Fr. James' Lectionary

The Lectionary is both a reading program for completing all of Holy Scripture on a one year schedule, and a daily comment on a portion of the day's reading wedded to a poem to give an added perspective on the theme.

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Location: Amherst, Virginia, United States

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Failed Diplomacy

Daily Readings
Ecclesiastes 2 + Judges 10:17-11:40 + Hosea 14 + Mark 1

Quote of the Day
And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” Mark 1:11

Daily Text: Judges 11:2-29
2Gilead's wife also bore him sons; and when his wife's sons grew up, they drove Jephthah away, saying to him, "You shall not inherit anything in our father's house; for you are the son of another woman." 3Then Jephthah fled from his brothers and lived in the land of Tob. Outlaws collected around Jephthah and went raiding with him.
4 After a time the Ammonites made war against Israel. 5And when the Ammonites made war against Israel, the elders of Gilead went to bring Jephthah from the land of Tob. 6They said to Jephthah, "Come and be our commander, so that we may fight with the Ammonites." 7But Jephthah said to the elders of Gilead, "Are you not the very ones who rejected me and drove me out of my father's house? So why do you come to me now when you are in trouble?" 8The elders of Gilead said to Jephthah, "Nevertheless, we have now turned back to you, so that you may go with us and fight with the Ammonites, and become head over us, over all the inhabitants of Gilead." 9Jephthah said to the elders of Gilead, "If you bring me home again to fight with the Ammonites, and the LORD gives them over to me, I will be your head." 10And the elders of Gilead said to Jephthah, "The LORD will be witness between us; we will surely do as you say." 11So Jephthah went with the elders of Gilead, and the people made him head and commander over them; and Jephthah spoke all his words before the LORD at Mizpah.
12 Then Jephthah sent messengers to the king of the Ammonites and said, "What is there between you and me, that you have come to me to fight against my land?" 13The king of the Ammonites answered the messengers of Jephthah, "Because Israel, on coming from Egypt, took away my land from the Arnon to the Jabbok and to the Jordan; now therefore restore it peaceably." 14Once again Jephthah sent messengers to the king of the Ammonites 15and said to him: "Thus says Jephthah: Israel did not take away the land of Moab or the land of the Ammonites, 16but when they came up from Egypt, Israel went through the wilderness to the Red Sea and came to Kadesh. 17Israel then sent messengers to the king of Edom, saying, 'Let us pass through your land'; but the king of Edom would not listen. They also sent to the king of Moab, but he would not consent. So Israel remained at Kadesh. 18Then they journeyed through the wilderness, went around the land of Edom and the land of Moab, arrived on the east side of the land of Moab, and camped on the other side of the Arnon. They did not enter the territory of Moab, for the Arnon was the boundary of Moab. 19Israel then sent messengers to King Sihon of the Amorites, king of Heshbon; and Israel said to him, 'Let us pass through your land to our country.' 20But Sihon did not trust Israel to pass through his territory; so Sihon gathered all his people together, and encamped at Jahaz, and fought with Israel. 21Then the LORD, the God of Israel, gave Sihon and all his people into the hand of Israel, and they defeated them; so Israel occupied all the land of the Amorites, who inhabited that country. 22They occupied all the territory of the Amorites from the Arnon to the Jabbok and from the wilderness to the Jordan. 23So now the LORD, the God of Israel, has conquered the Amorites for the benefit of his people Israel. Do you intend to take their place? 24Should you not possess what your god Chemosh gives you to possess? And should we not be the ones to possess everything that the LORD our God has conquered for our benefit? 25Now are you any better than King Balak son of Zippor of Moab? Did he ever enter into conflict with Israel, or did he ever go to war with them? 26While Israel lived in Heshbon and its villages, and in Aroer and its villages, and in all the towns that are along the Arnon, three hundred years, why did you not recover them within that time? 27It is not I who have sinned against you, but you are the one who does me wrong by making war on me. Let the LORD, who is judge, decide today for the Israelites or for the Ammonites." 28But the king of the Ammonites did not heed the message that Jephthah sent him.
29 Then the spirit of the LORD came upon Jephthah, and he passed through Gilead and Manasseh. He passed on to Mizpah of Gilead, and from Mizpah of Gilead he passed on to the Ammonites.


Lectio What one word or phrase from the Daily Text leaps out at you? ‘Comment’ below.

Failed Diplomacy
Interestingly enough, Jephthah was a man of words. Son of a prostitute, maybe, leader of a band of cutthroats, perforce, but in many respects a forerunner of David, King of Israel. When he is called back to his town and made Judge, Commander, Leader, he comes with keen questions, solemn vows (vs. 11) and a rash commitment (vs. 30) to the LORD, the God of Israel. In between we find a fairly extensive record of arguments and negotiations with the Ammonites, the enemy with which he has been engaged to deal. First, he inquires as to what the issue is between Ammon and his people. Discovering that it is land he responds with a compelling summary of Israel’s possession of the land over the previous 300 years. Lying behind this recital is the reality that Ammon has displaced Moab, that is the king and nation with which Israel originally had to do. And Jephthah is careful to point this out. Even against Moab Israel did not move without considerable provocation, and then it wasn’t Israel that took the land ‘from the Arnon to the Jabbok and from the wilderness to the Jordan,’ it was the LORD, the God of Israel who had done so.

And then came the brilliant stroke of argument. Since it was the God of Israel who took the land, do you propose to become the people of the God of Israel? And immediately, he suggests that they allow Chemosh, their god, to win for them the land they possess. This would be a powerful verbal stroke in itself, even if it were not for the fact that Chemosh had been the God of the Moabites whom the Ammonites had defeated. They had, in fact, adopted the Moabite god, so Jephthah’s riposte must have hit the mark and a very sore mark it would have been! His suggestion is that they move from god to god as nonchalantly as they try to move from one man’s kingdom to another. The response could have gone either way. If the Ammonites had truly become devoted to Chemosh they should have desisted, but obviously they had not become that devoted, for they did not ‘heed’ Jephthah’s message. Even his subtle argument that they were the johnny-come-latelies, had no deterrent effect. It seems obvious that the Ammonites were not impressed by gods! Failing in his negotiations, Jephthah, is filled with the spirit of the LORD and he moves to fight and win the battle.

Might I add that his vow to sacrifice the first one who greeted him on return from successful prosecution of this war was unnecessary. The LORD was already with him.
Meditatio What would you add to this commentary on the Daily Text? ‘Comment’ below.

Jephthah, Judge of Israel.
William Shakespeare
[In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Act II., the hero of the play takes occasion to banter Polonius with some scraps from this old ballad.

The banter of Hamlet is as follows:

Hamlet. O Jephthah, Judge of Israel, what a treasure hadst thou!
Polonius. What treasure had he, my lord?
Hamlet. Why,
‘One faire daughter, and no more,
The which he loved passing well.’
Polonius. Still on my daughter.
Hamlet. Am I not I’ th’ right, old Jephthah?
Polonius. If you call me Jephthah, my lord, I have a daughter that I love passing well.
Hamlet. Nay, that follows not.
Polonius. What follows then, my lord?
Hamlet. Why,
‘As by lot, God wot;’
And then you know,
‘It came to passe,
As most like it was.’
The first row of the pious chanson will shew you more.]

Have you not heard these many years ago,
Jephthah was judge of Israel?
He had only one daughter and no more,
The which he loved passing well:
And , as by lot,
God wot,
It so came to pass,
As God’s will was,
That great wars there should be,
And none should be chosen chief but he.

And when he was appointed judge,
And chieftain of the company,
A solemn vow to God he made;
If he returned with victory,
At his return
To burn
The first live thing,
…………………………………….
That should meet with him then,
Off his house, when he should return agen.

It came to pass, the war was o’er,
And he returned with victory;
His dear and only daughter first of all
Came to meet her father foremostly:
And all the way,
She did play
On tabret and pipe,
Full many a stripe,
With note so high,
For joy that her father is come so nigh.

But when he saw his daughter dear
Coming on most foremostly,
He wrung his hands, and tore his hair,
And cryed out most piteously;
Oh! It’s thou, said he,
That have brought me
Low,
And troubled me so,
That I know not what to do.

For I have made a vow, he sed,
The which must be replenishèd:
……………………………….
“What thou hast spoke
Do not revoke:
What thou has said,
Be not afraid;
Altho’ it be I;
Keep promises to God on high.

“But, dear father, grant me one request,
That I may go to the wilderness,
Three months there with my friends to stay;
There to bewail my virginity;
And let there be,”
Said she,
“Some two or three
Young maids with me.”
So he sent her away,
For to mourn, for to mourn, till her dying day.
Old English Ballad
411:134
(Alternative poem? Include under ‘comment’ below.)

Oratio Conspire to respond with an act of kindness for someone you encounter today. Make it loving, low key and low risk. Hold a door, clean a car, give a flower, notice the unnoticed, make Christ’s love real. Write your experience below under ‘Comment.’

Contemplatio Enjoy what God is doing through you.

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