Thursday, May 19, 2011

It's Still Thursday If I Haven't Gone to Bed Yet

When I started this blog, I committed myself to updating it every Thursday. Two weeks later and already I almost broke that commitment. Earlier today I convinced myself it was okay to skip this week's post because of Milan Summer Project prep, but at 11:30 tonight I changed my mind. This blog is supposed to force me to write, and if I stop following-through this early on it will only become easier to skip other weeks in the future. I don't want that to happen.

So here it is. A post.

(Why am I speaking like I have an audience? Only Jenni reads this.)

Following-through on commitments reminds me of the story of Jephthah (Judges 10). Jephthah led the Israelites in battle against the Ammonites. Before he went to battle, he made a vow 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."

So Jephthah goes to battle and devastates the Ammonites. Sweet, sweet victory. Then he goes home and his only daughter greets him with dancing and tambourine-playing. Uht-oh.
Jephthah is horrified. He tears his clothes in anguish and cries, "I have made a vow to the LORD that I cannot break." The daughter is upset, but she doesn't try to convince her father to bend the rules. "My father," she says, "you have given your word to the LORD. Do to me just as you promised."

And he does. He allows her to mourn with her friends in the hills for two months, but when she returns he carries out the sacrifice.

I must admit I have a hard time with this story. I can't imagine how anyone couldn't. First, the father makes a very reckless vow. How foolish. Surely he considered the possibility that one of his family members would walk out the door first? Or maybe he thought a reckless vow was more likely to win God over? I don't know. I suppose it's possible he thought the likelihood of a family member walking out of the house first was so low that the vow was hardly a risk, but if that's the case I'm surprised he didn't protest more when his daughter was the first to appear: "Wait - I never thought THIS would happen! God, you know this wasn't what I meant. I can't sacrifice my own daughter. You wouldn't WANT me to sacrifice my own daughter, would you? Surely, not. I know You'll let this slide, right God?" 

The daughter's reaction is especially hard for me to accept. Part of me wants her to cry out in protest, "You said WHAT, Dad? Why would you ever promise such a thing? Well, you aren't going to kill me, that's for sure. I didn't agree to this promise, and considering how much this effects me I don't think that's fair. Besides, God isn't so cruel as to demand you kill me on account of your silly promise."

But there is no protest. Only mournful resignation. The promise was made. Stupid or not, it must be honored.

I don't think the story condones Jephthah's vow. In fact, I think it's a warning against making those kinds of promises. What's especially difficult for our modern sensibilities, however, is the notion that upholding a promise - even a promise to God - is more important than sparing innocent life. How could anyone think that a promise is that important?

I think the story is more descriptive than it is prescriptive. By that I mean I think it is more a story that describes something we can learn from than it is a story that demonstrates how we should live. If we make a stupid promise to God, should we follow through on it even if it means killing a family member? All things considered, I lean toward no. However, we should be humbled by this story. Jephthah sacrificed his only daughter because he told God he would sacrifice the first thing that came out of his house and she was it. That kind of commitment - that fierce resolution to keeping one's word - is foreign to most of us. In an age when people sign in-case-of-divorce agreements before taking their wedding vows, this kind of behavior is incomprehensible.

Like most sin, not being true to one's word is something that gets easier to do the more you do it. If you make promises to God and then you break them, you're less likely to keep the promises you make in the future. It's just our nature. We sin, sin begets more sin, and eventually we get numb. That's why there's something admirable in Jephthah, even though he seems out of his mind. He's refusing to go down that road. He's not numb.

I committed myself to updating this blog every Thursday. I did not, however, make a vow to God regarding this and I certainly didn't promise Him I would kill anything should I fail to update. Nevertheless, I want to be someone who does what I say I'm going to do. I want my yes to be yes and my no to be no, and I certainly want to be someone who takes promises seriously. I don't want to be numb. I want Jephthah's story to be upsetting, but not incomprehensible.

Here's to follow-through.


  1. Doing something 100% of the time is easier than doing it 98% of the time!

    I like the timestamps though - they're in the wrong time zone so it says you posted this at 9:48 pm.

  2. False. Only Jenni and Sean read this.

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