Be Careful What You Wish For

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Jephthah Greeted By His Daughter. Erasmus Quellinus (1607-1678). Oil On Panel.

Don’t tell anyone but I am supposed to be outlining the proposed changes to the regulations regarding section 2704 of the Internal Revenue Code. Sometimes the IRC resists my understanding to the point of grief.  So I am digressing to talk about piece of scripture which I read this morning which struck me as containing an important lesson for us all.

My mother told me there would me days like this, God rest her soul.  Yesterday, Saturday, in near 1oo degree heat Paul sallied forth, got out his lawn mower and other instruments of mass destruction and made war on the grass and the weeds and rendered a fairly good account of himself. It is said that the wages of sin are death and today, Sunday, my mortality came streaming back to me like a blinding flash of lighting.  No early Mass for me and I was lucky to get up and get out of bed without some sort of terrible fall given my wobble.  But after a few cups of espresso my consciousness returned and having missed my Church which I desperately needed I straggled into Saint Paul’s Chapel (my living room not named for me but rather the Apostle to the Gentiles himself) and lit the candles and proceeded to say the Morning Office.  All went well until the first lesson from Judges Chapter 11 verses 1-11 and 29-40.  I will not reproduce the passages for you verbatim but rather exercise some poetic license and paraphrase.  (Saints preserve us!)

It seems there was a fellow named Jephthah who was a “mighty warrior”.. he was the son of Gilead.  But there was a problem as Jephthah was the son not only of Gilead but also of a “harlot”.  In other words he was illegitimate. Mr. Gilead also had sons by his lawful wife who made it known to Jephthah in no uncertain terms that they were the heirs of their father and that he –  was not.  Jephthah was a pretty bright fellow and he knew that when the time came his half brothers would not countenance his existence and probably seek to do him in. So he did what any right thinking warrior would do,  he staged a “tactical withdrawal”, that is “he fled”.  Now he went out to the land of Tob and there fell in with some “worthless fellows”  and went about raiding with them.  Then one day the Ammonites decided to make war against Israel and the elders of Gilead knowing of Jephthah’s prowess as a warrior came over to the land of Tob and asked Jephthah to come back and please help them out.  Of course Jephthah  had qualms about this and asked them why after having been expelled  from his homeland he should came back and help them out?  Oh, they said, we have come for that reason and we want you to be our leader and fight with us and be the head over all the inhabitants of Gilead. This an interesting political rationalization:  we were wrong we know we wronged you but come we will make it up to you, risk your life for us and you shall be king.  Well, Jephthah gave it some thought and he agreed that he would lead the army against the Ammonites and if successful he would be the head of the all in Gilead.  The leaders then took Jephthah and made him the head of the army.  Then the spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah and he made a vow before the Lord that ” If thou wilt give the Ammonites into my hand then, whoever comes forth from the doors of my house to meet me, when I return victorious from the Ammonites shall be the Lord’s and I will offer him up for a burnt offering.” Now I suspect Jephthah had in mind some lazy servant or other expendable person but he was victorious and when he returned his own daughter came forth to greet him. While broken up and brought low , Jephtha carried out his vow he had made before the Lord. He sacrificed his own daughter to the Lord.  She was a young woman who died having never known a man.

 Now, how does one say it?  Look before you leap, think before you speak? How many times have we wanted something so badly we were willing to literally sell our souls to get it? Jephthah had been disinherited and exiled from his family and his people.  When the elders approached him he could not resist accepting their “bribe” to become the head of Gilead. And in gaining what he thought was the whole world he lost that which was much more precious to him than all the kingships ever imagined, his daughter.

What do we get from this?  In the past few weeks I have heard and read numerous sermons talking about Jesus admonition to set you heart on the things that matter.  The verse which says “What profiteth a man if he gain the whole world but loose his soul”  comes to mind.  The story of Jephthah has taught me that the first and greatest commandment is to love the Lord my God with all my heart and all my soul.  No matter what the reward,  it is not worth sacrificing the things that really matter. Set your heart not on earthly things but rather on loving the Lord your God.




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