God’s grace in its simplest term means, God’s unmerited favour. I was reading through the book of Judges and I was reminded of our need to accept God’s grace in our time of weakness.
The story of Jephthah’s vow is a tragic one, and it’s often difficult to understand. The story goes that Jephthah was appointed by his people (the Gileadites from the tribe of Manasseh) to rule over them on the condition that he defeats their oppressive enemy the Ammonites. This was a man who was formerly rejected by his people because he was considered an illegitimate child conceived by a prostitute. He was told he had no inheritance among them and was forced to flee. He was however a great warrior whose ability and combat skills were needed to defeat the Ammonites. Jephthah was therefore a man who desperately needed to be considered a son and recognised among his people. In his desperation, he made a vow to God saying, “If you will give the Ammonites into my hand, then whatever comes out from the doors of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the Ammonites shall be the Lord’s, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering” (Judges 11:30-31).
First of all, what was he thinking to make such a vow!? Who or what could he have expected to meet him on returning? The likelihood of it being his goat or sheep was very slim, but there was a high chance of it being his wife or his daughter. Such a foolish vow to make, and this perhaps speaks of our tendency to make rushed decisions or thoughtless promises without carefully considering the costs or implications. Our words are powerful, and hence we are advised to be quick to hear and slow to speak (James 1:19).
The story continues by saying, when Jephthah returned after his victory, he was met by his only child, his daughter with tambourines and dances. Upon seeing her, the passage says, “…he tore his clothes and said, “Alas, my daughter! You have brought me very low, and you have become the cause of great trouble to me. For I have opened my mouth to the Lord, and I cannot take back my vow” (Judges 11:35). The story tragically ends with Jephthah sacrificing his only daughter according to his vow.
This was clearly a man who had no knowledge of God’s grace, nor an understanding of what God required as a sacrifice. God condemned the sacrificing of babies or human beings in his name or in the name of other gods (Deuteronomy 12:31), hence making a vow or not, does not make this sacrifice acceptable to God. Furthermore, the fact that God worked things out in such a way that the people who had previously rejected him, came to seek him as their leader, was a clear sign of God’s grace upon him. Jephthah did not need to make an outrageous vow, because God’s grace was sufficient and was sure to finish that which He had started. Even when he realised the folly of his ways, he should have remembered the story of Abraham and how God provided a lamb in place of Isaac.
The point is, sometimes God’s grace could be staring at us, but our tendency to believe we have to deserve it or earn it could make us fall short of experiencing the fullness of God’s love and mercy. Grace is not a license to sin, but in grace, we see God’s love and mercy more clearly. In grace we see our relationship with God as our Father not a hard task master, or one who seeks to be appeased by our dearest sacrifice. He knows our weaknesses and failings and has mercy and grace available for those who will but acknowledge their errors and repent.
This is a reminder that as we pursue righteousness and a leading of the Spirit, in our failings, let us turn from dead works and receive God’s grace to strengthen us and refresh us.
If you find yourself on the low end of life today, God’s grace in Christ is available to you. You have not earned it and you probably don’t deserve it, but his mercy and love abounds. If like Jephthah you realise you have made a mistake or sinned, don’t continue in the path or seek ways to earn God’s love, just repent (turn from your ways) and receive the Lord’s grace today. Be encouraged!