Of a National Cathedral and Jephthah’s Foolish Promise
The President of this apampamu-store franchise lost his bid to ascend the presidency twice, in 2008 and in 2012. He won at the end of 2016 after an animated year of campaigning and describing the party in power at the time of gross incompetence. Electric power failure, economic incompetence and a series of misguided verbiage involving the death of a mammal of the family bovidae – of the subfamily caprinae, to be precise – led to that party’s stupefying defeat in the 2016 presidential and parliamentary polls.
Then we woke up one morning in 2018 to be told that the President had promised Our Father in Heaven that he would build Him a cathedral if He enabled him to become President. Apparently, someone committed and close to the candidate, after the defeat in the 2012 polls, had asked a self-styled man of God what he thought it would take for the candidate to be president, and the tongues-spewing, bahbah-blazing oracle had replied, “he has to do something to touch the heart of God; he needs to do something to move God’s arm.”
Thus was the promise of a national cathedral conceived, and the candidate saw that it was good, and that it might please the Lord, and if it did, he’d win the elections, and convincingly so. It might mean evicting, and relocating nine Appeals Court judges, as well as demolishing some adjourning buildings of ill-repute such as the Scholarship Secretariat, but what price were a few buildings to a national cathedral promised towards the winning of a presidential election?
Let me just come out now and say where I stand before you see my article in an NPP or NDC lens. I am a firm believer in keeping vows and promises, especially if those vows were made to God. “When you make a vow to the Lord your God, you shall not delay to pay it; for the Lord your God will surely require it of you, and it would be sin to you,” says Deuteronomy 23:21. Verse 23 insists, “That which has gone from your lips you shall keep and perform, for you voluntarily vowed to the Lord your God what you have promised with your mouth”.
But I am an even firmer believer in not making vows and promises in the first place (and no, I am not a Joe Witti) because verse 22 of the same Chapter 23 of Deuteronomy adds, “But if you abstain from vowing, it shall not be sin to you”. The wisest man who ever lived admonished in Ecclesiastes 5:2-5: “Do not be rash with your mouth, And let not your heart utter anything hastily before God. For God is in heaven, and you on earth; Therefore let your words be few. For a dream comes through much activity, And a fool’s voice is known by his many words. When you make a vow to God, do not delay to pay it; For He has no pleasure in fools. Pay what you have vowed— Better not to vow than to vow and not pay.”
I see what the President’s dilemma is. He may not have intended to use anything more than his facilitating powers and influence as President to see to the building of a National Cathedral, but seeing as how the expected donations are not flowing in to the Cathedral coffers, and the tsooboi to rise and build hasn’t been like in Nehemiah’s days, he must decide whether his promise was a foolish one, in which case he’d have to do a lot of atonement in prayers and fasting (and maybe less in-flight shower hours), or bulldoze the funds and resources of a secular state towards the achievement of his personal religious entrapment. Already, the National Cathedral is shaping up on the foundation of deception, and the current economic situation makes the project seem contemptible. None of these is a condition under which a House of Prayer should be built. But if he doesn’t, he goes down in history – and the opposition won’t let him hear the end of it – that he failed to keep his promise to the Almighty. Of course, a man and his party that cannot keep their promises to God will have little regard for the promises they make to Ghanaians. They will be viewed as Oath breakers of the despicable variety.
The more concerning issue for neutrals and spectators like me is what happens when the President leaves power on 7th January, 2025. What a messy inheritance that will be for the new president, unless President Mahama too makes a vow to God to continue building the cathedral if He helped him win this time round. The bigger question really, of course, is why We the People are the ones bearing the cost for a leader’s personal vow or pledge to the Almighty.
Which is why I couldn’t help but dive into my Bible and find the instances of such vows and promises and what exactly to make scripturally of the President’s dedication to a National Cathedral.
There is a judge named Jephthah in the Bible. Now, I know most of you are hopelessly lost, non-Bible people who still hold on to the devil-inspired belief that the wine Jesus turned the water into was alcoholic, so I will take the liberty of telling you the story in contemporary language. So this judge Jephthah was a mighty battle warrior with quite the shameful circumstance of birth: he was the son of a prostitute. Imagine defeating hordes and hordes of Israel’s enemies by blood and sweat, only to return home to children screaming excitedly in sing-song:
“The mighty warrior’s mother was a whore, and a whore the mighty warrior’s mother was.”
Not cool koraaa.
His half-brothers, as a result of his unfortunate parentage, drove him out of his father’s inheritance, and he was forced to cavort with the scum of society, a group of misfits who in today’s parlance probably thought of themselves as Gladiators, in a land known in those days as Tob. And he would have remained an outcast but for the Ammonites who made war with Israel. Now that Israel was about to get some serious Ammon arse-whooping, guess who they called to lead them into battle?
But Jephthah was no fool. Before he agreed to bleed for Israel, he said in Judges 11: 9, “… If you bring me home again to fight against the Ammonites, and the Lord gives them over to me, I will be your head.” ESV
Of course, Israel agreed and made him President and Commander-in-Chief, etc. over all of them. Now, on his way to the war with the Ammonites, Jephthah made a solemn vow to God. “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.
This promise was a foolish vow one on many theological fronts, not the least is what I have already mentioned above from Ecclesiastes. What Jephthah should have said was, “… whatever that comes out of the doors of my house, if it be acceptable, that will I offer as a burnt offering”. We know this because if Jephthah’s dog had come out first, he couldn’t have sacrificed it because dogs are not an acceptable offering to God. Placing a dog on the sacred altar would most likely have ended in Jephthah’s death. The Son of God cannot be represented in atonement by an unclean animal. Same thing if it had been a cat. Cats are unfit for sacrifice in the eyes of God. Or pigs.
And while we are on the subject, having made a foolish promise, Jephthah did not go beyond that initial sin to actually sacrifice his daughter by cutting her throat and setting her body on fire on the alter. No. Human sacrifice is abhorrent to God (Deut, 18:9-12; Leviticus 20:1-5; Jeremiah 7:31; 19:5; and 32:35). Even during the test of Abraham’s faith, God did not let Isaac be sacrificed. God in His power could have let Isaac be sacrificed, and then brought him back to life, but because human sacrifice is unacceptable to Him, He provided a Substitute before the knife touched Isaac’s throat.
So Jephthah went out and defeated the Ammonites “with a great blow” and those upstarts were subdued before Israel. Unfortunately, his songs of victory turned to sorrow when his daughter was the first thing out of his house to greet him coming in from the war. And she was his only daughter. Death to her means the obliteration of the genealogy after him.
Once she found out about his vow, she asked for two months to mourn. Notice that she didn’t mourn because she was afraid to die, for she knew that she could not be sacrificed literally. “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.’ 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.” Judges 11:36-37.
It’s kind of weird to mourn only for one’s virginity when it’s your neck on the sacrificial line, don’t y’all think? Verse 39 answers it also: “And it was so at the end of two months that she returned to her father, and he carried out his vow with her which he had vowed. She knew no man.”
The last sentence sums it up. Once he had made a foolish promise, Jephthah was forced to keep the promise solely within the bounds of what God could permit. Since his daughter’s life was no longer hers due to his rash promise, she could never marry, and was most likely presented for Temple services throughout her life, never to marry, never to do anything else except the services associated with the Tabernacle till she passed. His lineage paid the price for his foolishness. No one claims Jephthah as a grandfather. What he should have done was to have repented and pled for forgiveness, and he might have been forgiven for his rash vow.
We are confronted with a similar situation. Ogyam makes a vow that has nothing to do with us but has everything to do with his personal ambitions. Even if the economic situation had inured to our benefit we would not have complained, but Charlie times are hard. The economy fares presently no better than it did under the government President Akufo-Addo made his vow to replace. Rather than pray for forgiveness for his rash vow and suffer the consequences alone, he and his lineage, the President is proposing to drag our entire economy into the equation by doling out wads and wads of our Cedis towards the construction of a monument that makes no theological sense. To his credit, Jephthah did not drag all the daughters of Israel into his equation. He could have as President and Commander-in-Chief, but he didn’t. In fact, the war he fought was to the benefit of all Israel. He freed his country from potential tyranny and yet, refused to rope the nation into what was really a foolish vow.
If Ogyam has walked down the hall of shame in Jephthah’s wake, why does he want all of us to suffer some? Let’s end this National Cathedral shame before it gets worse. I don’t understand why it makes sense to take from the poor – and we are $54bn in debt right now – in order to build a cathedral no one needs. Ghana is a democracy, not the theocracy Israel then was. We really must not suffer as a consequence of what clearly was a foolish promise. Next, a presidential candidate will vow to make Ghana a fully Christian nation, an Israel annex.
Then where will we be?