I'd only ever heard the story told one way: Her dad makes a stupid vow. She dies because of it. Jephthah the rash. Jephthah the daughter-slayer. He's never been a favourite. But the Bible's a funny thing. You wade in one day, smile at the guppies, and think you've seen it all. But the next time toes touch water you're in deep over your head staring at the vastness beside, above, below, wondering if there is a bottom at all. I'm not so sure about this man anymore. This Jephthah.
Faith. That thing we want so badly to find on our resume someday, but secretly fear will possibly only make it in as a footnote. He had lots. God says so. Jephthah made the shortlist. Read his story again. Set aside the monster lens and see: He offered his enemies Truth before the sword. He did not hide from his duty to mete out justice, in the wake of predecessors who placated with flattery. He was faithful to his God. Even when the pain of it brought face to dust. So when I read about the man, when I read those impossible words; that he said the thing in his doorway would burn, I am not so sure. . .
The man was a bastard, let's be clear.
Fatherless in the eyes of his kin.
I think I was in the double digits when I was first soberly aware of the predetermination of place. That I had absolutely no say in how, where and when I came to be. I simply wasn't. And then I was. Born into the place that was waiting to be filled by me. Jephthah's dad broke covenant with a woman of ill-repute. He was born nine months later, (more or less). He didn't ask to be, but he was. And he was born right into nowhere. Because no one would have a bastard.
And so one could argue that, when Jephthah was chased from Gilead, the place he was born, he was chased from nowhere at all, because you'd rather have to belong to a place to leave it, wouldn't you say? Hated child of a hated woman. Unwanted.
When the men who chased him off begged him to come back, he didn't buy himself a Welcome mat. No, no. He knew that being needed wasn't the same thing as being wanted. At all. And every useful person becomes less useful at some point. And, when they were through needing him, he'd still be a bastard. A less useful bastard. Yeah, he'd keep his boots laced.
It comes as no surprise that the man was a bit obsessed with the idea of house & home. Even though he was 'raised up' by God to be a leader of his people, he had a hard time grasping that he was, in fact, somebody. From somewhere. He may have been offered a place, but he didn't feel that he could sit by the fire and cozy in until that place had walls he could touch, and a title he could sound on his tongue, and grandbaby-cheeks he could stroke. He figured it was about time he do something about that.
And he did know of an excellent home Builder he could negotiate with.
That vow he made. The one we've all come to hate. I think he made it with those ghosts inside of him: the walls, the title, the babies. Things hoped for but not yet seen. "God, build me a house of my own, and I'll give you the very first thing." But when the first thing turned out to be his last thing, his only thing, he bent and bowed low in grief. Daughter.
How quickly we forget. We are tent-dwellers. The most solid masonry will crumble at the first note of the trumpet. When he comes. To make us our home out of the ashes of what we built ourselves. Already, God's House encompasses. We are within it and just because we can't run our finger tips along eternal stone, or slide our feet along golden paths just yet, it doesn't mean it isn't so.
Jephthah forgot. And his daughter: his one thing. His hope. His house-foundation. She was taken. Her life was taken, yes. But not by fire. It was taken to serve. I believe she was devoted to God's temple. Offered up as a sacrifice to live out her days untouched. Pure. In the doorway of God's house.
Daughter. Never wife.
"I will go," she said. But she paved the mountains with tears. She had her own ghosts inside, you see: Husband's hand on rounded stomach as she bent over the dough, kneading her joy into shape. "Mother," meeting her ear like a song. A place among the other women at the river, scrubbing away stains on tiny clothes.
When she danced through that doorway, their little place of belonging was ripped in half.
"Oh, daughter! You have made me low!" He said into the dust.
Dear one. Only one. Doorway-dancer.
I gambled for a house and lost my home.
Oh, but he was always home.
He didn't see it at first.
But we know he sees it know: ". . . and they buried him in Gilead."
He closed his eyes on nowhere, and opened them on home.