Of all of the stories in the Old Testament, I have found this one the most disturbing. As is typical in Judges, the Israelites fall away from the Lord and a judge is raised up to deliver the people. In this case it is Jephthah, a man of questionable scruples and a tendency to try and make deals with others. Before he goes to battle to deliver Israel he even makes a deal with God–one that does not end well:
Jephthah made a solemn promise to the Lord: “If you will decisively hand over the Ammonites to me, then whatever comes out the doors of my house to meet me when I return victorious from the Ammonites will be given over to the Lord. I will sacrifice it as an entirely burned offering.” Jephthah crossed over to fight the Ammonites, and the Lord handed them over to him. It was an exceptionally great defeat; he defeated twenty towns from Aroer to the area of Minnith, and on as far as Abel-keramim. So the Ammonites were brought down before the Israelites. But when Jephthah came to his house in Mizpah, it was his daughter who came out to meet him with tambourines and dancing! She was an only child; he had no other son or daughter except her. n When he saw her, he tore his clothes and said, “Oh no! My daughter! You have brought me to my knees! You are my agony! For I opened my mouth to the Lord, and I can’t take it back.” But she replied to him, “My father, you’ve opened your mouth to the Lord, so you should do to me just what you’ve promised. After all, the Lord has carried out just punishment for you on your enemies the Ammonites.”
Yes, Jephthah had victory over the Ammonites, but at the cost of his own next generation who should have benefited from the deliverance. He sacrificed the one for whom the deliverance would have meant the most. He destroyed the future that he helped secure.
How often do leaders in the Church (let alone any other profession!) sacrifice their children for success. I have heard numerous stories of the children of ministers who have left the faith, and some even want nothing to do with their parents, because the minister sacrificed his or her family for the sake of the ministry. Meetings and programs took precedence over family obligations. Their children were held to a much higher standard of life than other people. Law was meted out to the preacher’s kids because they had to look perfect in front of the congregation, but grace was offered to everyone else because no one is perfect. Busyness for the Church took the place of genuine parental interest in children.
What does it profit a minister to gain a large congregation and grand reputation, but lose his family in the process? Why would anyone want to sacrifice their children on the altar of success? It may not be as obvious as Jephthah’s action, but every time our children feel as if they are lower class priorities in our lives, a little bit of them is sacrificed.
As Christians the single most important relationship we can have on this earth is with our spouses and children. Even extended family falls beneath this level. Even Church family falls beneath this level. If we cannot show those closest to us the love of God, do we have that love at all?