Jephthah Delivers Israel
11 Now Jephthah the Gileadite was a mighty warrior, but he was the son of a prostitute. Gilead was the father of Jephthah. And Gilead’s wife also 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, for you are the son of another woman.” Then Jephthah fled from his brothers and lived in the land of Tob, and worthless fellows collected around Jephthah and went out with him.
After a time the Ammonites made war against Israel. And when the Ammonites made war against Israel, the elders of Gilead went to bring Jephthah from the land of Tob. And they said to Jephthah, “Come and be our leader, that we may fight against the Ammonites.” But Jephthah said to the elders of Gilead, “Did you not hate me and drive me out of my father’s house? Why have you come to me now when you are in distress?” And the elders of Gilead said to Jephthah, “That is why we have turned to you now, that you may go with us and fight against the Ammonites and be our head over all the inhabitants of Gilead.” Jephthah said to the elders of Gilead, “If you bring me home again to fight against the Ammonites, and the LORD gives them over to me, I will be your head.” And the elders of Gilead said to Jephthah, “The LORD will be witness between us, if we do not do as you say.” So Jephthah went with the elders of Gilead, and the people made him head and leader over them. And Jephthah spoke all his words before the LORD at Mizpah.
Then Jephthah sent messengers to the king of the Ammonites and said, “What do you have against me, that you have come to me to fight against my land?” And the king of the Ammonites answered the messengers of Jephthah, “Because Israel on coming up from Egypt took away my land, from the Arnon to the Jabbok and to the Jordan; now therefore restore it peaceably.” Jephthah again sent messengers to the king of the Ammonites and said to him, “Thus says Jephthah: Israel did not take away the land of Moab or the land of the Ammonites, but when they came up from Egypt, Israel went through the wilderness to the Red Sea and came to Kadesh. Israel then sent messengers to the king of Edom, saying, ‘Please let us pass through your land,’ but the king of Edom would not listen. And they sent also to the king of Moab, but he would not consent. So Israel remained at Kadesh.
“Then they journeyed through the wilderness and went around the land of Edom and the land of Moab and arrived on the east side of the land of Moab and camped on the other side of the Arnon. But they did not enter the territory of Moab, for the Arnon was the boundary of Moab. Israel then 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 country,’ but 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. And 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, who inhabited that country. And they took possession of all the territory of the Amorites from the Arnon to the Jabbok and from the wilderness to the Jordan. So then the LORD, the God of Israel, dispossessed the Amorites from before his people Israel; and are you to take possession of them? Will you not possess what Chemosh your god gives you to possess? And all that the LORD our God has dispossessed before us, we will possess. Now are you any better than Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab? Did he ever contend against Israel, or did he ever go to war with them? While Israel lived in Heshbon and its villages, and in Aroer and its villages, and in all the cities that are on the banks of the Arnon, 300 years, why did you not deliver them within that time? I therefore have not sinned against you, and you do me wrong by making war on me. The LORD, the Judge, decide this day between the people of Israel and the people of Ammon.” But the king of the Ammonites did not listen to the words of Jephthah that he sent to him.
Jephthah’s Tragic Vow
Then the Spirit of the LORD was upon Jephthah, and he passed through Gilead and Manasseh and passed on to Mizpah of Gilead, and from Mizpah of Gilead he passed on to the Ammonites. And Jephthah made a vow to the LORD and said, “If you will give the Ammonites into my hand, then whatever comes out from the doors of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the Ammonites shall be the LORD’s, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering.” So Jephthah crossed over to the Ammonites to fight against them, and the LORD gave them into his hand. And he struck them from Aroer to the neighborhood of Minnith, twenty cities, and as far as Abel-keramim, with a great blow. So the Ammonites were subdued before the people of Israel.
Then Jephthah came to his home at Mizpah. And behold, his daughter came out to meet him with tambourines and with dances. She was his only child; besides her he had neither son nor daughter. And as soon as he saw her, he tore his clothes and said, “Alas, my daughter! You have brought me very low, and you have become the cause of great trouble to me. For I have opened my mouth to the LORD, and I cannot take back my vow.” And she said to him, “My father, you have opened your mouth to the LORD; do to me according to what has gone out of your mouth, now that the LORD has avenged you on your enemies, on the Ammonites.” So she said to her father, “Let this thing be done for me: leave me alone two months, that I may go up and down on the mountains and weep for my virginity, I and my companions.” So he said, “Go.” Then he sent her away for two months, and she departed, she and her companions, and wept for her virginity on the mountains. And at the end of two months, she returned to her father, who did with her according to his vow that he had made. She had never known a man, and it became a custom in Israel that the daughters of Israel went year by year to lament the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite four days in the year.
Judges 11 Commentary
by Hank Workman
The story of Jephthah is both encouraging and shocking. We read of a man born of a prostitute, driven to be an outcast, became a mighty warrior then judge, makes a rash vow, and lives with that decision the rest of his life.
There are so many aspects to Jephthah’s life to consider. I will focus on his being an outcast yet God using him.
Born of a prostitute, more than likely a pagan woman, Jephthah had marks against him from his first cry out the womb. Relegated as an outcast by his brothers and society itself he faced tremendous hardships. He suffered simply because of someone else’s decision. But even his earthly circumstances did not dictate God’s potential in this man nor did it thwart the calling upon his life.
We live in a society that often pushes aside those who are different. People can be quick to judge based upon their upbringing, their personal struggle, or even sins that have caused them to be marginalized. For some, it’s not a matter of choice but simply their lot in life. Circumstances beyond Jephthah’s control forced him outside the margins. Remarkably what we read is how despite these things, he was a man who still strived.
A natural leader, we read how other men gathered around him and in time followed. Much like David when he was on the run from Saul, God used that situation to establish his Mighty Men of Valor who were much the same. These men followed David and his leadership and eventually were many of his right-hand men when he was crowned king.
Unfortunately today, Believers and Nonbelievers tend to do the same. We push people aside who don’t fit our mold. I’ve heard of churches that have asked people to leave their congregation simply because they were different or people were uncomfortable. It’s a sad state. Jesus Himself was criticized because he reached out to the outcast and marginalized. This behavior of people is not right yet as we see even from this chapter, it’s been going on for centuries.
Yet the reality is we are surrounded by these who are Jephthah’s. In fact, maybe you are one in that same category. Whatever life you’ve had, the struggle you’ve endured, possibly even the choices of others that have dictated your own future – this does not hinder God’s call. As Believer’s we must set aside our own stereotypes.
It’s worth the personal inventory to see if we ourselves have such a mindset about others simply because they’re different. But for the person who identifies with Jephthah what is needed is despite the perceived marks against us, we must not allow these things to dictate our future. Jephthah was a strong warrior and remarkably one of the few judges who boldly recognized God in the mix of their situation (verse 27). He knew that only God could lead them and conquer the enemy.
I think one of the hardest things we all must face is our past. The past is riddled with mistakes from others as well as the choices we ourselves have made. Yet, as we turn to God, rely on Him, even if we have become an outcast by others God still has a calling on our lives. We must submit to Him and His lead and follow and see where He will take us despite the past.
Judges 11 Commentary
by Brad Boyles
I’m not one to shy away from controversial passages, so why not tackle the elephant in the room, right? After reading this, it seems that Jephthah made a bone-headed vow and followed through with it by sacrificing his only daughter to the Lord. Couple this with the fact that Jephthah is mentioned in Hebrews 11 as a “great man of faith,” we are left with a lot of questions.
Sidebar – this chapter is often isolated as a particularly useful passage to atheists (such as Richard Dawkins) to try and prove that the Lord is bloodthirsty or desirous of human sacrifice. This could not be further from the truth.
First, I think it is important to state that biblical narratives should be read as narratives. There are stories in the Bible that are reported but not necessarily prescribed. When you flip on the evening news, you may see and hear a lot of horrific stories, but it doesn’t necessarily mean the news station condones that behavior.
Second, if Dawkins (and other skeptics) took time to read about what God actually desired, they would see how the behavior in this chapter is inconsistent with His nature. God’s law clearly and explicitly prohibited child sacrifice (Lev 20:1-5; Deut. 12:29-32; Deut. 18:10). God’s law did not approve of unwise or thoughtless vows, and actually calls it sin (Lev. 5:4-13).
There are horrific events going on today (due to our sinful rebellion) that God, in His sovereignty, allows to take place. I want to emphatically state that this does not mean God condones it! We know this to be true by His consistent nature and ultimately by His act of grace in sending Christ to bear all sin.
Third, we do not know with certainty that Jephthah sacrificed his daughter. The passage does not clearly state that she was killed, only that Jephthah fulfilled his vow. One of my favorite commentators, Adam Clarke, builds a compelling interpretation for this passage. He writes that the most knowledgeable Hebrew scholars have said the vow contained the conjunction “or” rather than “and,” meaning that Jephthah was vowing to either offer it up to the Lord, or sacrifice it, depending on what the “it” was that came to greet him.
This would make sense if we read the passage to mean that he offered his daughter up to celibacy as a “sacrifice.” This is the view that many people take. He was upset because he was forced to give up his daughter to work for the Lord in the Temple and she would never marry or bear children. Hence, the two months of mourning her virginity.
Whatever the case, I believe we should always focus on what we know instead of what we do not know. We know that Jephthah had great faith. However, we also know that the people of great faith had great moral failures (i.e. David, Samson, Gideon). We know that Jephthah made a seemingly hasty vow, and followed through with that vow. We know from many biblical passages that God does not condone child sacrifice or rash vows, therefore if Jephthah did either of those, God did not like it.