A soft answer and a harsh word
A soft answer turns away wrath,
but a harsh word stirs up anger.
There will be times when others are angry at us. We can’t avoid this but we can choose how we respond to their anger. We can either give a soft answer, which will turn their wrath away, or we can respond with a harsh word, which will increase their anger. Two of the judges of Israel, Gideon and Jephthah, encountered the wrath of others in nearly identical circumstances but responded differently.
Gideon was a farmer. When he first appears in the Biblical account he is beating out wheat in a winepress to keep it hidden from the Midianite invaders of the land. The angel of the LORD appeared to him and told him he had been chosen to destroy the Midianites. He reluctantly accepted the assignment and after a successful war against the Midianites he encountered opposition from one of the other tribes of Israel, Ephraim.
Then the men of Ephraim said to him, “What is this that you have done to us, not to call us when you went to fight against Midian?” And they accused him fiercely.
He gave a soft answer that turned away their wrath.
And he said to them, “What have I done now in comparison with you? Is not the gleaning of the grapes of Ephraim better than the grape harvest of Abiezer? God has given into your hands the princes of Midian, Oreb and Zeeb. What have I been able to do in comparison with you?” Then their anger against him subsided when he said this.
Jephthah’s background was different from that of Gideon. He was the son of a prostitute and his father’s legitimate sons forced him to flee from Israel and go to the land of Tob, where he gathered a group of followers. When the Ammonites invaded Israel the elders of Gilead offered to make him their leader if he would deliver them. He succeeded in defeating the Ammonites and then faced the same problem with Ephraim that Gideon had faced earlier.
The men of Ephraim were called to arms, and they crossed to Zaphon and said to Jephthah, “Why did you cross over to fight against the Ammonites and did not call us to go with you? We will burn your house over you with fire.”
He didn’t respond the way Gideon did.
And Jephthah said to them, “I and my people had a great dispute with the Ammonites, and when I called you, you did not save me from their hand. And when I saw that you would not save me, I took my life in my hand and crossed over against the Ammonites, and the LORD gave them into my hand. Why then have you come up to me this day to fight against me?”
Then Jephthah gathered all the men of Gilead and fought with Ephraim. And the men of Gilead struck Ephraim, because they said, “You are fugitives of Ephraim, you Gileadites, in the midst of Ephraim and Manasseh.”
And the Gileadites captured the fords of the Jordan against the Ephraimites. And when any of the fugitives of Ephraim said, “Let me go over,” the men of Gilead said to him, “Are you an Ephraimite?”
When he said, “No,” they said to him, “Then say Shibboleth,” and he said, “Sibboleth,” for he could not pronounce it right. Then they seized him and slaughtered him at the fords of the Jordan. At that time 42,000 of the Ephraimites fell.
Jephthah delivered Israel from the Ammonites but he also engaged in a civil war that led to the death of 42,000 Isrealites. We aren’t told how man Ammonites he killed but it is quite possible that the total number was less than 42,000. He might have killed more of his fellow Israelites than he did enemies of Israel.
One thing that puzzles me about this whole affair is why the Ephraimites acted the way they did. If they wanted to fight the enemies of Israel why didn’t they just attack them rather than waiting for someone else to call them to battle?