HOUSMAIL HM#110 -- 1 September 2003
In the Law of Moses, God expressly forbids the offering of human sacrifices as burnt offerings . (Lev 18:21; Deut 18:10)
Human sacrifice was practised by some of the Canaanite nations who worshipped Molech. (Lev 18:21) In 2 Kings 3:27, there is the story of a Moabite King who offered his son as a burnt offering, when he saw that he was losing an important battle. (It didn't help! He lost the battle anyway!)
Many Israelites who became idol worshippers, copied this abominable sin . (Lev 18:21; 2 Kings 16:3; 17:7; 2 Chron 33:6; Jer 32:35; etc.) Ahaz and Manasseh, kings of Judah, are both recorded as offering their sons as burnt offerings. (2 Kings 16:3 ? 21:3) Josiah is commended for destroying the altar in Gehenna, on which the Jews had been sacrificing their sons and daughters as burnt offerings to Molech. (2 Kings 23:10)
And then of course there is the sad and puzzling story of Jephthah. (Judges 11:29-40) Do you remember his rash promise? "Then it shall be, that whatsoever cometh forth of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the children of Ammon, shall surely be the LORD'S, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering ." (Judges 11:31)
Of course it wasn't a "whatsoever" that ran to meet him, but a "whosoever "-- his beloved daugher! The story says that Jepthah gave her 2 months to wander in the mountains, bewailing her fate -- and then kept his vow. Some have tried to water this down (explain it away?) by suggesting that the daughter became some sort of "Jewish nun". However, taking the story at face value, it is much more likely that she was actually sacrificed as a burnt offering.
We have already seen that under God's laws, this would have been extremely repugnant to God. How then do we reconcile Jepthah's clearly sinful behaviour with the statement in Hebrews 11, that Jepthah is listed amongst the faithful who will share in the inheritance of the Kingdom of God?
There is a simple and obvious answer. What Jepthah did, isn't any more acceptable to God than Abraham's lie to Abimelech, (Gen 20) or David's adultery with Bathsheba. (2 Sam 11) The listing in Hebrews 11, infers repentance and forgiveness, for all three! In this incident we have a warning againstthe making of rash promises which would require us to commit sin, in order to keep our promise!-- Like many other Old Testament stories, this is not an endorsement of what Jepthah did -- but a warning against it. (1 Cor 10:6)
The simple truth is that both JEPTHAH'S actions are equally sinful!
Jephthah sinned when he made his vow! And he sinned again, when he kept the vow!
THE WARNING FOR US
People who make promises to commit a sin, do not have God's approval for making the promise! Neither do they have God's approval to commit the sin they have promised to do.
For today, we should regard Jephthah's loss of his daughter as a warning to us from God. We must never make the dreadful mistake of assuming that God approves the actions of people who attempt to do His work, by sacrificing the welfare of other people, or doing harm to them!
It would have been far better for Jephthah to repent of his sinful vow, than to sin a second time, by keeping it!
Of course it is very important that we do keep valid promises. (Psalm 15:4)
But ..... we should never promise to commit a sin. That is NOT a valid promise! And if we do make that terrible mistake, we should never keep the promise.
Nor should we ever seek to justify such actions to others as our "faithfulness". If we do manage to persuade them to approve of our sin, we make them a party to it! There is a VERY severe warning about the consequences of that in Matt 18:6.