When [Jephtha] realized who it was, he ripped his clothes, saying, "Ah, dearest daughter—I'm dirt. I'm despicable. My heart is torn to shreds. I made a vow to God and I can't take it back!" Judges 11:35 (MSG)
The story in today's chapter is a horribly tragic event that is incredibly confusing in today's world. It's easy to walk away from the story scratching our heads and throwing our hands up in the air. Yet, God's message is like Aesop's stories. There is generally a reason the story has been told. We just have to find the clues.
The first clue is a theme that has been running throughout the book of Judges. The people of Israel have been in a continuous cycle of idolatry. Try as they may, they keep mingling God, Jehovah, with the gods and idols of the people around them. They keep falling into idolatry despite God's numero uno command in the Top Ten List of commands God gave them through Moses. At the beginning of Judges, the theme is announced and highlighted when God warns Israel not to get mixed up with foreign gods or "their gods will become a trap" (Judges 2:3).
In the midst of Jepthah's parley with the Amomnites (vss 14-27), he mentions their god, Chemosh and he sets up the battle as a clash of between Jehovah and Chemosh. Here, the second clue is revealed. One of the things scholars know about the ancient god Chemosh is that human sacrifice was used on special occasions to secure the god's favor. If bowing before idols is against the rules, then sacrificing humans to those gods is a downright abomination.
As soon as Jepthah's victory on behalf of Jehovah is complete, however, he makes a silly vow and ends up sacrificing his own daughter in a despicable, senseless act. Jepthah sacrifices his daughter to God the way the Ammonites would sacrifice someone to Chemosh (a.k.a Molech, pictured above). For all of Jepthah's high spirited talk, his actions reveal that his faith has gotten mixed up with the gods of the Ammonites. It' reminds us of what Jesus said of the people of Israel: "These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me." The moral of the story is revealed and points back to God's ominous warning at the beginning of the book: "don't get mixed up with other gods, or the consequences will be tragic."
Today, I'm thinking about the gods of this age and culture. I'm thinking about the god of sex, the god of money, the god of materialism, the god of convenience, and the god of self. I'm wondering how these gods have affected my relationship with God. How do my own actions reveal that my heart is incongruent with the words from my lips (and the words from my qwerty keyboard).
Maybe I'm more like Jepthah than I care to admit.