Judges 11:19–28 (ESV)
“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,’ 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. 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. And they took possession of all the territory of the Amorites from the Arnon to the Jabbok and from the wilderness to the Jordan. So then the LORD, the God of Israel, dispossessed the Amorites from before his people Israel; and are you to take possession of them? 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. 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? 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? 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.” But the king of the Ammonites did not listen to the words of Jephthah that he sent to him.
Here, Jephthah recounts (from Numbers 21:21–26) how Sihon refused to allow the Israelites safe passage through his kingdom and then attacked them. Sihon gathered all his people together and encamped at Jahaz and fought with Israel. Israel didn’t pick that fight; Sihon did.
But Jephthah adds a curious detail not mentioned in Numbers—“Sihon did not trust Israel to pass through his territory.” That may be an obvious truth, but mentioning it is still clever diplomacy.
Jephthah is giving Sihon (and also the current king) an out. Sihon isn’t depicted as belligerent; he just made the reasonable decision to not trust the Israelites. Even though Sihon made the wrong call, it was made in good faith. In other words, all this nastiness could have been avoided, if only …
But Jephthah’s approach isn’t entirely peaches and cream. After starting out soft, he hardens things with a bit of “my God is bigger than your god.” 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.
Jephthah is saying that the current borders are correct “according to the gods.”
But the king of the Ammonites did not listen to the words of Jephthah that he sent to him.
Jephthah made an airtight case to the king that he shouldn’t start a war with Israel. It didn’t work. Was it a waste of time?
No. Now there’s a record of exactly what happened. The recording of the original conquest and the diplomacy preceding it helped Jephthah make his case. This recording may prove useful too.
History is important.
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:
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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.