A few weeks ago our pastor was preaching through the Old Testament book of Judges and he came across the peculiar story of Jeptha’s daughter in Judges 11. If you don’t know this Bible story (and not many people, do!), let me summarize:
- Israel was in trouble again. That’s the story of the whole book of Judges, and the saga that unfolds in these pages (definitely a strong PG-13 rating throughout the whole book). Israel kept rejecting God, and God allowed them to experience the consequence of their disobedience.
- So Israel finally repents and asks God for help, and God raised up a man named Jeptha for a great victory. Jeptha was an unloved step-brother who should have been killed as a young man, but barely escaped with his life. Many years later, ironically, God brings him back to save the very people who tried to kill him.
- After God assures him that he will have a victory in battle, Jeptha promises to give to God the first thing that comes out of his house when he returns from victory. This seems odd to you and me, but in his day, Jeptha most likely kept his animals with him in the house. I’m sure he was thinking that a little goat would wander out after battle, and that little guy would find himself as a sweet offering to God later in the day.
- God follows through, Jeptha conquers the enemy, but on his return home his sweet victory was turned bitter when his daughter came out of the house first! Now what would Jeptha do?
And that’s where the story gets particularly interesting. Jeptha’s daughter realizes that she somehow ruined her dad’s victory celebration, and when she inquires as to what has happened, her dad tells her about the vow. Then look what comes out of this sweet girl’s mouth:
“My father, you have opened your mouth to the Lord; do to me according to what has gone out of your mouth…” (Judges 11:36)
Now I don’t believe Jeptha physically sacrificed his daughter to God; God is appalled when children are murdered, and this would have been no exception. Instead, I feel fairly convinced that Jeptha’s daughter entered the service of God -- maybe in the temple -- in a capacity where she would never be allowed to marry (a heartbreak for a Jewish girl of that day).
Whether or not that’s the right action, and setting aside societal norms etc… I’m blown away by the obedience of his daughter! She followed through on her dad’s commitment, even though it was at a great cost to herself. And as I read that story I had to ask myself, “How much will I obey God, if the cost of my obedience is deep personal pain?”
It’s easy to obey God, or the law, or our boss, or our parents when there is no personal pain at risk. Living in northern Michigan, I’m in big-time hunting country. There are very strict laws about when and where you can hunt, and steep penalties for disobeying those laws. I’m not tempted to break any of them. I don’t even know them. I’m not a hunter, and obeying these laws costs me nothing.
But what if my family depended on hunted meat for our food source? What if it had been a really bad year for hunting and suddenly a trophy Elk walked into my yard, one day after hunting season had ended? What if shooting him was going to be the difference between having meat this winter or not? Suddenly my obedience to the law takes on a whole new meaning.
The point is that it’s easy to obey when the law doesn’t personally impact me. But to hold on to my integrity when it hurts -- that takes true character. And that character isn’t forged in the moment that it’s required, instead, it’s forged in the day-by-day moments as we live out our character and conviction in the small stuff. The moments when no one is looking. The hours that we work on our own, faithful to the tasks even when the boss isn’t check up on us. The weeks or months (or years!) of faithfully honoring our marriage, even when it feels one-sided.
I want to have the kind of character Jeptha’s daughter had when the moment of obedience will cause great personal pain. In order for that to be true, I have to be willing to grind it out today, intentionally living with integrity in my work, thoughts, conversations and interactions. Every opportunity to display true character matters -- and overlooking any of them will most certainly prepare me for failure and not future success.
What about you? Is your obedience costing you today? Are you feeling the pinch to cut corners, to cheat, to take the past of least resistance in order to lessen the personal cost of your obedience? Let me encourage you to stay the course, and to hold true to what God wants! Obedience may be costly, but it is always worth it. And whatever you may lose in this life, will be restored fully in the next.
Living the Overboard Life isn’t easy. In fact, I can almost guarantee that getting out of the boat will require some painful obedience. But I know that obeying God is always the best life I could live, so no matter how much it hurts now, I’m willing to pay the price for what it’s in store for the obedient life. How about you?
Go ahead and take the plunge, life is always better on the water!