Dustin and I have a friend who in college used to barter his food. We spent countless hours, over the span of a couple of years, laughing at his approach to finding a decent meal. Most of his meals consisted of peanut butter, bananas and the occasional splurge on dino bites. Dustin and I did our best to make sure we were feeding him well, while he was home, and I know his momma did the same. One year to help him out, we had a small, going back-to-college get together for him and asked people to bring him some of his favorite foods. We figured he’d eat it or barter it for something that sounded better that day. We didn’t care, we just wanted to keep him alive. One Halloween after a weenie roast and bonfire, we sent him packing with hotdogs and buns. He chose not to eat them, but he was able to trade them for something a bit more appetizing. His bartering stories always kept us laughing, and thankfully kept him eating.
When reading through Judges a few weeks ago, I came across the story of Jephthah, and God planted this thought of bartering for a blessing in my heart. Like our friend swapping his food, I believe we often barter for blessings with the Lord. Have you ever prayed this prayer: Lord, if you will do, “fill in the blank”, then I’ll do this (whatever this is)? I’ve definitely had my fair share of them. It took time for me to learn there is no bartering with the Lord. And, if I can add, God wants to bless you, He doesn’t need you to make deals with him, he needs you to be obedient. Blessing always hinges on our obedience to Him.
So back to Jephthah, he was in a situation and really needed God to protect him and choose him and the Israelites over the Ammonites. Let’s pick up this story in Judges 11:29-35.
29 The Spirit of the Lord came on Jephthah, who traveled through Gilead and Manasseh, and then through Mizpah of Gilead. He crossed over to the Ammonites from Mizpah of Gilead. 30 Jephthah made this vow to the Lord: “If you in fact hand over the Ammonites to me, 31 whoever comes out the doors of my house to greet me when I return safely from the Ammonites will belong to the Lord, and I will offer that person as a burnt offering.”
Let’s stop here for a moment. I want to point out that in verse twenty-nine, the spirit of the Lord came on Jephthah, but in verse thirty he starts making deals with the Lord. God apparently was already with him (v.29), but I’m guessing Jephthah doubted so he made God a deal. God, if you’ll do this, I’ll do this. Let’s continue reading:
32 Jephthah crossed over to the Ammonites to fight against them, and the Lord handed them over to him. 33 He defeated twenty of their cities with a great slaughter from Aroer all the way to the entrance of Minnith and to Abel-keramim. So the Ammonites were subdued before the Israelites.
Praise the Lord! The Lord did as He promised and defeated the Ammonites. Jephthah had to be on cloud nine that God held up His end of the deal. I can picture his victory dance like one of an NFL player in the end zone. But as excited and victorious as he may have felt, Jephthah still had to hold up his end of the deal.
34 When Jephthah went to his home in Mizpah, there was his daughter, coming out to meet him with tambourines and dancing! She was his only child; he had no other son or daughter besides her. 35 When he saw her, he tore his clothes and said, “No! Not my daughter! You have devastated me! You have brought great misery on me. I have given my word to the Lord and cannot take it back.”
Wait. What? His daughter? Can you imagine the devastation he must have felt? He went from a feeling of victory to ruin the moment she walked through the doors to greet him. When I first read this, I thought to myself, “Lord, why? Why would you require such a thing of him?” And then I noticed verse twenty-nine again. The Lord came on Jephthah before he ever made a deal with God. God didn’t require sacrifice from him, it’s just the deal Jephthah tried to make. But wow, how often is this you and I? Rather than trusting God wants to do great things for us, we barter for blessings. We make deals with the Lord that we can never keep and He would never require. What if, instead of focusing on what we can do, we focus on what God wants to do, can do, and will do? How about we fix our focus on being obedient to His voice, His will, and His ways and then the blessing will flow freely? No bartering required unless of course, you’re trading hotdogs for a sirloin steak.
Then Samuel said: Does the Lord take pleasure in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the Lord? Look: to obey is better than sacrifice, to pay attention is better than the fat of rams. 1 Samuel 15:22