"a portrait of love and courage at a time when those qualities were in short supply."
For over six decades a letter was tucked away from the world, it was sent as a desperate and final plea for help in a time when the unimaginable was taking place far from American shores.
You are surely informed about the situation of all jews in Central-Europe and this letter will not astonish you. By pure chance I got your address and as our names are the same I hope that we belong to the same family... we are seized with fright thinking of the moment when our children will leave us and we shall be left here alone. The only possibility to join our children, the dearest we have in this world, is the way to America and I beg you instantly to send us (for me and my wife) an affidavit... I beg you once more: help us follow our children, it is our last and only hope.
The recipients of this letter would, for reasons unknown, choose not to answer the letter, yet they refused to throw it away. When they passed away in the mid-1970s, it was found by their niece who felt it was too important to throw away. As she began to near the end of her life she felt someone needed to know about the letter and that is how it ended up in the hands of journalist, Faris Cassell, a woman who was driven by the question, "What happened to Alfred and Hedwig Berger?"
She would spend nearly twenty years searching for answers, travel across five countries, and talk with people who were complete strangers but would become good friends. The more Faris Cassell dug deeper into the lives of these ordinary people she uncovered an extraordinary story, one of courage, love, and deep faith.
I must confess that as soon as I read the back cover of this book I was fascinated. It completely grabbed my attention and curiosity. This couple was so desperate for help that they were willing to beg complete strangers. I will say that this book was a difficult read in many ways, there was so much sorrow and loss yet it was impossible not to be pulled into the world of this family who loved each other with such devotion. As the author begins to walk you through their life, how the couple met, their background, and the relentless effort they put forth to ensure the safety of their children, there was a quote that caught my attention.
"Sunlight over a dark landscape"
I read it over and over again, then I wrote it down though I wish I had noted the page number but the idea was that there were moments woven throughout the story when human courage and compassion shown like the sun in a dark landscape. My mind went to the verses in Matthew five:
14 Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.
15 Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.
16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.
We are meant to be a light not for ourselves or that others will see how great we are, but to point others to Christ. Our world is naturally a dark place, it began in darkness and only when God stepped on the scene did the darkness vanish. He who is Light pushed the darkness into the corner and only His presence eliminates it. We are called to be a light to the world, to be a reflection of God and in so doing we become a piece of sunlight over a dark landscape. Darkness is oppressive and when we spend extended periods of time under its shadow we can become a soul that is discouraged. Sunlight is the direct opposite, we delight to bathe in it's warmth and can instantly feel happier as it surrounds us. How can we make a difference in this world that seems to be nearly swallowed up by the darkness? We begin by going directly to the source of light, our God, and we do this by spending time in His Word because it is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path. When we meditate on the Word of God its truths and principles will begin to penetrate our soul and influence our behavior. How can we be sunlight over a dark landscape? When we are kind one to another, tender hearted, forgiving one another, and speaking words of love. This is how we make a difference in this dark landscape, being the lights that shine forth, reminding people that kindness, mercy, and love still exist in the world because He is kind, merciful, and loving. As Christians, followers of Christ, we have a purpose and part of that includes being someone who shines the SONlight over a dark landscape.
One final thought that I took away from this book was a comment made by the author herself as she pondered how Alfred and his wife Hedwig could celebrate their religious holidays, particularly the one that required them to confess their sins to the Lord while enduring such suffering and loss. It was such a reminder to me on the lost's mentality, that they can't comprehend why anyone could ask for forgiveness for sin when the One they were confessing to was allowing such wrong to go unpunished. What they fail to see is the other side of the coin, that our life here on earth is temporary, it is not all there is, in fact, it is merely a drop in light of eternity. It was a great reminder to me, even though there is so much injustice and corruption going on in our world right now, but that does not mean I get a pass on making sinful choices or yielding to temptations. God is still just and worthy of all the honor and respect I can give Him. When I keep a correct view of eternity in mind, that this life is merely a vapor which will soon be past and a wondrous future awaits all those that call upon His name, I will seek to keep my heart pure through confession of sins. Also, confessing my sins should not be determined by my current circumstances but by the fact that it is needful for me in order to maintain a correct relationship with my Heavenly Father, the One who died to save me.
If you enjoy learning about history, you will enjoy this book. It is very real and you will find yourself pulling for this family that lived nearly ninety years ago, that held onto to hope to the very end.
She made a simple decision, a response really, that would alter her future forever. She did nothing wrong, she was just doing what anyone else would have done in the same circumstances, but she was unaware that someone else had set something in motion that could not be undone. The entire exchange has been the center of many discussions by pastors for many, many years with differing opinions. We never learn her name, only that she is the daughter of Jephthah, the man who made a vow to the Lord.
While she is first mentioned in Judges 11:34, her story begins with her father in the beginning of the chapter. His introduction is found in verse one:
Now Jephthah the Gileadite was a mighty man of valour, and he was the son of an harlot: and Gilead begat Jephthah.
This tells us two things about him, he was a mighty man of valour meaning he was a man’s man, he was no wimp, he possessed a great amount of courage. This verse also says that he was the son of a harlot, this means he was not accepted by anyone, it seems that his father might have accepted him, but when his half brothers grew up they wanted nothing to do with him and forced him to leave. So Jephthah made his own way in the world, he lived in the land of Tob and managed to gather a small band of men. But like many classic stories, those who turned their backs on him, ignoring his very existence, came face to face with some serious trouble that they could not handle so they go running to the one person who has the courage they lack and experience they need, the one they cast aside was the one they now looked to as a military leader. As you might have guessed, Jephthah did bring up the past, making a point to mention that these “brethren” of his had wanted nothing to do with him, in fact he says that they hated him but now they wanted him to be their captain as if they were all the best of friends. After the treatment he has received in the past, it's understandable that he is a bit hesitant to believe them but after they affirm their statement before the Lord, Jephthah agrees to help them.
This need for a guaranteed reward is interesting, and makes you wonder if this was the main driving force behind Jephthah, a man driven from his people, forced to forge his own way without the support of family. Maybe he didn’t want to be used so he bartered for a position of leadership, or maybe he was desperate to be recognized as someone important, to make his family acknowledge him. We can’t know for sure but this could be what played a part in the tragedy that was to shortly take place. As he prepares to do battle he makes a vow before the Lord.
30 And Jephthah vowed a vow unto the Lord, and said, If thou shalt without fail deliver the children of Ammon into mine hands,
31 Then it shall be, that whatsoever cometh forth of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the children of Ammon, shall surely be the Lord's, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering.
We read the words of a man who seems to be willing to do anything to guarantee a victory, he asked that the Lord without fail, deliver the children of Ammon into his hands. He is craving a victory, a need to win that may be fed by his desire to be accepted by those who cast him aside as nothing. Whatever the reason, Jephthah has made a vow that cannot be broken, one many say was done in haste. Did he think it through? Would it have been better to be specific in what he offered instead of whatever comes out. While many say that the animals may have moved freely in and out of people’s homes back then, there had to be at least the thought that a person may be the first thing to come out but as the old saying goes, act in haste, repent in leisure. It was a vow made in haste that would yield heartwrenching consequences.
Jephthah was granted the victory he desired, a without fail victory delivered to him by the hand of the Lord and it was a great victory, the children of Ammon were completely subdued. Now Jephthah makes his way home, feeling pretty good about his victory, but his triumph quickly turns to tragedy as his eyes watch the first thing that emerges from the doors of his house, his daughter, his only daughter, she had come to meet him, to celebrate his great victory with song and dance. The Bible emphasizes that this was his only child, he didn’t have any other sons or daughters, just her. We read his agony in verse 35
And it came to pass, when he saw her, that he rent his clothes, and said, Alas, my daughter! thou hast brought me very low, and thou art one of them that trouble me: for I have opened my mouth unto the Lord, and I cannot go back.
He was devastated, his hasty words would now cost him everything, there was no undoing it or going back. For this, Jephthah must be commended, he was a man of honor, a man of his word and it seems that he had instilled this in his daughter as we read her response to her entire future in verse 36
And she said unto him, My father, if thou hast opened thy mouth unto the Lord, do to me according to that which hath proceeded out of thy mouth; forasmuch as the Lord hath taken vengeance for thee of thine enemies, even of the children of Ammon.
Of course the big question here is, what happens to her? Did her father sacrifice her as a burnt offering? I am going to say right here that I am not sure, I am only going to give a little of my own thoughts mixed with some of the things that I read. First let’s read the remaining verses in Judges 11
37 And she said unto her father, Let this thing be done for me: let me alone two months, that I may go up and down upon the mountains, and bewail my virginity, I and my fellows.
38 And he said, Go. And he sent her away for two months: and she went with her companions, and bewailed her virginity upon the mountains.
39 And it came to pass at the end of two months, that she returned unto her father, who did with her according to his vow which he had vowed: and she knew no man. And it was a custom in Israel,
40 That the daughters of Israel went yearly to lament the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite four days in a year.
For myself, personally I don’t believe he killed her, the text never specifies it and God was against human sacrifice and God never contradicts Himself. When He told Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac, the angel intervened before Abraham could fulfill it so I don’t think she was killed as a burnt offering. However, it seems that she was never to marry which was almost as hard as her life being lost. The continuing of the family was everything and while his family name would not have lived on when she married, his legacy would have, he would have had the chance to have grandchildren that carried a part of him. This was lost, a tragic loss for both father and daughter. She would never be a wife and mother. His daughter may have been dedicated to serving the Lord in the temple, perhaps like Samuel, or I also think of Anna in the New Testament, she served the Lord daily. It is worth pointing out that the text emphasizes her grief over her virginity. She asks her father to give her two months to bewail her virginity, her friends go with her and mourn and when she comes back to her father, he fulfills his vow with the added statement, she knew no man. Both of these statements lean to the fact that she would never marry instead offered as a human sacrifice. I want to share a few lessons that we can learn from this heartbreaking story.
First, be careful of the vows you make. In Deuteronomy 23 verses 21 through 23 we read what God thinks about vows.
21 When thou shalt vow a vow unto the Lord thy God, thou shalt not slack to pay it: for the Lord thy God will surely require it of thee; and it would be sin in thee.
22 But if thou shalt forbear to vow, it shall be no sin in thee.
23 That which is gone out of thy lips thou shalt keep and perform; even a freewill offering, according as thou hast vowed unto the Lord thy God, which thou hast promised with thy mouth.
To make a vow is a serious thing, that’s why Jephthah said he could not go back on it, he understood the gravity of his words. Notice that God tells us it is not a sin not to vow, but when we do make one it is a sin not to keep it.
Second, be careful of the reason why you make a vow. A vow should never be flippantly made nor should it be to simply get what you want, like a barter. Jephthah made a vow to God for a victory, but was it because he wanted it for his people, did he believe he could manipulate God, was he willing to sacrifice anything to gain a victory in order to prove himself to his half brothers? Or was it a little of everything? I can’t help but wonder. Jephthah was an outcast, no one ever stood up for him. When his half brothers raised a fuss and threw him out there was no one who said it was wrong or that they should not have treated him that way. He was simply tossed aside, left to make out by himself. Maybe he felt that if he could guarantee a win, he would finally be accepted so he bargained with God. Remember how he phrased it to God? If thou shalt without fail, that is a specific request. God is not to be manipulated and we should never behave as if we can offer Him something in exchange for a specific service or deed.
Third, remember that your choices often affect others. Japhthah’s decisions to make a hasty and in many ways foolish vow cost not only him but his daughter. All her dreams of becoming a wife and mother, of having her father’s grandchildren, were gone in an instant. Whenever we make decisions, especially ones on a larger scale, we should weigh our options, count the cost, and seek wisdom.
The story of Japhthath and his daughter is not an easy one to read, it has no happy ending, in reality it ends in tragedy yet there are lessons still found within these verses. Decisions made in haste or even based on emotions rarely turn out well. We are told over and over again to be wise and to seek counsel, surround yourself with good friends, people you can trust, people you can go to when you have a question or pressing matters. Above all, seek the Lord, walk in His ways and ask for His wisdom. The best way is to spend time in the word of God daily. The more you do, the more He will reveal to you.
Are you like me? Do you see December as the perfect time to make a plan for the upcoming year? As December rolls around I start thinking about what I want to focus on during my quiet time over the next twelve months. In the past I have read through the women of the Bible as well as the prayers. You can find those Bible reading plans here as a FREE download. I have also read through the Bible in a year. For this I enjoyed using a particular Bible, one of my many wonderful Goodwill finds I might add, because it features the entire text of the Bible arranged into 365 bite-sized sections. Each day you read a balanced blend of scripture from the old and new testament along with a little bit of psalms and proverbs. I really enjoyed this layout and it made it easy to follow through. You can purchase it on Amazon here.
Other times I enjoy focusing on a particular monthly plan. One year I chose twelve different reading plans that focused on different topics such as the names of God, anxiety, and encouragement and also paired it with twelve different devotional books. That was a tremendous blessing to my heart and I really enjoyed it. You can find some of them on my Pinterest board or search for others that are of interest to you.
For the last couple of years I have made it a point to choose a word for myself, something that I believed I needed. Last year, it was the word renew, I wanted to renew my mind and my spirit. To restore and replenish myself, to remember who is the restorer of my soul, the good, kind Shepherd. This year I chose another word but have decided to do something a little different and focus on this word during my quiet time, selecting passages that emphasize this. I am already enjoying it and am excited to deepen my relationship with God more over this next year. To do this means that I have to be intentional about my time with the Lord.
Quality over Quantity
So often it is easy to get caught up in the day to day things in our life, our regular routine, including our quiet time. While it is good to have a regular quiet time, what is your purpose? Can you relate to this at all?
You open your Bible, read a few verses, say a quick prayer, and mentally check off a list and then go about the rest of your day. What happens when we do this? Are we able to say that it was a meaningful time with the Lord, one that impacted our behavior throughout the rest of our day?
Quality over quantity. My mom has stressed this to me over the years, she is a seamstress and always tells me that she is not a fast seamstress because it takes her time to create a piece of clothing that not only looks good but is well made, one that will last. Whenever my mom finishes a project it is always stunning, that’s why she believes in taking her time because the results will always be worth it. I believe this principle can be applied to our time with the Lord, it was never meant to be rushed. We should never worry about reading so many verses or spending so many minutes because if we do our focus is on the wrong thing. Our time in the word of God is not a quota that needs to be filled. It is a privilege to open the Word of God. Has that thought ever occurred to you? The words you just read are His Words, His own words preserved for us to read over and over again. They are meant to sink into our soul, to penetrate our mind and heart, why? So they can influence our life. The Bible is the only book that can transform our life, and gives us what we need to make a difference in our world.
Having a meaningful quiet time
But how do we make the most of our quiet time? These two passages from Psalms give us a hint.
1 Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.
2 But his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law doth he meditate day and night.
3 And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.
Psalm 119: 14-16
14 I have rejoiced in the way of thy testimonies, as much as in all riches.
15 I will meditate in thy precepts, and have respect unto thy ways.
16 I will delight myself in thy statutes: I will not forget thy word.
Notice some similar words in these two sections? Delight and meditate were both mentioned. The man who doesn’t walk in the counsel of the ungodly, stand in the way of sinners, or sits in the seat of the scornful is the man whose delight is the law of the Lord. He is someone who takes pleasure in the Word of God and enjoys spending time in it on a regular basis. This is a challenge to us. Do we delight in the Word of God, do we enjoy spending time in it or do we see it as a duty, something that must be done in order to check it off our list? Do we simply read a few verses and go about our day untouched by what we read? If we are not careful, it can be easy to simply read and leave, but maybe that is because we came with the wrong attitude in the first place. We must come with the mindset that this is no ordinary book. I remember mentioning to a friend one time that it always amazed me how I could glean something new from a passage I had read so many times before. Their answer stayed with me, "the Bible is a living book."
As we continue to read the Bible year after year, letting it change and shape us, familiar passages will reveal new truths to us and passages that may have been difficult or unclear will begin to make sense as we mature in our faith. Paul admonishes us to grow in the knowledge of our Savior and that only comes when we spend time in the Word of God, when we make it our delight. But there is another word, one that is the key to transforming our life, in fact it is the key to success. Meditation.
The key to success
This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success.
I once heard someone preach a sermon on this passage, on the importance of meditating on God’s Word and wrote a specific blog on this topic if you want to read it. He made an interesting point about this verse, it is the only place the word, "Success" is used in the Bible. This is important to note, especially since it was spoken by God. Joshua had just lost his mentor, Israel had just lost their leader and the entire responsibility now rested on Joshua’s shoulders. Understandably he was feeling very overwhelmed, but God assured him that He would be with him. Joshua had no need to be afraid but instead, could be strong and courageous because God was there with him as He had been with Moses.
God also gave Joshua something special, the key to a successful life. What was it? Don’t let the book of the law, the Bible, depart out of his mouth. How was he to do this? Meditating on the Word of God day and night. You might think this is a bit odd or even foreign as it goes against all we have been taught on the topic of success. Success comes to those who work hard, who never quit, who are persistent, but wouldn’t you agree that those who read God’s word will find those principles taught throughout? True success is found by those who have hidden God’s Word in their heart through meditation, letting its truths and principles embed themselves into their heart so it can influence their everyday life. Our heart is where the issues of life abide, where they are born, and what is buried inside will make itself known through our words, actions, and beliefs.
What does meditation look like? Well if you want some great tips you can listen to the podcast I did with Sarah Geringer on meditation. For the moment, however, I will share the illustration the preacher gave as he expounded on this important tool. He told us about a time when he was a teenager visiting a old man who spoke to him and his companions about meditation using Psalm 23 as an example. The elderly man said, "The Lord is my Shepherd." "Who is the Lord?, he asked. "He is our guide, judge, provider, deliverer, protector, redeemer, teacher….this is who the Lord is, this is the One who is our shepherd and what is a shepherd? He guides his flock, he protects, and provides for the sheep making sure they are safe, and well cared for, never without a want."
The preacher told us that this exercise, of taking the different words in a sentence, breaking them down into their own thoughts then bringing them back together for a big picture was life changing for him. He was never able to read his Bible the same. And I was challenged that day I heard him preach, it has been over ten years since I heard that message but I never forgot his words or the principle.
Meditation is a critical part of our quiet time with the Lord because it is how we graft it into our heart as we carry it with us throughout the day. God wants to impart His wisdom to us and it is through His precious words written down for us. Are you looking for success? You hold it in your hand every time you open the Bible or hid it in your heart. It is the key to life, it has all the answers to those who are willing to spend the time in it. God will not withhold from those who wish to know His wisdom. Where do you start, Proverbs 2:1-9 has a great list.
1 My son, if thou wilt receive my words, and hide my commandments with thee;
2 So that thou incline thine ear unto wisdom, and apply thine heart to understanding;
3 Yea, if thou criest after knowledge, and liftest up thy voice for understanding;
4 If thou seekest her as silver, and searchest for her as for hid treasures;
5 Then shalt thou understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God.
6 For the Lord giveth wisdom: out of his mouth cometh knowledge and understanding.
7 He layeth up sound wisdom for the righteous: he is a buckler to them that walk uprightly.
8 He keepeth the paths of judgment, and preserveth the way of his saints.
9 Then shalt thou understand righteousness, and judgment, and equity; yea, every good path.
God is ready to give you His wisdom but the choice of just how bad you want it is up to you. Are you willing to incline your ear? Willing to search for her like you would for treasure? It is not an empty search, God promises that you will find it if you seek it. All who seek Him will find Him. Are you seeking Him? It begins with spending time in the word of God daily. Remember it is not about how many verses you read. Maybe you only read one verse but you take that verse to heart, you hide it within your heart, and you meditate on it all day. A cow does not eat grass and digest it at the same time. It grazes for a time, then spends the rest of the day chewing and rechewing it until it has gotten every ounce of nutrition from it. That is what God desires us to do with His word. If you take one verse, one truth and mull it over all day, as you drive to the store, as you wash dishes, as you get dinner ready, you will glean all that God wants you to for that day.
Can I gently challenge you to examine your quiet time with the Lord? Is it something that you do out of duty, to say that you read your Bible today yet you walk away empty? Do you feel unsuccessful in life? We are in a new year, you couldn’t ask for a better time to begin a meaningful quiet time with the Lord. He is waiting to meet you there, in the stillness, and it is in the stillness that you will be able to know Him as never before. Isn’t that exciting? That the God of the universe, the One who is in control of everything, wants you to know everything about Him? Challenge yourself over the next week, the next seven days to read your Bible slowly, one verse at a time, letting the words sink inside your heart and mind, asking yourself questions about it and allowing God to speak to you and transform you into His image.
Can I encourage you to take some time to format a plan of action for these coming months. Maybe you want to read through the Bible in a year? Maybe a friend has recommended a devotional book that you wanted to read but haven’t had the time? Incorporate it into your quiet time. Maybe it is focusing on a particular topic like anxiety, discouragement, worry, or the mind. Choose today to make spending time in God’s word a priority, even if it is just a few minutes each day, I promise it will be time well spent.
I am just an ordinary girl who is loved by an extraordinary God and I seek to love others the same way. I love to bake, read, do puzzles, watch Hallmark movies, and go shopping with my mom! This blog was created as a place where I could share some thoughts that the Lord has shown me and to be an encouragement to others who desire to know Him in a deeper way. My prayer is to learn to sit still and trust God with my future.
Did you know that Sit Still my Daughter has a magazine for women? Real woman share real stories of their struggles with self-worth, fear, anxiety, infertility, and waiting on God for their spouse. Click here to read it?