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Casus Belli

Getting history right.

Judges 11:12–18 (ESV)

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?” 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.” Jephthah again sent messengers to the king of the Ammonites and said to him, “Thus says Jephthah: Israel did not take away the land of Moab or the land of the Ammonites, but when they came up from Egypt, Israel went through the wilderness to the Red Sea and came to Kadesh. 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.

“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.”

It’s always good for the casus belli (the cause/justification for a war) to be written down so that history doesn’t get it wrong. To wit, the technical casus belli for the 2003 gulf war was Saddam Hussein’s repeated violation of the cease fire agreement, not simply Iraq’s possession of WMDs.

Here we see that the king of the Ammonites has his history wrong. He thinks the Israelites just took his land unjustly.

In today’s passage, Jephthah begins a rather lengthy and detailed exposition of the true history of how this all came to pass. This talent for diplomacy separates Jephthah from Abimelech. Despite their somewhat similar family histories, Jephthah is better prepared.

He’s obviously well-schooled in Israeli history.

No one is born with this kind of schooling (though you can be born into it). And Jephthah didn’t learn all this from leading a band of thugs; he learned it as a child. How? What did he have that Abimelech didn’t?

Since Jephthah, like Abimelech, was raised by his mother in the ancient version of a single parent family, the most obvious difference is in their mothers. Abimelech had the tiny advantage of at least being raised by Gideon’s concubine, (פִּלֶגֶשׁ, pee-leh-gesh, in Hebrew).

But poor Jephthah was raised by a full-up prostitute, (זֹנָה, zoh-nah, in Hebrew). Somehow, his “Les Misérables” upbringing gave him the tools to ultimately become a leader. Scripture doesn’t give us the details; they’re only implied by the result. Someone, presumably his mom, taught Jephthah well.

There’s an epic tale of a mother’s love, implied but not detailed here, that built Jephthah’s character.

But he had some major resentment he had to work through before he could use that character for good.

These Monday—Friday DEEPs are written by Mike Slay. The Weekend DEEPs are written by Matt Richardson. To subscribe to all the DEEPs click here:

The weekly study guides, which include the Monday–Friday devotionals plus related questions for discussion or meditation, are available for download here:

Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. ESV stands for the English Standard Version. © Copyright 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved. NIV stands for The Holy Bible, New International Version®. © Copyright 1973 by International Bible Society. Used by permission. All rights reserved. KJV stands for the King James Version.

Mike Slay

As a mathematician, inventor, and ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America, Mike Slay brings an analytical, conversational, and even whimsical approach to the daily study of God's Word.

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