Index by Subject

It is a snare for a man to devote something rashly

Bible students debate whether Judge Jephthah actually meant to devote his daughter to human sacrifice when he vowed to offer whatever greeted him first at home in exchange for victory on the battlefield (Judges 11).

Human sacrifice, after all, was anathema both to God and his people, even in the mayhem of the Judges era where dubious heroes like Samson and Gideon were the best Israel could muster. As far back as the time of Abraham, God made it clear he disapproved of the kind of worship that would come to define false gods like Molech among the Canaanites.

That is not the issue, though; the problem lies in the rashness of Jephthah’s vow, the caprice of vowing something without thinking it through. It is a matter of making a promise and signing a contract without being aware of the terms. Our God expects us to keep our promises (although not our unwise promises to sin) and when we regret a vow because we did not think it through, we are indeed caught in a snare of our own words. “Do not be rash with your mouth, And let not your heart utter anything hastily before God. For God is in heaven, and you on earth; Therefore let your words be few” (Ecclesiastes 5:2).

Wisdom warns us to stop and read the fine print before we sign on the dotted line. “It is a snare for a man to devote rashly something as holy, And afterward to reconsider his vows” (Proverbs 20:25). Other translations suggest the regretful person has begun to make inquiry after his vow either concerning his ability to fulfill or possible loopholes to escape payment (Matthew 23:16). Regardless, he erred in making a promise without commitment and that is the snare to him.

Sometimes people who are acting under duress or in the heat of the moment will make pledges and promises that either they cannot keep or will regret when the heat is off. Some will watch a stirring presentation and vow to give with munificence, but later will regret the vow because of their own needs or unwillingness to sacrifice so much (see 2 Corinthians 8:11). Perhaps Ananias and Sapphira fell into this category so that they chose to lie to the Holy Spirit rather than contribute all the proceeds of their property sale as they claimed (see Acts 5:1-11). Perhaps not.

Such vows are not much a part of New Testament worship, save for the matter of making simple promises, either to one another or to God. When we sign contracts, make promises, or pledge anything to God, we ought to do everything in our power to fulfill them. No amount of regret or sacrifice should be too great; only if we have regrettably promised to sin should we recant, and then only with sincerity and repentance. “But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No,’ lest you fall into judgment” (James 5:12, see also Matthew 5:37).