“And Jephthah made a vow to the Lord. He said, “If you give me victory over the Ammonites, I will give to the Lord whatever comes out of my house to meet me when I return in triumph. I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering” (Judges 11:30-32 NLT).
Jephthah had a tough life. Scripture tells us he “Was a great warrior… but his mother was a prostitute.” His half-brothers ran him off and “So Jephthah fled from his brothers and lived in the land of Tob. Soon he had a band of worthless rebels following him” (11:1-3).
With that kind of family life and living in an Aramean city, you’ve got to wonder about the condition of Jephthah’s heart. The first great commandment is “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and all your soul, and with all your might” (Deut 6:5). David tells us “I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands.” Did Jephthah have that kind of heart? It’s doubtful, but the LORD still used him to save His people, “As he crushed the Ammonites.”
Back to his vow: “I will give to the Lord whatever comes out of my house to meet me when I return in triumph. I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering.” And it was, “His daughter came out to meet him, playing on a tambourine and dancing for joy. She was his one and only child; he had no other sons or daughters.” The celebration quickly turned to tragedy. Commentators are split as to what he meant by whatever. Since human sacrifice was an abomination to God, I don’t see the LORD accepting such an offering. But if he really did sacrifice his daughter, imagine his sorrow, his isolation and even his guilt. No happy ending here.
The Bible is filled with individuals who should never be considered role models, but rather serve as warnings. Jephthah is one of those. There are two verses in Judges which place this heartbreaking tale into context:
After that generation died, another generation grew up who did not acknowledge the LORD or remember the mighty things he had done for Israel (Judges 1:10 NLT).
So the generation who conquered the Promised Land, who had witnessed God fighting for them, who had passed through the Red Sea on dry land, and stood before the pillar of fire by night and the pillar of cloud by day, did not teach their children.
In those days Israel had no king; all the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes (Judges 21:25).
The last verse of the book of Judges. When you haven’t been taught, then your offer can only be what is right in your own eyes—not the Lord’s.
So, should we avoid “Whatevers?” Well, here are two, just for you:
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things (Philippians 4:8 NIV).
And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him (Colossians 3:17 NIV).