Jephthah then called together the men of Gilead and fought against Ephraim. The Gileadites struck them down because the Ephraimites had said, “You Gileadites are renegades from Ephraim and Manasseh.”
Judges 12:4 (NIV)
Feuds between family members are as old as Cain and Abel, and they have always been part of the human condition. Both within my own family history and in families I know well, I can find multiple stories of feuding family members. Some of these feuds center on very specific issues (e.g. inheritance) while others seem to be of a mysterious origin that gets labeled simply as “bad blood” between feuding members.
Our place at the lake is in central Missouri, a border state between North and South during the U.S. Civil War. Missouri hosted 29 of the 384 principle battles in the war. The third most behind Virginia and Tennessee. My great-great-grandfather fought on the Union side in the Missouri Infantry. It’s been over a hundred and fifty years since the end of the war, but vestiges of the conflict remain to this day. You can find it in the recorded history of our land, which originally stated that no person of color or “mixed-blood” could ever own any of the lots in our development. On our way to the lake, we pass a giant flagpole that sits prominently by the state highway surrounded by a tall fence and razor wire. It flies the Confederate flag. Feuds run deep and can last for many generations.
I found that today’s chapter is best understood in context. In the books of Moses and Joshua, there were two-and-a-half tribes who wanted to settle lands on the east side of the Jordan River, rather than in the Promised Land on the west side of the river. The half-tribe of Manasseh was one of them, and these east-siders became known as “Gileadites.” Jephthah led his tribe to military victory against the Ammonites.
In today’s chapter, the military contingent of the tribe of Ephraim arrives to complain that they weren’t included in the Ammonite campaign. Remember that military campaigns during this ancient period were lucrative for the victors, as the soldiers were allowed to take their share of the plunder. Jephthah attempts a diplomatic solution to the situation, but circumstances degrade into fighting with the Ephraimites insulting the half-tribe of Manasseh as “renegades” from the other side of the Jordan River. Keep in mind that Ephraim and Manasseh were the sons of Joseph, adopted by Jacob. They had every reason to be closely allied to one another as descendants of the favored son, Joseph. Instead, they fight and slaughter one another.
And so, it begins. This is the first hint of trouble between the Hebrew tribes since the settlement of the Promised Land, but it will certainly not be the last. Eventually, ten of the twelve tribes will form their own nation (Israel) and fight the other two (Judah) in their own version of North against South.
In the quiet this morning, I find myself thinking about feuds and families. I can’t help but be reminded that Jesus predicted that He would be the lightning rod that divided families as individuals leave family behind to follow Jesus. This reality, however, does not excuse feuding behavior. As the follower of Jesus, I am called to do all in my power to live at peace, to love, to bless, and to forgive even with feuding antagonists. In some cases, I’ve come to the conclusion that the loving thing to do is to place time and distance between me and thee.
If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.