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Jephthah's Vow: Righteous or Rash?



In the latest issue of the PRC Seminary's Theological Journal Prof. R. Cammenga (professor of Dogmatics and OT Studies) has an article with the above title. If you recall your Old Testament history, you will remember that Jephthah was one of the judges in Israel during that period of her history. Prof. Cammenga reviews the history of this judge and the question that always arises concerning the vow he took.


In his opening paragraphs he states his case for what he is convinced is the proper way to understand Jephthah's vow:

Frequently, Jephthah’s vow is regarded as a rash and sinful vow. Jephthah is criticized for making an unrighteous vow, a vow that he should not have made. The text is cited as an example of a man who did not think before he spoke. He spoke ill-advisedly. And if that is true, then Jephthah serves as a negative example, an example of what Christians should not do and how they should not act.
However, there are good reasons to examine this explanation of Jephthah’s vow. In fact, I am convinced that careful consideration of Judges 11:29-40 makes plain that Jephthah’s vow was a righteous vow—altogether righteous. And his vow was also a costly vow, a very costly vow. If we understand the circumstances in Israel under which Jephthah labored as judge, then the making and keeping of this vow by a godly father in Israel will be seen, I have no doubt, as an outstanding example to believers then and today.
Hebrews 11:32-33 is the one passage in the New Testament that calls attention to Jephthah: “And what shall I more say? For the time would fail me to tell of Gideon, and of Barak, and of Samson, and of Jephthah; of David also, and Samuel, and of the prophets: who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteous-ness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions.” The writer of the epistle to the Hebrews, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, places Jephthah in the illustrious company of those who lived by faith and whose faith New Testament Christians ought to follow. He belongs to those who by faith “obtained a good report,” according to Hebrews 11:2. He belongs to the “so great a cloud of witnesses” by whom we are compassed about, according to Hebrews 12:1.
What did Jephthah do by faith? At the very least, he did two things, according to Hebrews 11:33. By faith he “subdued kingdoms” and by faith he “wrought righteousness.” The first part of Judges 11 tells us about his subduing of the Ammonites. That is the kingdom that he subdued by faith. The second part of Judges 11, describes how he wrought righteousness—wrought righteousness in the matter of his righteous vow.
I am convinced that Hebrews 11 compels us to view Jephthah’s vow as the evidence of his faith, the evidence of a strong faith. Hebrews 11 mentions Jephthah not in spite of the vow that he made, which is the position that most commentators take. But Hebrews 11 mentions Jephthah exactly because of his vow. And that means, of course, that he serves as a positive example, an example which Christians in every age ought to follow.

To continue reading this article, visit the Journal page.

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