Saturday, January 8, 2022
The Judges. Day 42, Jephthah Tries To Reason With The Ammonites, Part Two
The king of the Ammonites has been causing trouble for Israel. For eighteen years he has oppressed the Israelites living on the east side of the Jordan in Gilead. Now he's begun attacking the Israelites west of the Jordan in the territories of Judah, Benjamin, and Ephraim.
Let's take a moment to look again at our map of the promised land that we've been using off and on during our study of the Old Testament. We'll find Ammon on the righthand side of the map in a beige color. The area referred to as Gilead in the book of Judges is believed to be the territory of the tribe of Gad. There were several Israelite cities whose names included the word "Gilead" but when spoken of as a region it's generally accepted to mean the territory of Gad. In the book of Joshua we were told that to the tribe of Gad was given all the towns of Gilead. In looking at our map we see that the Ammonites lived right beside the territory of Gad/Gilead. This is the area the Ammonites began attacking first and it's the area they managed to oppress for eighteen years. Having been successful in subjugating the Israelites east of the Jordan, they've moved across the Jordan in an attempt to do the same to the people in Judah, Benjamin, and Ephraim. We see on our map that these would have been some of the closest territories to the Ammonites after their army crossed the Jordan.
"Jephthah sent messengers back to the Ammonite king, saying: 'This is what Jephthah says: Israel did not take the land of Moab or the land of the Ammonites. But when they came up out of Egypt, Israel went through the wilderness to the Red Sea and on to Kadesh. Then Israel sent messengers to the king of Edom, saying, 'Give us permission to go through your country,' but the king of Edom would not listen. They sent also to the king of Moab, and he refused. So they stayed at Kadesh. Next they traveled through the wilderness, skirted the lands of Edom and Moab, passed along the eastern side of the country of Moab, and camped on the other side of the Arnon. They did not enter the territory of Moab, for the Arnon was its border.'" (Judges 11:14-18) The Arnon River was on the eastern side of the Dead Sea. On our map it is on the righthand side and forms the border between Moab and Reuben.
Jephthah continues. "Then Israel sent messengers to Sihon king of the Amorites, who ruled in Heshbon, and said to him, 'Let us pass through your country to our own place.' Sihon, however, did not trust Israel to pass through his territory. He mustered all his troops and encamped at Jahaz and fought with Israel." (Judges 11:19-20) The Israelites had never intended to take any land east of the Jordan River. They were attempting to cross the Jordan River and live west of it in the land of Canaan, which the Lord promised to the descendants of Abraham. The Israelites merely wanted to pass peacefully through the territories of others on their way there. They even offered to pay for any resources they might use along the way. But, as Jephthah pointed out, the kings of Edom and Moab refused them passage and King Sihon not only refused them passage but came out with his army to attack them. As a result of Sihon's vicious response, the Lord allowed the Israelites to conquer his army and take control of his territory.
"Then the Lord, the God of Israel, gave Sihon and his whole army into Israel's hands, and they defeated them. Israel took over all the land of the Amorites who lived in that country, capturing all of it from the Arnon to the Jabbok and from the desert to the Jordan." (Judges 11:21-22) Jephthah does not mention King Bashan, another Amorite king, who came out in battle array against the Israelites when they wanted to pass through. The Israelites also defeated him and took his territory. The land the Israelites took from the Amorites lay between the Arnon River and the Jabbok River. On our map the Jabbok River is the blue line flowing through the upper portion of the territory of Gad.
At no time had the Israelites fought the Ammonites and taken land from them. At some time long before the Israelites came out of Egypt, the Amorites had fought against the Ammonites and had taken some of their land from them. When the Israelites wanted to pass through this land to cross the Jordan into the territory the Lord promised to them, the Amorite kings came out to fight them. When the Israelites fought these kings' armies and won, they took this portion of land from the Amorites, not from the Ammonites. It has always been the way of the world that land belongs to whoever is powerful enough to take it and keep hold of it. The Amorites had been powerful enough to take the land between the Arnon and the Jabbok from the Ammonites. The Amorites had been powerful enough to keep hold of it until the day they opposed the Lord's people. When they opposed the Lord's people, the Lord gave Israel victory in battle and to Israel went the spoils of war: the region between the Arnon and the Jabbok. Now this land belongs to Israel who fought for it and won it. The Ammonite king has no right to it; his people lost it long ago.
The king apparently feels that the Israelites should have handed the land back over to his people instead of keeping it for themselves. Jephthah sarcastically tells him that if the god of the Ammonites had been powerful enough---indeed, if he had been a god at all---he could have kept both the Amorites and the Israelites from obtaining ownership of the land in question. He points out that the Ammonites always felt they had a right to take and keep hold of anything they believed their god Chemosh had enabled them to obtain. Why should the people of the Lord feel any differently? The Lord gave Israel the land in question and they are not obligated to turn it over to the Ammonites any more than the Ammonites would have felt obligated to turn over any land they may have conquered with the supposed help of Chemosh. "Now since the Lord, the God of Israel, has driven the Amorites out before His people Israel, what right have you to take it over? Will you not take what your god Chemosh gives you? Likewise, whatever the Lord our God has given us, we will possess." (Judges 11:23-24)
It's likely that the Moabites, who were "brothers" of the Ammonites, once inhabited part of the disputed territory as well, for Jephthah asks, "Are you any better than Balak son of Zippor, king of Moab? Did he ever quarrel with Israel or fight with them?" (Judges 11:25) Apparently the Moabites had as much claim to this portion of land as the Ammonites (which was no claim by this point in history) and the king of Moab wasn't causing Israel any trouble. Jephthah is saying something like, "The king of Moab doesn't feel we took anything from him or that we are obligated to give back to him anything that the Amorites took from him. He isn't troubling Israel. He knows he has no case against us. Why do you think you do?"
As far as that goes, the Ammonites have had three hundred years (since the Israelites began living in the region) to do something about it if they feel Israel has wronged them in any way. But they never took up their swords and came against Israel until this king decided he was going to get back what his ancestors lost fair and square in war. "For three hundred years Israel occupied Heshbon, Aroer, the surrounding settlements and all the towns along the Arnon. Why didn't you retake them during that time? I have not wronged you, but you are doing me wrong by waging war against me. Let the Lord, the Judge, decide the dispute this day between the Israelites and the Ammonites." (Judges 11:26-27)
Jephthah's attempt to talk sense into the king and to spare Israel a war is not successful. It's not successful because the Ammonite king doesn't want to take anything he says to heart. "The king of Ammon, however, paid no attention to the message Jephthah sent him." (Judges 11:28) The king wants war and war is what he's going to get.