As was said, Jephthah is right to wage war with the Ammonites was implicit only in his divine calling. He therefore must wait withdrawing his sword until God raised him up; until God’s Spirit raised him up. And Jephthah did wait for the unction of the Spirit; but in the meantime he could request the Ammonites to justify, if they were able, their invasion of God’s country. He did so. The question he put to the king of Ammon was pertinent. “What hast thou to do with me, that thou art come against me to fight in my land?” As was said, it was a most embarrassing question that Jephthah put to the Ammonite king. It is about as embarrassing a question as could be put to any government of this day and age, embarked as they all are, on policies of imperialism. For it is a question of right before God, and for such a question the Ammonite king was ill prepared. For the answer that was needed and wanted was not one divulging the truth but one that would justify thievery and murder, in a word, the vile ambitions of a depraved man. But, as was said, the king had an answer. He said to the messengers sent by Joshua: “Because Israel took away my land, when they came up out of Egypt, from Arnon even unto Jabbok, and unto Jordan: now, therefore, restore these lands peaceably.” Thus what the king of Ammon maintained is that when Israel came up out of the land of Egypt they took from him the land between Arnon, Jabbok and Jordan, about coextensive with the inheritance of Reuben and Gad. The messengers communicated the king’s reply to Jephthah, who was ready with an answer. The king of Ammon was told that what he said was utterly untrue. Israel took not away the land of the children of Ammon. The facts in the case, as presented to the king by Jephthah’s messengers, are precisely these. Coming up from Egypt and having arrived: at Kadesh, the people of Israel petitioned the king of Edom for a passage through his land; but the king would not hearken. The petition was repeated to the king of Moab, and he, too, refused. Having been forbidden by the Lord to employ force in dealing with these two kings and their peoples, they went their way, circumventing the land of Edom and the land of Moab, as they went and pitched finally on the other side of Arnon. In Heshbon (Num. 21) ruled the king of the Amorites. He, too, received a request to allow the people of Israel to pass through his land. Not only did he refuse, but, (adding insult to injury, he even mobilized his military forces and made war against Israel. That move resulted in his downfall. For the Lord delivered him and all his people into Israel’s hand. They smote him and possessed all his land with its inhabitants, all the coasts of the Ammorites, from Arnon even unto Jabbok, and from the wilderness even unto Jordan. This precisely was the territory that the king of the Ammonites was now claiming for himself and his people. But Jephthah insisted that the king’s claim did not even wear the appearances of truth. And Jephthah was right. But the matter of the king’s claim to this territory is rather complicated. To understand his argument, we must be clear on the following. Firstly, we must pay attention to the fact that the Ammonites and the Amorites were two different peoples. The former were descendants of Lot, while the latter were Canaanites, under the curse of God. Secondly, the contested territory originally had belonged to the Moabites and partly to the Ammonites, as appears from, a passage that reads, “And their coasts—the coasts of Grad—was Jazer, and all the cities of Gilead, and half the land of the children of Ammon, unto Aroer, that is before Riabbah.” Thirdly, the king of the Amorites had obtained it by conquest from Moab and from Ammon, though perhaps not so much from Ammon as from Moab. So, when Israel finally arrived upon the scene, the contested territory was in the hands of the king of the Amorites, who reigned at Heshbon. Thus the ground on which the king of the Ammonites was now urging his claim seems to have been this, namely, that at least a part of the contested territory originally had belonged to his people as a gift of their god Chemosh, and that Israel therefore, instead of taking the land for themselves, should have restored it to his people, after having wrested it from the Amorites.
Jephthah replies firstly that “now the Lord God of Israel hath dispossessed the Amorites from before His people of Israel, and shouldest thou possess it? Wilt thou now,” he says to the king of Ammon, “possess that which Chemoch thy god giveth thee to possess? So whomsoever the Lord our God shall drive out from before us, them will we possess.” Jephthah here directed the attention of the Ammonite king to the ground on which he, the king, and his people were basing their title to the land where they now dwelt. Their ground was that, as they said, Chemosh their god had given them their present possessions, that is, had given them the victory over the original inhabitants of the land where they now dwelt. And yet they denied Israel’s right to the land that Israel’s God had given His people. They demanded that Israel restore the contested territory to them, the Ammonites. Jephthah’s aim was to expose, on the ground of their own forms of pagan thought, the unreasonableness of their demand.
The remainder of Jephthah’s reply is directed against the claim of the king to the contested territory on the ground that the land originally belonged to his people, if not the whole land then at least a part of it, and it must be, a very insignificant part. By far the most of the contested territory must have belonged to Moab. For the king is asked, “Art thou anything better than Balak the son of Zippor, the king of Moab? did he ever strive against Israel, or did he ever fight against them ?” If any nation could maintain claim, it was Moab; but Balak, the king of Moab, never raised it, nor did he make war on that account. Besides, it was three hundred years, ago now that Israel drove out the Amorites. “Why therefore,” says Jephthah to the king, “did ye not recover them within that time?” Not once, in all the three hundred years had either Ammon or Moab claimed the land. The only explanation of this was that all along it has been acknowledged that the claim had no foundation. Jephthah concludes that “I have not sinned against thee, but thou dost me wrong to war against me: the Lord the Judge be judge this day between the children of Israel and the children of Ammon.” But the king of Ammon “hearkened not unto the words of Jephthah which he sent him.”
We must attend more closely to Jephthah’s reply. Jephthah, it is said by some interpreters, at least appeared to recognize Chemosh as a local deity to whom the Ammonites were indebted. He conceded, so it is said, that it was Chemosh who had given the Ammonites the victory as invaders of the country where they dwelt. The Ammonites could be expected to regard the concession as a confession of what Jephthah believed to be the truth about Ammon’s deity, namely, that he actually existed and that he was 1a god to be reckoned with. Attention is called to the fact that init is remarked that “Jehovah gave the land to the sons of Ammon for a possession.” But Jephthah, it is maintained, connects the same sentiment with the name of Chemosh, whom Ammon credits with his warlike achievements. It is held that Jephthah thereby achieved his aim, which was to point out, in the most striking and conclusive manner, that if Ammon refused to recognize the rights of Israel to its territory, he at the same time undermined, in principle, his own right to the country he inhabited. It is asserted further that, in conceding the existence of Chemosh as a local deity, supreme in his own domain, Jephthah was compelled to refrain from claiming for Jehovah a universal domain, thus compelled to refer to Him as a national deity, which he also did by calling Israel His people.
Now this interpretation of Jephthah’s reply, of its purposes and aims, is thoroughly wrong. If it were true, Jepthah would have involved himself in the heinous sin of denying Jehovah before the heathen. For the substance of this interpretation is that Jephthah placed Jehovah in the same category with Chemosh. To do that is, on the one hand, to deny that Jehovah is the God, only and true, and on the other hand to ascribe being to gods that the Scriptures call vanity. That Jephthah fell into this sin in a well-meaning attempt to dissuade the Ammonites, is refuted by the following facts: 1) Jephthah’s being raised up by the spirit of God to deliver Israel immediately after his fruitless negotiations with the king of Ammon; 2) the (achievements of his faith—by faith he overcame the world as represented by Ammon; 3) his being given a place, by the writer of the epistle to the Hebrews, in that company of heroes of faith, by which the church is compassed about. If Jephthah conceded the existence of Chemosh, there is absolutely no point to his; argument; in this case, the argument is without force. For if, in Jephthah’s reply, Jehovah is but a national deity, same as Chemosh, if He is not God, only and true, and as such the creator of heaven and earth, He has no right to this earth, not even to the smallest part of it. Jehovah is all or He is nothing at all. And the same holds true of Chemosh. If Jehovah and Chemosh are but two gods, two of many gods, neither is God and in this case neither has land to bestow upon his devotees. Thus, if in the reply, the reference is merely to two national gods, Jephthah did not point out that if Ammon refused to recognize the rights of Israel to its territory, he at the same time undermined his own right to his land. For if the reference was to two local deities, neither Israel nor Ammon had rights to any land.
Yet at first glance it does seem as if the reference is to two local deities. Consider once more the language of that reply. “Wilt thou not possess that which Chemosh thy God giveth thee to possess? So whosoever the Lord our God will drive out from before us, them shall we possess.” The first impression received is, that the antithesis is between “Jehovah our God” and “Chemosh thy God”, between “that which Chemosh giveth thee” and “that which Jehovah giveth us”. Apparently the reply does ascribe being, power and right to Chemosh as well as to Jehovah. Apparently the reference is to two local deities indeed. Actually however the reference is to Chemosh, to be sure, but to the Jehovah of Israel as the only true God and thus to Chemosh as a nonentity. The concluding statement of Jephthah’s reply has great weight here. H shows how the reference to Chemosh and Jehovah is to be interpreted. It indicates the principle of truth that underlies this reference. It gives force and meaning to the entire argument. This concluding statement reads, “The Lord the Judge, be judge this day between the children of Israel and the children of Ammon. Jephthah said not, “the judge Chemosh,” or “the judges Chemosh and Jehovah,” but he said, “Jehovah, the Judge be judge this day. . . .” This certainly is a reference to Jehovah as the only true God and to Chemosh as a nonentity. What is here claimed for Jehovah is a dominion that is universal. What comes plainly out here is that Jehovah is God and none else and that Chemosh is therefore vanity, an idol, the work of men’s hands. As interpreted in the light of this concluding statement, it will be seen that the reference to Chemosh, as being a deity with lands to bestow, partaker of the character of irony, sarcasm; it thus will be seen that we have to do here with a statement, the intended implication of which is the opposite of the literal sense of the words. This in the implication: “Wilt thou not possess that which a not- god giveth thee to possess? So, whomsoever the only true God, the Lord our God, shall drive out from before us, them will we possess,” or “If you Ammonites lay claim to a land that, on your position, you do not even possess as, according to your false belief, it was given you by your idol, a god non-existing, we without question do right in possessing a land given us by the only and true God, our Lord and God; and in the attempt to wrestle from us this land, you fight against and revile the God who is God.” Jephthah did not dispute Ammon’s claim to his land. He was aware that it was given him of God through His providence. What Jephthah, by implication, disputes is that Ammon possesses his land on the ground that it was given him by Chemosh. His argument, concisely stated is this: “You claim that which, on your position, you do not possess; so we claim that which we do actually possess.” It must not be supposed that the Ammonites failed to grasp the real intent of Jephthah’s words. The heathen nations surrounding the holy land knew that the Jehovah of Israel was the God. The report of his marvelous works had penetrated that heathen world. And it lived in constant dread of Jehovah. In one of the wars with the Philistines, the ark of God was carried into the camp of Israel. When the Philistines heard of it, “they were afraid, for they said, Woe unto us! for there hath not been such a thing heretofore. Woe unto us! for who shall deliver us out of the hands of these mighty gods? these are the gods that smote the Egyptians with all the plagues in the wilderness,” ().
We just saw that, according to, God gave the land to Ammon. He did so in the same way that He gives the land to every nation, namely, according to His counsel, in His providence and usually through unrighteous wars of conquest. The history of the nations is on a whole a history of such conquests, of expansion through violence, through thievery and plunder, through the subjugation of the weaker nation by the stronger. Thus the territory that each nation possesses, is, in this sense, given it of God. But as it came into the possession of what it holds through unlawful violence, it does not hold what it has in God’s favor. Nor does it have a right to what it possesses. Only God’s people have rights, the rights that were merited for them by the atonement of Christ. It is folly therefore, for a nation to take up arms against the invader on the grounds that it has a right to its territory. If it were wise, it would discern that the invader was sent of God to scourge it for its sins and, as so discerning, would humble itself under God’s mighty hand. As to Israel of the Old Testament Dispensation, it too, had received its land from God. It had received this land according to God’s promise made unto the fathers, in covenant relation with God, and in God’s favor, had thus received this land in fulfillment of a promise and as a gift of God’s grace. This can be said of no other nation on the earth. Israel’s wars of conquest were ordered by Jehovah. They were thus holy wars, Jehovah’s wars. This can be said of the wars of no other nation. Israel therefore had a right to its territory, a right given it of God. Ammon had right not even to his own territory, much less to Israel’s. Yet here he was in God’s country, poised for an attack upon God’s people because he wanted their land. He was told of the wrongness of his doing. But he would not hearken unto the Words of Jephthah. He hardened his heart. As Pharaoh, he said in his heart, who is the Lord that I should obey His voice. “Then the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah. . . . and he passed over unto the children of Ammon.” This could be expected. For Ammon would not hearken. “And the Lord delivered them into his hands. And he smote them—with a great slaughter. Thus the children of Ammon were subdued before the children of Israel.