Why Keeping Your Word May Be Life and Death: Promises, Human Sacrifice, and Becoming a Liar
“Shaun, can you please wash your plate? I don’t know how many times we have talked about this.”
“Yeah baby, lemme finish this show real quick. Better yet, I will do it before I go to bed. Leave it in the sink, so I can let it soak.”
Bedtime rolls around, and I groggily walk past the sink. “NOOOOO! Stupid plate. Ahhhh, no worries. Amanda stayed up late. I will do it in the morning before she wakes up.”
In my head I know I will never wash that plate.
Amanda knew it the moment I said I would do it before I go to bed. She, in her loving and trustful way, let me have an opportunity to keep my word.
Fail. Shaun. Fail.
As my parents can attest, I have always held a strong dislike for broccoli, cauliflower, fish, and washing dishes. That has carried over in my marriage as well. Yet, it appears that one major bad habit I have acquired over six years is saying “yes dear” out of instinct, instead of out of commitment.
At this point I am positive the Holy Spirit is convicting me. One resounding boom I have heard in my head is “let your yes be yes, and your no be no.” It seems to be a lesson God wants me to get, because no matter where I seem to turn, I am confronted with my unreliability.
In fact, the other day I decided to start reading Judges. (It had been a while). As I was reading in chapter 11, I stumbled upon Jephthah the Gileadite, a man who I had never really noticed before. The Bible says he was a “mighty warrior, but he was the son of a prostitute.” All good action novels seem to start like that, so I prepared myself for a wild adventure of this guy slaying people with his belt made out of donkey teeth, or something crazy that only seems to happen in the Old Testament. However, what started as a spicy novel quickly turned into something much deeper.
Jephthah, originally banished from his people because he was a brother of another mother, was called on by Israel to lead them and fight the Ammonites—a violent people group that were trying to take back land the God gave Israel. After receiving his authority from the people, like a good diplomat, he tried verbal sparring first; unfortunately to no avail. So he went out to confront the Ammonites with the sword. However, right before he goes to battle, Jephthah makes an innocent vow before the Lord and says, “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 11:30-31)
As I was reading the verses I thought one thing: “yup, you just sentenced one of your kids to death.” In fact, I had this inner need to want to yell at him, as I was reading, “No fool, WHAT ARE YOU THINKING?” And just like my gut told me, sure enough, Jephthah’s one and only daughter ran out the door dancing and rejoicing because her daddy was home.
My heart sunk. I couldn’t imagine the decision that Jephthah was going to have to make: God or his baby girl.
However, I still had a small glimmer of hope because I remembered Abraham and Isaac. God is good right? So maybe God will spare the girl. Then, I was cut to the core in a way that only God can do it. Centuries later, Jephthah’s unnamed daughter is still teaching people like me a valuable lesson.
She, with such a faithful little heart, said to her father, “My father, you have opened your mouth to the Lord; do to me according to what has gone out of your mouth, now that the Lord has avenged you on your enemies, on the Ammonites.” Faithfully after she mourned her virginity with her friends for two months, she was killed by the hand of her father.
Wow. Tough, tough verses to deal with on many different levels.
However, for me, this situation illuminated Jesus’ teachings on oaths in a very deep way.
‘Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.”
How seriously do I take my word to God, or my word to my wife? If I can’t even keep my personal commitments to myself for my spiritual and physical health, how do I expect to honor the people around me? I can’t even count how many times I have told someone I would do something, and didn’t follow through.
What turns the knife in my gut a little deeper is when I think about how many commitments I have made to the Lord, and I seemingly forgot them as soon as they left my mouth. I know that God doesn’t hold them over my head and whisper “sinner” to me. Yet, at a certain point I need to understand the God gave the commandment to Moses to give to the heads of all the tribes of Israel (Numbers 30:1-2). Jesus counts the commandment so important that He expounds on it. Say “yes” and mean it, or say “no” and don’t do it. Oh, and if you don’t do it though you said yes, you are representing the “evil one.”
God wasn’t just saying this for us to stop giving broken oaths. He was saying that a man literally sacrificed his child, in response to the commandment of God.
Knowing that we are free from the law, how much more serious should I be in response to God? Can I turn what was once law and religion into something reflecting His Grace and Love? Can I be that sacrificial?
Needless to say, the sink was empty last night, and I slept a lot more soundly. I am going to pray that this continues.
Is there any situation in which you think we should not keep our word? What about Jephthah? Do you think God was pissed or pleased?
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