Story of the Chosen People - Helene Guerber

Jephthah's Daughter

Although Gideon had refused the royal power, it was claimed after his death by Abimelech, one of his sons. This young man secured the help of the Shechemites, and, to prevent anyone from disputing his claim to the throne, he killed seventy of his relatives.

A prophet was sent to reprove the Shechemites for helping Abimelech, and he did so by telling them a parable, or lesson taught by a story, which is probably the oldest in the world.

He told them that the trees once decided to elect a king, and chose the olive; but the olive tree refused to leave its fatness, to serve other trees. The fig tree, which was next chosen, refused to give up its sweetness, and the vine, its power to cheer; and all the trees and shrubs found some good excuse to decline the honor of being king.

At last the charge was accepted by the worthless bramble, which said: "If in truth ye anoint me king over you, then come and put your trust in my shadow, and if not, let fire come out of the bramble and devour the cedars of Lebanon."

You see, all the other trees were good for something, and had something to live for and to do; but the worthless bramble, which could produce nothing and was only fit for the fire, was ready enough to accept the crown, although it could not even furnish shadow enough to protect any one, and knew that the other trees would suffer if they came near it, and would perish in the fire to which it was condemned.

The prophecy contained in this parable was fulfilled three years later; for Abimelech, the worthless bramble, having grown angry with his former friends the Shechemites, came against them with an army, defeated them, and set fire to one of their principal towers, where many people had taken refuge.

He next passed on to Thebez, where he again tried to set fire to the walls with his own hand. But while he was thus occupied, a woman threw a fragment of a millstone down upon his head, and broke his skull. Abimelech did not die right away, but had just time to call his armor-bearer, and bid the man kill him, so that it might never be said that a woman had slain him.

This Abimelech is reckoned as the sixth judge of Israel, although he never did any good to the people, and thereby differed greatly from the judges who came before and after him.

We are told that the civil wars ended with the death of Abimelech, and that the two succeeding judges ruled peacefully over the Israelites. But, as usual, the people soon took advantage of this prosperity to relapse into idolatry, and, as usual, they suffered for this sin by falling into the hands of their enemies.

This time they were conquered by the Philistines and the Ammonites, who tormented them for eighteen years. But when the Israelites had suffered enough, and were thoroughly humbled, God took compassion upon them, and sent Jephthah, the ninth judge, to lead their armies against the foe.

Anxious to obtain a glorious victory, Jephthah made a rash vow, promising to offer up in sacrifice "whatsoever cometh forth of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the children of Ammon."

Thanks to the help of God, who delivered the enemies into his hands, Jephthah won a grand victory, secured twenty towns, and so terrified the Ammonites that they did not dare rise up again until long after, in the days of Saul.

Jephthah now returned to his house, but all his joy was turned to sorrow when he saw his daughter come forth to welcome him. Then only did he remember his rash vow, and realize that he would be obliged to give up his beloved child.

When the girl heard of her fatherís vow, she made no resistance, and only asked that she might have two months' grace. At the end of two months, she came down from the mountains of Gilead, where she had mourned with her companions. Whether her father really made a human sacrifice, which was not unheard of at that day, or whether he merely shut the maiden up in a sort of a convent, where she would spend all her time in prayer, remains a mystery to this day; for we are only told that he "did with her according to his vow which he had vowed."