Jephthah the Gileadite.
It is common to regard Jephthah as one of the wildest characters of the Bible — a rough and heedless man; alike rash in vowing and heartless in fulfilling; one whom it is strange to find in the eleventh chapter of Hebrews. Jephthah was neither a godless nor a selfish man. Not godless, for we find in the brief annals of his life more copious recognition of God than in the case of most of the other judges; and not selfish, because, forgetting his private wrongs, he devoted his life to the service of his country, and, overcoming his strongest feelings of natural affection, he did with his daughter according to his vow. We shall be nearer the truth if we regard Jephthah as a good man, sadly misguided; a man roughly trained, poorly educated, and very deficient in enlightened views; wishing to serve God, but in great error as to what would prove an acceptable service; a man in whose religion the ideas of his neighbours of Moab and Ammon had a strong though unknown influence; one who, with the deepest loyalty to God, had unconsciously come under the delusion that Jehovah would accept of such an offering as the neighbouring nations offered to their gods. In trying to estimate Jephthah aright it is necessary that we bear his early history vividly in mind. He had the grievous misfortune to have a wicked mother, a woman of abandoned character; and as in these circumstances his father could not have been much better, his childhood must have been very dreary. No good example, no holy home, no mother's affection, no father's wise and weighty counsel. If Jephthah owed little to his parents, he owed less to his brothers. If he knew little of the sunbeams of parental love, he knew less of the amenities of brotherly affection. By his brothers he was, as we may say, kicked out from his father's house; he was driven forth into the wide, wide world, to shift as he might; and this under the influence of a motive all too common, but which in this case appears in all its native repulsiveness. It was to prevent him from sharing in his father's inheritance; to keep to themselves the largest possible share. A wretched revelation truly of family spirit! None of the dew of Hermon here. The life to which, in these circumstances, Jephthah resorted was wild and rough, but was not considered immoral in those wild times. He became a freebooter on the borders of Moab and Ammon, like many a borderer two or three centuries ago in Cumberland or Wigton; carrying on an irregular warfare in the form of raids for plunder; gathering to himself the riff-raff of the country-side. The occupation was very unfavourable to a religious life, and yet somehow (such is the sovereignty of grace) Jephthah evidently acquired deep religious impressions. He was strong against idolatry, and that not merely because it was the religion of his enemies, but because he had a deep regard for the God of Israel, and had been led in some way to recognise the obligation to serve Him only, and to be jealous for His glory. And, partly perhaps through the great self-control which this enabled him to exercise, and the courageous spirit which a living belief in such a God inspired, he had risen to great distinction as a warrior in the mode of life which he followed, so that when a leader was needed to contend with the Ammonites, Jephthah was beyond all question the man most fitted for the post. It is very singular how things come round. What a strange feeling Jephthah must have had when his brothers and old neighbours came to him, inviting and imploring him to become their head; trying as best they could to undo their former unkindness, and get him, for their safety, to assume the post for which not one of them was fitted! It is amazing what an ill-treated man may gain by patiently biding his time. In every history there are parallel incidents to that which now occurred in the ease of Jephthah — that of Coriolanus, for example; but it is not every one who has proved so prompt and patriotic. He gave way to no reproach over the past, but only made conditions for the future which were alike reasonable and moderate. His promptness supplies a great and oft-needed lesson for Christians; showing how ready we should be to forgive and forget ill-treatment; to return blessing for cursing, and good for evil. But let us now notice what was peculiar in Jephthah's mode of accepting office. In contemplating the prospect of the Ammonites being subdued, it is not he, but Jehovah, whom he regards as the victor. (Judges 11:9
); and after he has been made head and captain he utters all his words before the Lord at Mizpeh (ver.11). And now it was that he made his fatal vow. He made it as a new pledge of his dependence on God, and desire to honour Him. The strangest thing about the transaction is, that Jephthah should have been allowed in these circumstances to make such a vow. It was common enough in times of great anxiety and danger to devote some much-valued object to God. But Jephthah left it to God, as it were, to select the object. He would not specify it, but would simply engage, if he should return in peace from the children of Ammon, to offer to the Lord whatever should come forth from the doors of his house to meet him. It seemed a pious act to leave to God the selection of that object. Jephthah's error lay in supposing that God would select, that God would accept the responsibility which he laid upon Him. What followed we hardly need to rehearse. But what became of Jephthah's daughter? Undoubtedly the weight of evidence is in favour of the solution that, like Iphigenia at Aulis, Jephthah's daughter was offered as a burnt-offering. It is a shocking thought, and yet not inconsistent with the supposition that essentially Jephthah was a sincere and loyal servant of God. We must remember that he was an unenlightened man, ill brought up, not possessing the cool, well-balanced judgment of one who had calmly and carefully studied things human and Divine with the best lights of the age, but subject to many an impulse and prejudice that had never been corrected, and had at last become rooted in his nature. We must remember that Gilead was the most remote and least enlightened part of the land of Israel, and that all around, among all his Moabite and Ammonite neighbours, the impression prevailed that human sacrifices were acceptable to the gods. This remarkable narrative carries some striking lessons.
1. In the first place, there is a lesson from the strange, unexpected, and most unseasonable combination in Jephthah's experience of triumph and desolation, public joy and private anguish. It seems so unsuitable, when all hearts are wound up to the feeling of triumph, that horror and desolation should come upon them and overwhelm them. But what seems so unseasonable is what often happens. It often seems as if it would be too much for men to enjoy the fulfilment of their highest aspirations without something of an opposite kind. General Wolfe and Lord Nelson dying in the moment of victory are types of a not infrequent experience. At the moment when Ezekiel attains his highest prophetical elevation, his house is made desolate, his wife dies. The millionaire that has scraped and saved and struggled to leave a fortune to his only son is often called to lay him in the grave. Providence has a wonderful store of compensations. Sometimes those who are highest in worldly position are the dreariest and most desolate in heart.
2. Another striking lesson of Jephthah's life concerns the errors of good men. It dissipates the notion that good men cannot go far wrong. But let us learn from Jephthah all the good we can. He was remarkable for two great qualities. He depended for everything on God; he dedicated everything to God. It is the very spirit which the gospel of Jesus Christ is designed to form and promote. Jephthah was willing, according to his light, to give up to God the dearest object of his heart. One thing is very certain. Such sacrifices can be looked for from none but those who have been reconciled to God by Jesus Christ. To them, but only to them, God has become all in all. They, and they only, can afford to sacrifice all that is seen and temporal.
The elders of Gilead got into trouble, and they said, "We are in distress; 'we turn again to thee,'" etc. Jephthah mocked them, and said, "If I fight for you and win 'shall I be your head?'" Who can tell how suggestively he uttered the word "your"? — head of a mob of ingrates — "your": and his heart said, "Ha, ha! 'Why are ye come unto me now when ye are in distress?' Why did you not come twelve months ago? Why did you not come when the feast was on the table smoking hot? Why did you not ask me to the dance and the revel and the high glee of Gilead? Here you are like a number of whipped hounds coming to me in your poverty and weakness and humiliation; you have come to the bastard." It was not a resentful speech: it was the eloquence of a noble man. Some people can only be taught when they are whipped. These people belonged to that bad quality. Have we not here a revelation of human nature? Can we boast ourselves against the elders of Gilead and say we are of a higher quality? Are we not all guilty before one another in this very respect? There are some men we never write to except when we want something. They never received a friendly letter from us in their lives. The moment we come into distress or difficulty then we write to those men and call them friends. We pay our friends unconsciously a high tribute by going to them again and again in our distress. Our going, being translated into language, means, "We have come again; every other door is shut against us; this kind, hospitable home-door was never thrust in our faces, it was always opened by some kindly hand: the last time we came it was for help, we have come on the same errand again." This may be mean enough on our part, and yet there is an unconscious tribute to the very friends whom we neglected in the time of our strength and prosperity. See how this same question penetrates the whole warp and woof, the whole web of life and thought. Sometimes it is the Church that asks the question. The Church says to some applicants for admission, "'Why are ye come unto me now when ye are in distress?' You never come in the summer-time. you never come in the fair weather: why are ye come to me now when ye are in distress? What has brought you? Which of God's constables has arrested you and planted you in this prison? Trouble is your gaoler, and he has turned the key of the prison upon you in Church." There are people we use thus meanly, and the Church may be used often on this low ground. We go when we are sad. But are we aware that here also we are paying an unconscious tribute to the Church and to everything that is centralised and glorified by that Divine emblem? The Church wants you to come in the time of distress. The Church is not an upbraiding mother. She may utter a sigh over you as she sees your ragged And destitute condition, but she admits you all the same and tells you to go up higher. If our friends can ask the question of Jephthah, if the Church can put the same inquiry, so in very deed and in the fullest significance can the Bible. Who goes to the Bible in the summer-time? The dear old Bible says to many of us, "What, you back again? What has happened now? Some one dead? property lost? not well? What do you want with me to-day? Tell me your case; don't profess you love me and want me for my own sake; tell me what it is you want before you begin, and I will open at the place." It is God's book, because it is so lovely and so sweet and so large of heart. So far we have taken an advancing line. We began with our friends, we passed through the Church, then we went to the Bible, and now we go to God. This is the Divine inquiry: "Why are ye come to Me now when ye are in distress?" This is the great hold which God has upon us all. His family would be very small but for the distress of the world. His heaven can hardly hold His household because of this wearying trouble, this eternal want, this gnawing worm of discontent.
Jephthah vowed a vow unto the LordI.
HOW THE LORD SUFFERETH GOOD MEN AND WISE MEN TO SNARE THEMSELVES, AND BRING NEEDLESS SORROWS AND WOES ON THEMSELVES BY TEMERITY AND RASHNESS (1 Samuel 25:34
; Matthew 26:31
1. The folly of man's heart, which would walk at large, unconfined within the rules of wisdom; this makes men rash even in the things of God, as here.
2. God's just desertion of good men, for their humiliation; and to give them experience of themselves, and how their own wisdom will make them befool themselves, as David did after his rash numbering of the people, and cleave more close to God and His counsel, when they see their own counsels prove fit for nothing but to cast them down. To be well advised in that we do or speak, avoid temerity and rashness, by which, making more haste than good speed, men do but brew their own sorrow. Consider —
1. That rashness doeth nothing well (Proverbs 15:22). "Without counsel thoughts come to nought," and the hasty man, we say, never wants woe. Herod himself, as wicked as he was, was sorry for his rash oath; and yet how mischievous was it, against the life of John Baptist! A man going in haste easily slideth (Proverbs 19:2).
2. A note of a man fearing God is to carry his matters with discretion (Psalm 112:5). "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of true wisdom."
3. The law rejected a blind sacrifice; the gospel requireth a reasonable (Romans 12:1); and all sacrifices must be seasoned with the salt of discretion.
4. Rashness and temerity lays us bare and naked to the lashes of God, of men, and of our own consciences. Rules of direction to avoid this sin of rashness, attended with so much sorrow.First, watch carefully against thine own rashness in —
5. Passions.Secondly, arm thyself with the rules of Christian prudence to avoid this sin, and the sorrow of it; as knowing that it is not enough to be a faithful servant, but he must be wise too.
II. THE LORD COMMONLY EXALTING HIS SERVANTS WITH SOME HIGH FAVOUR, BRINGS SOME STINGING CROSS WITH IT, TO HUMBLE THEM.
1. The Lord spies in us a lewd nature and disposition, even like that of the spider, which can turn everything into poison. There is in the best a root of pride and vanity which in prosperity and warm sunshine sprouteth and grows wonderfully stiff. Paul himself is in danger to be exalted out of measure by abundance of revelation; and therefore the Lord, as a wise physician, adds a dose of affliction to be an antidote to expel the poison of pride, and with a prick lets out the wind of vainglory.
2. This height of honours, success, etc., easily gaineth our affections and delights, and so draws and steals away our delights in the Lord. We are prone to idolise them, and to give them our hearts, and therefore the Lord is forced to pull our hearts from them, and by some buffetings and cooling cards, tells us in what sliding and slippery places we stand, and therefore had need still keep our watch about us, and not pour out our hearts upon such momentary pleasures.
3. We are as children in our advancements who, having found honey, eat too much. If the Lord did not thus sauce our dainties, how could we avoid the surfeit of them? Alas! how would we dote upon the world if we found nothing but prosperity, who are so set upon it for all the bitterness of it.
4. The Lord spies in us an unthankful disposition, who, when He honours us, and lifts us up that we might lift up His name and glory, we let the honour fall upon ourselves.
III. GOD DOTH OFTEN TURN THE GREATEST DELIGHTS AND EARTHLY PLEASURES OF HIS SERVANTS TO THEIR GREATEST SORROW.
1. From the transitoriness of all outward comforts; here below there is never a gourd to cover our head, but a worm to consume it. And therefore what a man doth chiefly delight in the fruition, he must needs be most vexed in the separation and want of it.
2. From the naughty disposition of our hearts.(1) Hardness of heart which will not yield without such hard and smart strokes.(2) That we can turn all kind of comforts, natural and supernatural, to bewitching vanities, and yield them strength enough to allure us and draw us from the sound comfort of them; there is no ordinance, no creature, no gift, no comfort that can escape us.
3. From the jealousy of God who hath made all His creatures, ordinances, gifts, His servants as well as ours, and cannot abide that any of them should have any place but of servants with us; His zeal cannot abide that they should gain our hearts, or souls, or any power of them from Him, and therefore when men go a-whoring after the creatures, and lay the level of their comfort below the Lord Himself, then He shows the fervency of His zeal, either in removing the gift or them from the comfort of it.
IV. ALL PROMISES TO GOD OR MAN LAWFUL AND IN OUR POWER MUST BE RELIGIOUSLY AND FAITHFULLY PERFORMED; OF ALL WHICH, THOU OPENETH THY MOUTH TO THE LORD, OR BEFORE THE LORD, THOU MAYEST NOT GO BACK.
1. I say, all lawful promises, for no promise may be a bond of iniquity, and the performance of such is but tying two sins together, as Herod tied to a wicked oath, murder of John Baptist.
2. All promises in our power, for nothing can tie us to impossibilities, as when the bishop makes the priest vow perpetual continency — a thing out of his power and reach.
3. To God or men.
(1)To God (Numbers 30:3).
(2)To man; fidelity and veracity are of the weighty points of the law (Matthew 23:23).And of the heathen given up to a reprobate sense it is said, they were truce-breakers (Romans 1:30).
4. They must be performed religiously and faithfully. To a conscionable performance three things are required.(1) Perform them willingly and cheerfully; for God loves as a cheerful giver, so a cheerful performer.(2) Fully and wholly, not by halves (Numbers 30:3). He shall do all that is gone out of His mouth, not taking away a part, as Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5).(3) Without delay; every seasonable action is beautiful. Besides the express commandment (Ecclesiastes 5:4).
Among Jewish paraphrasts and commentators, the more ancient are mostly of opinion that Jephthah did actually sacrifice his daughter. They censure the rashness of his vow, but they do not appear to doubt that the sacrifice of the maiden was actually made. Some later Jewish writers, however, of great authority, have contended that Jephthah's daughter was not slain, but devoted to a life of virginity; being shut up in a house which her father built for the purpose, and there visited four days in each year by the maidens of Israel as long as she lived. Among Christian writers, perhaps all during the first ten centuries — certainly the exceptions, if any, were few and far between — believed that the maiden was sacrificed. Later Christian writers have not been so unanimous. Many, perhaps the majority, of those who have treated upon the subject, hold the opinion which, as we have seen, was universal in the early Church. Many others, of equal learning and eminence, have maintained that Jephthah's daughter was not offered by her father as a burnt offering, but that she was permitted to live; among these, there are some who believe with the modern Jews just mentioned, that she was shut up by her father and devoted to a life of seclusion; while others suppose that she was devoted to the Lord's service in a life of celibacy, and was numbered during the remainder of her life with the "women who assemble at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation," performing duties of sacred service in connection with the worship at Shiloh That Jephthah was "hasty in opening his lips before God" is generally admitted; although this rashness is singularly in contrast with his cautiousness and skill in negotiating and arguing with the Ammonite, and shows how elements the most opposite may exist in the same character. That he deliberately contemplated as possible the sacrifice of a human being is a supposition scarcely to be entertained of one who is spoken of in the New Testament as a man of faith. Yet that human sacrifices were familiar to him cannot be doubted; and it is possible that familiarity with the rites of the Ammonites, on whose borders he dwelt, and with whom human sacrifices, as is now the case in many parts of Africa, were religious rites of daily occurrence, may have blunted his feelings, and have caused him to forget how odious such offerings were in the sight of God. The excitement of the occasion, however, seems to have bewildered him, so that he forgot everything not immediately connected with his forthcoming expedition. His vow was utterly rash. He did not take time to consider, for example, that if an ass or a dog had first met him coming out of his house on his return, to offer it to the Lord would have been an abomination. Had he bestowed that thought upon the matter which reason itself would teach us to be necessary when we open our lips to our Maker, he could not have failed to reflect that it was possible, nay, likely, that his only and beloved child would be the first to greet him on his return. It was natural that he should offer a vow to the Lord; strange that he should have done it with such impulsive rashness.... The peculiar expression of the sacred text, that "her father did with her according to his vow which he vowed, and she knew no man," may lend plausibility to the opinion, that she was devoted to a virgin life. But against this view there lie three objections, which, when taken together, compel us to adopt the opposite view. The first is, that a celibate life formed no part of her father's vow. The second is, that the great distance at which Jephthah was from Shiloh, where the tabernacle was, and the absence of any allusion in all his history to its existence, render the theory of his daughter being transferred thither improbable. The third is, that the misfortune of his birth would alone have prevented such an arrangement. If the sons of a bastard, according to the law of Moses, could not enter into the congregation of the Lord to the tenth generation, it is scarcely probable that Jephthah's daughter could have secured admission among the privileged women who rendered service about the tabernacle. We therefore look upon the maiden as having been sacrificed. Upon the gloom of this painful history, however, an ethereal brightness shines. What can be more beautiful, more wonderful, than this pure and lovely maid, brought up among bandits, and far from the tabernacle of God, thus freely and sweetly giving up herself as a thank-offering for the victories of Israel? And who can fail to see, in the story of the meek and self-sacrificing maid, "a marvellous and mysterious adumbration of a better sacrifice of another soul, of an only child, perfectly free and voluntary, and of virgin holiness and heavenly purity, the sacrifice of Christ, who gave His spotless soul to death for our sakes"?
I have opened my mouth unto the Lord, and I cannot go back. I.
WHAT WE HAVE DONE. "I have opened my mouth unto the Lord."
1. We have opened our mouths before the Lord, first, "by confessing our faith in Jesus Christ."
2. We have also avowed and declared before the living God that we are Christ's disciples and followers.
3. We have opened our mouth to the Lord, next, because as we believe in Jesus Christ, and take Him to be our Master, so we "have admitted the Redeemer's claims to our persons and services, and have resolved to live for Him alone in our days." We have made a dedication of ourselves to His service, declaring that we are not our own, but bought with a price.
4. We have cast in our lot with His people.
II. WHAT WE CANNOT DO. "I cannot go back." Having once become Christians, we cannot apostatise from the faith. We cannot go back, even by temporary turnings aside.
1. If we did go back, we should show that we have been altogether false until now.
2. We should incur frightful penalties. To go back is death, shame, eternal ruin.
3. It would be so unreasonable. If you give up the religion of Jesus Christ, what other religion would you have? If you were to give up the pleasures of godliness, what other pleasures would you have? "Oh," says one, "we could go into the world." Could you? If you are a child of God you are spoiled for the world.
4. I have no inclination to go back. The man who is married to a good wife thinks to himself, "If I had to marry again to-morrow morning, she should be the bride, and happy would we be." And so, if we had our choice to make again, we would choose our dear Lord over again, only with much more eagerness and earnestness than we did at first.
5. We have opened our mouth to the Lord, and we cannot go back because we are so happy as we now are. A man does not turn his back upon that which has become his life and his joy; he is bound to it by the bliss which he derives from it. Can the Swiss forget his country when he listens to the home-music which he heard as a child amidst his native hills? Does not the home-sickness come over him so that he longs to be among the Alps again? Does not the Englishman, wherever he wanders, whether by land or sea, feel his heart instinctively turn to the white cliffs of Albion, and does he not say that with all her faults he loves his country still? Who would cease to be that which he loves to be?
6. And then, besides that, we cannot go back from what we have said, for Divine grace impels us onward. There is a secret power more mighty than all other forces called the force of grace, and this has captured us.
III. SOMETHING WHICH WE MUST DO. If there is a present sacrifice demanded of us, we must make it directly. If there is anything in your business, and you cannot be a Christian if you do it, abjure it at once and for ever. If you are to do this, however, you must ask for more grace. One other admonition to Christian people is this — burn the boats behind you. When the Roman commander meant victory he landed his troops on the coast where he knew there were thousands of enemies, and he burned the boats, so as to cut off all chance of retreat. "But how are we to get away if we are beaten?" "That is just it," said he; "we will not be beaten; we will not dream of such a thing." "Burn the boats" — that is what you Christian people must do. "Make no provision for the flesh." Let the separation between you and the world be final and irreversible. Say, "Here I go for Christ and His Cross, for the truth of the Bible, for the laws of God, for holiness, for trust in Jesus; and never will I go back, come what may."
"We have opened our mouth unto the Lord." It is not what we promised the Church, though in becoming members of it we have promised to fulfil the mutual duties of Christians. It was not what we promised to the minister, though, in the very fact of becoming members of a Church of which he is the pastor we have a Christian duty towards him. It was not what we promised one another, though we all owe something to each other. But we have opened our mouth to the Lord. If a man must trifle, let him trifle with men, but not with God. If promises to men may be lightly broken — and they should not be — yet let us not trifle with promises made to God. And if solemn declarations ever can be forgotten — which they should not be — yet not solemn declarations made to God. Beware, oh! beware of anything like levity in entering into covenant with the Most High.
Do to me according to that which hath proceeded out of thy mouth
Never in any age, or among any people, was there a more ready or thorough sacrifice of the world to high principle and duty than was made by the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite. It was made, too, in most trying circumstances. If ever the world seemed bright to her, it must have been when she went forth with timbrels and dances to meet her father. The land of Israel they had so longed for was to be their home — they were to dwell there in peace and honour, high in rank, great in power. It would seem to the daughter of Jephthah as if life were but beginning; the night seemed past and the morning breaking — a morning without cloud. She could not but anticipate a long bright day for her father and herself; and it would be all the more welcome that they had sighed for it so often, and watched for it through a night so dark and so long. It was in these most trying circumstances that the daughter of Jephthah heard from her father's lips that he had opened his mouth unto the Lord and could not go back. Yet without one word of reproach or complaint, and without hesitation, she said unto him who had vowed that rash vow, "My father, if thou hast opened thy mouth unto the Lord, do to me," etc. Think of her, that child of an outcast — brought up in a heathen land and in a camp — think of her, how pure, how unworldly, how unselfish, how noble in spirit! Think of her patriotism, think of her self-sacrifice, that you may abhor all that is mean and selfish, and worldly and untruthful; and that you may cease to grudge the sacrifices your Father in heaven requires in love and wisdom, and for your own deliverance and safety.
Let me alone two months, that I may.., bewail my virginity
It is this wail of Jephthah's daughter that rises from every generation of this world's history. What we are all of us called upon to see with our own eyes, and judge with our own hearts, is a similar, or much more grievous waste of all that is good in human nature, of devotedness to country and family, of fine feeling, of the best intellect. Again and again, in our own society, we see the most splendid mental abilities squandered in the quest of what can never be discovered, the truest eloquence and highest moral feeling consecrated to a cause that is not worth lifting a finger to defend. Who has not seen the most precious human feelings wasted, you would say, on worthless people, while they might have fertilised and enriched responsive natures — the noblest devotedness sacrificed to a mere lie, or deception, or mockery? Two months was not too long to weep over the dreadful misguidedness of human actions, and the consequent waste or outward unprofitableness of what is best in human nature. Still, there is a compensating element even here. These companions who sympathised with their friend, and at last decked her as if for her bridal, and gave her into her father's hands, must no doubt have felt to the close of life that a world in which anything so tragic could happen was a blighted, melancholy world. Still, as they themselves passed through the various womanly duties that fell to them, and felt still the hold that event had taken; as they told the story of the noble maiden to their own children, and found how it moved and controlled them, and how many, through that example, were urged to more self-sacrificing deeds, and to higher thoughts about what is beautiful and good in life; must not these women sometimes have thought that possibly the real children of Jephthah's daughter, those who had truly succeeded to her nature, were more and better than could have been hers, had she lived? If then by family circumstances, or in any other way, we are called upon to sacrifice our own will to what seems a very needless, provoking, and rash plan, what we have to do is to seek to have something of the spirit of Jephthah's daughter, and accept our position without a murmur; knowing that, though we do not see how, any more than she did, this may, and will, by God's blessing, result in such development of our own character, and such enlargement of our usefulness, as could not otherwise be attained.
Did with her according to his vow
In Jephthah's vow we see two things —
1. A good feeling overcoming the judgment.
2. A sense of right leading to an enormous crime.
I. JEPHTHAH SACRIFICED HIS DAUGHTER TO THE TRUE GOD. But what are many modern parents doing? Why, offering up their children to false gods!
1. The god of idleness. Indolence is ruin.
2. The god of worldliness.
3. The god of ambition.
II. JEPTHAH SACRIFICED ONLY THE BODY OF HIS DAUGHTER. But parents in these modern times are found immolating the souls of their children; they are made to prostrate their powers, and to yield the Divine sentiments of their nature to idleness, pelf, vanity, fashion.
1. Soul immolation is more gradual.
2. Soul immolation is more mischievous. It is the ruin of the whole man.
III. JEPHTHAH SACRIFICED HIS DAUGHTER FROM A NOBLE IMPULSE. No such high feeling prompts parents in these days to sacrifice the souls of their children even to the false and ignominious divinities. They do it either from the spirit of custom, vanity, greed, or ambition. It is a cold-blooded, soulless immolation. If there is any feeling, it is the mere lust of the eye and pride of life.
IV. JEPHTHAH SACRIFICED HIS DAUGHTER WITH A TERRIBLE REGRET. But modern parents lay the souls of their children on the altar of worldliness, vanity, and sin, not only without any compunction, but with an utter indifference. They see the souls of their daughters running into grubs, butterflies, swine, and heave no sigh of regret.
V. JEPHTHAH SACRIFICED HIS DAUGHTER WITH HER FULL CONCURRENCE. Were worldly parents to say to their daughters at the dawn of their intelligent and moral life, "We intend to take all the innocency from your young loves — all the sensibility from your young consciences — all the religious poetry from your young natures — and to make you the dolls of fashion, the devotees of a sham life, the victims of a pampered animalism, and thus rifle you of your birthright as immortals" — this would be honest; this would bring the question so thoroughly home to the young heart as would, we think, rouse opposition to the fiendish plan.
To Jephthah and his daughter the vow was sacred, irre- vocable. The deliverance of Israel by so signal and complete a victory left no alternative. It would have been well if they had known God differently; yet better this darkly impressive issue which went to the making of Hebrew faith and strength, than easy, unfruitful evasion of duty. We are shocked by the expenditure of fine feeling and heroism in upholding a false idea of God and obligation to Him; but are we outraged and distressed by the constant effort to escape from God which characterises our age? And have we for our own part come yet to the right idea of self and its relations? Our century, beclouded on many points, is nowhere less informed than in matters of self-sacrifice; Christ's doctrine is still uncomprehended. Jephthah was wrong, for God did not need to be bribed to support a man who was bent on doing his duty. And many fail now to perceive that personal development and service of God are in the same line. Life is made for generosity, not mortification; for giving in glad ministry, not for giving up in hideous sacrifice. It is to be devoted to God by the free and holy use of body, mind, and soul in the daily tasks which Providence appoints. The wailing of Jephthah's daughter rings in our ears, bearing with it the anguish of many a soul tormented in the name of that which is most sacred, tormented by mistakes concerning God, the awful theory that He is pleased with human suffering. The relics of that hideous Moloch worship which polluted Jephthah's faith, not even yet purged away by the Spirit of Christ, continue and make religion an anxiety and life a kind of torture. I do not speak of that devotion of thought and time, eloquence and talent to some worthless cause which here and there amazes the student of history and human life — the passionate ardour, for example, with which Flora Macdonald gave herself up to the service of a Stuart. But religion is made to demand sacrifices compared to which the offering of Jephthah's daughter was easy. The imagination of women especially, fired by false representations of the death of Christ, in which there was a clear Divine assertion of self, while it is made to appear as complete suppression of self, bears many on in a hopeless and essentially immoral endeavour. Has God given us minds, feelings, right ambitions, that we may crush them? Does He purify our desires and aspirations by the fire of His own Spirit and still require us to crush them? Are we to find our end in being nothing, absolutely nothing, devoid of will, of purpose, of personality? Is this what Christianity demands? Then our religion is but refined suicide, and the God who desires us to annihilate ourselves is but the Supreme Being of the Buddhists, if those may be said to have a god who regard the suppression of individuality as salvation. Christ was made a sacrifice for us. Yes; He sacrificed everything except His own eternal life and power; He sacrificed ease and favour and immediate success for the manifestation of God. So He achieved the fulness of personal might and royalty. And every sacrifice His religion calls us to make is designed to secure that enlargement and fulness of spiritual individuality in the exercise of which we shall truly serve God and our fellows. Does God require sacrifice? Yes, unquestionably — the sacrifice which every reasonable being must make in order that the mind, the soul may be strong and free, sacrifice of the lower for the higher, sacrifice of pleasure for truth, of comfort for duty, of the life that is earthly and temporal for the life that is heavenly and eternal. And the distinction of Christianity is that it makes this sacrifice supremely reasonable because it reveals the higher life, the heavenly hope, the eternal rewards for which the sacrifice is to be made, that it enables us in making it to feel ourselves united to Christ in a Divine work which is to issue in the redemption of mankind.
Jephthah paid his vow. At a frightful sacrifice he gave up what he had promised. When he gave up his daughter he gave up his all. Did Jephthah open his mouth unto the Lord? and have not you who are parents — have not you dedicated your children to the Lord, and vowed that they shall be His? Not rashly, not hastily, but with due deliberation you did so, and that in a holy ordinance appointed by God for the very purpose. Your vow is registered in heaven; is it to be forgotten on earth? You have opened your mouth unto the Lord; will you go back? God asks your children to be presented to Him not as slain, but living sacrifices. You have vowed; are you paying your vows? Do you pray for your children? Do you teach them to pray? Do you speak to them of God and of Jesus, and lead them in the way of holiness? And when your vows require that you should exercise discipline, and when faithfulness to God requires that you should lay upon your children what for the present is not joyous but grievous, do you shrink from it? To spare your feelings, do you shrink from it? Oh, remember Jephthah when you are thus tempted; and think, if you were under such a vow as he was, how you would act. And you children, think of Jephthah's daughter. Let her spirit take possession of you. Think how she lived above her own personal and selfish interests; think how she honoured her father and honoured God.
If he did not offer her as a burnt-offering, then he did not do with her according to the vow. Moreover, why all this wailing and anguish if, after all, all that was going to happen to her is what happens to thousands who seem to stand in little need of compassion? Then, again, why did she ask for the one favour of a respite of two months to bewail her virginity, if she was to have thirty or forty years with leisure for that purpose? And, lastly, if the mere fact of her remaining unmarried fulfilled even that part of the vow which specified that she was to be the Lord's, then what objection can we make to other young women giving themselves to the Lord in the same way? If Jephthah's daughter became a nun, and if this was judged a fulfilment of his vow, if by being a virgin she was somehow more the Lord's than by being a married woman, a stronger foundation need not be sought for the establishment of nunneries.
Two men are very foolish or stubborn who fulfil an agreement which they both see to be disadvantageous, and wish to fall away from. No duty whatever compels them to fulfil it, and if they do so they are justly the laughing-stock of their acquaintances. Now, this is precisely the case in which a man finds himself who has vowed to God what turns out to be sinful, for God can never wish him to fulfil a contract which, he now sees, involves sin. A man swears to do a certain thing because he thinks it will be pleasing to God, but if he discovers that, instead of being pleasing, it will be hateful to God, to perform his vow, and do that vowed but hateful thing, is to insult God. By the very discovery of the sinfulness of a vow, the maker of it is absolved from performing it. God shrinks much more than he can do from the perpetration of sin. Both parties fall from the agreement.
See in the tragic tale a foreshadowing of the Cross of our Lord Christ. He took upon Himself our human nature, and having vowed it as the ransom of the guilty world He never hesitated, despite the awful cost, to keep His vow. Gladly did He make voluntary oblation of His own spotless humanity, a vicarious sacrifice to set the whole race free from the spiritual children of Ammon, the followers of the evil one. That it was a costly sacrifice He offered we know full well from the story of Gethsemane; nevertheless He did only cry, "Not as I will, but as Thou wilt," then held His peace. Do we think it is true that He bewailed His virginity with His fellows on the mountains before His death? Yet we know that from the human standpoint our Lord's ministry of three years and a half was almost fruitless. Multitudes followed Him to see His miracles; they crowded about Him bringing their sick folk to be healed; but they did not become His disciples, and accept heartily His Word. To His human nature this must ever have been a grief and sore trial. Once He said to the Twelve, "Will ye also go away?" We know that not even His own relations believed on Him.
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