Tags: Bible teachers, children's Bible lessons, children's Bible studies, children's church, emotions, follow your heart, Jeremiah 17, Proverbs 28, Sunday School teachers, trust your heart
Last time, I discussed the problem of teaching Bible stories to children as though they are fables. Now we will see another concern that surfaces in many children’s Bible lessons: the emphasis on feelings.
Bible lessons are not therapy sessions. They are not really supposed to be opportunities for children to explore their emotions or feelings. Often, a children’s Bible lesson will have an “application” section so that the teacher can ask the child, “How do you think Jonah felt when was about to be thrown overboard? How do you think Jesus feels when you disobey?” And so forth.
Our feelings are not trustworthy, and it is better that our children understand, at a very early age, that the Bible is a book of absolute truth, not a sounding board for our opinions or feelings.
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?
A child should not be encouraged to see himself as the hero in every Bible story. Quite the opposite: he should be encouraged to see himself as the SINNER in every Bible story. Our feelings (just like our wills and our intellects) are fallen. That are bent toward self-glorification, self-justification, and self-interpretation. The hard thing about teaching children is not building up their self-esteem. The hard thing is replacing it (not tearing it down) with esteem for God. Our job as parents, or as children’s Bible teachers, is to utterly convince them that He is absolutely supreme. This task will face its toughest obstacle not in convincing them that He is supreme over the weather, the government, their earthly heroes, us, or even death and the grave. It will be convincing them that He is absolutely supreme over THEM.
He that trusteth in his own heart is a fool: but whoso walketh wisely, he shall be delivered.
“Just trust your heart,” says Walt Disney. “Follow your heart,” says Cinderella or the little mermaid. “Listen to your heart,” says Oprah. NO! Trusting and following your heart will make you a fool and may cut you off from God’s help. In grace, you will fail quickly, but in His judgment He may let you have your own way, and you do not want to have your own way over God’s way. Walk wisely and you will figure life out on your own? No. Walk wisely and you will learn from experience? No. Walk wisely and you will be what? DELIVERED, which means rescued by someone more loving, more powerful, more wise, more SUPREME than you.
Let’s teach children Bible truth, not feelings. Then their God-given feelings will focus on Him – where they belong.
Tags: 1 Corinthians 3, Biblical gardening, commentary on 1 Corinthians, commentary on Psalms, farming, gardening, Jeremiah 17, Psalm 1, Sunday School lessons on 1 Corinthians, Sunday School lessons on Psalms
You may have heard the term “church planting.” We tend to describe the work that goes into the establishment of a local Christian church assembly in a new location with this agrarian terminology because this was how the Holy Spirit taught Paul and the first Apostles to think of it.
Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man? I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase.
I Corinthians 3:5-6
It makes sense that, in doing the work of ministry – in winning new converts to Christ and in establishing local churches – that the planting comes first, and then the watering. Anyone who knows anything about farming or gardening would know that it makes little sense to water a seed, and then bury it in parched earth. That does not mean, however, that the watering is less important than the planting. Both are vital to the laying-down of foundational roots and new growth.
The word translated as “watered” in I Corinthians 3 is potizo, and it does not mean to simply pour water on something for the purpose of getting it wet. It has the idea of “watering” in the sense that a herdsman “waters” cattle. It is the pouring of water as an offering, invitation, or encouragement to DRINK.
When we are “watering” new converts, we don’t want to blast them with a fire hose in the hopes of getting them clean, and we don’t want to dunk them merely for the purpose of a spiritual bath. We should water them with the Word of God, with kindness, love, fellowship, camaraderie, and encouragement.
Our desire is to grow strong trees, drawing their hydration from the life-giving water of Christ Himself, not fleetingly-damp tumbleweeds, who sipped in enough moisture to barely count as vegetation, only to be blown away, out of sight and out of mind.
Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law doth he meditate day and night. And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper. The ungodly are not so: but are like the chaff which the wind driveth away.
Thus saith the Lord; Cursed be the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm, and whose heart departeth from the Lord. For he shall be like the heath in the desert, and shall not see when good cometh; but shall inhabit the parched places in the wilderness, in a salt land and not inhabited. Blessed is the man that trusteth in the Lord, and whose hope the Lord is. For he shall be as a tree planted by the waters, and that spreadeth out her roots by the river, and shall not see when heat cometh, but her leaf shall be green; and shall not be careful in the year of drought, neither shall cease from yielding fruit.
Tags: evangelism, first use of the Law, Jeremiah 17, Law of God, mirrors, Old Testament Law, pedagogical use of the law, Romans 3, sin
We have seen:
Now we will look at:
3. The Reflective Purpose of the Ten Commandments
Under the revelatory purpose I said that the Ten Commandments in a sense reveal (or reflect) the character of God. However, they reflect the other way, too, and I believe this is the main purpose of the Ten Commandments: The Commandments are God’s mirror to show us what we really look like.
Do you look in the mirror in the morning? I don’t like it, but I do it, because it tells me the truth about me – what’s on my face, what’s between my teeth, whether I accidentally grabbed a purple tie and green socks. The mirror does nothing to help me look better – except to show me the truth.
Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.
No one can look at the Ten Commandments honestly or even with partial honesty, and deny that he is guilty before God.
Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.
That’s why we use the Ten Commandments in evangelism. They let us hold up a mirror to lost sinners without us acting as their judge ourselves.
But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;
When the Bible says that all have sinned, most people will see this as an excuse instead of an accusation. “Okay, I’m a sinner, but so is everyone else.” It’s not an excuse. We are people of unclean lips, but the fact that we are part of a group doesn’t excuse us. It makes things worse. We are not just sinners. We are part of a sinful race of people.
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?
“The” heart is a universal subject. It means that everyone’s heart, apart from Christ, is like this. The Ten Commandments do not let us get away with those kinds of rationalizations. They are universally applicable, but they are also pointedly personal: thou shalt; thou shalt not.
God does not grade on a curve when it comes to sin, but even if He did, Jesus is the ultimate curve-breaker. He scored a perfect 100 on the “do not sin” test. The reflective purpose of the Ten Commandments is to show us our need for that perfect Savior, and to destroy any hope we might have in ourselves or in our own works.
Teach your children the Ten Commandments, but don’t teach them like a rule book. Teach them like a mirror. And make sure that you yourself have really looked into that mirror, as well. There’s no such thing as a “good person.” There are only wicked vile wretched worthless useless sinners, some of whom have been saved by the grace and mercy and love and blood and death and burial and resurrection of a good and a great Savior.
Tags: condemnation, forgiveness, Jeremiah 17, Jesus Christ, John 8, little leage baseball, Matthew 5, stones in the Bible, woman caught in adultery
One day Jesus was up early in the morning, teaching in the temple. The scribes and the Pharisees came bursting in, dragging a woman with them. “Look here, Master,” they said, “we’ve got this woman – caught in adultery – caught red-handed in the act! The Law says we should stone her and kill her. What do You say…?”
When you read the Gospel accounts, it seems like Jesus never did what the self-righteous hypocrites expected Him to do. Now He stooped down, and started writing with His finger in the dirt. This must have frustrated the Pharisees and scribes. He seemed to be ignoring them. They just kept asking and asking, and it was like He couldn’t even hear them!
So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her. And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground.
I wonder what He wrote on the ground? There has been much speculation about this. Perhaps He wrote out the Ten Commandments? After all, His finger had written the originals. Perhaps He traced out a verse from one of the books of the prophets?
O LORD, the hope of Israel, all that forsake thee shall be ashamed, and they that depart from me shall be written in the earth, because they have forsaken the LORD, the fountain of living waters.
What if Jesus was quietly writing out the names of some of the Pharisees’ mistresses or girlfriends – women with whom they themselves were committing adultery? Whatever it was He was writing, it convicted their consciences.
And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst.
I can just see them… They are clutching stones in their fists – ready to hand one to Jesus in case He gave the word – or ready to start throwing themselves to show their hypocritical judgment against this woman’s sin… and then… one by one… with downcast eyes and slumped shoulders… they begin to drop their rocks in the dust and slink away…
In this series of lessons we are using Jesus’s words from Luke 19:40 as a starting point to discuss how the silence of rocks can actually be quiet loud. I don’t know if rocks thudding in the dust around a frightened woman would actually make all that much noise, but, if you ever played little league or high school baseball, you may be able to draw something of an analogy. There you are in center field, glove wavering unsteadily as you wait for a high arcing fly ball to come down toward your face. The game is on the line. Tragically, though, it is a bright day in the mid-afternoon and the sun is right in your eyes. Temporarily blinded, you hear the baseball hit the dirt in front of your feet as the winning run rounds third and heads for home. If you have ever been in that situation, you know that sound – the thudding sound of condemnation.
The rocks that the scribes and Pharisees would have brought to the stoning did not end up “crying out” in the way they supposed when they arranged this challenge to tempt Jesus. Instead, the ones who sought to condemn were the ones who held their peace when Jesus reminded them of their own sin. As Christians we need to see to it that the stones of condemnation never cry out in hypocritical judgment. Instead, we should cry out in forgiving love. Jesus Himself is truly the only one with the right to condemn, and, to those for whom He shed His blood, He offers instead the same loving admonition: “Go… and sin no more.”
Why do we find it so hard to forgive, after all the things for which He’s forgiven us? I know that someone will say, “But you don’t know my enemy. You don’t know what he’s done to me.” No one has done worse to us than we’ve done to Jesus. Yet He loves and forgives.
Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;
Tags: advice, cross-examination, giving advice, good advice, Jeremiah 17, John 3, Proverbs 4, Psalm 4, regeneration, the heart
Stand in awe, and sin not: commune with your own heart upon your bed, and be still. Selah. Offer the sacrifices of righteousness, and put your trust in the LORD.
Psalm 4:4-5 (emphasis added)
I’m not saying our hearts can be trusted to tell us what’s right – or even to lead us in the right direction. They surely can’t (Jeremiah 17:9). What I’m saying is: A person who is seeking advice must examine his or her own motives. When you lie in bed late at night, and it’s just you and your thoughts, do not leave God out of the conversation. But do not leave the deepest, most secret caverns of your heart out of it, either.
Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.
Don’t go easy on your own heart. Don’t question it lightly. Subject it to an intense, searching cross-examination:
–Heart, why are you not satisfied with what God has given us?
–Heart, why are you going in the same wrong direction over and over?
–Heart, who is really seated on your throne? Is it me or is it our Lord?
There is a heresy that says Christianity is “all about me.” That’s wrong. Christianity is about Christ and His Gospel. But there is also a heresy that says, “It’s not about me at all.” God so loved the world – people – that He gave His Son (John 3:16). He made your heart – and if you’ve been regenerated He made your new heart (Ezekiel 36:26; II Corinthians 5:17). He made it so that the issues of life flow out of it. Too many of us talk to God with the intellectual surface of our mind, and we too seldom really pour our heart out on the altar to be examined before God.
Tags: 1 John 5, counting your chickens, Deuteronomy 33, Isaiah 59, Jeremiah 17, Job 39, Luke 13, Mark Twain quotes, Matthew 23, once saved always saved
For some reason, two of our common expressions concerning chickens and eggs are in the form of warnings:
1. Don’t count your chickens before they hatch.
2. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.
Gavest thou the goodly wings unto the peacocks? or wings and feathers unto the ostrich? Which leaveth her eggs in the earth, and warmeth them in dust, And forgetteth that the foot may crush them, or that the wild beast may break them. She is hardened against her young ones, as though they were not hers: her labour is in vain without fear; Because God hath deprived her of wisdom, neither hath he imparted to her understanding.
There is a reference to the cock crowing after Peter denied the Lord three times. I have a sister-in-law who is an expert in poultry science or veterinary poultry or something, so I should probably consult with her to make sure, but I’m fairly certain that a cock is a rooster, and that roosters don’t lay eggs. The only mention of chickens I could find in the Bible was:
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!
(Luke 13:34 is the parallel Verse.)
One of the reasons that people say not to put all your eggs in one basket is that, if you put them in the wrong basket (meaning if you depend on the wrong thing or put too many resources into what turns out to be the wrong choice), you could end up losing all of them. In other words, be careful, because there are no guarantees.
But Christians know that this is not true. We have the guarantee of God.
These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.
I John 5:13
Another reason people say that you shouldn’t put all your eggs in one basket is that the basket might get dropped, and then the eggs would all be broken. Mark Twain’s take on it was, “Put all your eggs in one basket, and watch that basket!”
But when it comes to our salvation, all our eggs are in one basket. We put all our faith, trust, belief, and hope in the grace of God manifested in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. When we put our eggs in that basket, we do not have to worry about the basket being dropped.
The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms…
Deuteronomy 33:27, emphasis added
Tags: Bible lessons on Romans, Bride of Christ, commentary on Romans, Cupid, Jeremiah 17, legalism, legalists, occasions, Old Testament Law, Romans 7, spiritual war, Sunday School lessons on Romans, the Law, Wretched
Romans Chapter 7 addresses the Christian’s relationship to the Law of God. On the opposite end of the spectrum from those who thought that grace created a free license to sin, were those who thought that grace created an obligation to follow the letter of the Law in such a way that the spirit of the Law was negated. This is one area of the Bible that people will point to when they want to condemn “legalists.”
Here are some common misconceptions about legalism. In other words, here is a list of things that many people mistakenly use to label someone a legalist:
1. You dress up for church or encourage others to dress up for church.
2. You carry your Bible anywhere besides church.
3. You think there ought to be some restrictions for ministries in church.
4. You won’t do certain things so you can avoid temptation.
5. You recommend to people whom you love that they should or shouldn’t do certain things (such as use the King James Version of the Bible or come to church on Wednesday nights.)
None of these things make someone a legalist in and of themselves. Technically, a legalist is someone who thinks that keeping the Law of God is the way to earn God’s favor so that God owes them a debt for their self-righteousness. There is also a sense in which a legalist is someone who believes that keeping rules makes him more spiritual than other Christians.
In Romans Chapter 7 we find the illustration of a marriage to explain the believer’s relationship to the Law. A husband and wife are one flesh. They come under the “law” of marriage as long as they live. If the wife marries somebody else, she’s a bigamist, but also an adulteress. But if the husband dies, she is free to remarry. The law of marriage did not die, and the wife did not die, but it’s as if, when her husband dies, she is now dead to that law and that law is now dead to her. The only way to get back into a marriage relationship with her deceased husband would be a type of re-birth or resurrection. Christians are the bride of Christ, resurrected with Him in a new relationship.
Remember, a main function of the Law is to show up the unbeliever, to point out his sin, to make sin abound, to point the way to salvation.
What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.
Coveting is usually considered among the least of sins to men, but, from God’s viewpoint, it is the sin that leads to other sins.
But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence. For without the law sin was dead.
An “occasion” is a foothold, or an enemy camp inside walls which had been designed to keep an enemy out. Concupiscence is like lust, but carries a connotation of being more determined, more scheming, like a combination of coveting and lust. From it, we get the word “Cupid.” Sin, using the Law as an “occasion,” can kill – both physically and spiritually.
For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it slew me.
One of the dangers of misunderstanding the Law is that we begin to compare ourselves with those we perceive as holy. We have to remember that our faith is not in a pastor or anyone else – but in God. Our role model is Jesus, not another godly person.
The Law is holy and good.
Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good.
But it is good because it shows the sinfulness of sin. This is true for the unbeliever, obviously. When we believe, neither sin, nor the Law, have dominion over us. So, how do we wind up in the same condition as Paul:
Was then that which is good made death unto me? God forbid. But sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good; that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful.
When sin uses that which is holy and good (the Law) to work death in me, then I’m in big trouble. But at least I’m not alone. We call the Apostle Paul “St. Paul,” but he was a also a wretched man.
O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?
There is a war going on between two natures. This is a description of our sin nature:
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?
The carnal man – the “old” man – is too long accustomed to the old ways, and it has the advantage of maturity over the new man – the new nature. What’s going to give my new nature a fighting chance? The truth that my new nature is not really “my” nature. It should be the Holy Spirit living inside me. The Holy Spirit of God is not some floating, amorphous, fickle entity. My condition is not that one day He might “fall” on me, and the next day He might not. He’s a Person. He’s God. He’s going to win the war.
But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.
The Law pointed out my sin and showed me the way to salvation, but it is not my motivation for living a holy life. I can force my kids to obey (sometimes…maybe), but do I really want them to be motivated by laws and rules, or do I want them to obey me because they love me?
In the battle of the sin nature versus the new nature, the nature that wins the war in the “wretched man” when he’s weary from battle is the nature that’s been fed the most and the nature that is yielded to the Spirit that gives it power.
Tags: burnt offerings, deer hunting, field dressing, Hebrews 11, illegitimate children, James 4, Jephthah, Jephthah's daughter, Jeremiah 17, Judges 10, Judges 11, Leviticus 1, Luke 16, Romans 12, vows
Last time, we looked at character and integrity in the life of Daniel. Daniel was not slothful in business. (Romans 12:11) When the Babylonians undertook to increase his education, he and his friends learned the lessons better than any of the others. Daniel knew that his flesh would want to follow the ways of those around him (Jeremiah 17:9), so he maintained his separated position. When Daniel was forced to disobey authority he tried to do it as graciously as possible, not being puffed up with pride. (James 4:10) Daniel was faithful to God in the test of whether he would eat the king’s defiled food, so God gave him a position of great authority. (Luke 16:10)
Lesson number 5 begins, not with Daniel, however, but with the strange subject of animal butchery. Personally, I have never skinned or gutted a deer, although I have seen it done. It is a gruesome sight. I think of it when I read about some of the requirements for preparing the Levitical sacrifices.
If this offering be a burnt sacrifice of the herd, let him offer a male without blemish: he shall offer it of his own voluntary will at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation before the LORD. And he shall put his hand upon the head of the burnt offering; and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him. And he shall kill the bullock before the LORD: and the priests, Aaron’s sons, shall bring the blood, and sprinkle the blood round about upon the altar that is by the door of the tabernacle of the congregation. And he shall flay the burnt offering, and cut it into his pieces. And the sons of Aaron the priest shall put fire upon the altar, and lay the wood in order upon the fire: And the priests, Aaron’s sons, shall lay the parts, the head, and the fat, in order upon the wood that is on the fire which is upon the altar: But his inwards and his legs shall he wash in water: and the priest shall burn all on the altar, to be a burnt sacrifice, an offering made by fire, of a sweet savour unto the LORD.
The offering was a burnt offering. It was prepared in a very hands-on way. The priest had to physically touch the animal himself. He had to kill it himself, not from far away, with a rifle, but right up close with his own hands. There would have been a great deal of blood since it was a “fresh kill” – spurting blood, blood everywhere, a “blood bath.” The priest flayed it open, and cut the guts out. Then, there was even more cutting – cutting through the skin, through the muscle, through the sacs around the organs, maybe through some bones, some tendons and ligaments, sawing, slick with blood, guts, bits of raw meat, and nerves. He would cut the head off, and slice the fat from the muscles. Then he would wash out the guts, and various parts and pieces, and take the legs, and burn them up. Frankly, it grosses me out to think about it, and you’re probably wondering what it has to do with character and integrity, but we’ll come back to it later.
For now, let’s skip over to the Book of Judges, which describes a very dark time in Israel’s history. God’s chosen people were rebelling against Him, worshiping false idols and false gods. Sadly, they believed, like many of the people around them (the Amalekites, the Philistines, the Amorites, the Ammonites), that God was just one of many gods. And it seemed like they were constantly under attack. The “Judges” were rulers or military leaders or deliverers. They were supposed to protect God’s people or rescue them or punish God’s enemies.
Judges Chapter 10 tells the account of Jephthah. He was the son of Gilead. Gilead was married, and had sons, but Jephthah was the result of a mistake he made with a prostitute. Therefore, Jephthah’s brothers really didn’t like him. When their father died they chased Jephthah away.
The Bible says that Jephthah left home and became a mighty man of valor. That is an encouragement to people today who believe that, because their parents did not intentionally conceive them, they are a “mistake.” Whatever your background, or the facts of your birth, you were never a “mistake” to God. Some people go through their whole childhood, and even much of their adult lives, believing that, if their parents had not made the “mistake” which brought them into this world, their lives would have been better and easier. Please remember that God was not surprised when you were born. He planned some great things for you before you were even conceived. Maybe your parents really let you down, but God will never let you down. We must live our lives in a such a way as to please HIM.
Jephthah had to learn how to take care of himself. In fact, he was so good at fighting and surviving that he attracted a group of followers, but Judges 11:3 calls them “vain men.” They were men without a purpose – outlaws, brigands, adventurers – and Jephthah was their leader.
When the Ammonites attacked Israel, the Israelites pretended to repent for God’s help, but God told them no.
Yet ye have forsaken me, and served other gods: wherefore I will deliver you no more. Go and cry unto the gods which ye have chosen; let them deliver you in the time of your tribulation.
The Israelites knew they would have to fight, but they needed a leader. Someone suggested Jephthah.
Jephthah might not have realized it, but his response is his own echoed version of God’s response.
And Jephthah said unto the elders of Gilead, Did not ye hate me, and expel me out of my father’s house? and why are ye come unto me now when ye are in distress?
However, the Israelites promised him that he could be leader of Gilead if he helped them, so he agreed.
Imagine how embarrassed and mad his brothers must have been – they ran him off, and now he was coming back as the ruler of their land! Jephthah did not rub it in, though; he gave the credit to God.
And Jephthah said unto the elders of Gilead, If ye bring me home again to fight against the children of Ammon, and the LORD deliver them before me, shall I be your head?
Jephthah’s first plan of action was to start out trying to reason with the Ammonites. He was no hothead. He knew his Bible, and he knew his Bible history. He informed the Ammonites that Israel had not “stolen” the land – they had “captured” it. He told them that Israel’s God had given Israel the victory. In effect, he told the Ammonites that, if they had any complaining to do, they should have done it 300 years ago. He went on to explain the futility of their fighting against the true God.
However, they wouldn’t listen. So Jephthah went to war.
Then the Spirit of the LORD came upon Jephthah…
In our previous studies on character and integrity, we have seen this same statement about David and Mary: the Spirit of the Lord came upon them.
And Jephthah vowed a vow unto the LORD, and said, If thou shalt without fail deliver the children of Ammon into mine hands,
The worst word in Judges 11:30 is the word “if.” Jephthah was a man of faith (Hebrews 11:32), but he failed the test of faith at a crucial time, and he tried to make a bargain with God.
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. So Jephthah passed over unto the children of Ammon to fight against them; and the LORD delivered them into his hands …Thus the children of Ammon were subdued before the children of Israel.
When Jephthah came home victorious, what do you think came out of his house to meet him?
And Jephthah came to Mizpeh unto his house, and, behold, his daughter came out to meet him with timbrels and with dances: and she was his only child; beside her he had neither son nor daughter. And it came to pass, when he saw her, that he rent his clothes, and said, Alas, my daughter! thou hast brought me very low, and thou art one of them that trouble me: for I have opened my mouth unto the LORD, and I cannot go back.
What came out of his house to meet him was not a “what” at all! It was a “who:” his beloved daughter!
Now, if we believe that Jephthah was under a vow to make his daughter a burnt offering, and if we review the details of what that meant in Leviticus 1:3-9 described above, we have to gasp in horror. I want to be very fair at this point and state that I believe that Jephthah did believe he was under such a vow. Most modern Bible scholars and commentators disagree with me. Even the best Bible teacher I know believes that Jephthah’s vow only resulted in his daughter being forced never to marry. There are quite a few older (by decades or even centuries) theologians and Bible scholars who do agree with me. I have studied most of the arguments for and against, and I truly believe that Jephthah did the unthinkable due to his fear of the Lord in light of the vow he had made. Obviously, you are free to disagree.
To return to the narrative, though, what do you think Jephthah’s daughter said when he told her the tragic news?
“It’s not fair!”
“I’m going to run away!”
“Can’t you pay some money and get me out of this?”
“I wish you weren’t my father!”
“I don’t love you anymore!”
“None of my friends have to do this!”
“I don’t have to listen to you!”
“I need to know why??!!”
None of those are correct. Instead, we read:
And she said unto him, My father, if thou hast opened thy mouth unto the LORD, do to me according to that which hath proceeded out of thy mouth; forasmuch as the LORD hath taken vengeance for thee of thine enemies, even of the children of Ammon. And she said unto her father, Let this thing be done for me: let me alone two months, that I may go up and down upon the mountains, and bewail my virginity, I and my fellows.
Jephthah had done a terrible thing. His vow, his bargain with God, was a mistake – worse, it was a foolish sin. We must be very careful about what we say. “I swear…” “God, I promise, if you get me out of trouble this time… I’ll never do it again.” Vows to God are a serious thing.
What about the integrity, though, of Jephthah’s daughter? Could Jephthah trust his daughter?
And he said, Go. And he sent her away for two months: and she went with her companions, and bewailed her virginity upon the mountains.
If you are reading this, and you are someone’s teenaged daughter, can you be trusted? Can you be trusted to take take out the trash? To keep your room clean? To be respectful even when your parents are not around? To be home on time?
Jephthah’s daughter had true integrity, and Jephthah knew her character. He knew he could trust her to obey – even in something like this.
And it came to pass at the end of two months, that she returned unto her father, who did with her according to his vow which he had vowed: and she knew no man. And it was a custom in Israel, That the daughters of Israel went yearly to lament the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite four days in a year.
God is not going to require your parents to offer you up for a burnt offering. We don’t live in the days of Judges. But God is serious about your obedience. We all need to remember this story – when children feel like saying, “But why can’t I do this..?” or “It’s not fair, all my friends get to do it.”
Remember Jephthah’s daughter the next time your parents tell you they can’t afford to pay for something or they don’t want to spend the money for something. Maybe God wants them to stay within their budget to give that money to the church or to missions. You have no room for whining or complaining.
“And it came to pass at the end of two months, that she returned unto her father…”
Can you be trusted? If you won’t even do your homework, if you won’t study, if you won’t help clean up without being asked – then your parents shouldn’t trust you to even go next door, much less to a friend’s house. You have free access on your home computer to the most evil garbage in the world – only a mouse click away. If you can’t be trusted not to curse or gossip in a text message or an email, then you shouldn’t even be allowed to touch it.
Your parents, I pray, are trying to protect you. God has great plans for some of you. Don’t settle for just being popular, being cool, just getting by in school, even for having a great career, or falling in love. Those things are going to pass away. Worldly fun, fleshly fun, the kind of fun that pleases Satan and grieves the Spirit of God now mortgages the good things in life that God has in store for you later. Some of the people I knew who had the most fun when they were teenaged kids are completely miserable now: divorced, in jail, on drugs, can’t get a job. They had a blast for 7 years, but they’ve been miserable for 20 – and they’re looking at another 30.
Lord God, thank You that you haven’t put us in the same predicament as Jephthah’s daughter. But please let us be as obedient, as trustworthy, as she was. Let us be content with what we have. Let us be thankful, and let us spend our time getting ready for the good things You have planned for us. Help us to do the simple things: read our Bibles; pray every day; be obedient; be a blessing to others. In Jesus Christ’s Name, Amen.