There were two things in these two chapters that seem difficult to reconcile when we think of a loving and compassionate God.
The first is in chapter ten. God seems unwilling to save Israel. They have turned away from Him several times in the past, and it seems like He’s had His fill, and He tells them to take their cries to the gods they have deserted Him for. He tells them, “Let them rescue you when you get in trouble.”
They of course, know that these gods are false, worthless and unable to help them, so they confess their sins once again and throw away their foreign gods and they worship the Lord. And then their cries moved God.
Now, remember. God is omniscient. He knew that He would again save them. But He knew that they needed to come to the place where they were truly and completely repentant. He didn’t want them to experience an easy grace.
Parents understand this well, I think. I can think of many times when my boys were young that I would catch them doing something wrong, and they would confess, hoping to avoid the wrath of Dad. “I’m sorry, Dad!” But I knew that they were only repentant because they got caught, not that they were truly sorry for the transgression.
That is how Israel was in this situation. They were hurting and tired after eighteen years of oppression, and they quite naturally wanted out. But God knew that their cries for help were not motivated by a desire to return to Him. They only wanted relief from their oppressors. He needed to bring them to the point where they understood that their only hope was in true devotion to the true God. It is only then that a right relationship can exist between God and man. And in that relationship there is true happiness and peace. Separate from God is always fraught with disaster and woe. Our loving Father always does whatever necessary to bring us to the point where we see that so that we will make the right choice.
The second difficulty comes in chapter eleven, when Jephthah makes the vow to God that he will sacrifice as a burnt offering the first person to greet him when he returns in victory.
This is a passage with some controversy among Bible scholars. All agree that this was an ill-advised vow. But the controversy centers on whether Jephthah actually sacrificed his daughter as a burnt offering or sacrificed her in service to the Lord for the rest of her life, part of which was the obligation not to marry or bear children. It goes without saying that it would cause Jephthah a great deal of grief to offer her as a burnt offering, but since she was his only child, it would be a hard thing to know that there would be no descendants to carry on the family.
Whatever actually happened with Jephthah and his daughter, it must be clearly stated that God was never in agreement with human sacrifice. Never. As a matter of fact, human sacrifice was one of the reasons that He had the children of Israel drive out the original occupants of the Promised Land. God always declared human sacrifice an abomination.
Our takeaway here is twofold: 1) Do not be too quick to make vows to God. Carefully consider the consequences of your vow. 2) Once you make a vow, whatever the cost you are obligated to carry it out.
We are much too quick in this modern day, to forget vows we make. Not just vows to God, but to man as well. A vow is a solemn promise. When we get married, we exchange vows with our spouse, with God as the supreme witness. How often are these vows broken? Far too many times, and the emotional and spiritual costs are great.