[From ws4/16 p. 5 for May 30-June 5]
“Be imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.”—He 6:12
I don’t know about you, but it seems to me that we’ve been making a lot of references to Jephthah and his daughter in recent times. I thought this might just be a false perception, so I ran a query in the WT Library program and found that from 2005 to 2015 (11 years), Jephthah is referenced in The Watchtower 104 times, while from 1993 to 2003 (also 11 years), the number drops to only 32. That’s a three-fold increase! This is noteworthy, because when the Organization wants to make calls for selfless sacrifice and obedience, this is one of the go-to Bible accounts. Tie this in with the other recent articles on loyalty—not to mention an entire convention this year on the subject—and an agenda begins to emerge.
It is true that sacrifices were a big part of the Jewish system of things. The reason for that was that Jehovah was helping the Jews to understand the sacrifice He was going to make on their behalf by giving his Son so all could live. The Law with its sacrificial requirements brought them to the Christ. (Ga 3:24) However, once that point was made and the sacrifice of the Messiah fulfilled the law, Jehovah stopped asking for sacrifices. There was no longer any need for them. Thus, in the Christian Scriptures, the word only occurs twice in connection with Christians.
“Consequently I entreat YOU by the compassions of God, brothers, to present YOUR bodies a sacrifice living, holy, acceptable to God, a sacred service with YOUR power of reason.” (Romans 12:1)
“Through him let us always offer to God a sacrifice of praise, that is, the fruit of lips which make public declaration to his name.” (Hebrews 13:15)
Here the writer is speaking metaphorically. He is using the idea of a sacrifice—one with which those from either a Pagan or Jewish background would be familiar—to illustrate a point about service to God. He is not requesting or requiring Christians to give up something as an offering to God. He’s not saying that they are expected to sacrifice the opportunity to be married, or have children to please God. He’s not saying that they are to sacrifice their relationship with family members, particularly children and grandchildren to please God.
Since these are the only Scriptures that use sacrifices in relationship to our service to God, one has to wonder why the Organization puts so very much emphasis on the need for Jehovah’s Witnesses to make personal sacrifices so as to gain God’s approval, as the title suggests.
Changing the Narrative
The article starts off by laying a false premise, misleading the reader into thinking that the sacrifice Jephthah and his daughter made was something Jehovah was asking for.
“Jephthah and his God-fearing daughter put their trust and confidence in Jehovah’s way of doing things, even when it was hard to do so. They were convinced that gaining God’s approval was worth any sacrifice.” – Par. 2
As we will see shortly, the leadership of the Organization wants us to believe that Jehovah expects personal sacrifices to be made as a way to please him. Once we accept that premise, the obvious question is, ‘What sacrifices is God asking of me?’ It is a short step then to put words in the mouth of God by claiming that by answering the needs and requirements of the Organization we are making the sacrifices Jehovah demands of us.
But if Jehovah didn’t demand of Jephthah the ‘burnt offering’ of his daughter, the Organization’s premise goes away. Here’s what the account actually says:
“But the king of the Amʹmon·ites would not listen to the message that Jephʹthah sent to him. 29 Jehovah’s spirit came upon Jephʹthah, and he passed through Gilʹe·ad and Ma·nasʹseh to go to Mizʹpeh of Gilʹe·ad, and from Mizʹpeh of Gilʹe·ad he continued on to the Amʹmon·ites. 30 Then Jephʹthah made a vow to Jehovah and said: “If you give the Amʹmon·ites into my hand, 31 then whoever comes out of the door of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the Amʹmon·ites will become Jehovah’s, and I will offer that one up as a burnt offering.”” (Jg 11:28-31)
Jehovah’s spirit was already upon Jephthah. He didn’t need to make his vow. In fact, Jesus discourages the making of vows, and we know that he is the perfect reflection of the Father, so we can rest assured that Jehovah feels the same and wasn’t asking for nor requiring a vow from his servant. (Mt 5:33-36) If Jephthah hadn’t needed the additional reassurance that caused him to make this promise to God, there would have been no requirement for his daughter to give up her prospects of marriage and child-bearing. For the article to say that “Jephthah and his God-fearing daughter put their trust and confidence in Jehovah’s way of doing things, even when it was hard to do so”, is to give the impression that Jehovah was responsible for this situation. The fact is, Jephthah made an unnecessary vow and as a consequence, was bound by it.
How can the name of Jehovah be sanctified if we teach that this was all his “way of doing things”? Does this not contradict the word of God found at Proverbs 10:22?
”The blessing of Jehovah—that is what makes rich, and he adds no pain with it.” (Pr 10:22)
Remaining Faithful Despite Disappointments
After making many points about Jephthah’s life, the article draws the following lesson:
“Will we allow Jephthah’s example to touch our hearts? Perhaps we have experienced disappointment or ill-treatment from certain Christian brothers. If so, we should not allow such challenges to hold us back from attending Christian meetings or serving Jehovah and being with the congregation to the full. In imitation of Jephthah, we too can allow divine standards to help us overcome negative circumstances and continue to be a force for good.” – Par. 10
The subtitle speaks of Jephthah’s remaining faithful despite disappointments. Faithful to whom? To the earthly organization of Israel? To the governing body of Israel? Or to Jehovah? In fact, the leaders or governing body of the time mistreated him and shunned him, but when they came under oppression, they had to bow to him when he became their leader.
If we are to draw a lesson from this, when true Christians are shunned by the leadership of their church or organization, they should not seek vengeance nor hold a grudge, for there will come a day when Jehovah will exalt such ones over those who oppressed them, as long as they remain humble and stay faithful to the Father and his anointed Son.
This was the message of Jesus’ illustration about Lazarus which concerned his disciples and the governing body of Israel at that time. Do we imagine that the principle has changed in our day? Not at all, for another parable concerning wheat and weeds shows how the wheat will grow together with the weeds, but will eventually be gathered and will “shine as brightly as the sun.” (Mt 13:43)
Willing Sacrifices Reveal Our Faith
Now we get to the crux of this study. Whenever The Watchtower runs an article on the account of Jephthah’s vow, it is used as a basis to appeal to Jehovah’s Witnesses to make similar sacrifices. Paragraphs 11 thru 14 show the importance of keeping a vow once made, then they draw from the example of Jephthah and his daughter to show how Jehovah approves and blesses such obedience.
What does this have to do with Christians? Doesn’t Jesus tell us that the making of vows “is from the wicked one”? (Mt 5:37) Indeed he does, but you’ll recall just a couple of weeks back, we had articles on the baptism of children in which the JW requirement was explained—an unscriptural requirement requiring each baptismal candidate to make a vow of dedication to Jehovah.
Basing their reasoning on this false requirement, paragraph 15 continues:
“When we dedicated our lives to Jehovah, we vowed that we would do his will unreservedly. We knew that living up to that promise would require self-sacrifice. However, our willingness is especially put to the test when we are asked to do things that are not initially to our liking.” – Par. 15
Who is asking us “to do things that are not initially to our liking”?
The paragraph puts this statement in the passive verb tense, leaving it up to the reader to identify the “who”. Let’s try putting it in the active tense to see if we can identify who is actually doing the asking.
“However, our willingness is especially put to the test when Jehovah asks us to do things that are not initially to our liking.” (Par. 5)
Jehovah, through his son, asks us to be willing to suffer shame, even death, while emulating his son in carrying the metaphorical torture stake of Christian life. (Lu 9:23-26; He 12:2) However, the article isn’t talking about a request made by God to all Christians, is it? It appears that it is referring to specific requests, specific to the individual that is. Has Jehovah ever asked you personally to do something? I think that if God came to you and asked you to sell your home and go pioneering, you’d hop right to it, wouldn’t you? But to my knowledge, he’s never asked anyone to do that.
Based on what we will find in paragraph 17, it appears that the active verb tense rendering of this line should read:
“However, our willingness is especially put to the test when the Organization asks us to do things that are not initially to our liking.” (Par. 5)
Let’s break it down sentence by sentence, assertion by assertion.
“Thousands of young Christian men and women are willingly sacrificing marriage or are not having children—at least for now—in order to serve Jehovah to the full.” – Par. 17a
There is no Scripture where Jehovah or Jesus ask Christians to sacrifice the prospect of having children on the altar of “fuller service” to God. What exactly is fuller service? It refers to what Witnesses call ‘Full-time service’ which means pioneering, work in Bethel, or any other activity such as international construction work where they are serving the needs of the Organization. We must remember that pioneering is not a Scriptural requirement, nor is devoting a predetermined number of hours in the preaching work something that Jehovah asks us to do. The Bible does say that some have “the gift” of remaining single for the Lord, but this is not seen as a sacrifice. Jesus is not asking us to remain unmarried so as to please him better. (Mt 19:11, 12)
“Older ones too may be sacrificing the time they could otherwise spend with their children and grandchildren in order to work on theocratic construction projects or to attend the School for Kingdom Evangelizers and to serve in areas where the need for Kingdom publishers is greater.” – Par. 17b
Assertion 17b also dishonors the name of God, by suggesting that sacrificing our precious relationship with children and grandchildren so that we can attend one of the JW.org schools or build a branch office or translation facility is something pleasing to God. Is Jehovah asking us to sacrifice as a burnt offering the irreplaceable time we have to bond with and instruct our children and grandchildren?
I know of some who were asked to help out with international construction, or on branch construction in their own country. Some quit jobs, sold homes, took up roots and moved, sacrificing financial stability for what they viewed as service to God. They were doing what they were told Jehovah was asking them to do. Then the construction projects were summarily cancelled. No reason was given. Such ones were devastated and perplexed as to why things didn’t work out. They knew that Jehovah’s foresight and power makes failure an impossibility, yet the projects had failed, peoples lives were disrupted.
As we’ve already seen, ”The blessing of Jehovah—that is what makes rich, and he adds no pain with it.” (Pr 10:22) Claiming Jehovah is asking faithful servants to make such costly personal sacrifices brings reproach on his name when the projects fail.
“Others set aside personal matters to share in service campaigns during the Memorial season.” – Par. 17c
Having worked on these campaigns myself, I know that we are little more than postmen making the rounds. This is both costly in time and fuel and it would be more efficient to hand this work off to the postal service. Nevertheless, to present this as a personal sacrifice which Jehovah is asking of us means also that Jehovah wants the memorial to be used as a recruitment drive.
The commemoration of the Lord’s Evening Meal is never presented in the Bible as a recruiting tool. First century Christians didn’t go out to the market places to invite all and sundry to their meal. The memorial was a private affair, something reserved for the brothers of Christ, the bride of Christ.
“Such wholehearted service brings deep joy to Jehovah, who will never forget their work and the love shown for him.” – Par. 17d
We are being asked to make life-altering sacrifices—giving up marriage, children, or valuable time with family members—because this brings “deep joy” to Jehovah. Where do we find the proof for such a statement?
“Would it be possible for you to make additional sacrifices to serve Jehovah more fully?” – Par. 17e
And now, after all this, we are being asked to make even more sacrifices.
Does Jehovah have anything to say about this, about the making of sacrifices for the Christian? Indeed he does.
“. . .and this loving him with one’s whole heart and with one’s whole understanding and with one’s whole strength and this loving one’s neighbor as oneself is worth far more than all the whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.. . .” (Mr 12:33)
“. . .Go, then, and learn what this means: ‘I want mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came to call, not righteous people, but sinners.”” (Mt 9:13)
We can wholeheartedly agree with the final two paragraphs:
“Although Jephthah’s life was full of challenges, he allowed Jehovah’s thinking to guide his choices in life. He rejected the influences of the world around him.” – Par. 18
Let us, like Jephthah, allow Jehovah’s thinking—not that of men—to guide our choices in life. Jephthah rejected the influences of the world. (Greek: kosmos; referring to people) The world surrounding Jephthah was the nation of Israel.
What is the world that surrounds Jehovah’s Witnesses? What peer pressure affects Jehovah’s Witnesses? Whose influence must we resist?
“Bitter disappointments caused by others failed to weaken his determination to remain faithful. His willing sacrifices and those of his daughter led to blessings, as Jehovah used both of them to promote pure worship. At a time when others abandoned divine standards, Jephthah and his daughter clung to them.” – Par. 18
The bitter disappointments arising from the betrayal of people we trusted should not cause us to abandon Jehovah, to fall away into atheism as so many of our brothers and sisters have already done. We now have a chance to promote pure worship at a time when many Jehovah’s Witnesses are abandoning divine standards by sacrificing their conscience on the altar of blind obedience to men.
”The Bible urges us to “be imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.” (Heb. 6:12) May we be like Jephthah and his daughter by living in harmony with a fundamental truth that their lives highlight: Faithfulness leads to God’s approval.” – Par. 19
The organization of his day tried to put Jephthah down, but he remained faithful to God. He did not bow to peer pressure, nor allow himself to obey men over God. He obtained God’s approval and the reward for such faithful endurance. What a fine example for us!