I’ve mentioned this before, but I’m extremely intentional in how much time I devote to watching or reading the news. So many stories consist of sadness, anger, destruction, and chaos.
It never ceases to amaze me how many folks decided to jump on the dishonest greedy bandwagon to get ahead in life. When you see folks who clearly don’t have a moral bone in their body appear to prosper, it can leave you feeling angry, disheartened, and powerless.
It frustrates me to listen to story after story, consisting of people who choose to willfully stay ignorant, so they can continue their campaign to rewrite history and enforce their desire to keep broken systems in place. Then we have the greedy corporations that are constantly exploiting their workforce by expecting them to work, work, work, work, work to increase the wealth of shareholders and the C-suite without the employees seeing anything in return; this list could go on forever, so like I said, I know just enough to stay informed.
The other day, I was sitting back, thinking about how many of these stories and issues wouldn’t exist if the folks in positions of power had integrity. Integrity is something that is sorely lacking in our society. There have been so many instances in my life where I’ve been personally affected by the actions of those who lack integrity. Check out 207, 201, 197, 199, 184, and 185 for more details.
So many people are searching for a shortcut to take them from A to B, and they don’t care who they hurt in the process. I don’t want to be one of those people. If you’re one of those few brave souls who are honest and care about how you achieve success, then you’ll most likely ask yourself, “How can I be a person of integrity during difficult times?”
The Bible is filled with folks who have integrity. However, the story that impacted me the most can be found in Judges 11; it is the story of Jephthah. Jephthah wanted to defeat the Ammonites so badly that he made a vow (promise to God) that he would sacrifice the first person who came through the door when he returned from the victory he desired God to grant him.
Unfortunately, the first person who came through the door was his daughter–his one and only child. Needless to say, Jephthah was devastated. He told his daughter about the promise he made to God. His daughter was incredibly understanding and asked for two months to spend with her friends before being sacrificed by her dad. She went away and came back home, and her dad sacrificed her just as he promised God he would do.
Now, if you’re like me and this is the first time you’re hearing this story, you were probably rooting for a physical happy ending like Abraham. That’s another story where God asked Abraham to sacrifice Issac and then stopped Abraham before he was able to complete the task. God wanted to see how obedient Abraham would be to him. I was hoping this would happen for Jephthah as well, but it did not.
Again, this is one of those times where we can’t lean onto our own understanding because God’s thoughts are higher than our own (Is 55: 8-9). With that said, we can learn so many lessons from Jephthah.
Let’s look at the actions that brought Jephthah to this moment…
Jephthah was insecure. His father was Gilead, and his mother was a prostitute. His brothers pushed him away and told him he was not going to get any of their inheritance because they had different mothers.
Nevertheless, later on in his life, these same family members that literally kicked him out of town came back looking for his help to defeat the Ammonites. 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?” (Judges 11:7)
The same hateful family members who caused him nothing but pain and frustration now needed his help to get out of trouble. Clearly, these folks hadn’t had a change of heart because they didn’t apologize and were incredibly dismissive in their response to Jepthath’s very valid question. They said, “Nevertheless, we are turning to you now; come with us to fight the Ammonites, and you will be head over all of us who live in Gilead.”
I’m sure Jephthah lived his entire life feeling insecure. He was constantly reminded by his family that he was less than others, that he wasn’t enough. There is no doubt in my mind that Jephthah saw the ability to lead the Israelites into battle to defeat the Ammonites as an opportunity to prove everyone wrong.
At some point in time in life, we’ve all been in Jepthath’s shoes. It’s not fun when people are constantly discounting your capabilities, especially if they are basing this assessment on circumstances that were beyond your control. We may not have a say in the family we were born into, but it is up to us in how we choose to make the most of our lives. Satan doesn’t want us to succeed. He will do everything he can to get us to fail because his mission is to steal, kill and destroy ().
Armed with this knowledge about Satan’s mission, we must take a step back to evaluate the possible ways Satan will attempt to bring us down. In Jepthath’s situation, Jepthath allowed his hurt ego to get in the way. Jephthah accepted his hateful family members’ offer to be the Israelites’ commander and lead them in the fight against the Ammonites.
Jepthath immediately gets to work in trying to determine why the Ammonites had beef against the Israelites in an attempt to see if they could amicably settle their differences. Jepthath sent a messenger to the Ammonites to find out the issue. The Ammonites king ignored Jepthath’s messengers.
Without a doubt, being ignored by King Ammon brought up all sorts of negative memories for Jepthath. All throughout Jepthath’s life, people discounted the value he brought to the table. Being dissed by King Ammon (pronounced Am in) was most likely the greatest insult to Jepthath’s self-esteem. What made matters worse is that it was done in front of the very same people, his horrible family. King Ammon’s disrespectful behavior toward Jepthath inadvertently validates what his hateful family members believed about Jepthath throughout his life–that Jepthath was a nobody.
I’m sure Jepthath most likely thought, “I’m going to prove them all wrong.” That desire to prove everyone wrong is what led Jepthath to make the rash vow (aka promise) to God. Jepthath said to God, “ If you give the Ammonites into my hands, 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.”
That burning desire to prove people wrong, aka Jepthath’s low self-esteem, led to his downward spiral in his decision-making skills. Remember when the Israelites agreed that Jepthath could be their commander? Jepthath immediately got to work trying to figure out why King Ammon was being unreasonable. Jephthah was trying to solve Israel’s issues with the Ammonites using his own knowledge and strength. We don’t read anywhere about Jepthath going to God for guidance before Jepthath decided to engage in conversation with King Ammon.
Jepthath’s desire to prove everyone wrong about his ability to contribute to society distorted his judgment. If Jepthath were calm, God would have given him all the information he needed in order to see the big picture instead of just focusing solely on his role in the picture God wanted to paint. He was trying to impress people.
Sadly, Jepthath’s win-at-all-cost mentality came back to haunt him. God honored Jepthath’s prayer and gave Jepthath the victory he prayed for against the Ammonites. Unfortunately, when Jepthath returned home, the first person to greet him at the door was his daughter, his only child.
When he saw her, he tore his clothes and cried, “Oh no, my daughter! You have brought me down, and I am devastated. I have made a vow to the Lord that I cannot break.”
When you read this verse, you cannot help but place yourself into Jephthah’s shoes. I can only imagine the pain and anguish that Jephthah felt when he saw his daughter and then recalled his promise to God. Despite being horrified and sad, Jephthah said, “…I have made a vow to the Lord that I cannot break.”
Like wow! I’m going to be completely honest, I’d like to think that I would have honored my word, but I know I wouldn’t have done so. Unlike Jepthath, I would have immediately gone to God in an attempt to renegotiate a new deal. C’mon God you should know that I meant that I would be willing to sacrifice everyone else except my loved ones. That should have been implied.
Again, this would have been my rationale, hence, why I would have been negotiating with all of my might to get a new deal. If God chose not to change His mind, He would have had to force me to follow through on my original promise to Him. Three’s no way I could have willingly done so.
I’m sure Jephthah wrestled with these same emotions. Ultimately, Jephthah knew he had to do the right thing and honor His promise to God. Jepthath knew that, “ 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.”
When we make a promise to God, we better have the integrity to follow through on that promise. I’ve often wondered if this was why God did not stop Jephthah from sacrificing his daughter because I digress. Jephthah should have known to be extra careful when making an oath to God. Jepthath’s situation reminds us that we need to watch what we say when we speak to God.
God held up His end of the bargain, and now it was time for Jephthath to hold up his end. Jephthah was a man of integrity. He took responsibility for his rash words knowing full well that his daughter would have to suffer the consequences of his actions.
Every time I have heard this story, the attention is focused on Jephthath’s integrity in honoring his promise to God. However, I have never heard anyone comment about Jephthath’s daughter’s reaction. Now, if you don’t know this story, you would probably assume Jephthah’s response was most likely anger, sadness, or fear. Yet, it was none of those.
His daughter said, “ 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. 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.”
She wasn’t angry at her father Jephthah. She understood that Jephthah had made a mistake. Jephthah’s daughter was disappointed she wouldn’t get a chance to experience growing old, the possibility of getting married, etc. She didn’t want to make the problem worse by encouraging Jephthah not to honor his promise to God. Her relationship with God was more important than her relationship with her earthly father Jephthah. This may be hard for many of us to fathom, but this is how it should be. Nothing should come before our relationship with God.
Jephthah grants her request. His daughter spends two months hanging out with her friends and returns back home to her father. She could have easily run away, but her devotion to God and her integrity would not allow her to deviate from her desire to obey God.
Jephthah followed through on his vow to God. Now, I know many people feel sorry for Jephthah for sacrificing his daughter. However, we cannot view his daughter’s sacrifice as a loss because, just like Hannah, he gave her back to God. Jephthah didn’t really lose his daughter because God causes all things to work together for our good (Rom 8:28). Whose to say that God wasn’t protecting Jephthah’s daughter?
In Is 57:1, “Good people pass away; the godly often die before their time. But no one seems to care or wonder why. No one seems to understand that God is protecting them from the evil to come.”
Both Jephthah and his daughter knew that if they stayed in faith, they would see each other again in heaven. When you live your life by putting God first, nothing will deter you in your quest to live a life of integrity.
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