re a Christian, if you know that God’s promises are as sure as the rock.

Heaven and earth will pass away before the vows of God fail. And if you’re called to imitate Christ then how serious should we be about what comes out of our mouth? Christians must keep their vows. Psalm 22:25, “My praise will be of you in the great assembly: I will pay my vows before those who fear him.” Just a couple of examples in the New Testament that it’s also a New Testament principle. Acts 18:18, “Then Paul took leave of his brethren, and sailed to Syria, and Priscilla and Aquila were with him; for he had his hair cut off at Cenchrea: for he had taken a vow.” And then again when you go to Acts, I believe it’s chapter 20, Paul again is under a vow. You remember when Jacob had the dream of the ladder that reached to heaven? He made a vow to God, didn’t he? Did he do the right thing or was that presumptuous? I think the Spirit of God inspired him to make that vow.

He said, “Lord, if you’ll bring me safely to my father’s land again a tenth of all you give me I’ll return to you.” He made a vow to pay his tithe. In Genesis 31:13 God reminds him, “I am the God of Bethel, where you anointed the pillar, and where you made a vow to me.” Now 21 years have gone by. Did God forget that Jacob made a vow? Did Jacob pay his vow? He did. You remember when Esau came? Jacob took about a tenth of everything he had and he gave it to his brother; of all his possessions. Keep in mind they didn’t have the priesthood back then and so they may have done things differently, but he gave it away. “Now rise and get out of the land, and return to the land of your family.” God remembers our vows. We shouldn’t make vows to God in anticipation of trying to con Him into benefits. Have you ever been in a foxhole with bullets flying over your head and you say, “Lord, if you’ll only save me I’ll do this and this, or I’ll stop doing this.” It’s called foxhole religion. I’m using that kind of in a metaphorical way. What that means is, have you ever been in distress and say, “Lord, I’m sick if you heal me I’ll do this and this.” Or you’re in financial straights, “If you help me win the lottery then I’ll give the money to a church.” Should Christians make those kind of vows?

Don’t try and con God. When you make a vow to the Lord it ought to be because of what’s happening in your heart or because of thankfulness not because you’re trying to manipulate Him. I know I’ve been in a couple of situations where my life has been on the line and I’ve been tempted to say, “Lord, if you’ll only save me I promise I’ll do this and this and won’t do that anymore.” And as soon as I get ready to say that I say, “Lord, you know me too well. I don’t want to make a promise I can’t keep. Will you just save me because you’re merciful?” And you know that usually works. At least I’m still here. So we shouldn’t be making deals with God and the purpose of vows is not to try to manipulate God. It’s really; a vow is for the purpose of showing gratitude and for your own heart. Something else I want you to notice about the story of Jephthah. Victory can sometimes cost you. Victory has a price. Victory for the Christian, there is a price. For one thing it cost Jesus dearly. It cost our heavenly Father. He was brought very low. Christ was viewed as an enemy just as Jephthah said to his daughter, “You’re among my enemies, one who troubles me.” Now I want you to notice what happens. He comes home. He fulfills his vow. Then go with me to chapter 12. We’re going to take a little different turn. Going to talk not just about vows now, but talk about our vowels. He’s had this victory. He’s now the installed judge of Israel even though he was an outcast. You notice the victory gives him accessibility.

He’s able to come home now, live among his family. He’s respected where before he was an outcast because of his questionable birth. “Now the men of Ephraim,” the Ephraimites were a scrappy tribe. They were always wanting to get into a fight. They were sort of big talkers and small on action. Some of you remember when Gideon defeated the Middeonites that the Ephraimites didn’t go to battle with them. But when he came back victorious they said, “How come you didn’t ask us? We should have…” They wanted to fight with Gideon, but they didn’t want to fight with the enemy. The Ephraimites were always wanting to fight with their own people. But not with the enemy. Always talking big and that’s what happened here. “Then the men of Ephraim they gathered together, and crossed over towards Zaphron(?), and they said to Jephthah,” they’ve crossed over the Jordan, don’t miss that. They’re now on the east side of the Jordan, which technically is outside of the Promise Land. “Why did you cross over to fight against the people of Ammon, and you didn’t call us to go with you? We’re going to burn you in your house with fire.” Well you think they’d be saying, “Thank you, Jephthah, for the good job that you’ve done. Thank you for delivering us from our enemy.” But what are they concerned with? Who’s getting the credit. They’re concerned with, yeah, they’re probably also concerned with the booty of war. That’s a good point. They’re concerned with the pride. “How come you left us out? And they’re wanting to burn him with fire.

That’s the same thing the Ephraimites said to Gideon when he was victorious, too. And the Bible says that, “Jephthah said to them, My people and I were in dire straits, in great struggle with the people of Ammon; and when I called you, you did not deliver me out of their hands.” So you know what he’s saying? “You did receive notice and you didn’t come.” “So when I saw that you would not deliver me, I took my life in my hands, and I crossed over against the people of Ammon, and the Lord has delivered them into my hand.” So don’t blame me, talk to God. “Why then have you come to me this day, to fight against me?” All right, here’s the lesson that we have to learn. Have you noticed that in the history of God’s people defeating the enemy on the outside was always a lot easier than defeating the enemy on the inside? The biggest enemy for God’s people is not those who are blatantly pagan out in the world. It is those who are nominal Christians in the church. That are striving for attention and prominence and position. They’re there for the wrong reasons. Who was it that killed Abel? His brother. Who was it that gave David the hardest time? Was it the Philistines? No, he was able to handle them pretty easily. It was his son, Absalom, his king, his sons on several occasions, his own people, Joab his soldier.

Who was it that caused Joseph a hard time? The Egyptians? No, they treated him pretty well. It was his brothers. Are things different or is it going to be the same way in the last days? You know where we are going to get the most fierce opposition? Not just from Christianity as a whole, but I think that people from our own mix, from our own family, those who once ate our bread with us, spiritually, shared communion with us, are going to end up being our adversaries and strive with us. That’s been the history in the Bible. Here he’s defeated the enemy on the outside and God gave him a quick victory. And now he’s attacked from the inside.

How does he cope with that? “So,” verse 4, “Now Jephthah gathered all of the men of Gilead, who fought against Ephraim: and all the men of Gilead defeated Ephraim, because they said, You Gileadites are fugitives of Ephraim among the Ephraimites, and among the Manassites. And the Gileadites seized the fords of Jordan before the Ephraimites arrived: and when any of the Ephraimites who had escaped said, Let me cross over; the men of Gilead would say to him, Are you an Ephraimite?” Now why did they have to ask that? Well they all looked the same. They dressed the same. You couldn’t really tell them apart from looking. And you know, they crossed back and forth on this crossing point in the Jordan River and they said, “How do I know that you’re not escaping and you are the ones who are attacking and fighting us?”

They didn’t have military uniforms that differed. And so they’re trying to find out who is a Gileadite (friend, family) and who is Ephraimite (a foe). You know what they said? They devised a test. “Then they said, Say to him Shibboleth: and he would say Sibboleth: for he could not feign to pronounce it right. Then they’d take them and kill them at the fords of the Jordan: and there fell at that time forty two thousand Ephraimites.” Now, that’s not correct. If you look in the King James Version it says, “forty and two thousand.” Some versions translate that, this just is a little detail I want to clarify, some versions translate that 42,000. It was not 42,000. It was 40 plus 2,000. That’s the way it came from the original Hebrew. The reason I know that is in the census of Ephraim that you find in the book of Numbers there were only 32,000 of them all together. And so it’s highly unlikely that Jephthah killed 42,000 Ephraimites. But it is enough that he killed 2,040. You got it?

You know how in some languages they say things backwards like, “You throw the cow over the fence some hay?” In German that’s what they say. It sounds like you’re throwing the cow over the fence. And in Spanish you don’t say white house, you say house white. Well when you translate from the Hebrew into the English they said forty and two thousand and it could be 42,000 or it could be 40 plus 2,000. Just a little detail so you’ll understand it. So I just wanted you to know that 2,040 were slain. Now what does this mean? Have you know people from different parts of the US? Even though we’re all Americans some of us have distinctive accents. Now I’ve lived; I was born in California and we have our own accent. And yeah, we do. Californians have their own accent. Trust me. You may not know it, but go somewhere else. They’ll tell you you have one. It’s like Pastor Thomson said, “I never had an accent until I came to America.” But you go to different parts of the state and; I don’t mean to give Pastor Bailey a hard time, but I tease him a lot. I like to hear him say power.

He can’t say power. He says par. So different parts of the state. You ever been up in Maine? They don’t say short. They say shot. And you don’t know if they’re talking about a gun or how tall somebody is. “Boy, he sure is shot.” That’s how they talk. They’ve got these distinctive accents. And you’ll say, “No, say short.” And they’ll go, “Shot, that’s what I’ve been saying.” And they don’t know that they can’t say it. I’ve got; I’ll try and stick to the Americans. We have an international audience here and an international congregation and some of you I’m tickled by your cute accents. And as you attempt to pronounce certain words, struggle with it, that’s what it was like. The Ephraimites could not say Shibboleth. They said Sibboleth. No matter how hard they tried it always came out Sibboleth. It was in their nature. Now what does this mean?

There’s a very important spiritual lesson for this, for you and me in this. What is the Jordan River a symbol of biblically? The children of Israel crossed the Jordan. It represented entering the Promise Land. Where did this battle take place? On the east side of the Jordan. That’s where the children of Israel were before they crossed over into the Promise Land and took Jericho. East side technically was out. If you know your Bible history you’ll know that some of the tribes of Manasseh and Gilead they decided, “Let’s stay on the east side of the Jordan even though it’s not technically part of the Promise Land because the pasture’s so good.” And God gave them leave. That’s why some of the Gileadites had settled there. But now the Ephraimites had crossed over from the west to the east, from the Promise Land to fight with the Gileadites.

They’re defeated, they’re trying to flee and get back across, but evidently the Jordan is flooding. Do you know what the word Shibboleth means? Flood. That’s probably why they thought of it. When the Jordan is flooding in the springtime, and if you’ll read in I Samuel there was a time of year the kings went out to war. It was the springtime. The Jordan is flooding. There were only a couple of places you could cross. The Jordan River is 70 miles from the Sea of Galilee, the south end of the Sea of Galilee to the north end of the Dead Sea. There were a couple of places where it was shallow enough where you could cross. They had to get by Jephthah to get into the Promise Land. They needed to know how to speak the word to get into the Promise Land. You listening? There was a review and if you said Sibboleth instead of Shibboleth you didn’t make it.

You were executed. You know another translation for Shibboleth, there’s a couple of ways it’s translated one is flood, another one is heavy burden. You can see a similarity between something that’s flooding and something that’s a heavy burden. And I read in Matthew Hamries(?) Commentary he said, “And those who could not say Shibboleth paid a heavy burden.” What does that say to you and me? We want to cross the Jordan, don’t we? We need to know how to speak the word. That doesn’t mean just proper pronunciation. I don’t want to rush past that. Let me just say this here. The older I get the more convinced I am that it’s very important to speak clearly and distinctly. You have no idea how hard I try to do that. I grew up with a serious speech impediment. Some of you probably still detect it. But I had, my teeth were all scrambled.

I had braces finally when I was 25, but up until I was 25 I could not touch my tongue to the roof of my mouth. I’m getting personal with you here now. Finally, working for La Vida Mission I got some very affordable orthodontic work. I got my teeth straightened out. I thought, “Wow, this is what it’s like to touch your tongue to the roof of your mouth.” And I preached for several months with braces on and wax in my mouth because I used to preach and cut up my gums. Any of you relate to that? Start talking fast. I decided that I was going to try to speak clearly even with a speech impediment and braces. And it was a lot of work. But you know what? I came to appreciate how important it is to try to articulate clearly. You ever get frustrated when somebody mumbles what they’re saying and you have to keep saying, “Huh? What?

Repeat that.” And you know, I also notice something. A lot of our senior members whose hearing was diminished used to say, “Doug, I don’t understand you. Speak clearly.” And I noticed the harder I tried they’d come up and say, “I understood you today.” Now I’ve got a radio program. On radio people tell me I’ve got a face for radio. On radio it doesn’t matter what you look like, but you need to speak clearly and I do not naturally have a great radio voice. I have to try very hard to articulate. I remember Paul Harvey went to a convention Karen and I attended with It Is Written and we had a chance to meet him there and he talked about how much he loved the English language and how ashamed he is of the people who muddy it up with their profanity and with slurring their words and the slang and the guttural talk. And he said, “The English language has been so good to me.” You know, right now look at what’s happening here. I’m putting thoughts in your mind. How am I doing that? I’m conveying it by words. Mumble. Did you get anything out of that last phrase?

Nothing was conveyed. Some people, they don’t speak clearly and as a result of that you are not communicating thought. Is there power in the word to transform? Then we ought to train ourselves, we ought to learn to do everything. And you know, as I’m talking to you about speech you don’t know how self-conscious I am right now to speak clearly. It’s really heavy right now. But we ought to do everything we can to speak clearly because we represent Jesus, right? So before I rush past that I think that Christians ought to study the English language. We ought to try to understand the power of the word and how to structure our sentences. Some of you, you’ve got cute little habits of always misplacing certain words. Somebody who’s in this congregation I won’t identify used to torment me years ago because I’d always say, “Me and Paul are going over…” and he’d say, “Me and Paul?” I’d say, “Me and Bob.” He’d say, “Me and Bob?” He said, “Bob and I.” And he said that so much it was so annoying, but you know I don’t make that mistake anymore of saying, “Me and somebody.”

It’s, “That person and I.” We ought to understand how to form our sentences. So we can speak clearly. You know what? You’ll raise your perceived IQ. And all of us could use that, amen? OK. Let’s get back to our story here. So here the wonderful lesson that you’ve got is Gideon and his men are guarding the crossing. And evidently there’s only one place for them to go over at the fords here. They’re guarding the crossing into the Promise Land. And in order for them to pass he has a test and you know what the test is? The test isn’t just saying Shibboleth instead of Sibboleth. The test is are you my family or are you an imposter? See the Gileadites were Jephthah’s family. The Ephraimites they weren’t real family. They made themselves enemies. And he was finding out, “Are you my family or are you an imposter?” Are you on speaking terms with the Lord? Can you speak the word? Are you part of His family or are you really an adversary? You might be an Israelite in name only and not really know Jephthah. Now what does the word Jephthah mean? I started with it.

Who remembers? God will open the way. They’re trying to get into the Promise Land and Jephthah opened the way. Who’s going to open the way for you and I to cross the Jordan? It’s Jesus. And we need to be family with Him, right? We’re adopted in through baptism and through our commitment. In conclusion, I’d like you to turn in your hymnal. It’s 330, I believe. Is that right? Take My Life And Let It Be. In this hymn I want you to especially notice the part that says, “Take my lips, take my lips.” I think we sometimes underestimate the power of speech. We need to pray that God will help us to be careful if we speak a vow and a promise to keep it, that we might be able to speak clearly as Christians that we communicate for God and that we can speak the word of the Lord so that it’s understood. Is that your desire, friends, that we will guard our vows and our vowels? If it is let’s stand together and sing this hymn together.


In just a moment we’re going to go to verse three. “Take my lips.” Ask the Holy Spirit to come and take our minds and out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. Now today maybe some of us have been spoken to by the Lord. Maybe we’ve made some promises and we’ve been slack or lax or negligent in keeping our vows before God. Maybe we’ve not been keeping our vows to our spouse. Maybe there are financial commitments that we are disregarding and we’ve made a promise and we’re not keeping it. Whatever the situation might be the Holy Spirit may be talking to you about something completely different.

As Christians I think that we ought to keep our word at any cost. Amen? I don’t think we ought to fall for this nonsense of situation ethics. I believe that God wants us to keep our word and Jephthah is in the Bible to remind us how seriously the Lord takes these vows and how He’ll honor us if we honor Him. There may be some of you here today who would like to say, “Lord, I’ve been reckless with my words.” Jesus said that in the judgment day we’ll give an account to the Lord for every idle word that we speak. I think we should speak clearly, truthfully and speak words that will uplift and edify and be positive as Christians. Amen? Not negative and dragging people and things down all the time. Maybe you have some special need you’d like to ask the Lord for power and for victory. If you’d like to bring that to the Lord as we sing the remaining verses come, we’ll have prayer with you. Let’s singe verse three.


Before we sing the next verse I just feel impressed that this is also a good time to make a gospel invitation. You know before you can give the Lord your lips you need to give Him your heart, which I think is the next verse. “Take my will and make it thine.” And there may be some here who are struggling to keep their vows and keep their words because they have not yet given the Lord their heart. We need to do things in the proper sequence, isn’t that right? If the Lord’s speaking to you, maybe you’ve not made a decision to commit all to Jesus. That’s what this song is about. You can do that right now. Come as we sing verse four together and we’ll pray with you.


If I was to summarize this message today it would be simply that we should be a people who say what we mean and mean what we say. Amen? If you’d like to ask the Lord to help you do that you want to lift your hand before Him?


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