Ever hear the saying, “He’s so heavenly minded he’s no earthly good?” Can we be so focused on the things of God that we forget about this world and its importance? I think in reality it’s probably more often the opposite. In our media charged culture the thought of being heaven-bound is often forgotten. The nearest thing to thinking about heaven is when we cry out “I want to get off the bus!”
Most of us are familiar with the story of Abraham taking Isaac up the mountain to sacrifice him, or the story of Joan of Arc who sacrificed her life to save her people, but most aren’t familiar with the no-name daughter of Jephthah. She was the only child of an unthinking warrior in the Bible’s eleventh chapter of Judges who willingly accepted an unjust death sentence. She obediently allows her life to be sacrificed to God by her own father. It’s a horrific Biblical story, but her sacrificial life is recorded for eternity and remembered to this day.
Jephthah (pronounced Jep-thah) was the son of a prostitute who after his father died is thrown out of his house by his brothers. Probably due to this traumatic childhood, we can understand why he becomes such a renowned warrior. After all, I would be fighting mad too. He’s not only kicked out of his home but his country – at least until his reputation is restored and they invite him back to rescue them in battle. Somewhere along his life’s journey he must have encountered God and makes a ridiculous covenant with Him. If God allows him to be successful in battle, he will sacrifice the first living thing that comes out of his house when he returns home.
For those who have seen the Russell Crowe movie, Gladiator, you may remember the scene when after years of fighting he comes home to his family who thinks him dead and the visuals in the movie turn from death to life. I imagine Jephthah’s return must have been the same. He must have never, ever, ever thought that the first thing bounding out the door of his house would be his daughter and only child. In fact, she was so overjoyed that her father was alive and returning, scripture says she ran out “dancing to the sound of tambourines.”
What could have been going through her head when her father immediately rips his clothes and tells her “she has made him miserable and wretched…” and then proceeds to tell her that he is going to have to kill her? What a bizarre and tragic homecoming.
In our world today, news stories fill our ears with shouts of “injustice.” “It’s not fair,” is our battle cry and the warrior within us leaps to our feet. We don’t rip open our clothes, but rip out our mobile device of choice, and start the verbal assault without thinking about the long term consequences.
Jephthah was fighting a battle of injustice for Israel and his thoughtless vow to God resulted in deep personal sacrifice. Are we prepared for such a personal sacrifice in the battles we rage today? And what can be learned about our thoughtless words while we stay hidden away in the safety of our online cocoons?
What’s truly amazing, and often overlooked in this story, is the obedient heart of Jephthah’s daughter. We know nothing of her upbringing or faith in God but it shines out at us like a laser gun. There is not a shred of pushback. She immediately knows and accepts that her life is worth the life of thousands. Her people were saved because of her father’s, or more accurately, God’s success in battle. She is a no name Esther who is not spared but dies willingly for her people. She lays down her life so that her father’s word can to be fulfilled. And, He does. He sacrifices her.
What’s mind boggling is this is a story of hope. It’s relevant in the chaotic world we now find ourselves. Even when death is looming we can be courageous, willing, and able to be sacrificial individuals because we know the “hope that lies within” us. (I Peter 3:15.)
There are many today who are willingly being martyred for their faith. The book of Revelation tells us that they will be remembered and will have a special place in heaven. C.S Lewis said, “Hope is one of the theological virtues (or strengths). This means that looking forward to the eternal world is not (as some modern people think) a form of escapism or wishful thinking, but one of the things a Christian is meant to do.” Or as my mother often told me as a child when life became frustrating, depressing and seemingly hopeless, “heaven comes later.”
Read Colossians chapter 3 – remember to be always heavenly minded.