Timbrels to Tears — Readers’ Choice

Scripture Focus: Judges 11.34-40
34 When Jephthah returned to his home in Mizpah, who should come out to meet him but his daughter, dancing to the sound of timbrels! She was an only child. Except for her he had neither son nor daughter. 35 When he saw her, he tore his clothes and cried, “Oh no, my daughter! You have brought me down and I am devastated. I have made a vow to the LORD  that I cannot break.”

Originally published on July 28, 2023, based on readings from Judges 11.

Readers’ Choice posts are selected by our readers:
Erin, Texas — I appreciated the focus on the daughter’s faithfulness and how the community honored her despite her father’s hasty decision. It is a reminder of the goodness of God to look upon the vulnerable and those who are victims of others’ destructive decisions.

Reflection: Timbrels to Tears — Readers’ Choice
By Liz Daye
In a moment, everything changed. What was supposed to be a celebration, transformed into anguish. “Why?!” Jephthah lamented, tearing his clothes in grief. “My daughter, you have brought me disaster. You are the cause of my ruin!” Why did his daughter have to run out the front door and, in his words, ruin everything? He had crafted a plan, after all. If God granted him victory in battle, Jephthah vowed to offer the next thing that came out of his home as a sacrifice.

But who exited first? His only daughter.

Jephthah idolized the outcome of his victory. And I wonder what if instead of keeping his awful vow, Jephthah repented making it in the first place? Repentance framed by grace is an invitation that is always available. Jephthah missed it because of his own pride and fear. As I ponder Jephthah’s story, I can’t help but recall the times I have also attempted to negotiate with God for what I thought was a really good reason, whilst leaving God out of the conversation entirely.

Yet throughout Jephthah’s idolatrous plotting and failure to consider the possibility of her presence, God was noticeably silent. God never signed off on any of this mess. May this remind us that our faith is not a formula, nor is faithfulness a series of divine negotiations that we can manipulate to somehow land in our favor. What if faith is always an invitation towards humility and grace? 

And had Jephthah consulted God before making that vow, he would have remembered that God is in control, but not controlling. God is “gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love;” love for Israel, for Jephthah, and for his daughter. And even after, repentance is always an option. Repentance is always available. Had repentance been present in this story, it bears wondering, how could it have altered the trajectory? But even here, we don’t have to wonder what God is like. Our heavenly Father would rather sacrifice himself than his children. In fact, that’s exactly what God did.

Like Miriam in the desert, Jephthah’s unnamed daughter was a timbrel towing prophetess. The daughters of Israel honored her legacy, rather than Jephthah’s. This annual remembrance points to a God who does not sign off on the sins we commit against one another, regardless of the skillfulness of our theological gymnastics. For God loves to lift the lowly.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Know this: The Lord himself is God; he himself has made us, and we are his; we are his people and the sheep of his pasture. — Psalm 100.2

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
1 Samuel 17 (Listen 8:59)
1 John 5 (Listen 3:00)

This Weekend’s Readings
1 Samuel 18 (Listen 4:30), 2 John (Listen 1:50)
1 Samuel 19 (Listen 3:43), 3 John (Listen 1:51)

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Read more about Rulers with Borrowed Scepters
Jesus is the king we are waiting for—every other ruler is using a borrowed scepter.

Leadership Material?

Scripture Focus: Judges 10.1, 10.3, 11.11a
10.1 After the time of Abimelek, a man of Issachar named Tola son of Puah, the son of Dodo, rose to save Israel.

10.3 He was followed by Jair of Gilead, who led Israel twenty-two years.

11:11a So Jephthah went with the elders of Gilead, and the people made him head and commander over them.

Reflection: Leadership Material?
By Judith S. Kimsey

The book of Judges describes twelve “judges,” or leaders (plus Abimelek, the anti-judge about whom we read yesterday). Twelve backstories, each different from the others. Twelve unique skill sets aligned with twelve significant moments in Israel’s history. 

Based on your experience, what are a few characteristics you would include on a checklist of good leaders? Take examples from the business world, church, or elsewhere. 

Now consider the five leaders’ stories we have already read in Judges: Othniel, Ehud, Shamgar, Deborah, and Gideon. Today we add three more: Tola, Jair, and Jephthah. How do these people align with your leadership checklist? Would any of them have been chosen by a placement agency? As we usually define it today, none were obvious “leadership material.” Do they want to lead? Gideon did not. In fact, we see reluctance among all of those who speak. And yet God used all twelve of these leaders according to their gifts in their specific situations. God doesn’t have a preset checklist of competencies for effective leaders.

We may remember Sunday School images of Gideon with his fleece or Samson pushing the pillars apart, but the point of Judges is not the people who led Israel. The point is the power of the One who calls those leaders. The Apostle Paul says it best: 

Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. (1 Corinthians 1.26-29)

By appointing the insignificant, the hesitant, and the rejected, God leaves room for his own power and sovereignty as he pursues his people. 

Today–just as he did in the period of the judges–God is calling up new leaders for our churches and communities. Is he calling some of us to lead at this significant moment in history?  Have we allowed our culturally-informed checklist of leadership criteria to hold us back? Let’s look up from that leadership checklist and check on the unexpected ways God is at work in unexpected people, including ourselves.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
O Lord, what are we that you should care for us? Mere mortals that you should think of us?
We are like a puff of wind; our days are like a passing shadow. — Psalm 144.3-4

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Judges 10-11.11  (Listen 8:11)
1 Peter 2 (Listen 3:48)

Read more about Different Kind of Exile
Most people who don’t accept Christianity aren’t concerned with our theology. They are concerned by our actions.

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The Judge’s Decision

Scripture Focus: Judges 11.27
27 “I have not wronged you, but you are doing me wrong by waging war against me. Let the Lord, the Judge, decide the dispute this day between the Israelites and the Ammonites.”

Student Writers Month:

This month, The Park Forum welcomes college and seminary student writers pursuing ministry careers. For more info about our yearly Student Writer program, see our website.

Reflection: The Judge’s Decision

By Dennis Nicholson

If I’m being honest, I find it hard to read stories like Jephthah’s in the Bible. My first instinct isn’t to contemplate what I’ve read but to condemn it altogether. The cruelty of Jephthah’s brothers, his godless companions, his rash vow, and his daughter’s resulting sacrifice—these aren’t pleasant things to read about. And in a sense, that’s the point of the book of Judges. When everyone does what is right in his own eyes (Judges 17:6), in ignorance of God’s law, injustice and cruelty result.

But it’s easy to turn this one lesson in the book of Judges into a blanket condemnation. It’s easy to shake my head at Jephthah’s unfaithfulness and the Israelites’ obvious failings. It’s hard to point out my own unfaithfulness, my own insidious failings. 

It’s easy to play favorites. But God doesn’t show favoritism (Romans 2:11).

“Let the Lord, the Judge, decide the dispute this day between the Israelites and the Ammonites” (Judges 11:27). If it were me who were judging, perhaps I would have decided against Israel. But in the eyes of God, the perfect judge, there is no distinction. “All who sin under the law will be judged by the law” (Romans 2:12). Israelite and Ammonite alike, Jew and Gentile alike, ancient and modern alike—all people deserve judgment for sin.

Why, then, did the Lord judge for Israel? How can a just God favor an unjust people? Because, despite their unfaithfulness, God was working through the Israelites to bring about his perfect justice. Israel’s final judge, Samuel, would anoint Israel’s greatest king, David. And one thousand years later, a son of David would bear the just punishment for Israel upon his shoulders. 

The perfect judge would send his own son to die a criminal’s death on a cross so that the sons of Israel could be set free.

The day is coming when that same perfect judge will preside over a grander trial: the final judgment. That day, we will have to give an account of all we have done (Romans 14:10-12).

But—thanks be to God!—our pardon is secure. Our sins have been covered. We will stand before the judge’s seat as innocents, not because of our own faithfulness, but because God was working through us to bring about his perfect justice.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons

For as the heavens are high above the earth, so is his mercy great upon those who fear him. — Psalm 103.11

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Judges 11:12-40 (Listen – 5:53)
Acts 15 (Listen – 5:43)

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It is time to hear from you about the posts from the past eleven months (September 2020 – July 2021) that have challenged, comforted, and helped you find new meaning in the scriptures.


Read more about The Righteous Judge :: A Guided Prayer
And this is your justice on earth—to be a refuge and stronghold for the weak and troubled.