Jephthah the Ninth Judge
1 Now Jephthah the Gileadite was a brave warrior, but he was the son of a prostitute. Gilead was the father of Jephthah. 2 Gilead’s wife bore him sons, and when his wife’s sons grew up, they drove Jephthah out and said to him, “You shall not have an inheritance in our father’s house, because you are the son of another woman.” 3 Then Jephthah fled from his brothers and lived in the land of Tob; and worthless and unprincipled men gathered around Jephthah, and went out [on raids] with him.
4 Now it happened after a while that the Ammonites fought against Israel. 5 When the Ammonites fought against Israel, the elders of Gilead went to get Jephthah from the land of Tob; 6 and they said to Jephthah, “Come and be our leader, so that we may fight against the Ammonites.” 7 But Jephthah said to the elders of Gilead, “Did you not hate me and drive me from the house of my father? Why have you come to me now when you are in trouble?” 8 The elders of Gilead said to Jephthah, “This is why we have turned to you now: that you may go with us and fight the Ammonites and become head over all the inhabitants of Gilead.” 9 So Jephthah said to the elders of Gilead, “If you take me back [home] to fight against the Ammonites and the Lord gives them over to me, will I [really] become your head?” 10 The elders of Gilead said to Jephthah, “The Lord is (a)the witness between us; be assured that we will do as you have said.” 11 So Jephthah went with the elders of Gilead, and the people made him head and leader over them. And Jephthah (b)repeated everything that he had promised before the Lord at Mizpah.
12 Now Jephthah sent messengers to the king of the Ammonites, saying, “What is [the problem] between you and me, that you have come against me to fight in my land?” 13 The Ammonites’ king replied to the messengers of Jephthah, “It is because Israel took away (c)my land when they came up from Egypt, from the [river] Arnon as far as the Jabbok and [east of] the Jordan; so now, return those lands peaceably.” 14 But Jephthah sent messengers again to the king of the Ammonites, 15 and they said to him, “This is what Jephthah says: ‘Israel did not take the land of Moab or the land of the Ammonites. 16 For when they came up from Egypt, Israel walked through the wilderness to the Red Sea and came to Kadesh; 17 then Israel sent messengers to the king of Edom, saying, “Please let us pass through your land,” but the king of Edom would not listen. Also they sent word to the king of Moab, but he would not consent. So Israel stayed at Kadesh. 18 Then they went through the wilderness and went around the land of Edom and the land of Moab, and came to the east side of the land of Moab, and they camped on the other side of the [river] Arnon; but they did not enter the territory of Moab, for the Arnon was the [northern] boundary of Moab. 19 Then Israel sent messengers to Sihon king of the Amorites, king of Heshbon, and Israel said to him, “Please let us pass through your land to our place.” 20 But Sihon did not trust Israel to pass through his territory; so Sihon gathered together all his people and camped at Jahaz and fought against Israel. 21 The Lord, the God of Israel, gave Sihon and all his people into the hand of Israel, and they defeated them; so Israel took possession of all the land of the Amorites, the inhabitants of that country. 22 They took possession of all the territory of the Amorites, from the Arnon as far as the Jabbok, and from the wilderness [westward] as far as the Jordan. 23 (d)And now the Lord God of Israel has dispossessed and driven out the Amorites from before His people Israel, so [why] should you possess it? 24 Do you not possess what Chemosh your god gives you to possess? And everything that the Lord our God dispossessed before us, we will possess. 25 Now are you any better than Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab? Did he ever strive against Israel, or did he ever go to war against them? 26 While Israel lived in Heshbon and its villages, and in Aroer and its villages, and in all the cities along the banks of the Arnon for three hundred years, why did you not recover your lost lands during that time? 27 So I have not sinned against you, but you are doing me wrong by making war against me; may the Lord, the [righteous] Judge, judge this day between the Israelites and the Ammonites.’” 28 But the king of the Ammonites disregarded the message of Jephthah, which he sent to him.
Jephthah’s Tragic Vow
29 Then the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah, and he passed through Gilead and Manasseh, and Mizpah of Gilead, and from Mizpah of Gilead he passed on to the Ammonites. 30 Jephthah made a vow to the Lord and said, “If You will indeed give the Ammonites into my hand, 31 then whatever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the Ammonites, it shall be the Lord’s, and I will offer it up as a burnt offering.” 32 Then Jephthah crossed over to the Ammonites to fight with them; and the Lord gave them into his hand. 33 And from Aroer to the entrance of Minnith he struck them, twenty cities, and as far as Abel-keramim (brook by the vineyard), with a very great defeat. So the Ammonites were subdued and humbled before the Israelites.
34 Then Jephthah came to his house at Mizpah, and this is what he saw: his daughter coming out to meet him with tambourines and with dancing. And she was his only child; except for her he had no son or daughter. 35 And when he saw her, he tore his clothes [in grief] and said, “Alas, my daughter! You have brought me great disaster, and you are the cause of ruin to me; for I have (e)made a vow to the Lord, and I cannot take it back.” 36 And she said to him, “My father, you have made a vow to the Lord; do to me as you have vowed, since the Lord has taken vengeance for you on your enemies, the Ammonites.” 37 And she said to her father, “Let this one thing be done for me; let me alone for two months, so that I may go to the mountains and weep over my (f)virginity, I and my companions.” 38 And he said, “Go.” So he sent her away for two months; and she left with her companions, and wept over her virginity on the mountains. 39 At the end of two months she returned to her father, who did to her as he had vowed; and she had no relations with a man. It became a custom in Israel, 40 that the daughters of Israel went yearly to tell the story of the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite four days in the year.
a. Judges 11:10: Lit listening.
b. Judges 11:11: Lit spoke all his words.
c. Judges 11:13: The land under discussion was actually Amorite territory when Israel entered and took possession of it three hundred years earlier.
d. Judges 11:23: Jephthah’s argument illustrates the essence of the conflict between Israel and its neighboring enemies. To a disinterested observer, occupancy of the land of Canaan might simply be a matter of conquest by the stronger warring nation, so no one could claim true ownership and the land would naturally change hands over the course of history. For Israel, however, possession of the land was the will of God, pitting the one true God against the false gods of foreign nations who were being dispossessed. These other nations understandably did not see things Israel’s way because they did not recognize the sovereignty of Israel’s God, and might have felt just as strongly about their own gods’ will for them to possess the land in question. Therefore the struggle for land was not just the result of pragmatism or greed, or even the basic desire to have a secure home and country. It was seamlessly interwoven in the fabric of faith, a non-negotiable element of one’s religion—or in Israel’s case, of faith in the true God, whom they frequently neglected or abandoned, to their own peril.
e. Judges 11:35: Lit opened my mouth wide. The tragic outcome of Jephthah’s vow (vv 30, 31) reveals the folly and danger of making such a “deal” with God, as though a mere human could really offer God something of value as an incentive or bribe for His help.
f. Judges 11:37: I.e. the tragedy that marriage and children would be denied to her.