The lanky, young Yitzhak scanned faces in the courtyard until his eyes locked on hers. The joy of life exploded from within the returning Israelite’s breast at the sight of Hayalah’s smile. He had been away such a long time.
“Hayalah, my beautiful gazelle! How empty my heart has been without you!” In four long strides, the joyful youth covered the distance, eager arms raised to envelop his beloved. Instead of the warmth Yitzhak had so long anticipated, Hayalah’s outstretched palms resisted his embrace.
“Yitzhak, oh my dear Yitzhak. You’ve not heard. Come! We must talk.”
Confusion furrowed Yitzhak’s brow as fear gripped him; the stinging in his eyes added to the pain suddenly sweeping over him. What could have happened in his absence? Hayalah tenderly took his hand in hers, leading him to the olive grove. Hadar glanced up from her work as they passed. Was that sadness Yitzhak had seen in the face of Hayalah’s mother?
Sitting on their familiar make-shift stone bench, Hayalah dropped his hand, turning her slender, youthful body to face him. ”What is it? Has something happened to your father?” Hayalah’s lips parted in such a lovely smile when she responded.
“No, my dear Yitzhak; Father is fine. He is still the mighty warrior he has always been. In fact, Father led the Israelites to victory over the Ammonites just three months ago. Did word not reach you in the Negev?”
Yitzhak shook his head, his eyes narrowed, and the corners of his mouth turned down, as they always did when deep in thought. “No, but what has that to do with us, Hayalah? Of course, I rejoice in the triumph over our enemies but...” Hayalah’s tanned fingertips touched his lips to silence him.
“It has everything to do with us. My father made a vow to the Lord.” Suddenly he understood. The scream of recognition ripped from the grimacing lips of Yitzhak and rode the wind.
“No-o-o-o! No, Jephthah! No! Your daughter’s not yours to give. Hayalah’s mine.” Wracking sobs nearly obliterated the rest of Yitzhak’s words. “Hayalah and I… since we were children… We made a vow to each other. I was going to propose this very night. No! It cannot be.” Without realizing his action, Young Yitzhak began the slow side-to-side swaying so common when speaking prayers for the dead. His groans were felt by all who heard him; everyone knew the young couple.
“S-s-sh, Yahweh isn’t a God Who doesn’t care about us. Has His plan not been to deliver us from our enemies? Haven’t we willingly joined in to do our part, Yitzhak?”
“Of course, but this, this is too much. Why you, Hayalah?”
“It was a devastating shock to Father when he saw me come out of the house to greet him, dancing with joy over the victory. Father had not offered his only child, but the first thing to come out of the house. I didn’t know of the vow, of course. I was just so thrilled and proud of him; I could not let a servant be the first.” Yitzhak shook his head, rubbing his large, rugged hands up and down over his wet face, groaning with each of Hayalah’s words.
Finally, she could bear his agony no longer, pulling one of his hands to her lips. “Oh, my Yitzhak, how I’ve prayed for this moment, that God would give you strength and understanding.” Hayalah’s voice started to tremble.
“My father’s been the family’s outcast his entire life. His brothers never accepted him and said he would have no inheritance from Grandfather Gilead because his mother was a prostitute. Don’t you see how important it was that they came to ask for Father’s help? The victory was for him as much as for Israel.”
“But, what about us? Will you never marry then?” Still holding his hand in hers, glistening eyes met Yitzhak’s.
“No, I will never marry. My heart was ripped from within me that day because I remembered our childhood vow. You and I under the wedding canopy was my only dream.” Hayalah paused until her voice steadied.
“But, in the two months of secluded mourning with my friends, we also sought the Lord. I have earnestly prayed for God to blanket you with the same peace and comfort that He’s given me. Yahweh has a plan for my life, my beloved friend. Likewise, He has not forgotten you; He will speak. Let’s look forward, with expectancy, to His path set before us now.”
Author's Note: While all of the personal names are real Hebrew names, only the names of Jephthah and his father, Gilead, are mentioned in the account recorded in Judges Chapter 11.
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