How can you forgive when you doubt the other person’s sincerity? How can you forgive when you don’t feel like it?
Judges 11 & 12
Judges 11 & 12:
A rash vow
Surely the story of Jephthah and his daughter is one of the hardest to understand. Jephthah makes a vow to 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” (vvs. 30-31). Verses 34-35:
34 When Jephthah came to his house at Mizpah, there was his daughter, coming out to meet him with timbrels and dancing; and she was his only child. Besides her he had neither son nor daughter. 35 And it came to pass, when he saw her, that he tore his clothes, and said, “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’s response is quite amazing. Verses 36-37:
36 So she said to him, “My father, if you have given your word to the Lord, do to me according to what has gone out of your mouth, because the Lord has avenged you of your enemies, the people of Ammon.” 37 Then she said to her father, “Let this thing be done for me: let me alone for two months, that I may go and wander on the mountains and bewail my virginity, my friends and I.”
We can’t be sure what this “sacrifice” actually was. One possibility is that her father actually sacrificed her. The other is that she became a perpetual virgin. Whatever it was, as John MacArthur said, “Jephthah made a rash vow to the Lord for which his daughter had to pay the primary consequence.”
A daughter’s faith & trust
How could God use Jephthah after he made such a rash and foolish vow? How could He use Sampson with his weakness for women or Gideon who repeatedly tested Him before he would obey?
If we look honestly at our own lives we would have to wonder the same. It’s not a testimony to the “goodness or wickedness” of those He uses, but a testimony to the mercy of God.
And I believe God reserved a special place in heaven for Jephthah’s daughter. What a great reward she must have received for her submissive heart and respect for her father in spite of his shortcomings.
It reminds me of the men and women who were martyred for their faith during the Reformation where women handed over their children to family members and willingly walked to the stake to be burned rather than forsake their faith. However, misguided Jephthah’s vow, his daughter showed great faith and trust in God.
What God wants
In this psalm God is upset with the people for their attitude concerning their sacrifices—their religious activity. Man looks at the outward appearance, but God is always searching the heart. God doesn’t need our money or our service or even our worship. He wants our hearts and when we do those things with the right motivation it is a demonstration of our hearts and a sweet aroma to God.
The King’s honor
“In a multitude of people is a king’s honor, but in the lack of people is the downfall of a prince.” It’s to a leader’s credit if his people prosper and grow and he will bear the dishonor if they don’t. This is certainly true in politics.
But Matthew Henry adds this thought in regard to the kingdom of God, “And let all that wish well to the kingdom of Christ, and to his honour, do what they can in their places that many may be added to his church.”
Does forgiveness require extra faith?
In verses 3-4 Jesus told His disciples, “Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you, saying, ‘I repent,’ you shall forgive him.”
Even if someone sins against us over and over in the same day and comes back saying “I repent. Please forgive me,” we are to forgive him. The disciples response was the same as ours often is, “Increase our faith” (v. 5). Basically they were saying, “That’s too hard. You’re going to have to give us some supernatural faith if we’re expected to do that!”
Faith is not the problem
Jesus responded, “If you have faith as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be pulled up by the roots and be planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you” (v. 6). Then he went on to tell them a parable about a slave and his master. Jesus ended the parable by saying, “Does he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I think not. So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do.’” (vv. 9-10).
Jesus didn’t change the subject; He was still talking about forgiveness. Faith is not the problem when we refuse to forgive, obedience is! If Jesus is truly our Lord and we His servants, we should willingly obey Him even when it is challenging or seems unfair to us, remembering that when we step out in faith, He provides the strength and ability.
It’s important to remember that biblical forgiveness is not about feelings. Sometimes we don’t “feel like” forgiving. The servant in the parable probably didn’t “feel like” serving his master when he was hot and tired and hungry himself, but he did it as an act of obedience. So we are to forgive as an act of obedience, an act of our will—a decision.
Three promises of forgiveness
So how specifically do we do that when we don’t feel like it. We make the decision to do what forgiveness does and trust our feelings to God. When we say we forgive, we make three promises: to not bring it up to the other person in an accusatory way, to not gossip to others about it, and to not dwell on it ourselves.
The third may be the hardest and where the battle is won or lost. We must choose to think about it from God’s perspective, to remind ourselves what God has done in forgiving us and how He views that other person. As we do, the feelings of forgiveness will come.
What about you?
Have you ever made a rash vow? What did you do when you realized what you had done?
How is your relationship with God? Do you serve Him out of deep abiding love and trust or is it mere religious activity?
Is there someone you have failed to forgive because you don’t “feel like” it? How can you step out in faith and obedience?
Another unworthy servant,
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