There are so many stories in the Bible where you are left to read between the lines. You have no idea how it played out. The details are missing. I am going to have more than a few questions someday when I stand before Jesus!
There is one story in particular that I read about this morning. It’s in the book of Judges. It’s the story of Jephthah, a Gileadite. His father’s name was Gilead but there is no name for his mother. There is only a description of her. She was a harlot. At one point his half-brothers throw him out of the house, so he goes to the land of Tob.
Eventually the Ammonites come to attack Israel. The elders remember that Jephthah was a mighty warrior so they go find him and ask him to please come lead the Israelites against the Ammonites. He agrees but he makes this deal with God. He vows to God that if he would be victorious against the Ammonites, that whoever or whatever would greet him at his door when he returned from the battle, he would offer it up. In other words, he would sacrifice it.
Now, I’m not entirely sure what he was thinking…or if he was thinking. It seems like a very dangerous vow to make. Why would you suggest such a thing? Wouldn’t it have been enough to say, “God, if you give me this victory I will obey you the rest of my life?” I mean, I think that’s what people typically say when they make “deals” with God. I don’t hear of too many people who suggest something so radical.
At any rate, the vow is made. It’s a done deal. So Japhthah goes out and he gets the victory. He is returning home, maybe even forgetting about the deal he had made with God. Who should meet him at his door with celebration but his daughter! His only child! I mean, clearly he had not thought through this vow and considered the possibilities.
Japhthah knew his vow to God could not be broken. He had to break the news to his daughter. Now think about that. Your father tells you that he had made this deal, this dumb deal, and now he has to sacrifice you. I don’t know about you but I would run! Instead she says, “My father, if you have opened your mouth to the Lord, do to me according to what you have vowed, since the Lord has taken vengeance for you on your enemies the Ammonites.” (Judges 11:36)
What I find kind of sad is that she is nameless. The Bible never mentions her name. She is this somewhat forgotten portion of scripture. We may have read the story a hundred times and never given much thought to it. But think about the reality of this situation. This poor girl has come out to celebrate her father’s return and his victory over their enemies. The celebration quickly turns sour. Her decision to greet her father would bring tragic consequences.
She doesn’t run from it. She knows the value of the vow that her father has made. Think about vows for a moment. Vows are meant to be kept. They are never to be broken. They are promises that we say we will keep. Yet today, vows have become nothing more than casual statements. It is no big deal to break a vow. Vow to stay together until death do you part? Nah. We stay together until it gets too hard or we think that the grass is greener on the other side.
This is a woman of integrity. I wish I knew her name. I can’t wait to meet her someday. I will have so many questions for her! Although she knows that the vow cannot be broken, she makes one request of her father. “Let this thing be done for me; let me alone two months, that I may go and wander upon the mountains and bewail my virginity. I and my companions” (Judges 11:37).
I don’t know about you but I really find this remarkable. First of all, the fact that she doesn’t run from her father and that she doesn’t beg for her life is amazing to me. She then asks for some time to get away and mourn the fact that she would die a virgin. I really think that is what she was saying here. She didn’t seem to be grieving the fact that she was going to die. That would have been the ONLY thing on my mind! No, she was grieving the fact that she would never marry and never have children. She would die a virgin. I really honestly don’t believe I would be thinking about that. Maybe it’s because since the time she was a little girl, she had dreamt about the day she would grow up and meet her prince charming and become a mother. Perhaps she was already engaged and now the marriage would never take place. We really don’t know but I sure would like to find out!
So her father sends her away. She goes and spends two months in the mountains. Here is where I am really curious. What all happened during those two months? Two months is a long time to think about what you would never have, what you were going to face when that time was done. She must have had some awesome friends because apparently there were others who went with her to “bewail her virginity.” Maybe it was even her fiancé. We really don’t know.
What if you were given two months to live? How would you spend it? At first, I would think that spending it grieving in the mountains is a waste of time. Most people might think that they would want to go out and do everything they can while they have the time. They would want to live life to the fullest and do something wild and crazy. It would be easy to think that she just wasted the last of her days. But here is what I think. Remember, this is just my own thoughts…this is one of those Bible stories where we really don’t know what happened.
But what I think happened is that she probably had some amazing encounters with God. I think God was with her and helped her during that time. I think instead of going out and partying and living life to the fullest, she spent it connecting to her Heavenly Father. I think He prepared her for the sacrifice she was going to make. I think that by the time the two months was over with, she was ready. And I also believe that God had given her a peace.
Here’s why I think this. She had more than enough time and ample opportunity to escape. She didn’t have to return to her father’s house after those two months. I think most of us would probably run to another city, another country! But amazingly, she comes back to her father’s house. There is also a line in this story that says: She never mated with a man (Judges 11:39). Obviously this was a big deal to her. Now think about that. She could have said to herself, “You know what? I’m going to die anyway…I might as well enjoy the time I have left and go for it!” She could have lost her virginity and given herself to a man. She didn’t. She died a virgin and apparently, this was a very big deal for her.
I think our true character shows when we are facing dire circumstances. When our world gets turned upside down, the real “me” will shine through. We can hide our true selves from a lot of people and in a lot of situations. But when we are faced with a raw situation, I believe the raw person we are shows forth.
She is a nameless woman whose story only takes up about seven verses of scripture. But her story is very powerful when you try to read between the lines. She gives us a lot to think about. What is she saying to you?