Judges 11:1–12:15; Philippians 3:1–11; Psalm 68:15–35
Vows are a serious matter. After becoming angry and hurting someone by knocking her to the ground, a small boy made a vow to never again get angry. He did get angry but suppressed that emotion to the point that as an adult, he rarely felt any emotions, even the positive ones.
In the Bible, God says if we make a vow, we must keep it. It seems to me that He would rather we did not make vows, not just because of the difficulty of keeping them, but because the vow will have a negative power over the person who makes it. In the case of one biblical example, that negative power was also deadly.
Jephthah went to war against an enemy of Israel. On his way to the battle, the Holy Spirit was upon him. He passed through Gilead and Manasseh, going on to Mizpah of Gilead, and from Mizpah of Gilead he passed on to the Ammonites. And Jephthah made a vow to the Lord and said, “If you will give the Ammonites into my hand, then whatever comes out from the doors of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the Ammonites shall be the Lord’s, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering.” (Judges 11:29–31)
This kind of vow-making was typical of those made to foreign gods. The Lord God had prepared him for this battle but as Jephthah went to war against the Ammonites, his vow was an impulsive and tragic mistake. God prepared him for this and he won the battle, but in rebellion against God, he ends up killing the first one out of the door of his house when he returned home — it was his dear daughter.
Jephthah could have asked God to forgive him and release him from the vow, but instead this man choose to view Yahweh like any other god that demanded child sacrifice. He was bound to his vow. Not only that rash vow a huge mistake, but he also erred in his view of God.
In the NT, one of Paul’s decision wasn’t exactly a vow, but he did resolve to abandon everything in order to gain Christ. This is not about earning the favor of God by vows of asceticism or pledges to do certain actions. Instead, he resolved total abandonment of life in order to do the will of God. Paul said, “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death...” (Philippians 3:8–10)
His words echo the words of Jesus Christ in the garden of Gethsemane when He said, “Not my will but Thine be done.” This too was a total abandonment of everything else other than that which would fulfill the will of His Father.
Every day I pray a similar prayer of abandonment and every night I’m often reminded of the words of a young missionary. She said, “The biggest problem with a living sacrifice is that it keeps crawling off the altar.” I know how to crawl.
Paul had it right... I also need to know Christ and the power of His resurrection, and share in His sufferings, but also to become like Him in His death. A living sacrifice matches up with the first part, with the new life I have in Christ. He wants that turned over to Him. But the death part is about dying to self, putting to death the desires of ‘me, myself, and I’ so that only Christ has power over the way that I think or live.
However, this is not accomplished by resolve or even by making a vow. Salvation is never about ‘try harder’ but about faith in the God who saves. It is about calling out to Him to do for me what I cannot do myself. He is the Savior; I am not.
Blessed be the Lord, who daily bears us up; God is our salvation. Selah Our God is a God of salvation, and to God, the Lord, belong deliverances from death. (Psalm 68:19–20)
Jesus, You are my Savior. I’m trusting You to deliver me from sin, but also to correct any wrong concepts that I have of You. I’m so glad that You continue to rescue me from all those enticements that lure me off the altar of total surrender.