Sermon: Keep BabyGirl Alive – Judges 11:29-40 – Apostle Larry J. Morris III

Preached March 7, 2021

 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.” 

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[a] 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 scriptures say of themselves, “All scripture is inspired by God and is[a] useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.”[1] Today, I want us to consider this scripture as a teaching tool. I wonder how this scripture might train us in righteousness – what is acceptable and pleasing to God –righteousness – the right way of thinking, and feeling, and acting. Righteousness. There are many lessons to learn from this scripture and my hope is that this scripture will stir up our imaginations on how we can be a church, a community of faith, that supports the lives of Black girls and women, in particular, but girls and women in general. And to be clear, transwomen are women and deserve to have their lives supported and protected as well. 

In our text today, Jephthah this mighty warrior and/but/comma son of a prostitute has been accepted back into the community that drove him away. Jephthah had been chosen by God for “the Spirit of the Lord” came upon Jephthah and started to give him momentum as he went to defeat his enemies. And in the excitement of the moments, maybe in high emotions, Jephthah made an unnecessary vow to the Lord. God had already chosen Jephthah and was in the process of leading Jephthah to victory – but Jephthah’s humanness got in the way. Maybe the brotha was an extrovert and just liked talking – he says, “God if you allow me to win, if you give me victory, I will sacrifice whoever comes out of my home when I return.” We can say some unnecessary and wild things when are emotions are high – whether we are up or down – whether we are in process of victory or in a low place of seemingly defeat. Whether extroverted or introverted, sometimes we say unnecessary things. God did not ask Jephthah to make a vow. Jephthah’s success and victory were not based on any human sacrifice Jephthah had to make. God had anointed and approved Jephthah before the vow was made. Beloved, God has already anointed you and approved you for the work. 

Jephthah returns home and who comes out of the house? His only beloved daughter, let’s call her BabyGirl – BabyGirl was singing and dancing and celebrating his victory! She comes out rejoicing, glad to see her daddy alive! While he made a vow to kill her. The text says he tears his clothes and is grieved, yet refuses to take full responsibility for his actions – instead, he blames BabyGirl – and strips himself of his agency.

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.”

 Who said that? Who said you can’t take back your vow? Or at least talk to God some more about the vow? Surely there were examples of people being in dialogue with God. Maybe Jephthah didn’t know that, but we do. We know Hezekiah pleaded for his own life. In Isaiah 38, the prophet Isaiah told Hezekiah, God said you finna die and not live, prepare your house and life. Hezekiah talked and prayed to God and God gave Hezekiah 15 more years of life. I know, Hezekiah did not bring that sickness on himself, what I am lifting up for us is that sometimes when we appeal to the compassion of God, God changes God’s mind. Moses spent most of his time going before God and the people, trying to get God to change God’s mind when the folks started wildin out. What I’m lifting up here, is that Jephthah did not even go back to God and have a conversation. This brotha talked to the Lord all the time, but did not consider going back to see how and if he could save his daughter. Are there vows we have made that negatively impact folks we love? Are there words we need to cast down and take back, go back before the Compassionate, Liberating God, and ask for forgiveness and deliverance? Sometimes we make vows and sign contracts that sacrifice who we are and negatively impact our families and community? I’m not talking about the things we must do to survive, but we must not sacrifice the lives of others in our attempts to make a good life for ourselves. There is a difference and you and I both know the difference. 

BabyGirl responds, “Do you what you gotta do – if you opened your mouth to the Lord – do what you gotta do.” But to be clear, I reject the interpretations of this text that suggest that BabyGirl just gave in to what her daddy did. She took courage and lifted her voice and asked for some time, space, and community. BabyGirl is not powerless, she employs the agency at her disposal. She asks for some time to go to the mountains and mourn with her community. BabyGirl says, give me two months to live and wander with my friends and mourn this life I won’t have.” I just need some time. Maybe she was hoping that if she had time, her situation would change. Maybe Jephthah would figure something else out. Maybe God would intervene. Maybe her companions or mama or somebody would come through – maybe something would happen that would allow her to live, only if she had some time, then her situation might change. Ya’ll ever been like that? The only power you had was to ask for some time. I’ma pay this bill, but I’ma need a little more time. I don’t know how I’m gonna pay it, but if I have a little more time…I just need some time. BabyGirl took courage and lifted her voice and asked for some time, space, and community. 

Jephthah granted BabyGirl her request and allowed her to go away for two months with her friends. We don’t know all that happened on the mountain. Maybe her friends were developing a plan of escape and BabyGirl wasn’t with it. Maybe BabyGirl was trying to escape but her friends were not with it. The text says, after two months she returns back home, and “her father did with her according to the vow he made.” This man had two months to figure something out – two months to talk to God and make other arrangements. Or at least try. Was it pride? Was it despair? Grief? I don’t know what kept him talking to God and trying to find a way to save his daughter’s life. What did he do with the time he had? What are we doing with the time we have? That thing that we said we needed “a little more time” to do or to be. What are we doing with our “little more time?”

Some scholars say BabyGirl didn’t actually die. Some scholars believe she lived her life as a virgin. Other scholars say, BabyGirl did indeed die. At the hands of her father and community and some might even say, at the hands of God – because there was no Divine intervention for BabyGirl like there was for Isaac. There was no “ram in the bush for BabyGirl.” Even if she did not die and she lived, she did not live a life of liberation. She was unnecessarily restricted because of a vow from her father and lack of Divine and communal intervention. This troubles me. 

The text ends with a custom of lament for BabyGirl. Every year the women in the community gather and lament the life of BabyGirl.  Lament is necessary. We don’t practice communal lament enough.  #SayHerName is necessary. We must remember the girls and women who have been murdered by society. The question before us today is how do we keep girls and women alive? What is our role as individuals? What attitudes and beliefs and biases and vows do we need to place before God for transformation? Who do you need to be in a relationship with so that you can see them as human and worthy, truly worthy, of life? What is our role as Communion Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in intervening and supporting the life and breath and agency of  Black girls and women in particular, but girls and women in general? As we are shaping and forming this community – what can we do? What organizations or organizations do we need to be in community with, to support, to lift up, to walk alongside, to follow? How might we use our resources to support Black girls and women in particular, and girls and women in general?

If we are to use this scripture for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, what is the lesson? What might we learn? The end goal is to support the agency and life of BabyGirl and to keep her alive. 

Again, God is silent and inactive when it comes to BabyGirl. Last week I preached that sometimes God is silent and seemingly inactive but is at work behind the scenes and that is true. I also said, that God is silent and inactive because God waiting for us to do the right thing. To take some initiative. To use our God-given abilities, skills, and gifts in the service of communal liberation. That is true. I said, we have God’s Spirit, but the question is, does the Spirit of God have us?  And yet I am still troubled that God is silent and inactive when it comes to BabyGirl. 

And yet, I hear the words of Jesus Christ loud and clear today, “I came so that BabyGirl might have life and have it more abundantly. I have given you all things that pertain to life and to godliness. I have given you this work or reconciliation and intervention.”

Do we receive and believe these words? Do we have the courage for the work that is ahead of us? Are we willing to take the risks necessary to save BabyGirl?

[1] 2 Timothy 3:16

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