Lessons from Judges
Jephthah:  The Vows that Bind Us

Written by Dan Augsburger
(Includes tips for leaders) 
PDF for downloading

I.  Getting acquainted  (Pick up participant names while doing this section)

• Share with the group something your name, and something about what you like to eat, what you don't like to eat, and when/why you developed your feelings about these foods. 
• To what degree have your views towards these foods been influenced by what others feel about these foods?

II.  Introduction:  

1.  Vows, strongly held inner attitudes—both positive and negative, are a part of our everyday lives.

•    These can color...
•    The way we look at people in positions of authority.
•    The way we look at people of different cultures.
•    The way we look at people with different levels of education.
•    The way we look at an unfavored person.
•    Some vows are healthy and greatly improve our lives; others are highly destructive.
•    Some vows can be so deeply ingrained that they will subconsciously color the way we relate to other people and events without our even realizing what is going on.

2.  This script uses the story of Jephthah to consider how these strongly held attitudes evolve and can come to control our lives.
•    We will first consider how early pivotal experiences and relationships can develop into deeply held inner attitudes (vows).
•    How these vows often mask inner longings.
•    How we can impose these vows on others.
•    How the vows of others can be imposed on us.

3.  It's hard to believe this ancient story really happened, let alone gets repeated--albeit in other ways--in our day, and lends itself to a wonderful discussion that is very up to date.

III.  Prayer (Ask God to open your heart to the possibilities for real freedom in Jesus)

IV.  The Study

Read Judges 11: 1-8

1.  How might the following factors have contributed to Jephthah's being rejected?  What other factors come to mind?

•    He was different.
•    His siblings' Mom was using them to get even with his dad.
•    His siblings were angry that his father had slept with a prostitute and didn't want him around.
•    The siblings were self-centered, wanted all the inheritance, saw him as an easy person to drive away, and thus were doing their best to get rid of him.
•    Because he was a matter of shame in the eyes of the community, the siblings were embarrassed by him, and wanted to distance themselves from him.
•    They were angry with his prostitute mother and were trying to get even with her.

2.  How might the following factors coming out of Jephthah's early rejection have caused him to become a tough warrior?

•    He had to fend for himself and developed "tough" tendencies.
•    He was overcompensating for rejection from his own family.
•    He didn't want to be hurt any more and therefore developed a tough exterior.

3.  In what ways have the actions of others colored our self-esteem, our goals, and the way we relate to others, including...

•    Our attitude towards ourselves
•    Our attitude towards our parents (Mom and Dad)
•    Our attitude towards individuals in positions of authority.
•    Our peers.
•    Members of the opposite sex.
•    Individuals from a different culture.
•    God

4.   Have we also developed tough, self-protective, attitudes?  Why?  Why are such attitudes self-protective?  

Read Judges 11: 9-12

1.  Based on his question, what did Jephthah seem to be longing for?

He was longing for...

•    Acceptance by the people who had rejected him.
•    Leadership.
•    Recognition to bolster his poor self-concept.

2.  What do you long for?

Read Judges 11: 28-31

1.  Why do you suppose Jephthah made his vow to the Lord?

Reasons might include...

•    He was desperate and thought it might help him.
•    He was so out of touch with a true relationship with God that he thought this was the right way to get God's attention.
•    This isn't directly stated, but perhaps he was being pressed to do this by the men that were with him.

2. What do you think Jephthah meant when he said "whatever comes out of my door of my house to meet me...I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering?"  What do you think he was hoping?

Answers could include

•    A pet.
•    His wife.
•    A servant.
•    His only child.

3.  Is it possible to be walking closely with God and make a vow that isn't godly?  Can you think of a Bible example?

4.  What vows have you made?

Vows can include...

•    God didn't come through, I won't trust Him again!
•    He or she let me down and I will never forgive them.
•    Churches always take advantage of vulnerable people.
•    Vows relating to the sexes (men don't listen, etc.)
•    Individuals in positions of authority always have their own agenda!

Read Judges 11: 34-35

1.  How do you feel Jephthah felt when his daughter, his only child, came out to meet him?

2.  Do you think God was really going to hold him to his vow?  How might the following have caused him to cling to his vow regardless of the consequences?  Can you think of any others?

•    He sincerely misunderstood what brings God's blessings.
•    His pride kept him from admitting he was wrong.
•    He felt he had no other choice.
•    He had publicly made his vow and didn't feel he could back down.
•    He had become hardened by the things that happened to him early in life and therefore was hardened to what was going to happen to his daughter.

3.  Are there people suffering because of an ungodly vow you have taken?  What prevents you from walking away from that vow?

Read Judges 11: 36-39

1.  Why do you think his daughter so easily went along with his vow even though it would mean the loss of her life?

Reasons could include

•    She didn't think she had any choice in the matter.
•    She had always obeyed her father without questioning.
•    She misunderstood God.
•    It was a fate she could not change.

2.  What vows are we going along with that have been imposed on us by others?  Which ones can you identify with most?

Possible areas of vows include...

•    Our parents
•    Society
•    Our friends
•    From the Church
•    God

3.  Why are we going along with them?

Reasons can include...

•    We don't think we have any choice in the matter...it's fate!
•    Changing our minds will make some else unhappy with us.
•    We are afraid to be different.
•    We are controlled by the opinions of others.
•    We have never learned to think for ourselves.

4.  How might the following play a role in our gaining freedom from negative vows?

•    Identifying areas of unhealthy pain and shame in our lives that have brought about destructive vows and unhealthy ways of relating to others.
•    Remembering the past to understand where the vows came from.
•    Confronting ourselves, and the others who contributed to the vow—in healthy ways—take ownership for the part we played,  identify the role others played, forgive ourselves and them, put the past behind us, and begin to live the new lives God intends.
•    Seek to see ourselves as God see us, and receive new hearts and minds from Him,.
•    Seek To do God's will in everything.

V.  Putting Our Study Into Action

•    How are we going to put into practice what we have learned today?

VI.  Close with Prayer

Written by Dan Augsburger during the 1999 academic school year.  All rights retained.