via: First Fruits of Zion
One of the strangest stories in the book of Judges is the account of the fall and rise of Jephthah, the son of Gilead. Being the son of a harlot, he was ostracized by his half brothers. He then took up residence away from them in another part of the country. He also had a reputation for being a great warrior. Accordingly, when the sons of Gilead found themselves threatened by the Ammonites, they went to attempt to secure his services in hopes that Jephthah would be their leader. Consequently, Jephthah led their men in victory.
(The part of the story which is the most unusual section is curiously left out of the haftarah. Jephthah promised the Lord that if He were to grant him the victory, that he would then sacrifice the first thing that came out of his home upon his return from battle; the first thing that came out from his house to greet him was his own daughter.)
Jephthah could have simply led Israel’s armies into battle with the Ammonites and no one would have questioned him because the Ammonites had already proven to be the aggressors. But this leader chose to do things differently. Instead of military action, he chose direct diplomacy to attempt to avoid bloodshed.
Land For Peace
Notice particularly, the content of the Ammonite response. The answer they gave to Jephthah was that,
Because Israel took away my land when they came up from Egypt, from the Arnon as far as the Jabbok and the Jordan; therefore, return them peaceably now. (Judges 11:13)
On the surface this sounds reasonable. After all, if Israel did take their lands, it was only fair that they should be returned. But, in reality, we see here that the philosophy of the Ammonites was nothing other than the age old propaganda called “land for peace” in which Israel was being called upon to return what the Ammonites considered to be “occupied territory.”
All of Jephthah’s attempts to find a diplomatic solution to this land dispute failed. The Ammonites would accept none of his arguments. Thus,
But the king of the sons of Ammon disregarded the message which Jephthah sent him. (Judges 11:28)
It seems that the Ammonites were bent on war and occupation right from the start. They were not interested in debating the matter with the Israelites. Nor were they interested in taking into consideration any of the Israelite historical, geographical, theological, or natural claims to the land. Rather, their intent right from the beginning was to oust Israel from the lands that they claimed were their own. In short, they would have echoed the saying, “Don’t bore me with the facts!”
The Present Problems
The situation described in this haftarah bears a striking similarity to the contemporary political problems that exist in the modern State of Israel between the Israelis and the Palestinians. We can get a better grasp of the situation by reading an excellent book on the matter authored by Binyamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister of Israel. This book is called A Place Among the Nations. Netanyahu describes the Arab-Israeli conflict with careful documentation. He recounts many of the common arguments by which the Palestinians base their claim on the land of Israel. It sounds like a commentary on the haftarah for Chukat!
For instance, the Palestinians insist on a land for peace solution to the problem–which Netanyahu successfully argues would never work, merely because they have declared that, in the end, they want all of the land of Israel for their own. Second, the nations of the world seem to ignore the fact that geographically, the Israelis have not taken one inch of Palestinian land wrongfully or illegally, as is often claimed. Third, Netanyahu makes a forceful historical claim to the entire land of Israel, especially including Judea and Samaria, (the “West Bank”).
Furthermore, the fact that God gave this land to Israel also figures in Netanyahu’s argumentation. Lastly, Netanyahu makes a solid argument for Israel’s authority over the land from the standpoint of present historical reality, citing the fact that there were very few Arab residents in this land before the Jewish people began to return in the late 1800’s. There were no Arab states at that time and therefore, the oldest historical right to the land truly belongs to the people of Israel.
From all of this we can see that the Scriptures, although written thousands of years ago, have relevance to our lives even in this present time of history. The land is God’s land. He gives it to whomever He will and takes it from whomever He wills. The Scriptures declare that the Land of Israel is to be occupied by the people of Israel as an everlasting inheritance. Other peoples may live there, but if they do, the Torah says that they are to follow the laws of the people of Israel.
Like the story of Jephthah, in the end all of the enemies of God’s people will fail in their attempt to unjustly wrest the inheritance from the people of Israel. For, it is God who will give His people the victory.