For the ancient Hebrews, the commandment "Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain" meant that, if they as a people were going to be spiritually married to God and called by His name, they had better not go back on that vow of loyalty. The Old Testament taught the necessity of keeping one's vows to men. But God engraved on stone at Sinai that the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain (Exodus 27).
Exodus records that the Hebrews, embarking into the wilderness of Sinai, reaffirmed their bonds of spiritual marriage, saying, " All that the Lord hath spoken we will do" (Ex.19:8). Yet, even while Moses was receiving the commandments atop Sinai, the Hebrews were taking the name of their spiritual Husband in vain. They committed idolatry with a golden calf: "These be thy gods, O Israel, which have brought thee up out of the land of Egypt" (Ex.32: 8). The history of the Hebrews throughout the Old Testament is compared to a harlot who repeatedly makes a mockery of her husband. As a result, God repeatedly delivered Israel to judgment. Yet, when she cried to Him in repentance, He had mercy, cleansing her and again calling her by His name.
In the first half of this article I will discuss the story of Jephthah, his frightening vow and the lengths to which God went to emphasize to the Hebrews that keeping one's promises, both to men and especially to God, is a responsibility of utmost importance.
Of course, not every act of forgetfulness or failure to keep a New Year's resolution is a moral failure—nor are perhaps rash vows made in youthful or emotional exuberance or under extreme duress. One listener told me that when her daughter ran away from home and could not be located for weeks she vowed to God that if He would return her daughter she would sell her house and give the proceeds to charity. The daughter was found, but years later the mother lived under the accusation that she had lied to God by not selling her house. This is an example of an oath made under extreme duress which I believe Satan, not God, wants to hold over the mother. But there is such a thing as a solemn promise before men, and especially God that cannot be violated, and it is this that I will address.
In the second half I quote from my 2008 article "Kol Nidre: Judaism's License to Lie" which describes how Talmudic Jews eventually became so desperate to break their vows to God and men that they institutionalized in Judaism itself a prayer, the Kol Nidre prayer, which empowers Jews to break all vows for the next year, as well as the year before, and be guiltless.
Let's turn to the story of Jephthah and his vow in Judges 11. We are told that the children of Israel again forsook their spiritual wedding vows, committing idolatry toward the gods of the Canaanites. As a result, God judged them with bondage to the Ammonites. Finally, the children of Israel cried unto the Lord saying,
We have sinned against You, because we have both forsaken our God and served the Baals!...So they put away the foreign gods from among them and served the Lord. And His soul could no longer endure the misery of Israel. (Judges 10:10, 16)
So God sent them a deliverer, Jephthah, a righteous military leader. It was said, as he prepared himself for battle against the Ammonites, "Jephthah spoke all his words before the Lord." This means he was vowing and doing everything by faith, fully intending to do all he vowed for God and his people. As a result Judges 11:29 says, "Then the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah…" With no evidence of any loss of the Holy Spirit, the next verse says,
As he went out to battle, Jephthah vowed a vow unto the Lord: " If You will indeed deliver the people of Ammon into my hands, then it will be that whatever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the people of Ammon, shall surely be the Lord’s, and I will offer it up as a burnt offering. (Judges 11:30-31)
Why did Jephthah make this strange vow, knowing what would proceed out of the doors of his house might not be a dog, a sheep or a goat, but a human being? Because Jephthah was filled with the Holy Spirit, God wanted his seemingly rash vow to provide the most shocking, everlasting testimony against Jewish vow breaking that can be imagined.
In short, the armies of the Hebrews were victorious over the Ammonites. Jephthah returned in triumph. But who came out of the door of his house to greet him but his only child, his unmarried daughter! Jephthah cried out, "Alas, my daughter! You have brought me very low! You are among those who trouble me! For I have given my word to the Lord, and I cannot go back on it.”
His daughter, realizing she was under the sentence of death, replied in a manner that showed she was also undoubtedly under the same unction of the Holy Spirit. She set a national and eternal example to the Jews (and all men) that if one makes a solemn promise to God or man, that vow must be kept. She said, "My father, if you have given your word to the Lord, do to me according to what has gone out of your mouth…" For two months she mourned her virginity among her friends but was then executed, her body burned in sacrifice.
The God who gives life accepted Jephthah's daughter's sacrifice of her own life in order to reestablish God's law. Her purpose in life was fulfilled, and God wanted her in heaven. He also had the right to allow extreme suffering and shame for Jephthah, just as He does to those who take His name today -- and just as He permitted for Jesus on the cross.
Ownership of God's name is more important than life. Far from being portrayed as one who made a rash and tragic vow, Jephthah is listed in Hebrews 11, along with Sampson and Barak, as one of God's greatest, most obedient and faithful saints in a dark formative period in Hebrew history.
But he and his daughter could not have envisioned that their descendants would someday institutionalize as religious duty oathbreaking to God. This is proven in the following quotes from my article “Kol Nidre: Judaism's License to Lie:”
...the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur. This highest Jewish holiday is preceded with rites and collective recitation of the Kol Nidre prayer.
The Kol Nidre says, "All vows, obligations, oaths, and anathemas [curses]…which we may vow, or swear, or pledge, or whereby we may be bound, from this Day of Atonement until the next…we do repent. May they be deemed absolved, forgiven, annulled, and void, and made of no effect: they shall not bind us nor have any power over us. The vows shall not be reckoned vows; the obligations shall not be obligations; nor the oaths be oaths." 2
What is the meaning of this strange and disturbing prayer recited by millions of Jews every fall? Surely, you may say, it cannot literally mean what it says: that Jews invalidate all their promises, contracts, agreements, and even curses throughout the coming year? If that were true, the word of a religious Jew would be meaningless. No rational person could trust anything he said, not to mention elect him to high office.
To understand the Kol Nidre prayer, let’s first consider the opposite: God’s ancient command to His chosen people to fulfill all their oaths and promises. "When thou shalt vow a vow unto the Lord thy God, thou shalt not slack to pay it: for the Lord thy God will surely require it of thee...that which is gone out of thy lips thou shalt keep and perform…" (Deuteronomy 24:21, 23)
Yet the Jewish Encyclopedia tells us God’s requirement of promise-keeping ultimately became so burdensome to Jews that, as a result of "their longing for a clear conscience," compassionate rabbinic authorities overturned God's law around the 8th century AD. They collectively absolved entire congregations, instructing them to recite what has became known as the Kol Nidre prayer. 3 At first, the prayer allowed forgiveness for broken promises and curses of the previous year; later, in the twelfth century, it granted pre-forgiveness for sins of unfaithfulness for the following year. Both forms are observed today.
Kol Nidre, from its beginnings, was controversial and "aroused bitter controversy" among rabbinical authorities. 4 Dissident, non-Talmudic Karaites also proclaimed it a sham and said it made the word of a Jew worthless. Christian critics leveled the same charge (but are now called "anti-Semitic" for doing so). Such criticism provoked more than a millennium of suspicion, persecution and discrimination against Jews (i.e. much of the "senseless anti-Semitism" with which historical Christianity has been charged).
Yet the Jewish people were willing to suffer unspeakable persecutions rather than give up the intoxicating moral release of Kol Nidre. It "became the most beloved ritual of the Day of Atonement." 5 Today synagogues are packed worldwide on the eve of Yom Kippur as millions of Jews, deeply moved by the high drama, pageantry and haunting melodies of Kol Nidre, affirm that their "vows, obligations, and oaths" or curses are forgiven and forgotten by God.
All Jewish encyclopedias and authoritative works on Kol Nidre include a powerful disclaimer. They say Gentiles should not feel threatened by Kol Nidre! The prayer's Kol Nidre, we are told, applies only to breaking vows to oneself or to God. It may not be employed to justify breaches of confidence, curses of Gentiles, or lies under oath in civil courts.
...Henry Ford, a businessman who dealt with many Jews, comments: "It requires no argument to show that if this prayer be really the rule of faith and conduct for the Jews who utter it, ordinary social and business relations are impossible to maintain with them." (The Dearborn Independent, Nov. 5, 1921)
(Take this link to listen to the entire article read within my Bible Study under the above title.)
The above article confirms that Talmudic Judaism has learned nothing from the example of Jephthah and his heroic daughter. They were willing to kill and be killed rather than break a vow to God. But the opportunity Kol Nidre provides to break all promises is, for millions of observant Jews, an eagerly anticipated festive annual occasion. It constitutes exactly the kind of spiritual whoredom in Israel today that existed in the Old Testament.
Lest we point our finger at the Jews alone, let us be reminded the New Testament warns that the story of Jephthah's vow is universal. Christians today, having become the bride of Christ through faith in Jesus yet indulging in oath breaking of their spiritual wedding vows, indulging in known sin, would be better off never to have been born.
Of course, the mind still reels before the fact that God would be so insistent on making His point to the Hebrews that He would authorize the death of an innocent girl. Could God not have established such testimony in a less horrific way? The sobering reality is that, even with this Old Testament testimony against breaking one's vow and taking God's name in vain, Christ-rejecting Talmudic Jews have shown themselves fully as astonishing in their willingness to break vows to God and men as is the story of Jephthah's "rash" vow.
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