Judg 11:1 Jephthah the Gileadite was a mighty warrior. His father was Gilead; his mother was a prostitute.
Judg 11:2 Gilead’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.”
Judg 11:3 So Jephthah fled from his brothers and settled in the land of Tob, where a group of adventurers gathered around him and followed him.
Judg 11:4 Some time later, when the Ammonites made war on Israel,
Judg 11:5 the elders of Gilead went to get Jephthah from the land of Tob.
Judg 11:6 “Come,” they said, “be our commander, so we can fight the Ammonites.”
Judg 11:7 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?”
Judg 11:8 The 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.”
Judg 11:9 Jephthah answered, “Suppose you take me back to fight the Ammonites and the LORD gives them to me—will I really be your head?”
Judg 11:10 The elders of Gilead replied, “The LORD is our witness; we will certainly do as you say.”
Judg 11:11 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.
Judg 11:12 Then Jephthah sent messengers to the Ammonite king with the question: “What do you have against us that you have attacked our country?”
Judg 11:13 The 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.”
Judg 11:14 Jephthah sent back messengers to the Ammonite king,
Judg 11:15 saying: “This is what Jephthah says: Israel did not take the land of Moab or the land of the Ammonites.
Judg 11:16 But when they came up out of Egypt, Israel went through the desert to the Red Sea and on to Kadesh.
Judg 11:17 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.
Judg 11:18 “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.
Judg 11:19 “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.’
Judg 11:20 Sihon, however, did not trust Israel to pass through his territory. He mustered all his men and encamped at Jahaz and fought with Israel.
Judg 11:21 “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,
Judg 11:22 capturing all of it from the Arnon to the Jabbok and from the desert to the Jordan.
Judg 11:23 “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?
Judg 11:24 Will you not take what your god Chemosh gives you? Likewise, whatever the LORD our God has given us, we will possess.
Judg 11:25 Are you better than Balak son of Zippor, king of Moab? Did he ever quarrel with Israel or fight with them?
Judg 11:26 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?
Judg 11:27 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.”
Judg 11:28 The king of Ammon, however, paid no attention to the message Jephthah sent him.
Judg 11:29 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.
Judg 11:30 And Jephthah made a vow to the LORD: “If you give the Ammonites into my hands, Judg 11:31 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.”
In making this vow, Jephthah put his whole family at risk. He might have guessed that the outcome would be tragic. And part of the tragedy was that the vow was an unnecessary attempt to bargain with God. Those of us who are tempted to bargain with God in our prayers (“I you do this, I will do that…”) should take note.
‘Human sacrifice was strictly forbidden by the Mosaic law (Lev 18:21; Dt 12:31); so Jephthah should have known that God’s favor could not be gained in this terrible way. Yet Israel’s neighbors—ironically, especially the Ammonites—sacrificed their children (see 2 Kings 3:27); and this custom might have influenced Jephthah.’ (EBC)
Richard Dawkins (The God Delusion, 243) compares this account of Jephthah’s rash vow with the incident involving Abraham and Isaac. Only, ’God did not see fit to intervene on this occasion.’ In fact, ‘God was obviously looking forward to the promised burnt offering’.
In fact, Jephthah’s behaviour shows ‘his lack of appreciation of the character and requirements of the Lord, and also a lack of confidence in the divine enablement, by seeking to secure the favour of God by his rash vow…It is certain that this was intended as an act of devotion on Jephthah’s part, a recompense for God’s action through him; but had he been better versed in the traditions of Moses he would have known that God did not desire to be honoured in this way. The “fruit of my body” (or anyone else’s body) cannot be offered “for this sin of my soul,” or as a mark of devotion to the Lord, Mic 6:6-8. The lives of others are sacred and are not to be terminated for the private end of an individual, however laudable that end may appear.’ (Cundall)
Judg 11:32 Then Jephthah went over to fight the Ammonites, and the LORD gave them into his hands.
Judg 11:33 He devastated twenty towns from Aroer to the vicinity of Minnith, as far as Abel Keramim. Thus Israel subdued Ammon.
Judg 11:34 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.
Jud 11:35 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.”
’Since a vow is a religious act, drawing the deity into compact with the worshiper, it may not be broken under penalty of God’s displeasure. (see Ex 20:7 and the injunction not to “misuse” God’s name) Though a vow could not be broken, the law allowed for the mitigation of vows, especially those involving persons (see comment on Lev 27:2-8). This loophole was apparently unknown to Jephthah.’ (IVP Bible Background Commentary)
Judg 11:36 “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.
Judg 11:37 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.”
Judg 11:38 “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.
Jud 11:39 After 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 Judg 11:40 that each year the young women of Israel go out for four days to commemorate the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite.
He did to her as he had vowed – There is some thought that the vow may have been fulfilled by the girl being consecrated to serve in the temple in a state of celibacy, rather than her being slaughtered (this is provided for in Numbers 18:15-17). She weeps over her virginity rather than over her impending death. But, on the other hand, the terms of that terrible vow seem clear enough – as does the fact that Jephthah fulfilled its terms.