Judges 11

Judges 11,
Friday, May 11, 2018

You may recognize the story of Jephthah’s daughter from childhood, but with your adult mind, you may edit the movie between your ears.  Jephthah’s mother was a prostitute, a bit lower in social status than Abimelech’s mother the concubine, but again in this case, illegitimate in terms of land claim.  Perhaps that’s why his father bears the general name of the region, not of Reuben, Gad, or half-Manasseh. 

Gilead.  We know it from Marilynne Robinson’s bestselling trilogy of novels of the Midwestern USA, of a town in a Calvinist voice.  We know it from Margaret Atwood’s novel and subsequent big screen and small screen adaptations, of a dystopian successor to the USA.

Jephthah is denied any patrimony – by his own brothers, the legitimate heirs in the region east of the Jordan.  Outcast, he heads to the frontier of Tob (aka ‘Justice’).  This story might be heard differently in Josiah’s edition since Assyria has already displaced much of Israel’s population from their patrimonies.  Heard in the final form of revision, in the Second Temple, it is easy to identify with Jephthah – we have known exile, and we have known some chance of restoration, like Jephthah’s invitation to come home to fight.

Jephthah rubs the faces of his brothers into their indignity offered him before, a bit like Joseph reunited with his brothers. He takes the job, and begins trash-talking the other team, the Ammonite army.  What’s the problem?  The Ammonites point out that Israel took their land on the east side of the Jordan when they came through en route from Egypt to the West Bank and Israel.  

Jephthah disputes this account of displacement of Ammonites by Israeli refugees from Egypt.  He claims they tried to come from Red Sea, and from the Gulf, heading directly north into the Promised land, but that Edom (Esau’s nation, the red-earthed bottleneck on the trade routes to the south seas) refused them transit.  They scouted around Moab, who also rebuffed their advances, so Israel had to come through Amorites to cross the Jordan, through Sihon and Og in battle. Do the Ammonites propose to take ‘back’ what Israel won from the Amorites?  300 years later, peoples have moved – are the Ammonite claims better than Barak who sent Balaam to stop Israel?

You may not have this sorted in your head.  But can you see parallel patterns today in Israel/Palestine or First Nations land claims? I can.

Perhaps 1.25 million Jewish refugees have exercised their ‘right of return’ to the state of Israel since 1948.  Perhaps 3.5 million Palestinians have been displaced since 1948 occupation, and much more in the 50 years since the 1967 war, called ‘illegal occupation’ by international law. Palestinians, now 75% Muslim, claim roots 1500-2000 years old.  Israel claims are older – assumed to be based here.

Certainly First Nations occupation and roots in North America go back millennia as well, before ‘first contact’ with Europeans 500 years ago.  The epidemics of European plagues through those nations decimated the populations. Indigenous nations moved around through diplomacy, sometimes continued moving through means of warfare, just as the 12 tribes shifted and fought. 

300 years ago, in our region, American settlers pushed across the Alleghenies to push First Nations west. The ‘5 Nations’ whom Haldimand defended against those encroachments in the mid 1700’s joined the British against the American revolutionary war in the late 1700’s, and again in the War of 1812. As the American state expanded its westward claims in genocidal war beyond its Civil War, Peter Russell calls our Canadian experience ‘Partial Conquest’, while James Laxer writes about the ‘unending war’ against first peoples, and 3 peer nations in the 1860’s competing for the continent.

The now ‘Six Nations’ moved north into former Anishanawbe and Neutral land, with British assurances, and Ojibway and Cree nations shifted further northwest in turn.  Who is indigenous, and who is displaced economic migrant, or refugee?   Perhaps my ancestors, who fled potato famine as ‘white trash’ flushed out of British plantations, and found 60% of their neighbours were black refugees from slavery in the south, had the last laugh here, till waves of Mennonites and Germans fled Russian and German upheavals.  Now Mandarin is the second biggest language group in Waterloo region, as Asian migration settles, and Africans follow.

We are all Jephthah – and we were willing to make a deal with the devil or with any god, to sell our first-born to win a foothold here.  Does God make us pay up?  Do we follow through?  Listen again:

The Now Jephthah the Gileadite, 
the son of a prostitute, 
was a mighty warrior. 
Gilead was the father of Jephthah.
 2Gilead’s wife also bore him sons; 
and when his wife’s sons grew up,
 they drove Jephthah away, 
saying to him,
 ‘You shall not inherit anything
in our father’s house; 
for you are the son
 of another woman.’
 3Then Jephthah fled from his brothers
 and lived in the land of Tob. 
Outlaws collected around Jephthah
 and went raiding with him.
4 After a time
the Ammonites made war
against Israel.
 5And when the Ammonites
 made war against Israel, 
the elders of Gilead
went to bring Jephthah
 from the land of Tob.
 6They said to Jephthah,
 ‘Come and be our commander,
 so that we may fight
with the Ammonites.’
 7But Jephthah said
to the elders of Gilead,
 ‘Are you not the very ones
 who rejected me
and drove me out
of my father’s house? 
So why do you come to me now
when you are in trouble?’ 
8The elders of Gilead said to Jephthah,
we have now turned back to you, 
so that you may go with us
and fight with the Ammonites,
 and become head over us, 
over all the inhabitants of Gilead.’
 9Jephthah said to the elders of Gilead,
 ‘If you bring me home again
to fight with the Ammonites, 
and the Lord gives them over to me,
 I will be your head.’
 10And the elders of Gilead
said to Jephthah,
 ‘The Lord will be witness between us; 
we will surely do as you say.’
 11So Jephthah went with the elders of Gilead, 
and the people made him head
and commander over them; 
and Jephthah spoke all his words
before the Lord at Mizpah.
12 Then Jephthah sent messengers
to the king of the Ammonites
and said,
 ‘What is there between you and me, 
that you have come to me to fight
 against my land?’
 13The king of the Ammonites
answered the messengers of Jephthah, 
‘Because Israel, 
on coming from Egypt,
 took away my land
 from the Arnon to the Jabbok
 and to the Jordan; 
now therefore
restore it peaceably.’
 14Once again Jephthah sent messengers
 to the king of the Ammonites
 15and said to him: 
‘Thus says Jephthah:
 Israel did not take away the land of Moab
 or the land of the Ammonites
16but when they came up from Egypt,
 Israel went through the wilderness
 to the Red Sea
and came to Kadesh. 
17Israel then sent messengers
to the king of Edom,
“Let us pass through your land”;
 but the king of Edom would not listen.
 They also sent to the king of Moab, 
but he would not consent. 
So Israel remained at Kadesh.
 18Then they journeyed through the wilderness, 
went around the land of Edom
and the land of Moab, 
arrived on the eastern side of the land of Moab,
 and camped on the other side of the Arnon. 
They did not enter the territory of Moab, 
for the Arnon was the boundary of Moab.
 19Israel then sent messengers
 to King Sihon of the Amorites, 
king of Heshbon; 
and Israel said to him,
 “Let us pass through your land
to our country.”
 20But 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.
 21Then the Lord, the God of Israel,
 gave Sihon and all his people
 into the hand of Israel,
 and they defeated them; 
so Israel occupied
all the land of the Amorites, 
who inhabited that country. 
22They occupied all the territory of the Amorites
 from the Arnon to the Jabbok
and from the wilderness to the Jordan. 
23So now the Lord, the God of Israel,
 has conquered the Amorites
for the benefit of his people Israel.
 Do you intend to take their place?
24Should you not possess
what your god Chemosh gives you
 to possess? 
And should we not be the ones to possess
everything that the Lord our God has conquered
 for our benefit? 
25Now are you any better than King Balak
 son of Zippor of Moab? 
Did he ever enter into conflict with Israel,
 or did he ever go to war with them?
 26While Israel lived in Heshbon and its villages,
 and in Aroer and its villages,
 and in all the towns that are along the Arnon, 
for three hundred years,
 why did you not recover them
within that time?
 27It is not I
 who have sinned against you, 
but you are the one
who does me wrong
 by making war on me.
 Let the Lord,
 who is judge,
 decide today
for the Israelites
or for the Ammonites.’
 28But the king of the Ammonites
did not heed the message
that Jephthah sent him.
29 Then the spirit of the Lord
 came upon Jephthah,
 and he passed through Gilead
and Manasseh.
 He passed on to Mizpah of Gilead,
 and from Mizpah of Gilead
he passed on to the Ammonites. 
30And Jephthah made a vow to the Lord,
 and said,
 ‘If you will give the Ammonites
into my hand,
 31then whoever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me, 
when I return victorious from the Ammonites,
 shall be the Lord’s,
 to be offered up by me
as a burnt-offering.’ 
32So Jephthah crossed over to the Ammonites
 to fight against them; 
and the Lord gave them into his hand.
33He inflicted a massive defeat on them
from Aroer to the neighbourhood of Minnith,
 twenty towns, 
and as far as Abel-keramim. 
So the Ammonites were subdued
before the people of Israel.
34 Then Jephthah came to his home at Mizpah; 
and there was his daughter
coming out to meet him
with timbrels and with dancing. 
She was his only child; 
he had no son
 or daughter except her.
 35When he saw her, 
he tore his clothes, 
and said,
 ‘Alas, my daughter! 
You have brought me very low;
 you have become the cause
of great trouble to me. 
For I have opened my mouth to the Lord,
 and I cannot take back my vow.
’36She said to him, 
‘My father,
 if you have opened your mouth to the Lord,
 do to me according to what has gone out of your mouth,
 now that the Lord has given you vengeance
 against your enemies, the Ammonites.
’37And she said to her father,
 ‘Let this thing be done for me:
 Grant me two months, 
so that I may go
and wander on the mountains,
 and bewail my virginity, 
my companions and I.’
 38‘Go,’ he said
and sent her away
 for two months. 
So she departed, 
she and her companions, 
and bewailed her virginity
on the mountains.
 39At the end of two months, 
she returned to her father, 
who did with her
according to the vow he had made.
 She had never slept with a man. 
So there arose an Israelite custom
that 40for four days every year
the daughters of Israel
 would go out to lament
the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite.