Life Without Literature: Day Eleven

“The thing to do,” said my friend Carol, who’s reading the Bible for Lent with me, “is to go to those books in the Old Testament where the stories are.”

She’s right. You can’t beat the Old Testament for story. For shocking twists. For things that make me gasp.

For example, having finished Numbers, Deuteronomy, and Joshua, I’m now in Judges where those Israelites have been told to basically divide and conquer everything in their path. Here’s Jephthah, the illegitimate son of Gideon, who’s begged by his brothers to lead them against the Ammonites.

And what does he do? He promises the Lord to offer as a burnt sacrifice the first thing that comes out of his house if the Lord should deliver the enemy into his hands. (What, are you stupid?)

When he returns home victorious, out of his house comes his daughter, his only child, with tambourines and dancing. She pleads with him to let her have two months in the mountains to mourn her virginity, and then she dies at her father’s hand to fulfill his promise to the Lord.

It then became a custom that the young women of Israel honor the daughter of Jephthah for four days each year.

So far, I have read of a daughter sacrificed by her father (Judges 11:29-40), a talking donkey (Numbers 22-24), a fortified city coming down with trumpet blasts (Joshua 6), a dry fleece surrounded by dewy ground (Judges 6) and all this is only in three books. When I’m tempted to think that Murakami is fanciful, I have to remember that the stories of the Old Testament seem awfully strange to me, too. Holy, but strange.

17 thoughts on “Life Without Literature: Day Eleven”

  1. That's an interesting story. The story of Jephthah was never discussed in the churches I attended while growing up. The story of God staying Abraham's hand to prevent the sacrifice of Isaac was often talked about as and example of God's love. This story sounds like one of those awful twists in more Classical Greek or Roman mythology. I can see why ministers stay away from it.


  2. I love the Old Testament and the OT history books! I especially love the Elijah/Elisha stories. I noticed the last time through all the parallel's between Elisha and Jesus, which was interesting!


  3. "When I'm tempted to think that Murakami is fanciful, I have to remember that the stories of the Old Testament seem awfully strange to me, too. Holy, but strange."Still, that's quite different from being wholly strange. 😉


  4. I remember sitting at a friend's Bat Mittvah when I was about 13, having no idea what was going on. I picked up the Tanakh, flipped to a random page, and began to read. I was astonished at how much of a soap opera it was!


  5. Jephthah did not literally burn his daughter as a sacrifice to God. That was a practice by the pagan nations who lived around Israel and it was a practice that God detested. He states it clearly in Jeremiah 7:31, "They have built the high places of Topheth…in order to burn their sons and their daughters in fire, a thing that I had not commanded and that had not come up into my heart." God never requested human sacrifices. (Note: He would not have allowed Abraham to actually kill his own son.) Jephthah's daughter was to go serve at the temple in Jerusalem and therefore she would never marry, which is why she took two months to mourn her virginity and not her life. For an Isrealite woman, getting married and having many children was an honour and a privilege and she would miss out. In addition, Jephthah could now no longer pass on his inheritance because she was his only daughter and he had no sons.


  6. Laura, I understand that the Lord did not want His children to offer their children as burnt sacrifices. I only took my understandding of this story as it read in the Bible itself, from:"And Jephthath made a vow to the LORD. He said, "If you give me victory over the Ammonites, I will give to the LORD whatever comes out of my house to meet me when I return in triumph. I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering." (Judges 11: 30-31) to:"When she returned home, her father kept the vow he had made, and she died a virgin." (Judges 11:39)Essentially, the point is that we must not make rash promises to the LORD; we are accountable for what we commit to Him.


  7. C.B. James, it's interesting on so many levels. For one thing, we are taught certain stories in Sunday School, while others are frequently glossed over. For example, I always remember the Red Sea parting when the children of Israel were fleeing Pharoah, but I completely forgot about the Jordan parting after Moses died and Joshua was leading them back to the Promised Land. We often hear of Isaac being let go, a story which never ceases to shock me. If only my faith was as strong as Abraham's. I try to be that strong in Him, but I never seem to reach that undying level the great men of the Old Testament had. I'm like the guy in the New Testament who said to Jesus, "I believe, help my unbelief."Becky, I'm coming to Elisha soon, and I'll look for those parallels between him and Christ. (Love those dry bones!)Shoreacres, you're ever the good one with words and puns. xoxoJennifer, I remember a study done once which says there is no book which has more violence or sex than the Bible. A secular study, to be sure, but there sure is a lot of violence in the Old Testament!


  8. I have always wanted to read the Bible, and am impressed with your process – the stories that I have read are incredible, and they do pull me right in. I've always wanted to pick up a Bible that was written more in layman's terms, but even the ones that are supposed to be written that way are a bit tough for me. I'll keep searching!


  9. Your dedication is inspiring. Going through Numbers is an arduous task in itself. Now on Judges already… It's interesting to view these books from a different perspective. Have enjoyed the personal touch you give to these stories… (your words in brackets 😉 )


  10. Coffee and a Book Chick, I'm sure you have tried the New Living translation, if you've looked for easier to read ones, but perhaps you'd also like the Holman Christian Standard Bible or even The Message. The later is incredibly easy to read, so much so that for me it loses lots of its depth, but it might be a good entry into the Word. I have read the Bible several times over in my life, but never with such continuity as I am right now, and that's really blessing me. More on that in a later post.Ripple Effects, it's always been hard for me to read these books before, which I've viewed as rather tedious (to be quite frank). But, going through them at a steady pace, instead of a chapter a day or so, helps keep the flow going so beautifully! (Glad you like my thoughts in brackets, which I certainly never mean to be disrespectful to the Bible. You know that, I'm sure.)Mystica, I'm not Catholic. I was raised in the Evangelical Covenant church, and I also attended the Lutheran church for a few decades. But now my husband and I are at Calvary. I've found few Catholics who've read the Bible themselves in my mother's generation; wasn't there a 'rule' at one time that only the Pope could read it? I'm not sure…


  11. It's been a long time since I read the old testament, but I studied OT literature at college and have a great respect for the value of these stories in passing on culture, heritage and philosophy to the masses. There is a whole new world of literature hidden away in a book many westerners have somewhere in their homes. Enjoy and good luck with the challenge of consecutively reading the bible.


  12. Bellezza, I just found this quotation from PJ O'Rourke and thought of you and laughed. Your current choice certainly meets the criteria!You should always try to read something that will make you look good if you die half-way through it.Obviously I'm meaning no ill will to you or disrespect to The Bible, but you surely should know me well enough by now to realize I have a certain "quirkiness" to my humor. 😉


  13. Tamara, your comment made me wonder how many homes contain a Bible, and of those, how many are read on a daily basis? An interesting question to be sure, for such a 'common' book. I remember reading that the pioneers (of America) all took a Bible with them in their wagons, even though the amount of space for possessions was obviously quite limited. It was important to everyone's household once.Shoreacres, I love quirky humour! In fact, I even (most especially) love almost irreverent humour. This is a great quote! It almost makes me realize I don't need to die with lipstick on. 😉 XOXO


  14. There certainly are many interesting stories in the Old Testament! When I was growing up, I was always partial to the stories where women were the main characters, but I do remember liking the first half of Daniel as well. I don't tend to read the Old Testament so much any more, but perhaps it's time to go back.


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