PASTOR COLUMN - Bible relevant even if some stories shock


One of my colleagues mentioned a lecture he'd heard entitled "Talking with the Bible." It seems that, because our time and culture is so different from that of the people whose lives are recorded in the Bible, we are obliged to read the stories in the context in which they were written and then to consider how they apply in our times.

Friends tease me because I'll often say about Bible stories, "Oh! That's one of my favorites!" But some of the stories that stay with me are not my favorites.

There is the story of Jephthah's daughter, found in the Old Testament, in Judges 11:39-40.

Jephthah was a warrior for Gilead. Before he went to battle, he promised God, "If you give me a clear victory over the Ammonites, then I'll give to God whatever comes out of the door of my house to meet me when I return in one piece from among the Ammonites - I'll offer it up in a sacrificial burnt offering."

He was successful in battle. As he joyfully arrived at home, his daughter was the first one who greeted him. He had to fulfill his vow. His daughter agreed.

The story remains in my consciousness because it seems that no one thought there were other options. Jephthah could not renege on his vow. Neither his daughter nor any other members of the household, nor indeed anyone in the larger culture, could imagine any other outcome.

Today, we find the story horrifying. We've moved on.

Jephthah's daughter serves as a continuing reminder that it is often our own lack of imagination that keeps ups from discovering new ways of doing things. Thomas Kuhn wrote a book about what happens in scientific revolutions. At some point, people understand they can look at the world and their times in a whole different way. It involves letting go of past understandings and considering that something new and untried is possible.

Another terrible story is found in the Old Testament, in Second Kings 6:24-33.

Two women had come to the king with a complaint. "Help! Your majesty!" they said. The situation was that in a time of famine and starvation, they had eaten the baby of one of the women, agreeing to eat the other the following day. But when time came to eat the second baby, the mother hid him. The first mother wanted the king to help her.

He ducked the situation and pointed to Elisha, the prophet, as somehow being responsible. We never find out what happened. But Gina Hens-Piazza wrote a book on this passaged titled Nameless, Blameless, and Without Shame: Two Cannibal Mothers Before a King.

She discovers that in societies which are very hierarchiacal, famine will call forth cannibalism in its people; more egalitarian cultures tend to encourage and enable the sharing of resources. We saw an example of the latter recently among the trapped miners in Chile.

The Bible is not out-of-date if we bring our awareness and imagination to it. When we do, we find ourselves enriched and expanded.

The stories cited above might not be favorites but they certainly can help us examine our own life and times.

The Rev. Dorothy Price Knudson is a retired Presbyterian minister. She still preaches, teaches and ministers at various area churches. Pastors in the U-B circulation area who want to write a column should contact Catherine Hicks at 509-526-8312, or by e-mail at


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