Monthly Archives: June 2022

Digital Worship June 26, 2022

Both the contemporary online service and the sermon from this service are embedded at the bottom of the post.

3rd Sunday after Pentecost, June 26, 2022

We are gathered in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy   Spirit.

Amen

Almighty God, to whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid: cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the            inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you and worthily magnify your holy name, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

Most merciful God, we confess that we are captive to sin and cannot free ourselves. We have sinned against you in thought, word and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as           ourselves. For the sake of your Son, Jesus Christ, have mercy on us. Forgive us, renew us, and lead us, so that we may delight in your will and walk in your ways, to the glory of your holy name. Amen.

In the mercy of almighty God, Jesus Christ was given to die for us, and for his sake God forgives us all our sins. As a called and ordained minister of the church of Christ, and by his authority, I therefore declare to you the entire  forgiveness of all your sins, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Amen

Greeting:

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

Prayer of the Day

Let us pray. Sovereign God, ruler of all hearts, you call us to obey you, and you favor us with true freedom. Keep us faithful to the ways of your Son, that, leaving behind all that hinders us, we may steadfastly follow your paths, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

 First Reading: 1 Kings 19: 15-16, 19-21

15Then the Lord said to [Elijah,] “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus; when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael as king over Aram. 16Also you shall anoint Jehu son of Nimshi as king over Israel; and you shall anoint Elisha son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah as prophet in your place.
19So he set out from there, and found Elisha son of Shaphat, who was plowing. There were twelve yoke of oxen ahead of him, and he was with the twelfth. Elijah passed by him and threw his mantle over him. 20He left the oxen, ran after Elijah, and said, “Let me kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you.” Then Elijah said to him, “Go back again; for what have I done to you?” 21He returned from following him, took the yoke of oxen, and slaughtered them; using the equipment from the oxen, he boiled their flesh, and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he set out and followed Elijah, and became his servant.

  Psalm: Psalm 16

1Protect me, O God, for in you I take refuge.
 2I say to the LORD, “You are my LORD;
 I have no good apart from you.”
 3As for the holy ones in the land, they are the noble,
 in whom is all my delight.
 4Those who choose another god multiply their sorrows;
 their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out
 or take their names upon my lips.
 5The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup;
 you hold my lot.
 6The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
 I have a goodly heritage.
 7I bless the LORD who gives me counsel;
 in the night also my heart instructs me.
 8I keep the LORD always before me;
 because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.
 9Therefore my heart is glad, and my soul rejoices;
 my body also rests secure.
 10For you do not give me up to Sheol,
 or let your faithful one see the Pit.
 11You show me the path of life.
 In your presence there is fullness of joy;
 in your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

 Second Reading: Galatians 5:1, 13-25

1For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.13For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. 14For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 15If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another. 16Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want. 18But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law. 19Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, 20idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, 21envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.22By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. 24And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. 

Gospel: Luke 9: 51-62

51When the days drew near for [Jesus] to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. 52And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; 53but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. 54When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” 55But he turned and rebuked them. 56Then they went on to another village.
57As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” 59To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” 60But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” 61Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” 62Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

Sermon: Pastor Neil White

Apostles’ Creed

I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again. He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.

Assisting Minister

Let us pray:

Loving God, we lift up this world that you love. Renew your creation and give wisdom to all your people who share in your responsibility to care for the world. Give wisdom to the leaders of nations, states, and cities to care for your people and the world. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

The countries of the world experience disunity and conflict; we set our minds on fear and greed rather than on your rule of justice and steadfast love. Build up all countries on your cornerstone of peace. Protect and bless all who sacrifice to guard our freedoms, including: Ben, Brycen, Christian, Clayton, Daniel, Dillan, Haden, Lindsey, Luke, Michael, Spencer, Sydney, Tyler B. and Tyler G. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

We still weep with those who weep and mourn with those who mourn. Cradle the fearful, the suffering, and the dying, assuring them of your loving presence. We lift up before you: Aaron, Avery, Aubrey, Austin, Betsy, Billie, Bob D., Bob S., Brandi, Brenda, Christa, Cohen, Dan, Darla, Dave, Deanne, Dorothy,  Eliza, Francis, Jamie, Jan, Jerry K., Jerry N., Kathie, Kelly, Ken, Laurie, Linda, Makayla, Matt, Michele, Mick, Mike, Patrick, Pete, Sandy, Scott, Shae, Susan, Tom

and those we pray for in our hearts (pause)  Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Lord, we pray for the ministries of the ELCA and the Northern Texas – Northern Louisiana Synod, we also lift up in prayer today: Shepherd King Lutheran Church, Lubbock, Kin-dom Community Church, and Lutheran Sunset Ministries.

Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Leader: In trust and hope, we commend to you, O Lord, all for whom we pray. Amen.

Sharing of the Peace

Highlights

Offering Offering may be given in the offering plate or electronically through the Tithe.ly app. If you want to honor your electronic gift during the offering there are cards on the usher’s table for that purpose.

Words of Institution

Lord’s Prayer

 Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever. Amen.

Post Communion Prayer

A: Let us pray. Lord Jesus, in this sacrament you strengthen us with the saving power of your death and resurrection. May these gifts of your body and blood create in us the fruits of your redemption and grace in our lives, for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Blessing

DiscipleLife

L:    As God has claimed us as his own in Christ,

       we seek to follow Christ with these marks of DiscipleLife:

§Praying Daily

§Worshiping Weekly

§Studying the Bible

§Serving Others

§Building Spiritual Friendships

§Giving to God and our Neighbors in Need

§Engaging God’s Mission

Dismissal: “Go in peace, serve the Lord. Thanks be to God” Alleluia

Online Video Study of the Book of Philippians: Chapter 3

St. Paul Writing His Epistles probably by Valentin de Boulogne (1618-1620)

I created this for my congregation as a summer study on the book of Philippians. It is more of a devotional with a short reflection on a couple verses each day. This is the second chapter of Philippians, below is a link to the other chapters

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Day 16: Philippians 3: 1b-4a

Day 17: Philippians 3: 4b-6

Day 18: Philippians 3: 7-11

Day 19: Philippians 3: 12-16

Day 20: Philippians 3: 17-4:1

Judges 14 Samson and the Marriage at Timnah

Samson Slaying the Lion (1628) by Peter Paul Rubens

Judges 14

Once Samson went down to Timnah, and at Timnah he saw a Philistine woman. 2 Then he came up, and told his father and mother, “I saw a Philistine woman at Timnah; now get her for me as my wife.” 3 But his father and mother said to him, “Is there not a woman among your kin, or among all our people, that you must go to take a wife from the uncircumcised Philistines?” But Samson said to his father, “Get her for me, because she pleases me.” 4 His father and mother did not know that this was from the LORD; for he was seeking a pretext to act against the Philistines. At that time the Philistines had dominion over Israel.

5 Then Samson went down with his father and mother to Timnah. When he came to the vineyards of Timnah, suddenly a young lion roared at him. 6 The spirit of the LORD rushed on him, and he tore the lion apart barehanded as one might tear apart a kid. But he did not tell his father or his mother what he had done. 7 Then he went down and talked with the woman, and she pleased Samson. 8 After a while he returned to marry her, and he turned aside to see the carcass of the lion, and there was a swarm of bees in the body of the lion, and honey. 9 He scraped it out into his hands, and went on, eating as he went. When he came to his father and mother, he gave some to them, and they ate it. But he did not tell them that he had taken the honey from the carcass of the lion.

10 His father went down to the woman, and Samson made a feast there as the young men were accustomed to do. 11 When the people saw him, they brought thirty companions to be with him.12 Samson said to them, “Let me now put a riddle to you. If you can explain it to me within the seven days of the feast, and find it out, then I will give you thirty linen garments and thirty festal garments. 13 But if you cannot explain it to me, then you shall give me thirty linen garments and thirty festal garments.” So they said to him, “Ask your riddle; let us hear it.” 14 He said to them,

“Out of the eater came something to eat. Out of the strong came something sweet.”

But for three days they could not explain the riddle.15 On the fourth day they said to Samson’s wife, “Coax your husband to explain the riddle to us, or we will burn you and your father’s house with fire. Have you invited us here to impoverish us?” 16 So Samson’s wife wept before him, saying, “You hate me; you do not really love me. You have asked a riddle of my people, but you have not explained it to me.” He said to her, “Look, I have not told my father or my mother. Why should I tell you?” 17 She wept before him the seven days that their feast lasted; and because she nagged him, on the seventh day he told her. Then she explained the riddle to her people. 18 The men of the town said to him on the seventh day before the sun went down,

“What is sweeter than honey? What is stronger than a lion?”

And he said to them,

“If you had not plowed with my heifer, you would not have found out my riddle.”

19 Then the spirit of the LORD rushed on him, and he went down to Ashkelon. He killed thirty men of the town, took their spoil, and gave the festal garments to those who had explained the riddle. In hot anger he went back to his father’s house. 20 And Samson’s wife was given to his companion, who had been his best man.

The tragedy of the story of Samson in several ways parallels the larger tragedy of Israel as portrayed in the book of Judges. Both Samson and Israel have God call them in dramatic ways and both are given specific practices which are to set them apart from the surrounding people. Just as Samson seems unable to resist his attraction to Philistine women, the people of Israel have often not only intermarried with the Canaanites and the other nations but have also adopted the worship of their gods and their practices and life have become indistinguishable from their neighbors. Underneath the tragedy of Samson’s story is the wonder at what this promised child could have been if he had used his prodigious strength to carry the hopes of the people instead of acting like a petulant child who flaunts the boundaries and expectations that have been placed upon him.

Samson’s narrative follows a pattern where he becomes involved with a woman who betrays him (his Philistine ‘bride’ and a prostitute in Gaza) he is bound and handed over to the Philistines (by Judah in the next chapter and by Delilah in chapter sixteen) and he is then empowered by the LORD to kill his captors by brute force and violence. Samson as he is portrayed in the narrative is driven by his hunger and passion and quickly casts aside the expectations of a Nazirite or his obligations to his family’s wishes when it pleases him. Samson will do what it right in his own eyes, just as Israel will later be accused of doing as it quickly moves towards an internal conflict which poses a far greater threat than the Philistines. Samson’s individualistic hunger driven life which has no place to regard the covenant God has placed on him, the desires of his parents, and his calling within the community reflect the degradation of the covenant identity of Israel’s tribes as the devolve into warring factions.

The narrative of Samson we have in Judges has probably been condensed to be told efficiently but there are several minor gaps in the story which I’ll highlight as we journey through. Samson goes down to Timnah[1] and sees a Philistine woman and desires her. Throughout Judges intermarriage has been an issue with the Canaanites. It is likely that there had been intermarriage with the Philistines prior to Samson, but this is the first recorded instance in Judges and there seems to be an additional concern about the Philistines not practicing circumcision. The Philistines had come to the region of Canaan later, and it is known that Israel was not the only community that practiced circumcision. Yet, this difference in practices is a boundary that causes additional concerns for Manoah.[2] This also overturns the normal order of a family relationship since a father would normally decide who his sons (or daughters) would marry. The promised child who was to begin to deliver Israel from the Philistines begins by breaking the religious and cultural boundaries of Israel and turning the family order on its head. All because the woman is ‘right in his eyes.’[3]

The perspective on God in this story is peculiar. God’s perspective as told in the story accepts the personality of Samson because God intends to use Samson’s bad behavior to incite conflict between him and the Philistines. Yet, if the Philistines were the oppressors they are portrayed as there should be multiple opportunities for an individual to rise up against that oppression. Perhaps it is that Israel has simply accommodated to the life under Philistine rule and that even Samson with his prodigious strength see no alternative or any injustice that needs to be opposed. Nevertheless, there is a tension in the narrative when the action of God steers Samson to violate the prohibitions against intermarriage God gave in the covenant to the people. While I don’t doubt that God can work through a chaotic and troublesome individual like Samson the suspicious part of me, especially when combined with Samson’s violation of the Nazirite vows below, wonders if this is an attribution of God’s approval on Samson’s action in order to bring him closer to the image of a paragon of faithfulness.

The famous story of Samson and the lion is critical to the narrative but like the riddle it inspires it is full of strange and unexpected things. Samson is walking with his parents but when he arrives at the vineyard of Timnah his parents are gone. This is likely a place where the story is condensed in telling and it is important to the later narrative that his parents are not there. The presence of Samson in a vineyard is troubling since as a Nazirite he is not to eat anything from the vine, but the unexpected presence of a lion in the vineyard is also troubling. Lions live in wilderness areas not in cultivated vineyards, and yet here in this vineyard a Nazirite meets a lion and kills it violently with his bare hands. The carcass of the lion remains undisturbed in the vineyard and perhaps it is too early for workers to be tending the vineyard but it is seasonally warm enough for bees to make a hive in the midst of the carcass. The Nazirite Samson again enters the vineyard and sticks his hands into the carcass harvesting honey and breaking the Nazirite vow not to touch a corpse. Like Adam and Eve, he has eaten something he is forbidden to eat and he shares it with his parents without letting them know the source, perhaps indicating he knows they would not approve.

The Philistine woman of Timnah is essentially passive in this story. She never is given a name or a choice, she is simply the object of Samson’s passion. She pleases Samson, she is right in his eyes, therefore his father is to arrange the wedding. The seven-day feast could be an Israelite observance since many Israelite festivals are seven days, but it is likely that the companions at the feast are Philistines and the celebration banquet is a normal practice among the Philistines. The word for ‘feast’ (misteh) suggests a drinking feast (NIB II: 850) and the presence of Samson in the vineyard and now his presence at the feast likely means that Samson has now violated two of the three primary provisions for a Nazirite.  The presence of riddles at a feast would be common but Samson’s riddle is almost unsolvable without knowing about the story of the lion in the vineyard. It is possible that someone could stumble upon this corpse infested with bees, but it is telling that prior to this no one had been in the vineyard and disposed of the rotting carcass. The wager is a costly one in the ancient world, thirty garments is too large a price for these ‘companions’ to willingly pay. The timeline of the feast is confused. For the first three days the companions are unable to explain the riddle, the Greek Septuagint (which the NRSV follows) has the companions come to his wife on the fourth day, while the Hebrew text states they come to her on the seventh day. Yet, Samson’s wife weeps before him the seven days of the feast and whether she is threatened on day four or day seven the narrative indicates that her weeping over a period of time causes Samson distress. Samson’s actions have placed her and her family under threat of these young men, but it is also possible that this woman who Samson decided would be his wife is not joyous about the match after seeing her husbands conduct at the festival.

The tears of Samson’s wife finally convince him to release the answer to the riddle and she passes it on to the men who give the answer at the conclusion of the seven days. Samson departs in a petulant rage towards Ashkelon, twenty-five miles away in the heart of the Philistine confederation of five cities, and his rage turns murderous. Thirty men of Ashkelon lose their lives to provide the garments he now owes the men of Timnah and once Samson pays this debts he abandons his wife and returns to his father’s home. The woman who was right in his eyes is no longer right in his ears after seven days of weeping. The woman is given a new husband, one of the companions from the feast as Samson lives with his hot anger in his parent’s household.

This initial story of Samson desiring a Philistine bride and the trouble that ensues due to his actions sets the stage for a growing conflict between Samson and the Philistines. Samson’s actions are already in sharp contrast to the hope of the previous chapter. Yet, in many ways the Samson mirrors the degradation of the life in Israel. Just as the people have intermarried with their neighbors and have turned aside from their way of life, Samson has chosen a Philistine bride and abandoned many of the Nazirite practices. Samson’s choices have left him fuming with anger in his father’s home and with the blood of a lion and thirty men already on his strong hands.

[1] Timnah is in the Valley of Sorek. The Danites at the beginning of Judges were confined to the hills in their territory (1:34). (Webb, 2012, p. 364) It is likely that under the Philistine domination of the area that the remaining Canaanites, Philistines, and Israelites all lived in close proximity.

[2] In the Hebrew the words of his father and mother are spoken as singular (my people-‘ammi) and I take this to be Manoah speaking for both himself and Samson’s mother. This is one place where the text may be condensed.

[3] Hayyasar beenayo this is the same term used in Judges 17:6 and 21: 25 of Israel.

Digital Worship June 19 2022

Both the contemporary online service and the sermon from this service are embedded at the bottom of the post.

2nd Sunday after Pentecost, June 19, 2022

We are gathered in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy   Spirit.

Amen

Almighty God, to whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid: cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the            inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you and worthily magnify your holy name, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

Most merciful God, we confess that we are captive to sin and cannot free ourselves. We have sinned against you in thought, word and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as           ourselves. For the sake of your Son, Jesus Christ, have mercy on us. Forgive us, renew us, and lead us, so that we may delight in your will and walk in your ways, to the glory of your holy name. Amen.

In the mercy of almighty God, Jesus Christ was given to die for us, and for his sake God forgives us all our sins. As a called and ordained minister of the church of Christ, and by his authority, I therefore declare to you the entire  forgiveness of all your sins, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Amen

Greeting:

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

Prayer of the Day

Let us pray. O Lord God, we bring before you the cries of a sorrowing world. In your mercy set us free from the chains that bind us, and defend us from everything that is evil, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

 First Reading: Isaiah 65: 1-9

1I was ready to be sought out by those who did not ask, to be found by those who did not seek me. I said, “Here I am, here I am,” to a nation that did not call on my name.
2I held out my hands all day long to a rebellious people, who walk in a way that is not good, following their own devices;
3a people who provoke me to my face continually, sacrificing in gardens and offering incense on bricks;
4who sit inside tombs, and spend the night in secret places;
 who eat swine’s flesh, with broth of abominable things in their vessels;
5who say, “Keep to yourself, do not come near me, for I am too holy for you.”
 These are a smoke in my nostrils, a fire that burns all day long.
6See, it is written before me: I will not keep silent, but I will repay; I will indeed repay into their laps
7their iniquities and their ancestors’ iniquities together, says the Lord; because they offered incense on the mountains and reviled me on the hills, I will measure into their laps full payment for their actions.
    8Thus says the Lord: As the wine is found in the cluster, and they say, “Do not destroy it, for there is a blessing in it,” so I will do for my servants’ sake,
and not destroy them all.
9I will bring forth descendants from Jacob, and from Judah inheritors of my mountains; my chosen shall inherit it, and my servants shall settle there.  

  Psalm: Psalm 22: 19-28

 19But you, O LORD, do not be far away!
 O my help, come quickly to my aid!
 20Deliver my soul from the sword,
 my life from the power of the dog!
 21Save me from the mouth of the lion!
 From the horns of the wild oxen you have rescued me.
 22I will tell of your name to my brothers and sisters
 in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:
 23You who fear the LORD, praise him!
 All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him;
 stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!
 24For he did not despise or abhor
 the affliction of the afflicted;
 he did not hide his face from me,
 but heard when I cried to him.
 25From you comes my praise in the great congregation;
 my vows I will pay before those who fear him.
 26The poor shall eat and be satisfied;
 those who seek him shall praise the LORD.
 May your hearts live forever!
 27All the ends of the earth shall remember
 and turn to the LORD;
 and all the families of the nations
 shall worship before him.
 28For dominion belongs to the LORD,
 and he rules over the nations.

 Second Reading: Galatians 3: 23-29

23Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. 24Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. 25But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, 26for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. 27As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. 29And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.

Gospel: Luke 8: 26-39

26Then [Jesus and his disciples] arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. 27As he stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs. 28When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me”—29for Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many times it had seized him; he was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the wilds.) 30Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” He said, “Legion”; for many demons had entered him. 31They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss.
32Now there on the hillside a large herd of swine was feeding; and the demons begged Jesus to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. 33Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.
34When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran off and told it in the city and in the country. 35Then people came out to see what had happened, and when they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid. 36Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed. 37Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned. 38The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying, 39“Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.

Sermon: Pastor Neil White

Apostles’ Creed

I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again. He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.

Assisting Minister

Let us pray:

Loving God, we lift up this world that you love. Renew your creation and give wisdom to all your people who share in your responsibility to care for the world. Give wisdom to the leaders of nations, states, and cities to care for your people and the world. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

The countries of the world experience disunity and conflict; we set our minds on fear and greed rather than on your rule of justice and steadfast love. Build up all countries on your cornerstone of peace. Protect and bless all who sacrifice to guard our freedoms, including: Ben, Brycen, Christian, Clayton, Daniel, Dillan, Haden, Lindsey, Luke, Michael, Spencer, Sydney, Tyler B. and Tyler G. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

We still weep with those who weep and mourn with those who mourn. Cradle the fearful, the suffering, and the dying, assuring them of your loving presence. We lift up before you: Aaron, Avery, Aubrey, Austin, Betsy, Billie, Bob D., Bob S., Brandi, Brenda, Christa, Cohen, Dan, Darla, Dave, Deanne, Dorothy,  Eliza, Francis, Jamie, Jan, Jerry K., Jerry N., Kathie, Kelly, Ken, Laurie, Linda, Makayla, Matt, Maureen, Michele, Mick, Mike, Patrick, Pete, Sandy, Scott, Shae, Susan, Tom and Vim

and those we pray for in our hearts (pause)  Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Lord, we pray for the ministries of the ELCA and the Northern Texas – Northern Louisiana Synod, we also lift up in prayer today: Immanuel Lutheran Church, Killeen, Church of the Damascus Road and The incarcerated and those working in prisons.

Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Leader: In trust and hope, we commend to you, O Lord, all for whom we pray. Amen.

Sharing of the Peace

Highlights

Offering Offering may be given in the offering plate or electronically through the Tithe.ly app. If you want to honor your electronic gift during the offering there are cards on the usher’s table for that purpose.

Words of Institution

Lord’s Prayer

 Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever. Amen.

Post Communion Prayer

A: Let us pray. Lord Jesus, in this sacrament you strengthen us with the saving power of your death and resurrection. May these gifts of your body and blood create in us the fruits of your redemption and grace in our lives, for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Blessing

DiscipleLife

L:    As God has claimed us as his own in Christ,

       we seek to follow Christ with these marks of DiscipleLife:

§Praying Daily

§Worshiping Weekly

§Studying the Bible

§Serving Others

§Building Spiritual Friendships

§Giving to God and our Neighbors in Need

§Engaging God’s Mission

Dismissal: “Go in peace, serve the Lord. Thanks be to God” Alleluia

Judges 13 The Birth and Calling of Samson

The Sacrifice of Manoah (1640–50) by Eustache Le Sueur

Judges 13

The Israelites again did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, and the LORD gave them into the hand of the Philistines forty years.

2 There was a certain man of Zorah, of the tribe of the Danites, whose name was Manoah. His wife was barren, having borne no children. 3 And the angel of the LORD appeared to the woman and said to her, “Although you are barren, having borne no children, you shall conceive and bear a son. 4 Now be careful not to drink wine or strong drink, or to eat anything unclean, 5 for you shall conceive and bear a son. No razor is to come on his head, for the boy shall be a nazirite to God from birth. It is he who shall begin to deliver Israel from the hand of the Philistines.” 6 Then the woman came and told her husband, “A man of God came to me, and his appearance was like that of an angel of God, most awe-inspiring; I did not ask him where he came from, and he did not tell me his name; 7 but he said to me, ‘You shall conceive and bear a son. So then drink no wine or strong drink, and eat nothing unclean, for the boy shall be a nazirite to God from birth to the day of his death.'”

8 Then Manoah entreated the LORD, and said, “O, LORD, I pray, let the man of God whom you sent come to us again and teach us what we are to do concerning the boy who will be born.” 9 God listened to Manoah, and the angel of God came again to the woman as she sat in the field; but her husband Manoah was not with her. 10 So the woman ran quickly and told her husband, “The man who came to me the other day has appeared to me.” 11 Manoah got up and followed his wife, and came to the man and said to him, “Are you the man who spoke to this woman?” And he said, “I am.” 12 Then Manoah said, “Now when your words come true, what is to be the boy’s rule of life; what is he to do?” 13 The angel of the LORD said to Manoah, “Let the woman give heed to all that I said to her. 14 She may not eat of anything that comes from the vine. She is not to drink wine or strong drink, or eat any unclean thing. She is to observe everything that I commanded her.”

15 Manoah said to the angel of the LORD, “Allow us to detain you, and prepare a kid for you.” 16 The angel of the LORD said to Manoah, “If you detain me, I will not eat your food; but if you want to prepare a burnt offering, then offer it to the LORD.” (For Manoah did not know that he was the angel of the LORD.) 17 Then Manoah said to the angel of the LORD, “What is your name, so that we may honor you when your words come true?” 18 But the angel of the LORD said to him, “Why do you ask my name? It is too wonderful.”

19 So Manoah took the kid with the grain offering, and offered it on the rock to the LORD, to him who work wonders. 20 When the flame went up toward heaven from the altar, the angel of the LORD ascended in the flame of the altar while Manoah and his wife looked on; and they fell on their faces to the ground. 21 The angel of the LORD did not appear again to Manoah and his wife. Then Manoah realized that it was the angel of the LORD. 22 And Manoah said to his wife, “We shall surely die, for we have seen God.” 23 But his wife said to him, “If the LORD had meant to kill us, he would not have accepted a burnt offering and a grain offering at our hands, or shown us all these things, or now announced to us such things as these.”

24 The woman bore a son, and named him Samson. The boy grew, and the LORD blessed him. 25 The spirit of the LORD began to stir him in Mahaneh-dan, between Zorah and Eshtaol.

At this point in the book of Judges the situation for Israel is perilous. The pernicious cycle of disobedience has continued and escalated, the quality of the judges has declined, and intertribal conflict has already proved to be as dangerous as the surrounding nations. Yet, the LORD continues to provide a way for the people to be delivered from their oppression. This unusual announcement of Samson’s birth and calling provides an opportunity for hope in the midst of the despair but in the midst of an ascendent Philistine threat and a disunified and disobedient Israel there is also significant cause for concern.

The Philistines were first mentioned in Judges 3:31 when the minor judge Shamgar kills six hundred Philistines with an oxgoad, and we see evidence of their presence being a threat to Israel in Judges 10:7. Now the Philistines are the primary military threat the Israelites face and they will continue to be a military threat until King David vanquishes them one hundred and fifty years later. The Philistines were a sea faring people that likely originated in the Greek islands and came to Canaan. They had settled in the coastal plain with a confederation of five cities (Gaza, Ashdod, Ashkelon, Ekron, and Gath) and were a militaristic people who had the ability extract iron from its ore for use in weaponry. Their seafaring culture also made them heavily engaged in trading from Anatolia (modern day Turkey) to Egypt. This militaristic people with advanced metallurgical knowledge and extensive trade and mercantile connections formed a sharp contrast with these divided tribes of “agrarian homesteaders with inferior bronze implements and no martial tradition of which to speak.” (Hattin, 2020, p. 145)

The forty years which the Israelites suffer under the hand of the Philistines is twice as long as any previous time period which an enemy had oppressed the people.[1] As Barry Webb can state,

By the time Samson is born the Philistine dominance over Israel is so complete, and the morale of Israel so low, that even the hope that Yahweh might save them has been extinguished.” (Webb, 2012, p. 350)

It is possible that the idolatry of the people has become so pervasive that there is not even the cultural memory of calling upon the LORD remains because they have forgotten their God. The plight of this exhausted people is dire as they exist oppressed by the Philistines and alienated from the LORD their God.

It is into this dire situation that the angel of God approaches this unnamed wife on Manoah with an incredible calling and commission for her future son. Manoah’s wife stands in a tradition of barren women who receive a message from God about her future child/children[2] and with this announcement we are encouraged to wonder about this child to be born. The Danites were one of the weakest tribes and were unable to claim their portion of Canaan at the beginning of Judges (1: 34-35) and it is telling that the Hebrew uses the word for family or clan (mishpahat) instead of the usual word for tribe (sebet).  This messenger from God has appeared in two previous places in the narrative of Judges: at Bochim to rebuke the people (2:1) and at the commissioning of Gideon (6: 11-12).

The setting aside of an individual as a nazirite is described in Number 6: 1-21 and is usually for a designated period, but Samson is designated before his birth to take on this identity for his life. Samson’s life as a nazirite is divinely ordained rather than chosen by himself, and in some respects this reflects the language of the call of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1: 5). Yet this calling also requires the mother to observe the characteristics of a nazirite while she is pregnant with Samson. Even in the womb Samson is to live under the rules that make him set aside as special and holy.

Another reason for hope in this passage is that the angel of the LORD approaches the wife of Manoah. I have mentioned throughout these reflections that the role and safety of women in the book of Judges is a measure of the security and faithfulness of the people. Even though the woman is not named she has an important role in enabling the future judge to live faithfully into his calling. She may not have as much authority as Achsah or Deborah or end the oppression of a foreign king like Jael, but her role has more hope than Jephthah’s unnamed daughter. Manoah’s role in the story can be read as faithful or as trying to reassert power within the relationship. Manoah, unlike the rest of Israel at this point, does ask the LORD for guidance and this may be an attempt at faithfulness to ensure that the wife and child are brought up the way the LORD desires. Yet, it may also be an attempt to have the emissary of the LORD deal with him and to assert his power in the household. Ultimately both may together form Manoah’s motivation since most ancient families assumed a patriarchal authority in determining how both the spouse and children would live. Yet, the angel of the LORD again approaches the wife of Manoah and she summons her husband to meet this messenger.

When asked by Manoah if this is the same messenger who previously spoke to his wife, his simple response of “I am”[3] and then reiterates the instruction he previously gave to Manoah’s wife. Manoah receives no additional instruction how to guide the boy’s life and it remains the mother and not the father who remains in the foreground of this initial stage of the narrative. As Barry Webb can state “The implication seems to be that Manoah will never “own” the boy as a normal father might; he will be a Nazirite of God (v.7), and it is God, not Manoah, who will shape his life.” (Webb, 2012, p. 355)

Manoah belatedly remembers to offer hospitality to this strange messenger who has come to his wife. His wife has previously had some insight into the character of the messenger when she describes him, ‘like and angel of God, most awe-inspiring’ but Manoah seems oblivious. He is convinced that the child will be born but he treats this messenger like a prophet instead of an angel. Yet, Manoah obediently prepares the offering and then asks for the name of the messenger. The angel of the LORD stating his name is ‘too wonderful’ and the offering to the God who “works wonders[4] do draw a closer connection between the messenger and God. When the angelic messenger ascends in the flames Manoah finally ascertains a portion of the truth yet his wife continues to remain one step ahead of him realizing that the visit of the angel of the LORD is not going to cause their death since their offering was accepted and their death would make the announced birth impossible.

Yet, in the midst of all the hope engendered by the announcement of the future child set apart from birth there is an ominous word. In verse five the angel announces that, “he will begin to save Israel from the hands of the Philistines.” Unlike the Moabites, the Ammonites and the other threats in the book of Judges the Philistines are different and it will be a longer struggle to be free of this opponent. Samson can only begin what will be a long struggle between Israel and the Philistines. As mentioned above it will be one hundred fifty years when the Israelites are united under King David when the Philistines are no longer a feared oppressor. Yet, this provision by God to a people who no longer ask for God’s assistance gives some hope in the midst of the oppression by this external opponent. It remains to be seen if this hoped for child can turn Israel from its practice of ‘doing evil in the sight of the LORD.’

[1] Eight years under Kushan-rishathaim (3:8), eighteen years under Moab (3: 14), twenty years under King Jabin of Canaan (4:3), seven years under Midian (6: 1), and eighteen years under the Ammonites (10: 8)

[2] Sarah (Genesis 21: 1-3), Rebecca (Genesis 25: 19-21),  Rachel (Genesis 29:31, 30: 22), Hannah (1 Samuel 1:2), and the Shunamite woman (2 Kings 4: 8-17)

[3] The Hebrew ‘ani does not have any formal correspondence to the name of God ‘YHWH’ from Exodus 3:14 and so it is unlikely this is an allusion to the identity of the angel of the LORD and the LORD the God of Israel being the same. (Webb, 2012, p. 354) Yet, see below on the use of ‘wonder’ and ‘wonderful’.

[4] Wonderful pieli’y and wonder pele’ are the adjective and noun form of the same word and pele’ in its thirteen uses in the scriptures is always used for God. (Webb, 2012, p. 356)

Online Video Study on the Book of Philippians: Chapter 2

St. Paul Writing His Epistles probably by Valentin de Boulogne (1618-1620)

I created this for my congregation as a summer study on the book of Philippians. It is more of a devotional with a short reflection on a couple verses each day. This is the second chapter of Philippians, below is a link to the other chapters

Chapter 1

Day 9: Philippians 2: 1-4

Day 10: Philippians 2: 5-8

Day 11: Philippians 2: 9-11

Day 12: Philippians 2: 12-13

Day 13: Philippians 2: 14-18

Day 14: Philippians 2: 19-24

Day 15: Philippians 2: 25- 3:1a

Online Video Study on the Book of Philippians: Chapter 1

St. Paul Writing His Epistles probably by Valentin de Boulogne (1618-1620)

I created this for my congregation as a summer study on the book of Philippians. It is more of a devotional with a short reflection on a couple verses each day.

Day 1: Philippians 1: 1-2

Day 2: Philippians 1: 3-6

Day 3: Philippians 1: 7-11

Day 4: Philippians 1: 12-14

Day 5: Philippians 1: 15-18

Day 6: Philippians 1: 18b-20

Day 7: Philippians 1: 20-26

Judges 12 Jephthah’s Ignoble End and Three Minor Judges

The Return of Jephtha, by Giovanni Antonio Pellegrini

Judges 12: 1-7 Intertribal Conflict Under Jephthah

1 The men of Ephraim were called to arms, and they crossed to Zaphon and said to Jephthah, “Why did you cross over to fight against the Ammonites, and did not call us to go with you? We will burn your house down over you!” 2 Jephthah said to them, “My people and I were engaged in conflict with the Ammonites who oppressed us severely. But when I called you, you did not deliver me from their hand. 3 When I saw that you would not deliver me, I took my life in my hand, and crossed over against the Ammonites, and the LORD gave them into my hand. Why then have you come up to me this day, to fight against me?” 4 Then Jephthah gathered all the men of Gilead and fought with Ephraim; and the men of Gilead defeated Ephraim, because they said, “You are fugitives from Ephraim, you Gileadites — in the heart of Ephraim and Manasseh.”1 5 Then the Gileadites took the fords of the Jordan against the Ephraimites. Whenever one of the fugitives of Ephraim said, “Let me go over,” the men of Gilead would say to him, “Are you an Ephraimite?” When he said, “No,” 6 they said to him, “Then say Shibboleth,” and he said, “Sibboleth,” for he could not pronounce it right. Then they seized him and killed him at the fords of the Jordan. Forty-two thousand of the Ephraimites fell at that time.

7 Jephthah judged Israel six years. Then Jephthah the Gileadite died, and was buried in his town in Gilead.

The group of tribes and clans collectively known as Israel is unravelling. The tribe of Ephraim occupied the central hill country of northern Israel and by location and population they were one of the more powerful tribes. It is telling that northern Israel will often be referred to as Ephraim in later writings just as southern Israel is associated with Judah. Throughout the book of Judges, the role of Ephraim has been another barometer of the health of the confederation of tribes: initially under Ehud and Barak[1] Ephraim willingly goes forth to fight alongside other tribes, under Gideon they complain that they are not summoned until after the Midianites are scattered and fleeing yet Gideon is able to appease them, here they come with an armed force to confront Jephthah. The LORD may have delivered the Ammonites into Jephthah’s hands but here the God of Israel remains silent in this internal conflict.

We have seen conflict erupt inside Israel under Gideon and Abimelech, and now it expands dramatically in this conflict between the people of Gilead and the people of Ephraim. The Ephraimites leaders and their armed followers who boast that the people of Gilead are ‘fugitives’ or ‘renegades’ of Manasseh and Ephraim quickly find the tables turned as they are cut-off from their homes when Jephthah’s followers capture the fords of the Jordan River and strand the Ephraimite combatants on the eastern side. The difference in regional dialects becomes a tool of terror as Ephraimites attempting to flee home are captured and butchered at the river crossings. The loss of forty-two thousand Ephraimites at the hands of fellow Israelites is a slaughter of heartbreaking proportions. The tribes of Israel prove that the greatest threat to their continued existence is internal, and that the tribes are dangerously close to entering into a civil war where the tribes threaten the continued existence of one another.

Jephthah as a judge does not compare favorably when placed next to the preceding judges. His time judging Israel is shorter than anyone except Abimelech. He was an unexpected judge because of his heritage as a child of a prostitute which was forced to flee his homeland and his previous life as a bandit and raider. He is successful in leading the people of Gilead to victory over the Ammonites, but he is unable to manage conflicts between tribes and is responsible for the death of forty-two thousand Israelites of his neighboring tribe. One curious final note is that he is buried literally ‘in the towns of Gilead.”[2] There is a rabbinic tradition that Jephthah died of a debilitating illness that caused his limbs to drop off and be buried in different cities of the territory of Gilead (Hattin, 2020, p. 139)and perhaps they perceived a sort of poetic justice for one whose twisted act of devotion caused the dismemberment of his own family and division among the tribes of Israel. Regardless of how Jephthah dies and is buried, his short divisive reign as a judge of Israel demonstrates how perilous the future is for the tribes of Israel.

Judges 12: 8-15 The Final Three Minor Judges

8 After him Ibzan of Bethlehem judged Israel. 9 He had thirty sons. He gave his thirty daughters in marriage outside his clan and brought in thirty young women from outside for his sons. He judged Israel seven years. 10 Then Ibzan died, and was buried at Bethlehem.

11 After him Elon the Zebulunite judged Israel; and he judged Israel ten years. 12 Then Elon the Zebulunite died, and was buried at Aijalon in the land of Zebulun.

13 After him Abdon son of Hillel the Pirathonite judged Israel. 14 He had forty sons and thirty grandsons, who rode on seventy donkeys; he judged Israel eight years. 15 Then Abdon son of Hillel the Pirathonite died, and was buried at Pirathon in the land of Ephraim, in the hill country of the Amalekites.

The final set of minor judges provide a transition between the story of Jephthah and the story of Samson. In contrast to Shamgar and Tola they do not deliver Israel from any threat (internal or external). Ibzan, Elon, and Abdon judge for much shorter durations as well, time periods similar to Jephthah’s. Ibzan is noted for his large extended family which he arranges marriages for beyond his clan (presumably for economic prosperity and power). The final three judges come from different regions in Israel and may have had overlapping times where they exercised power- Bethlehem is in the south near Jerusalem, Zebulun is in the north of Israel, while Ephraim is in the middle. Elon who judges the longest has no mention of family, only that he judged ten years and was buried in Aijalon. Abdon is again highlighted for the size of his family and like Jair the Gileadite his sons and grandsons ride donkeys. The acquisition of large families with wealth and power may serve as effective leaders in times of relative peace, but like the sons of Jair they will prove ineffective when the next military threat arises because of the inability of the people to live faithfully to their covenant with the LORD the God of Israel.[3]

[1] Although not mentioned in the narrative of Judges 4, Ephraim has an active role according to the song of Deborah and Barak in Judges 5:14.

[2] The noun for towns is plural in Hebrew.

[3] The theological perspective of the book of Judges is that Israel’s oppression by external enemies is directly correlated to their pernicious propensity to adopt the practices of the surrounding peoples and to worship their gods.

Rapture

Dime sized toads hop across the pavement in the early morning light
While hot air balloons in their brightly colored tops float by slowly
A rabbit peaks up from its morning meal as the traveler passes through
Warily watching this newcomer passing through its dining room
On the edge of a wheat field hidden behind a tall wall of weeds
A small refuge from the ever-creeping growth of the city
So much life missed by those who fly past in their cars
Starting their morning tasks, blind to the world around
But the solitary traveler stands in a moment of rapture
Whistling a traveler’s tune seeing with eyes tuned to wonder
As the world slowly awakes to the warmth an early summer day.

Judges 11 Jepthah and a Corrupted View of God

The Return of Jephtha, by Giovanni Antonio Pellegrini

Judges 11:1-11 A Strange Choice to Lead the People

1 Now Jephthah the Gileadite, the son of a prostitute, was a mighty warrior. Gilead was the father of Jephthah. 2 Gilead’s wife also bore him sons; and when his wife’s sons grew up, they drove Jephthah away, saying to him, “You shall not inherit anything in our father’s house; for you are the son of another woman.” 3 Then Jephthah fled from his brothers and lived in the land of Tob. Outlaws collected around Jephthah and went raiding with him.

4 After a time the Ammonites made war against Israel. 5 And when the Ammonites made war against Israel, the elders of Gilead went to bring Jephthah from the land of Tob. 6 They said to Jephthah, “Come and be our commander, so that we may fight with the Ammonites.” 7 But Jephthah said to the elders of Gilead, “Are you not the very ones who rejected me and drove me out of my father’s house? So why do you come to me now when you are in trouble?” 8 The elders of Gilead said to Jephthah, “Nevertheless, we have now turned back to you, so that you may go with us and fight with the Ammonites, and become head over us, over all the inhabitants of Gilead.” 9 Jephthah said to the elders of Gilead, “If you bring me home again to fight with the Ammonites, and the LORD gives them over to me, I will be your head.” 10 And the elders of Gilead said to Jephthah, “The LORD will be witness between us; we will surely do as you say.” 11 So Jephthah went with the elders of Gilead, and the people made him head and commander over them; and Jephthah spoke all his words before the LORD at Mizpah.

The story of Jephthah the Gileadite illustrates how corrupted Israel’s life and faith has become. Jephthah is one step further removed from his father’s line than Abimelech: while Abimelech was the son of a concubine we are immediately told that Jephthah is the son of a prostitute. He is a child of the region. When the narrative names his father as Gilead it is possible that it is a later descendant of Gilead son of Machir that the region is named for, but it is also possible that Gilead replaces the name of his father because it is unknown or to protect his name. Jephthah starts life as a disinherited bastard forced out by his half-brothers and forced to flee his homeland. Jephthah new life begins in the land of Tob (good) but his life is that of a bandit and raider who leads other outlaws and outcasts. He who fled for fear of his half-brothers has emerged as a force to fear and a ‘mighty warrior.’[1]

At the end of the previous chapter the leaders of Gilead have declared that whoever leads them against the Ammonite threat will be their head. The thirty sons of Jair the Gileadite have not risen to the challenge, nor has any of the other leaders. The lack of a compelling leader who can oppose the Ammonite threat causes the elders to seek out a bandit and strongman who they had previously expelled. Jephthah and his social misfits[2] are now brought to Gilead to be the answer to the Ammonite threat. Jephthah refuses to accept anything less that being head over the people of Gilead if he is to rescue those who previously rejected him. This elevation of a strongman who was the son of a prostitute does emphasize the deterioration of the quality of people available to rescue Israel, a quality which is reflective of the alienation from the LORD the God of Israel. Yet it also follows a common theme in the bible of God’s salvation coming from unexpected places. (Hattin 2020, 110-111)

It is worth noting that although Jephthah invokes the name of the LORD to witness the agreement between Jephthah and the leaders of Gilead and, presumably in some type of ceremony, speaks his words before the LORD as he assumes his position, there is no calling of Jephthah by the LORD.  Jephthah is the leader the elders of Gilead have chosen. Like Abimelech, it is the leaders of the area who select a strongman with a checkered past. The story of Jephthah is one of triumph and tragedy. Gilead will be the strongman that the crisis with the Ammonites demands but the story we have of his life also demonstrates that central parts of the relationship between the LORD and the people have been compromised and that the continued life of the tribes of Israel is in a tenuous state.

Judges 11: 12-28 Dueling Histories

12 Then Jephthah sent messengers to the king of the Ammonites and said, “What is there between you and me, that you have come to me to fight against my land?” 13 The king of the Ammonites answered the messengers of Jephthah, “Because Israel, on coming from Egypt, took away my land from the Arnon to the Jabbok and to the Jordan; now therefore restore it peaceably.” 14 Once again Jephthah sent messengers to the king of the Ammonites 15 and said to him: “Thus says Jephthah: Israel did not take away the land of Moab or the land of the Ammonites, 16 but when they came up from Egypt, Israel went through the wilderness to the Red Sea and came to Kadesh. 17 Israel then sent messengers to the king of Edom, saying, ‘Let us pass through your land’; but the king of Edom would not listen. They also sent to the king of Moab, but he would not consent. So Israel remained at Kadesh. 18 Then they journeyed through the wilderness, went around the land of Edom and the land of Moab, arrived on the east side of the land of Moab, and camped on the other side of the Arnon. They did not enter the territory of Moab, for the Arnon was the boundary of Moab. 19 Israel then sent messengers to King Sihon of the Amorites, king of Heshbon; and Israel said to him, ‘Let us pass through your land to our country.’ 20 But Sihon did not trust Israel to pass through his territory; so Sihon gathered all his people together, and encamped at Jahaz, and fought with Israel. 21 Then the LORD, the God of Israel, gave Sihon and all his people into the hand of Israel, and they defeated them; so Israel occupied all the land of the Amorites, who inhabited that country. 22 They occupied all the territory of the Amorites from the Arnon to the Jabbok and from the wilderness to the Jordan. 23 So now the LORD, the God of Israel, has conquered the Amorites for the benefit of his people Israel. Do you intend to take their place? 24 Should you not possess what your god Chemosh gives you to possess? And should we not be the ones to possess everything that the LORD our God has conquered for our benefit? 25 Now are you any better than King Balak son of Zippor of Moab? Did he ever enter into conflict with Israel, or did he ever go to war with them? 26 While Israel lived in Heshbon and its villages, and in Aroer and its villages, and in all the towns that are along the Arnon, three hundred years, why did you not recover them within that time? 27 It is not I who have sinned against you, but you are the one who does me wrong by making war on me. Let the LORD, who is judge, decide today for the Israelites or for the Ammonites.” 28 But the king of the Ammonites did not heed the message that Jephthah sent him.

The correspondence between Jephthah and the king of the Ammonites is illustrative of the deep-seated disagreements that people may have over history. The king of the Ammonite’s justification for invasion is a three-hundred-year-old battle when Israel took possession of this land on the eastern side of the Jordan. The Ammonites likely do not expect Jephthah to yield the territory of Gilead to them, but when asked for a reason for their invasion they make their claim. In modern times Russia can claim a history for why they should invade Ukraine, and Israel and Palestine have competing claims on a common land, but in both ancient and modern conflicts the reason for claiming a land often rests upon the ability to enforce one’s claims militarily. Jephthah’s response demonstrates that some of Israel’s history has been retained as he is able to summarize Numbers 20-21 and Deuteronomy 2, but it is also intriguing that Jephthah refers to the god of the Ammonites as Chemosh. Chemosh is in every other biblical and archeological texts the god of Moab while Molech is the god of the Ammonites. I have my suspicions why the name of the god is mistaken or changed which I will address in the following section, but it is strange to have such a significant mistake, if it was historical, be carried forward in the scriptural remembrance of it.

Ultimately the dueling histories in Jephthah’s mind are to be resolved by dueling deities. The conflict between the armies of Gilead and the Ammonites is a contest between their gods. If the God of Israel can be a mighty warrior who defeats the god of the Ammonites it will be demonstrated on the battlefield and justify whichever party prevails in their occupation of the land of Gilead. Jephthah commits the question to the LORD’s judgment and prepares to meet the Ammonites in battle.

Judges 11:29-40 A Corrupted View of God

29 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. 30 And Jephthah made a vow to the LORD, and said, “If you will give the Ammonites into my hand, 31 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.” 32 So Jephthah crossed over to the Ammonites to fight against them; and the LORD gave them into his hand. 33 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.

34 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. 35 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.” 36 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.” 37 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.” 38 “Go,” he said and sent her away for two months. So she departed, she and her companions, and bewailed her virginity on the mountains. 39 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 40 for four days every year the daughters of Israel would go out to lament the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite.

The Daughter of Jephthah, by Alexandre Cabanel (1879).

On the surface this story is an uncomfortable story of a rash vow that costs a daughter her life. Leaning into the story it is an even more ominous look into a corrupted view of the LORD the God of Israel with an intentional human sacrifice as the promised reward for a military triumph. As we saw with Gideon, the spirit of the LORD descending upon an individual does not seem to change the character of the individual. In Gideon’s case it allows him to rally the people, but it does not quell his doubts and fears. With Jephthah it does not cause him to make this declaration to the LORD.

Jephthah until this point has sounded like he is a worshipper of the LORD who is demonstrating faithful adherence to the God of Israel in contrast to the portrayal of the people of Israel. Yet, there is no indication that God has previously selected Jephthah as a judge for the people, it is the leaders of Gilead who come seeking a strongman to lead them in the midst of their crisis. Yet the vow that Jephthah takes should catch our attention, especially in the context of the conflict with the Ammonites. The Hebrew idiom used in the vow (latzet likrat) is used everywhere else in the scriptures for the meeting of two or more people and the term likrat by itself is used over a hundred times and only means an animal once. (Hattin 2020, 125) Jephthah likely intends for the burnt sacrifice to be a human sacrifice. This points to either Jephthah participating in the worship of gods like Molech or blending these practices into the worship of the God of Israel.

The other narrative where the possibility of human sacrifice occurs in Genesis 22. This text, often called the Akedah, is where God asks Abraham to take his son Isaac and offer him as a sacrifice, but Abraham’s God stops this action and provides a ram instead. The practice of offering children as a burnt offering is one of the practices of the people that the God of Israel indicates is abhorrent and the Israelites are not to copy (Deuteronomy 12: 31). As mentioned above it is Molech who is attested in scripture and in other sources as the god of the Ammonites, and the practices that is singled out among Molech worshippers in the bible is the sacrifice of children (Leviticus 18:21, 20: 2-5, 2 Kings 23: 10, Jeremiah 32:35). Perhaps the substitution of Chemosh for Molech calls attention away from the practice of child sacrifice and attempts to make Jephthah’s vow more palatable as an action of faith towards the God of Israel. Yet, something has corrupted the practice and faith of Jephthah and others throughout Israel where the practice of worship the God of Israel is indistinguishable from the practices of the worship of the god of the Ammonites.

The victory is noted very briefly: the LORD gives the Ammonites into Jephthah’s hand, and the Ammonites suffer a massive defeat. The divine contest between the god of the Ammonites and the God of Israel is reflected in the military victory of Jephthah’s forces. The emphasis in the story is on the vow and its tragic fulfillment. Jephthah likely intended a human sacrifice but did not intend for the sacrifice to be his only child. Even the unnamed daughter doesn’t question the propriety of the vow or the need to fulfill it. The impact of this story becomes transformed into practice in the region as young women go out for four days to lament this daughter lost to a father’s foolish and faithless promise, but it also cements this story as a part of the legacy of the people of Israel.

Some later Jewish and Christian interpreters of this story will attempt to change the narrative where this daughter is dedicated to God to live in chastity and service. Yet, the text indicates that Jephthah completed the vow of offering the first person as a burnt sacrifice. One of the indicators of the community’s religious health and faithfulness in Judges is the treatment of women and children (NIB II: 835). Initially women have status and names, but as the book of Judges progresses the status of women and children becomes increasingly perilous. The willingness to causally sacrifice the life of a human being is indicative of the gods which one worships. I write this reflection in the immediate aftermath of shootings in Buffalo and Uvalde, and it makes me question if it was only the ancient Israelites who had a problem with blending the worship of their God with the practices of other gods. One of the benefits of an account like Judges is that it can cause us to ask uncomfortable questions about the society that our God intends for us and our faithfulness to that vision.

 

[1] Hebrew ‘gibbor hayil’, this is the same title that the messenger of God gives to Gideon

[2] Hebrew ‘nasim reqim’ literally empty men (Webb 2012, 310)