Parashat Chukat (Statute of)
Bamidbar (Numbers) 19:1–22:1
Haftarah: Judges 11:1–33
Does truth matter nowadays? Do historical facts matter? These are just a couple of questions that came to mind as I was reading this week's Parasha and Haftara. In raising these questions, I cannot help but think that as one reads God’s Word, it becomes obvious that the reality of the past is still the reality of the present. While the “players” on the ground are changing all the time, the only unchangeable factor in all of history is the one and only living God.
In the Parasha we read of Israel’s journey in the desert toward the Land of Promise. As they traveled, they faced a few people groups who blocked their efforts to pass through the land. For example, Edom rejected Israel's peaceful attempt to pass through and even threatened to attack them. After the Canaanite King of Arad attacked the children of Israel, God gave victory to Israel over the king of Arad. They then continued to pass through the desert opposite to Moab, which Israel had again requested that the king of the Amorites let them pass through peacefully. However, the king responded through violence, and once again the victory was God’s. The final battle occurred as Israel sat in the Land of the Amorites, and were attacked by Og the king of Bashan, and again, God gave the victory to Israel.
In the Haftarah, we see the importance of knowing these historical accounts, and standing upon the truth of them! We read of Jephthah the Gilalite who was a valiant warrior, but because he was the son of a prostitute, his brothers sent him away and removed him from any inheritance. Jephthah fled to the land of Tob. It is written that “worthless or empty men” gathered around him and went wherever he did. While some commentaries refer to those men as bored men who had nothing to do and were looking for a way to make money, I personally believe that these men may have been the “low” of that society and that Jephthah may have care for them and therefore they followed him as they recognized both strength and care in him.
As we continue to read, we can see how the "tables turned", so to speak, and Israel needed Jephthah's help. As Israel entered an altercation with the sons of Ammon, the Elders of Gilead came to call for help from the same warrior they had kicked out from there. However, Jephthah was a smart man and wanted to make sure that he would not be expelled again. A very interesting dialogue ensues:
But Jephthah said to the elders of Gilead, “Did you not hate me and drive me from my father’s house? So why have you come to me now when you are in trouble?” The elders of Gilead said to Jephthah, “For this reason we have now returned to you, that you may go with us and fight the sons of Ammon, and become our head over all the inhabitants of Gilead.” So Jephthah said to the elders of Gilead, “If you bring me back to fight against the sons of Ammon and the Lord gives them up to me, will I become your head?” And the elders of Gilead said to Jephthah, “The Lord is witness between us; be assured we will do as you have said.” Then Jephthah went with the elders of Gilead, and the people made him head and leader over them; and Jephthah spoke all his words before the LORD at Mizpah.
Then Jephthah does something, which, in my opinion, is key:
So Jephthah sent messengers to the king of the sons of Ammon, saying, “What conflict do you and I have, that you have come to me to fight against my land?” And the king of the sons of Ammon said to the messengers of Jephthah, “It is because Israel took my land when they came up from Egypt, from the Arnon as far as the Jabbok and the Jordan; so return them peaceably now.” But Jephthah sent messengers once again to the king of the sons of Ammon, and they said to him, “This is what Jephthah says: ‘Israel did not take the land of Moab nor the land of the sons of Ammon. For when they came up from Egypt, and Israel went through the wilderness to the Red Sea, and came to Kadesh, then Israel sent messengers to the king of Edom, saying, “Please let us pass through your land”; but the king of Edom would not listen. And they also sent messengers to the king of Moab, but he would not consent. So Israel remained at Kadesh. Then they went through the wilderness and around the land of Edom and the land of Moab, and came to the east side of the land of Moab, and they camped beyond the Arnon; but they did not enter the territory of Moab, for the Arnon was the border of Moab. And Israel sent messengers to Sihon king of the Amorites, the king of Heshbon; and Israel said to him, “Please let us pass through your land to our place.” But Sihon did not trust Israel to pass through his territory; so Sihon gathered all his people and camped in Jahaz, and fought with Israel. And the LORD, the God of Israel, handed Sihon and all his people over to Israel, and they defeated them; so Israel took possession of all the land of the Amorites, the inhabitants of that country. So they inherited all the territory of the Amorites, from the Arnon as far as the Jabbok, and from the wilderness as far as the Jordan. And now the LORD, the God of Israel, has driven out the Amorites from His people Israel; so should you inherit it? Do you not possess what Chemosh your god gives you to possess? So whatever the LORD our God has dispossessed before us, we will inherit it. Now then, are you any better than Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab? Did he ever contend with Israel, or did he ever fight against them? While Israel was living in Heshbon and its villages, and in Aroer and its villages, and in all the cities that are on the banks of the Arnon, three hundred years, why did you not recover them within that time? So I have not sinned against you, but you are doing me wrong by making war against me. May the LORD, the Judge, judge today between the sons of Israel and the sons of Ammon.’” But the king of the sons of Ammon disregarded the message which Jephthah sent him.
Jephthah rebukes the lies of the sons of Ammon and responds with historical facts. When the sons of Ammon refuse to accept his message, I believe God honors Jephthah as we see in the rest of the passage:
Now the Spirit of the LORD came upon Jephthah, and he passed through Gilead and Manasseh; then he passed through Mizpah of Gilead, and from Mizpah of Gilead he went on to the sons of Ammon. And Jephthah made a vow to the LORD and said, “If You will indeed hand over to me the sons of Ammon, then whatever comes out the doors of my house to meet me when I return safely from the sons of Ammon, it shall be the LORD’s, and I will offer it up as a burnt offering.” So Jephthah crossed over to the sons of Ammon to fight against them; and the LORD handed them over to him. He inflicted a very great defeat on them from Aroer to the entrance of Minnith, twenty cities, and as far as Abel-keramim. So the sons of Ammon were subdued before the sons of Israel.
There is much more that I can write about this amazing story, but for our purposes, I want to leave you with two significant points:
- Never underestimate who you are in the LORD! He is more than able to fulfill His will and bring victory through anyone, even if you are the outcast of society and have been rejected. God often works through the low and rejected of the earth to bring Himself victory & glory.
- Never underestimate the importance of knowing the truth and standing on the truth. Jephthah knew the historical truth of what happened and was not ashamed of it and to stand upon it! In the end, God’s truth always wins.
Jephthah knew the historical truth of what happened and was not ashamed of it; just the opposite — he stood upon it! In the end, God’s truth always wins. The question for you and me is do we know the fullness of His truth, including the historical truth?
My dear brothers and sisters, we live in a day and age where people are led by their emotions; the danger in this is that truth becomes irrelevant and at times twisted. A great example of that is Israel and the Land — the historical fact is that God gave the Land to the people of Israel thousands of years ago. The Jewish people have been here long before any other people group that inhabits the land today. This is not a popular truth, but it is the whole truth. Are we willing to stand for it regardless of the cost?
Make a choice and take a stand.
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