The Poetical Works of Elizabeth Margaret Chandler/Jephthah's Vow
The hostile armies still were hush'd in sleep,
And over Gilead's plain hung silence deep;
The fading watch-fires dimly gleam'd from far,
Like the faint radiance of some sinking star,
And rising high in heaven, the moon's pale beam,
Its trembling lustre cast o'er bank and stream:
The men of Israel slept—but in his tent,
Their chief in prayer the lingering moments spent.
He felt how less than vain was human power,
To lend him succour in the coming hour,
And kneeling, threw aside his helm and sword,
And pour'd his soul in suppliance to the Lord.
“Oh thou! who ridest on the whirlwind's wings,
Jehovah! Judge of earth, and King of kings!
Be pleased from thine abiding place on high,
To cast on Israel's low estate thine eye;
Behold, oh Lord! how fallen is the pride
Of her who once the nations round defied,
When thy bright pillar was her shield and guide.
Lord! she hath sinn'd—forgetful of thy name,
Hath raised to other gods the altar's flame;
Unmindful of thy mercies she has knelt,
And join'd in prayer with those that round her dwelt;
But God, forgive her—for she bends the knee,
And turns in tearful penitence to thee;
Her cherish'd idols from their shrines she spurns,
And once again thy holy altar burns.
Forgive her, Lord! again thy grace restore,
And in her wounds thy healing balsam pour!
How long, oh Lord! shall Israel bow the head,
And mourn her power estranged, her glory fled?
How long shall Zion's daughters weep in vain,
The best, the noblest, of thy servants slain?
Behold'st thou not, from thine abode of day,
How hath the spoiler mark'd her for a prey?
Arise, arise! in thy returning wrath,
And sweep proud Ammon from her guilty path!
Arise, arise! thy lamp of light restore,
And on thy foes thy cup of vengeance pour!
If thou who hear'st from heaven thy servant's prayer,
Against thy foes thy vengeful arm wilt bare,
If thou wilt nerve my arm, and edge my sword,
That death and slaughter through their ranks be pour'd,
When homeward with exulting shouts I turn,
Unnumber'd fires shall on thine altars burn;
And what of all my household first shall be,
To greet thy servant, shall be slain for thee!”
Thus Jephthah pray'd—Jehovah heard his prayer,
And gave his arm to triumph in the war;
The power of Ammon was subdued and slain,
And Israel rescued from her captive chain.
The chieftain turn'd him home in conquering pride,
His helpless captives trembling by his side,
His car triumphal with proud laurels hung,
And songs of victory around him sung.
Yet though his bosom swell'd with conscious pride,
His sinking heart in secret sadness died;
The flush of triumph faded from his brow,
With memory of his unaccomplish'd vow;
Nor were his bodings false—as near he drew,
To where his native city met his view,
A band of maidens gaily deck'd with flowers,
The brightest blooming in their roseate bowers,
With timbrel, dance, and song, to meet him came,
In numbers wild, proclaiming Jephthah's fame:
And while his bold achievements still they sung,
Their brightest roses in his path they flung.
The leader of that band of joyous girls
Was fairest of the group—her clustering curls
With roses wreath'd—the cheek of blush and snow,
The ruby lip, the eye's expressive glow,
All met in her—and beam'd more brightly fair,
For the proud feeling that had call'd her there.
She forward sprung, to meet the chief's advance,
And first on her was pour'd his anxious glance.
That martial cavalcade, that pompous show,
What were they to his anxious spirit now?
E'en ‘midst the loud acclaims that rent the air,
He tore the wreath of laurel from his hair,
And, dashing from his side his conquering blade,
He sprang to earth, to meet and clasp the maid.
“My child, my daughter!” wild exclaim'd the chief,
“How hast thou changed my triumph into grief!
How hast thou now become as one of those,
Who are my worst tormentors and my foes!
For I have vow'd, in prayer unto the Lord,
If he would nerve my arm and edge my sword,
That of my household, what first met my eyes,
Should be to him a holy sacrifice.”
The maiden heard, and one convulsive start
Drove back the gushing life-blood from her heart,
While with blanch'd cheek and vacant eyes she stood,
As though the hand of death had chill'd her blood;
'T was but a moment—then her changing eye,
With deep fire glowing, spoke her purpose high.
“Since thou hast vow'd, my father, to the Lord,
Do thou with me according to thy word;
I cannot murmur that my life should be
An offering, thus, for Israel and for thee!”
The maiden died—and long, in after years,
Did Zion's daughters mourn her fate with tears.