Judges 11 Commentary

 

 

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Judges 11 Commentary

Judges 11:1 Now Jephthah the Gileadite was a valiant warrior, but he was the son of a harlot. And Gilead was the father of Jephthah.

Jephthah (KJV): Heb 11:32, called Jephthae
a mighty (KJV): Jdg 6:12 2Ki 5:1
an harlot (KJV): Heb. a woman
an harlot (KJV): Probably {zonah} should be rendered as in Jos 2:1, a hostess, or inn-keeper: so Targum of Jonathan, {wehoo bar ittetha pundekeetha,} "and he was the son of a woman, a tavern-keeper." She was very probably a Canaanite, as she is called, ver. 2, a strange woman, {ishah achereth,} "a woman of another race;" and on this account his brethren drove him from the family, as not having a full right to the inheritance.

NOW: So we are left in with the question of WHO WOULD LEAD GILEAD IN BATTLE against the Ammonites? So for a moment the writer flashes back to give us panoramic view of Jephthah's origins as an illegitimate child of a prostitute, his rejection by the natural heirs of his father Gilead (v2), and his rise to notoriety in the land of Tob (v3) as the leader of a gain of raiders...a bit like an oriental "Robin Hood".

JEPHTHAH THE GILEADITE WAS A VALIANT WARRIOR (a mighty man of valor): (See
Jephthah) In a military situation, this means a strong, adept warrior, such as Gideon (6:12). In response to their repentance, God raised up Jephthah to lead the Israelites to freedom from the 18 years of oppression (v8).

Samuel uses him as an illustration of how God raised up a leader to deliver Israel from trouble (1Sa12:11). He is included among the heroes of the faith in Heb11:32. Interestingly although some of his theology is questionable he is the Judge who used the personal name of God more than any other in the entire book of Judges!!! He knew Jehovah, the covenant keeping God. Rejected by those closest to him, God had become his closest friend and this is what made him the man of God that he was.

BUT HE WAS THE SON OF A HARLOT:

Jephthah thus lost family rights (v2) and was a social outcast but not in God's providential plan. And so although Jephthah's origins are even more clouded than Abimelech's, whose mother was at least a concubine, the Lord saw fit to use Jephthah in a remarkable way spite of the fact that he was an illegitimate child. God is still in the business of redeeming the lives of those born into broken family situations, praise God!

The Lord does not produce Christians the way General Motors produces cars, rolling them off an assembly line, differing only in a few options. We search Scripture in vain for the stereotype into which we must fit before He can uses us. Yet many Christians suffer from a severe inferiority complex because they do not "fit the mold". Sometimes the fault is their's; often the complex comes from listening to other Christians. Thank God as Jephthah shows there is no such mold, the man nobody wanted. Driven out, he was alone in the world. Alone except for God. I do not have to be a prisoner of my past no matter how desperate that past was. God delights by using the unusable and in making what may appear ugly to men beautiful in His eyes.

AND GILEAD WAS THE FATHER OF JEPHTHAH:

Gilead is here a person’s name, in contrast to [10:17] and elsewhere (cf. Jos17:1, 3). Gilead in contrast to Gideon was apparently not a polygamist lbut he was an adulterer. (cp Jdg21:25).

 

Judges 11:2 And 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, for you are the son of another woman."

thrust out (KJV): Ge 12:10 Dt 23:2 Ga 4:30
a strange (KJV): Pr 2:16 5:3,20 6:24-26

THEY DROVE EPHTHAH OUT: garash is used both here and in [Ge21:10] of the driving out of Hagar. Sarah had the same reasoning in her desire to drive Ishmael away from Isaac (Ge21:10). In both cases the sins of the father's had significant consequences to their sons. Fathers...listen up. Take heed and be instructed by these OT examples given that we might not crave evil things as they craved.

 

Judges 11:3 So Jephthah fled from his brothers and lived in the land of Tob; and worthless fellows gathered themselves about Jephthah, and they went out with him.

from his brethren (KJV): Heb. from the face of
Tob (KJV): Probably the same as Ish-Tob; and appears to have been a part of Syria, near Zobah, Rehob, and Maachah, east of Jordan, and in the most northern part of the portion of Manasseh. If so, it could not be far from Gilead, the country of Jephthah. This country is called Tobie or Tubin, 1 Mac 5:13; and the Jews who inhabited this district Tubieni, 2 Mac 12:17. 2 Sa 10:6.
vain men (KJV): Jdg 9:4 1Sa 22:2 27:2 30:22-24 Job 30:1-10 Ac 17:5

Unlike Abimelech, Jephthah did not have the protection of his mother's family; so he was forced to leave his father’s territory and head north to the land of Tob, near Syria (N of Ammon and E of Manasseh). In Tob Jephthah apparently gained notoriety as captain of a band of “adventurers” (NIV). The Hebrew word means “to make empty” and refers to idle people looking for something to do. (same word in Jdg9:4) Are you allowing the pain in your life to build you or break you? God does not waste even our failures. God was using his very pain to make him into a man of God, a valiant warrior.

WORTHLESS (req) means empty, worthless, vain and indicates something that has nothing in it. It pictures one whose moral character is worthless.  Jephthah's "band of brigands” may have protected Israelite villages from marauding tribes, perhaps including the Ammonites. Thus when the Israelites in Transjordan were threatened by a full-scale invasion of the Ammonites, the elders of Gilead invited Jephthah to be their commander. He consented only when they promised he would continue as their head (i.e. judge) after fighting ceased, a pact confirmed with oaths taken at Mizpeh (cp Gn31:48,49).

"Went out" suggests that Jephthah led these misfits on raids into the surrounding districts.

Preacher's Commentary observes that...

Jephthah’s story is a powerful reminder to us Christians today, with our highly developed personality inventories and assessment packages, not to write anybody off from having a place to fulfill in the work of God’s kingdom. Our danger is that we become too controlled by the perceptions of the secular world around us, so that we apply its criteria unchanged to the operations of God’s work. Without in any way condoning the mediocre or losing sight of our quest for excellence in the work of God, we must nevertheless ensure that we make room for a biblical balance...One further application is also worthy of our consideration. We need to encourage those in our churches, who feel they are nobodies, not to allow disadvantages in their backgrounds or setbacks in life to discourage or disqualify them from serving the Lord. Let us affirm that God has something for each of His dearly loved children to do, something that is precious to Him and unique to us as individuals....So many Christians waste their time and energy grieving over something they never had, and that is very counterproductive....To be always looking back over one’s shoulder wishing that father had been more demonstrative, mother less demanding, and that the family circumstances had been different, is to be both ungrateful for God’s providence and unrealistic about life in a fallen world. Some of us have had a raw deal out of life, but we need to recognize that God’s providence means that He weaves the strands together to make each of us the unique individual we all are, and that is for His glory. There are no mistakes, no accidents with God; no pages to be torn up. It all counts. The story of Jephthah provides us with a key example to encourage our “no hopers” not to write themselves out of the script, but to make themselves freshly available to their totally ingenious Lord. (Jackman, D., & Ogilvie, L. J.  The Preacher's Commentary Series, Volume 7: Judges, Ruth. Page 173. Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson)

**************************
Judges 11.3
G Campbell Morgan

Jephthah fled from his brethren.—Judges 11.3.

To those who are willing to see it, the story of Jephthah affords a solemn warning as to the wrong of treating a child born out of wedlock with contempt. It is constantly done, even by excellent people and it is wholly unjust. Here we see God raising up such a man to be a judge of his people, and to deliver them in time of grave difficulty. Jephthah was the son of a harlot, and had been thrust out from his inheritance by the legitimate sons of his father. The iron had entered into his soul, and he had gathered to himself a band of men, and had become a kind of 'outlawed freebooter. He was a man of courage and heroic daring, and it is impossible to read the story of the approach of the men of Gilead to him in the time of distress without recognizing the excellencies of his character. He can hardly be measured: by the standards of Israel, for he had lived outside the national ideal. Yet it is evident that he was a man of clear religious con­victions. All of which should be remembered when the question of his vow is discussed. The picture of this man, defrauded by his brethren of his rightful inheritance, fleeing from them with the sense of wrong burning its way into his soul, is very natural and very sad. The one thing which we empha­size is that God did not count the wrong for which he was not responsible, a dis­qualification. He raised him up; He gave him His Spirit; He employed him to deliver His people in the hour of their need. Let us ever refrain from the sin of being unjust to men by holding them disqualified for service or friendship by sins for which they are not to blame. (Morgan, G. C. Life Applications from Every Chapter of the Bible)

 

Judges 11:4 And it came about after a while that the sons of Ammon fought against Israel.

A.M. 2817, B.C. 1187, An, Ex, Is, 304
in process of time (KJV): Heb. after days. Jdg 11:4

This verse now carries us back to where the writer left off at (10:17,18), with the sons of Gilead in dire straits & in need for a militarily savvy leader like Jephthah.

 

Judges 11:5 And it happened when the sons of Ammon fought against Israel that the elders of Gilead went to get Jephthah from the land of Tob;

made war (KJV): Jdg 10:9,17,18
to fetch (KJV): 1Sa 10:27 11:6,7,12 Ps 118:22,23 Ac 7:35-39 1Co 1:27-29

Jephthah did not go looking for this job. God had prepared him in the land of Tob and he wiling when he was called. My job in the Christian life is to be faithful where God has placed me, learn the lessons He is teaching me and be available. It is God's job to open the doors of opportunity. An available heart will always find lots to do for the LORD. Note (v11) emphases that Jephthah was living his life in a conscious presence of the Lord.

ELDERS OF GILEAD WENT TO GET JEPHTHAH: The experience was similar with Winston Churchill, ostracized from politics prior to WWII because of his warnings against Nazism but then sought out by the British to be prime minister after the disaster at Dunkirk. But later England "went to get" Churchill.

Warren Wiersbe has an encouraging application writing that...

No person should be blamed for the circumstances surrounding his or her birth. Why permit the things you cannot control to burden your life? Learn to accept them, and the Lord will work out His purposes in His own time (Ps. 139:13–16). Opposition will one day give way to opportunity. (Wiersbe, W. W. With the word Bible commentary  Nashville: Thomas Nelson)

 

Judges 11:6 and they said to Jephthah, "Come and be our chief that we may fight against the sons of Ammon."

In contrast with the judgeship of Gideon, who was initially called by the Lord, Jephthah was initially called by other men. 

 

Judges 11:7 Then Jephthah said to the elders of Gilead, "Did you not hate me and drive me from my father's house? So why have you come to me now when you are in trouble?"

Did not ye hate (KJV): Ge 26:27 37:27 45:4,5 Pr 17:17 Isa 60:14 Ac 7:9-14 Rev 3:9

Apparently elders of Gilead made a trip to Tob meet with Jephthah who reminded the leaders of his previous ostracism (v7). His complaint about being appealed to as a last resort is almost identical to the words of the Lord in [10:14].

"Hate" in context refers not so much to the emotion per se, but to the action produced by the emotion. Their disdain for Jephthah prompted them to expel him from the family

 

Judges 11:8 And the elders of Gilead said to Jephthah, "For this reason we have now returned to you, that you may go with us and fight with the sons of Ammon and become head over all the inhabitants of Gilead."

the elders (KJV): Ex 8:8,28 9:28 10:17 1Ki 13:6 Lk 17:3,4
we turn (KJV): Jdg 10:18

"Head" suggests that some type of political leadership is apparently in view but in their initial offer to Jephthah they do not use the word "head," but "commander" (v. 6).

 

Judges 11:9 So Jephthah said to the elders of Gilead, "If you take me back to fight against the sons of Ammon and the LORD gives them up to me, will I become your head?"

If ye bring (KJV): Nu 32:20-29

IF...THE LORD GIVES THEM UP TO ME, WILL I BECOME YOUR HEAD: his reply although acknowledging God's power in the battle still appears to be motivated somewhat by self-interest. Nevertheless, one cannot help but appreciate the way Jephthah emphasized the Lord in all his negotiations with the leaders of Israel. It was the Lord who would give the victory, not Jephthah; and the agreement between him and the elders must be ratified before the Lord at Mizpah. The writer of Hebrews makes it clear that Jephthah was indeed a man of faith, not simply an opportunist, placing him in the famous Hebrews 11 "Hall of Faith".  (Heb11:32).

 

Judges 11:10 And the elders of Gilead said to Jephthah, "The LORD is witness between us; surely we will do as you have said."

The Lord (KJV): Ge 21:23 31:50 1Sa 12:5 Jer 29:23 42:5 Ro 1:9 2Co 11:31
be witness (KJV): be the hearer, Ge 16:5 31:53 Dt 1:16 1Sa 24:12
if we do (KJV): Ex 20:7 Zec 5:4 Mal 3:5

"Jehovah is Witness between us" is a picture of two parties making a covenant, Jehovah observing and listening to covenant terms of both parties and holding both accountable for fulfilling their obligations and promises of the covenant.

 

Judges 11:11 Then Jephthah went with the elders of Gilead, and the people made him head and chief over them; and Jephthah spoke all his words before the LORD at Mizpah.

head (KJV): Jdg 11:8
uttered (KJV): 1Sa 23:9-12 1Ki 3:7-9 2Co 3:5 Jas 1:5,17
Jephthah uttered (KJV): That is, upon his elevation, he immediately retired to his devotion, and in prayer spread the whole matter before God, both his choice to the office, and his execution of the office, as one that had his eye ever toward the Lord, and would do nothing without him; that leaned not to his own understanding or courage, but depended on the Almighty God, and his favour. This is an ensample worthy of universal imitation; in All Our Ways, whether great or apparently subordinate, let us acknowledge God and seek his direction. So shall we make our way prosperous, and obtain that peace which passeth all understanding. Jephthah opened his campaign with prayer.
before (KJV): Jdg 10:17 20:1 1Sa 10:17 11:15
Mizpeh (KJV): This Mizpeh was east of Jordan in the mountains of Gilead (Ge 31:49); and hence called Mizpeh of Gilead (ver. 29), to distinguish it from another place of the same name, west of Jordan, in the tribe of Judah. Jos 15:38

JEPHTHAH SPOKE ALL HIS WORDS BEFORE THE LORD AT MIZPAH to solemnize the agreement between Jephthah and the elders of Gilead that they would make him their ruler.

Something had happened to this man, rejected by those closest to him, trekking off into the land of Tob, where he like others before him (Moses, Elijah, David, Paul) found that the wilderness experience and times of affliction reduce a man to the place where he can only look to God for His direction and deliverance. Jephthah was a man molded in the furnace of rejection (by men but not by God). 

 

Judges 11:12 Now Jephthah sent messengers to the king of the sons of Ammon, saying, "What is between you and me, that you have come to me to fight against my land?"

sent messengers (KJV): In this Jephthah acted in accordance with the law of Moses; and hence the justice of his cause would appear more forcibly to the people. Nu 20:14 21:21 Dt 2:26 20:10,11 Pr 25:8,9 Mt 18:15,16
What hast (KJV): 2Ki 14:8-12

Before declaring war, Jephthah tried peaceful negotiations with the Ammonites, but the negotiations failed. Nevertheless, this section does tell us two things about Jephthah: (1) He knew the Scriptures and the history of his people, and (2) he was not a hothead who was looking for a fight.

***************************
Judges 11:12 
F B Meyer
Our Daily Homily

And Jephthah sent messengers unto the king of the children of Ammon.

Jephthah’s procedure was admirable in his quiet expostulation, before resorting to force in the defence of home and country against the aggression of Amalek. It was quite clear that Ammon had no right to the lands of which Israel, at God’s command, had dispossessed the Amorites. “Thou doest me wrong to war against me.” But before repelling the invasion, Jephthah did his best to show the unreasonableness of Ammon’s pretext.

Thus our Lord expostulated with the servant that smote Him. “If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil; but if well, why smitest thou Me?”

It is in this way that we are to act still. “If thy brother sin against thee, go, show him his fault between thee and him alone: if he hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.”

In the Masters judgment, the wrong-doer injured himself much more than any one else; and therefore earnest words of expostulation were desirable to stay him from his own destruction.
How admirable it would be if we would act in such a spirit of meek conciliation! Then our cause might fairly be submitted to the Judge of all (Judges 11:27); and we should be strong in after-times to stand for the sacred rights of others.

There is no need to bribe God’s help, as Jephthah did, by his rash promise. He will give gladly and freely out of his own heart of love the help and deliverance we need, if only our cause is rightly ordered before Him. “Who delivered, … and doth deliver; … He will yet deliver” (2 Corinthians 1:10). When we are right with our fellow-men, we can confidently count on God’s almighty helpfulness.

 

Judges 11:13 And the king of the sons of Ammon said to the messengers of Jephthah, "Because Israel took away my land when they came up from Egypt, from the Arnon as far as the Jabbok and the Jordan; therefore, return them peaceably now."

Because Israel (KJV): Nu 21:24-26 Pr 19:5,9
from Arnon (KJV): That is, all the land which had belonged to the Amorites and Moabites.
Jabbok (KJV): Ge 32:22 Dt 2:37 3:16

X

 

Judges 11:14 But Jephthah sent messengers again to the king of the sons of Ammon,

again unto (KJV): Ps 120:7 Ro 12:18 Heb 12:14 1Pe 3:11

Jephthah states the facts correctly concerning the Ammonites' false claim to the disputed land (v13). When Israel first captured it it belonged to the Amorites NOT the Ammonites.

 

Judges 11:15 and they said to him, "Thus says Jephthah, 'Israel did not take away the land of Moab, nor the land of the sons of Ammon.

Israel took (KJV): Nu 21:13-15,27-30 Dt 2:9,19 2Ch 20:10 Ac 24:12,13

This historical summary attempts to prove that Israel captured this land from the Amorites without violating the territorial rights of either Moab or Ammon. Throughout the message reference is repeatedly made to the kingdom of Moab. Ammon is not mentioned again until [v27].

The ARNON R. is mentioned repeatedly because in [v13] the King of Ammon specifically claims that the land bordered on the south by the ARNON R and on the north by the JABBOK R. belonged to Ammon when historically this was the KINGDOM OF SIHON [ruler of the Amorites] who refused to let ISRAEL pass through (v19,20) which resulted in God giving SIHON'S land to ISRAEL (v21). In short, the King of AMMON had absolutely NO CLAIM to this land which Israel had occupied for 300 YEARS! (v26).

Jephthah's defense of Israel's claim to the land is threefold:

(1) The land initially belonged to SIHON not the AMMONITES (v22)
(2) JEHOVAH GOD OF ISRAEL gave the land to Israel (v21,23-25)
(3) Israel had possessed it 300 YEARS (v26,27).

 

Judges 11:16 'For when they came up from Egypt, and Israel went through the wilderness to the Red Sea and came to Kadesh,

But when (KJV): The whole of these messages shew, Jephthah had well studied the book of Moses. His arguments also are very clear and cogent, and his demands reasonable; for he only required that the Ammonites should cease to harass a people who had neither injured them, nor intended to do so.
walked (KJV): Nu 14:25 Dt 1:40 Jos 5:6
came (KJV): Ge 14:7 Nu 13:26 20:1 Dt 1:46

Jephthah first referred to Israel's stay at Kadesh (v. 16), when they requested permission to travel through Edom (Nu20:14-17) and Moab (v17). The Pentateuch itself does not record this petition to Moab. Neither Edom nor Moab allowed Israel to pass through; so the people detoured south of Edom and then east of Moab, stopping at the eastern end of the Arnon River (v18). The Lord specifically commanded Israel not to fight against Edom, Moab, and Ammon because these peoples were all related to Israel; and God had given them their own territory (Dt2:5, 9, 19). No such prohibition applied to Sihon, however. So when the Amorite king also refused the Israelites passage, there was a battle at Jahaz, which is probably located near Medeba, south of the capital of Heshbon (v19,20). God gave the Israelites a decisive victory (v21), and they took possession of the precise parcel of land then claimed by the king of Ammon (v. 13).

 

Judges 11:17 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. And they also sent to the king of Moab, but he would not consent. So Israel remained at Kadesh.

sent messengers (KJV): Nu 20:14-21 Dt 2:4-8,29
the king (KJV): Dt 2:9
abode (KJV): Nu 20:1,16

X

 

Judges 11:18 'Then they went through the wilderness and around the land of Edom and the land of Moab, and came to the east side of the land of Moab, and they camped beyond the Arnon; but they did not enter the territory of Moab, for the Arnon was the border of Moab.

went (KJV): Nu 20:22 21:10-13 33:37-44 Dt 2:1-8
compassed (KJV): Nu 21:4-9
came by (KJV): Nu 21:11
pitched (KJV): Nu 21:13 22:36

X

 

Judges 11:19 'And Israel sent messengers to Sihon king of the Amorites, the king of Heshbon, and Israel said to him, "Please let us pass through your land to our place."

Nu 21:21-35 Dt 2:26-34 3:1-17 Jos 13:8-12

X

 

Judges 11:20 'But Sihon did not trust Israel to pass through his territory; so Sihon gathered all his people and camped in Jahaz, and fought with Israel.

Nu 21:23 Dt 2:32, Lord God, Ne 9:22 Ps 135:10-12 136:17-21, they smote, Nu 21:24,25 Dt 2:33,34, so Israel, Jos 13:15-32

X

 

Judges 11:21 'And the LORD, the God of Israel, gave Sihon and all his people into the hand of Israel, and they defeated them; so Israel possessed all the land of the Amorites, the inhabitants of that country.

X

 

Judges 11:22 'So they possessed all the territory of the Amorites, from the Arnon as far as the Jabbok, and from the wilderness as far as the Jordan.

And they (KJV): Dt 2:36
from the wilderness (KJV): From Arabia Deserta on the east, to Jordan on the west.

X

 

Judges 11:23 'Since now the LORD, the God of Israel, drove out the Amorites from before His people Israel, are you then to possess it?

Jephthah shews that the Israelites did not take the land of the Moabites or Ammonites, but that of the Amorites, which they had conquered from Sihon their king; and although the Amorites had taken the lands in question from the Ammonites, yet the title by which Israel held them was good, because they took them, not from the Ammonites, but from the Amorites.

X

 

Judges 11:24 'Do you not possess what Chemosh your god gives you to possess? So whatever the LORD our God has driven out before us, we will possess it.

Wilt not thou possess (KJV): This is simply an {argumentum ad hominem;} in which Jephthah argues on this principles recognized by the king of Ammon. As if he had said, "You suppose that the land which you possess was given you by your god Chemosh; and therefore will not relinquish what you believe you hold by a divine right. Now we know that Jehovah, our God, has given us the land of the Israelites; and therefore we will not give it up."
Chemosh (KJV): Nu 21:29 1Ki 11:7 Jer 48:7,46
whomsoever (KJV): Dt 9:4,5 18:12 Jos 3:10 Ps 44:2 78:55 Mic 4:5

Chemosh was the god of Moab, and Milcom (Molech, Moloch) the idolatrous god of Ammon, though Molech may be a title for Chemosh, who was worshiped by both peoples (since they had much in common).

Although it seems that Jephthah acknowledges the existence of the god Chemosh, this does not mean or imply that he was polytheistic or that he viewed the Lord as being only a local deity. Jephthah may have been assuming the Ammonite king's perspective for the sake of argument.

 

Judges 11:25 'And now are you any better than Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab? Did he ever strive with Israel, or did he ever fight against them?

Balak (KJV): Nu 22:2-21 Dt 23:3,4 Jos 24:9,10 Mic 6:5

Jephthah's final argument is based on the length of time Israel had possessed the disputed territory. Balak was the king of Moab who hired Balaam to curse the Israelites. After the curses turned out to be repeated blessings (Nu24:10), Balak made no attempt to regain the area held by Sihon and then Israel (v25). He clearly recognized the legitimacy of Israel's claim to the land. During the next "three hundred years," neither Moab nor Ammon succeeded in retaking the land (v26). Did not such a long occupancy prove Israel's right to that area?

DID HE EVER STRIVE (dispute, quarrel) WITH ISRAEL: Balak did "strive" with Israel thru Balaam.

 

Judges 11:26 '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, three hundred years, why did you not recover them within that time?

Heshbon (KJV): Nu 21:25-30 Dt 2:24 3:2, 3:6 Jos 12:2,5 13:10
Aroer (KJV): Dt 2:36
three hundred (KJV): Jdg 3:11,30 5:31 8:28 9:22 10:2,3, 10:8 Jos 11:18 23:1

Jephthah made these points in his negotiations with the Ammonite king: CHECK YOUR HISTORY (1) Israel had taken their land east of the Jordan not from Ammon, but from the Amorites (v15-23; cf. Nu21:24; Dt2:19, 37) CHECK YOUR THEOLOGY (2) Israel had not chosen her possessions; they had been given by her God (v24) CHECK YOUR LOGIC (3) if Ammon had some prior claim to Gilead, why had they waited 300 years to press it (v26)? It was too late for native land claims now.

The reference to Chemosh (v24) as actually giving them their land is rhetorical, intended to appeal to the king of Ammon. It implied, however, that Yahweh was stronger than "Chemosh," since Israel and not Ammon possessed the disputed territory.

The reference to Chemosh is also problematic because the Ammonite god is elsewhere said to be Molech; Chemosh was the principal god of Moab (1Ki11:5-7, 33; 2Ki23:13; Je49:1; cf. Nu21:29). Moab and Ammon were closely associated, however, both originating from Lot (Ge19:30-38; cf. Dt2:19). According to Dt23:3-6, they were both involved in hiring Balaam to curse Israel (cf. Jud3:12, 13; 2Ch20:1). It may be that at this early date the two peoples were culturally and religiously unified (cf. v15). This would add weight to the third argument in v25.

300 YEARS: The chronology of the period of the judges is difficult to decipher, but this statement of Jepthah's, inserted more or less incidentally in his polemic against the king of Ammon, provides an important constraint on such estimates. The children of Israel conquered Heshbon, Aroer and Arnon, and "dwelt in the cities of the Amorites" (Nu21:24-26) shortly before they crossed the Jordan into Canaan.

 

Judges 11:27 'I therefore have not sinned against you, but you are doing me wrong by making war against me; may the LORD, the Judge, judge today between the sons of Israel and the sons of Ammon.'"

the Judge (KJV): Ge 18:25 1Sa 2:10 Job 9:15 23:7 Ps 7:11 50:6 75:7 82:8 Ps 94:2 98:9 Ec 11:9 12:14 Joh 5:22,23 Ro 14:10-12 2Co 5:10 2Ti 4:8 Heb 12:23
be judge (KJV): Ge 16:5 31:53 1Sa 24:12,15 Ps 7:8,9 2Co 11:11

Insisting on his innocence, Jephthah appealed to the Lord to decide the issue (v27).

Jephthah's words assume a form of international law that regulated relationships between neighboring nations. He argued that the Ammonites had no legitimate reason to attack Israel because the land they desired belonged legally (by divine decision) to the Israelites.

Wars between nations, as well as individual disputes, were regarded as ordeals that vindicated the claims of one party. This is the only explicit reference in the book to the Lord as Judge.

Jephthah appealed to the Lord as “the Judge” to settle the quarrel between Israel and Ammon.

 

Judges 11:28 But the king of the sons of Ammon disregarded the message which Jephthah sent him.

2Ki 14:11 Pr 16:18

X

 

Judges 11:29 Now the Spirit of the LORD came upon Jephthah, so that he passed through Gilead and Manasseh; then he passed through Mizpah of Gilead, and from Mizpah of Gilead he went on to the sons of Ammon.

the spirit (KJV): Jdg 3:10 6:34 13:25 Nu 11:25 1Sa 10:10 16:13-15 1Ch 12:18
Jephthah (KJV): "Jephthah seems to have been judge only of north-east Israel."
over Mizpeh (KJV): Jdg 10:17

NOW THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD CAME UPON JEPHTHAH: When God calls a man to serve Him, He always enables him for the task (cp Paul 1Ti1:12-14).

God gave His Spirit to Jephthah, providing needed military skills. God's Spirit does not replace our personality and thus does not necessarily prevent a person from acting rashly and wrongly. Jephthah's later vow is almost like a "bribe" -- "if" you do such & such, I will repay with my vow. If he had truly believed in God's ability at this point the test would have said "when" not "if".

SO THAT: this "term of conclusion" and the subsequent action he takes would support the fact that Jephthah in fact knew that the SPIRIT had come upon him.

As in the case of Gideon (6:34), the Spirit of the Lord empowered Jephthah in preparation for battle. Strengthened by this divine designation, he traveled north through Transjordan, gathering troops from the tribes of Gad and Manasseh. These two tribes actually split Gilead between them (Jos13:25, 31), with Gad receiving the larger share.

 

Judges 11:30 And Jephthah made a vow to the LORD and said, "If Thou wilt indeed give the sons of Ammon into my hand,

Ge 28:20 Nu 30:2-16 1Sa 1:11 Ec 5:1,2,4,5

JEPHTHAH MADE (vowed) A VOW TO THE LORD Jephthah was not totally confident of success, so he vowed to give the Lord an offering in exchange for victory. To vowed a vow was a common practice before battle among ancient peoples.

Promising a sacrifice in exchange for divine deliverance was not wrong in and of itself. Hannah promised to dedicate her child to the Lord's service in exchange for relief from Peninnah's insults (1 Sam. 1:11). However, Jephthah's vow was unnecessary under the circumstances. Jephthah did not need to bargain with the Lord prior to this battle, for his cause was just (vv. 12-28) and he was energized by the divine Spirit (v. 29).

Human sacrifice was strictly forbidden by the Mosaic law (Lev 18:21; Dt 12:31); so Jephthah should have known that God's favor could not be gained in this terrible way. Yet Israel's neighbors -- ironically, especially the Ammonites--sacrificed their children; and this custom might have influenced Jephthah. The most notable example was the slaughter of the crown prince at the hands of the king of Moab (2Ki3:27). In his desperation the king was willing to pay the ultimate price for victory.

One of the few Jewish commentaries on Judges says that the reason they held the annual mourning for Jephthah's daughter was "in order that none should make his son or daughter a burnt offering as Jephthah did and did not consult Phineas the priest. Had he done so, he would have redeemed her with money."

"IF THOU WILT INDEED GIVE THE SONS OF AMMON INTO MY HAND: If he had truly believed in God's ability at this point the test would have said "when" not "if". Like Barak and Gideon before him (4:8; 6:17, 36-37), his use of the conditional word "if" prior to the battle testifies to his uncertainty about its outcome.

This is a most controversial passage so it is wise to avoid taking any dogmatic stand and being argumentative. The point is that Jephthah made a vow which he himself (for whatever reason) later regretted. His reaction alone therefore tells us that this indeed was a rash vow. See [Pr20:25, Ec5:1-3,v4,v5] re "rash vows".

Jephthah might sincerely (although wrongly— Lv18:21; Dt12:31) suppose ‘that Jehovah would need to be propitiated by some offering as costly as those which bled on the altars of Chemosh and Moloch’. It is interesting that MOLECH (Moloch or Milcom) was the detestable god of the Ammonites, the worship of whom was characterized by the gruesome sacrifice of children (cf. Lv20:2-5; 1Ki11:5, 7, 33; 2Ki23:10, 13; Je32:35; 49:1-3; Zep1:5).

Matthew Henry comments that...

"Several important lessons are to be learned from Jephthah's vow.

1. There may be remainders of distrust and doubting, even in the hearts of true and great believers.

2. Our vows to God should not be as a purchase of the favour we desire, but to express gratitude to Him.

3. We need to be very well-advised in making vows, lest we entangle ourselves.

4. What we have solemnly vowed to God, we must perform, if it be possible and lawful, though it be difficult and grievous to us.

5. It well becomes children, obediently and cheerfully to submit to their parents in the Lord.

It is hard to say what Jephthah did in performance of his vow; but it is thought that he did not offer his daughter as a burnt-offering. Such a sacrifice would have been an abomination to the Lord; it is supposed she was obliged to remain unmarried, and apart from her family. Concerning this and some other such passages in the sacred history, about which learned men are divided and in doubt, we need not perplex ourselves; what is necessary to our salvation, thanks be to God, is plain enough. If the reader recollects the promise of Christ concerning the teaching of the Holy Spirit, and places himself under this heavenly Teacher, the Holy Ghost will guide to all truth in every passage, so far as it is needful to be understood. "

 

Judges 11:31 then it shall be that whatever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the sons of Ammon, it shall be the LORD'S, and I will offer it up as a burnt offering."

whatsoever (KJV): etc. Heb. that which cometh forth, which shall come forth
shall surely (KJV): Lev 27:2,3,28,29 1Sa 1:11,28 2:18 14:24,44 Ps 66:13,14
and I will (KJV): or, or I will, etc. {Wehaaleetheehoo olah,} rather, as Dr. Randolph and others contend, "and I will offer Him (or to Him, i.e., Jehovah) a burnt offering;" for {hoo} may with much more propriety be referred to the person to whom the sacrifice was to be made, than to the thing to be sacrificed. Unless understood in this way, or as the marginal reading, it must have been the vow of a heathen or a madman. If a dog, or other uncleaned animal had met him, he could not have made it a burnt offering; or if his neighbour's wife, sons, etc., his vow gave him no right over them. Lev 27:11,12 Dt 23:18 Ps 66:13 Isa 66:3

More than one expositor has pointed out that the little word “and” in the phrase “and I will offer it up” (11:31) can be translated “or.” (In the Hebrew, it’s the letter waw which usually means “and.”) If we take this approach, then the vow was twofold: Whatever met him when he returned home would be dedicated to the Lord (if a person) or sacrificed to the Lord (if an animal).

Warren Wiersbe notes that...

"Since he was met by his daughter, Jephthah gave her to the Lord to serve Him at the tabernacle (Ex38:8; 1Sa2:22). She remained a virgin, which meant that she would not know the joys of motherhood and perpetuate her father’s inheritance in Israel. This would be reason enough for her and her friends to spend two months grieving, for every daughter wanted a family and every father wanted grandchildren to maintain the family inheritance. Nowhere in the text are we told that Jephthah actually killed his daughter, nor do we find anybody bewailing the girl’s death. The emphasis in Jud11:37-40 is the fact that she remained a virgin. It’s difficult to believe that “the daughters of Israel” would establish a custom to celebrate (not “lament” as in KJV) the awful sacrifice of a human being, but we can well understand that they would commemorate the devotion and obedience of Jephthah’s daughter in helping her father fulfill his vow. She deserves to stand with Isaac as a faithful child, who was willing to obey both father and God, no matter what the cost." (Be Available)


IT SHALL BE THE LORD'S AND I WILL OFFER IT UP AS A BURNT OFFERING:

This phrase may be translated: "shall surely be the LORD's (if a human being comes first), or I will offer it up for a burnt offering (if an animal appears first)."

Sometimes the idea is presented that Jephthah gave her to the tabernacle where she spent the remainder of her life working as a priest’s servant, never marrying, for she would be devoted to the sacred duties of religion as a holy virgin (cf. Ex38:8; 1Sa2:22). However, there is no specific OT example for the concept of the celibate female temple servant, though there were women performing various religious functions. Historically, this interpretation apparently rose from the allegorical explanation posited by the Rabbis Kimchi in the 11th and 12th cen. This interpretation was subsequently adopted by many Christian expositors but has little biblical basis.

 

Judges 11:32 So Jephthah crossed over to the sons of Ammon to fight against them; and the LORD gave them into his hand.

the Lord (KJV): Jdg 1:4 2:18 3:10

Jephthah was led and controlled by the Holy Spirit (v29). This leading was not a quiet inactivity. Jephthah did not sit down and passively observe while God accomplished His will. He traveled through the region to gather troops, organizing them, developing strategy and leading the attack. To be led by the Spirit is always to be led into activity and into the battle for God. Gideon was a weak man that God transformed into a fearless warrior. Jephthah however was a valiant warrior and because of his tragic family history he had had to become strong to survive. The story of his life is of "God taking a strong man and by His Spirit turning him into a usable man. Whatever our strengths and weaknesses, the secret of our usefulness is our availability to our God.

Gave them - Jehovah repeatedly gave Israel into the hands of their enemies. See notes Judges 2:14; Judges 6:1; Judges 11:32; Judges 13:1)

 

Judges 11:33 And he struck them with a very great slaughter from Aroer to the entrance of Minnith, twenty cities, and as far as Abel-keramim. So the sons of Ammon were subdued before the sons of Israel.

Aroer (KJV): Dt 2:36
Minnith (KJV): Situated, according to Eusebius, four miles from Heshbon, towards Philadelphia or Rabbath. Eze 27:17
the plain (KJV): or, Abel

The Lord gave Israel a stunning victory over Ammon, and Israel was able to capture twenty cities. These included Aroer, at Reuben's southern border just north of the Arnon, and Abel Keramim, tentatively located about five miles north of Heshbon. Thus the bulk of the region between the Arnon and the Jabbok once again belonged to Israel.

 

Judges 11:34 When Jephthah came to his house at Mizpah, behold, his daughter was coming out to meet him with tambourines and with dancing. Now she was his one and only child; besides her he had neither son nor daughter.

Mizpeh (KJV): Jdg 11:11 10:17
his daughter (KJV): Jdg 5:1-31 Ex 15:20 1Sa 18:6,7 Ps 68:25 148:11,12 150:4 Jer 31:4,13
beside her (KJV): or, he had not of his own either son or daughter, Heb. of himself
neither (KJV): Zec 12:10 Lk 7:12 8:42 9:38

Volumes have been written on what is generally termed “Jephthah’s rash vow”; the question is whether, in doing to his daughter according to his vow, he actually offered her as a sacrifice. That he really did so is a horrible conclusion but one that it seems impossible to avoid. The following may be taken as a summary of the arguments on both sides.

In favor of actual sacrifice, the following arguments are urged: (1) The express terms of the narrative, “I will offer it up as a burnt offering,” and he “did to her according to the vow.” (2) The fact that Jephthah was half heathen and that the circumstances took place where the heathen dwelt in great numbers and where human sacrifices were not unknown. (3) That Jephthah’s excessive grief on seeing his daughter come forth to meet him can only be accounted for on the supposition that he considered her devoted to death. (4) That the mourning for Jephthah’s daughter for four days in the year can be reconciled only with the supposition that she was an actual sacrifice. (5) That there is nothing in the history to show that his conduct was sanctioned by God.

In opposition it is urged: (1) By translating the Heb. prefix (which is rendered and in our version) to or, all difficulty will be removed. His words would then read, “shall be the Lord’s, or I will offer it up as a burnt offering”; and not infrequently the sense requires that the Heb. should be thus rendered (Lv27:28) where there is a similar meaning of the conjunctive waw. (2) He cannot be understood as declaring an intention to offer a burnt offering whatever might come forth to meet him, since he might have been met by what no law or custom permitted to be so offered. (3) The sacrifice of children to Molech is expressly forbidden and declared an abomination to the Lord (Lv20:2,v3); and it would be a yet higher insult to offer them to the Lord. (4) There is no precedent for such an offering. (5) No father by his own authority could put even an offending child to death, much less one that was innocent (Dt21:18-21; 1Sa14:24-45). (6) It is said he did to her “according to the vow which he had made,” and “she had no relations with a man,” which conveys the idea that she was devoted to a life of celibacy; and that what the daughters of Israel bewailed was not her death, but her celibacy, for she “wept on the mountains because of her virginity” (Jud11:38-40). There appears to have been a class of women devoted exclusively to the Temple service who were Nazirites (Ex38:8); to this company of females reference is made in 1Sa2:22 (see Lu2:37). To such a company of devoted women Jephthah’s daughter might be set apart. One of the strongest points on this side of the argument is that the Heb. word lethanoth, rendered “wept,” rather meant “to celebrate.” Therefore, these daughters of Israel went yearly, not to lament, but with songs of praise to celebrate the daughter of Jephthah.

 

Judges 11:35 And it came about when he saw her, that he tore his clothes and said, "Alas, my daughter! You have brought me very low, and you are among those who trouble me; for I have given my word to the LORD, and I cannot take it back."

rent his clothes (KJV): Ge 37:29,30,34,35 42:36-38 2Sa 13:30,31 18:33 Job 1:20
have opened (KJV): Lev 27:28,29 Nu 30:2-5 Ps 15:4 Ec 5:2-6
I cannot (KJV): Jdg 21:1-7 1Sa 14:44,45 Mt 14:7-9 Ac 23:14

The joy of victory was suddenly turned to sorrow when Jephthah saw his daughter and remembered his vow (v31).

 

Judges 11:36 So she said to him, "My father, you have given your word to the LORD; do to me as you have said, since the LORD has avenged you of your enemies, the sons of Ammon."

forasmuch (KJV): Jdg 16:28-30 2Sa 18:19,31 19:30 Ac 20:24 21:13 Ro 16:4 Php 2:30

X

 

Judges 11:37 And she said to her father, "Let this thing be done for me; let me alone two months, that I may go to the mountains and weep because of my virginity, I and my companions."

go up and down (KJV): Heb. go and go down
bewail (KJV): 1Sa 1:6 Lk 1:25

X

 

Judges 11:38 Then he said, "Go." So he sent her away for two months; and she left with her companions, and wept on the mountains because of her virginity.

X

 

Judges 11:39 And it came about at the end of two months that she returned to her father, who did to her according to the vow which he had made; and she had no relations with a man. Thus it became a custom in Israel,

did with (KJV): That Jephthah did not sacrifice his daughter, but consecrated her to the service of God in the tabernacle, in a state of celibacy, will we imagine be evident from the following consideration:--1. Human sacrifices were ever an abomination to Jehovah, of which Jephthah could not be ignorant; and consequently he would neither have made such a vow, nor carried it into execution. 2. We are expressly told (ver. 29) that Jephthah was under the influence of the Spirit of God, which would effectually prevent him from embruing his hands in the blood of his own child. 3. He had it in his power to redeem his daughter, (Lev 27:4;) and surely his only child must have been of more value than thirty shekles. 4. Besides, who was to perform the horrid rite? Not Jephthah himself, who was no priest, and in whom it would have been most unnatural and inhuman; and the priests would certainly have dissuaded him from it. 5. The sacred historian informs us, that she bewailed her virginity, that she knew no man, and that the Israelitish women went yearly to comfort or lament with her. Jdg 11:31 Lev 27:28,29 Dt 12:31 Isa 66:3
to his vow (KJV): 1Sa 1:11,22,24,28 2:18
custom (KJV): or, ordinance

In view of the divine commands in the Mosaic law against human sacrifice (Lv18:21; 20:2 -5; Dt12:31; 18:10), a question has been raised about Jephthah's action here. As discussed above, there is debate as to what he actually did.

Those who think that he slew his daughter see no divine approval of the act, but rather attribute it to his rash vow. Others do not believe that Jephthah sacrificed his daughter, but that he set her apart to perpetual virginity. The latter view emphasizes the unusual expression in [v31]: "will be the LORD's," and the stress upon virginity instead of death in [v37,39].

 

Judges 11:40 that the daughters of Israel went yearly to commemorate the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite four days in the year.

yearly (KJV): Heb. from year to year
lament (KJV): or, to talk with, Jdg 5:11
four days (KJV): 1Ki 9:25

X

F B Meyer...

JUDGES 11
JEPHTHAH

Judges 11:1-3 Jephthah had a very base origin. -- But men ought not to be reproached with their parentage, if their own character is sweet and noble. Let us so live as to cast a halo of light on our origin, however lowly. Is not this also an illustration of God's constant action (1 Cor. 1:27)?

Judges 11:4-11 The terms of agreement. -- How often it has happened that in our extremity we, like the elders of Gilead, have turned to Him whom we refused. But there is only one condition on which the Lord will fight for us against our over-mastering foes. He must be our Head; we must put Him on the throne.

Judges 11:12-28 The meeting. -- This was consistent with Deut. 20:10-11. The land had not belonged to the Ammonites, but to the Amorites, from whom Israel had taken it at God's command; Ammon, therefore, had no claim to it whatever.

It is important that we should vindicate the cause we espouse, that those who oppose us may know that they are in conflict not with us alone, but with the eternal principles of God's righteousness. It is a great thing to be able to say, "I have not sinned against thee, but thou doest me wrong" (Judges 11:27). Even if we do not wrong people by act, let us guard against speaking treacherously or unkindly.

Judges 11:29-40 His vow. -- There was no need of such a vow to obtain God's favor. Our vows should not be made to win God's help, but as an expression of our gratitude and love. We do not need to bribe Him to do aught for us. Not the burnt-offering as an inducement for God to deliver, but God's deliverance an inducement to the burnt-offering. Whether or not Jephthah did really offer his child is not material to our present consideration, for it must have been as great an agony to shut her away from the cherished hope of an Oriental woman, as to see her consumed on a funeral pyre. (F. B. Meyer. CHOICE NOTES ON JOSHUA THROUGH 2 KINGS)

Charles Simeon...

JEPHTHAH’S VOW
Jdg. 11:30, 31

VOWS were common under the Mosaic dispensation: they were even encouraged by God himself, in order that his people might have opportunities of manifesting the love that was in their hearts by offerings that were not enjoined, and services that were not commanded. In cases of difficulty, where it appeared of more than ordinary importance to secure the divine favour and protection, the patriarchs had resorted to vows, and bound themselves, in case he should vouchsafe to them the desired blessing, to render unto him according to the benefits he should confer upon them. Thus Jacob, when he had just left his father and family in order to seek in a foreign land a refuge from his brother’s vengeance, vowed, that, if the Lord would be with him and restore him to his home in peace, he would take God entirely for his God, and devote to him a tenth of all that he should possess. (Ge 28:20, 21, 22.) In the time of Moses, the whole people of Israel resorted to the same measure, in order to obtain success against the Canaanites. (Nu. 21:2) This, it must be confessed, has a legal appearance, and looks like offering to make a bargain with God: but vows may certainly be made in perfect consistency with the liberal spirit of the Gospel: for it is intimated, that under the Gospel, yea even in the millennial age, such a practice should obtain; (Is 19:21) and we know that Paul both made a vow himself (Acts 18:18), and united with others in services to which by a voluntary engagement they had bound themselves. (Acts 21:23, 24)


The vow of Jephthah has engaged the attention of learned men in all ages: but they are by no means agreed as to the import of it. We propose,


I. To explain his vow—


It must be confessed, that the Jewish writers in general, together with their great historian Josephus, were of opinion, that Jephthah offered his daughter to the Lord as a burnt-offering. Of the same opinion also were the generality of writers in the early ages of the Christian Church. Multitudes also of the most approved authors amongst the moderns take the same side of the question. But we are constrained to differ from them; and the more attentively we have weighed their arguments, the more fully are we persuaded that Jephthah did not offer up his daughter as a burnt-offering, but only devoted her to the service, the exclusive service, of the Lord.


In confirmation of this opinion, we would call your attention to the particular circumstances of the vow:


1. The making of it—


[In opposition to the idea of his offering her up for a burnt-offering, we say, that No pious man would have made such a vow. Jephthah was undoubtedly a pious man, as his whole history declares: for at his first acceding to the proposals of his countrymen to stand forth for their deliverance, he laid the matter before the Lord (Jdg 11:11): and his vow was expressive of his affiance alone in God for success: besides which, he is celebrated by St. Paul (Ed: I don't agree that Paul was the author of Hebrews) as one of those eminent men who obtained a good report through their faith (Heb. 11:32). Moreover, he was at this time under the influence of the Spirit of God (Jdg 11:29). Now can we suppose that such a man, under such influence, should deliberately vow to God that he would commit murder? that he would murder the first person who should come forth to congratulate him, whether it might be man, woman, or child, yea even if it should be his own, his only daughter? or, if a dog or other unclean animal should come forth, he would offer it up for a burnt-offering? Could he conceive that this would be pleasing to the Deity, and that such a vow as this would be likely to procure success? Had not the law said, “Thou shalt not kill?” (Ex 20:13) and had not God expressly forbidden his people to imitate the heathen in offering human sacrifices? (Dt. 12:31) Had not the law prescribed, that if a man should unintentionally kill his slave, he should be punished? and could he imagine that the law permitted him intentionally and deliberately to kill his own daughter? It may be said, that the Spirit ordered him to offer up this sacrifice, just as God commanded Abraham to offer up his son Isaac: but I ask, Where if any such thing expressed in this history? and why, if the Sprit of God had ordered a human sacrifice to be made, and he under the influence of the Spirit had vowed to offer one, whence came the rending of his garment, and all his vehement lamentation, upon finding that his daughter was the appointed victim? If he had been called to Abraham’s trial, we may well suppose that God would have given to him the faith of Abraham; or at least, that, if he had so greatly failed in this duty, he would not have been so highly commended as an example of faith. But, we say again, that there is not the smallest intimation that the Spirit of God did give any such order to him: nor can we conceive that if, for the trial of his faith, God had given it, he would have ever suffered it to be carried into execution; but would rather have interposed to prevent it, as he did in the case of Isaac.


But, as no pious man would have made such a vow, so, if Jephthah had made it, the law itself had provided a ransom for her. We have before said, that vows were encouraged under the law; and persons, as well as things, might be devoted to God. But if either persons, or things, were devoted to him, the law permitted that a valuation should be made of the devoted thing or person, and that the money should be regarded as a ransom for it, or an offering be presented in its stead. If a human being were devoted, the estimation should vary according to the sex and age of the person: but if it were a beast, then the offerer should give in addition one fifth more than the estimated value as the price of its redemption. (Lev 27:2-13) When the enemies of God and their cities or possessions were, as accursed things, devoted to destruction, they were not to be redeemed at all: they were accursed of God himself, as the Amalekites and Canaanites were, and were therefore not to be spared (Lev. 27:29): and Saul, in sparing Agag, whom God had devoted to destruction, sinned as much as if he had murdered one whom God had ordered to be spared. (1Sa 15:3, 9, 22, 23, 32, 33) Now, if we call to mind how eminently conversant Jephthah was with the history of Israel, so as to be able to refute all the claims of the king of Ammon (Jdg 11:12-27), we can feel no doubt but that he was well acquainted with the law that prescribed the mode in which devoted things were to be redeemed: indeed his vow was evidently founded on the knowledge of that law: for if a dog had met him first, he would never have dared to offer that in sacrifice to God: consequently he would never have made his vow so indefinitely, if he had not known that the law admitted of an exchange, in case the devoted thing should be improper to be offered.


But supposing that he was ignorant of this law, were the high-priest and all the priests in the kingdom ignorant of it? and, when the execution of the vow was postponed for two months, and great lamentation was made all that time throughout the kingdom on account of the vow, was there no person in all Israel who once thought of this law? If but one person had thought of it, would he not have been very glad to mention it? and would not the mention of it have been most acceptable to Jephthah, when it would have put an immediate end to all his mourning and lamentation? Would he not have been glad enough to pay thirty shekels, about 3l. 8s. 6d., the sum prescribed by the law, to save the life of his daughter? But it may be said, that this was a period of gross darkness; and that idolatry with all its horrid rites prevailed to a great extent. (Jdg 10:6) To this I answer, that though idolatry had recently prevailed, this was a time of singular reformation; for the people had put away the strange gods from among them, and served the Lord:” (Jdg 10:16) and in such a state of mind, considering what obligations they felt to Jephthah, even if they had not thought of this law, they would have interposed to rescue his innocent daughter from destruction; just as the people, at a later period of their history, rescued Jonathan from the hands of Saul, when the sentence, to which his father’s oath had doomed him, was just ready to be executed. (1Sa 14:45)


These arguments, we grant, would have no weight against an express declaration of Holy Writ: but it is no-where said, that such a vow as doomed her to death was ever made. On the contrary we affirm, that the terms used by Jephthah do not imply any such thing. The word that is translated And, is not unfrequently used in a disjunctive sense, and should be translated Or. In many places it must of necessity be translated Or, and actually is so translated in our Bible (See Ex. 21:16, 17; Lev 6:3, 5; 2Sa 2:19): and in the margin of our Bibles it is so translated in the very passage before us. Thus translated, the words of Jephthah involve no difficulty: he says, Whatsoever cometh forth of the doors of my house to meet me, shall surely be the Lord’s, or I will offer it up for a burnt-offering;” (Jdg 11:31) that is, it shall be consecrated to the Lord; or, if it be fit to be offered in sacrifice to the Lord, (as a lamb or kid would be,) it shall be offered to him as a burnt-offering. It is really strange, that, when so easy and obvious a translation occurs, any one should prefer one so replete with difficulties, as that which has been usually received.


Thus in relation to the making of the vow, we have shewn, that no good man would make such a vow as this is supposed to be; that, if made, the law admitted of an exchange; and that the terms used on the occasion do not imply that she should be put to death.]


2. The execution of it—


[Observe the language used by all parties on this occasion, and it will manifestly lead to a very different conclusion from that which has been usually adopted.


Observe the language of his daughter’s acquiescence. There is a delicacy in it which throws considerable light on the subject. In noticing the effect of the vow upon herself, she studiously avoids the mention of it. This, if we understand the vow as subjecting her to a state of perpetual virginity, is what might have been expected from her; but, if she was to be offered in sacrifice to God, there is no reason whatever why so solemn an event should not have been expressed in plainer terms. In requesting a respite of the sentence, which involved in it a seclusion from the world, somewhat like that which has been practised by Nuns in later ages, she does express what in the first instance she had only glanced at; “Let me alone two months, that I may go up and down upon the mountains and bewail my virginity, I and my fellows.” Here she mentions that which constituted the substance of the vow. Had she been consigned to death, she would rather have bewailed her premature death, and not merely her virginity. If it be thought, that her piety kept her from bemoaning her death, and that she bemoaned her virginity merely as a circumstance that seemed to render her death opprobrious; I answer, that the same piety that reconciled her to death, would certainly have reconciled her to the opprobrium of dying in a virgin state; exactly as Isaac was willing to forego his prospects in relation to the promised Seed, when he yielded up himself to be slain in sacrifice to God.


If it be said, that, on a supposition she was doomed only to a state of perpetual virginity, there was no occasion for her having two months given her to bewail her fate, since she would have had her whole life wherein to bewail it; I answer, that, in the apprehension of Jewish women, it was a great calamity to be childless, since they had not the honour of increasing the number of the Lord’s people, or a hope that the Messiah might spring from them: and this was a peculiarly heavy calamity to her, because she was the only child of Jephthah (Jdg 11:34); and her doom cut her off from all prospect of raising up a seed who should inherit his honours, and follow his example. Therefore it was proper that there should be a public kind of mourning observed, not only in honour of her who thus freely sacrificed all her prospects in life, but in honour of Jephthah also, who in this instance exercised most eminent self-denial, and might be considered as almost dead.


Next observe the language in which is recorded his performance of his vow: “Her father did with her according to his vow which he had vowed: and she knew no man.” Why is this latter circumstance mentioned, but to shew wherein the accomplishment of the vow consisted? Is it not strange that this should be mentioned so often, and her death be never once noticed, if indeed she was put to death? But, if she was only doomed to a state of perpetual virginity, the reason of the expression is clear enough.


In addition to all this, observe the language in which the commemoration of the event is mentioned: “It was a custom in Israel, that the daughters of Israel went yearly to lament the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite four days in a year.” If she was dead, there was scarcely any adequate reason for the daughters of Israel to go four times a year to one particular place to lament her; for they might as well have lamented her at home: but if she was alive, and secluded from company all the rest of the year, there was reason enough why they should visit her then. But the word which we translate to lament, is in the margin of the Bible translated to talk with: and this assigns the true reason of those stated convocations: her female friends went to condole with her on the occasion, and to do her honour. Even the manner in which she is mentioned in this passage seems to bespeak her a living person; they went to talk with “the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite.” Had she been offered in sacrifice to God, there would probably have been something more descriptive of her character; but, if she was still living, this is the only description of her that we should expect to find.]


But there is yet a third source from whence we may derive arguments in confirmation of this point. We have noticed the vow in reference both to the making, and the execution of it: let us now proceed to notice,


3. The honour God put upon it—


[In consequence of this vow, “God delivered the Ammonites into the hands” of Jephthah. (Jdg 11:32, 33) But would God have sanctioned in this manner a gross act of deliberate murder? Would not this have been the very way to deceive his people, and to make them think that he was pleased with such offerings as the heathen presented unto Moloch? And when in future ages he punished his people for offering human sacrifices, might they not justly have pleaded, that he in this instance had both approved and rewarded them?


Again: St. Paul, in his catalogue of eminent believers, particularly mentions Jephthah, and with an express reference to this event. Jephthah had shewn his faith by looking to God for victory, and by going forth against the Ammonites in an assured dependence upon him, as the protector of Israel, and the rewarder of all that trust in him: and this act of his is a subject of high commendation with God himself. Now I ask, Would this act have been so commended, if it had been ushered in with such an impious vow, and been followed by such a deliberate murder? But if the vow imported only that whatsoever met him first at his return should be consecrated to God, and if, in consequence of that vow, he did with such steady self-denial proceed to the performance of it, then is God’s approbation easily accounted for, even whilst we condemn the indefiniteness and rashness with which the vow was made.


It may be objected to this, that no other instance of devoting a person to virginity occurs. It is true: but neither does any other instance of devoting a person to death. The instance of Abraham and Isaac is not at all in point: for there the determination to offer Isaac was not the result of a rash vow, but of a divine command: and God had a right to dispose of Isaac’s life in any way he pleased; but Jephthah had no right whatever over his daughter’s life. The right usurped by wicked Saul over his son Jonathan (which however was properly and successfully resisted) will scarcely be brought in justification and support of such a claim.


It may further be objected, that parents had no right to devote a daughter to perpetual virginity. This also may be true; but much less had they any right to devote her unto death. (See Ex 21:16, 17; Lev 6:3, 5; 2Sa 2:19)


The most specious objection however against our interpretation is, that, supposing he only devoted her to God, there was no reason why she should remain unmarried; since Samson and Samuel, both of whom were devoted to God from the womb, were both married. But the case is extremely different between a man and a woman: they were at liberty to serve God in any way that they judged to be agreeable to his will; but she, if she had married, would have been under the control of her husband, who might in a variety of ways have interfered with such a discharge of her duties as the vow implied: and therefore it was necessary that she should remain unmarried, and that she should also be secluded in a great measure from society itself; that being the way in which a woman might serve the Lord, as men served him by waiting on him continually in the tabernacle.


As to the objection, that if he had only devoted her in the sense that we maintain, he would not have so deplored her fate, it has no weight; for as she was his only child, all the distress occasioned to her came with double force on him, who was thereby doomed, and by his own folly too, to have his name and posterity cut off from Israel.]


Such, we are persuaded, was the vow that Jephthah made: we proceed,


II. To suggest some instruction from it—


Both the father and the daughter afford us very instructive lessons. We may learn,


1. To avoid the rashness of Jephthah—


[We cannot be wrong in condemning this, since Jephthah himself lamented it. It may be thought that we are in no danger of imitating it: but what do we in rash oaths? do we not tread in the very steps of Jephthah? There is scarcely an office to which we can be introduced, whether civil or religious, that is not entered upon by first taking an oath to fulfil the duties of it. Yet if there be a post of honour or profit to be obtained, how little do men in general think of the oaths by which they are to gain access to it! Would to God that this matter were considered by the legislature; and that penalties were substituted in the place of oaths! Verily “by reason of oaths the land mourneth,” and the consciences of thousands are greatly burthened. I cannot but consider the frequency of oaths, the ease with which they are administered, and the indifference with which they are taken, as among the most crying sins of the nation.


There is another way also in which we follow the steps of Jephthah, namely, by undertaking so lightly the office of sponsors for the children of our friends. The providing of sponsors to supply the place of parents who shall be removed, or disqualified for the instruction of their children in the fear of God, is excellent: but the engaging solemnly before God to perform their office is no light matter. Let any one read the baptismal service, and see what it is that he undertakes; and then let him see what little attention is paid to these vows in general, or, perhaps, what little attention he himself has paid to them. It will be well if we lay this to heart in future. Peradventure we have, like Jephthah, inconsiderately opened our mouths to the Lord: let us then at least, like Jephthah, proceed to the performance of our vows. The duty we have undertaken may be difficult and self-denying; but if he, after having unintentionally devoted his only daughter to the Lord, would not go back, notwithstanding the sacrifice was so exceeding great, so neither should we hesitate to perform the most difficult of our vows.


But there is yet another way in which we follow the steps of Jephthah. Who has not in a time of sickness, or danger, or trouble, or alarm, determined with himself, that, if he should be delivered, he would devote himself more unto the Lord, and to the pursuit of heavenly things? Look back, all ye who have been restored from sickness, ye who have been delivered from the pangs of childbirth, ye who have seen your friends or relatives cut off by death, ye who have been in a storm at sea, or been alarmed by thunder and lightning; look back, and call to mind the vows that are upon you; and see how Jephthah will rise up in judgment against you for your violation of them.


How this subject applies to Ministers, I need not say: but if I were addressing them, methinks the subject would apply with ten-fold force to them, seeing that their vows were all taken with foresight and solemnity, and involve duties more important than pertain to any other situation under heaven.


But, whatever be their office or character, two things I would say to all: first, Be cautious in making vows; and next, Be conscientious in performing them. Inquire into the nature and extent of any engagements before you enter into them: for, as Solomon says, “It is a snare to a man to devour that which is holy, and after vows to make inquiry.” (Pr. 20:25) If we have rashly engaged ourselves to do what the law of God positively prohibits, we must recede from our vow, and humble ourselves before God for our temerity. The forty conspirators who swore that they would neither eat nor drink till they had killed Paul, and Herod who swore that he would give his daughter whatsoever she should ask of him, had no right to bind themselves to such an extent, and would have sinned less in violating, than they did in keeping, their engagements. But where our vows are practicable, they must be kept, even though the observance of them be attended with great cost and trouble: (Dt. 23:21, 22, 23) and the attempting to set them aside by the plea of inadvertence or of difficulties attending the observance of them, will only deceive our own souls, and bring upon us the heavy displeasure of our God. (Eccl 5:4, 5, 6) We remember the judgments which God inflicted upon the whole Jewish nation in the time of David, for Saul’s impiety in violating an engagement which had been hastily contracted by Joshua four hundred years before in favour of the Gibeonites: (Josh 9:19 with 2Sa 21:1) and much more will God visit upon us in the eternal world the violation of engagements entered into by ourselves. “Vow then unto the Lord,” (Ps. 76:11-
note) if ye see it good, “but pay it;” and say with David, “I will go into thy house with burnt-offerings; I will pay thee my vows, which my lips have uttered, and my mouth hath spoken, when I was in trouble.” (Ps 66:13, 14-note)]


2. To imitate the piety of his daughter—


[Very eminent was her deportment on this occasion. Great was her love of her country, great her love towards her father, great her reverence for an oath, and great her zeal for God. O that there were such a spirit in all the daughters of our land! Assuredly the conduct of this pious female may lead them to consider how much they are bound to consult the judgment of their parents in relation to marriage: for though we do not think that a parent’s authority extends to a prohibition of marriage, which is an ordinance instituted by God himself, yet we have no doubt but that it is the duty of children to pay a deference to the judgment of their parents, and never, unless in extreme cases, to form a connexion contrary to their commands.


Need I say however, that when engagements are formed, they are not to be broken? The whole world unites in condemning so base, so iniquitous a conduct, as that of repudiating a person betrothed. But it has been thought by some, that if one who has in his unconverted state formed an engagement, becomes converted, he may then break his engagement, because he is “not to be unequally yoked with an unbeliever.” (2Cor 6:14) But does religion justify the violation of our vows? God forbid! The very thought is a libel upon God himself. None but the person with whom the engagement is made, can liberate us from our vows. If indeed a woman to whom one was engaged, were to disgrace herself by some gross misconduct, it might be a reason for refusing to continue the engagement with her, because she has ceased to be the person with whom the engagement was formed. So, if an engagement were formed with a person on account of his supposed piety, and he were to cast off all regard for piety, his change of character would warrant a termination of the contract that had been made with him; because the very grounds of the engagement are subverted. But where, for the gratifying of our own inclination, excuses are sought out for receding from an engagement, God himself will be the avenger of the injured party.


There is one point in particular which the conduct of this pious virgin may well impress on the minds of all who belong to the Established Church; I mean, the observance of those vows which were made for us in baptism — — — Of those vows our parents will never have reason to repent; nor can we ever regret that they were made for us. No mournings, no lamentations will ever be excited by our performance of them. The ungodly world indeed may regret that we have renounced its ways and vanities; and Satan may regret that we have cast off his yoke; but all the saints and angels will rejoice; yea, “there is joy among the angels in the presence of God over one sinner that repenteth.” Even God himself will “be glad and make merry with us,” and will “rejoice over us to do us good.” True it is, that such a consecration of ourselves to God is difficult and self-denying; but it is our truest wisdom, and our highest joy. To all of you then I say, “Dedicate yourselves to God by a perpetual covenant not to be forgotten;” (Jer 50:5) yea, “I beseech you by the mercies of God that ye yield yourselves to God a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.” (Ro 12:1-
note)] (Simeon, C. 1832-63. Horae Homileticae)

 


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