Archive for the ‘Oaths’ Category


Spectacular faith

July 10, 2010

Aside from the account of his accomplishments in Judges 11-12, Jephthah is mentioned two other times in scripture. He is listed among the heroes of faith in Hebrews 11:

Heb 11:32 And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets,
Heb 11:33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions,
Heb 11:34 quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies.
Heb 11:35 Women received back their dead, raised to life again. Others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection.
Heb 11:36 Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison.
Heb 11:37 They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated—
Heb 11:38 the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground.
Heb 11:39 These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised.
Heb 11:40 God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.

And he is cited by Samuel as one of the deliverers of Israel sent by their faithful God:

1Sa 12:6 Then Samuel said to the people, “It is the LORD who appointed Moses and Aaron and brought your forefathers up out of Egypt.
1Sa 12:7 Now then, stand here, because I am going to confront you with evidence before the LORD as to all the righteous acts performed by the LORD for you and your fathers.
1Sa 12:8 “After Jacob entered Egypt, they cried to the LORD for help, and the LORD sent Moses and Aaron, who brought your forefathers out of Egypt and settled them in this place.
1Sa 12:9 “But they forgot the LORD their God; so he sold them into the hand of Sisera, the commander of the army of Hazor, and into the hands of the Philistines and the king of Moab, who fought against them.
1Sa 12:10 They cried out to the LORD and said, ‘We have sinned; we have forsaken the LORD and served the Baals and the Ashtoreths. But now deliver us from the hands of our enemies, and we will serve you.’
1Sa 12:11 Then the LORD sent Jerub-Baal, Barak, Jephthah and Samuel, and he delivered you from the hands of your enemies on every side, so that you lived securely.

Jephthah was clearly a great example of faithfulness. Let’s look more closely at why that is so.

Jdg 11:1 Jephthah the Gileadite was a mighty warrior. His father was Gilead; his mother was a prostitute.
Jdg 11:2 Gilead’s wife also bore him sons, and when they were grown up, they drove Jephthah away. “You are not going to get any inheritance in our family,” they said, “because you are the son of another woman.”
Jdg 11:3 So Jephthah fled from his brothers and settled in the land of Tob, where a group of adventurers gathered around him and followed him.

Jephthah was born to a prostitute, and was driven from his family. More than that, he was by Law forbidden from the assembly of Israel:

Deu 23:2 No one born of a forbidden marriage nor any of his descendants may enter the assembly of the LORD, even down to the tenth generation.

Yet God chose such an outcast to send as a deliverer of Israel.

Jdg 11:4 Some time later, when the Ammonites made war on Israel,
Jdg 11:5 the elders of Gilead went to get Jephthah from the land of Tob.
Jdg 11:6 “Come,” they said, “be our commander, so we can fight the Ammonites.”
Jdg 11:7 Jephthah said to them, “Didn’t you hate me and drive me from my father’s house? Why do you come to me now, when you’re in trouble?”
Jdg 11:8 The elders of Gilead said to him, “Nevertheless, we are turning to you now; come with us to fight the Ammonites, and you will be our head over all who live in Gilead.”
Jdg 11:9 Jephthah answered, “Suppose you take me back to fight the Ammonites and the LORD gives them to me—will I really be your head?”
Jdg 11:10 The elders of Gilead replied, “The LORD is our witness; we will certainly do as you say.”
Jdg 11:11 So Jephthah went with the elders of Gilead, and the people made him head and commander over them. And he repeated all his words before the LORD in Mizpah.

Jephthah tried to reason with the enemy king, but to no avail.

Jdg 11:28 The king of Ammon, however, paid no attention to the message Jephthah sent him.
Jdg 11:29 Then the Spirit of the LORD came upon Jephthah. He crossed Gilead and Manasseh, passed through Mizpah of Gilead, and from there he advanced against the Ammonites.
Jdg 11:30 And Jephthah made a vow to the LORD: “If you give the Ammonites into my hands,
Jdg 11:31 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.”

Jephthah was filled with the Holy Spirit as he made his frightening vow to the Lord. The Keil & Delitzsch commentary notes:

Jephthah no doubt intended to impose a very difficult vow upon himself. And that would not have been the case if he had merely been thinking of a sacrificial animal. Even without any vow, he would have offered, not one, but many sacrifices after obtaining a victory.
(Note: “What kind of vow would it be if some great prince or general should say, ‘O God, if Thou wilt give me this victory, the first calf that meets me shall be Thine!’)
In his eagerness to smite the foe, and to thank God for it, Jephthah could not think of any particular object to name, which he could regard as great enough to dedicate to God; he therefore left it to accident, i.e., to the guidance of God, to determine the sacrifice.

Jephthah was fully devoted to carrying out the mission God had given him. And he knew he could only do it with God’s power. So he begged God to grant him success, and he made the dramatic vow.

Jdg 11:32 Then Jephthah went over to fight the Ammonites, and the LORD gave them into his hands.
Jdg 11:33 He devastated twenty towns from Aroer to the vicinity of Minnith, as far as Abel Keramim. Thus Israel subdued Ammon.
Jdg 11:34 When Jephthah returned to his home in Mizpah, who should come out to meet him but his daughter, dancing to the sound of tambourines! She was an only child. Except for her he had neither son nor daughter.
Jdg 11:35 When he saw her, he tore his clothes and cried, “Oh! My daughter! You have made me miserable and wretched, because I have made a vow to the LORD that I cannot break.”

The LORD chose to test Jephthah with the most difficult of sacrifices. This was not the first time God had called upon a faithful man to sacrifice an only child. But this time, God would not intervene to stop the sacrifice.

Jdg 11:36 “My father,” she replied, “you have given your word to the LORD. Do to me just as you promised, now that the LORD has avenged you of your enemies, the Ammonites.
Jdg 11:37 But grant me this one request,” she said. “Give me two months to roam the hills and weep with my friends, because I will never marry.”
Jdg 11:38 “You may go,” he said. And he let her go for two months. She and the girls went into the hills and wept because she would never marry.
Jdg 11:39 After the two months, she returned to her father and he did to her as he had vowed.

The faith of Jephthah’s daughter is equally as impressive as that of the mighty warrior. She immediately recognized that her father must keep the heart-wrenching vow. What faith, and what loyalty! What examples of great faithfulness! Truly the great faith of the father had been passed down to the daughter.  No wonder Jephthah is commended as a hero of faith!

Today many Christians recoil at the fact that Jephthah kept his vow.  I think they recoil because they know they would never have kept such a vow themselves.  Truthfully, most of us fail to keep the many, much lesser vows we have made.   Too often we deem our inconvenient circumstances to be sufficient justification for breaking our word.  We should not make rash vows. But when we do make a promise, God expects us to keep it. Our faithfulness is so far short of that of Jephthah and of his daughter. When Jesus returns, will he find faith on the earth?


Even When it Hurts: Strategic Default

June 28, 2010

In the past year it is estimated that at least a million Americans who can afford to stay in their homes simply walked away. — 60 Minutes

Strategic default. The name has an enticing ring to it. Who wouldn’t want to do something strategic, especially when talking about large sums of money? Increasing numbers of Americans are choosing “strategic default”, abandoning their commitment to make their mortgage payments because of the drop in housing prices, which left their homes worth less than the balance owed on their morgages — sometimes, much less. They let the bank foreclose on the house, and seek another house to buy at today’s deeply discounted prices.

What should a Christian think about this? Let’s look at a few scriptures.

Psa 15:1 LORD, who may dwell in your sanctuary? Who may live on your holy hill?
Psa 15:2 He whose walk is blameless and who does what is righteous, who speaks the truth from his heart
Psa 15:3 and has no slander on his tongue, who does his neighbor no wrong and casts no slur on his fellowman,
Psa 15:4 who despises a vile man but honors those who fear the LORD, who keeps his oath even when it hurts,
Psa 15:5 who lends his money without usury and does not accept a bribe against the innocent. He who does these things will never be shaken.

The Old Testament says a lot about keeping your oaths to the Lord.


Ecc 5:2 Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few.

Ecc 5:4 When you make a vow to God, do not delay in fulfilling it. He has no pleasure in fools; fulfill your vow.

Ecc 5:5It is better not to vow than to make a vow and not fulfill it.

Ecc 5:6 Do not let your mouth lead you into sin. And do not protest to the temple messenger, “My vow was a mistake.” Why should God be angry at what you say and destroy the work of your hands?

Num 30:1 Moses said to the heads of the tribes of Israel: “This is what the LORD commands:

Num 30:2When a man makes a vow to the LORD or takes an oath to obligate himself by a pledge, he must not break his word but must do everything he said.

Ecc 5:2 Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few.

Ecc 5:4 When you make a vow to God, do not delay in fulfilling it. He has no pleasure in fools; fulfill your vow.
Ecc 5:5 It is better not to vow than to make a vow and not fulfill it.
Ecc 5:6 Do not let your mouth lead you into sin. And do not protest to the temple messenger, “My vow was a mistake.” Why should God be angry at what you say and destroy the work of your hands?

Num 30:1 Moses said to the heads of the tribes of Israel: “This is what the LORD commands:
Num 30:2 When a man makes a vow to the LORD or takes an oath to obligate himself by a pledge, he must not break his word but must do everything he said.

Deu 23:21 If you make a vow to the LORD your God, do not be slow to pay it, for the LORD your God will certainly demand it of you and you will be guilty of sin.
Deu 23:22 But if you refrain from making a vow, you will not be guilty.
Deu 23:23 Whatever your lips utter you must be sure to do, because you made your vow freely to the LORD your God with your own mouth.

Pro 20:25 It is a trap for a man to dedicate something rashly and only later to consider his vows.

Certainly it would be sin to make a vow to God and then not to keep it.  But what about a promise made to someone other than to God?

Mat 5:33 “Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.’
Mat 5:34 But I tell you, Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne;
Mat 5:35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King.
Mat 5:36 And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black.
Mat 5:37 Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.

It seems that the Jews had taken the Old Testament scriptures on oaths, and twisted them into a framework that allowed for breaking promises in all but a few limited cases. According to William Barclay:

The Jews divided oaths into two classes, those which were absolutely binding and those which were not. Any oath which contained the name of God was absolutely binding; any oath which succeeded in evading the name of God was held not to be binding. The result was that if a man swore by the name of God in any form, he would rigidly keep that oath; but if he swore by heaven, or by earth, or by Jerusalem, or by his head, he felt quite free to break that oath. The result was that evasion had been brought to a fine art.

The idea behind this was that, if God’s name was used, God became a partner in the transaction; whereas if God’s name was not used, God had nothing to do with the transaction. The principle which Jesus lays down is quite clear. In effect Jesus is saying that, so far from having to make God a partner in any transaction, no man can keep God out of any transaction. God is already there. The heaven is the throne of God; the earth is the footstool of God; Jerusalem is the city of God; a man’s head does not belong to him; he cannot even make a hair white or black; his life is God’s; there is nothing in the world which does not belong to God; and, therefore, whether God is actually named in so many words or not, does not matter. God is there already.

So Jesus corrected the Jewish implementation of those passages. For a Christian, your word should be your bond. If you promised it, you must do it. God is a witness and a partner in every transaction we make, and God is dishonored if we don’t keep our word.

Mat 12:36 But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken.

Taking out a mortgage can be a scary transaction. There are so many papers, so much fine print. It is the largest financial commitment most people ever make. And it commits them for decades into the future. But in a sense the deal is pretty simple. The bank provides the borrower with a large amount of cash, which the borrower uses to buy a house. In exchange, the borrower promises to make monthly payments for (typically) thirty years. That’s the deal. The bank makes good on their promise at closing. The borrower holds up their end of the bargain by making the payments. Or not…

If a borrower decides to stop making payments, it is the moral equivalent to robbery. The main difference between strategic default and bank robbery is that you are more likely to go to jail for bank robbery. But ethically there is not much difference.

If, instead of a strategic default, the buyer keeps his commitment and makes the payments all the way to the end, he will own the house. That was all he expected when he entered into the mortgage, and that was what he agreed to do.

Psa 37:21 The wicked borrow and do not repay, but the righteous give generously;

Strategic default is wickedness. No Christian should consider such a violation of their promise.

Next time: A startling example of keeping promises even when it hurts.