The Lord spoke to me yesterday during prayer in the clear words of Ecclesiastes 5:1-7 which reads:
“Guard your steps when you go to the house of God, and be more ready to hear than to give the sacrifice of fools, for they do not know that they are doing evil. Do not be rash with your mouth, and do not let your heart be hasty to say a word before God. For God is in Heaven, and you are on earth; therefore let your words be few. For a dream comes through the multitude of business; and a fool’s voice by the multitude of words.
When you vow a vow to God, do not wait to pay it. For He has no pleasure in fools. Pay that which you have vowed – it is better that you should not vow, than that you should vow and not pay. Do not allow your mouth to cause your flesh to sin; do not say before the angel that it was an error. Why should God be angry at your voice and destroy the work of your hands? For in the multitude of dreams, both words and vanities abound; but fear God”.
I now need to pray for the Lord to reveal that which I have vowed, but not paid.
We are told in James 3:8 that “no one can tame the tongue, it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.” We can talk (or write) ourselves into a lot of trouble, both in the flesh, as well as in the spiritual realm and can do it really fast and really effectively. It only takes a matter of seconds and we are undone; we have vowed and irretraceable vow. Worse still, we may not even realise we have made the vow in the first place, never mind having any recollection of the details of the incident.
Many of us negotiate with God, or at least seek to negotiate with God. In desperation we pray for some probably minor, and probably personal need, or desire, or wish and in exchange offer something to God for granting our prayer. “Oh Lord, please grant me X. Then I‘ll do Y for you.” Or words to that effect.
I’m not sure if such a prayer classifies as “negotiation” with God, but it is certainly making a vow to God.
Perhaps the most famous instance of negotiating with God is to be found in The First Book of Moses, at Genesis 18:23-33 where Abraham seeks to save Sodom and Gomorrah from God’s wrath. At the beginning of the chapter, Jehovah and two angels (two men) arrive at Abraham’s tent and tell Abraham that Sara, his aged wife will bear him a son. Another well known Bible story. Jehovah then tells Abraham that “because the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and because their sin is very grievous, I will go down now and see whether they have done altogether according to the cry of it, which has come to Me. And if not, I will know. And the men turned their faces away from there, and went toward Sodom. But Abraham still stood before Jehovah.”
The conversation then proceeds thus as Abraham drew near to God:
|Abraham:||“Will You also destroy the righteous with the wicked? Perhaps there are fifty righteous within the city. Will You also destroy and not spare the place for the fifty righteous that are in it? Far be it from You to act in this manner, to kill the righteous with the wicked. And far be it from You, that the righteous should be as the wicked. Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?”|
|Jehovah:||“If I find in Sodom fifty righteous within the city, then I will spare all the place for their sakes.”|
|Abraham:||“Behold now, I have taken upon me to speak to Jehovah, who am but dust and ashes. Perhaps there will be five lacking from the fifty righteous. Will You destroy all the city for lack of five?”|
|Jehovah:||“If I find there forty-five, I will not destroy it.”|
|Abraham:||“Perhaps there shall be forty found there.”|
|Jehovah:||“I will not do it for forty’s sake.|
|Abraham:||“Oh let not Jehovah be angry, and I will speak. Perhaps there shall be thirty found there.”|
|Jehovah:||“I will not do it if I find thirty there.”|
|Abraham:||“Lo now, I have taken upon me to speak to Jehovah. Perhaps there shall be twenty found there.”|
|Jehovah:||I will not destroy it for twenty’s sake.“|
|Abraham:||“Oh do not let Jehovah be angry, and I will speak only once more. Perhaps ten shall be found there.”|
|Jehovah:||“I will not destroy it for ten’s sake.”|
|“And Jehovah went His way as soon as He had left off talking with Abraham. And Abraham returned to his place.|
This is negotiating, but which side is negotiation and which side is teaching?
What can we learn from this?
Abraham is accustomed to the divine presence of God, else this conversation could not have taken place.
Abraham did not negotiate to save his nephew, Lot, for he could easily just have asked for Lot’s deliverance.
Abraham did not appeal to the covenant grace of Jehovah, but to his justice alone – that the Judge of all the earth would not punish the innocent, with the wicked. His intercession was based solely on love. A love based on a faith which rendered him incapable of conceiving that sin others renders them beyond salvation. A faith counted as righteousness.
It is interesting to note that at the end, after the standard of “righteous within” the city has been reduced from 50 to 45 to 40 to 30 to 20 to 10 and at that number, Jehovah quietly vanished and ended the meeting, as Abraham quietly returned to his place.
Did Abraham change God’s mind? No, that is not possible. Did God change Abraham’s mind? Abraham by now would have had time to reflect on the situation. He knew God was just and punishes sin and he undoubtedly now realised that there was not even 1 righteous person within the city. Perhaps he was also “testing” God to see just how merciful he was. Now he knew; he had learned something. While God is merciful, God must first be just. Abraham’s new understanding of God undoubtedly allowed him to achieve God’s destiny for him. Perhaps in this ‘negotiation’, Abraham also learned to tame his tongue leading him to quietly return to his place.
Let us now look on a little further on in the Old Testament to Chapter 11 of The Book of Judges, where we are introduced to Jephthah.
We learn a great deal about Jephthah in this chapter, whose name in Hebrew, is יפתּח ‘ (yif-tawkh) and means “he will open.” Jephthah was a great man of valour. Indeed, the writer of Hebrews identifies him as a great man of faith, adding in 11:32-34: “And what more shall I say? For the time would fail me to tell of Gideon and Barak and Samson and Jephthah; also David, and Samuel and the prophets, who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the strangers”.
From the time of his birth, the Lord arranged training Jephthah. He became a great warrior, the best in the land, and at God’s timing, the elders of the land Gilead asked him to go and fight for them against Ammon and become the head of all the peoples of Gilead. (v8). After defeating Sihon (v21), the Lord also gave Ammon over to him too (v32). From birth, he was destined by the Lord to accomplish what he accomplished.
But what was Jephthah most remembered for?
In v30 we read “And Jephthah vowed a vow to Jehovah, and said, If You will indeed give the sons of Ammon into my hand, then it shall be that whatever comes out from the doors of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the sons of Ammon, surely it shall belong to Jehovah, or I will offer it up instead of a burnt offering.”
Jephthah vowed a vow. A needless vow, for the Lord had already destined to have victory over Sihon and Ammon through Jephthah. In exchange for victory, Jephthah vowed to sacrifice the first thing to come out of his house to meet him, when he returned home.
Then in (v34-37a) we read the clincher:
“And Jephthah came to Mizpeh to his house, and, behold, his daughter came out to meet him with timbrels and with dances. And she was his only child. Besides her he had neither son nor daughter. And it happened when he saw her, he tore his clothes and said, Alas, my daughter! You have brought me very low, and you are one of those who trouble me. For I have opened my mouth to Jehovah, and I cannot go back. And she said to him, My father, you have opened your mouth to the Lord; do to me according to that which has come out of your mouth, because Jehovah has taken vengeance for you upon your enemies, even of the sons of Ammon. And she said to her father, Let this thing be done for me.”
To fulfill his vow, Jephthah sacrificed his only child as a burnt offering to the Lord.
Jephthah offered a vow to the Lord which was not required of him, nor was it called for. The Lord had destined Jephthah since birth for victory and for his fulfilling of his destiny. But the inability to tame his tongue and have faith, robbed Jephthah of his only child. A hard and humbling lesson indeed. Since that event, Jewish women have lamented four days each year for the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite.
I have found the same humbling lesson in relation to the inappropriate vow I made and pay daily. Though minor in nature and unspoken of, it will be ever before me, reminding me to tame my tongue, to think before I speak, to be more humble.
The poison of the tongue can incapacitate or kill the giver, as well as the recipient.
~ Angus MacKillop