Discover more from That Zion May Go Forth
Ephraim's Future Effrontery, Pt. 3: Jephthah and Ephraim's Coming Day of Reckoning
Reading extensively, whether it be from the scriptures or other ancient authors, reveals the tendency of individuals or societies to use the wisdom they’ve accrued not for the sake of benefiting others but for dominating them. Wisdom gained from religion in its beginning stages enlightens its adherents to serve each other or, in other words, the common good, with little desire to dominate their fellows within society. Human nature, with the passage of time, finds ways to introduce ideals that deviate from a religious founder’s pristine beginning. And these later innovations to religion often lead to the formulation of dogmatic doctrines decrying what formerly was taught in hope of maintaining contemporary ecclesiastical leaders and their heirs in power.
These men preach, above all else, that they have the ultimate truth, claiming their version has more clarity than prior teachings. Harping on this new clarity emerges from the decay to morals that sets in so as to accommodate the opinions of others in society. Should any teaching emerge that smacks of prior doctrines of pristine religion, current ecclesiastical leaders seek to prevent, or at least stifle, others, even if they’re legitimate prophets, who teach these things through the vast empire they wield over the intellects of their followers. Any upstart roaming about proclaiming things contrary to the established order must expect persecution and wrath from those in power—Samuel the Lamanite comes to mind. Aside from the Book of Mormon, the Old Testament conveys these ideas to the avid reader of its pages. Let us turn to the Book of Judges account once again to examine the tribe of Ephraim and their dealing with Jephthah.
Affinity for Wealth, Societal Demise, and a Messianic Figure
The narrative in this book, as discussed in prior posts, relates Israel’s repeated lapses into apostasy soon after a judge had delivered them from their enemies. The culprit responsible for inducing their relapse was their affinity for the worship of Baal and other gods of the ancient Near East. In the 10th chapter of Judges, the people’s disobedience to the Lord’s covenants and laws resulted in Him allowing His people to go into captivity, with Josephus’s commentary remarking on the political decay.1 The people had so given themselves over to their desires for the accumulation of things, the Lord withdrew his protection and allowed for Israel’s enemies to punish them.
Yet ye have forsaken me, and served other gods: wherefore I will deliver you no more. Go and cry unto the gods which ye have chosen; let them deliver you in the time of your tribulation. 2
Given that idolatry equates to putting trust in manufactured goods for salvation, disorder inevitably arises from this situation in which the cunning out produce and outflank their weaker neighbors. Such self-aggrandizement on the part of the few causes feelings of resentment to arise among the poor, for no longer does justice matter to these oligarchs but only having more than one’s neighbor. Blinded by their greed, the elite amass land and power while enervating the country. With widespread poverty overtaking the lower classes of society, the whole of it falls into disrepair. Israel became a soft target for outside forces to invade as divisive politics appeared because of the unequal distribution of land and property. And invade they did.
The narrative conveys that the children of Ammon plundered and harassed the inhabitants of Gilead, an eastward land occupied with the more warlike Manassites. Yet Israel’s idolatry has so weakened their citadels, the Ammonites crossed the Jordan river heading westward and waged war against the more prosperous tribes: Ephraim and Judah.3 There was a problem for Israel in that they had no leader to coordinate military assaults against the encroaching armies. This knowledge influenced the men of Gilead to hold a deliberative council for determining who should direct their military affairs in battle.4 To accomplish this, they elected the man Jephthah.
But their choice, at first glance, appears to be an unusual one, for Jephthah, being the offspring of a harlot and Gilead the man, was an outcast. Prior to his exile from the land of Gilead, it appears he dwelt among them for a time in which he acquired fame for being a “mighty man of valor.” But he was later shunned when discussions about inheritance emerged among his brothers, with the writer of the book of Judges mentioning this perhaps to evoke what was done to Abimelech, son of Gideon, from the western tribes of Manasseh.
Both Abimelech and Jephthah were born of harlots and, in the minds of their brethren, disqualified them from any inheritance bequeathed. The author perhaps had it in mind to set up a comparison between these two sons. If you'll recall from a prior post, Abimelech, after being snubbed by his brothers, pursued other means of acquiring what he perceived as his by forming a conspiracy among the men of Shechem, all Ephraimites. And through this machination he killed the seventy sons of Gideon and, by extension, destroyed the "holy order of God." The same scenario unfolded against Jephthah but resulted in a different outcome.
Perhaps recalling the historical facts about Abimelech, Jephthah "fled from his brethren" in, from what the descriptive narrative seems to insinuate, fear.5 The economic amenities he once enjoyed vanished. His exile did not foster vengeance within him; rather, he simply went about his life in the land of Tob, a land of scarcity, doing what he knew best: training and organizing for war and raids. He became a survivor and amassed men of every kind to himself and established military order and supremacy in his new land in which he lived the life of a warlord and mercenary, providing for his and his men's needs. Bereft of all his former comforts, Jephthah, a battle-hardened man of Manasseh, shunned the sedentary life Israel had adopted and pursued one of action and service to those under his care.
Besides this comparison, there is another one ensconced in the narrative, except this one involves Christ. Jephthah's expulsion from among his tribesmen occurred while the latter obsessed over Baal worship, the love of and trust in manufactured items and fertility cults, and influenced them to toss the commandments of the Lord. Jephthah's brothers were not immune to this frenzied state; when talks over dividing up inheritance surfaced, they reacted without remorse and sent Jephthah packing to a far-flung region. He was hated and despised, viewed merely as an inconvenient speed bump obstructing access to more economic goods. Christ was no different. His ministry and performance of miracles threatened the power base of those chief priests who craved the respect and tithes of the people. For this he was shunned, hated, and betrayed by those whom readers would think were his closest of associates. He, though not true, was accused of being born of a harlot and a man who associated with undesirables. And ultimately he was cast out by being executed, with charges brought against him by those who stood to lose most.
When enemies menace the existence of civilization and the lives of those in it, the people, under hypnosis brought about by their addiction to wealth, soon regain their mental faculties and realize what matters most: their lives and those around them, not their wealth that had blinded them to these realities for so long. This reversal had shocked Jephthah's brothers, as well as the rest of the Gileadites as the enemies of Israel approached, but, being so focused on their material well-being, they let down their guard and found themselves outmatched and deprived of adept leadership. But they knew a man whom they had rejected and forced out; in their extremity, they sent an envoy of Gileadites to seek out and bring back Jephthah so that he could lead a counterattack against the Ammonites who now encompassed Israel’s lands.
The offer to take command and organize the military of Gilead shocked Jephthah no doubt because of the unjust treatment he received at the hands of those who were supposed to be his kinsmen. "Did not ye hate me, and expel me out of my father’s house? and why are ye come unto me now when ye are in distress?"6 Despite past grievances, the Gileadites promised to "turn again to" Jephthah and asked him to be "head over all the inhabitants of Gilead."7 And yet, with most of Israelite lands under siege or assault, Jephthah had to muster forces from all Israel to expel the Ammonites; he was the hope of Israel. Perhaps another thing to point out is that Jephthah, an outsider, meaning outside the established channels of power, took charge over the affairs of Israel, beating back her enemies and reestablished order–well, for the most part.
The Pride of Ephraim and Their Subsequent Slaughter
Unlike Gideon before, Jephthah did not refrain from mustering the Ephraimites into military service. He overlooked their past and may have wanted to abate any potential hostility this tribe would instigate, should they be neglected. During "great strife with the children of Ammon," Jephthah requested immediate support from Ephraim, which fell on deaf ears.8 The action within the narration suggests that the Manassite general was in dire straits and desperately needed help to preserve the country, but the commander's words reveal Ephraim could care less.
And when I called you, ye delivered me not out of their hands. And when I saw that ye delivered me not, I put my life in my hands, and passed over against the children of Ammon, and the LORD delivered them into my hand…9
The lack of concern and unwillingness of Ephraim to help Jephthah, a member of the tribe of Manasseh, their elder brother, casts them in a suspicious light in the eyes of the reader. What could they possibly stand to gain from the Ammonites defeating Jephthah and capturing Israel, while standing idly by and watching it all? The fact they were doing nothing says a lot. Ephraim's past intrigues against their own countrymen serves as evidence that they would resort to similar dealings if their authority and position became threatened. If they failed to act, and did so with an apparent lack of fear, alludes to something more sinister. From all indications, they may have gained assurances from the Ammonite invaders after they surrendered earlier in the war, which should not be surprising to the reader in light of Ephraim's preoccupation with Baal worship and the other gods of the surrounding nations.10 Or they may have just yearned for Jephthah's death and defeat just out of sheer spite.
Jephthah, after returning home from the war, had visitors arrive on his lands from the tribe of Ephraim. They came not to show their gratitude for the immense service the messianic judge performed in the service of his country but to chide and berate him without provocation. No, actually they came to burn down Jephthah's house with the leader in it.11 They had come to do what Abimelech and the men of Shechem (Ephraimites) had done to Gideon's seventy sons—topple the political order of God and murder Jephthah along with his kinsmen. There was one problem: Abimelech and his cronies faced political judges perhaps not well versed in military tactics and strategy, but this body of Ephraimites faced a far more formidable opponent.
Jephthah had just defeated the military forces of an entire nation and, by doing so, had garnered much loyalty from his men who obeyed their general's commands. These factors placed the Ephraimites at a disadvantage, and yet they were foolish enough to travel to the lands of Gilead, where the eastern tribes of Manasseh resided. To make matters worse, the Gileadites were known for their military prowess and valor. For Jephthah and his men, maintaining order in the wake of a massive war remained paramount, and to appease Ephraim, as Gideon had done, was not politically wise given this tribe's insurrectionist tendencies and usurpations in the past.
What makes the situation even more pathetic appears in the narrative where Ephraim attempts to assert political jurisdiction over the Gileadites, presumably under their birthright claims.
Ye Gileadites are fugitives of Ephraim among the Ephraimites, and among the Manassites.12
Here Ephraim refers to the autonomy granted this portion of Manasseh at the time Joshua apportioned the tribes their respective lands of inheritance.13 The land of Gilead and Bashan, mostly harsh terrain, provided the distance from the main body of Israel, giving its owners freedom to roam and remain somewhat nomadic and hardened for war. Unlike the western tribesmen from Manasseh, the Gileadites never fell under the authority of Ephraim, and therefore could not be controlled or impoverished under their younger brother's leadership, a situation Gideon's family did not avoid before his call as judge.14 Caring nothing for their right to govern themselves in Gilead, Ephraim maneuvered to subjugate Jephthah and his men in hopes of consolidating their power against potential rivals. The insult was reprehensible.
The only thing left was to execute them, all of those who had encroached on Gileadite land with the motive to murder and exacerbate the turmoil in Israel. Jephthah's new position of judge exalted his authority above that of the petulant Ephraimites, not to mention the men of valor from among his kinsmen and the cadre of officers in his inner circle.
Then Jephthah gathered together all the men of Gilead, and fought with Ephraim.15
Because of this effrontery, the men of Gilead slaughter 42,000 Ephraimites, a shadow of things to come for the Gentile/Ephraimites residing on the promised land of America.
Flavius Josephus, “Antiquity of the Jews” in Josephus: The Complete Works, trans. William Whinston, 5.7.7.
Judges 10:13-14 (JST)
Judges 10:8 (JST)
Judges 10:17-18 (JST)
Judges 11:3 (JST)
Judges 11:7 JST
Judges 11:8-11 JST
Judges 12:2 JST
Judges 12:2-3 JST
Judges 10:9 JST
Judges 12:1 JST
Judges 12:4 JST
Joshua 17:1, 5 JST
Judges 6:15 JST
Judges 12:4 JST