Archive for April 26th, 2019

Judges 10 & 11: Jepthah’s Vow

Easter Friday, April 26, 2019

John Everett Millais: Jepthah

A re-post from Easter Week 2012.

We have sinned against you; we have forsaken our God and have served the Baals.

Did not the Egyptians, the Amorites, the Ammonites, the Philistines, the Sidonians, the Amalekites, and the Midianites oppress you?  I saved you from their grasp and still you forsook me and worshiped other gods.  I will save you no more.  Go and cry out to the gods you have chosen; let them save you now that you are in distress.

We have sinned.  Do to us whatever you please.  Only save us this day.

The Lord grieved over the misery of Israel. 

This dialog between the Creator and the created takes place countless times not only in scripture but in our contemporary lives.  We stray from God’s goodness and protection, we become enslaved to some small and ugly god, we cry out for help, and God rescues us.  We know this cycle and we wait for the predictable sequence to take place in today’s story but something different happens here.  “For the first time, Israel actually repents (10:10, 15-16), but God does not, as at other times, raise up a deliverer in response to Israel’s cry for help.  The Gileadite elders appoint Jepthah their leader (11:4-11) and only later does God confirm their choice (11:29)”.   (Mays 233)

A number of circumstances make Jepthah’ story memorable.  He had lived in exile from his tribe having been cast out by jealous half-brothers but he is called forward because of his military acumen and success in battles.  As the Gileadite leader he tries diplomacy before war but is unsuccessful.  Full of God’s spirit he leads his soldiers into combat, vowing that if they are victorious he will sacrifice the first person who comes to greet him on his return home.  When his young daughter, his only child, runs out to meet him he is desolate but follows through with his vow.  We cringe at the tragic ending and we search for meaning.  Human sacrifice was not an accepted Hebrew custom and was, in fact, condemned (Leviticus 18:21 and Deuteronomy 12:31); yet here is this story that goes against all custom, and we are given no context.  We grieve along with this long-ago family and we wonder how and why they and we will manage.  And so we remember . . .

The Lord grieved over the misery.

Too many times we sink below what we thought to be our limit, and so we remember in our sorrow . . . The Lord grieved over the misery.

Too many schemes take us further than we had intended to go, and so we remember in our disbelief . . . The Lord grieved over the misery.

Too many friends betray us even as Judas betrayed Jesus, and so we remember in our heartache . . . The Lord grieved over the misery.

Too many good intentions lived for our own satisfaction drive us past blatant warning signs, and so we remember in our incomprehension . . . The Lord grieved over the misery.

Too many well-meant promises lead us down a path we had not meant to trod, and so we remember in our mourning . . . The Lord grieved over the misery.

In yesterday’s Gospel from John (20:11-18) we hear again that Mary Magdalene did not recognize Christ who sought to console her . . . she turned around, saw Jesus there, but did not know it was Jesus.  When he speaks, she suddenly comprehends that he was with her during her grief.  He had never really disappeared. It is her own perception that had fails her.

We will struggle with today’s story just as we struggle with the heartbreaking events of our lives.  We must remember that when we feel the most bereft we are closest to God.  When we feel the most empty we are vessels waiting to be filled by the Spirit.  And when it seems that all have deserted us and that everything we hold dear is lost, Christ draws us forward away from the horror.  We have only to take the offered hand and follow.

Mays, James L., ed.  HARPERCOLLINS BIBLE COMMENTARY. New York, New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1988. 233. Print.

Image from: http://hoocher.com/John_Everett_Millais/John_Everett_Millais.htm 

For more on the meaning of these stories, see the Judges – The Cycle page on this blog at: https://thenoontimes.com/the-book-of-our-life/judges-the-cycle/

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