I used to love to fish. For some reason, I've kind of lost interest in it the last few years, but for the biggest part of my life, I have loved to fish. There was very little in life, at the time, more frustrating than hanging a huge fish, fighting it, wearing it down, and then just as you get ready to pull it out of the water, the line breaks...fish falls back into the lake, swims away, and there is a momentary loss of religion on my part. You've always heard folks talk about the one that got away.
But for every "one that got away" story, I've got a story where the fish didn't get away. I've got one hanging on the wall in my office that I caught in 1984. To a 13 year old kid, that fish was huge! And it didn't get away. I've caught some real monsters over the years, and maybe one day, I'll get back into it.
Stories about the one that got away can be bittersweet. I guess you've probably figured by now that I'm not going to stick with the fishing stories this morning, that's just not my style. There is a story in scriptures about one that got away...Isaac. Abraham was told by God to sacrifice his son Isaac as an offering to God. If I live to be 1000 years old I'll never understand that one. Abraham and Isaac got everything together and began the trip up the mountain. Just as Abraham was about to drive the knife through Isaac's heart, God sent an angel to grab his arm, and stopped him. They found a ram caught in some brambles, sacrificed the ram, and Isaac got away.
This morning, I found the story of one that didn't get away, and I have to say that reading this story absolutely broke my heart. I'm sure that I have heard it before but I don't remember it. Being the daddy of little girls, this one hit especially close to home. It's found in Judges 11, and here's a little background on the story...
Jephthah was leading Israel at the time, and went out to fight the Ammonites. It was evidently a pretty serious deal because Jephthah cried out to God and cut a quick deal. I mean, who among us hasn't done that, raise your hand. Here is what Jephthah said to God: "If you give the Ammonites into my hands, whatever comes out of the door of my house to meet me when I return in triumph from the Ammonites will be the Lord's, and I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering."
We could stop right there and know exactly how this story is going to turn out, couldn't we? What a stupid thing for Jephthah to say. As many movies as we've watched, or books that we've read, we know that it is going to be one of his kids that comes running out to meet him as daddy comes up to the house. Well, sure enough, it was his daughter, and scripture says, "and she was just a child."
Now, I know that society was different then. I know that this wasn't as horrific to them as it was to me when I read it. I know that this story shows how dedicated Jephthah was to God and how thankful he was that God had given him victory, but come on, his baby girl? Not just his baby girl, but his only child. I kept waiting for God to step in and catch his arm like God did for Abraham, but folks, it ain't there in this story.
I kept waiting for God to intervene somehow and let this little girl get away, but it didn't happen. She asked that her father allow her to go with her friends into the hills to weep for 2 months because she would never marry. Never marry? Of course she would never marry, her father was about to sacrifice her as a burnt offering! I kept hoping that Jephthah would change his mind, or that God would say, "Nah, that's ok. I know you're thankful. Let the child alone."
But there it was: "After the two months, she returned to her father and he did to her as he had vowed." (Judges 11:39)
Now, I know that when folks are desperate they say things they regret later, I've been there. We make promises to God, cut deals, whatever you want to call it. I've been there. Jephthah regretted what he had said as soon as he saw his daughter come out of the house, but it was too late. This story proves again that cutting deals with God is not always a good idea. Call out to God in your desperate times, that's absolutely cool, but cutting deals is not.
This one has gotten me so upset that I'm going to have to do a little more research on it. I know human sacrifice was more common, and that certainly, child sacrifice was part of that, but I've got to look into why this one didn't get away.