By REV. LUNA L. DINGAYAN
“If you will give me victory over the Ammonites, I will burn as an offering the first person that comes out to my house to meet me, when I come back from the victory. I will offer that person to you as a sacrifice.” — Matthew 6:12
Filipinos all over the world are one in celebrating Manny Pacquiao’s victory over Erik Morales in a much-awaited boxing match last November 19 called the Grand Finale. A lot of analyses have already been said and written on why Pacquiao was able to knock out his opponent and win in spite of the fact that he was not feeling well on the day of the fight. But what really struck me was Pacquiao’s claim that it was God who gave him the strength to win and that he was not fighting for himself, for his family or money, but for his country.
I’m not sure if Pacquiao promised God something to do if God would make him win the fight. But in any case, there was a judge in Ancient Israel by the name of Jephthah, who had a solemn promise to God, saying: “If you will give me victory over the Ammonites, I will burn as an offering the first person that comes out of my house to meet me, when I come back from the victory. I will offer that person to you as a sacrifice.” (Judges 11:30-31)
Judge as liberator
Judges in Ancient Israel were not simply magistrates, settling disputes among people. They were more of a savior or liberator. Hence, to judge is to liberate, to set people free. Judgment day therefore should mean liberation day. Judges of Ancient Israel emerged as leaders in times of crisis. Usually, the crisis would be in the form of slavery under a more powerful kingdom. And the main task of judges was to lead the people in overcoming that crisis.
Judges were chosen and anointed by God either through a prophet or through the people. Hence, their leadership was a pro-people kind of leadership. They did not intend to stay long in power. When the crisis was resolved then they had to step down. They did not create a political dynasty.
Jephthah the Judge
Jephthah was a brave soldier, a son of a prostitute and a guerrilla leader (Judges 11). Like today, a person with such family background in those days didn’t have a good reputation in the community. Yet God chose Jephthah to lead his people in their fight against the Ammonites, who were oppressing them. This shows that God choose a person to do a particular task not on the basis of who he is and was, but on the basis of what he can become with God’s help. For what is more important is not what we can do, but what God can do in us and through us.
Sometimes we have the temptation of judging would-be leaders in terms of their past and present, rather than their future; in terms of their limitations rather than their potentials. It’s common knowledge that Pacquiao comes from a broken family, and apparently he has a certain weakness with women. Yet he has great potentials of bringing his country into heights of greatness and to inspire others to have faith in God and in themselves with his own skills in boxing shaped by rigorous discipline and hard work.
Jephthah’s solemn promise
And so, Jephthah made a solemn promise to God to offer as burnt offering the person that comes out of his house to meet him if God would give him victory against the Ammonites. It was far from Jephthah’s mind that his own daughter or loved ones could be that person. True enough, it was his own daughter who joyfully met him at the door after his victory fight against the Ammonites.
It was indeed painful for Jephthah to kill his own daughter and offer her to God as burnt offering, but he had to fulfill his promise though it was his own daughter to be sacrificed, for God granted him his request. God made him victorious against their enemies. It was now his turn to fulfill his promise. A promise was a promise, and it had to be fulfilled.
The story of the judges was written after the destruction of Israel as a nation. And the people of Judah were asking themselves how to spare their country from following the same fate as Israel. The writer of Jephthah’s story was simply saying that Israel as a nation was destroyed, because the leaders were not faithful to their promise to God. Hence, if Judah would like to be saved from destruction, the leaders should take seriously their solemn promise before God.
Our country’s leaders, too, have promised a lot before us and before God. But we wonder how many of such promises are fulfilled. Is this the reason why our country is experiencing crisis after crisis? Jephthah’s story is telling us that if we would like our country to be victorious against poverty, corruption and injustice, our leaders must be true and faithful in fulfilling their solemn vows before God and our people. Even if that would mean they have to sacrifice their own. #