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Sarah and I have pretty much decided on the name “Oliver” for the newest Tater Tot who is due to arrive in just a matter of weeks. It seems a fitting handle to us because “Oliver” means olive tree and Sarah’s family have been olive growers for generations in Southern California (and in Italy before that). The name also reminds us of Bible verses like Psalm 128:3, “…your children will be like olive shoots around your table,” or Psalm 52:8, “But I am like an olive tree flourishing in the house of God.”

Parents have often looked to the Bible for inspiration in naming their children. Over the years biblical names have consistently been among the top ranked names for children in the United States. In fact, I heard that the father of Ethan Allen (a figure from the revolutionary war) arrived at the name Ethan by opening the Bible at random, plunking his finger down, and assigning him the first male name that he encountered. When I heard that story I thought to myself that he was sure fortunate that his father’s finger landed on Ethan and not some of the other names we encounter in scripture. Just think, the hero of Ticonderoga was just one errant finger away from being named “Mephibosheth,” “Onesimus,” “Nimrod” or “Diotrophes.” (By the way, according to the Social Security Administration zero babies in 2018 were named Mephibosheth or Diotrophes in the United States, and fewer than five were named Onesimus or Nimrod.) There are plenty of obscure female figures identified by name in the Bible as well like “Mehetabel” (zero babies named in 2018), “Drusilla” (less than five babies in 2018) and, my personal favorite, “Gomer” (also less than five babies in 2018).

In our next sermon series which begins this Sunday we’ll be taking a closer look at some of the more obscure figures that we are introduced to in the Bible. We’ve all heard of those A-listers like Paul, Daniel, Peter and David or Mary, Ruth and Esther, but what about those D-list characters with names that are virtually unknown to the social security administration and sometimes impossibly difficult to pronounce. The stories of their lives may not be well-known to us, but God gave them to us in His Word so that we might know Him better. And that’s always the goal when we worship God through the study of His Word, isn’t it? And, I pray, that these stories will help us do that.

This Sunday we will be spending time in Judges 11 and 12 familiarizing ourselves with a very controversial figure, Jephthah. (In 2018 Jephthah was the 12,965th most popular name for boys in the United States with fewer than five babies being so named. Interestingly the name peaked in popularity just three years prior in 2015 when six babies were named Jephthah in the United States an all time high!) In my experience Jephthah’s story is better known to critics of the Bible than followers of Jesus. This is so because for critics of Christianity the story of Jephthah appears to confirm their worst suspicions that the Bible is an archaic relic from a more superstitious and backward era, and is certainly not a reliable source of truth or moral guidance. After all doesn’t it depict the human sacrifice of a virgin to secure victory in battle? “How can you follow the teachings of such a book?,” they ask. This Sunday we will wrestle with this difficult text together, and hopefully as we explore it God will make its meaning clear to us. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 says, that “All scripture (that would include the stories of the Bible’s most obscure personalities!) is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” God has preserved the story of Jephthah in His word for His glory and for our good.