Judges 11:29-40 (NRSV)
Then the spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah, and he passed through Gilead and Manasseh. He passed on to Mizpah of Gilead, and from Mizpah of Gilead he passed on to the Ammonites. And Jephthah made a vow to the Lord, and said, “If you will give the Ammonites into my hand, then whoever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return victorious from the Ammonites, shall be the Lord’s, to be offered up by me as a burnt offering.” So Jephthah crossed over to the Ammonites to fight against them; and the Lord gave them into his hand. He inflicted a massive defeat on them from Aroer to the neighborhood of Minnith, twenty towns, and as far as Abel-keramim. So the Ammonites were subdued before the people of Israel.
Then Jephthah came to his home at Mizpah; and there was his daughter coming out to meet him with timbrels and with dancing. She was his only child; he had no son or daughter except her. When he saw her, he tore his clothes, and said, “Alas, my daughter! You have brought me very low; you have become the cause of great trouble to me. For I have opened my mouth to the Lord, and I cannot take back my vow.” She said to him, “My father, if you have opened your mouth to the Lord, do to me according to what has gone out of your mouth, now that the Lord has given you vengeance against your enemies, the Ammonites.” And she said to her father, “Let this thing be done for me: Grant me two months, so that I may go and wander on the mountains, and bewail my virginity, my companions and I.” “Go,” he said and sent her away for two months. So she departed, she and her companions, and bewailed her virginity on the mountains. At the end of two months, she returned to her father, who did with her according to the vow he had made. She had never slept with a man. So there arose an Israelite custom that for four days every year the daughters of Israel would go out to lament the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite.
I started seminary one year after the ordination of women was approved by the American Lutheran Church. Unfortunately, I did not have a female professor while I attended seminary. My first opportunity to listen to lectures by a female professor happened in 1984 when I took the class “Bible Studies for Adults,” taught by Dr. Phyllis Trible. Female biblical scholars have brought attention to stories of women in the Bible who have been ignored or forgotten. Dr. Trible has done this in her book, “Text of Terror.” One of the Bible stories she examines is the daughter of Jephthah. I never studied the unnamed daughter in Sunday school or even seminary. At the end of the tragic story we are reminded, “so there arose an Israelite custom that for four days every year the daughter of Israel would go out and lament the daughter of Jephthah”. Scripture forgot about the daughter, and instead Jephthah’s military conquest is remembered; first by Samuel (1 Samuel 12:11) and then by the writer of Hebrews 11:32. Talk about injustice. A man who made a very stupid vow and then committed a child sacrifice, which was strictly forbidden, is remembered but the innocent daughter is all but forgotten! It is a stark reminder how easy it is to remember war heroes and forget about those (especially women and children) who have suffered and died at the hands of violent men. The daughter of Jephthah again calls us to lament for those who suffer innocently in the world. Thanks to women who bring attention to the forgotten ones.
Questions to ponder:
1. Has there been a female pastor/scholar/theologian that has been a positive influence on you?
2. Recall a time when you have felt ignored.
3. Prepare a list of those who are suffering unjustly and need to be lamented. Take time to remember them in your prayers for the next four days.
Rev. Duane Neugebauer
God of the suffering, we remember those in our world who suffer unjustly, especially today, we recall …. Continue to shower the suffering and forgotten ones with your love and help us always to remember them. In your name we pray. Amen.
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