Roman’s 9:15-16 For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. So then, it does not depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy.
Read 1Samuel 1:10-11 Hannah prayed for the Blessing of a son, and promised God that she would give him back to God for all the days of his life, and his hair would never be cut. God answered her prayer and Samuel was born and given to Eli the Priest at the Temple after he was weaned (1Samuel 1:22, 26-28) God blessed Hannah with many more children after Samuel. (1Samuel 2:5) Note that Hannah’s prayer was answered and she was blessed with more children for her faithfulness to her promise. Hannah’s prayer included an offer of personal sacrifice of the thing wanted most. Sometimes when a prayer is really important we can fast and sacrifice our meals or give up fun activities in order to honor the seriousness of the prayer. We do this most often either for healing of someone or ourselves, or during the season of Lent in an effort to experience a small part of Jesus’ sacrifice for us. Sometimes when a matter of prayer is crucial to you, you feel that just prayer alone is not enough, then it is appropriate to fast so that you can concentrate on God more.
Read Judges 11 Here is the story of another person who wanted a blessing from God, and made a vow to God. However, this is a case where there is a lot of controversy. We can learn a lot from Jephthah’s wild seemingly ill considered vow. He vows that if God will let him win a war, then he will offer to or sacrifice to God whatever first comes out of his house when he returns safely.
Have you ever made a vow or promise that you wish you had never made? I don’t think there is a person alive who hasn’t. I am sure that Jephthah had regrets…as his one and only child…his daughter is the one who first came out to meet him. Now there is controversy among scholars about whether he actually burned his daughter as a sacrifice, or if she was just offered as in the case of Hannah offering Samuel to God as a servant in the temple, or maybe she was just set aside and never allowed to marry, but stayed in her father’s house. I am going with the idea that Jephthah was known to be a man of God and knowing that God had prohibited human sacrifice he would never go against God. (Deuteronomy 12:29-32) After all, he was chosen as a leader of his people by God. That is why he is mentioned in Judges in the first place.
Also his daughter mourns her virginity and it tells us she never knew a man. So her mourning of her virginity in this case would be the never having a husband and children. For a Jewish woman of her time, that was a horrible fate to have. A woman’s worth as told to us in the story of Hannah and many other women throughout the Old Testament was based on whether she could provide sons for her husband so that his lineage could continue. The same could be said of a Jewish man, having a son was his top obligation. So much so that if his brother had a wife and died without a son, then he was to marry the widow and raise up a son as his brother’s child so that he would have a son to carry on his line. (Deuteronomy 25:5-6)
So when we see this story of Hannah, she was miserable and she wanted a son to validate her worth. Jephthah had only a daughter and he, undoubtedly loved his daughter as we can see from his response to her appearance. Jephthah was someone who had no proper family when he was growing up, and was actually rejected and ejected from his father’s house, so family was probably doubly important to him over others who were raised in a family where their Mother was respected and loved. Saying this, it seems to me that his vow to God really was a painful burden to him. As his daughter would not be able to provide him with a continuation of his family line, and she was his only child.
Unlike in the story of Hannah and her son, Samuel, we are not told that Jephthah suddenly started having other children.
So both of these people prayed for a blessing and tried to give something to God in return. Hannah ended up with the greater blessing, as the scorn she received from her husband’s second wife was abated and she had many children. The way I feel when I read Hannah’s story is that she is a woman in misery, and is praying for God with all the humbleness of her heart to remove her misery.
On the other hand, when I read of Jephthah, he seems like a person of great pride. He is a person who is a bargainer. When his family called him back he bargains with them to become the head of the family if he fights for them and prevails. Then he offers God a bargain, that he will give God a sacrifice of whatever comes out of his house first if God will just let him win against his enemies. Jephthah was not miserable in the sense that Hannah was, but he was also looked down upon by members of his family and community. He was a “can do” type of person, his relationship with God was almost completely different from Hannah’s. Hannah was a “can’t do anything about it” person. She was humble and laid her problem out to God. Jephthah on the other hand probably would have gone into battle anyway, and hoped for the best; but felt that if he offered God something that maybe God would make certain of his victory.
The thing is in both cases, God did bless these people with the desires of their hearts. Jephthah in the end needed and desired the respect of his family after the way he had grown up. By offering his daughter to God, he also gained more community respect. We are told that for four days a year the Jewish girls would go into the desert to lament his daughter’s virginity. In this case, to honor it, as well as mourn her sacrifice of having no family. Another thing about not having a son, is that there was no one to care for her in her old age….though, as she was a “living sacrifice” to God I am sure that God made sure she was cared for. Just as he will care for us if we make ourselves into “living sacrifices” to him. For us to be living sacrifices means that we are living our lives fully invested in following God’s plan for our lives. We are setting aside our selfishness and our need to control things, and allowing God to work in us.
The thing is that there is nothing other than ourselves that we can offer to God…God does not do bargains. He listens to our prayers and our repentance of our sins, and he wants to give us the desires of our hearts. Just like any parent wants to give their children the desires of their hearts….without any bargaining! God does not bargain…he blesses whom he will bless and he curses whom he will curse. Generally, he blesses those who love him…maybe not the way they wish to be blessed on the surface, but he gives what the person really needs to help them grow closer to him, and to fulfill their plan. The thing is we don’t always understand the actual blessing that God has given us when it is given to us. Sometimes, we have to have time to see it.
Jesus tells us in Matthew 5:33-37 Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’34 But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil. (ESV)