Notes on Judges 11, verses 12-18

by Jonathan Spurlock
(Holts Summit, MO)

Note: it is necessary to break Jephthah's long reply to the king of Ammon into at least two segments. This is the first one:

12 And Jephthah sent messengers unto the king of the children of Ammon, saying, What hast thou to do with me, that thou art come against me to fight in my land?

Israel had a troubled relationship with the Ammonites, at best. Here, Jephthah tries diplomacy, asking the king of Ammon (name not given) why he is prepared to fight against Israel. Later, David would try to show kindness to a prince of Ammon, Hanun, when Nahash, king of Ammon died (2 Samuel 10, 1 Chron. 19) but the so-called advisers to Hanun advised him to mistreat David’s messengers. Before this, Ammon and Israel were at war, again in Gilead, but Saul led Israel to victory (1 Samuel 11). In either a great irony, or what could have been considered smart politically, Solomon married at least one Ammonite woman (Naamah, 1 Kings 14:31). Incredibly, she was the mother of Rehoboam, who succeeded Solomon!

13 And the king of the children of Ammon answered unto the messengers of Jephthah, Because Israel took away my land, when they came up out of Egypt, from Arnon even unto Jabbok, and unto Jordan: now therefore restore those (lands) again peaceably.

This reply to Jephthah’s messengers was either a lie, or a misunderstanding of history, or a deliberate misstatement of history. God had commanded Israel to leave Ammon’s territory alone (Deut. 2:19). Ammon had shown a great disrespect for Israel by attacking and occupying Israel’s land on at least two or three occasions: first, with Moab and Amalek conquering Jericho (Judges 3); later, they crossed the Jordan and fought Israel in the land of Ephraim, Benjamin, and Judah (Judges 10:9); and now, they were prepared to attack Israel in Gilead, the land east of the Jordan (Judges 10:17). The conflict mentioned in Judges 11:4 may refer to the same events as mentioned here, but it could have been a different situation. Israel may have had any number of wars with the Ammonites, the same as with the Philistines later.

14 And Jephthah sent messengers again unto the king of the children of Ammon:

Jephthah is again trying diplomacy to avoid another war. Israel had endured many wars and conflicts after the death of Joshua. The Book of Judges has details about some of these.

15 And said unto him, Thus saith Jephthah, Israel took not away the land of Moab, nor the land of the children of Ammon:

Now Jephthah makes his reply to the king of Ammon. He reminds the king that Israel didn’t take any of Ammon’s land (see note on verse 13) nor any of Moab’s land during the conquest of Canaan (Deut. 2:9). It is interesting that the king forgot to mention any of Ammon’s invasions or conquests of Israel. Jephthah may have anticipated the king’s response (perhaps along the lines of “Well, maybe you took none of my land, but what about Moab?”) in his response. He may also be saying that Israel did not pose a threat to either Ammon or Moab before crossing into Canaan itself.

16 But when Israel came up from Egypt, and walked through the wilderness unto the Red sea, and came to Kadesh;

How much the Ammonites and Moabites knew about the early days of the Exodus—the actual deliverance after the 10 plagues, crossing the Red Sea, and the giving of the Law—is debatable. Rahab and the other people of Jericho knew about it (Joshua 2) and Balak even called Balaam from Mesopotamia (near Babylon, modern day Iraq) to curse Israel (Numbers 22-24).

Kadesh was the site or location where Israel rebelled greatly, refusing to accept the report of Joshua and Caleb that with God’s help, they could easily conquer the land. God punished them by declaring nobody over age 20, except Joshua and Caleb, would live to enter Canaan (all found in Numbers 13-14).

Jephthah’s messengers do not give much detail about the wilderness wanderings, etc., perhaps to make the message to Ammon’s king brief and succinct, giving him little to twist for his own use—or misuse.

17 Then Israel sent messengers unto the king of Edom, saying, Let me, I pray thee, pass through thy land: but the king of Edom would not hearken (thereto). And in like manner they sent unto the king of Moab: but he would not (consent): and Israel abode in Kadesh.

See Numbers 20:14-21 for Edom’s refusal to let Israel pass through his land. Jephthah may be alluding to Deut. 2:29 in mentioning Moab. There is no direct citation found in Genesis-Deuteronomy.

Kadesh seems to have a mixed history. This was where, as mentioned above, Israel refused to walk forward in faith to conquer the Promised Land but decided to stone Moses, Joshua, and Caleb then return to Egypt (Numbers 14:1-11)! Miriam, sister of Aaron and Moses, died there and was buried there (Num. 20:1). At least twice Kadesh is mentioned as a stopping point for Israel, or perhaps a border checkpoint of Edomite territory (Num. 20:22, 33:37). Sadly, this was also the place where Moses committed one of his greatest sins, striking the rock, when the LORD told him to speak to it. He was thus denied entrance into Canaan (Num. 20:1-12).

18 Then they went along through the wilderness, and compassed the land of Edom, and the land of Moab, and came by the east side of the land of Moab, and pitched on the other side of Arnon, but came not within the border of Moab: for Arnon (was) the border of Moab.

“Compassed” means went along the edge of the border. Edom had already told Israel to keep out of Edom’s land so Israel clearly honored their “request”, The same is true of Moab because God had told Israel not to have anything to do with Moab (Deut. 2:9)

The Arnon River was the northern border between Moab and the Amorites (Num. 21:24). Jephthah’s messengers reminded Ammon’s king about this. Ammon, at this time, seems to have had no land within a reasonable distance from the Arnon.

Scripture quotations taken from the King James Version of the Bible (KJV).

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