If a man vows a vow to the Lord, or swears an oath to bind himself by a pledge, he shall not break his word. He shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth. - Numbers 30:2
In reflection of our sermon this past Sunday and the story of Jephthah, this verse is applicable. Jephthah's horrendous vow is central to the sadness of Judges 10-12, the foolish cry of a wayward savior. There is brashness and insolence in proclaiming what you plan on accomplishing for God, especially when exclaimed with an expectation that God fulfill His end of the bargain. God is not interested in fair exchanges, a right reserved not only for a Creator who rules over His creation but also for one who offered up His own child's perfect righteousness, holiness, and purity in order to take on our disgrace, sin, and death.
You would figure a man as knowledgeable regarding Israel's history and God's dealing with her would have some understanding of His law. It wasn't pure duty to this verse that bound Jephthah to sacrifice his daughter as there were ways out. Leviticus 27:1-8 speaks of prices to redeem a human life from vows. More importantly, as was mentioned on Sunday, what Jephthah missed was the grace of God and unrelenting love for Israel. To cover a sin with another sin solves no problems but Jephthah saw this as the only path. He couldn't understand that there is forgiveness available for God's people. There was no reason to follow through on a terrible vow to the Lord if there were ways to avoid fulfilling it.
It all points to the deeper heart problem of Jephthah. When you fail to embrace God's grace but operate on a merit-based plan with Him, then you make demands of the Lord in the form of vows. You might make promises to God with a desire to honor and glorify Him with your obedience and love yet what often lies beneath all that is a functional profession that God can be controlled and at times is in your debt. And any god that can be placed in a box is no god, rather it makes you god. And if that is the case, why are you making vows to anyone else?
How are we to live then? James 5:12 makes it clear; "But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your 'yes' be yes and your 'no' be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation." God doesn't expect us to make promises to Him. The gospel doesn't save us so we can make vows, promises, and oaths to God about what we're going to do for Him but it frees us to rest, love, and live out of the promises God has fulfilled, is fulfilling, and will fulfill in the face of His Son, Jesus Christ. Nothing you perform or accomplish for the Lord increases His love and delight for you when you live by faith in Him. All it does is help us recognize and receive more of His unfathomable desire for us. It is so easy to fool ourselves into confessing one thing but functionally living in another way. We must remember faith is not a place where we have to prove ourselves to God and vice versa but is the swimming pool of grace on a hot summer day where we wade, dive, and float to His delight.