Now Jephthah the Gileadite was a man of valour, and the son of a harlot: and Gilead begat Jephthah (11:1).
Gilead was an area on the east bank on the Jordan. It was an area that was occupied by the tribe of Gath. There was a mountain range called mount Gilead.
This man, Gilead, somehow picked up the name of the area in which he lived. He had a son named Jephthah, who was a son of a harlot. His son Jephthah became a very mighty man of valor, but Gilead’s wife had other sons.
And it came to pass in time, that the other sons ordered Jephthah out. They said unto him, You will not inherit our father’s house; for you are the son of a strange woman.
So, Jephthah was more or less banished from the area of his family.
And Jephthah fled from his brothers and he dwelt in the land of Tob: and there were gathered with him vain men, and they went out with him (11:2-3).
The area of Tob would be east of Gilead, and into the area of Syria. It is necessary to understand that he grew up in this area of Syria, which was an area that was filled with paganism. He became a bit of a Robin Hood. This band of men, rugged individuals, all of them, gathered around him and made their living by marauding the villages and plundering the area. They were really just a bunch of bandits. Folks looked upon him as a type of Robin Hood. It was alright to plunder a village, as long as it was the village of an enemy. It wasn’t okay to plunder your own, but it was looked at as an acceptable thing to plunder an enemy village.
And it came to pass in the process of time, that the children of Ammon made war against Israel. And so it was, that when the children of Ammon made war against Israel, the elders of Gilead went to fetch Jephthah out of the land of Tob (11:4):
Evidently, they realized that they didn’t have any man with strong leadership characteristics. They didn’t have anyone who was experienced in warfare anywhere near the level as this guy, Jephthah. So, they went to the land of Tob, to recruit his services, to help them against this invasion by the king of Ammon.
And they said to Jephthah, Come, and be our captain, that we may fight with the children of Ammon. He said, Did you not hate me, you expelled me out of my father’s house? why do you come to me now just because you’re in distress (11:6-7)?
Jephthah was a little reluctant to immediately go with them. He initially turns them down. In his mind, he felt that they had kicked him out of the area but, now that they were in trouble, they came to him for help.
And the elders of Gilead said, We turn to you now, that you might go with us, and fight against the children of Ammon, and be the head over all of the inhabitants of Gilead.
They wanted him to be their chief, the head over all the area of Gilead.
And Jephthah said to the elders of Gilead, If you bring me home again to fight against the children of Ammon, and the Lord deliver them before me, shall I be your head? And the elders of Gilead said unto Jephthah, The Lord be witness between us, if we do not so according to your words (11:8-10).
He was concerned that, once he helped them to victory, that they wouldn’t need him after that. So, they took a poll, and they swore to him before the Lord, that if he came and led them to victory over the people of Ammon, that they would make him the ruler over their territory. They swore this to him, before the Lord.
Then Jephthah went with the elders of Gilead, and the people made him head and captain over them: and Jephthah uttered all his words before the Lord in Mizpeh (11:11).
When Jacob was fleeing from his uncle Laban, and Laban finally caught up with him, there was a confrontation. It was a tense situation and, as they departed, Laban said to Jacob, “Mizpeh”, which means “the Lord watch after me and thee while we’re absent one from another.” Even today, folks use that statement as a parting comment.
In reality, it was not intended to be a pleasant parting. It was a bit more intense parting, actually. The better translation might be “Now that you are leaving with my daughters, and I can’t watch over you anymore, may the Lord watch over you”. It’s really a bit of a barb. They called the place where they parted Mizpeh, and it was in this area of Gilead. It is interesting that they are back, where Jacob and Laban had their confrontation, which became a city. This is the place where he came, where he moved his family, in the land of Gilead, to set up his headquarters.
And Jephthah sent messengers unto the king of the children of Ammon, saying, What have you to do with me, that you are come against me to fight in my land.
Here, I find it interesting that he lays claim to the land. Today, we might hear “What is your problem? Why are you coming to challenge me in MY house?”
And the king of the children of Ammon answered unto the messengers of Jephthah, Because Israel took away my land, when they came out of Egypt, from Arnon even unto Jabbok, now therefore restore those lands again peaceably.
In other words, he was saying “Just give us back our land.” Arnon is the river to the south. Jabbok is the river that Jacob crossed over, the second time he came back from his uncle Laban. He said, “When I crossed over this stream, all I had was a staff, but now, God has blessed me so much that I’ve had to divide my group into two companies. Great is thy faithfulness O God, morning by morning the mercies of God I see”.
And Jephthah sent messengers again unto the king of the children of Ammon: And he said unto him, Thus saith Jephthah, Israel did not take away the land of Moab, nor the land of the children of Ammon: But when Israel came up from Egypt, and walked through the wilderness unto the Red sea, they came to Kadesh; Then Israel sent messengers to the king of Edom, saying, Let me, I pray thee, pass through thy land: but the king of Edom would not hearken thereto. And in like manner they sent to the king of Moab: and he would not consent: and Israel stayed in Kadesh. Then they went along through the wilderness, and encircled the land of Edom, and the land of Moab, and they came by the east side of the land of Moab, and they pitched on the other side of Arnon, but came not within the border of Moab: for Arnon was the border of Moab. And Israel sent messengers unto Sihon king of the Amorites, the king of Heshbon; and Israel said unto him, Let us pass, we pray thee, through thy land into my place. But Sihon trusted not Israel to pass through his coast: but Sihon gathered all his people together, and pitched in Jahaz, and fought against Israel. And the Lord God of Israel delivered Sihon and all his people into the hand of Israel, and they smote them: and so Israel possessed all of the land of the Amorites, the inhabitants of the country (11:12-21).
Jephthah was a good student of history. If you take a good look at this description, you will find that he is giving an accurate account of what happened. This is an accurate historical account. I’m giving him an A+ on his history homework. He was, evidently, a good student of the history of the people. What he is saying is exactly true.
When the children of Israel came out of Egypt, they came into the land of Israel, up to Kadesh Barnea. It was there that the ten spies came back with the evil report, and the people were afraid and did not go directly into the land. God told them “Okay, folks, because you haven’t believed me and trusted me, you are going to roam in the wilderness until you all die.” Even then, they attempted to go, but they were defeated. Then, they wanted to encircle the land of Canaan, going up on the opposite side of the Dead sea, and the Jordan River on the east side, which would cause them to pass through the land of Edom, and then through the land of Moab.
They told the king of Edom, “We want to pass through the land, and we’ll eat our own food and agree not to touch your food or crops, but we just want passage through your land”. But, the king of Edom refused, so they sent to the king of Moab. When he denied them, they made a long journey into the wilderness, encircling around behind the nations of Edom and Moab. They came back towards the land, between the valley of the Arnon and the Jabbok, which was not the land of Moab or Ammon. They did not take the land of the Amorites. Sihon was the king of the Amorites.
Jephthah is absolutely correct. These people are laying claim to land that does not belong to them. Now, way back in their history, they had claimed this land. But, it actually belonged to the Amorites at the time that Moses conquered this land. He conquered Sihon and the Amorites, and he took the land from the Amorites, not from Moab. So, Jephthah is absolutely correct. He actually is pretty much quoting from Numbers and Deuteronomy. He is a good student, who knows the history.
The king of Ammon is claiming this as his territory, even though it never did belong to him. The Israelites did not take it from him, they took it from Sihon, the king of the Amorites. “So, the Lord God of Israel delivered Sihon and all of his people into the hand of Israel, and they smote them: so Israel possessed all the land of the Amorites, the inhabitants of that country.”
And they possessed all the coasts of the Amorites, from Arnon even unto Jabbok, and from the wilderness even to the Jordan river. So now the Lord God of Israel has dispossessed the Amorites from before his people, and why should you possess it?
“The Lord is the one who dispossessed the Amorites, why should you take it over?”
Will you not possess that which Chemosh your god gives you to possess?
He is asking him that his God gave them this land, why don’t they just be happy with what their god can provide them?
So whomsoever the Lord our God shall drive out from before us, them will we possess. And now are you any thing better than Balak the son of Zippor, the king of Moab? did he ever strive against Israel, or did he ever fight against them, So while Israel dwelt in Heshbon and her towns, and in the Aroer and in her towns, and all of the cities that are along the coasts of Arnon, these three hundred years? why therefore did you not recover it within that time 11:22-26)?
It had been 300 years since Moses had conquered this area. This is about the year 1143, and it was about 1460 or so that Moses first conquered the land of the Amorites. So, he says “Hey we’ve had it for about 300 years. There are certain proprietary rights now! Why didn’t you take it back then? Why are you just now stirring this up?”
Wherefore he said, I have not sinned against you, but you are doing wrong in warring against me: and the Lord the Judge be judge this day between the children of Israel and the children of Ammon. Howbeit the king of the children of Ammon hearkened not unto the words of Jephthah which he sent. And then the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah, and he passed over Gilead, and Manasseh, and passed over Mizpeh of Gilead, and from Mizpeh of Gilead he passed over unto the children of Ammon.
So, he went through the territory, gathered the troops, and came out against the king of Ammon.
Now, Jephthah grew up in Syria. When he was kicked out by his brothers, he moved to Tob. So, he actually grew up in a pagan culture. In the pagan culture in those days human sacrifice was a common occurrence. To us, who live under the influence of western civilization, which has been highly influenced by the Christian ethic, human sacrifice is reprehensible. It’s an abomination. It was also an abomination to God. The bible speaks consistently against human sacrifice, but it was a common practice among the other nations. Human sacrifice is something that was practiced, not only among the nations of the Middle East, it was something that was practiced even by the American Indians. It was heavily practiced by the Aztecs and the Mayans.
Human sacrifice is something that is practiced today by those who are in satanic cults, in Satanism. As horrible as it is to our own consciousness, human sacrifice is practiced in the United States today. You can talk to any major police department in the United States, and they will confirm the evidence of human sacrifice led by satanic groups. It’s horrible! It’s repulsive! We can’t conceive how a person could take another person’s life, to sacrifice it to their god.
Jephthah had been cast out of Israel, so he had a certain knowledge of God, but not a thorough knowledge. Coming from this pagan background, he had a strange mixture of pagan practices, along with the practices of Judaism.
…….he vowed a vow unto the Lord and said, If you shall without fail deliver the children of Ammon into my hands, Then it shall be, that whatsoever cometh forth of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the children of Ammon, shall surely be the Lord’s, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering (11:30-31).
You can see the combination of the two cultures in this statement. He vowed that, “Whoever comes out of the door of my house when I come home, I will offer it to you, Lord, as a burnt offering”. This is not something the Lord wants. This is a truly foolish vow.
We read through the Old Testament how, in the worship of Molech, they were constantly burning their children in the fires to Molech. This was common practice. During even the future of the children of Israel, they will practice this evil worship, and it will bring future judgment from God against them. They followed after the practices of the pagans around them and they were causing their children to pass through fire unto Molech. It was part of the worship of Baal. If you become comfortable in any culture, or in any situation, the practices that are acceptable in those situations, will become acceptable to you. It is only human nature. We need to tread softly in these areas.
In Museum of Natural History, in Israel, you will see many little representations of Molech, or Baal. The representation is usually with little iron gods. These little iron gods have their little arms outstretched in front of them, with their fingers and hands pointing upward. This design is so that they could cradle the babies.
They would put the iron gods in the fire and heat them until they were glowing red. Then, they would set their babies in the gods’ arms. That is what is meant to cause your children to pass through the fires of Molech. Horrible! Repulsive!
Reprehensible! But, it was a common practice of the people. Here, because of his mixed background, and so much time in the pagan society, Jephthah makes this horrible vow.
And Jephthah passed over to the children of Ammon to fight against them; and the Lord delivered them into his hands. And he smote them from Aroer even till you come to Minith, even twenty cities, and to the plain of the vineyards, with a very great slaughter. Thus the children of Ammon were subdued before the children of Israel. And Jephthah came to Mizpeh unto his house, and, behold, his daughter came out to meet him with timbrels and with dances: and she was his only child; and beside her he had neither son nor daughter. And it came to pass, when he saw her, that he tore his clothes, and said, Alas, my daughter! you have brought me very low, you are one of them that trouble me, for I have opened my mouth unto the Lord, and I cannot go back (11:32-35).
Every time I read this story, I wonder the same thing. Who did he expect to come out of that door? He only had the one child, a daughter, so he certainly was not wanting her to be the one! The thing that always crossed my mind is whether he was hoping his wife would come out. This is a terrible event for this guy. This was his only daughter, his only child. She came out the door with a timbrel, a tambourine, and she was dancing, in celebration of her father’s homecoming.
Seeing her, his heart is torn.
There is a problem, in his not knowing the whole law. Because, under the law, it did declare that if you were to make a vow to the Lord, you are bound to keep that vow. However, Leviticus, Chapter 27, the Lord spoke to Moses, and told him: “Speak unto the children of Israel, say to them, when a man shall make a singular vow, the persons shall be for the Lord by thy estimation. And thy estimation shall be of the male from twenty years old even unto sixty years old, even thy estimation shall be fifty shekels of silver, after the shekel of the sanctuary. If it is a female, thirty shekels. If they are from five to twenty years old, then for a male it is twenty shekels, for a female ten.”
There is little doubt that she was between five and twenty years old, which means that he could have redeemed her from the vow. He could have just given the Lord ten shekels of silver, instead. I don’t know if he actually knew the law.
Maybe he didn’t know that the Lord had provided a way out of the law. If a person made a vow to give to the Lord, and they wanted to take back the vow, they simply had to redeem it. He could’ve redeemed his daughter from the vow for 10 shekels of silver. Instead, he said, “I have opened my mouth unto the Lord, and I cannot go back.”
She said unto him, My father, if you have opened your mouth unto the Lord, do to me according to that which hath proceeded out of your mouth; forasmuch as the Lord has taken vengeance for thee on your enemies, even of the children of Ammon (11:36).
It is simply amazing to me, that his daughter acquiesced to her father in this issue. You have to commend her for her comments, “Dad, if you’ve taken this vow, go ahead and do to me as you have vowed.”
However, she said, Let this be done for me: let me alone for two months, that I may go up and down upon the mountains, and bewail my virginity, and let me take my girlfriends with me (11:37).
It was a cultural shame for a woman not to bear a child. So, she wanted the opportunity to grieve over the fact that she would not be able to bear children.
And it came to pass at the end of the two months, that she returned unto her father, who did with her according to his vow which he had vowed: and she knew no man. And it was a custom in Israel, That the daughters of Israel went yearly to lament the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite for four days in a year (11:39-40).
So, this became a practice, and this is the only place in the scripture we are told it’s a practice. It’s a practice that faded out in time, but, for at least a time, the girls would go for four days and bewail the fate of Jephthah’s daughter.
Jonathan was the son of King Saul and, during the reign of Saul, Jonathan awoke early one morning and couldn’t go back to sleep. He had a nagging thought that kept him away. The thought he had was “If God wants to deliver the Philistines to Israel today, God doesn’t need the whole army. God can use one man, just as easy as He can the whole army.” Now, this is an interesting thought. God doesn’t need a whole army to do His work, He only needs one man. As Moody once said, “The world has yet to see what God can do, just through one man, who will dedicate his life wholly to God.”
Jonathan simply could not get this off his mind, wondering if God wanted to deliver the Philistines to Israel on that day. He couldn’t go back to sleep. So, he finally woke up his armor bearer and told him of what he was thinking. Jonathan suggested that the two of them go out and see if God wanted to deliver the Philistines on that day.
Jonathan simply ventured out in faith, to see what God might want to do. These ventures in faith are amazing events. It’s exciting to see someone take a step in faith and to watch the results. As they were heading out toward the Philistines, Jonathan laid the whole plan out for his armor bearer. The plan was, when they got close to the Philistines, and the enemy discovered them, if the statement coming from the Philistines was for Jonathan to come to them to fight, then Jonathan and his armor bearer would attack, because God wanted to deliver them. However, if they statement coming from the Philistines was for Jonathan to wait where he was, and they would bring the fight to him, then God was not planning to deliver the Philistines on that day, and Jonathan and his armor bearer would flee.
So, as they got close to the Philistines, the century spotted them and shouted at them to come to the Philistine camp, and they would fight them. So, Jonathan and his armor bearer scrambled up the hill into the camp of the Philistines, where Jonathan began to slay the Philistines, while his armor bearer came around behind him. They just drove through them, until the Philistines began to fall back.
Now, on the other side of the camp was Saul. He was rubbing his eyes, and looking toward the Philistines. He saw the Philistines falling back, and he saw these two guys in the middle, just wailing away. So, he told his troops to number off, so they could see who was missing. When he found out it was Jonathan and his armor bearer, Saul made a foolish vow. He said, “Cursed be the man who eats anything today until Saul is avenged of all of his enemies”.
Saul’s troops rose up and attacked the Philistines and began to pursue them through the woods. They had the Philistines on the run. Now, in the late afternoon, Jonathan was chasing these guys and running through the woods, when he saw a beehive. He took the end of his spear, and put it in the hive and got some honey. No doubt, his energy was low, because of this day long battle. He was weak and tire of chasing the Philistines. This honey gave him a quick jolt of energy, so he could go on chasing the enemy.
As it was getting late in the evening, the men of Israel gathered together to determine if they should continue the chase throughout the night or wait until the next day to continue. They sought God, but God didn’t answer. So, Saul figured that someone had broken his vow, and he said if it was Jonathan, he would be put to death. They drew straws to determine who it was, and the straws fell on Saul and Jonathan. Saul asked Jonathan what he had done, and Jonathan explained to him that he had been out killing the Philistines, when Saul made the vow, so he was unaware. He told Saul that he shouldn’t have made such a vow, because the men needed to eat to keep up their strength for battle. He explained that was the reason the men were exhausted, because they had not eaten, and had they eaten, they would have been able to continue the chase and would have totally wiped out the Philistines. King Saul showed his foolishness again, by telling his men to put Jonathan to death. But, it backfired on Saul. The men of the army refused to touch Jonathan, because they had seen clearly that God was fighting with Jonathan against the Philistines. Jonathan was spared, but Saul almost put his own son to death, all because of a stupid vow that he made foolishly.
Sometimes folks make stupid vows. Folks box themselves in and, many times, keeping the vow ends up in sin. Folks create lose-lose situations for themselves, when they make a vow that would be sinful, and not keeping the vow is sinful.
In our story here, Jephthah has placed himself in a no win situation, with his foolish vow. He cannot win, either way. To keep his vow would be sinful. Human sacrifice is sinful. It is something God never required. In fact, it is something that God forbid. It is wrong. He made a foolish vow, which most likely stemmed from Jephthah’s pagan background. However, living in the area of Syria, where human sacrifice was a common thing, does not excuse Jephthah. Knowing his background serves only to provide us with a little better understanding of how he got to this point, it does nothing to excuse it. Vows were very common in the times of the Old Testament. Folks made promises to God, in order to solicit God’s help or God’s aid in a particular situation.
There are people today who still feel that vows are necessary in order to solicit God’s aid. This is simply not true. God wants to bless you, and He is gracious. God does not reward us for our goodness, because our relationship with God is not a legal kind of relationship. We have a loving relationship with God. God is not Santa Claus, making a list, and checking it twice. God is loving and kind, and He bestows upon us His abundant grace and mercy. This is what we receive from God, His blessings, His goodness. We DO NOT have to promise God that we will be good, or that we promise to be better.
It is not necessary to make promises to God. However, if you do, then you should keep those promises. You should not break your vow with the Lord. Vows are not practiced in the New Testament, with one exception: Paul took the vow of the Nazarene, which was just to shave his head, to signify a period of total consecration to God.
Teaching notes on Judges 11
Don D. Stephens