Judges 11:23-28 When does God condone war?

JUDGES 11:23-28

23 “Now, after the LORD God of Israel has driven out the Amorites before his people Israel, will you try to take possession? 24 Why not take whatever your god Chemosh gives you? And we can have whatever the LORD our God give to us!

After laying out the history of how Israel got to Gilead, Jephthah pointed out that besides two nations, there were two gods to think about. First of all, there was the God of Israel, whose name is the LORD. Second, there was the god of the Ammonites. Although in other places, the Ammonite god is called Molech (1 Kings 11:5), Jephthah calls him Chemosh, who was associated with Moab (Numbers 21:29). Since Jephthah was from Gilead and doubtless had many associations with the Ammonites, we must assume he is right. In fact, if there had recently been a temporary shift in Ammonite worship from Molech to Chemosh, it might have impressed the Ammonite king to realize that Jephthah knew about the spiritual changes in Ammon. Certainly the king does nothing at all to correct Jephthah’s mention of Chemosh. Perhaps Jephthah was even quoting an Ammonite prayer to their false god by saying “take whatever Chemosh gives you.”

The comparison, of course, is ridiculous. Jephthah is exposing the Ammonite idolatry for a charade: You take what Chemosh give you, and we’ll take what the LORD gives us. He wasn’t just offering them the short end of the stick; he wasn’t offering them a piece of the stick at all. Chemosh is nothing; the LORD God is all in all (1 Corinthians 15:28).

25 Are you any better than Balak son of Zippor, king of Moab? Did he ever quarrel with Israel or fight against them?

In Numbers 22-24, we have the story of Balak, King of Moab. Even though Israel had no plans at all to attack him or even to move through his land without permission (Deut. 2:9), Balak was terrified of Israel. He bribed a foreign prophet who was able to speak with the LORD to come and try to curse Israel in the name of their own God. Balaam tried several times, but was unable to curse Israel. In fact, he ended up prophesying the coming of Christ (“I see a star… a scepter,” Numbers 24:17). In the end, it was not soldiers but the women of Moab who brought trouble to Israel (Numbers 25:1-18). But Jephthah was right: Balak never attacked Israel.

26 For three hundred years Israel has lived in Heshbon and Aroer and their surrounding villages, and in all the cities that are on the banks of the Arnon. Why didn’t you take them back during that time?

This time reference by Jephthah is one of the most important clues in the Bible for helping us to fix dates in the Old Testament. The other important points are:

1. The ages of the patriarchs when they died (Abraham 175, Gen. 25:7; Isaac 180, Gen. 35:28; Jacob 147, with the last 17 spent in Egypt, Gen. 47:28; Joseph 110, Gen. 50:22.
2. The age of Moses at each of the three important stages of his life: forty when he fled, Acts 7:23, eighty when he spoke to Pharaoh, Exodus 7:7, and 120 when he died, Deuteronomy 34:7.
3. Caleb’s age when he was selected to be a spy (Joshua 14:6)
4. Jephthah’s three hundred year reference (Judges 11:26)
5. The date of the building of Solomon’s temple (1 Kings 6:1)
6. The dates for the divided kingdom, the exiles into Assyria and Babylon, and the return from Babylon (these dates are a challenge, and are based on information from Samuel, Kings, Chronicles, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, and some other passages).

Jephthah’s reference here tells us that up to this point, the earlier judges apart from Tola and Jair had served chronologically, one after another. But from this point on, the judges served more or less all at once during the high priesthood of Eli. Since Jephthah himself only served as judge for six years (Judges 12:7), the remaining judges, Ibzan, Elon and Abdon, all served in various places while Samson was fighting the Philistines. Samson’s time as judge and his death overlap with the opening chapters of 1 Samuel (1:1-5:1).

27 I have not wronged you, but you are doing me wrong by fighting against me. Let the LORD who is the Judge decide today between the Israelites and the Ammonites.” 28 But the king of the Ammonites paid no attention to the message Jephthah sent him.

The end of Jephthah’s message summarize his point: I have done you no wrong, but you are doing me wrong. He has presented evidence to back up his case, evidence which the King of the Ammonites could check and verify. But in the end, the Ammonite king showed that he wasn’t really fighting to repair something done in the past; he was fighting because he wanted the territory of Gilead for his own.

What does the Bible say about war? Under the fifth commandment, God permits the taking of a human life by other human beings in three instances (remember that they are permitted, but not commanded):

1. capital punishment (“If you do wrong, be afraid, for he [your ruler] does not bear the sword for nothing,” Romans 13:4).
2. self-defense (“”All who draw the sword will die by the sword” Matthew 26:52; Genesis 9:6).
3. just wars. This final instance is essentially the same as self-defense for us but on a larger scale than, say, a robber attacking me on the road. A just war is either commanded by God for his holy purposes (Deuteronomy 7:1-26) or done in self-defense. There have been questionable wars fought by our nation (many of which we won) which did not fall into this category. The war about to happen here against Ammon certainly falls under the category of “commanded by God,” but there are no wars at all that are commanded by God today.

Jephthah had taken negotiation as far as he could. It was time now to take up arms.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Archives by Wisconsin Lutheran Chapel: http://www.wlchapel.org/worship/daily-devotion/
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, New Ulm, Minnesota

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