Judges 11:1-12:5; John 1:1-28; Psalm 101:1-8; Proverbs 14:13-14
Can you imagine God living next door to you?
I have longed all my life to have been the woman who lived next door to Mary and Joseph. What would it have been like to watch this amazing child Jesus grow up—to witness him playing in my yard and sharing toys with my children, to occasionally eat dinner with my family, then to see him grow up into a sinless adult who treated every person He met with respect and love? John tells us “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn. 1:14). Imagine that, God Himself, became a man and He really lived next door to someone!
The New Testament reading is filled with joy as John recounts the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.
But the Old Testament contrasts. Jephthah is a man without a past and now, because of his foolish vow, he is a man without a future. (I give credit to my husband for this phrase.) Jephthah is not born from a legal marriage; his mother was a prostitute. And so his half-brothers drove him away from their home because he was not part of Gilead’s legal family. He has no past that he can connect to and be proud of; his half-brothers want nothing to do with him! That is, until they need him to fight against the Ammonites on their behalf.
Jephthah displays an accurate knowledge of Israelite history as he recounts to the Ammonite king why the disputed land belongs to Israel and not to the Ammonites (Judg. 11:14-27). The king of Ammon pays no attention to this letter, war ensues, and Jephthah makes an unneeded vow to the Lord, “If You give the Ammonites into my hands, whatever comes out of the door of my house… will be the Lord’s” (vs. 30-31).
To his horror, it is his only child who comes out to greet him after his victory (vs. 34-35). But, honestly, who did he think might come out the front door to greet him after battle? He made a foolish vow—the Lord was already committed to Israel retaining the land He had promised them.
Biblical scholars are divided on what Jephthah does to his daughter. Some believe that he literally sacrifices her on an altar because of the words “burnt offering” in verse 31. That is hard for me to believe because there is no other evidence in Scripture of Israel practicing human sacrifice and God had absolutely forbidden it. Yet the common Hebrew word for "burnt offering" is the one used here.
Nevertheless, I think that instead Jephthah confines her to a life of no marriage—“she wept because she would never marry” (v. 37) and would have no children which in Israel would perhaps have been worse than death. And because of this Jephthah will have no progeny. Something he would have wanted most in the world—grandchildren to carry on his name and to care for him in his old age. A man with no past and no future.
Well, as it turns out Jephthah doesn’t have an old age. He dies six years after this (see 12:7), perhaps of a broken heart. His lineage and his name cease forever.
But as we read on in John we will find that another Sacrifice has come—One who would literally give His life as a sacrifice on a cross, not an altar. He would die so we would live.
Jesus will die, but His life and lineage are forever, eternal.
- Nell Sunukjian
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