Our last reading told of the massacre of Israelite soldiers and the loss of the ark. Today it is reported to Eli and others. The outcome is not explained in great detail but left to speak for itself. We see how two people responded to this news, yet we must not forget the Israelite people as a whole have also been dealt a severe blow.
God had shared a portion of what took place that day with Samuel before it happened. Eli had been prepared for what to expect only because he had pulled the truth out of Samuel. Didn’t it seem as if Eli was more moved by the loss of the ark than in losing his sons?
The evil of Eli’s sons has not gone unnoticed by God. In fact, we understand God is very displeased with Eli as well. The message from the LORD was this: “Why do you give your sons more honor than you give me—for you and they have become fat from the best offerings of my people Israel!”
Even if God’s message stirred in Eli to seek a “second chance,” his fate was sealed. “But I will honor those who honor me, and I will despise those who think lightly of me.” The messenger goes on to tell how God is going to put an end to Eli’s family and their position as priests. What could Eli have been thinking now?
What a negotiator! Despite the fact Jephthah was known as a brilliant warrior, he used his words first. He was not trying to avoid action but to begin the action. You might think of it as setting the stage. If you can avoid unnecessary bloodshed that is still a victory. We can tell early on in the negotiations that the Ammonites were set on getting their revenge on the Israelites.
Jephthah was not afraid to use other means when the verbal attempt failed. He had done his best to recount the history of the Israelites travels to put them in the best light possible. In fact, it was actually God who had orchestrated the events that had the Ammonites so upset.
It was about to get real. The Israelites were going to be attacked, and they had to feel a bit exposed. From our last reading, it would seem that God has left them to fend for themselves. But, the “leaders of Gilead said to each other, “Whoever attacks the Ammonites first will become ruler over all the people of Gilead.” Were they sensing God’s intervention was yet to come, or were they simply looking for the best option for success?
They knew they needed a strong leader. Who would it be? Sometimes our best candidates are those who we have overlooked. Certainly, the individual the leaders chose to recruit was even one who had been shown no favor in the past. How fitting that God would use even the son of a prostitute to rescue his people. He was a mighty warrior after all and well-equipped for the mission.
I wasn’t sure what to make with the reading today. The rules of our judges, Tola and Jair, comprise a total of 45 years. We don’t see any big conquests or bloodshed. Personally, that’s a bit of a relief for me.
We also don’t see the familiar “cycle” called out of (1) Israel’s rebellion and turning away from God, followed by (2) oppression from a foreign power, followed by (3) crying out to God for help, and (4) God raising up a judge to rescue his people. After the fiasco with Abimelech, it’s almost as if we see a “reboot” going on. God was giving the people a bit of a reprieve by having back-to-back judges to keep the peace for this period of time.