It’s a cliché on television, in the movies, and in real life: the whole concept of bargaining with God to get one’s way. How many times have we seen it, or even done it ourselves? “God, if you do this for me, I’ll do that for You,” or “I’ll stop doing such-and-such.” It’s a technique as old as time, and how often does it really work? How often do people keep the promises they’ve made to God?
In Judges 11, we read the story of Jephthah, who, in the midst of fighting a battle against the Ammonites, makes the proverbial bargain. He vows to sacrifice the first thing he sees coming out of the door of his house as an offering to God as long as God provides an Israelite victory. Of course, the Lord delivers the Ammonites into the hands of the Israelites, so it’s up to Jephthah to hold up his end of the bargain. Whom does he see coming out the door first, but his daughter, his only child. His daughter tells him it’s OK, as long as he gives her two months to spend with her friends before he sacrifices her.
The Bible doesn’t say explicitly if Jephthah kills his daughter (just that “he did to her as he vowed”), but we can only assume that Jephthah held up his end of the deal. I can’t help but wonder how much he regretted his rash decision. I also can’t help but wonder how many of us, when we bargain with God, truly keep our promises. Now, I don’t know anyone who has made such a drastic vow, but I wonder how many people have truly given up smoking, or cursing, or gave more money to the church or a charity as a result of a promise he or she made to God to get his or her way.
It all comes down to trusting God enough to allow Him to do what’s best for us, even if it means not getting our way. I try not to put myself in the same position as Jephthah, but sometimes I’m too obsessed with what I want instead of what’s best. How different would it be if my obedience to and trust in God matched up with my faith? How different would it be for all of us if we stopped trying to make promises to God and just left our lives in His hands?