Is every promise irrevocable?


This past week the Dutch media reported about two remarkable promises. On Monday the singer Trijntje Oosterhuis, daughter of the famous theologian/poet/ex-priest Huub Oosterhuis, announced on her Facebook-page that she wanted to donate a substantial amount to the nation campaign to help the victims of the terrible disaster in the Philippines.  She promised to donate one Euro for every person who would ‘like’ her Facebook message. After a few hours Trijntje realized she had been rather naïve. Having received over 250.000 ‘likes’, she made sure her generous offer disappeared. She issued a statement that she would make a sizable donation, but was not able to transfer a quarter of a million Euro’s to the bank account of the national campaign.

I have no ways of determining whether or not Trijntje has enough money to give 250.000 Euro’s. The Quote magazine, that seems to know everything about the rich people of this world, reported that giving such an amount would indeed take a sizable bite out off Trijntje’s cash, but that she would in fact be able to do so. Many people commented that they could understand that Trijntje changed her mind after things got so out off hand. Other knew of no pardon: She must do what she promised!

The French public watched in suspense to see whether another publicly-made promise would be fulfilled. Doria Tiller (27), who presents the weather report in the context of a talk show on the French TV station Canal Plus, apparently had little confidence in the capabilities of the French national soccer team. On camera she promised that she would present her weather report in the nude if the French would qualify for participation in the world championships. But, lo and behold, France ended the crucial match with a 3-0 victory. France talked about little else: Would (the attractive) ms Tiller keep her promise and appear naked in tv, or would she manage to find some excuse? She decided to stay with her promise and, totally naked, ran through a meadow, near Paris, while loudly announcing what weather the viewers were to expect. No doubt many viewers were somewhat disappointed that she stayed as far away from the cameras as she did, but—anyway—she did what she had promised.


Both Trijntje Oosterhuis and Doria Tiller would have done well to consult to Bible book of Judges and to read the story of Jephta. Those who are familiar with biblical history know that Jephta was the commander of the Israelite army that had to fight the Ammonites. In Jephta 11:28 we learn that Jephta was ‘seized by the spirit of JHWH’, and was convinced that his God would be with him. Against this background he made a promise that was about as stupid as the promises made by Trijntje and Doria. He promised that, if he were to return safe and sound from the battlefield, he would sacrifice the first thing that would meet him when returning home. Of course, he was thinking of a lamb or a calf or some other animal that was suitable for a burnt offering. But what happened? Jephta did indeed return in one piece, but as soon as he approached his house the door opened and his teenage daughter ran towards him.

Jephta was inconsolable. This was something totally unforeseen. To our surprise his daughter agreed that her father should keep his promise. And so he did.

Was Jephta obliged to keep his rash promise and kill his daughter? To me this is one of the Bible stories I find most difficult to stomach. Had I been near, I think I would have said to Jephta: ‘Don’t do this, Jephta. Nobody can expect you to do this. But next time, please, think before you promise something like this.’ And, if I were to meet Trijntje Oosterhuis, I would want to say to her: This was rather stupid, Trijntje. Now, give what you feel you can give. And next time, be more careful!’ And what I would have advised Doria Tiller, if she had asked me whether or not to keep her promise—well, I will keep that to myself.