Incongruity? Yep…read on.
Jephthah, having gone from reject to regent, began the initiative for which he had been recruited.
12 Then Jephthah sent messengers to the king of the Ammonites and said, “What do you have against me, that you have come to me to fight against my land?” 13 And the king of the Ammonites answered the messengers of Jephthah, “Because Israel on coming up from Egypt took away my land, from the Arnon to the Jabbok and to the Jordan; now therefore restore it peaceably.” (Judges 11:12-14–ESV)
Can war be averted?
Jephthah first sends an inquiry to the king of Ammon. It is an open ended question. Perhaps Jephthah was known already to the king of Ammon since he had gained a following in Tob which was north of the Ammonite territory. The skill of his pseudo-tribe must have been of some prowess or the Gileadites would not have recruited him. Now that Jephthah is re-aligned in Gilead the argument that Ammon has is with him.
The answer given by the Ammonites though was not true. That king may have thought it true, but he had little precedent to rest upon. Ammon does not make much of an argument, but mainly tells Jephthah to return the land peaceably. Thus the first overture established the positions of these two groups of people. These first negotiations did not go very far.
14 Jephthah again sent messengers to the king of the Ammonites 15 and said to him, “Thus says Jephthah: Israel did not take away the land of Moab or the land of the Ammonites, 16 but when they came up from Egypt, Israel went through the wilderness to the Red Sea and came to Kadesh. 17 Israel then sent messengers to the king of Edom, saying, ‘Please let us pass through your land,’but the king of Edom would not listen. And they sent also to the king of Moab, but he would not consent. So Israel remained at Kadesh. 18 “Then they journeyed through the wilderness and went around the land of Edom and the land of Moab and arrived on the east side of the land of Moab and camped on the other side of the Arnon. But they did not enter the territory of Moab, for the Arnon was the boundary of Moab. 19 Israel then sent messengers to Sihon king of the Amorites, king of Heshbon, and Israel said to him, ‘Please let us pass through your land to our country,’ 20 but Sihon did not trust Israel to pass through his territory, so Sihon gathered all his people together and encamped at Jahaz and fought with Israel. 21 And the LORD, the God of Israel, gave Sihon and all his people into the hand of Israel, and they defeated them. So Israel took possession of all the land of the Amorites, who inhabited that country. 22 And they took possession of all the territory of the Amorites from the Arnon to the Jabbok and from the wilderness to the Jordan. (Judges 11:15-22–ESV)
Jephthah tries again to avert a war
It is very interesting to me that Jephthah is not just a war-monger. He knows his history and his uses it in an effort to restore the balance of power and peace.
I initially considered the balance of power to have been upset when Gilead dismissed Jephthah, but that is to miss the larger historical point. The balance of power was really upset when Israel as a nation did not continue to follow Jehovah. The knowledge of God and of his deeds atrophied and the people began to worship the gods of the nations around them and through whose lands they had traveled. They had been warned and led and invited to leave aside this idolatry, but they had not. The atrophy of their nation had continued and the squabble between the Gileadites and Ammon was but an offshoot of this.
Ammon was a country sandwiched between Israel (East Manasseh, Gad and Reuben) and the desert. The land toward the Jordan river being more fertile was what Ammon wanted and needed. That was the likely reason why raids were undertaken at this point, but that is not how the king of Ammon structured it.
The land in dispute would have thus been between the Kingdom of Ammon on the map and the Jordan river to its east. That land had belonged to Sihon and Og, the Amorite kings whose history is related in Numbers 21. The Amorites possessed that land and upon rejecting Moses’ request to travel through their land were defeated by Moses and Israel. The territory was divided up among the 2 and a half tribes of Reuben in the south, Gad above it and East Manasseh (half tribe) above it. So said Ammon’s argument was not correct.
Jephthah upon hearing Ammon’s viewpoint replied yet again and this time rehashes the history. Ammon had it incorrectly. Ammon would have done well to have listened.
23 So then the LORD, the God of Israel, dispossessed the Amorites from before his people Israel; and are you to take possession of them? 24 Will you not possess what Chemosh your god gives you to possess? And all that the LORD our God has dispossessed before us, we will possess. 25 Now are you any better than Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab? Did he ever contend against Israel, or did he ever go to war with them? 26 While Israel lived in Heshbon and its villages, and in Aroer and its villages, and in all the cities that are on the banks of the Arnon, 300 years, why did you not deliver them within that time? 27 I therefore have not sinned against you, and you do me wrong by making war on me. The LORD, the Judge, decide this day between the people of Israel and the people of Ammon.” 28 But the king of the Ammonites did not listen to the words of Jephthah that he sent to him. (Judges 11:23-28–ESV)
A case for the Lord and against the idols
Jephthah said that the Lord gave the land to Israel. Jephthah had no right to give the land to Ammon as Ammon requested. Jephthah goes on pitting Chemosh against Jehovah as those peoples were want to do. Jephthah on that basis takes his stand.
Jephthah then goes on to further establish his argument by precedent. For 300 years the argument being made had not been raised. It was not thus legitimate at this point.
Ammon was not interested
The points the Jephthah raised were discarded by the king of Ammon. Ammon’s argument was not really the point anyway. His mind was made up and he was going to come against Israel. Jephthah, though, and especially as a result of his engagement of and honor of God had shifted the balance of power and things would not go well for Ammon.
- Jephthah was the son of a prostitute.
- That son was raised as one of the family, but was run off when the protector, dad, father died.
- He would seem to be best described with words like the following:
- Gang leader, desert outlaw, mercenary, wild general.
- One would figure that he would have some allegiance to a foreign god or gods.
- He is recruited back by humbled elders and immediately begins to turn that little people group back to Jehovah.
- This exile knew his history.
- This exile did not discard Jehovah. Some would say, “Where was God!!!” and reject him outright.
- He did not discard God for his exile
- It would seem that anger at God might be a natural response