Bargaining with lesser gods: Jephthah's story and ours

We pastors are not likely to encounter Jephthah. But we might encounter someone like the young man who sought me out after a stint in jail.

Confirmation camp is a rite of passage for many middle school youth in Lutheran churches. As a pastor, I would travel with the confirmands, spending a week in a camp setting. The event became a rite of a different kind for the pastors. As fine as it was being with the youths, it was even finer to gather with friends in the evening. We would sit on the back porch, tell jokes, swap tall tales, and engage in a bit of what Luther called “the mutual conversation and consolation of the people of God.”

We also had time for our own continuing education. One year the week’s theme was “The Bible Stories We Did Not Learn in Sunday School.” These included the story about the 42 children mauled to death by bears because they laughed at bald Elisha, the one about the sacrifice of Isaac, the one about the fate of David and Bathsheba’s firstborn, and the one about Jephthah’s daughter.

Judges 11 tells us that Jephthah was the son of a prostitute. His father, Gilead, had other sons, and when they grew to manhood they drove Jephthah away, saying, “You shall not inherit anything in our father’s house.” Jephthah fled. The text says, “Outlaws collected around Jeph­thah and went raiding with him.”