Jephthah the Faithful Servant
Sermon: Jephthah the Faithful Servant
The Great Need for people of Great Faith (Judges 10:6-18)
The Rebellion Man (10:6)
The Mercy of God (10:16)
The Family History of a Man of Faith (11:1-3)
His mother’s role in developing his faith
His father’s role in developing his faith
His brother’s role in developing his faith
His “friends” role in developing his faith
The Battles of a Man of Faith (11:4 – 12:7)
The Battle with those from Gilead (11:4-11)
The Battle with those from Ammon (11:12-33)
The Battle with Himself (11:30-40)
The Battle with those from Ephraim (12:1-7)
Lessons from Jephthah’s Faith:
* When things are totally out of our control, God is still in absolute control
* God desires to (and can) transform “failures” into “heroes of faith”
* Our greatest tests of faith are those closest to home
* Faith in one area of our life doesn’t guarantee faith in the others
Sermón: Jefté el Siervo Fiel
Hay una Gran Necesidad de gente de Gran Fe (Jueces 10:-18)
La Rebelion del Hombre (10:6)
La Misericordia de Dios (10:16)
La Historia Familiar del Hombre de Fe (11:1-3)
El papél de su madre en el desarrollo de su fe
El papél de su padre en el desarrollo de su fe
El papél de sus hermanos en el desarrollo de su fe
El papél de sus “amigos” en el desarrollo de su fe
Las Batallas del Hombre de Fe (11:4 – 12:7)
Su batalla con los de Galaad (11:4-11)
Su batalla con los de Amón (11:12-33)
Su batalla con el mismo (11:30-40)
Su batalla con los de Efraín (12:1-7)
Lecciones de Fe en la vida de Jefté:
* Cuando las cosas están totalmente fuera de tu control, Dios todavía esta en control
* El Espíritu de Dios desea transformar los “fracasos” en “heroes de fe”
Sermon: Jephthah the Faithful Servant
The Great Need for people of Great Faith (Judges 10:6-18)
The Rebellion Man (10:6)
The Mercy of God (10:16)
The Family History of a Man of Faith (11:1-3)
His mother’s role in developing his faith
His father’s role in developing his faith
His brother’s role in developing his faith
His “friends” role in developing his faith
The Battles of a Man of Faith (11:4 – 12:7)
The Battle with those from Gilead (11:4-11)
He has not bitterness to them or his bros!!!
Parallel between their treatment of him and their treatment of God
The Battle with those from Ammon (11:12-28)
His skill in speaking and negotiating!!! will later be his downfall
The Battle with Himself (11:29-40)
Why did he make it? because of an inadequate view of God & his Word
v.30 his only direct words to God
Contrast between Jephthah and his Daughter’s faith
Did he kill her…..or did he Dedicate her to perpetual virginity
Did the Depravity of his times affect him?
How knowledgeable was he of the Scriptures? (it said no, gave a way out)
KEEP YOUR WORD (VOWS)….the daughter did…the father did
The Silence of God in this vow is very important to the story!!!!
The Battle with those from Ephraim (12:1-7)
They represent the complainers in ch that sit on the sidelines while others work!
Lessons from Jephthah’s Faith:
When things are totally out of our control, God is still in absolute control
Things I can control……………Things out of my control
God desires to (and can) transform “failures” into “heroes of faith”
A tribute to His grace, love, power, wisdom, etc
Our greatest tests of faith are those closest to home
The things we love the most are the ones where we are most tested!
Faith in one area of our life doesn’t guarantee faith in the others
Love my wife / kids tithes and offerings
See yourself in this story
See Jesus in the story (rejected & despised/ despreciado y desechado)
THE GREAT NEED FOR PEOPLE OF GREAT FAITH (Judges 10:6-18)
The Rebellion of Man –
10:6 Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD. They served the Baals and the Ashtoreths, and the gods of Aram, the gods of Sidon, the gods of Moab, the gods of the Ammonites and the gods of the Philistines. And because the Israelites forsook [abandoned] the LORD and no longer served [worshipped] him, 7 he became angry [burned with anger] with them. He sold them into the hands of the Philistines and the Ammonites, 8 who that year shattered and crushed them [persecuted them like the Egyptians had]. For eighteen years they oppressed all the Israelites on the east side of the Jordan in Gilead, the land of the Amorites. 9 The Ammonites also crossed the Jordan to fight against Judah, Benjamin and the house of Ephraim; and Israel was in great [severe] distress.
10:10 Then the Israelites cried out to the Lord [for help], “We have sinned against you, forsaking our God and serving the Baals.[idols]” 11 The Lord replied, “When the Egyptians, the Amorites, the Ammonites, the Philistines, 12 the Sidonians, the Amalekites and the Maonites [Midianites] oppressed you and you cried to me for help, did I not save [rescue] you from their hands? 13 But you have forsaken me and served other gods, so I will no longer save you. 14 Go and cry out to the gods you have chosen. Let them save you when you are in trouble [distress]!” 15 But the Israelites said [pleaded] to the Lord, “We have sinned. Do with us whatever you think best [Punish us as you see fit], but please rescue us now.” 16 Then they got rid of the foreign gods among them and served the Lord…
The Mercy of God
10:16 …And he could bear [endure] Israel’s misery no longer [he was grieved].
10:17 When the Ammonites were called to arms and camped in Gilead, the Israelites assembled and camped at Mizpah. 18 The leaders of the people of Gilead said to each other, “Whoever will launch the attack against the Ammonites will be the head [leader] of all those living in Gilead.”
The Family History of a Man of Faith
11:1 Jephthah the Gileadite was a mighty [valiant, great] warrior. His father was Gilead; his mother was a prostitute. 2 Gilead’s wife also bore him sons, and when they were grown up, they drove [chased, forced] Jephthah away. “You are not going to get any inheritance in our family,” they said, “because you are the son of another woman.[a prostitute, a whore]” 3 So Jephthah fled from his brothers and settled in the land of Tob, where a group of adventurers [band of worthless rebels, malcontents] gathered around him and followed him.
11:4 Some time later, when the Ammonites made war on Israel, 5 the elders of Gilead went to get Jephthah from the land of Tob. 6 “Come,” they said, “be our commander, so we can fight the Ammonites.” 7 Jephthah said to them, “Didn’t you hate me and drive me from my father’s house? Why do you come to me now, when you’re in trouble?” 8 The elders of Gilead said to him, [Because we need you] “Nevertheless, we are turning to you now; come with us to fight the Ammonites, and you will be our head over all who live in Gilead.” 9 Jephthah answered, [Let me get this straight] “Suppose you take me back to fight the Ammonites and the Lord gives them to me—will I really be your head?” 10 The elders of Gilead replied, “The Lord is our witness [hearer]; we will certainly do as you say.” 11 So Jephthah went with the elders of Gilead, and the people made him head and commander over them. And he repeated all his words before the Lord in Mizpah.
12 Then Jephthah sent messengers to the Ammonite king with the question: “What do you have against us that you have attacked our country?” 13 The king of the Ammonites answered Jephthah’s messengers, “When Israel came up out of Egypt, they took away [stole] my land from the Arnon to the Jabbok, all the way to the Jordan. Now give it back peaceably.” 14 Jephthah sent back messengers to the Ammonite king, 15 saying: “This is what Jephthah says: Israel did not take the land of Moab or the land of the Ammonites. 16 But when they came up out of Egypt, Israel went through the desert to the Red Sea and on to Kadesh. 17 Then Israel sent messengers to the king of Edom, saying, ‘Give us permission to go through your country,’ but the king of Edom would not listen. They sent also to the king of Moab, and he refused. So Israel stayed at Kadesh. 18 “Next they traveled through the desert, skirted [around] the lands of Edom and Moab, passed along the eastern side of the country of Moab, and camped on the other side of the Arnon. They did not enter the territory of Moab, for the Arnon was its border. 19 “Then Israel sent messengers to Sihon king of the Amorites, who ruled in Heshbon, and said to him, ‘Let us pass through your country to our own place.’ 20 Sihon, however, did not trust Israel to pass through his territory. He mustered all his men and encamped at Jahaz and [attacked] fought with Israel. 21 “Then the Lord, the God of Israel, gave Sihon and all his men into Israel’s hands, and they defeated them [the Lord gave his people victory]. Israel took over all the land of the Amorites who lived in that country, 22 capturing all of it from the Arnon to the Jabbok and from the desert to the Jordan.
23 “Now since the Lord, the God of Israel, has driven the Amorites out before his people Israel, what right have you to take it over? 24 Will you not take what your god Chemosh gives you? Likewise, whatever the Lord our God has given us, we will possess. 25 Are you better than Balak son of Zippor, king of Moab? Did he ever quarrel with Israel or fight with them? 26 For three hundred years Israel occupied Heshbon, Aroer, the surrounding settlements and all the towns along the Arnon. Why didn’t you retake them during that time? 27 I have not wronged you, but you are doing me wrong by waging war against me. Let the Lord, the Judge, decide the dispute this day between the Israelites and the Ammonites.”
28 The king of Ammon, however, paid no attention to the message Jephthah sent him.
29 Then the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah. He crossed Gilead and Manasseh, passed through Mizpah of Gilead, and from there he advanced against the Ammonites.
30 And Jephthah made a vow to the Lord: “If you give the Ammonites into my hands, 31 whatever comes out of the door of my house to meet me when I return in triumph from the Ammonites will be the Lord’s, and I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering.”
32 Then Jephthah went over to fight the Ammonites, and the Lord gave them into his hands. 33 He devastated twenty towns from Aroer to the vicinity of Minnith, as far as Abel Keramim. Thus Israel subdued Ammon.
34 When Jephthah returned to his home in Mizpah, who should come out to meet him but his daughter, dancing to the sound of tambourines! She was an only child. Except for her he had neither son nor daughter.
35 When he saw her, he tore his clothes and cried, “Oh! My daughter! You have made me miserable and wretched, because I have made a vow to the Lord that I cannot break.”
36 “My father,” she replied, “you have given your word to the Lord. Do to me just as you promised, now that the Lord has avenged you of your enemies, the Ammonites.
37 But grant me this one request,” she said. “Give me two months to roam the hills and weep with my friends, because I will never marry.”
38 “You may go,” he said. And he let her go for two months. She and the girls went into the hills and wept because she would never marry. 39 After the two months, she returned to her father and he did to her as he had vowed. And she was a virgin.
39b From this comes the Israelite custom 40 that each year the young women of Israel go out for four days to commemorate the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite.
12:1 The men of Ephraim called out their forces, crossed over to Zaphon and said to Jephthah, “Why did you go to fight the Ammonites without calling us to go with you? We’re going to burn down your house over your head.”
12:2 Jephthah answered, “I and my people were engaged in a great struggle with the Ammonites, and although I called, you didn’t save me out of their hands. 3 When I saw that you wouldn’t help, I took my life in my hands and crossed over to fight the Ammonites, and the Lord gave me the victory over them. Now why have you come up today to fight me?”
12:4 Jephthah then called together the men of Gilead and fought against Ephraim. The Gileadites struck them down because the Ephraimites had said, “You Gileadites are renegades from Ephraim and Manasseh.” 5 The Gileadites captured the fords of the Jordan leading to Ephraim, and whenever a survivor of Ephraim said, “Let me cross over,” the men of Gilead asked him, “Are you an Ephraimite?” If he replied, “No,” 6 they said, “All right, say ‘Shibboleth.’ ” If he said, “Sibboleth,” because he could not pronounce the word correctly, they seized him and killed him at the fords of the Jordan. Forty-two thousand Ephraimites were killed at that time.
12:7 Jephthah led Israel six years. Then Jephthah the Gileadite died, and was buried in a town in Gilead.
10:10 We have sinned. Confession is followed by true repentance (vv. 15, 16). 10:13, 14 Here is the form of God’s wrath, by which He abandons persistent, willful sinners to the consequences of their sins. This aspect of divine judgment is referred to in the case of Samson (16:20), as well as the warnings of Prov. 1:20–31 and Rom. 1:24–28. It is a pattern of rejection seen throughout history (Acts 14:15, 16) even among the Jews (Hos. 4:17; Matt. 15:14).10:15 Do to us whatever seems best. Genuine repentance acknowledges God’s right to chasten, so His punishment is seen as just and He is thereby glorified. It also seeks the remediation that chastening brings, because genuine contrition pursues holiness.11:1 mighty man of valor. 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 (v. 8). 11:3 raiding. Such attacks would be against the Ammonites and other pagan peoples and brought fame to Jephthah. 11:11 spoke … before the Lord. Refers to confirming the agreement in a solemn public meeting with prayer invoking God as witness (v. 10). 11:13 Israel took away my land. The Ammonite ruler was claiming rights to the lands occupied by the Israelites. Jephthah’s answer was direct: 1) those lands were not in the possession of Ammonites when Israel took them, but were Amorite lands; 2) Israel had been there 300 years in undisputed possession; 3) God had chosen to give them the lands, and thus they were entitled to them, just as the Ammonites felt they received their lands from their god (v. 24).11:15 Israel did not take away the land. These people initiated the hostility, and being at fault, invited loss of possession (vv. 16–22). This fit perfectly the will of God, who has ultimate rights (Gen. 1:1; Ps. 24:1) to give the land to Israel. God said, “The land is Mine” (Lev. 25:23; Ezek. 36:5). 11:26 three hundred years. With an early Exodus from Egypt (ca. 1445 b.c.), one can approximate the 480 years covered in Judges to 1 Kin. 6:1, Solomon’s fourth year 967/966 b.c.: 38 from the Exodus to Heshbon; 300 from Heshbon to Jephthah in 11:26; possibly 7 more years for Jephthah; 40 for Samson, 20 for Eli, 20 for Samuel, 15–16 beyond Samuel for Saul, 40 for David, and 4 for Solomon, which totals about 480 years. It is quite possible that 300 has been rounded off.11:29 the Spirit … came upon Jephthah. That the Lord graciously empowered Jephthah for war on behalf of his people does not mean that all of the warrior’s decisions were of God’s wisdom. The rash vow (vv. 30, 31) is an example.11:30 made a vow to the Lord. This was a custom among generals to promise the god of their worship something of great value as a reward for that god’s giving them victory.11:31 I will offer it. Some interpreters reason that Jephthah offered his daughter as a living sacrifice in perpetual virginity. With this idea, v. 31 is made to mean “shall surely be the Lord’s” or “I will offer it up as a burnt offering.” The view sees only perpetual virginity in vv. 37–40, and rejects his offering a human sacrifice as being against God’s revealed will (Deut. 12:31). On the other hand, since he was 1) beyond the Jordan, 2) far from the tabernacle, 3) a hypocrite in religious devotion, 4) familiar with human sacrifice among other nations, 5) influenced by such superstition, and 6) wanting victory badly, he likely meant a burnt offering. The translation in v. 31 is “and,” not “or.” His act came in an era of bizarre things, even inconsistency by leaders whom God otherwise empowered (Gideon in 8:27). 11:34 his daughter, coming out to meet him. She was thus to be the sacrificed pledge.11:35 Alas. Here is indicated the pain felt by her father in having to take the life of his only daughter to satisfy his pious, but unwise pledge.12:1 Why did you … not call us …? Ephraim’s newest threat (8:1) was their jealousy of Jephthah’s success and possibly a lust to share in his spoils. The threat was not only to burn the house, but to burn him. 12:4 fugitives. Here was a mockery referring to the Gileadites as low lifes, the outcasts of Ephraim. They retaliated with battle.12:6 Shibboleth. The method used for discovering an Ephraimite was the way in which they pronounced this word. If they mispronounced it by an “s” rather than “sh” sound, it gave them away, being a unique indicator of their dialect.
*the deliverance by jephthah from the oppression of the ammonites (10:6-12:7) Judges 10:6-16 seems to be an expanded theological introduction to the judgeships of both Jephthah (10:17-12:7) and Samson (chaps. 13-16) since the oppressors introduced in 10:7 are simultaneously the Ammonites (in the east) and the Philistines (in the west). The defection of Israel (10:6) 10:6. Noteworthy is the numerical correspondence between the seven groups of pagan gods (v. 6) and the seven nations which oppressed Israel (v. 11). The Baals and the Ashtoreths, as noted earlier, were the gods of the Canaanites (2:13). The gods of Aram included Hadad or Rimmon (2 Kings 5:18), while the gods of Sidon were the Phoenician Baal and Asherah (1 Kings 16:31-33; 18:19). Moab’s chief god was Chemosh (1 Kings 11:5, 33; 2 Kings 23:13), Ammon’s was Milcom or Molech (1 Kings 11:33; Zeph. 1:5), and the Philistines’ was Dagon (Jud. 16:23). Amazingly the Israelites worshiped these gods of surrounding nations and at the same time forsook the Lord and no longer served Him. The distress under the Ammonites (10:7-9) 10:7-9. The Lord again chastened His straying people by foreign oppressors—the Philistines in the west (anticipating the narrative of Samson, chaps. 13-16) and the Ammonites in the east, who oppressed Israel for 18 years. Ammon was a Transjordanian kingdom northeast of Moab which was allied with Eglon of Moab in the time of Ehud (3:13). The Ammonites oppressed Gilead, the Transjordanian area occupied in the south by the tribe of Gad and in the north by the half-tribe of Manasseh. The Ammonites also crossed the Jordan, probably on periodic raids against Judah, Benjamin, and the house of Ephraim (the area of the central highlands). The repentance of Israel (10:10-16) 10:10-16. In previous times of distress Israel’s calling on the Lord was not an evidence of repentance for her sin (3:9, 15; 4:3). At the time of the Midianite invasions, the Lord sent a prophet to point out her need for repentance (6:7-10). However, on this occasion the Israelites demonstrated genuine repentance, first confessing their sins (We have sinned against You) and then, after the Lord rebuked them (let the gods you have chosen. . . . save you), they remained steadfast in their confession of sin and took action to get rid of the foreign gods and serve the Lord. His mercy toward Israel’s misery led Him to raise up Jephthah as a deliverer. The Maonites (10:11) may refer to the Midianites (v. 12, LXX) or to a clan descended from someone with the Canaanite name of Maon.The deliverance by Jephthah (10:17-12:6) (1) The selection of Jephthah by the elders of Gilead (10:17-11:11).10:17-11:6. In response to the Ammonite invasion of Gilead, the Israelites assembled and camped at Mizpah (probably Ramath Mizpeh [Khirbet Jalad, about 14 miles northeast of Rabbath-ammon, i.e., modern Amman] or Ramoth Gilead [Tel Ramith, about 40 miles north of Rabbath Ammon]). The first task of Israel was to search for a military commander. Their search led them to seek Jephthah (11:4-6), a notorious leader of men whose earlier family history is summarized in 11:1-3. Like Abimelech (chap. 9), Jephthah was probably a half-Canaanite (his mother was a prostitute). He was driven from home by his half brothers (11:2). In the land of Tob (probably north of Ammon and east of Manasseh) he gathered around himself a group of adventurers (v. 3, probably meaning “a band of brigands”).11:7-11. The elders of Gilead persisted in the face of Jephthah’s rebuke (v. 8). They cemented their promise that Jephthah would be their civil leader over . . . Gilead after he won a military victory by making a formal and solemn oath with the Lord as witness (v. 10). This was followed by a formal swearing-in ceremony at Mizpah. In contrast with the judgeship of Gideon, who was initially called by the Lord, Jephthah was initially called by other men. However, the Lord was called to witness their selection (vv. 10-11) and He placed His Spirit on Jephthah to achieve victory (v. 29). The diplomacy of Jephthah with the Ammonite king (11:12-28). 11:12-13. Surprisingly Jephthah’s first step as commander of Gilead was to seek a nonmilitary settlement to the conflict. Through messengers he asked the Ammonite king why he had attacked Gilead. The king’s reply came in the form of an accusation—When Israel came up out of Egypt, they took away my land—which Jephthah proceeded to demonstrate was untrue (vv. 14-27). Yet the Ammonite king offered peace to Jephthah for the return of the land. The Arnon and the Jabbok are rivers that formed the southern and northern boundaries of Ammon. South of the Arnon was Moab. The Arnon flows into the Dead Sea and the Jabbok into the Jordan River.11:14-22. Jephthah applied his knowledge of Israel’s history (learned either from written or oral sources) to refute the Ammonite king’s claim. In passing, Jephthah indicated that Israel had acquiesced to the refusal of Edom (Num. 20:14-21) and Moab to permit passage through their lands (Jud. 11:17-18). However, when Israel circled the borders of Edom and Moab, and camped on the other side of the Arnon (the more usual northern border of Moab), Sihon king of the Amorites also refused Israel passage northwest to the Jordan River, and fought against Israel. The Lord gave Israel the victory and Israel took over all the land of the Amorites . . . from the Arnon to the Jabbok—the land now under dispute between the Ammonites and the Gileadites (cf. v. 13). This area was really southern Gilead (the rest of Gilead was north of the Jabbok River), and its southern portion (from the Arnon to a line extending eastward from the north end of the Dead Sea) was periodically in Moabite hands. 11:23-24. Jephthah thus argued that the Lord had given this land to Israel. He concluded this point of his argument by indicating that Ammon should be satisfied with the land that their god Chemosh had given them and should not contest the land the Lord had given Israel. Historically Chemosh was the god of the Moabites, and Milcam (or Molech) was god of the Ammonites. However, Jephthah seemed to be referring to the god of that portion of the land which had previously belonged to the Moabites before Sihon had pushed Moab south of the Arnon. Another explanation is that the Moabites were in alliance with the Ammonites in this attack on Gilead, so that Jephthah was really addressing the Moabites at this point in his argument. A third possibility is that the Ammonites had adopted the worship of Chemosh by this time.11:25-27. Jephthah also argued that Balak . . . king of Moab, to whom part of the area in question used to belong, had consented to Israel’s right to this area. In fact, Jephthah claimed, the land at the time of the Ammonite invasion had been Israel’s for 300 years without any surrounding nations contesting it. Thus Jephthah denied any wrongdoing on Israel’s part against Ammon. Ammon was in the wrong by warring against Israel.11:28. Jephthah’s attempt at diplomacy failed since the king of Ammon . . . paid no attention to his message.The empowerment of Jephthah by the Lord.11:29. The purpose of the Spirit of the Lord coming on Jephthah was to provide divine enablement in his military leadership against the pagan oppressors whom the Lord had been using to chasten His people (3:10; 6:34; 13:25; 15:14). The presence of the Holy Spirit with Old Testament leaders was primarily for the purpose of accomplishing services for God, not specifically for holy living. Thus the presence of the Spirit with Jephthah was not necessarily related to his vow or its fulfillment, recorded in the following verses. Jephthah’s trip through Gilead and Manasseh was apparently to recruit his army.(4) The vow of Jephthah to the Lord.11:30-31. That Jephthah made a vow to the Lord was not unusual in the Mosaic dispensation. Jephthah may have made the vow in anticipation of thanksgiving for divinely provided victory over the Ammonites. While the vow showed Jephthah’s zeal and earnestness, many have thought it was also characterized by rashness. Some scholars have sought to protect Jephthah from this charge by translating verse 31, “it will be the Lord‘s or I will offer it up as a burnt offering.” However, the NIV more likely reflects Jephthah’s intention—I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering.(5) The victory of Jephthah over Ammon.11:32-33. God fulfilled Jephthah’s request and gave the Ammonites into his hands. Jephthah devastated 20 Ammonite-occupied towns in Gilead, and so subdued Ammon. Aroer (Khirbet Arair) was located about 14 miles east of the Dead Sea near the intersection of the Arnon River or the southern boundary of Reuben and the “King’s Highway,” on the main north-south trade route.Abel Keramim may be identified with Naur about eight miles southwest of Rabbath Ammon (modern Amman). The site of Minnith is not known but was probably near Abel Keramim.(6) The action of Jephthah concerning his daughter.11:34-40. Victorious Jephthah was met at the door of his house by his rejoicing daughter, who was jubilantly celebrating her father’s victory over Ammon. Emphasis is placed on the fact that she was an only child. Anticipating the fulfillment of his vow, Jephthah expressed his great chagrin and sorrow in typical Near-Eastern fashion by tearing his clothes (Gen. 37:29, 34; 44:13; Josh. 7:6; Es. 4:1; Job 1:20; 2:12). His statement, I have made a vow to the Lord that I cannot break, may reflect his ignorance of the legal option to redeem (with silver) persons who were thus dedicated (Lev. 27:1-8). Also the Mosaic Law expressly prohibited human sacrifices (Lev. 18:21; 20:2-5; Deut. 12:31; 18:10). Therefore many scholars conclude that when Jephthah did to her as he had vowed (Jud. 11:39), he commuted his daughter’s fate from being a burnt sacrifice to being a lifelong virgin in service at Israel’s central sanctuary. Other scholars believe Jephthah’s semi-pagan culture led him to sacrifice her as a burnt offering. Strong arguments have been advanced for both views (Wood, Distressing Days of the Judges; Merrill F. Unger, Unger’s Commentary on the Old Testament).Most of the arguments for or against Jephthah’s offering his daughter as a human sacrifice can be used to defend either position and therefore are not conclusive. For example, the grief of both Jephthah and his daughter readily fits either her death or her perpetual virginity. In either case she would die childless (whether sooner or later) and Jephthah would lack descendants. Her asking for two months to roam . . . and weep . . . because she would never marry may be one of the stronger arguments for the virginity view. But this could also mean she was wailing in anticipation of her death which of course would render her childless. Though Jephthah made his rash vow, he probably knew something about the prohibitions of the Mosaic Law against human sacrifice. Yet his half-pagan background, combined with the general lawless spirit dominating the period of the Judges (17:6; 21:25), could readily account for his fulfilling this vow. The record of the local annual custom that arose to remember Jephthah’s daughter (11:39-40) lacks sufficient detail to support either viewpoint strongly. Even the existence of a group of young women serving at the tabernacle is not demonstrably evident from the passages used to support this (Ex. 38:8; 1 Sam. 2:22). Nor does the appeal to the law of options for vows (Lev. 27) apply directly to this situation. Nothing is said there about substitutionary service to God for the sacrifice—only the substitution of monetary payment. Therefore in the absence of any clear evidence indicating the girl’s dedication to tabernacle service as a perpetual virgin, the more natural interpretation of the euphemism that Jephthah “did to her as he had vowed” seems to be that he offered his daughter as a human sacrifice. Whichever position is taken, the attitude of Jephthah’s daughter is worth noting. Whether by death or by perpetual sanctuary service, she was to bear no children. This was a cause of great sorrow in ancient Israel. Yet she submitted herself to her father’s vow: You have given your word to the Lord. Do to me just as you promised. An Israelite custom, though probably somewhat localized, developed from the incident. Each year the young women of Israel went out for four days to commemorate the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite.(7) The conflict of Jephthah with Ephraim.12:1-6. The Ephraimites had been attacked by the Ammonites (10:9) but the former’s land had apparently not been occupied by the Ammonites as was true of Jephthah’s Gileadites. Nevertheless the Ephraimites reacted against Jephthah because he had not invited their aid in defeating Ammon. In contrast with Gideon’s tactful handling of a similar situation (8:1-3), Jephthah asserted that they had not responded to his call (though the record is silent concerning such an invitation), so he gained victory over Ammon without their help. Insults by the Ephraimites then led to their destruction by the Gileadites. The Gileadites even killed straggling survivors who tried to ford the Jordan River to return to Ephraim. The Ephraimites were easily identified by their colloquial pronunciation of the Hebrew sound sh which they pronounced as an s. This civil conflict in Israel cost the Ephraimites 42,000 lives, a high price for jealousy! The death of Jephthah (12:7) 12:7. Following the victory over the Ammonites, Jephthah led (judged) Israel six years until his death.
*10:6–12:7 Jephthah was the eighth judge. Like those of Deborah and Gideon, his story is relatively detailed. Jephthah freed Israel from Ammonite oppression, but suffered a personal tragedy of his own making in the process. 10:6–18 A lengthy introduction precedes the story of Jephthah. These verses repeat the themes of apostasy and God’s unfailing mercy. A new theme here is the emphasis on Israel’s confession and repentance (vv. 10, 15, 16). 10:6 The gods of Syria … Sidon … Moab … Ammon … the Philistines demonstrate the extent of Israel’s idolatry. Not only did the people worship the major Canaanite gods (Baal, Asherah, Ashtoreth), but they also absorbed the religions of other groups. The more extensive list here indicates the depths of Israel’s decline. The lists earlier in the book merely mention the Baals, Asthoreths, and Asherahs (2:13; 3:7). Seven gods are mentioned here, a symbolic number that forms a counterpoint to the seven nations mentioned in vv. 11, 12. The Judges of Israel The Book of Judges lists a total of twelve judges (Barak served as a military leader under the judgeship of Deborah and was not technically a judge himself) who served in a variety of roles during a three-century era. While some of them are major figures about whom much is known, others are only minor figures, mentioned briefly without a geographical or tribal affiliation. The significance of the era of the judges is that no one tribe or region seemed to dominate in producing these leaders. God called and equipped the necessary persons from throughout the land to lead Israel during this turbulent period.
10:7 The Philistines and the people of Ammon were the Israelites’ principal adversaries at this time. The next two major judges—Jephthah and Samson—were God’s instruments against these two groups, Jephthah against the Ammonites and Samson against the Philistines. 10:11, 12 In these two verses, we find seven peoples from whom God had already delivered the Israelites: Egyptians: God had dramatically saved Israel from Egyptian oppression (Ex. 14; 15); Amorites: God had rescued His people from Sihon and Og, kings of the Amorites (Josh. 2:10); Ammon: The Ammonites had been part of a coalition under Eglon, whom Ehud defeated (3:13); Philistines: Shamgar had already won a victory over the Philistines (3:31); Sidonians: There is no record of a previous triumph, but these people were among Israel’s oppressors (3:3), and they might well have been part of the Canaanite coalition mentioned in 4:2. Amalekites: They had already opposed the Israelites in the time of the judges (3:13; 6:3), and their enmity with Israel went back much further (Ex. 17:8–16). God had given relief in each case. The Maonites appear later in Israel’s history as adversaries (2 Chr. 20:1; 26:7 (Meunites)), but they are not mentioned earlier. Possibly what is meant is the Midianites, a people who had been defeated by Gideon (chs. 7; 8). This list of seven is probably not intended to be exhaustive, since neither the Moabites nor the Canaanites are mentioned. The symbolic number seven, representing completeness, is probably the most important element here, especially when we note that seven groups of gods are mentioned in v. 6. 10:14 The gods which you have chosen is a response of confrontation. The Israelites “chose new gods” at the time of Deborah (5:8). When Israel cried out to God, He reminded them again of their faithless ways. Other examples in Judges of confrontation include the Angel’s indictment (2:1–5) and the prophet’s message (6:7–10). 10:16 Not only is God a God of great justice; He is a God of great mercy, as the phrase His soul could no longer endure the misery of Israel reminds us. Despite their constant sinning and backsliding, God still loved the Israelites and shared their misery, much as parents are moved by their children’s suffering. 11:1–3 Jephthah, like Jair before him (10:3), was from Gilead. He was a “mighty man of valor,” but he was illegitimate, which caused his half brothers to expel him from his father’s house. Like Abimelech before him (9:4), he attracted “worthless men” (v. 3), which did not bode well for his future. The territory of Gilead was in northern Transjordan (Josh. 17:1, 3; 5:17). The Gileadites were descended from a man named Gilead (Num. 26:29, 30; 27:1; 36:1), as was Jephthah himself. In this passage and in Josh. 17:1, 3, the term refers both to a region and a person. mighty man of valor: See Josh. 1:14. The land of Tob is probably an area east of Gilead. Ironically, its name means “Good,” a quality that Jephthah certainly lacked. 11:4–6 After negotiations and consultation with God, Jephthah was commissioned as head and commander over Israel. after a time: We return to the narrative left off in 10:17, 18 (see 11:1–3). Come and be our commander: Here we see a leader for Israel being commissioned by the people. God is given little place in the proceedings other than to confirm the choice (v. 10), another sign of spiritual deterioration. A commander was someone who performed some of the functions of a judge, but it is perhaps significant that the word judge is not used here since God was the only One who raised up judges. 11:8 That you may go with us and fight is almost the same phrase that the Israelites used when they asked Samuel for a king in 1 Sam. 8:20: “that our king may … go out before us and fight.” In both cases, even though God gave them the permission they sought, the request was improper. 11:10 The Lord will be a witness: Literally, “The Lord will be listening.” This is not the normal Hebrew word for “witness” used in covenant-making ceremonies (Deut. 30:19; Josh. 24:22), but the sense is the same. God is called to be a witness to the covenant agreement (1 Sam. 20:12). 11:11 The people made Jephthah head and commander because he had demanded somewhat opportunistically to be their “head” as the price for helping them as “commander,” so in the end he was made both. Jephthah’s words before the Lord are a strange mixture of faith and foolishness. While Jephthah did acknowledge God here and later (11:21, 23, 27, 30, 31; 12:3), his self-interest and foolishness often overruled his faith. The Book of Hebrews has a more positive view of Jephthah than does Judges: Gideon, Barak, Samson, and Jephthah, along with others, are listed as examples of those “who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions” (Heb. 11:32, 33). Undoubtedly they demonstrated faith that allowed God to “subdue kingdoms” through them, but just as clearly the Book of Judges reveals some of their less-than-admirable characteristics.11:12–28 A lengthy account now covers diplomatic negotiations between Jephthah and the Ammonites, consisting largely of an impressive speech from Jephthah through messengers to the king of Ammon, answering the king’s charges against Israel. In this speech, Jephthah’s verbal gifts are readily apparent. Interestingly enough, Jephthah’s name means “He Opens.” Israel took away my land: The Ammonites claimed that Israel had taken their land. Jephthah responded with a careful rebuttal. He declared that the Lord God of Israel Himself had dispossessed these peoples (vv. 21, 23, 24) and that Israel was not an aggressor but merely a recipient of the Lord’s generosity. The Ammonites had brought their misfortune upon themselves by hindering Israel’s advance into the Promised Land. Israel would not have taken Ammonite land, since God had expressly commanded them not to (Deut. 2:19). Later, Sihon king of the Amorites had taken some Ammonite territory (Num. 21:26), and then Israel had taken Sihon’s land (Num. 21:25). Thus the Ammonites were only indirectly affected by Israel’s expansion. In addition, the Ammonites never really had true claim to the land to begin with; it was in fact the land of the Amorites (vv. 19–22). The limits of the Amorite land in v. 22 are precisely what the Ammonites claimed as theirs in v. 13 (Num. 21:24 also rebuts the Ammonites’ claim). Also, Israel had occupied the land in dispute for at least 300 years, long enough to make a legitimate claim on it (v. 26). Jephthah ended his speech with an appeal to God to judge the opposing claims (v. 27).
11:17 The review of the past in this and the following verses recalls the events in the wilderness described in Num. 20:14–21. 11:24 Whatever Chemosh your god gives you was a derisive jab at the Ammonites’deity. Jephthah’s point was that Israel’s God had given His people much territory, whereas Chemosh, the god of the Ammonites, had done very little for them. The reference to Chemosh as an Ammonite god is unexpected, since elsewhere the Ammonites’ god is named Molech (1 Kin. 11:7) or Milcom (1 Kin. 11:5, 33; 2 Kin. 23:13). Chemosh is customarily associated with the Moabites (1 Kin. 11:7, 33). However, Ammon and Moab lived side by side and shared a common heritage, both nations having descended from Lot (Gen. 19:37, 38). The two are often mentioned together (see 3:12, 13; Deut. 2:18, 19; 23:3–5), including in v. 15 in this chapter. It is likely that the two nations shared cultural and religious ideas, including the worship of Chemosh. 11:26 Three hundred years may be an approximation, but it still gives us an important clue for determining the date of the Exodus and understanding how long the period of the judges lasted. 11:27 the Lord, the Judge: This is the only place in the Book of Judges where a single individual is specifically called a judge. Significantly, it is a name of God. He ultimately was—and is—the source of all justice. He has the right to judge every man and woman. With His divine authority and power, God always judges with justice, while at the same time He is loving, compassionate, and perfect. 11:29–40 The conflict with the Ammonites escalated, ending with Jephthah’s victory aided by the Spirit of the Lord (vv. 29, 32, 33). However, the narrative focuses on his rash vow (vv. 30, 31, 34–40). To induce God to help him, Jephthah promised to sacrifice to the Lord whatever came out of his house to meet him upon his victorious return. This misguided pledge demonstrated a clear lack of faith, since earlier Jephthah had indicated that he believed God would intervene on his behalf (vv. 9, 27). Note that the Spirit of the Lord had come upon him before he made his vow (v. 29). The tragic result of Jephthah’s vow was the sacrifice of his only child—his daughter. 11:31 Some have interpreted Jephthah’s vow whatever comes out of the doors as a clear intention to offer a human sacrifice. His surprise then is not that he had to sacrifice a human being, but that the unfortunate person was his daughter. The phrase to meet me seems to refer more appropriately to a human than to an animal, and it is difficult to see why Jephthah would try to persuade God by offering a common animal sacrifice. Undoubtedly, Jephthah knew that human sacrifice was strictly forbidden in Israel (Lev. 18:21; 20:2; Deut. 12:31; 18:10; Jer. 19:5; Ezek. 20:30, 31; 23:37, 39), but his foolishness and lack of faith impelled him to make a reckless vow in order to try to manipulate God (11:39). 11:35 I have given my word is literally “I have opened my mouth.” In light of his eloquent speech to the Ammonites (vv. 15–27), it is ironic that he “opened his mouth” once too often in making this vow. But did Jephthah have to follow through on his vow? Ordinarily the answer would be yes. Vows were made only to God, and they were solemn pledges that had to be kept. People were not forced to take them, but if they did, they had to be honored (Deut. 23:21–23; Ps. 15:4; Eccl. 5:4, 5). But Jephthah had vowed something sinful in itself if his intent was to make a human sacrifice in the literal sense. 11:39 Those who believe that Jephthah intended to sacrifice a human being must also ponder whether Jephthah carried out his vow. The text does not explicitly say that he killed his daughter, only that he carried out his vow. When the verse goes on to say that she knew no man, some take this to mean that she was “sacrificed” by being dedicated to a life of perpetual virginity. Several arguments can be made for this interpretation.
First, human sacrifice was contrary to the law of Moses (Lev. 18:21; 20:2–5; Deut. 12:31; 18:10). Until the wicked reigns of Ahaz and Manasseh centuries later (2 Kin. 16:3; 21:6), there is no record of human sacrifice in Israel, even by those who followed Baal.
Second, the great respect that Jephthah had for God surely would have prevented him from making such a perverse offering.
Third, the fact that Jephthah permitted his daughter to bewail her virginity (vv. 37, 38) for two months fits an explanation of perpetual virginity better than human sacrifice.
Fourth, the indication that his daughter “knew no man” also seems to be a detail that would support the idea of celibacy.
Fifth, the Bible provides evidence that such devoted service for women did exist at the central sanctuary (Ex. 38:8; 1 Sam. 2:22; Luke 2:36, 37). In ancient Israelite society, the father had the power to prohibit a daughter to marry.
Sixth, the conjunction in Jephthah’s pivotal statement in v. 31, that whatever or whoever came out of the door “shall be the Lord’s, and I will offer it up as a burnt offering” could be translated or. Thus, if a person came out first, he would dedicate that person to the Lord, or if an animal came out first, he would offer the animal as a burnt sacrifice. 12:1–7 A final episode, in which the tribe of Ephraim sulks because they were left out of the battle, is similar to an incident when the same tribe challenged Gideon (8:1–3). However in the first incident, Gideon placated Ephraim, whereas in the second, Jephthah did not, and a civil war erupted. The Ephraimites were defeated, and that tribe does not play an important role in Israel’s subsequent history. 12:4 You Gileadites are fugitives of Ephraim is the taunt that triggers the civil war. The insult may have its roots in the division of the nation into eastern and western groups (5:17; Josh. 1:12–15). Despite the emphasis in Joshua on the unity of all the tribes (Josh. 1:12–15; 22:1–34), the practical reality in the period of the judges was dramatically different. As in so many other ways, the life of the tribes deteriorated here also. 12:5 The fords of the Jordan were crossing points of strategic military value. Earlier on, the Israelites under Ehud had seized the fords and held them against the Moabites (3:28, 29). Under Gideon they had seized the “watering places,” another name for the same place (7:24). 12:6 Shibboleth … Sibboleth: This test devised by the Gileadites to catch the Ephraimites is the most famous example in the Bible of linguistic differences between the tribes. Today the English word shibboleth means an otherwise minor difference that becomes a sticking point because it distinguishes one side from another. The Gileadites chose this word because the “s” sound at the beginning was pronounced “sh” by one side and “s” by the other.
Judges 8-12 - After the death of Joshua, the nation of Israel was ruled by judges, or heroic military deliverers, for about 300 years until the united monarchy was established under King Saul. The era of the judges was a time of instability and moral depravity, a dark period when “everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judg. 17:6). The judges tried to rally the people against their enemies, but many of the judges were morally weak and the people often turned to idolatry. Along with the well-known judges on this map, there were several minor judges whose battles are not recorded in the Bible: Abimelech, Tola, Jair, Ibzan, Elon, and Abdon
11:35 Because of his rash vow (v. 30), his daughter had unwittingly become the source of his agony. Later the Israelites were to prevent King Saul from carrying out a similar vow (1 Sam. 14:24–46)
10:6–12:7 Cf. 1 Sam. 12:11. The list of idols Israel followed (10:6) and the internal chaos of Israel became more pronounced (12:1–7). Jephthah brought only six years of peace (12:7) instead of peace for a generation (3:11, 30; 5:31; 8:28). Finally, Jephthah rashly and sinfully sacrificed his daughter (11:30–40 note). Many things about Jephthah are reminiscent of Gideon,Abimelech, or Saul. Jephthah like Gideon was a “mighty man of valor” (6:12; 11:1). Both men made the Ephraimites angry by not calling them out to participate in battle (8:1–3; 12:1–6). Jephthah and Abimelech were both outcast sons, one born to a concubine and the other to a harlot. They gathered to themselves bands of adventurers (9:4; 11:3). Both Jephthah and Saul were made leaders in Mizpah (11:11; 1 Sam. 10:17). Both men faced Ammonites as their first adversaries (11:12–29; 1 Sam. 11:1–11). Jepthah and Saul each made an unwise vow that returned to threaten their firstborn, and each offered an unlawful sacrifice (11:30–40; 1 Sam. 13:8–14; 14:24–25). 10:6 gods. In previous accounts only the Baals and Ashtoreths were mentioned (2:11, 13; 3:7). This longer list of gods indicates a downward spiral in Israel’s violations of the covenant. See also vv. 11–12 and note. The peoples mentioned surrounded Israel on its borders. 10:10–16 This is the only account in the Book of Judges where Israel not only cries out to God, but also puts away their idols. Elsewhere, they simply cried out to the Lord and He delivered them (10:10; 2:19; 3:9). God saw through their superficial repentance but chose to deliver them anyway (Deut. 32:15–38). 10:10 forsaken our God and served the Baals. The same language is used in their indictment in v. 6. 10:12 oppressed you. The list of gods in v. 6 coincides almost identically with the list of oppressing nations. Israel rejected the God who had saved them, and instead followed the compassionless gods of their oppressors.10:13 no more. See Deut. 8:19–20; 31:16–17; Num. 33:55–56; Josh. 23:13; Judg. 2:3.10:14 cry out to the gods which you have chosen. See Deut. 32:37–38. The same taunt is made in Jer. 2:28; 11:12–13.10:15 deliver us. The desire to be delivered, rather than to serve the Lord, was Israel’s true motive in repenting. The Judges of Israel.The Book of Judges lists a total of twelve judges (Barak served as a military leader under the judgeship of Deborah and was not technically a judge himself) who served in a vairety of roles during a 200-year are. While some of them are major figures about whom much is known, others are only monor figures, mentioned briefly without a geographical or tribal afiliation.
10:17 Mizpah. See 11:11; 20:1. 11:1 a mighty man of valor. This is what Gideon was called (6:12). son of a harlot. Jephthah’s heritage made him an outcast (v. 2).11:3 worthless men. Another similarity between Jephthah and Abimelech was their followers (9:4). 11:9 the Lord delivers. Jephthah showed his faith that it was God who gave him victory. 11:10 The Lord will be a witness. The elders were swearing an oath in order to confirm a covenant. 11:11 Jephthah spoke all his words before the Lord in Mizpah. The covenant is confirmed before the Lord in Mizpah. Years later the people made Saul king, also before the Lord, at Mizpah (1 Sam. 10:17). 11:12–29 For the historical background to this conflict, see Num. 20:14–21; 21:10–35; Deut. 2:16–3:11. At the time of Jephthah, the Ammonites hoped to extend their territory into what once had been their land, but had now been Israel’s for three hundred years. Jephthah countered Ammonite demands by rehearsing this history and showing that they took no more than what the God of Israel had given them and, having been instructed by Him (Deut. 2:18–19), did not take anything from Ammon. 11:12 king of the people of Ammon. Like Saul, Jephthah’s first adversary was the Ammonites (1 Sam. 11:1–11). Gilead was the region threatened in Saul’s story as well. 11:23 the Lord God of Israel. Warfare was viewed as a battle between the gods of the opposing forces. If Israel won, it was because the God of Israel had done it, and no one could dispute the result (v. 24). See v. 21. 11:27 May the Lord, the Judge, render judgment. See vv. 21, 23. Jephthah declared that God was the Judge over all peoples and gods. Here the word is used in a legal sense, as in handing down a decision, although God would ultimately be a deliverer as well (vv. 32–33). The Book of Judges affirms that God is the true King (8:23) and true Judge, who alone could solve Israel’s woes. 11:29 Spirit of the Lord. See 3:10 and note. 11:30–40 Jephthah defeated the Ammonites, but in the process made a rash vow to the Lord and sacrificed his daughter as a burnt offering. God was not to be worshiped in the way the pagans worshiped their gods, namely, by human sacrifice (Deut. 12:31; 18:10; Ps. 106:37–38). As a deliverer, Jephthah did not show the people how to keep the covenant, despite giving evidence of his faith (vv. 10–11, 21, 23, 27). Like Jephthah, Saul also made a rash vow that turned out to be a threat to his own child (1 Sam. 14:24–45). 11:35 tore his clothes. This was the sign of mourning over death. given my word. Although vows were sacred (Deut. 23:21–23), Jephthah’s action was wrong. Human sacrifice was absolutely forbidden in Israel (v. 39 note). It is evil to keep an evil vow. Unlawful oaths and vows must not be made or, if made, not kept (cf. Matt. 14:1–12). 11:36 do to me according to what has gone out of your mouth. That is, “offer me as a sacrifice” (vv. 30–31). 11:37 bewail my virginity. This probably means to lament that she would never marry or have children. (vv. 38, 39). 11:39 carried out his vow. Though stated delicately, the text is clear: Jephthah sacrificed his daughter as a burnt offering. It is observed that she was a virgin, but this was not the content of the vow. Human sacrifice was sin, an imitation of pagan practice (11:30–40 note; Deut. 12:31; Ps. 106:38).12:1–7 Following immediately on the sacrifice of his daughter (11:30–40), this story implies that Jephthah’s struggle with Ephraim and his abbreviated judgeship (v. 7) were God’s judgment on him for sacrificing his daughter. Ps. 78 (esp. vv. 9–11, 67) reflects on Ephraim’s failure to fight and explains God’s rejection of Ephraim as Israel’s leader. Judah, the tribe of David, and not Ephraim would lead Israel (Ps. 78:68–72).12:1 men of Ephraim. Like Gideon, Jephthah had trouble with Ephraim (8:1–5); unlike Gideon, they brought it to civil war. Unity was sorely lacking in Israel. Why. See 8:1 for an almost identical question put to Gideon.12:4 among the Ephraimites and … Manassites. The Gileadites were descended from Joseph, as were Ephraim and Manasseh.12:5 fords of the Jordan. Gilead was on the east side of the Jordan, Ephraim on the west.12:6 Shibboleth … Sibboleth. The Ephraimites could be recognized by the way certain words were pronounced in their dialect.12:7 Jephthah judged Israel six years. Previous judges led for forty or eighty years, and peace lasted a generation or two. Jephthah’s abbreviated rule, the increased number of gods being worshiped, and the civil war with Ephraim contribute to a picture of Israel’s downward spiral.
10:6–8 In spite of the Lord’s discipline, Israel’s apostasy was increasing. Therefore, He sent both the Ammonites and the Philistines to afflict Israel at the same time. Following this introduction, the author details the Ammonite oppression in Transjordan and northern Israel and the work of Jephthah (10:9–12:7); then he describes the Philistine oppression in the south and the work of Samson (13:1–16:31). 11:1–3 The narrator is concerned to show that Jephthah’s origins and early years showed no promise of greatness. Rejected by his family, he had become the leader of a gang of brigands. Furthermore, when asked to help Gilead against the Ammonites, his reply appears to be motivated only by self-interest (vv. 8–11). 11:26 Jephthah made 4 points in his negotiations with the Ammonite king:
(1) Israel had taken their land east of the Jordan not from Ammon, but from the Amorites (vv. 15–23; cf. Num. 21:24; Deut. 2:19, 37);
(2) Israel had not chosen her possessions; they had been given by Yahweh her God (v. 24);
(3) that Israel took none of Moab is shown by Balak’s failure to fight (v. 25); and
(4) if Ammon had some prior claim to Gilead, why had they waited 300 years to press it (v. 26)? The reference to Chemosh 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 (1 Kin. 11:5–7, 33; 2 Kin. 23:13; Jer. 49:1; cf. Num. 21:29). Moab and Ammon were closely associated, however, both originating from Lot (Gen. 19:30–38; cf. Deut. 2:19). According to Deut. 23:3–6, they were both involved in hiring Balaam to curse Israel (cf. Judg. 3:12, 13; 2 Chr. 20:1). It may be that at this early date the two peoples were culturally and religiously unified (cf. v. 15). This would add weight to the third argument in v. 25. Since Israel’s conquest began c. 1405 b.c., Jephthah’s work may be dated c. 1105 b.c. 11:30, 31 The Lord rejected human sacrifice in the days of Abraham (Gen. 22:1–14) and legislated against it through Moses (Lev. 18:21; 20:1–5; Deut. 12:29–32; 18:9–12). No father by his own authority was permitted to put even an offending child to death, much less an innocent one (Deut. 21:18–21; 2 Sam. 14:24, 25). The fact that God would use such a person as Jephthah shows that the deliverances of the Book of Judges were accomplished not necessarily by naturally gifted individuals or by those of great faith, but by ordinary sinners empowered by the Spirit of God. Some believe that Jephthah merely offered his daughter in the sense of devoting her to God for continual service and perpetual virginity (v. 39, “She knew no man”), giving the Hebrew conjunction its alternative translation “or” instead of “and” in “and I will offer it up.” Others understand the last clause of v. 31 as simply explaining the vow, which he “carried out” (v. 39). The lament (vv. 37, 40), then, would have been that she died before bearing children. The second interpretation was held by Josephus, the Jewish historian, as well as by early rabbis and church fathers, while the first view did not appear until the Middle Ages. In later periods there were isolated incidents of human sacrifices among the Israelites (cf. 2 Kin. 16:3; 17:17; 21:6; 2 Chr. 33:6; Jer. 7:31; 19:5; 32:35; Ezek. 16:20, 21; Amos 5:25–27), but these were never considered lawful. Human sacrifice was also practiced at various times among Israel’s neighbors (cf. Lev. 18:21; 20:2; 2 Kin. 3:27). However, in no sense was Jephthah’s tragic vow or his foolish action pleasing to God. 12:1–7 This is a complaint similar to the one lodged against Gideon (8:1–3). Instead of using a soft answer to turn away wrath, however, Jephthah responded to the insults and threats of Ephraim with armed forces. The result was that 42,000 Ephraimites were slain. This incident reveals that the separation of eastern and western tribes was even having linguistic results (v. 6).
|Ashtoreth, Pagan Fertility Goddess|
|10:6 The goddess of love and fertility worshiped by many Semitic peoples of the ancient world was called Ashtoreth by the Canaanites and, later, by the Israelites (Judg. 10:6). Other names given her were Astarte (Phoenicians), Inana (Sumerians), Ishtar, (Babylonians), Aphrodite (Greeks), and Venus (Romans). She was often depicted as a naked female figure. Among the Canaanites, the cult of Ashtoreth involved extremely depraved behavior, including intercourse with temple prostitutes—one reason why the Canaanites stood under the Lord’s judgment (see “The Abominations of the Canaanites” at Lev. 18:24–30). Nevertheless, soon after the conquest of Canaan, the Israelites rather quickly succumbed to idolatry involving Ashtoreth. (Judg. 2:13). This worship persisted into the days of Samuel, who put a temporary stop to it (1 Sam. 7:3–4; 12:10). But the cult quickly revived later when Solomon, whose many foreign wives turned his heart away from the Lord, erected a public altar to Ashtoreth and began worshiping there personally (1 Kin. 11:5; 2 Kin. 23:13). Ashtoreth was one of more than seventy deities worshiped by the Canaanites. To learn about some of the others, see the table “The Gods of the Canaanites” at Deut. 32:39.Ritual prostitution has been a part of religious ceremonies since at least 3000 a.d. See “Prostitutes in the Ancient World” at Judg. 16:1.|
|Personality Profile: Jephthah|
|11:1 Name means: “God opens (the womb).”Home: Probably born at Gilead, the mountainous region east of Jordan River; settled in the land of Tob, north of Gilead.Family: Son of Gilead by a harlot, thus excluded from the family inheritance by his legitimate half brothers (Judg. 11:1–2); father of a daughter whom he vowed to the Lord (11:34–35).Occupation: Leader of a band of raiders that probably protected Israelite towns from the Ammonites.Best known today for: His rash vow that resulted in the loss of his daughter. The text does not explicitly say that she was sacrificed as a burnt offering, but human sacrifices were known in that day, and the text presents Jephthah as a determined man of his word (compare Judg. 12:1–6).|
Overcoming a Tough Start 11:2–3 What hope is there for a child born to a prostitute? Society tends to have low expectations—and sometimes downright hostility—for people born out of wedlock. Such was the case for Jephthah (Judg. 11:1).
The product of his father’s dalliance with a prostitute, Jephthah was not only excluded but expelled from his more “respectable” family (11:2). Like many rejects, he led the life of a criminal (11:3), though he and his gang of raiders may have harassed the Ammonites more than the Israelites. The irony of Jephthah’s life was that when Israel faced war with Ammon, the leaders of his hometown came looking for Jephthah to deliver them! They offered no apology; they merely appealed for help. To his credit, Jephthah agreed to help them after negotiating his terms (11:9–11), and God gave him the victory (11:33). Jephthah’s life is a good illustration of the truth that God does not judge people on the basis of appearances (Deut. 10:17; 1 Sam. 16:7; Rom. 2:11). He can overcome any background and use any set of circumstances to accomplish His purposes.
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Following the King’s Highway 11:29 As Jephthah prepared to do battle with the Ammonites, he traveled from the northern territory of Manasseh in Gilead south to Mizpah of Gilead (Judg. 11:29). Mizpah was probably the Levitical city of Ramoth Gilead, an important commercial center. It was located on a well-traveled highway called the Road to Bashan, which was the northern extension of the major north-south route known as the King’s Highway.
Learn more about Ramoth Gilead, which may have been where Jephthah lived, at 1 Kin. 22:29. A map of the King’s Highway can be found at Num. 20:17.
|11:30–40 The Tragedy of Jephthah’s Daughter The incident of Jephthah’s daughter may seem incredible and profoundly cruel to some modern-day Bible readers. But in reading this narrative, one must be careful to interpret events in the context of that day, not merely by the moral climate of one’s own. The account is clear that the judge Jephthah vowed to sacrifice as a burnt offering whatever came out of his door if he returned victorious from battle (Judg. 11:30–31). Many commentators think Jephthah had a human sacrifice in mind, probably a slave. It was a common practice for warriors in the ancient world to make vows to their gods in order to secure divine assistance in warfare. However, the Israelites were prohibited from making human sacrifices (Lev. 18:21; Deut. 12:31), in contrast to many their neighbors. In fact, child sacrifice was common among the Ammonites and Moabites (2 Kin. 3:27). Why, then, would Jephthah make such a vow? And why fulfill it once he realized that the sacrifice would have to be his own daughter? The answer may lie in a recognition of how much the moral and spiritual condition of Israel had declined by this time. The Mosaic covenant was violated more than it was honored, and a spiritual blindness seems to have fallen over the land. In the midst of this darkness, God used the Ammonites to bring His people to their knees (Judg. 11:4). Not that they actually turned back to Him, but they did recruit Jephthah to lead them (4:5–11). Jephthah was no spiritual giant, but he at least remembered the history between Israel and Ammon, and how God had delivered His people during the Exodus (11:14–28). He viewed the Lord as the supreme Judge (11:27) who would decide the current conflict between Ammon and Israel. Jephthah was accurate in his understanding. God was indeed prepared to judge between the two peoples. Neither group was without sin. On the one hand, the Israelites had forsaken the Lord for idols (10:6); however, they also had repented (10:10–16). On the other hand, the Ammonites had long practiced what the Lord called “abominations,” such as child sacrifice (see “The Abominations of the Canaanites” at Lev. 18:24–30); yet they never had repented, and now they were claiming territory that did not belong to them (Judg. 11:13). God decided the matter by empowering Jephthah to recruit an army to carry out His judgment on the Ammonites (11:29). At this point of zealous energy and action, Jephthah made his rash vow (11:30–31). Why did he make it? Perhaps because of an inadequate view of God. Jephthah correctly perceived God as Judge, but he may have incorrectly likened Him to the god Chemosh of the Ammonites (11:24). He may have felt that if Chemosh’s help supposedly could be enlisted through human sacrifice, then the Lord’s help could be gained in the same way. Jephthah appears to have followed through on his vow, though first he gave his daughter time to grieve the fact that she would never marry and have children (11:37–39; childlessness was considered a curse in that day; see “Barrenness” at Gen. 18:11–12). He kept the vow because he had a profound fear of the Lord. He was deeply afraid of what God might do if he did not fulfill his vow (compare Num. 30:2; Deut. 23:21–23). From today’s perspective, that fear seems primitive, superstitious, and tragically misplaced; but it was certainly genuine. The daughter’s statement of submission is one of the most touching speeches in Scripture (Judg. 11:36). She shared her father’s extreme reverence for God, even if it cost her marriage, children, and life itself. No wonder the young women of Israel honored her ever after (11:40). What does this incident teach us who read it today? For one thing, it warns us to beware of spiritual decline in our surrounding culture. When our neighbors are not following God, it can warp our own perspective, leading us to make foolish statements and rash commitments, and causing us to do things that are unworthy of our Lord. At the same time, the incident reminds us of how seriously people of that day took their vows to the Lord, and therefore how seriously we should take our own commitments to Him. We may criticize Jephthah as cruel and superstitious, but we cannot deny that he feared the Lord. The tragedy of his daughter challenges us to ask: what would we be willing to sacrifice as a sign of our devotion to God? Or are there things (or people) that ultimately we value more than Him? Abraham faced an even greater challenge than Jephthah. The Lord told him to sacrifice his only son Isaac as a burnt offering. Abraham obeyed, demonstrating his utter commitment to and faith in God. Read Gen. 22:1–18; Rom. 4; Heb. 11:17–19; James 2:21–24.The relationship between the Israelites and the Ammonites was marked by long-standing hostility. To learn more about these perpetual enemies of God’s people, see 1 Chr. 19:1–9.|
*The Ammonite and Jephthah Cycle (10:6–12:7) The style and form of the conclusion to the Jephthah narrative (12:7) link this judge with Tola and Jair before and Ibzan, Elon, and Abdon who follow. However, knowledge of several stories from this man’s life renders his career a valuable piece of evidence for the narrator’s broader thesis, hence the integration of the Jephthah narrative into the sequence of deliverer cycles. Sandwiched between 10:1–5 and 12:8–15 the Jephthah narrative is best interpreted in comparison with and in contrast to the notes on the “secondary” governors. With some modifications, the first part of this account follows the pattern of previous accounts, particularly the notices of apostasy, punishment, and cry for relief; but after that the structure breaks down. First, the account is silent on Yahweh’s raising up a deliverer. On the contrary, the rise of Jephthah is portrayed as a purely human event. Second, the narrator does indeed note that the Spirit of God empowers Jephthah and Yahweh gave the Ammonites into his hands, but these elements are overshadowed by Jephthah’s vow. Third, the account says nothing about a period of peace and security after Jephthah’s soteriological actions. Like the short notes on the secondary governors, this cycle ends simply with a notice of the length of his tenure (a short six years), his death, and his burial somewhere in Gilead.In addition to these structural features, as in the previous cycles the deviations from the basic paradigm reflect the author’s special interest in this cycle. Scholars have recognized that the text divides into five dialogic episodes, each of which involves a confrontation and a resolution:
|Episode 1||Yahweh versus Israel (10:6–16)|
|Episode 2||Jephthah versus Gilead (10:17–11:11)|
|Episode 3||Jephthah versus Ammon (11:12–28)|
|Episode 4||Jephthah versus His Daughter (11:29–40)|
|Episode 5||Jephthah versus Ephraim (12:1–6)|
In each episode the power of the spoken word is a key motif. At the same time the narrator plays with the verb ʿābar, which occurs sixteen times but with a range of meanings from the literal “to cross over” to the theological “to transgress.” The links between the Jephthah cycle and the Gideon narrative have often been noted. Both open with a confrontation between God and Israel (6:7–10; 10:6–16). Both men begin as nobodies and become tyrants in Israel. Both are empowered by the Spirit of God, an event that is immediately recognized by the rallying of the troops (6:34–35; 11:29). Both follow up the divine empowerment with expressions of doubt (6:36–40; 11:30–31). Both win a spectacular victory over the enemy (7:19–25; 11:32–33). Both engage in confrontations with jealous Ephraimites after the battle has been won (8:1–3; 12:1–6). Both brutalize their countrymen (8:4–17; 12:4–6). But Jephthah is no carbon copy of Gideon. Indeed in several significant respects he parallels the character of Abimelech, Gideon’s son. Both he and Abimelech are born of secondary [probably foreign] wives (8:31; 11:1) and surround themselves with brigands and good-for-nothings (9:4; 11:3). Both are opportunists who negotiate their way into leadership positions (9:1–6; 11:4–11). Both seal the agreement with their subjects in a formal ceremony at a sacred shrine (9:6; 11:11). Both turn out to be brutal rulers, slaughtering their own relatives (9:5; 11:34–40) and engaging their countrymen in battle (9:26–57; 12:1–6). Both end up as tragic figures without a future (9:50–57; 11:34–35). Despite these similarities, however, Jephthah and Abimelech are separated by one major difference: Abimelech is nothing more than a destroyer; Jephthah is a deliverer. Of special interest in the Jephthah cycle is the narrator’s portrayal of the role of God. In the Gideon cycle Yahweh had been active in the first phase (6:1–7:22), but as the narrative proceeds, his involvement is increasingly repressed, to the point where he is completely eclipsed in the Abimelech phase of the cycle. His marginalization by the Israelites is mirrored in his decreasing involvement in the narrative. To be sure Yahweh is central in the first episode of the Jephthah cycle but only to provide the reader with a theological rationale for his increasing absence. In fact, the conclusion to his confrontation with Israel leads the reader to anticipate total silence in the subsequent episodes. But he does reappear surprisingly—by grace alone—in the stereotypical announcements of Jephthah’s spiritual empowerment in 11:29 and the divine committal formula in 11:32. But thereafter the narrator makes no further reference to him. To be sure, as in the Gideon narrative Yahweh’s name does indeed surface several additional times, particularly in the speeches of Jephthah and his daughter, creating the impression of genuine devotion. The image is illusory, however, for it is belied by the fundamentally corrupted character of the man.
(1) The Marks of Israel’s Canaanization (10:6) 6Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord. They served the Baals and the Ashtoreths, and the gods of Aram, the gods of Sidon, the gods of Moab, the gods of the Ammonites and the gods of the Philistines. And because the Israelites forsook the Lord and no longer served him,
10:6 The Jephthah cycle opens with the most elaborate description of Israelite apostasy in the book and thus signals the nadir of Israel’s degradation and the climax of the process of her Canaanization. The intensity of the evil committed by the nation in Yahweh’s sight is expressed by a sevenfold catalogue of foreign divinities the people were serving: the Baals (baʿălîm), the Astartes (ʿaštārôt), the gods of Aram (ʾĕlōhê ʾărām), the gods of Sidon (ʾĕlōhê ṣîdôn), the gods of Moab (ʾĕlōhê môʾāb), the gods of Ammon (ʾĕlōhê bĕnê ʿammôn), and the gods of the Philistines (ʾĕlōhê pĕlištîm). The first two entries in the list may be viewed as a general heading for the list, equivalent to Akkadian ilāni u ištarāti, “gods and goddesses.” On the other hand, in the absence of a specific reference to the gods of the Canaanites, the pair is better interpreted as designations for the local manifestations of the male and female fertility divinities. In any case, the seven-member list corresponds to the list of Canaanite nations in Deut 7:1 and in so doing highlights the total spiritual corruption of the nation. This is reiterated by the verbs employed: they “did not serve” (lōʾ ʿābad; NIV “no longer served”) Yahweh but rather“forsook/abandoned” (ʿāzab) him and “served” (ʿābad) the Baals, exchanging devotion to the living God of Israel for the lifeless gods of the nations. God’s Agent of Punishment (10:7–9) 7he became angry with them. He sold them into the hands of the Philistines and the Ammonites, 8who that year shattered and crushed them. For eighteen years they oppressed all the Israelites on the east side of the Jordan in Gilead, the land of the Amorites. 9The Ammonites also crossed the Jordan to fight against Judah, Benjamin and the house of Ephraim; and Israel was in great distress.10:7–8a The description of Yahweh’s response to Israel’s spiritual defection confirms our suggestion that in the narrator’s mind the nation’s Canaanization is coming to a climax. First, for the first time since 3:8 the text mentions God’s anger as the emotion behind his selling the Israelites into the hands of the enemies. Second, for the first time the narrator notes that Yahweh has handed his people into the power of two different nations— the Philistines and the sons of Ammon. This bifurcation of stress points indicates that vv. 6–7 function as the prelude not only to the Jephthah cycle but to the Samson narratives as well (13:1–16:31). When the geographic relationship to Israel of these two nations is observed, one may recognize God’s strategic wisdom. Like a military general, he divides his forces so they may afflict his people pincerlike from two sides.Third, the narrator describes the action of the enemies with a pair of new verbs that appear to have been selected for assonantal reasons: “shattered” (wayyirʿăṣû) and “crushed” (wayyirṣĕṣû). The first occurs elsewhere only in Exod 15:6. The second is slightly more common, but it appears in Judges elsewhere only in 9:53, where the causative verb form (hiphil) form described the “crushing” effect on Abimelech’s head of the millstone the unnamed woman dropped from the tower.10:8b–9 Verses 8b–9 focus the reader’s attention on the Ammonite oppression. For eighteen years the Ammonites harassed all the Israelites living east of the Jordan in the hill country of Gilead, which was occupied by Amorites until the Israelites had arrived from Egypt. But the divine general’s eastern force crossed the Jordan and attacked Judah, Benjamin, and Ephraim, thus creating extreme “distress” in Israel’s heartland.(3) Israel’s Response to the Oppression (10:10–16)10Then the Israelites cried out to the Lord, “We have sinned against you, forsaking our God and serving the Baals.”11The Lord replied, “When the Egyptians, the Amorites, the Ammonites, the Philistines, 12the Sidonians, the Amalekites and the Maonites oppressed you and you cried to me for help, did I not save you from their hands? 13But you have forsaken me and served other gods, so I will no longer save you. 14Go and cry out to the gods you have chosen. Let them save you when you are in trouble!”15But the Israelites said to the Lord, “We have sinned. Do with us whatever you think best, but please rescue us now.” 16Then they got rid of the foreign gods among them and served the Lord. And he could bear Israel’s misery no longer. If in the Gideon cycle the narrator provides the most detailed description of the oppression of Israel (6:1b–6b), here he offers the most detailed account of Israel’s response. This phase of the cycle is cast in the form of a confrontational dialogue between Yahweh and his people, framed on either side by the latter’s confession of sin. Stylistically this section displays obvious connections with 2:1–5 and 6:7–10. Whereas in the previous accounts Yahweh had communicated his displeasure with Israel through mediators, viz., a “messenger/angel” (malʾāk) and a “prophet” (nābîʾ) respectively, here he deals with Israel directly.The Confession (10:10)10:10 For the first and only time in the book the narrator expands on Israel’s cry of distress. And for the first time in the book a confession of sin is heard from the Israelites. The confession takes the form of a general statement, “We have sinned against you,” and a specific explication, “We have forsaken our God and served the Baals.” The possessive pronoun “our” is significant, for by it the people recognize their special affiliation with Yahweh. In direct violation of the first principle of covenant relationship (Exod 20:3; Deut 5:7), however, they have succumbed to the seductive attraction of the fertility gods of Canaan and allowed these rivals to take Yahweh’s place. On the surface the confession appears genuine, and the reader welcomes this acknowledgment of responsibility for their fate. But the reader also notes the absence of any appeal for forgiveness or plea for grace. We must read on to find out whether or not this is more than a utilitarian manipulation of deity to be delivered from a painful situation or authentic heartfelt repentance.God’s Rejoinder (10:11–14) Although the opening statements in Yahweh’s response appear hopeful, the reader quickly learns that Yahweh does not take the confession seriously. Indeed, his verbal reaction is essentially negative, being cast in the form of a modified judgment speech, curt and angry in tone. Yahweh’s address divides into three readily identifiable parts.
10:11–14 First, as in the earlier sermons by the “messenger” (2:1) and the “prophet” (6:8–9), Yahweh reminds the Israelites of his past favors, cataloguing the enemy nations from whose hands he had delivered them (vv. 11–12). Like the list of pagan deities in v. 6, this list consists of seven names, presumably to highlight the fact that he has always saved his people from all their enemies. The list begins logically with Egypt, and then moves to the Amorites, Ammonites, Philistines, Sidonians, Amalekites, and Maonites. One may assume that the reference to the victory over the Amorites recalls the days of Moses when Sihon of Heshbon and Og of Bashan were defeated (Num 21:21–35). The reference to the Ammonites alludes to Ehud’s victory over Moab, with whom the Ammonites were allied (Judg 3:15–30). Yahweh’s naming of the Philistines is apparently based on Shamgar’s victory, briefly noted in 3:31. As in v. 6 “Sidon” seems to represent the Canaanites, over whom Barak had won the victory in chap. 4. The Amalekites have appeared twice before, as allies of Moab (3:13) and Midian (6:3, 33; 7:12). The last name, Maon, is new and surprising. Where one would have expected the name “Midian” (in light of chaps. 6–8), one encounters a nation never heard of before, let alone remembered in lists/accounts of enemies defeated by Israel. The translators of the LXX wrote Midian, which is exactly what they expected to find. It seems best to associate the name with the Meunites, who were at home in the same region as the Midianites and may even have been a confederate or dependent group. Second, Yahweh scolds Israel for the nation’s ungrateful and treasonous response (v. 13a). Instead of answering his repeated demonstrations of grace and goodness with increased commitment, the nation abandoned their covenant Lord and Protector in favor of the service of other gods. Third, Yahweh rejects the confession of the people and closes his ears to their cry for help. Since in the past Yahweh had always rescued his people from the oppression (ṣārar) of the nations when they cried out (ṣāʿaq) to him, the present audience probably expected the catalogue of victories in vv. 11–12 to be followed by a promise of another act of deliverance, or, as in earlier cases, the call of a deliverer. But Yahweh declares that because of their persistent infidelity he is absolved of all responsibility to them. He will rescue them no more.With intense sarcasm and irony he challenges Israel to go and cry out (zāʿaq) to the gods they have chosen. Let them deliver (hôŝîaʿ) them in their time of distress (ṣārâ)! The words are carefully selected to echo the people’s pleas and to highlight the fundamental perversion in Israel’s behavior. In reality God in his grace had chosen them (cf. Ps 135:5; Deut 32:8), but they had done the unthinkable: they had transferred their allegiance to other gods, whom they had selected for themselves (cf. Jer 2:9–13). In effect he says: “Show some consistency. You made your bed, now sleep in it!”In his response to the people’s expression of distress Yahweh recognizes and exposes the purely utilitarian and manipulative nature of their cry. The people have used him repeatedly simply to get them out of difficult circumstances. In the past he has responded to their pleas, but no more. Their confession sounds like true repentance, but God sees past their pious words to their treacherous and parasitic hearts.The People’s Surrender (10:15–16a) 10:15–16a The Israelites’ reaction to Yahweh’s speech is expressed in both verbal and nonverbal forms. In the former (v. 15) they intensify their earlier confession. After acknowledging again that they have sinned, they call on Yahweh to do to them what is right (or good/best, haṭṭôb) in his eyes. The response appears to be completely submissive, an appropriate response to their own habit of “doing what is evil [hārāʿ] in the eyes of the Lord,” but their surrender is belied by the following demand to rescue/deliver them immediately (lit., “this day”). The people’s verbal response to Yahweh’s rejection betrays a blindness not only to the fundamental contradiction in their demand, but also to the manner in which Yahweh has consistently worked heretofore in the book. Given their bent for doing what is evil in the sight of Yahweh, Yahweh has done what is right in his eyes by sending foreign enemies as his agents of judgment. They do not realize that by providing deliverers and deliverances in the past, what is right had been suspended in favor of what is gracious. In their nonverbal response to God’s rebuttal the people demonstrate with actions what their lips had confessed: they dispose of the foreign gods and served Yahweh. We are not told what form that service took, but presumably it involved the presentation of sacrifices and other cultic expressions of devotion.God’s Rebuff (10:16b)10:16b Scholars are not agreed either on the sincerity of the people’s second confession or on the nature of Yahweh’s answer in v. 16b. The NIV’s rendering, “He could bear Israel’s misery no longer,” reflects the traditional consensus. According to this consensus, Yahweh recognized the genuineness of their confession and, as in numerous other instances, “repented of the calamity he said he would do to them.” But several scholars have recently rightly challenged this interpretation. Regardless of how one interprets v. 16b, the subsequent episodes raise several serious questions about Yahweh’s response. Why is the word “repent” absent from this text? Why is there no promise of deliverance to negate the statement in v. 13? Why is God silent after v. 16a? Why is Jephthah never described as having been “raised up” (hēqîm, 3:9) or “strengthened” (ḥizzēq, 3:12) by Yahweh? Why is God totally absent in the account of the rise of Jephthah to leadership in Israel (cf. 4:4–10; 6:11–24)?Apart from these questions arising from the following narrative, v. 16b itself remains a crux. A literal translation would be “and his soul/person was short because of the efforts of Israel.” The meaning of the sentence may go different directions, however, depending upon how individual words are understood. In this context the idiom tiqṣar nepeš, “the soul is short,” expresses frustration, exasperation, and anger in the face of an intolerable situation. But what is so intolerable? The answer is expressed by the word ʿāmāl, which may be interpreted either as their “pain, trouble” or their “hard work, effort,” which refers to their confessional and sacrificial attempts to win divine favor. If the first sense had been intended, one would have expected the narrator to use ṣārâ, “distress,” as in v. 14. In view of the frequent pairing of ʿāmāl with the overtly ethical term ʾāwen, “iniquity, evil, disaster,” Yahweh may be dismissing the Israelite actions as further evidence of their iniquitous condition. The words themselves are ambiguous, but there is rejection in Yahweh’s voice. The Israelites’ present efforts are intolerable, and the attempts to wrest deliverance from him are an affront. The repentance is external only; theirs is a conversion of convenience. The covenant God who has been slighted despite his repeated gracious interventions on the nation’s behalf and abandoned in favor of the more exciting and physical deities of Canaan has grown tired of their calls for help. He sees through their empty cry. These people are interested only in relief from their oppressions. Because their confession lacks sincerity, Yahweh will withdraw and be used by this parasitic people no longer. Israel’s Agent of Deliverance (10:17–11:11) 17When the Ammonites were called to arms and camped in Gilead, the Israelites assembled and camped at Mizpah. 18The leaders of the people of Gilead said to each other, “Whoever will launch the attack against the Ammonites will be the head of all those living in Gilead.” 1Jephthah the Gileadite was a mighty warrior. His father was Gilead; his mother was a prostitute. 2Gilead’s wife also bore him sons, and when they were grown up, they drove Jephthah away. “You are not going to get any inheritance in our family,” they said, “because you are the son of another woman.” 3So Jephthah fled from his brothers and settled in the land of Tob, where a group of adventurers gathered around him and followed him.4Some time later, when the Ammonites made war on Israel, 5the elders of Gilead went to get Jephthah from the land of Tob. 6“Come,” they said, “be our commander, so we can fight the Ammonites.”7Jephthah said to them, “Didn’t you hate me and drive me from my father’s house? Why do you come to me now, when you’re in trouble?”8The elders of Gilead said to him, “Nevertheless, we are turning to you now; come with us to fight the Ammonites, and you will be our head over all who live in Gilead.”9Jephthah answered, “Suppose you take me back to fight the Ammonites and the Lord gives them to me—will I really be your head?”10The elders of Gilead replied, “The Lord is our witness; we will certainly do as you say.” 11So Jephthah went with the elders of Gilead, and the people made him head and commander over them. And he repeated all his words before the Lord in Mizpah.Although Yahweh will empower Jephthah with his Spirit (11:29) and be credited by the narrator with his victory over the Ammonites, he is totally out of the picture in the account of Jephthah’s rise as leader and deliverer of Israel. Whereas in every other narrative cycle Yahweh had played the decisive role in the emergence of a deliverer, Jephthah’s emergence is treated as a purely human development. Yahweh is indeed invoked as a witness to the covenant between Jephthah and Israel, but this is a far cry from earlier episodes.The Need for a Deliverer (10:17–18) 10:17–18 The need for deliverance crystallizes as the Ammonite army was summoned to battle and took up its military position in Gilead. The Israelite troops responded by setting up their own camp at Mizpah. This Mizpah, located in Gilead, is not to be confused with the Benjamite town of the same name in chaps. 19–21. It is possible the place is to be identified with the Mizpah/Galeed where Jacob and Laban signed their treaty of nonaggression in Gen 31:43–55, but this cannot be confirmed. The mobilization of the Ammonite army in the heart of Transjordanian Israel raises the specter of the latter’s dearth of leadership. The Israel’s response to the Ammonite challenge was initially presented as a pan-Israelite reaction, but it will soon become evident that at this stage the crisis affected the Gileadites primarily. Accordingly, the leaders/captains (śārîm) of Gilead took the initiative to seek out a man to lead them against the enemy. Their dilemma is framed in direct speech and expresses the consensus of the leaders that anyone who will volunteer to lead the forces of Gilead against the Ammonites would be rewarded with the presidency (rōʾš) over all the inhabitants of Gilead.The call for someone to begin the fight against the sons of Ammon, particularly the phrase “[who] will launch the attack” (yāḥēl lĕhillāḥēm) invites the reader to compare this event with 1:1, where a similar phrase occurs. However, the circumstances and motivations have changed drastically. Whereas in the earlier context the people’s actions had a theological base and theological focus, this appears to be an ad hoc decision. There is no reference to an orderly assembly, no presiding individual, no sign of unity with Israel (they want a leader for Gilead), no strategy or plan, and no determination to carry through to victory. Appealing to the worst of human motives, the leaders of Gilead simply call for a volunteer and then offer him the carrot of leadership over the entire region. But in the Book of Judges there are no volunteers, except for the rogue Abimelech in chap. 9. The reader has already learned from his life and rule the lethal effect of any approach to leadership that is based on and caters to personal ambition rather than the care and needs of those to be led. Nevertheless, as in the story of Abimelech, in the leadership style of Jephthah the reader will again be confronted with the tragic effects that arise from treating leadership as a matter of power rather than a call to service on behalf of those led.Even more seriously, unlike the situation in 1:1, the narrative leaves no hint of any spiritual sensitivity on the part of the Gileadites. There was no consciousness of being the people of Yahweh, no appeal to God to solve the crisis in leadership, and subsequently no reference to Yahweh raising a man. This was a purely secular moment; as a Canaanized people the Gileadites were left to their own wits and resources, and, as in the case of Abimelech, a bramble would not be long in sprouting. Through this entire episode Yahweh’s silence is deafening.The Emergence of a Candidate (11:1–3)
11:1–3 A new episode in the narrative is signalled by the circumstantial clause in 11:1. The narrator interrupts the main plot by introducing the figure who will dominate the following events. In effect, the narrator raises the leader, a bramble in the tradition of Abimelech. But who is this man? His name is yiptāḥ, which means “He [the deity] has opened.” In a cultural context in which fertility is a paramount concern and the bearing of children by a woman the highest goal, the name presumably reflects the gratitude of Jephthah’s mother for having been enabled to bear a son. But as an abbreviated form, the name is ambiguous. Who/which deity is being credited with his birth? From an orthodox point of view, the most optimistic interpretation would reconstruct the full name as yiptaḥ-yhwh, “the Lord has opened [the womb].” But the sequel will expose how unlikely this was. Less optimistically the full name could be reconstructed as yiptaḥ-ʾēl, “El has opened [the womb],” which carries an ambiguous sense, since a deity named El was worshiped by both Israelites and Canaanites. As a third possibility we must also consider yiptaḥ-baʿal, “Baal has opened [the womb].” As we will see, the mother’s profession, the father’s actions, the character of Jephthah’s half-brothers, and Jephthah’s own lifestyle all point to a thoroughly Canaanized environment. Jephthah is identified as a bona fide Gileadite, having been fathered by a man who bore the same name. Gilead is technically a geographic designation (Gen 31:48), but it is also used as a tribal/clan/family eponym. Although Jephthah’s father bore a name of nobility, his mother was a harlot. Whether she was an Israelite or a Canaanite we are not told, but the latter is as likely as the former. But there were other members of this family. According to v. 2, Gilead’s true wife bore him sons as well. Echoing the divine messenger’s characterization of Gideon in 6:12, the narrator describes Jephthah as a gibbôr ḥayil. By itself the expression may be interpreted either as “a noble/rich man” or “valiant warrior,” but given this man’s parentage and the manner in which his brothers treated him, the former definition seems unlikely. On the other hand, the latter is most appropriate when one observes the manner in which he conducted himself. The narrative will portray him as a person who, expelled from his own family, distinguished himself as a resourceful warrior, one without any hint of timidity. Expelled from his home, he fled to the land of Tob, where he lived a life of brigandry and banditry. Gathering around himself a group of “worthless men,” Jephthah led raiding parties into the towns and villages of Gilead. With this characterization the narrator invites the reader to compare Jephthah with Abimelech. But this man’s lot was considerably worse. Even if Abimelech’s mother was a concubine, at least she was recognized as a legitimate [if secondary] wife of Jerubbaal/Gideon. As the rejected son of a prostitute Jephthah was a man without a physical or social home, and without a future.The background of Jephthah provides another illustration of the moral degeneration, the Canaanization of Israelite society. First, his origin raises the question of why his father Gilead visits prostitutes. The God of Israel was highly intolerant of any sexual relations outside the bonds of marriage, including those with professional prostitutes. It is widely recognized that in the ancient world women would often be driven to a life of prostitution if they had no other means of economic support, especially if they were widows or orphans. But according to official Israelite standards, for men to treat a girl as a prostitute was both an offense to family honor and a violation of the marriage covenant with one’s wife. This raises a second question: Who was this woman? Since she remains nameless, the text leaves open the question of her nationality. Was she an Israelite or a Canaanite woman? If she was an Israelite, we witness a direct violation of Yahweh’s taboos on extramarital sexual relations, as well as laws prohibiting a father from selling his daughter into prostitution (Lev 19:29). If she was a Canaanite, we see the violation of the proscription on all intercourse with Canaanites (Exod 34:15–16; Deut 7:1–5). If she was a prostitute working in the service of a Canaanite cult center, the crime is worse still, for then Gilead has become a patron and contributor to the Canaanite religious establishment. Even if the question cannot be answered finally, Jephthah’s later conduct certainly follows Canaanite patterns.Contributing to the negative picture of Israel’s spiritual condition suggested by this paragraph is the manner in which Jephthah’s brothers treat him. Their expulsion of their half-brother was motivated by greed—they did not want him to share in the inheritance—and grounded in his putative social inferiority—he was the son of another woman. But with this act they betray their half-brother and in so doing violate Israelite laws enjoining care and compassion for the outcast (Deut 10:12–22), particularly injunctions commanding one to love one’s neighbor [let alone one’s brother] as oneself (Lev 19:33–34). But by this act they also violate Israelite inheritance law, which depended not on the mother but on the father. Jephthah’s birth from a prostitute mother offers them an excuse for expelling him, but this aim required a legal decision of the court. The Engagement of the Leader (11:4–11) The primary plot resumes in v. 4. As in 10:10–16, this episode is dominated by dialogue. In fact, the conversation echoes the earlier dialogue between Yahweh and Israel, as the following synopsis of motifs shows:
|1. The Ammonite oppression (10:7–9)||1. The Ammonite oppression (11:4)|
|2. Israel appeals to Yahweh (10:10)||2. Gilead appeals to Jephthah (11:5–6)|
|3. Yahweh retorts sarcastically (10:11–14)||3. Jephthah retorts sarcastically (11:7)|
|4. Israel repeats the appeal (10:15–16a)||4. Gilead repeats the appeal (11:8)|
|5. Yahweh refuses to be used (10:16b)||5. Jephthah seizes the moment opportunistically (11:9–11)|
11:4–6 The context for the engagement of Jephthah is summarized in vv. 4–5. The opening chronological note, “Some time later” (lit., “from days”), is idiomatic for “after some time, some days thereafter,” reflecting the time it would have taken for the call for a volunteer by the leaders of Gilead (10:18) to circulate throughout the villages and towns of Gilead. In any case, after several days it became obvious that no one would come forward to take up the challenge. Meanwhile the Ammonites continued to put military pressure on Israel. Finally, in desperation the Gileadites sent a delegation of elders to look for Jephthah, authorized to offer him rule over all Gilead. Undoubtedly the approach was based on the reputation Jephthah had established in Gilead as the fearless and crafty leader of his band of brigands.The negotiations between the elders and Jephthah were hard-nosed and businesslike. There was no appeal to tribal or national loyalty, or to the critical role Jephthah could play in rescuing the people of Yahweh from this critical hour. The elders were careful not to offer Jephthah too much; they invited him to come and be their “commander in chief” in this battle against the Ammonites. Whereas in 10:18 the leaders had promised headship (rōʾš) over all the inhabitants of Gilead to anyone who would volunteer to lead them in battle, what they offered Jephthah is chieftainship (qāṣîn) for them in battle. The word qāṣîn is relatively rare, occurring elsewhere only eight times. In contexts where it bears a sense more specific than “leader, man in authority,” it serves as a precise title for military leader. In this context the Gileadites were desperate for a military leader. In presenting their case they were careful to offer him a lesser role than they had made available to full citizens of Gilead. It was enough that they had to beg one whom they had rejected now to come and lead them in battle. They could entrust themselves into his hands on a broader and more permanent basis.11:7 Jephthah recognized immediately that he held the trump card and deliberately played hard to get. He responded by noting how the Gileadites had rejected him and driven him from his father’s house. According to v. 2 it was his half-brothers, the sons of his father’s wife, who had driven him away. Then he generalized this inhumane treatment to all Gilead. Seizing on the irony of the situation, he asked them why, having sentenced him to a life of perpetual distress, they should come to him now that they were in trouble (ṣar). Why should he be a mere tool to be used by them? According to the following narrative, Jephthah demanded that he be legally reinstated as a full citizen of Gilead with all the rights and privileges attached thereto.11:8 The irony continues in the elders’ reply. Reinterpreting the original hostile act against Jephthah, they declared that they have returned to him. To be precise, they had never left him; they had forced him to leave them. But now they realized that they had run out of options in meeting the Ammonite threat. Condescendingly, they appealed to him to go with them to engage the Ammonites in battle. Increasing the stakes for Jephthah, they repeated the offer made originally to any volunteer from full citizens of Gilead. This time they offered Jephthah the presidency over all the residents of Gilead.11:9 In v. 9 Jephthah’s calculating opportunism becomes evident. It is possible to interpret Jephthah’s response positively, as if no leader worth his salt would accept the Gileadite appeal without clear guarantees that he would have command. But Jephthah knew the elders were were desperate and was determined to get as much as he could out of this contract. At the same time he did not trust them and demanded firmer guarantees that they would keep their word if he returned with them and was victorious over the Ammonites. His sense of alienation is reflected in the way the beginning of his response reinterprets their opening statement in v. 8: “Suppose [lit., “if”] you take me back …” His appeal to Yahweh sounds pious—a tacit recognition of Yahweh as the national deity—but like Abimelech he was driven only by self-interest. So he asked again if they would really recognize him as their head if he would resolve the Ammonite problem.11:10–11 Left with no options, the elders of Gilead appealed to Yahweh as a witness to their good faith in promising to make him their head. Finally Jephthah agreed, and they all went to the sanctuary at Mizpah to ratify their contract “before the Lord” and presumably before the Israelite military forces (cf. 10:17). There with the “oath of office” Jephthah was sworn in and officially made head (rōʾš) and “commander in chief” (qāṣîn) of Gileadite Israel.The manner in which Jephthah was engaged as military commander raises several questions. First, how could Jephthah be sworn in “before the Lord” at Mizpah? We have had no hint prior to this that a sacred shrine was located in Transjordanian Mizpah. It is difficult not to conclude that, like Jephthah’s reference to Yahweh in v. 9 and the elder’s appeal to him in v. 10, the entire ceremony represents a glib and calculated effort to manipulate Yahweh. In reality the witness Jephthah is concerned about is not Yahweh, but the army of Gilead, camped at Mizpah.Second, where is God in this complex process of engaging Jephthah? Far from playing the decisive role, as he had in the provision of all the other judges, God is relegated to the role of silent witness to a purely human contract between a desperate people and an ambitious candidate. The entire narrative leaves the reader wondering how Yahweh will respond hereafter. In 10:10–16 God had refused to let himself be used by Israel. Nevertheless, Jephthah and the Gileadites have no hesitation in using him to seal their agreements.Third, what is Jephthah’s own relationship with Yahweh? Will he appeal to God for help? Will he recognize the hand of God upon him? Will his leadership bring the desired results? Or is Jephthah really a Canaanite at heart? Only time will tell.(5) God’s Gift of Deliverance (11:12–40) The narrator does not answer these questions immediately. However, it is clear from vv. 29 and 32 that, regardless of Jephthah’s and the Gileadites’ views of the role of God, the author credits Yahweh with the decisive role in Israel’s deliverance from the Ammonite oppression. Once again he graciously conceded to work on Israel’s behalf. But the process by which deliverance was achieved took several surprising turns. Jephthah’s Negotiations with the Ammonites (11:12–28) 12Then Jephthah sent messengers to the Ammonite king with the question: “What do you have against us that you have attacked our country?”13The king of the Ammonites answered Jephthah’s messengers, “When Israel came up out of Egypt, they took away my land from the Arnon to the Jabbok, all the way to the Jordan. Now give it back peaceably.” 14Jephthah sent back messengers to the Ammonite king, 15saying: “This is what Jephthah says: Israel did not take the land of Moab or the land of the Ammonites. 16But when they came up out of Egypt, Israel went through the desert to the Red Sea and on to Kadesh. 17Then Israel sent messengers to the king of Edom, saying, ‘Give us permission to go through your country,’ but the king of Edom would not listen. They sent also to the king of Moab, and he refused. So Israel stayed at Kadesh. 18“Next they traveled through the desert, skirted the lands of Edom and Moab, passed along the eastern side of the country of Moab, and camped on the other side of the Arnon. They did not enter the territory of Moab, for the Arnon was its border. 19“Then Israel sent messengers to Sihon king of the Amorites, who ruled in Heshbon, and said to him, ‘Let us pass through your country to our own place.’ 20Sihon, however, did not trust Israel to pass through his territory. He mustered all his men and encamped at Jahaz and fought with Israel. 21“Then the Lord, the God of Israel, gave Sihon and all his men into Israel’s hands, and they defeated them. Israel took over all the land of the Amorites who lived in that country, 22capturing all of it from the Arnon to the Jabbok and from the desert to the Jordan. 23“Now since the Lord, the God of Israel, has driven the Amorites out before his people Israel, what right have you to take it over? 24Will you not take what your god Chemosh gives you? Likewise, whatever the Lord our God has given us, we will possess. 25Are you better than Balak son of Zippor, king of Moab? Did he ever quarrel with Israel or fight with them? 26For three hundred years Israel occupied Heshbon, Aroer, the surrounding settlements and all the towns along the Arnon. Why didn’t you retake them during that time? 27I have not wronged you, but you are doing me wrong by waging war against me. Let the Lord, the Judge, decide the dispute this day between the Israelites and the Ammonites.” 28The king of Ammon, however, paid no attention to the message Jephthah sent him.As if to highlight the human dimension in the Jephthah cycle, the narrator devotes a remarkable amount of space to a new element in his recounting of the respective cycles—Jephthah’s negotiations with the Ammonites. It appears this man got down to business as soon as his leadership had been publicly and officially established. It also appears that, unlike Abimelech, Jephthah was determined at all cost to settle the Ammonite crisis peacefully by negotiating with them concerning Israel’s and the Ammonites’ conflicting land claims. In the process he demonstrates great skill as a statesman and a firm negotiator. The dialogue between him and the Ammonites is just as hard-nosed as his previous conversations with the elders of Gilead had been. There is little room for movement on either side. Consequently, although Jephthah’s intentions in seeking a diplomatic solution were honorable, his tone was far from conciliatory. With reference to literary style and form, Jephthah’s speech is formal and conventional. Specifically, O’Connell has shown that this address contains many features of the ancient Near Eastern rîb or lawsuit genre.Jephthah’s Overture (11:12–13) 11:12 From the opening summary of the first overture in v. 12, it is evident that Jephthah views himself as the one in charge. Indeed, he acts remarkably kinglike, dispatching envoys (malʾākîm), negotiating directly with the king of Ammon, dealing with the conflicting issues as if they were personal between him and the Ammonite king, and claiming the land as his own. The opening rhetorical question his ambassadors ask of the enemy, “What do you have against us?” (lit., “what is [the issue] between me and you?”) certainly creates the impression that he perceives himself as an equal. The following clause declares the issue that has precipitated the crisis: Jephthah accused the Ammonites of unmitigated military aggression against his territory.11:13 The response of the king of the sons Ammon to Jephthah’s first approach is curt and to the point. By invading the land of Gilead he has reclaimed land the Israelites had taken away from him. The king’s historical sense is both remarkable and skewed. On the one hand, he was aware of Israel’s origins in Egypt and their earlier migration to the land of Canaan. On the other hand, he accused them of injustice against him, inasmuch as they had robbed him of the territory between the Arnon and Jabbok tributaries of the Jordan (modern Wadi Mugîb and Wadi Ez-Zarqa respectively). But this is patently false. The Ammonites had never occupied this land. Even so, the new territorial claims are understandable because the Ammonite heartland consisted of an amorphous region without distinct geographic boundaries between the desert to the east and the hills of Gilead in the west. The present claims arise not only from a desire for more land but also out of a need for fixed and definable borders, such as these rivers would provide. But the Ammonite’s claim is based more on wishful thinking than on historical reality. According to the biblical record the Arnon served as the border between Moab and the Amorites (not the Ammonites), and the Israelites had gained title to the land between this river and the Jabbok by defeating the Amorite king Sihon, who ruled in Heshbon. But the Ammonite king’s reply to Jephthah is a typical political speech, claiming land that his people have never owned but basing his claim on history.Jephthah’s Speech (11:14–27)The Preamble (11:14–15) 11:14–15 Jephthah responded to the king of Ammon’s rebuff with a second delegation of envoys, sent with a specific message dictated by the Gileadite leader (vv. 14–27). This speech is remarkable not only for its length but also the formality and sophistication of Jephthah’s argumentation. The address proper begins formally with the “citation formula”: kōh ʾāmar PN, “Thus has PN declared,” in which PN identifies the source of the speech (v. 15a). This formula highlights the speaker’s heraldic role and the speech that follows as the very words of the one who sent him. Accordingly, the speech will be cast in the first person, with the messenger’s own voice functioning in place of the king’s. Jephthah’s address is a masterpiece in argumentation. He launches the speech with a thesis statement (v. 15): Israel has never claimed title to any land belonging either to Moab or Ammon. Thereafter he asserts Israel’s occupation of the territory the Ammonites are claiming with successive historical (vv. 16–22), theological (vv. 23–24), personal (v. 25), and chronological (v. 26) arguments, to a large extent expressed through effective rhetorical questions. His concluding statement (v. 27) brings the address begun with the thesis statement in v. 15 to a fitting close. The Historical Argument (11:16–22). In his speech Jephthah spent most of his time defending Israel’s historical stake in the land between the Arnon and Jabbok rivers. Superciliously he contrasted the righteousness of his own nation with the aggressiveness of the Ammonites by adding the name of Moab and placing this name first. Drawing heavily on Numbers 20–21 and Deuteronomy 2, Jephthah lectured the king of Ammon on the historical circumstances that led to the Israelites’ occupation of Gilead. Like many modern politicians, in his argumentation he mixes up the facts and conflates Israel’s encounters with Moabites, Ammonites, and Amorites; but he makes three key points. 11:16–18 First, when Israel came up from the land of Egypt, they showed the utmost respect for the territorial integrity of Moab and Edom. Having arrived at Kadesh via the desert and the Red Sea, they knew that they were to enter the land of Canaan from the east. However, this meant they would have to pass through the territories of Edom and Moab, two nations that were at this very moment trying to establish themselves south and east of the Dead Sea respectively. As if to answer the Ammonites’ charge of aggressiveness and to paint a picture of his own people in the most positive light, Jephthah highlighted the diplomatic steps his own people took to secure permission to pass through the lands of Edom and Moab. And when that permission was refused, rather than forcing their way, the Israelites had marched through the desert around these two nations until they arrived from the east at the Arnon River. Not once did they enter Moabite territory. Because of the emphasis on Moab and the absence of the name of Ammon in vv. 15–18, some argue that this address was originally an independent text directed at Moabite aggression. The omission is indeed remarkable, especially since the antecedent text, Deut 2:16–22, describes the Israelites treating Ammon the same way they had treated Edom and Moab. It is preferable, however, to see in the omission of a reference to Ammon an intentional counter to the Ammonite charge. Far from robbing the territory of Gilead from the Ammonites, the latter were completely out of the picture when the Israelites had first arrived on the scene. The Ammonites’ present claim is a fabrication based on a revisionist understanding of history. 11:19–21 Second, originally Israel had no interest in the territory Ammon is claiming—they just wanted to pass through (vv. 19–21). It fell into their hands only because the Amorite ruler of the region, Sihon, King of Heshbon, had rejected their request to pass through the land. But in making this point Jephthah highlights the fundamentally peace-loving character of the Israelites. The Israelites had tried to deal with Sihon diplomatically, but, having no confidence in the word of the Israelites, the Amorite king had called up his troops and engaged the Israelites in battle. Yahweh, the God of Israel, however, had delivered the Amorites into the newcomers’ hands. 11:22 Third, Ammon has no historical claim to this land (v. 22). The land between the Arnon and the Jabbok, the desert and the Jordan, had previously belonged to the Amorites, not Ammon. When the battle was over, this territory passed directly into the hands of the Israelites. Accordingly, Israel has never claimed any land belonging Edom, Moab, or Ammon. The Ammonites have no historical claim to this land.The Theological Argument (11:23–24) 11:23–24 In v. 21 Jephthah mentioned in passing that Yahweh, the God of Israel, had delivered Sihon and the Amorites into the hands of the Israelites. Now he expands on this theme by using two rhetorical questions, with which he presents two theological arguments. First, since Yahweh had driven the Amorites from the land, it naturally fell to Israel; the Ammonites are out of the picture once more. Jephthah highlighted the special relationship between Yahweh and Israel by referring to this association from both sides: Yahweh is the God of Israel; Israel is the people of Yahweh. Second, Israel possesses whatever Yahweh gives them, and so the Ammonites must be satisfied with whatever they have received from their god Chemosh. These arguments would have been understood by all ancient Near Easterners who accepted that each nation had a patron deity whose duty and passion was to care for his people, which included providing them with a homeland. Jephthah’s theology contains at least one serious flaw: Chemosh was not the patron deity of the Ammonites but of Moab. The divine patron of Ammon was Milkom. This discrepancy has been explained in several ways. First, Jephthah was actually involved in a war with Moab, not Ammon. The sequence of this war with Moab has been lost. Second, the tradition does indeed have Jephthah involved in a conflict with Ammon, but this speech originally concerned a conflict with the Moabites and was secondarily attached to the Jephthah story. Third, the territory in question was originally Moabite, hence under the jurisdiction of Chemosh. Because Chemosh was angry with his land, however, the power of Moab declined, and he entrusted it to the sons of Ammon. The problem with all these explanations is they take Jephthah too seriously, as if he was giving a historical and/or theological lecture. But this is a political speech. Jephthah is either engaging in propaganda for purposes of his own or is simply incorrect. As an Israelite, an inadvertent faux pas mismatching deity and nation would be excusable. On the other hand, it seems more likely that the error is intentional. The substitution of Chemosh for Milkom is of a piece with his earlier omission of Ammon in his historical survey of Israel’s association with this territory (v. 17). Jephthah’s obvious contempt for his antagonists undoubtedly contributed to the hostile response his speech received. But in this comment Jephthah also displayed contempt for his own theological traditions. Orthodox Yahwism acknowledges only one God, who is also Israel’s covenant Lord. Yahweh alone determines the boundaries of the nations. More specifically, the same tradition that recalls how the Israelites negotiated their way around Edom and Moab to the promised land also explicitly credits Yahweh with giving the Edomites, Moabites, and Ammonites the land they now occupy. But, as the next episode indicates, despite Jephthah’s pious reference to “the Lord our God” in v. 24, his theology is fundamentally syncretistic, so ideological compromises like this are not surprising. The Personal Argument (11:25) 11:25 Having scored his historical and theological points, Jephthah resorted to ad hominem argumentation. The opening question in v. 25 should be translated, “Are you indeed superior to Balak, son of Zippor, the king of Moab?” In other words, “Who does the king of Ammon think he is?” The precise identification of the king of Moab contrasts sharply with the namelessness of the Ammonite king, contributing to the image of contempt. Appealing to precedent, Jephthah presented the Ammonite with two more rhetorical questions: Did Balak ever contest Israel’s claim to this land in a court of law? Or did Balak ever try to gain control of this territory by military force? Assuming a negative answer to both questions, Jephthah in effect informed the Ammonite king that he had no business doing so either. In reality Balak did indeed resist Israel (Numbers 22–24), but not over land claims. After the Israelite defeat of the Amorite kings, Sihon and Og, the Moabites simply feared the power and presence of this newly arrived people.The Chronological Argument (11:26–27). Jephthah offered one final rhetorical question: If there is any justice to the Ammonite claims to the land of Gilead, why have they waited three hundred years to act on the claim? He concretizes the issue by referring to the villages of Heshbon and Aroer and the cities along the Arnon. Scholars’ evaluation of Jephthah’s figure range from a fundamental acceptance to the dismissal of the number as a late editorial insertion. Even if the first interpretation is desirable, it may be questioned on several counts: (1) The roundness of the number allows either an approximation or a symbolic sense. (2) Since Jephthah is either incorrectly or purposefully mistaken in other details (Chemosh for Milkom), one should perhaps not make this speech the final word on this point. (3) Since this is a political speech, Jephthah crafts his comments deliberately for propaganda purposes rather than factual reconstruction. On the other hand, as Soggin observes, Jephthah’s statement finds an approximate analogue in the Mesha Inscription referred to earlier. Line 10 asserts, “Now the men of Gad had dwelt in the region of Ataroth since time immemorial [mʿlm].” Surely Jephthah knew that the Israelites had lived in this area for generations. A figure like three hundred years was intended to make an impression on the Ammonites.11:27 Jephthah concluded his speech (v. 27) with a declaration of his personal innocence and a direct accusation of wrongdoing on the part of the Ammonites for their military aggression against Israel. He also announced his resignation of the case to Yahweh, the divine Judge. He obviously had no intention of peacefully (bĕšālôm) turning this region of Gilead over to the Ammonites, as the latter had requested (v. 13).The King of Ammon’s Response (11:28)11:28 But the king of Ammon was equally stubborn and refused to listen to the message delivered by the delegation from Jephthah. These were uncertain times in the eastern Mediterranean region. New nations were emerging in the region, and conflict was inevitable. Not until the reign of David would political order be established. The Ammonite king was eager to flex his muscles and establish his place in the region.The image this episode creates of Jephthah is filled with ambiguity. On the one hand, he sounds orthodox, particularly in his recognition of Yahweh’s role in defeating the Amorites (v. 21) and in his final commitment of the entire affair to Yahweh. On the other hand, his recognition of Chemosh’s role [sic]) in Ammonite history exposes obvious flaws in his theology. As in the previous scene, the Gileadite leader’s negotiations with the Ammonites betray a practical Yahwist. He is the sort of man whom we wonder if God will use but who has no reservations about manipulating God for his own use.
Jephthah’s Tarnished Victory (11:29–40)29Then the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah. He crossed Gilead and Manasseh, passed through Mizpah of Gilead, and from there he advanced against the Ammonites. 30And Jephthah made a vow to the Lord: “If you give the Ammonites into my hands, 31whatever comes out of the door of my house to meet me when I return in triumph from the Ammonites will be the Lord’s, and I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering.”32Then Jephthah went over to fight the Ammonites, and the Lord gave them into his hands. 33He devastated twenty towns from Aroer to the vicinity of Minnith, as far as Abel Keramim. Thus Israel subdued Ammon.34When Jephthah returned to his home in Mizpah, who should come out to meet him but his daughter, dancing to the sound of tambourines! She was an only child. Except for her he had neither son nor daughter. 35When he saw her, he tore his clothes and cried, “Oh! My daughter! You have made me miserable and wretched, because I have made a vow to the Lord that I cannot break.”36“My father,” she replied, “you have given your word to the Lord. Do to me just as you promised, now that the Lord has avenged you of your enemies, the Ammonites. 37But grant me this one request,” she said. “Give me two months to roam the hills and weep with my friends, because I will never marry.”38“You may go,” he said. And he let her go for two months. She and the girls went into the hills and wept because she would never marry. 39After the two months, she returned to her father and he did to her as he had vowed. And she was a virgin.From this comes the Israelite custom 40that each year the young women of Israel go out for four days to commemorate the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite. Jephthah’s Rout of the Sons of Ammon (11:29, 32–33) 11:29 If the engagement of Jephthah as the leader of the Transjordanian Israelites had left the reader wondering if and how God would respond, the same is true of his termination of negotiation with the Ammonites. Remarkably, it appears that as soon as the discussion had broken off, Jephthah experienced the same kind of divine empowerment that earlier judges, specifically Othniel (3:10) and Gideon (6:34) had experienced: the Spirit of Yahweh came upon him. For the first time in the narrative Yahweh ceases to be a passive witness and becomes actively involved in his life. The question raised by the divine scolding in 10:11–16 had been answered. Once again God reached out in mercy and empowered this self-made leader for his own (Yahweh’s) agenda. Whether or not Jephthah was aware of his divine empowerment is not clear, but the Spirit seems to have prompted him to tour the Transjordanian regions to recruit troops for the coming battle. The narrator only summarizes his itinerary: leaving the Israelite military base at Mizpah of Gilead (10:17), he traveled through Gilead (across the Jabbok River), into the territory of Manasseh, and then back home to Mizpah of Gilead. From here he went on to the area where the Ammonites were camped and engaged them in battle. The narrator does not say what Jephthah did on this tour, but on the analogy of the Gideon narrative (6:34–35) we may assume that he blew the trumpet throughout the land, summoning all able-bodied men to arms. Unlike the report of the spontaneous and overwhelming response of Gideon’s countrymen, however, the narrator provides no information on how many Transjordanians answered Jephthah’s call to arms. Nor is there any reference to a reduction of his forces for Yahweh’s sake. The narrator is concerned only with the movements of Jephthah. 11:30–31 Jephthah’s vow is without parallel in the book or the Bible and is unique within the Jephthah narrative itself. Verse 30 records the first and only time in which the man speaks directly to God himself. Having successfully negotiated favorable terms for his leadership over Gilead, but having unsuccessfully avoided confrontation with the Ammonites through negotiation, he sought to secure victory from God with words. But he was still negotiating—manipulating God and seeking to wrest concessions and favors from him like he had from the Gileadites and Ammonites. But in this three-linked chain of haggling one may recognize an obvious and intentional decline in his effectiveness. With the Gileadites he achieved all that he wanted (vv. 4–11); with the Ammonites he received a verbal if negative response (vv. 12–28); with Yahweh there would be only silence. Not only does the narrator fail to cite an answer, but he does not even note that God disregarded Jephthah’s vow. Ironically, although the vow was intended to win security for Jephthah, it became a trap for him. Despite his confident final declaration to the Ammonites, “Let the Lord, the Judge decide!” (v. 27), and despite his divine endowment with the Spirit, a fact apparently recognized by his troops, he remained insecure about the way in which Yahweh would adjudicate. At the same time it becomes apparent that his personal agenda superseded any concern for the plight of the Israelites.
Jephthah’s vow conforms structurally to four other vows in the Old Testament:
Jacob’s vow in Gen 28:20–22;
Israel’s vow in Num 21:2;
Hannah’s vow in 1 Sam 1:11;
Absalom’s vow in 2 Sam 15:7–8.
Jephthah’s fundamental doubts are reflected in the shape of the condition: “If you will only deliver the Ammonites into my hand …” Jephthah had everything to lose if God should fail him; all that he had gained politically would slip from his fingers. If God should abandon him, so would the people.Neither part of Jephthah’s bargain leaves any doubts about his expectations from Yahweh. He demanded that Ammon be delivered into his hands and that he return from battle “safe and sound.” But the promise he made to God in return raises several questions. First, what did Jephthah vow to present to Yahweh? The NIV’s rendering, “whatever comes out of the door[s] of my house to meet me,” captures the ambiguity of the Hebrew. Did he expect an animal or a person? Several considerations argue for the former. First, in the Old Testament the phrase “to present as a whole burnt offering,” normally refers to a nonhuman sacrifice. Second, the Old Testament displays an intense abhorrence of human sacrifices. Accordingly, “whatever comes out of the door[s] of my house” should be interpreted broadly to mean anything in Jephthah’s possession that comes out to meet him. By this interpretation Jephthah’s vow may be interpreted like many others: a pious expression adding force to a prayer by making a contract with God. But this interpretation not only leaves unexplained Jephthah’s extreme grief at being greeted by his daughter (v. 34) but also contradicts custom and, more seriously, overestimates the virtue of Jephthah. Although some may interpret the vow as rash and hastily worded, it is preferable to see here another demonstration of his shrewd and calculating nature, another attempt to manipulate circumstances to his own advantage. In this instance Jephthah was neither rash nor pious (in the orthodox Yahwistic sense)—he was outrightly pagan. Rather than a sign of spiritual immaturity and folly, like Gideon’s ephod, his vow arose from a syncretistic religious environment. In 10:10 the narrator testifies to the fact that at this time the Israelites worshiped Milkom, the Ammonite god, and Chemosh, the god of the Moabites, whose leaders are known to have sacrificed children (2 Kgs 3:27). One should not expect too much from this man, who made a name for himself as a brigand in the hills of Gilead. It is conceivable that in his travels he had many contacts and had learned much from the neighboring/oppressing Ammonites. Indeed his motives and the form of his vow bear a striking resemblance to many vows inscribed in funerary monuments in Carthage by Punic descendants of the Canaanites/Phoenicians in northern Africa. The following votive inscription is typical:To our lady, to Tanit, the face of Baʿal and to our lord, to Baʿal Hammon that which was vowed (by) PN son of PN, son of PN because he [the deity] heard his [the dedicant’s] voice and blessed him.For these people vows to sacrifice children were not rash or impulsive but deadly serious expressions of devotion. Jephthah was so determined to achieve victory over the Ammonites that he was willing to sacrifice his own child to gain a divine guarantee. The clause “whatever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me” envisages the exuberant welcome by children of a father who has been away on a military campaign. For the moment the reader does not know that Jephthah has only one child, that in putting her at risk he also jeopardizes himself, and that, ironically, in securing his own victory he sentences his lineage to death. If Jephthah’s vow follows the stereotypical form of Israelite vows in general, then the relationship between condition and consequence is quite extraordinary. Whereas other vows exhibit a close link between what is requested and what is vowed, Jephthah’s promise to sacrifice whatever would come out of the house to meet him has no connection with the battle against the Ammonites at all. On the analogy of Num 21:2 he should have offered the inhabitants of the cities he would conquer. Instead he would offer the one who should have helped him celebrate a safe return from battle. The treatment Jephthah promises for the victim of his vow is described by two clauses in the last part of the consequence: “It [He] will belong to the Lord, and I will offer it [him] as a burnt offering.” But the syntactical construction is unusual. In place of the compound clause one might have expected “and I will offer it [him] up as a whole burnt offering to the Lord.” This raises the question whether the narrator has deliberately reconstructed the consequence to soften the suggestion (intolerable in the narrator’s mind) that Jephthah might have contemplated a human sacrifice to Yahweh. The word ʿôlâ derives from a root meaning “to go up” and denotes a sacrifice that was entirely burnt on an altar, its scent and smoke ascending to God.11:32–33 Following the pattern of earlier accounts, after learning of Jephthah’s divine empowerment and the marshalling of the troops, the reader expects the narrative to move quickly to its denouement. It does indeed do so if we eliminate vv. 30–31. The narrative flows smoothly from v. 29 to v. 32 without the intervening material. In fact the account follows a pattern common in biblical victory accounts:
|The Spirit of Yahweh comes upon a deliverer||3:10||6:33||11:29||1 Sam 11:6|
|The deliverer marshals the troops||6:34–35||11:29||1 Sam 11:7–11|
|The Israelites go out to battle||3:10||11:32|
|Yahweh gives the enemy into the deliverer’s hands||3:10||11:32||1 Sam 11:13?|
The account leaves the impression that, having returned with his recruits, Jephthah immediately went on the offensive against the sons of Ammon (v. 32a). However, employing the stereotypical committal formula, the narrator is quick to give credit where credit is due: Yahweh gave the enemy into Jephthah’s hands. There is an element of ambiguity in v. 33 to be sure, but the construction suggests that Yahweh continues to be the subject. It was he who struck twenty enemy fortifications with (lit.) “an extremely great striking/slaughter” and caused the Ammonites to be subdued before the Israelites. The narrator concretizes the scope of the victory by defining the rout in geographic terms: from Aroer to the entrance to Minnith and as far as Abel-keramim. Although some identify Aroer with the well-known city on the Arnon, it is preferable to link this site with “Aroer that is before Rabbah” (Josh 13:25), that is, southwest of modern Amman. Minnith has not been identified with certainty, but a location between Amman and Heshbon is reasonable. Abel-keramim, “pasture of vineyards,” probably is to be equated with Abila, located by Eusebius six Roman leagues from Amman. Since the territory of the sons of Ammon lacked clear geographical boundaries, these three sites, together with the rest of the twenty “towns,” performed an important function in defining the border between Israelite and Ammonite land. Unlike Gideon, Jephthah appears not to have pursued the Ammonites into their own heartland. But by destroying their border fortifications he eliminated the pressure they were applying to his people.11:34 Interrupted by the notice of Yahweh’s victory over Ammon the narrative of Jephthah’s vow resumes in v. 34. Whereas in Jephthah’s mind at least vv. 30–31 had concerned his negotiations with Yahweh, in vv. 34–39 the focus is on his relationship with his daughter. The narrator creates suspense by opening with the scene of the conquering hero returning from battle to his house at Mizpah. However, the author immediately shifts the reader’s attention from the returning conqueror to the one coming out the door of his house to meet him. In his portrayal of these two personalities the narrator is at his literary best. The portrait of the young girl is painted in most sympathetic and attractive colors. Though the narrator leaves her nameless, in his mind she was obviously a special child, a perfect foil for her ambitious and calculating father. Unlike Gideon and Jephthah, but like Zebah and Zalmunnah (8:21), this girl knew the code of honor. When she saw her father approaching, with natural childlike exuberance she picked up her timbrels and danced out to greet him. The victory over the Ammonites may have made him a military hero to the Transjordanian Israelites, but to this young girl he was a hero simply because he was her father. But the intentionally redundant circumstantial clause in v. 34b emphasizes that she was no ordinary child to Jephthah either. On the contrary, she was all he had; there were no other children. In fact, with the expression yĕḥîdâ, “only child,” the narrator intentionally links this account with the account of Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac as a whole burnt offering in Genesis 22, where Isaac is identified as Abraham’s son, his yāḥîd, “only child.” This observation offers an opportunity to compare the present account in other respects. The links and contrasts may be summarized in chart form as follows:
A Comparison of Abraham’s and Jephthah’s Sacrifices
|Narrative Element||Genesis 22||Judges 11|
|Literary style||Deliberately detailed and slow-paced narrative, particularly the account of the sacrifice itself||Cursory and quick telescoped narrative, announcing the actual sacrifice in only five words|
|Literary content||Intentional climax of lengthy narrative||Seemingly superfluous intrusion in the narrative|
|Purpose of sacrifice||Test the commitment of the sacrificer||Test the commitment of God|
|The role of God||Takes initiative in commanding human sacrifice; speaks directly to sacrificer||Silent in the initiation and performance of the sacrifice; sacrificer speaks directly to God|
|Identity of sacrificer||Father of the promise, called out from his home||Son of a harlot, cast out of his home|
|Character of sacrificer|| Saintly patriarch|
Obedient to God
Sacrificer agonizes over fate
of his victim
| Paganized deliverer-hero|
Independent of God
Sacrificer grieves over his
|Identity of victim|| Isaac, divinely named |
offspring of sacrificer
| Nameless offspring of |
|Relationship of victim to |
| “One and only child”Loved deeply by the fatherAccompanied by father to|
the mountain of sacrifice
| “One and only child”“Love” is absentGoes to the mountain|
alone, without the father
|Gender of the sacrifice||Male victim||Female victim|
|Response of victim||Passive acceptance of fate||Energetic insistence on fate|
|Outcome of the sacrifice||Interrupted by voice of God|| Fulfilled because of silence|
|Significance of the sacrifice|| Confirmed the faith of the|
sacrificerConfirmed the faithfulness
and presence of GodAssured the future of the
sacrificer and his victim
| Confirmed the faithlessness of the sacrificerConfirmed the silence and|
withdrawal of GodSignaled the end of the
sacrificer and his victim
11:35 Although the present story ends with the death of the young girl, her father is the tragic figure, presenting a pathetic picture of stupidity, brutality, ambition, and self-centeredness. Ironically, the one who appeared to have become master of his own fate has become a victim of his own rash word. The strong man of Tob, the conquering hero, was a captive in his own house. There is no sign of divine empowerment or Spirit enduement as he seeks to extricate himself from his own foolish vow. Even in his response to the appearance of his daughter he could not get beyond his own personal welfare. He tore his clothes and exclaimed “Oh! [Hb. ʾăḥāh]” in grief, but despite his address of the girl as bittî, “My daughter,” his grief was not for the death of this innocent maiden but for himself. Far from displaying any hint of tenderness toward his daughter, the tone in his double barrel reaction is accusatory: “You have indeed driven me to my knees! You are responsible for my ruin!” (author translation) The irony of the scene is patent. The man who had tried to manipulate Yahweh to guarantee his “peace” (šālôm) is doomed by the one whose life he was willing to sacrifice for his own well-being. The last statement of v. 35 expresses tragic resignation. Jephthah had opened his mouth to God, so he cannot retract his words. This man who sought so desperately to be head and ruler of Israel was a victim of his own vow and of his daughter.11:36 The despicable behavior of this hero in Israel contrasts with the sensitivity and submissiveness of the child. Addressing him affectionately as “My father,” her logic was simple and resigned: “You have opened your mouth to Yahweh. He has complied by avenging you of your enemies, the Ammonites. Now you must keep the commitment that issued from your own mouth” (author paraphrase). This comment is remarkable for two reasons. First, through the speech of this young girl the narrator offers a theological interpretation of the battle. The use of the verb nāqam, “to execute vengeance, just punishment,” answers to Jephthah’s declaration in v. 27, “Let the Lord, the Judge, decide this dispute this day between the Israelites and the Ammonites.” Yahweh had indeed rendered judgment, which is expressed in the outcome of the battle. 11:37 Second, the young girl courageously and dutifully charged her father to do to her what he had vowed. Apparently this innocent child knew nothing of the Mosaic allowance for the annulment/transformation of vows involving human objects. She tried to soften the pain by requesting a concession for herself personally: that he leave her alone for two months with her friends to the mountains so she may wander about with her companions and weep because she would never be fulfilled sexually. She would indeed die a virgin, but this fact is expressed by the clause lōʾ yādĕʿâ ʾîš, literally “she did not know a man.” Why she should have asked for two months is unclear, and why she should have desired time alone with her companions rather than her family is unclear, but the image of her last days contrasts with the picture of the early Jephthah living in the hills of Gilead with his worthless companions (ʾănāšîm rēqîm, v. 3). In the end the nameless girl’s friends wept with and for her, but Jephthah wept only for himself. The narrator may also invite comparison to the sexual implications of these two scenes. Jephthah was expelled from home and sentenced to a life in the hills because he was the child of an illicit affair; this young girl chooses this sentence because she had had no children. This latter fact is critical. Not only would she die, never having conceived and borne a child, but because Jephthah had no other children, his seed would die with her. The general perspective of the Old Testament is that parents live on in their children. Accordingly, to die without progeny was considered a terrible fate. With his vow Jephthah had tried to secure his present, but through it he ends up sacrificing his future. 11:38–39a Following this conversation the account moves quickly to its denouement. The narrator records Jephthah’s verbal permission (“Go”), and then reports him sending her off for two months. Accompanied by her friends she spends the last days of her life in the mountains lamenting the fact that she will die a virgin, never having known the joy of sexual intimacy and, more importantly, failing to carry on the family line. With her death the family dies. The narrator deliberately softens the horror of her end and spares the reader the horrific details. On the analogy of Gen 22:9b–10 we might have expected the following:
Jephthah built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his daughter [name] and laid her on the altar on top of the wood. Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his daughter. The details can be recounted in the earlier story because the actions demonstrate faith and have a positive outcome—Isaac is spared, and the commitment of the father is acknowledged by God. But here the narrator describes with five simple words in Hebrew the abhorrent and unspeakable notion that an Israelite sacrificed his child to Yahweh as a whole burnt offering: “and-he-did to-her his-vow which he-had-vowed.” The contrast with the description of Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac could scarcely be starker. But there is more. Whereas Abraham’s sacrifice of his son assured him of a hope and a future, Jephthah’s sacrifice of his daughter robbed him of both. The conquering hero is reduced to nothing. 11:39b-40 The present narrative ends with a reflective comment and an aetiological note. Both elements reflect the irony of the event. First the narrator reminds the readers that despite her mourning over her virginity, Jephthah’s daughter’s condition did not change. Accordingly the fate of the man who tried so desperately to find security in life is sealed—he dies with his victim. Second, the narrator notes the enduring luster of the young girl’s reputation. No memorials were erected for Jephthah, but the memory of his daughter was immortalized in a festival celebrated in her honor. Nothing specific is known of this festival, except that it was observed four days each year by the women of Israel. It is doubtful this observance ever became a national event. The absence of any external attestation probably may be attributed to the fact that the events described to this point have all concerned only the Transjordanian tribes, whom their Cisjordanian countrymen tended to marginalize from the beginning. Theological and Practical Implications Some reflective comments are appropriate at this point before moving to the next episode in the recorded life of Jephthah. First, scholars have long noted the thematic links between this short episode and several stories from ancient extrabiblical writings. A story from Crete has the king of the island Idomenaeus caught in a shipwreck and making a vow to sacrifice to Neptune the first person to come out to meet him should he return safely. Cited more often is the Greek legend of the daughter of Agamemnon, Iphegenia, which appears in many variations. Particularly tantalizing is one Euripidean version that has Agamemnon vowing to sacrifice to Artemis the most beautiful creature born that year within his kingdom. When that creature turns out to be his daughter, he wavers until the prophet Calchas declares to him that a fleet of ships that has been grounded for weeks in Aulis will be released by a favorable wind only if and when he complies. The speech of Calchas reads as follows:Agamemnon, Captain of Hellas, there can be no way of setting your ships free, till the offering you promised Artemis is given to her. You had vowed to render Her in sacrifice the loveliest thing each year should bear. You have owed long since the loveliness which Clytemnestra had borne to you, your daughter, Iphegenia. Summon your daughter now and keep your word.However, at the last moment Artemis provides a hind as a substitute and carries the young girl off to the region of the Taurians in the Crimea and makes her priestess. Since the differences between the present Jephthah account and these Greek stories are much greater than the similarities, the links between them should not be pressed. Perhaps the most that can be said is that the events described in this paragraph are realistic, especially if one recognizes the author’s intent to describe a paganized Jephthah. Second, it has often been noted that the narrator makes no evaluative comments on Jephthah’s conduct in this event. Accordingly many continue to condone his actions, either by making his treatment of his daughter more spiritual than the text and context warrant (she was dedicated to Yahweh for a lifetime of celibate religious service) or by dismissing his vow as a rash act of folly. In any case, having made the vow and having witnessed Yahweh’s fulfillment of the eventuality demanded, Jephthah was faced with three options. First, assuming the irrevocability of a vow such as this, the valorous response would have been to sacrifice his own šālôm and leave the vow unfulfilled. To be sure, this would have brought the curse upon himself, but it would have spared his daughter and in so doing secured his own future. Second, he could have followed the Mosaic Torah and paid twenty shekels to the priest at the central shrine as compensation for the life of his daughter. Leviticus 27:1–8 regulates cases in which one person vows another, that is, devotes a person to the sanctuary for sacred service and then for reasons unspecified finds it impossible or impractical to fulfill the vow. Admittedly, the present case is different, inasmuch as Jephthah has vowed to sacrifice his daughter as a burnt offering, but one may argue on the rabbinic principle of qal wāḥômer (lit. “light and heavy”) that a rule that applied in a lesser case would certainly apply in a more serious case involving the very life of a human being. Third, Jephthah could have done as he in fact did; he fulfilled the vow to the letter. The text is silent on whether or not he contemplated a different option. Given Jephthah’s spiritual disposition his sacrifice of his daughter represented the ultimate expression of devotion and piety. But if the author found this act so abhorrent, why does he not express his revulsion at this outrage? The answer is he does. On the one hand, as noted earlier, the superfluity of the vow is suggested by the way in which he includes it in an otherwise complete narrative. On the other hand, Jephthah’s actions are implicitly denounced by the way in which the author makes certain statements. Not only does Jephthah’s vow appear to have been deliberately cast to repress the notion of a child sacrificed to Yahweh, but, even more telling, he describes Jephthah’s fulfillment of the vow with a simple general statement: “He did to her as he had vowed” (v. 39). Although these features imply condemnation, the narrator’s disposition is explicitly expressed by the location of the Jephthah cycle within the “Book of Deliverers.” In light of the editorial principle declared in 2:18–20 and following the Gideon story, which ended in the construction of the paganized ephod, Jephthah’s conduct is to be interpreted as a further illustration of Israel’s increasingly Canaanized character. The placement of the Jephthah cycle immediately after the story of Abimelech also invites a negative comparison with this man. Abimelech had sacrificed his Israelite half-brothers at the altar of his own ambition so he could rule over his Canaanite half-brothers. Jephthah did one better—he sacrificed his own daughter and with her himself that he might rule over a tribe of his Israelite half-brothers. Feminists have found in this text a store of ammunition to denounce any form of patriarchalism. In Jephthah’s treatment of his daughter they recognize the inherently abusive character of traditional social structures, patriarchy in particular. Since the highest value in patriarchal societies is supposedly the maintenance of male dominance, in such contexts women have no value except as tools, chattel to be manipulated and disposed at will in the interests of and for the honor of men. In response it must be acknowledged without equivocation or qualification that Jephthah’s sacrifice of his daughter represents the ultimate in abuse. He not only violated the human race by eliminating one of its members, an image of God with inherent dignity equal to his own, but he also violated his own flesh and blood. If homicidal crimes may be classified, pedicide must rank among the most heinous. This young woman, whose memory was celebrated in Israel for generations and whom we still honor by grieving over her death, was a victim of faithfulness to an unfaithful vow. And in her fate she represents all the courageous daughters of abusive fathers. But Jephthah does not represent normative patriarchy. It has been observed repeatedly that little in the Book of Judges is normal or normative. In fact, the farther one reads in the book the more aberrant and abhorrent the conduct of individuals (particularly men) becomes. Like many other males in the book, Jephthah represents patriarchy at its worst, where the focus is on the “archy,” expressed in twisted and exploitative rule of the father. Admittedly the narratives of the Old Testament all too often reflect a degenerate society in which those with power, whether kings, or judges, or elders, or fathers, use their office for their own personal ends and in the process abuse those over whom they have charge.But this is not the normative biblical pattern, nor is the problem resolved by eliminating all hierarchical structures in society. The answer lies in the transformation of society so that those in authority, including fathers as heads of households, view themselves as servants of those under them and, like Christ, sacrifice all personal advantage for the well-being of others. This is true spiritual headship. Given the abuses that men have imposed upon women and children, it may be necessary to abandon the word “patriarchy,” “the rule of the father,” but this does not mean that the institution of fatherhood or the responsible headship of men in the homes should be abolished. The inclusion of this episode in the Jephthah narrative heightens the tragic character of his life. Here was a man who overcame the abuses of his own past to become the foremost military general in his time and the ruler of the Transjordanian tribes. With the eventual support of his countryfolk and empowered by the Spirit of God, he possessed tremendous potential for greatness. Tragically and ironically the man whose basic gift was facility with words falls prey to his own foolish utterance. But the narrative also heightens our sympathy for his daughter. Her death was not her greatest tragedy. It was her death as a virgin. By Jephthah’s vow she too is rendered childless. It is some consolation to learn that though we do not know her name, her companions did, and the daughters of Israel preserved her heroic memory in their annual ritual. But where is Yahweh in all this? He remains strangely silent. The Legacy of Jephthah (12:1–7) 1The men of Ephraim called out their forces, crossed over to Zaphon and said to Jephthah, “Why did you go to fight the Ammonites without calling us to go with you? We’re going to burn down your house over your head.”2Jephthah answered, “I and my people were engaged in a great struggle with the Ammonites, and although I called, you didn’t save me out of their hands. 3When I saw that you wouldn’t help, I took my life in my hands and crossed over to fight the Ammonites, and the Lord gave me the victory over them. Now why have you come up today to fight me?”4Jephthah then called together the men of Gilead and fought against Ephraim. The Gileadites struck them down because the Ephraimites had said, “You Gileadites are renegades from Ephraim and Manasseh.” 5The Gileadites captured the fords of the Jordan leading to Ephraim, and whenever a survivor of Ephraim said, “Let me cross over,” the men of Gilead asked him, “Are you an Ephraimite?” If he replied, “No,” 6they said, “All right, say ‘Shibboleth.’ ” If he said, “Sibboleth,” because he could not pronounce the word correctly, they seized him and killed him at the fords of the Jordan. Forty-two thousand Ephraimites were killed at that time.7Jephthah led Israel six years. Then Jephthah the Gileadite died, and was buried in a town in Gilead. Jephthah’s Conflict with Ephraim (12:1–6) Jephthah may have survived the personal crisis of his own doing in 11:30–31, 34–40, but his problems were not over. His victory over Ammon was further tarnished by the national crisis his achievements precipitated. The closing reference to “Jephthah the Gileadite” in the previous episode (11:40) is ominous. His military feats may have confirmed him as “ruler” (qāṣîn) and “head” (rōʾš) over the Transjordanian highlands, but not all in Israel accepted his leadership. As in the foregoing narratives, direct speech dominates the presentation of the new crisis that surfaces in chap. 12. But as with the Ammonites, this time Jephthah’s skills as a negotiator were insufficient to resolve the problem. Again he must resort to arms, but now it would not be against a foreign enemy but against his own people! The final recorded episode of his life reflects the political disintegration within Israel that accompanied the spiritual declension. Jealousies drive east versus west, Gilead versus Ephraim. 12:1 The sad conclusion to the Jephthah story begins with the reappearance of the Ephraimites who are in a hostile mood. The narrator notes that they were summoned (to war). In failing to identify the person who had called them, however, he shows that the disposition expressed is characteristic of the tribe as a whole, not simply of some disgruntled leader. As they had done to Gideon (8:1–3), the Ephraimites expressed resentment that they had not been invited to participate in the campaign against the Ammonites (cp. their comments in 8:1 and 12:1). But this time they were even more contentious and bellicose. With their armies ready for battle they appeared before Jephthah at Zaphon and threatened to burn down his house for slighting them because he had dared to go into battle without them. Jephthah had already lost his household; now they announce their determination to burn down his physical house. Instead of congratulating Jephthah for his accomplishment and thanking him for delivering them from the Ammonite menace, in their jealousy and wounded sense of self-importance the Ephraimites determined to destroy the deliverer. Like the confrontation with Gideon, this event exposes a serious flaw in the Ephraimite character. They had no pride in greater Israel, let alone any respect for the Transjordanians.12:2–3 True to form, Jephthah tried to talk his way out of another crisis. His carefully crafted disputation speech consists of five parts. First, he introduced himself. He had been involved in an intense controversy with his own people and with Ammon. The NIV and most modern translations smooth out the odd construction of the first sentence by pitting Jephthah and his people against the Ammonites. But in so doing an important nuance is lost. In the first part of the sentence Jephthah described himself (lit.): “I was a man of contention,” that is, “a contentious man.” The narrator’s choice of rîb, “contention,” plus the addition of mĕʾōd, “very, much,” intentionally places Jephthah in the same class as the Ephraimites (cf. 8:1b). The loci of this Gileadite’s stress are highlighted by the parenthetical addition “I, and my people, and the sons of Ammon.” He hereby reminded the Ephraimites that his entire public life has been characterized by contention, first with his own people (an allusion to 11:1–11), and then with the Ammonites (an allusion to 11:12–29, 32–33). The Ephraimites may not have realized it, but in Jephthah they had finally met their match. At the same time, the narrative is reaching its climax. Jephthah’s life of conflict has reached its fourth and final stage: Second, Jephthah accused the Ephraimites of failing to respond to his call to arms. He claimed to have summoned them to rescue him from the Ammonites. Whether or not he had actually done so, we cannot tell. The narrator has not told us that he was ever in the clutches of the enemy, nor that he had summoned the Ephraimites. Knowing Jephthah this probably was a fabrication for the sake of the moment.Third, he lauded himself for his own initiative and courage in the critical moment. Realizing that no help was forthcoming from the Ephraimites, he had risked his life and crossed over to the Ammonite camp. In 9:17 Jotham had used a similar idiom to laud the achievements of his father Gideon. Again the comment invites comparison with Gideon’s earlier response before the Ephraimites (8:2–3a). In the narratives, however, the roles are reversed. Whereas Gideon’s self-deprecating comments are known to contradict his heroic actions, Jephthah’s self-laudation flies in the face of the narrator’s silence regarding any specific acts of heroism. Fourth, Jephthah acknowledged the role of Yahweh in the victory over the Ammonites. On the surface his declaration sounds as deferential as Gideon’s comment in 8:3a, but this is undoubtedly nothing more than feigned piety intended to impress his challengers. Fifth, he rebuked the Ephraimites for threatening him. The rhetorical question at the end of v. 3 appears to be seeking an explanation, but the sequel demonstrates that Jephthah really had no interest in waiting for an answer or negotiating a settlement. The question implies that it was foolish to be fighting him. How the Ephraimites should have responded to him is left unsaid. Did Jephthah expect them to acquiesce before him like his Gileadite compatriots had? In examining Jephthah’s speech as a whole, the alert reader cannot help but notice the change in his tone since his encounters with the Gileadites and Ammonites in chap. 11. Despite his reference to “my people” in v. 2 his use of first person singular pronouns throughout demonstrated that the Ephraimite hostility was a personal matter to him. They had challenged his leadership. Jephthah’s response lacks any moral interest, not to mention any concern for the solidarity of Israel. Unlike 11:27 there was not even an appeal to Yahweh as judge. Yahweh was brought in only to enhance Jephthah’s own case. 12:4 Whereas Gideon’s speech in 8:1–3 had effectively assuaged the wrath of the Ephraimites, Jephthah’s address had the opposite effect. Instead of relaxing their spirits (8:3c), their hardened disposition toward him was expressed in a disparaging and taunting slur: he and his fellow Gileadites are nothing more than fugitives (NIV, “renegades”) from Ephraim. The plural noun pĕlîṭîm should be interpreted in its normal sense, that is, as “fugitives, escapees,” from some peril, especially battle. The narrative provides no hint of a previous battle between Gilead and Ephraim, and one suspects the comment is a conscious and derogatory fabrication, perhaps alluding to the Gileadite’s occupation of land east of the Jordan, outside Israel’s heartland. At the same time, the use of the phrase “fugitives” is surely intended to touch a sore spot in Jephthah’s own experience, generalizing his own painful personal experience as an outcast from his Gileadite countrymen (11:1–7) to the entire population. The meaning of the last phrase in v. 4, “in the midst of Ephraim and in the midst of Manasseh,” is uncertain. It seems best to interpret this in a semignomic sense: “being in Ephraim is like being in Manasseh” (JPSV), that is, they would find no refuge in Manasseh, their homeland. 12:5–6 Jephthah responded to this personal insult by assembling all the troops of Gilead and attacking the Ephraimites who had crossed the Jordan to challenge him. In the meantime his men captured the fords of the Jordan to prevent any Ephraimite fugitives from escaping to their home territory. The repetition of the phrase, pĕlîṭê ʾeprayim, “fugitives of Ephraim,” cleverly turns the Ephraimite taunt on their own heads, as the true fugitives of Ephraim are exposed. Whereas in v. 4b the phrase had referred to Gileadite fugitives fleeing from Ephraim, here it applies to Ephraimite fugitives fleeing from Gilead. As in the case of Gideon in chap. 8, the Gileadite victory over the non-Israelite enemies emboldened them to brutalize their own countrymen. Whenever an Ephraimite fugitive approached the Gileadites guarding the ford over the Jordan, the latter would inquire whether or not he was an Ephraimite. Understandably, to save their lives the Ephraimites would deny their tribal identity. The Gileadites, however, devised a clever way of exposing them. Suspicious persons were commanded to say šibbōlet, knowing full well that the Ephraimite pronunciation of the word sounded like sibbōlet. Although the origin of this sh:s contrast is not entirely clear, the issue seems to be phonetic rather than phonemic. This probably is not a case of divergent development of sibilants in Gileadite and Ephraimite dialects of Hebrew but simply a case of differentiation in the pronunciation of the same sibilant in these regions. The results of this civil war were devastating, for there were some forty-two thousand Ephraimite casualties. If the figure is to be taken literally, the Ephraimites suffered almost as many losses as the Benjamites would later in 20:35, 46, when they were virtually wiped out as a tribe. The narrator seems to be satisfied that this is appropriate punishment for the Ephraimites’ egomania. This event reflects and reinforces the Jordan River as a geographical and psychological barrier between eastern and western Israelites (Joshua 22). It also reinforces the narrator’s negative disposition toward the Ephraimites, whom he portrays as the principal instigators of civil strife in Israel. But, as after the final scene in chap. 11, in the face of this brutal slaughter Yahweh’s silence is deafening. Israel has indeed become its own worst enemy, and God appears content to let the nation destroy itself.Epilogue (12:7) 12:7 Mirroring the spiritual and national disintegration within Israel, the narrative pattern established in the Othniel cycle shows increasing signs of disintegration. The Jephthah cycle ends without declaring that the Ammonite menace had been eliminated or that the land was secure during his tenure, let alone attributing this newfound security to Yahweh. In fact, as already noted, the ending bears a closer resemblance to the parenthetical notes concerning the secondary governors in 10:1–5 and 12:8–15 than the endings to most of the deliverer narratives. In keeping with the pattern elsewhere, the narrator generalizes Jephthah’s government (šāpaṭ) to Israel, but he reminds the reader of his tribal/ regional context by identifying Jephthah as “the Gileadite” and noting that he was buried in one of the towns of Gilead. Theological and Practical Implications The narrator’s account of the Jephthah cycle underscores many of the lessons learned from previous episodes in the book. As in the accounts of Gideon before and Samson after, chaps. 11–12 paint an ambivalent picture of this “deliverer.” Positively, the reader observes that although Jephthah began with several serious strikes against him he overcame all these deprivations and rose in power, eventually becoming the premier military and political figure in/from the Transjordan in Israelite history. Among the strikes against him we note:
(1) he was an illegitimate child;
(2) he was cast out by his family and tribe;
(3) he gathered around him other social outcasts and lived a life of brigandry and banditry;
(4) he was a Gileadite, which, from the Ephraimites’ perspective in particular, is equivalent to living on the “wrong side of the tracks.” Being strong and resourceful, however, Jephthah was able to overcome these odds and make a significant mark in history.
Negatively, Jephthah was an extremely tragic figure. Overcoming marginalization by birth, family, clan, and geography and displaying a natural talent with words, the potential for true greatness was within his grasp. But in the end he became a victim of his own ambition and his tongue, dying without a descendant to carry on his name and his family. Though he rose as high as any man could, he operated as a man with inverted priorities, an eminent illustration of the adage “Everyone, including the ‘deliverers,’ did what was right in his own eyes.” He was Jephthah first, a Gileadite second, and an Israelite third. Accordingly, he displayed a willingness to sacrifice anything and anyone to satisfy his own ambition, which knew no bounds. This egotistical man proves himself the consummate manipulator who opportunistically seizes power over his tribesmen, bargains with God, victimizes his daughter, and brutalizes fellow Israelites. The placement of this narrative within the book suggests that of all the ‘deliverers’ named to this point, Jephthah represents the ethical and spiritual low point. Perhaps most reprehensible of all his pagan or at least semipagan features, he stooped to the despicable act of offering his own daughter as a whole burnt offering to deity to achieve his goal. He may have been a governor, a head, a commander, and a leader in Israel, but he never cared about the people he governed nor about the God to whom they belong. But the account of Jephthah also offers telling information on the state of the nation of which he is a citizen. As Jotham had so eloquently expressed in his fable (9:7–15), this people has received the leader they deserve. This son of a harlot embodies all that is wrong in spiritually harlotrous Israel. For him (and for Israel) sacrifice is not an expression of gratitude to God or a worshipful act of communion. Rather, it is a tool employed to manipulate God. Leadership is a privilege to be received from God and the people and exercised for the glory of God and the well-being of the led. In the end Jephthah may have solved the Ammonite crisis, but he left his own nation in a worse state than he had found it (or it had found him). The people once united under Moses and Joshua were disintegrating under the cancer of jealousy, which exposed the raw nerves of linguistic, tribal, and spiritual division. Israel had become as fragmented as the Canaanite population they were commanded to expunge.More particularly, this episode exposes the character of the Ephraimites. In the beginning they dismissed the Gileadites as good-for-nothing “survivors of Ephraim,” but in the end they have themselves become the “survivors of Ephraim.” Earlier in 8:1–3 the Ephraimites had been portrayed as an arrogant and independent tribe, easily offended when excluded from significant roles in military affairs. This episode has been rightly interpreted as a parody, a satirical literary portrait, further exposing the same flaw. In the narrator’s eyes the high and mighty Ephraimites are an insufferable lot of bunglers, cowards, and dullards. They insult the Gileadites with demeaning epithets and presumptuously (and cowardly) threaten to burn down the house of the hero of the Ammonite battle, but they themselves are incompetent on the battlefield (they lose forty-two thousand men at the hands of these nobodies), fail to make good on their threat to Jephthah, stupidly try to cross the Jordan at fords controlled by the Gileadites, and cannot even speak proper Hebrew. The author’s anti-Ephraimite disposition is obvious.In the course of this national disintegration, we also witness the disintegration of the family and the evils of patricentric social structures run amok. Jephthah was a man without a father, the son of a woman who sold her body and a man who assumed no responsibility for his sexual conduct. Because Jephthah had no father, he had no past. Because he had no past, he eventually has no future. Jephthah lacked understanding of the theological origins of his nation and had no appreciation for Israel as a community—a community of blood, descended from one ancestor, and of faith, united in the worship of Yahweh their redeemer. Cut off from his own spiritual heritage, he had nothing to offer the nation but raw power. In this he highlights the problem not only of fatherlessness but the loss of a biblical understanding of fatherhood. He appeared as an independent male, without father, brother, or son, lodged between two women—his mother and his daughter. Without godly role models and responsible peers he was left to carve out his own path. Unlike Samson, who follows, there is no record of his abuse of his sexual powers, but his image of masculinity is twisted out of shape. Male power was exercised for male ends; others— female and male—were exploited and abused in the interest of dominance.But this narrative does not demonstrate that patricentrism is fundamentally evil and abusive. Jephthah does not represent the biblical model of fatherhood or male headship, which would have the leader sacrifice his own life for the sake of the led rather than vice versa. Jephthah illustrates the problem of Canaanite forms of patriarchy, in which positions of responsibility are cut off from covenantal loyalty and spiritual devotion to God. The biblical norm views headship as responsibility, not privilege; as accountability, not power. Accordingly, one’s personal shalom is brought about by promoting the shalom of those in one’s charge.Finally, in this account we witness the power of the spoken word, for ill or for good. Jephthah, more gifted with words than any other character in the book, trapped himself in his own speech. Even more tragically, he trapped his daughter as well. She courageously gave her life that he might be presented and preserved as a man of his word, but this does not transform his faithless vow into an act of piety. On the contrary, it renders him guilty of the blood of his own daughter. The young woman might have taken comfort in her female friends who commemorated her death annually or the fact that her memory was kept alive in the written word, but this cannot neutralize, let alone heal, the horrible grief Jephthah caused. But how should we evaluate Yahweh’s silence in this narrative? After Israel’s sham repentance (10:10–16) he appears to have left the nation to its own resources. This seems to be confirmed by his silence in the rise of Jephthah as leader in Israel and in the wake of Jephthah’s pedicidal outrage. And the brutal slaughter of the Ephraimites screams for an explanation. The narrator acknowledges, however, that in spite of Israel’s false penitence and the defective qualities of her leaders, Yahweh does indeed give victory (11:32–33). But his responses to Israel are not based on merit or desert. His acts can only be characterized as gracious and merciful. He is more determined to save this Canaanized nation than they are to save themselves.
*JEPHTHAH, THE OUTCAST JUDGE Judges 10:6–12:7 The Scribe composed this dramatic and tragic story from older materials during the reign of Jehoiakim, who was “shedding innocent blood, and… practicing oppression and violence” (Jer. 22:17), while his people were burning “their sons and their daughters in the fire” (Jer. 7:31), believing that this was approved by Yahweh (Johannes Pedersen, Israel, Its Life and Culture). It is a skillfully wrought narrative about an outcast who becomes a savior, a victor who becomes a victim of his own intemperate vow, a war of liberation against oppressors on the east followed by a bitter civil war against a jealous fraternal tribe on the west. Warfare, past and present, dominates this story in a special way, as we can see from the fact that the Hebrew word translated “fight” or “make war” (laham) occurs fifteen times in these three chapters—more frequently than in the entire book up to this point (see above, pp. 102–3). Jephthah as a hero of faith (Heb. 11:32) is a complex and ambiguous character who is nevertheless a servant of God’s purpose of salvation. We may indeed see ourselves and our times mirrored in this disturbing episode in the book of Judges.
The Oppression: Land-Grabbing Both the Gideon and the Jephthah stories are about land. In the first, a fertile land is laid waste by powerful outside commercial interests and an internal civil conflict. The Jephthah story is about conflicting claims of—and armed struggle for—possession and control of the land, involving social, economic, religious, and political issues. The Economics of Land-Grabbing. Ammon’s traditional territory was situated about 30 km. (20 mi.) east of the Jordan River, between the Jabbok River on the north and a line a few kilometers north of the Dead Sea on the south. The capital city of Rabbath-ammon (present day Amman, capital of Jordan) was strategically located at the point where the east and west branches of the King’s Highway, the only trade and communication route between Elath and Damascus, converged. Along this road medicinal balm from Gilead (Gen. 37:25; 43:11; Ezek. 27:17; Jer. 8:22) as well as products from Egypt, Arabia, Canaan, Syria, and Mesopotamia would travel. Ammon’s economic advantage at Rabbath-ammon was limited by Israelite possession of land between Ammon and the Jordan River in the district of Gilead. Ammon’s alliance with the Philistines, suggested in Judg. 10:7, may well have been due to converging trade interests. Ammon, in control of the major trade route east of the Jordan, could gain by linking up with Philistia, which controlled the coastal road called in Roman days the Via Maris. The raids mentioned in v. 9 may be seen as Ammonite probes across Gilead, weakened by a defeat in “that year” (v. 8), to gain access to three roads from Jericho to the west: (1) the road in Judah leading to Kiriath-jearim, Beth-shemesh, and the coast, (2) the road in Benjamin leading to Gibeon, Beth-horon, and Gezer, and (3) the road in Ephraim leading to Bethel and Aphek.Previously Ehud had blocked the Moabite/Ammonite attempt to get access to these roads, and Shamgar had stopped the “pre-Philistine” advance along the Gezer–Beth-horon road. Similar attempts in the north had been prevented by Deborah/Barak and Gideon. By Jephthah’s time, there are hints from archaeology that the Philistines had extended their influence south from Beth-shean to Succoth in the Jordan Valley, which had been alienated from Israel by Gideon’s harsh punishment (8:16). Succoth was located just north of the Gileadite shrine city of Mizpah. In view of these unsuccessful attempts to link up with the Philistines on the coast, the Ammonite king’s main concern was to consolidate his control of the King’s Highway, since part of it ran through Israelite Gilead both south and north of Rabbath-ammon. To achieve this it would be necessary to expand to the west and take over land occupied by Israelites who lived in Gilead. The resulting eighteen-year occupation (10:8) forms the backdrop for the conflict in Jephthah’s time.
The Theology of Land Loss Where Sin Increased: Seven Harlotries (10:6–8). The Scribe uses familiar expressions, such as “again did what was evil,” in order to place the Ammonite aggression in the framework of Yahweh’s constructive anger (3:7–8, 12; 4:1–2; 6:1; see above, p. 61). But his enumeration of the gods of seven (10:6) of “the peoples who were round about them” (2:12) suggests an intention to portray this as the most extreme case of behavior “worse than their fathers” (2:19). In the words of the psalmist, the people of Israel mingled with the nations, learned their ways, and polluted the land (Ps. 106:35, 38), and thus lost control of it. The Scribe’s reference to Israel’s illicit love affair with the gods of seven peoples serves to prepare the reader not only for the grim events in the rest of the book of Judges, but also for the violent actions of later kings like Ahab, Manasseh, and Jehoiakim. Readers in the time of the Scribe would recall that gods of three of the five nations (of Moab, Ammon, and Sidon; Judg. 10:6) were the chief sources of corruption in the court of King Solomon (1 Kgs. 11:1). Solomon showed his subservience to them by building a state system “upon coercion in which free citizens were enslaved for state goals”. The gods of Sidon were identified with the evil influence of Queen Jezebel (1 Kgs. 16:31) on King Ahab (1 Kgs. 21:25–26), notorious for the royal confiscation of the land of Naboth (v. 16). All five of the nations in Judg. 10:6 appear in Amos’ list of the aggressor nations who revealed their true nature by violating “the covenant of brotherhood” (Amos 1:9) with shocking violence, aggressive territorial expansion, brutal slave trade for economic gain and political domination (Amos 1:3, Syria; v. 6, Philistia; v. 9, Phoenicia; v. 13, Ammon; 2:1, Moab). To serve the gods of these nations would mean to accept their values as norms for behavior. We have only to read passages about land-grabbing and oppression in Mic. 2:2; 3:1–3; Isa. 5:8 to understand how the values held by these nations could be internalized by the rich and powerful in Israel. Serving the gods of the oppressors could mean surrender of Israelite political and religious independence and conscription of Israelite manpower into their armies. Israelites would have to serve on feudally organized agricultural estates and tend flocks and herds. Serving foreign gods would cause the weakening or disappearance of Israelite social institutions and the impoverishment of the Israelite people. Furthermore, it would mean the corruption of those with property (such as Jephthah’s father) in order to seek favor with the oppressors. This is the meaning of the word “oppressed” (Judg. 10:8), which translates a rare Hebrew word, recalling the consequences of covenant violation, that “you shall be only oppressed and crushed continually” (Deut. 28:33). Grace Abounded: Seven Deliverances (10:11–16). In this third and final message from Yahweh to Israel (Heb. 1:1), the Scribe presents seven acts of salvation to balance Israel’s seven “harlotries” (Judg. 2:17; 8:33). In the first message, God had asked, “What is this you have done” (2:2)? In the second, he chided them: “You have not given heed to my voice” (6:10). Finally, God exclaims in exasperation, “I will deliver you no more” (10:13), and tells them to go to the other gods they have chosen for deliverance (v. 14; cf. Jer. 2:28). Once Again, Repentance. On previous occasions Israel had simply cried for help, appealing to Yahweh’s covenant obligation (Judg. 3:9, 15; 4:3; 6:7). At this solemn assembly, possibly at Mizpah of Gilead (11:11), for the first time in the book of Judges Israel shows a consciousness of corporate guilt. When God shows skepticism about the sincerity of the first confession, “we have sinned” (10:10; cf. Hos. 6:4), the people of Israel show signs of true repentance in three stages: (1) they repeat their confession; (2) they throw themselves on God’s grace (“do to us whatever seems good to thee,” Judg. 10:15); and (3) they take practical steps to put away the seven gods (cf. Jer. 4:1–2), thus recovering their mission identity as a light to the nations (cf. Isa. 42:6; 49:6). Only then does Yahweh become “indignant over the misery of Israel” (Judg. 10:16). Once again Israel encounters “the awesome fact of God’s continued compassion in spite of their continual weakness”. There is grace abounding for the chief of sinners. The Consequence of Repentance (10:17–18). The immediate consequence of putting away the gods of Ammon and other nations is an Ammonite “call to arms” (the Scribe uses the same Hebrew word in v. 12 for “cry”) in order to crush any signs of independence among their formerly docile subjects. Besides crying to Yahweh, the leaders of Gilead look around for “the man that will begin to fight against the Ammonites” (v. 18). Apparently Ammonite power had either crushed or corrupted all potential leaders in Gilead during the eighteen-year occupation. The man of the hour was quietly biding his time in the borderland of Tob, like Moses in Midian (Exod. 3:1), David in Ziklag (2 Sam. 1:1), or Jeroboam in Egypt (1 Kgs. 11:40). God’s Deliverer The Stone Which the Builders Rejected The Scribe now pauses to introduce the future deliverer in seven quick strokes of the pen:
1. Jephthah’s name (“God opens [the womb]”) indicates that he will have a divinely appointed role to play, although when he opens his mouth he will close the womb of his virgin daughter (Judg. 11:35–36).
2. He is called “the Gileadite” three times (11:1, 40; 12:7). Despite the circumstances of his birth, he is a true native son of Gilead. Further, he is emphatically not an Ephraimite immigrant (cf. v. 4), but will arouse the envy of the Ephraimites (v. 1).
3. He is a skilled warrior (11:1), well qualified to lead the fight against the Ammonite oppressors. The Hebrew expression indicates that he has great courage like David (“a man of valor,” 1 Sam. 16:18) and natural leadership ability like Jeroboam (“very able,” 1 Kgs. 11:28).
4. He is the son of an extralegal liaison with “another woman” (Judg. 11:2), a “harlot” (v. 1). In Southeast Asian terms, she could be a minor wife, lover, or foreign woman, as in Neh. 13:23 (cf. Seth Erlandsson, “zāna [zānāh],” TDOT 4:101). It is not clear whether this meant that Jephthah would be classified as a mamzer (RSV “bastard,” NEB “descendant of an irregular union,” NIV “born of a forbidden marriage”) and therefore would be excluded from participation in the religious and political life of the community (Deut. 23:2). In any case, he was an outsider through no fault of his own.
5. He is the son of a nameless man of Gilead (the territorial name conceals the father’s identity), who as a man of property would naturally have had to collaborate with the Ammonites in order to survive.
6. He is a disinherited fugitive from the envy of his half-brothers, who want above all to inherit his share of their father’s property (Judg. 11:2). These envious half-brothers are also elders in Gilead (v. 7).
7. He is, finally, a kind of bandit chief of a group of dispossessed men (“worthless fellows”) in the borderland of Tob. Eric J. Hobshawm has suggested that these might be escaped serfs, ruined freeholders, pastoralists denied access to sufficient pasturage, all of whom shared economic marginality. Jephthah would be “an outsider and a rebel, a poor man who refuses to accept the normal roles of poverty, and establishes his freedom by means of the only resources within reach of the poor, strength, bravery, cunning and determination” (Bandits, 76). In this role he resembles David (1 Sam. 22:1–2), who with his band extorted “protection money” from the rich, plundered Judah’s traditional enemies, and shared the spoil with the village elders.
Tob, located near the sources of the Yarmuk River, was on the border separating Syrian, Ammonite, and Israelite power. It was, on the one hand, far from the corrupting influence of the occupying power but, on the other, in intimate contact with the gods of the nations. Tob remained outside the borders of Saul’s kingdom. It was once allied with Ammon in a war against David (2 Sam. 10:6–8) but was later included in David’s kingdom.
The Head of the Corner The dramatic meeting between the desperate elders of Gilead and their exiled kinsman in his border stronghold revolves around Jephthah’s conditions for his return. When they offer to make him military commander (“leader,” Judg. 11:6), Jephthah bargains further (v. 7), fearful that, with the victory won, he will be driven out again. The elders’ second offer is to make him permanent “head over all the inhabitants of Gilead” (v. 8), which satisfies Jephthah’s ambition to get back what he had lost (v. 9). This is guaranteed by an oath (v. 10) and confirmed in a religious ceremony at the Yahweh shrine in Mizpah (v. 11). The disinherited brother recovers his own inheritance in Mizpah of Gilead (“my house,” v. 31). Jephthah’s time has come to redress the wrongs of the past, and to take his rightful place as “the Gileadite.”
Liberation: Recovery of Land In this as well as other episodes in Judges, liberation means restoration of full rights to live on the land according to the Israelite “alternative notion of land tenure” as learned at Mt. Sinai. Power to administer the land must be taken away from the land-grabbers. Whose Land? At this point the Scribe introduces a lengthy debate between the king of Ammon and the messengers of Jephthah (Judg. 11:12–28). The purpose is to justify Israel’s claim to the land which Ammon has been occupying and, following Israel’s declaration of independence (10:16), is trying to annex outright by military force. In the first exchange (11:12–13), each claims the same piece of land as “my land.” Such claims and counterclaims illustrate the fact that the Hebrew word erets, when translated as “land” in distinction from “earth,” is “always conflicted, disputed, and at issue. In the second exchange, Jephthah’s messengers give a full explanation of Israel’s claim (vv. 15–27). But the king of Ammon, speaking from a position of supposed strength, refuses to listen to any arguments (v. 28). It is this second exchange that illustrates Israel’s theology of the land in a vivid way. Yahweh, the Judge. This phrase at the end of the argument (11:27) states the Israelite presupposition for all land theology. Above all nations is the Judge (Ps. 82:8), who eventually “shall judge between the nations, and shall decide for many peoples” (Isa. 2:4; cf. Ps. 96:13; 98:9). This Judge is not indifferent to the ways of his nations (Ps. 86:9). At one time, he may decide to break a particular nation (Jer. 18:7) like “a potter’s vessel” (Ps. 2:9). At another time, he may “build and plant” a nation (Jer. 18:9; cf. Isa. 40:24). Before this Judge all nations are equal, including Israel (Judg. 11:27). Lands of the Nations. Jephthah refers to the lands of Moab (Judg. 11:15, 18), the Ammonites (v. 15), Edom (vv. 17, 18), and the Amorites (v. 21). These phrases reflect the belief that Yahweh has granted to each of the peoples an “inheritance” (Deut. 32:8). In Israel’s worldview, the gods of the nations (“sons of God,” Deut. 32:8; cf. Ps. 29:1 mg) were members of Yahweh’s heavenly court (cf. Jer. 23:18, 22). They were assigned by the “judge of the earth” (Ps. 94:2) to particular nations (cf. Deut. 4:19) to look after their interests, order the life of that people on the land, and be accountable for their acts. A psalm from the period of the judges depicts the gods of the nations before a heavenly court, at which the great Judge asks them, “How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked?” Then he commands them to “give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy” (Ps. 82:2–4). Obviously the gods were not fulfilling their responsibilities in relation to the use of power and land. Land of Israel. Yahweh was not only the Judge of all nations, but also “the God of Israel” (Judg. 11:21, 23). This term reveals a belief in a special relationship between the Judge of all nations, his people, and the land given them as a trust (Deut. 32:9; Josh. 1:2; Jer. 3:19). This may seem to some as a self-serving assumption of special privilege. A deeper look will show Israel as “a social experiment in the ancient world… an attempt to organize life outside of land monopoly”. This radical kind of land tenure included the Jubilee regulation that the land should be returned to the original holders every forty-nine years, since it all belongs to Yahweh (Lev. 25:13), and the command against coveting what belongs to the neighbor (Exod. 20:17). Israel’s mission identity (see above, pp. 60–61) involved this kind of land tenure policy. When Israel served the gods of other nations which were related to economic expansion, accumulation of wealth, and national security, their distinctive land policy was abandoned. Justice failed, and the poor suffered. Yahweh became angry. Down to Cases. When the argument moves from theology to actual conflict over land claims, the picture becomes more clouded and ambiguous. The king of Ammon demanded that Israel “restore it [what is mine] peaceably” (Judg. 11:13), with the implied threat to seize it by force! This sounds like a diplomatic ploy by the powerful king to justify the action he had already planned to take (10:17; 11:4). His claim (v. 13) that Israel had earlier taken his land “from the Arnon [on the south] to the Jabbok [on the north] and to the Jordan [on the west]” was without foundation. Moab’s northern boundary at the time of the Exodus was the Arnon (Num. 21:13), while Ammon’s western boundary was Jazer (v. 24), close to Rabbath-ammon. Ammon’s greed for Israel’s land was the primary motive for this confrontation. Israel’s claim to the same piece of land was not based on an original grant from Yahweh, but rather on military conquest by which Yahweh had given them the land of the Amorites “from the Arnon to the Jabbok and from the wilderness to the Jordan” (Judg. 11:21–22). This was a grant to work out the implications of land tenure according to God’s will. In this case, Israel was the aggrieved party trying to recover land given them by the Judge of the earth. Yet there is the danger of smugness or even arrogance in the people’s advice to the Ammonites to confine themselves to the area allotted them by Chemosh their (minor) god under Yahweh’s jurisdiction, while Israel, the favorite of the Judge of all the earth, will take their war gains as a divine gift (v. 24). The argument that military victory implies divine approval can also serve as an excuse for the powerful to take more and thank God for it. Elijah’s words to Ahab are relevant here: “Have you killed, and also taken possession?” (1 Kgs. 21:19). Victory by the Grace of God The story resumes its dramatic action as soon as the Ammonite king rebuffs the messengers (Judg. 11:28). In a spiritual contest between Yahweh and the gods of Ammon (Exod. 12:12), Yahweh intervenes directly for the first time by causing his Spirit to “come upon” Jephthah (Judg. 11:29), thus confirming the appointment made by the elders (including Jephthah’s brothers) and people of Gilead (v. 11). The effect of this divine intervention is (1) to inspire Jephthah to recruit militia in Gilead and north of the Yarmuk River in East Manasseh (v. 29), and (2) to enable Jephthah to win a decisive victory over the Ammonite king, thus revealing the decision of the great Judge for Israel, against Ammon and its gods (vv. 32–33).Jephthah’s Vow The focus of the story of Jephthah is not so much on the victory that he won with God’s help as on his tragic vow which made the victor a victim. Jephthah’s vow from a troubled heart makes him kin to those in all cultures who make vows. It is quite common in Thailand, for example, for the visitor to a Buddhist temple to find a play being performed by a professional troupe in fulfillment of a vow made by the one sponsoring the drama. In Singapore puppet plays sponsored in fulfillment of vows are often seen in the streets at New Year’s time. In the Bible we find vows made to God as acts of unselfish devotion (Ps. 132:2–5; Acts 18:18). Another form of vow is a bargain with God that goes like this: If God will do thus-and-so for me, I will do thus-and-so in response. Once God has carried out his side of the bargain, the one who made the vow must do what has passed his lips (Deut. 23:21, 23). Jephthah’s vow was such a bargain, like the vows made by Jacob (Gen. 28:20–22), Israel (Num. 21:1–3), Hannah (1 Sam. 1:11), or Absalom (2 Sam. 15:7–8). Why Did He Make This Vow? Here is a reconstruction of the event. On the night before the battle Jephthah, like Saul (1 Sam. 28:5, 8, 15), was deeply anxious about the outcome of the battle. Some have speculated that his recruitment trip had not been successful (John Gray, Joshua, Judges, Ruth). A defeat would not only mean loss of land and independence for his people, but would be a personal disaster for Jephthah himself. Victory would mean everything to him personally. In the shrine at Mizpah, where he went to inquire of Yahweh, there was no word from Yahweh, either of promise as in the case of Joshua (Josh. 6:2; 8:1; 11:6) or of warning as in the case of Gideon (Judg. 7:2). Nor was there any sign, whether by fire (Judg. 6:21) or by nocturnal dew (vv. 36–40). An Unnecessary, Unfaithful Act. Jephthah’s deep sense of personal insecurity, which had been revealed in the encounter with his brothers and the other elders (11:4–11), showed itself again in his vow to Yahweh. This “mighty warrior” was not able to trust this God who maintained the awful silence. He was not able to live by his own challenge to the Ammonites to let Yahweh, “the Judge, decide… between the people of Israel and the people of Ammon” (v. 27). This points to the first problem with Jephthah’s vow: it was unnecessary, since God had already given him the Spirit that should have assured him of victory. “If you refrain from vowing, it shall be no sin in you” (Deut. 23:22). There was no divine command, as in the case of Abraham (Gen. 22:2). Thus, Jephthah’s vow was an act of unfaithfulness “desiring to bind God rather than embrace the gift of the spirit”. “An Inhuman Sacrifice”. The second problem with Jephthah’s vow was that he promised to sacrifice a human being, a Canaanite practice specifically condemned by Israelite law (Lev. 18:21; 20:2). The laws frequently refer to the Canaanite custom of burning “their sons and their daughters in the fire to their gods” (Deut. 12:31; 18:9, 10). There is ample evidence that child sacrifice was indeed practiced in Israel (Ps. 106:37–38; 2 Kgs. 17:17). Micah spoke of giving “the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul” (Mic. 6:7) as a mistaken popular idea of “what is good.” Jeremiah spoke often against child sacrifice (Jer. 3:24; 7:31; 19:4–6; 32:35), as did Ezekiel (Ezek. 16:20–21; 23:37–39). Kings of Israel were known to engage in this practice (2 Kgs. 16:3; 21:6. [Note: despite the command to give “the first-born of your sons” to Yahweh (Exod. 22:29), there was the further command to redeem the firstborn of humans by sacrificing an animal (Num. 18:15). Some scholars believe that human sacrifice was not forbidden in Jephthah’s time. In the time of the Scribe, however, the law would have been well known.]
My Will Be Done. Another context in which to see Jephthah’s vow is the borderland of Tob, where many cultures met and many gods were worshipped. This is no routine sacrifice of his firstborn son. Jephthah had no son, and he specifically states that the vow refers to “whoever comes forth from the doors of my house” (Judg. 11:31). The best analogy to this vow is the desperate act of the king of Moab, who offered “his eldest son who was to reign in his stead… for a burnt offering upon the wall,” in order to avoid a humiliating defeat by Judah, Israel, and Edom (2 Kgs. 3:27). The prophetic word of Elisha (2 Kgs. 3:18–19) was thus overturned by a costly sacrifice. Jephthah was likewise trying to break the silence and force God’s hand by his costly sacrifice. He was trying to demand of God that “my will be done,” in order to assure himself of the victory and honor he so passionately desired. Alas, My Daughter! The moment of glory and honor for the conquering hero is dramatically transformed by the joyful sound of timbrel and dance of a welcoming girl coming out of Jephthah’s house. The trap set by the unnecessary, unfaithful, and impatient vow suddenly snapped shut on both father and daughter (cf. Prov. 26:27). Unlike the case of Jonathan (1 Sam. 14:43–45), there is no outcry from the newly liberated Gileadites to save the innocent victim or her grieving father. Unlike the case of Abraham (Gen. 22:12), there is no command from God to stay the father’s knife or drown the cruel flames. Unlike the case of Absalom, there is no cry from the father, “Would I had died instead of you!” (2 Sam. 18:33). One of the few genuine tragedies in the Bible is played out as the father “did with her according to his vow which he had made” (Judg. 11:39. In Memory of Her. The only redeeming feature of the tragic story of Jephthah’s vow is the courageous self-sacrifice of his daughter. Her own lament on the mountains of Gilead (11:37–38) was not only to prepare herself for the death which would cut off her life in the prime of maidenhood, but to mourn the fact that her father would have no descendants to carry on his name and to maintain his inheritance which he had won back from his brothers. The annual observance by “the daughters of Israel” was not to “lament” (RSV) but to “commemorate” (NEB, NIV) this woman’s selfless deed. (The Hebrew word in v. 40 appears only once elsewhere in the OT, in 5:11, where it means to “recount” or “repeat” the triumphs of Yahweh and the people of Israel.) We may see the vow as an act of unfaith, but Jephthah’s daughter accepted her father’s interpretation that her life was the cost which had to be paid to secure the restoration of land to her people and leadership to her father. Her attitude, unlike her father’s when he made the vow, was “not my will… but your will be done” (Luke 22:42 TEV). Thus we may apply the words of Jesus to this unnamed woman: “what she has done will be told in memory of her” (Mark 14:9). Unfortunately she has been forgotten by Scripture, which praises the father but makes no mention of the daughter (1 Sam. 12:11; Heb. 11:32. Liberation Threatened By artful design, the Scribe has described the unexpected outbreak of civil war which closes the story of Jephthah as an ironic replay of the liberation struggle against Ammonite aggression. Specific echoes of the earlier struggle are the call to arms (Judg. 12:1; cf. 10:17), the negotiations (12:1–3; cf. 11:12–28), Jephthah’s question to his adversaries (12:3; cf. 11:12), and the great slaughter (12:6; cf. 11:33). The restoration of land and freedom wrought by victory over the oppressors is followed by bitter intertribal warfare. Fire for Fire. The reason for this dramatic change is suggested by the interlude of the vow which separates the two episodes. Two themes of blood and fire link the vow with its sequel. With the reflected blaze from his innocent victim’s pyre still on his face, Jephthah turns to confront a threat to make him a second but unwilling victim of the flames (12:1). Those who threaten to torch his house and burn him alive inside it are fellow Israelites from across the Jordan, ready to repeat the murderous example of Abimelech (9:49, 52). The grim warning of Jotham that fire begets fire (9:20) proves true, and portends future burnings (15:5–6; 18:27; 20:48). Blood for Blood. Jephthah did not hesitate to shed the blood of his own daughter, nor did the Gileadites intercede to save her. Now Jephthah turns with great savagery to make the Jordan River run with the blood of the entire able-bodied male population of Ephraim (12:6; the census figures given in Num. 1:33; 26:37 are each less than the reported 42,000 Ephraimite casualties). The trivial cause that triggered this brutal overreaction was an insult (12:4) which sounds much more offensive in the Hebrew than it does in English (J. Alberto Soggin, Judges, 220). The derogatory description of the Gileadites by Ephraim and Manasseh contains an ironic sense which makes Jephthah the outcast leader of the outcasts. Communication breaks down: language, which should bind the two groups together (cf. Gen. 11:1), is now used to emphasize hostility and destroy unity (Judg. 12:5–6; cf. Gen. 11:9). Ephraim apparently preferred a weak Gilead as a buffer between them and Ammonite power to an independent Gilead under a strong leader like Jephthah. They made a bid for hegemony in Transjordan by a crude threat on Jephthah’s life (Judg. 12:1). When this did not work, they tried to shame the Gileadites, with disastrous results. We do not hear of Gilead again until the all-Israel assembly at Mizpah in Ephraim (20:1). The tribes of Israel there order a savage raid on Jabesh-gilead (21:1–12). The present organization of the book of Judges suggests that this extermination of the population of that city, with the exception of four hundred young virgins, was a retribution for the death of Jephthah’s virgin daughter and the subsequent slaughter of the Ephraimites at the Jordan ford (12:6). If we take later evaluation seriously, despite his failings, Jephthah—like other deliverers of old—“conquered kingdoms” and “enforced justice” (Heb. 11:33) in Gilead for six years (Judg. 12:7). This was the shortest recorded period of any of the judges (not counting Abimelech, who was not a judge) and was only a third of the preceding period of oppression.
Egyptians Ex 1-14
Amorites Numb 21:21-35
Ammonites Judg 3:13
Philistines Judg 3:31
Sidonians Judg 4-5
Amalekites Judg 6:3 (Ex.17:8-16; Judg 3:13)
Maunites Judg 6:2
There is grace buried in this list …
Dt.23:2 Bastards could not be full citizens until the 10th generation
Bomb shelter religion….
Tragedy is when people become so accustomed to the mercy of God that they despise it
Our hope does not rest in the sincerity of our repentance but in the intensity of Yahweh’s compassion.
Repentance may be a condition but not a cause of God’s restored favor
An outlaw will be there savior
Parallels between Israel’s way with Yahweh and Gilead’s way with Jephthah:
Theme Chap 10 Chap 11
Rejection v6 vv 1-3
Distress 7-9 4
Repentance 10 5-6
Objection 11-14 7
Appeal 15-16 8
Acquiescence 16b 9-11
Jephthah’s situation was NO fault of his own
He was… a loser. Yet the Spirit of God upon him.
God chose what man had rejected! (1Cor.1:27; 1Pet.2:4)
Maybe some day we will see it enough times in Scripture that we will cease to be surprised at the unlikely instruments God uses to deliver us
Jephthah reminds us of Jesus in that he was despised and rejected by men (11:1-3; Isa.53:3).
Great diff between Repentance and Regret
Jephthah grew up with the scars of his parents’ sins but he overcame them
He learned military warfare and strategy which God later used for His glory. He learned leadership. God never wastes anything in our lives
Jephthah used the personal name of God more often than any other person in the book of Judges
He did not have a mother or father to accept him, but he did have the Lord
Jephthah’s false view of God due to his ignorance of God’s Word
For 18 yrs the Ammonites had overrun the area of Gilead and Ephraim had totally ignored the needs of their brothers there. They had not raised a spear in anger against Ammon. But when the battle was over, they crossed the Jordan, armed for battle and challenged Jephthah. Ephraim was always bold after the battle, always ready to fight their brothers but never against the enemy.
When we look at them we are really looking at ourselves. In so many ways our lives are reflections of their rebellion. And the reason is simple—we have no King, and we do what is right in our own eyes.
His knowledge of God was extremely limited and we must not judge him by our standards
Through no fault of his own he was w/o a family and no possible hope (Dt.23:2) of ever being accepted into the nation of Israel.
There was no sigh of bitterness on his part or any seeking of revenge. He identified himself with the Lord and His people and spoke on behalf of God.
??He wasn’t bargaining w/ God just promising a thank offering.
She was willing to die for her father. What a girl! What a daughter!
In Heb.11 we have the illegitimate nobody from nowhere, next door to David and Samuel, etc
What about Jephthah’s wife?
His horrible home growing up……His Holy Home with his daughter