A sermon from pastor Cindy, from last Sunday in the wake of the shootings in Orlando...
Judges 11 excerpt...
Jephthah made a vow to the Lord: “If you give the Ammonites into my
comes out of the door of my house to meet me when I return in triumph
from the Ammonites will be the Lord’s, and I will sacrifice it as a
Jephthah went over to fight the Ammonites, and the Lord gave them
into his hands.
Jephthah returned to his home in Mizpah, who should come out to meet
him but his daughter, dancing to the sound of timbrels! She was an
only child. Except for her he had neither son nor daughter. When
he saw her, he tore his clothes and cried, “Oh no, my daughter! You
have brought me down and I am devastated. I have made a vow to the
Lord that I cannot break.”
father,” she replied, “you have given your word to the Lord. Do
to me just as you promised, now that the Lord has avenged you of your
enemies, the Ammonites. But
grant me this one request,” she said. “Give me two months to roam
the hills and weep with my friends, because I will never marry.”
may go,” he said. And he let her go for two months. She and her
friends went into the hills and wept because she would never marry. After
the two months, she returned to her father, and he did to her as he
had vowed. And she was a virgin.
this comes the Israelite tradition that
each year the young women of Israel go out for four days to
commemorate the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite.
This is, to
me, the most horrible story in the Bible. It’s not the most
graphic or vicious, but it is the most horrible, in that it is a
story of man sacrificing his own daughter in the name of his god.
If you read
the beginning of the chapter, you see that Jephthah was the
illegitimate son of Gilead. His mother was a prostitute. When
Gilead’s other, legitimate sons were grown up, they drove Jephthah
away, saying, “You are not going to get any inheritance in our
family, because you’re the son of another woman.” So
Jephthah fled from his brothers, which makes it sound like they were
either violent or threatened violence, and settled in the land of
Tob, where a gang of scoundrels gathered around him and followed him.
evidently made a reputation for himself, because later on, when the
Israelites were fighting the Ammonites, the elders of Gilead, that
is, his brothers, needing some good fighters, came to him, and said,
“Come, be our commander, so we can fight the Ammonites.” To which
Jephthah responded, “Didn’t you hate me and drive me from my
father’s house? Why do you come to me now, when you’re in
trouble?” “Nevertheless” they said, “we are turning to you
now; come with us to fight the Ammonites, and you will be head over
all of us who live in Gilead.”
answered, “Suppose you take me back to fight the Ammonites and the
Lord gives them to me—will I really be your head?” Notice
Jephthah is bringing God into it, for his own purposes. “The Lord
is our witness,” they said, “we will do as you say.” So he
went back to Gilead with them and became their leader.
then sent messengers to the king of the Ammonites, “Why have you
attacked my country?” The king says, “It’s not your country.
You took it from us when you left the land of Egypt,” back and
forth, and eventually, there was a was. Jephthah was winning, but
suddenly unsure of himself, perhaps, insecure about his future (?),
in the midst of battle, he made his awful, horrible, thoughtless,
stupid, selfish, wicked beyond measure vow to the Lord: “If you
give the Ammonites into my hands, whatever comes out of the door of
my house to meet me when I return in triumph from the Ammonites will
be the Lord’s, and I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering.”
Twenty devasted towns later, Jephthah returns home as the victor.
in the tradition of Miriam and the women who played the tamborines
and danced and sang when Pharaoh and his soldiers drowned in the Red
Sea, in the tradition of the women who met David after he defeated
the Philistines, dancing and singing, this wasn’t something that
had never happened before, Jephthah’s daughter, his only daughter,
his only child, runs out the door to greet him, dancing to the sound
Jephthah sees that it is his daughter who he has vowed to sacrifice,
he tears his clothes, which is a sign of great grief. You could
almost feel sorry for him if you didn’t listen to what he said
next. “Oh no, my daughter!” he cried. “You have brought me down
and I am devastated. I have made a vow to the Lord that I cannot
break.” Some of the Jewish texts add, “you are a stumbling block
to me.” YOU have brought ME down? And I am devastated? Are you
freaking kidding me? This was HER fault???
the way the Hebrew is used here, Phyliss Trible writes, At
the moment of recognition and disclosure, Jephthah thinks of himself
and indicts his daughter for the predicament,
thus, I would add, giving him an out, a justification in in his
twisted, evil mind for his actions. You have brought me down. This
is your fault.
we’ve heard it before, haven’t we? All these centuries later,
it’s still around. It’s what’s we call blaming the victim, and
it happens all the time. Robert and I have been watching some of a
documentary about the O.J. Simpson trial over the last few nights
until I just felt so sick that I couldn’t watch it anymore. One of
the things that came up over and over was how people blamed Nicole
for not leaving O.J. sooner than she did. In an interview, one of
the jurors, now an old woman, was, all these years later, even
knowing all the facts, still scathing in her remarks about how weak
Nicole was, as if it were her fault that she was murdered.
we don’t just blame the victim in cases of domestic violence, do
we? There were two teen brothers shot and killed about three weeks
ago, you may recall, and on the same day that their mother identified
their bodies, the Director of the Urban League, and this is supposed
to be a progressive organization, blasted her, tore her down
publicly, saying on WHAS, “Where was the parent who was supposed to
say why didn’t my child come home last night?”
people who are vulnerable, oh, it’s just so easy, whether we’re
“progressive” or not, it’s just so easy.
as I said, you could almost feel sorry for Jephthah if he hadn’t
opened his mouth. But he does, he opens it the first time to make a
horrific vow, horrific no matter who walked through the door, and the
second time to blame his daughter for being that person.
his daughter responds in this way that doesn’t make sense to us in
our culture. She basically says, “That’s alright, Daddy. You’ve
made a promise to God, and you’ve got to fulfill it. Can I have
two months to wander in the hills with my friends before you kill
some commentators ask why she didn’t fight it, why she didn’t
stand up to him, why she didn’t run away. And nowadays, maybe she
would have. Hopefully she would have. But my guess is that she was
very shrewd here. Perhaps she thought it through in an instant as
she stood there. She had no power whatsoever. The best she could
hope for was time, and that’s what she went for. Boldly and
strategically. Can I have two months in the hills with my friends to
mourn my virginity? she asked. She cut to what was to her culture,
the heart of the things, not her life, but her worth. She asked to
for time to mourn her virginity, in other words, to mourn the fact
that she would never be able to bear children for some man, and to
carry on Jephthah’s name as well. Good move. And maybe in that
time, who knows? Maybe he would change his mind, maybe someone would
in fact, a rabbinical commentary on the story tells us how and why
Jephthah, even after making a vow to God could have and should have
was an ignorant man, else he would have known that a vow of that kind
is not valid; according to R. Johanan, Jephthah had merely to pay a
certain sum to the sacred treasury of the Temple in order to be freed
from the vow; according to R. Simeon ben Laḳish, he was free even
without such a payment (Gen. R. l.c.; comp. Lev. R. xxxvii. 3).
According to Tan., Beḥuḳḳotai, 7, and Midrash Haggadah to Lev.
xxvii. 2, even when Jephthah made the vow God was irritated against
him: “What will Jephthah do if an unclean animal comes out to meet
when he was on the point of immolating his daughter, she inquired,
“Is it written in the Torah that human beings should be brought as
burnt offerings?” He replied, “My daughter, my vow was,
‘whatsoever cometh forth of the doors of my house.'” She
answered, “But Jacob, too, vowed that he would give to Yhwh the
tenth part of all that Yhwh gave him (Gen. xxviii. 22); did he
sacrifice any of his sons?” But Jephthah remained inflexible.
according to tradition, Jephthah’s daughter did try to change her
noted more than once that she is virgin, and this is for at least two
reasons, the first being that in the culture of the time, her value
wasn’t based on her own life, but rather on the descendants that
she will have, that was her worth as a woman, and two, that in
Leviticus, it says that the daughters of priests who are caught
fornicating can be burned. So the narrator is making it clear that
it’s not just her life that we’re talking about, but the lives of
her descendants, AND that there’s no legal grounds on which to kill
that none of that stops Jephthah from doing what he promised his god
that he would do.
that’s most of the story. What do we do with it?
I’d like to suggest that mainly we ask questions about it, and the
questions will vary, perhaps, depending on where we are in terms of
how we think about the world and God.
example, when I was a young Southern Baptist, my questions would have
been along the lines of, “Why did God cause this to happen?”
That’s because I believed that everything that happened in the
Bible was God’s will.
I got older, my ideas about how to interpret the Bible changed, and I
would have asked, “Why did God allow this to happen?” That’s
because I believed that God was in control of everything that
happened, no matter how bad it was, and so while God didn’t cause
it, God did allow it, meaning that God could have kept it from
happening if God wanted to.
now I’m more likely to ask, “Where is God in this?” And quite
frankly, in a story like this one, that’s hard to answer.
question we’ve already asked is, “Why didn’t Jephthah’s
daughter fight back?” And I’ve addressed that a little bit
already. “Why didn’t Jephthah’s wife
fight back?” “Why didn’t
advise him differently?” “Why didn’ t more people get involved
in this?” And maybe they did. Jephthah was, after all, a thug.
even so, why did Jephthah cause this to happen? Once he realized
that it was his daughter, why did he allow his pride, his reputation
to override his love of family? Especially now that we know that he
could have simply paid an offering? You may have some other
questions as you think about the story.
think that some of the most important questions, though, are, why do
WE allow this kind of thing to happen? Why do we allow the powerful
to sacrifice the children, the poor, the homeless, the mentally ill,
the addicts, the vulnerable?
are we complicit in such sacrifices, and what can we do about it?
know, Jephthah’s daughter was never named in the text. But we can
name her, can’t we?
people were sacrificed in Orlando last Sunday morning. Sacrificed by
the politicians and the gun lobbyists who support the right to bear
any arms by, it would seem, any person at any time under any
circumstances, and many of whom like Jephthah, use God’s name to
justify their evil, sacrificed by a fundamentalist, anti-gay ideology
that also uses God’s name to legitimize discrimination, sacrificed,
perhaps, by the self-hatred that comes from a culture that has
discarded, discredited, and discounted gay and lesbian and
children of Flint, Michigan, 57% black, and 40% poor, were sacrificed
by a system that wanted to save money by switching their water
supply, exposing all 9,000 children under the age of six to lead,
which can lead to irreversible brain damage. The politicians and
public officials, while ignoring the damage they were causing to the
general population, were, however, sensitive to the needs of General
Motors. When the head of GM went to Gov. Snyder to complain that the
Flint River water was causing their car parts to corrode when being
washed on the assembly line, he arranged for them to receive water
from Lake Huron. So while the cars were being washed with clean
water, the people were drinking lead.
we can name Jephthah’s daughter. We could name her all day long…
Trible, who writes about this and other “Texts of Terror,” as she
calls them, says that these texts are mirrors, and unfortunately, she
is right about this one. This is a story that is taking place all
around us all the time. It mirrors our world. And it doesn’t have
a happy ending. But even as it mirrors the terrors of our world, it
also mirrors a bit of the grace, and that, my brothers and sisters,
that is where we find God in this story.
daughter went to the hills for two months, where she wept with her
friends. They weren’t able to keep her from dying, though I’d
imagine that they hoped and dreamed together, that they plotted and
planned together. But no, in the end, they weren’t able to keep
her from dying, but they were able to share her grief, her pain, her
story. They were able to listen and to comfort and maybe to laugh
together a bit and to remember and to weep and to weep and to weep.
And that is where we find God in this story. In the tears of those
who loved her and in her own.
story ends by telling us that every year, the young women of Israel
would go out for four days to commemorate Jephthah’s daughter. In
other words, this young woman who was a nothing, who was worth
nothing, became a Jewish tradition. I don’t what difference it
made. How much stronger the women of Israel became. But my guess is
that the women of Israel were strengthened as they gathered together,
as they mourned together, as they plotted and planned and hoped and
dreamed together, as they remembered and wept together.
we can stand up against evil, and when we do, God is there.
Sometimes, the best we can do is gather together and weep, and when
we do, God is there. May we be a mirror of God’s grace in this
world full of terror.