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Bible Commentaries
Judges 11

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - UnabridgedCommentary Critical Unabridged

Verse 1

Now Jephthah the Gileadite was a mighty man of valour, and he was the son of an harlot: and Gilead begat Jephthah.

Jephthah - `opener.'

Son of an harlot - a concubine, or foreigner; implying an inferior sort of marriage prevalent in Eastern countries. It is conjectured that she was the Aramitess, the concubine of Gilead, mentioned in 1 Chronicles 7:14. Whatever dishonour might attach to his birth, his own high and energetic character rendered him early a person of note.

Gilead begat Jephthan. His father seems to have belonged to the tribe of Manasseh (1 Chronicles 7:14; 1 Chronicles 7:17).

Verse 2

And Gilead's wife bare him sons; and his wife's sons grew up, and they thrust out Jephthah, and said unto him, Thou shalt not inherit in our father's house; for thou art the son of a strange woman.

Thou shalt not inherit in our father's home. Since there were children by the legitimate wife, the son of the secondary one was not entitled to any share of the patrimony, and the prior claim of the others was indisputable. Hence, as the brothers of Jephthah seem to have resorted to rude and violent treatment, they must have been influenced by some secret ill-will. 'I conceive,' says Lord Arthur Hervey ('Genealogies,' p.

244), 'that Jephthah was the son of this Aramitess, born to Gilead in his old age in the wilderness, and possibly about 17 years old at the time of the entrance into Canaan. When he laid claim to a share of the land of Gilead, on the return of his brethren from the wars of Canaan, some 20 years later (he having remained in Gilead with the women and children under age to go to war), his brethren reproached him with his base and foreign birth, and expelled him from their land. Or, more probably, the younger Gileadites, who had remained behind with him when the men of war went over, Jordan with Joshua, when they grew up to man's estate, drove him away.'

Verse 3

Then Jephthah fled from his brethren, and dwelt in the land of Tob: and there were gathered vain men to Jephthah, and went out with him.

Jephthah ... dwelt in the land of Tob - on the north of Gilead, beyond the frontier of the Hebrew territories (2 Samuel 10:6; 2 Samuel 10:8).

There were gathered vain men to Jephthah - idle, daring, or desperate; probably the Arabs of the adjoining desert.

And went out with him - followed him as a military chief, They led a freebooting life, sustaining themselves by frequent incursions on the Ammonites and other neighbouring people, in the Style of Robin Hood, or Highland reivers in the border forays, even when England and Scotland were at peace. The same kind of life is led by many an Arab or Tartar still, who, as the leader of a band, acquires fame by his stirring or gallant adventures; and it is not deemed dishonourable when the expeditions are directed against those out of his own tribe or nation. Jephthah's mode of life was similar to that of David when driven from the court of Saul.

Verse 4

And it came to pass in process of time, that the children of Ammon made war against Israel.

In process of time - on the return of the season.

The children of Ammon made war. Having prepared the way by the introduction of Jephthah, the sacred historian here resumes the thread of his narrative from Judges 10:17. The Ammonites seem to have invaded the country, and active hostilities were inevitable.

Verse 5

And it was so, that when the children of Ammon made war against Israel, the elders of Gilead went to fetch Jephthah out of the land of Tob:

The elders of Gilead went to fetch Jephthah. All eyes were directed toward him as the only person possessed of the qualities requisite for the preservation of the country in this time of imminent danger; and a deputation of the chief men was despatched from the Hebrew camp at Mizpeh to solicit his services.

Verse 6

And they said unto Jephthah, Come, and be our captain, that we may fight with the children of Ammon.

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verse 7

And Jephthah said unto the elders of Gilead, Did not ye hate me, and expel me out of my father's house? and why are ye come unto me now when ye are in distress?

Jephthah said ... Did not ye hate me? He gave them at first a haughty and cold reception. It is probable that he saw some of his brothers among the deputies. Jephthah was now in circumstances to make his own terms. With his former experience, he would have shown little wisdom or prudence without binding them to a clear and specific engagement to invest him with unlimited authority, the more especially as he was about to imperil his life in their cause. Although ambition might to a certain degree have stimulated his ready compliance, it is impossible to overlook the piety of his language, which creates a favourable impression that his roving life, in a state of social manners so different from ours, was not incompatible with habits of personal religion.

Verses 8-9

And the elders of Gilead said unto Jephthah, Therefore we turn again to thee now, that thou mayest go with us, and fight against the children of Ammon, and be our head over all the inhabitants of Gilead.

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 10

And the elders of Gilead said unto Jephthah, The LORD be witness between us, if we do not so according to thy words.

The Lord he witness between us. Their offer being accompanied by the most solemn oath, Jephthah intimated his acceptance of the mission, and his willingness to accompany them. But, to make 'assurance doubly sure,' he took care that the pledge given by the deputies in Tob should be ratified in a general assembly of the people at Mizpeh; and the language of the historian, "Jephthah uttered all his words before the Lord," seems to imply that his inauguration with the character and extraordinary office of judge was solemnized by prayer for the divine blessing, or some religious ceremonial.

Verse 11

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.

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verse 12

And Jephthah sent messengers unto the king of the children of Ammon, saying, What hast thou to do with me, that thou art come against me to fight in my land?

Jephthah sent messengers unto the king of the children of Ammon. This first act in his judicial capacity reflects the highest credit on his character for prudence and moderation, justice and humanity. The bravest officers have always been averse to war; so Jephthah, whose courage was indisputable, resolved not only to make it clearly appear that hostilities were forced upon him, but to try measures for avoiding, if possible, an appeal to arms; and in pursuing such a course, he was acting with the prudence, and on the pacific policy, which became a leader in Israel, who was required by law not to resolve on war until negotiation had failed (Deuteronomy 20:10-18).

Verse 13

And the king of the children of Ammon answered unto the messengers of Jephthah, Because Israel took away my land, when they came up out of Egypt, from Arnon even unto Jabbok, and unto Jordan: now therefore restore those lands again peaceably.

The king of ... Ammon answered ... Because Israel took away my land - (see the note at Deuteronomy 2:19-37.) The subject of quarrel was a claim of right advanced by the Ammonite monarch to the lands which the Israelites were occupying.

Verse 14

And Jephthah sent messengers again unto the king of the children of Ammon:

Jephthah sent messengers again unto the king of the children of Ammon. Jephthah's reply was clear, decided, and uuanswerable-first, those lands were not in the possession of the Ammonites when his countrymen got them, and that they had been acquired by right of conquest from the Amorites; secondly, that the Israelites had now, by a lapse of 300 years of undisputed possession, established a prescriptive right to the occupation; thirdly, having received a grant of them from the Lord, His people were entitled to maintain their right on the same principle that guided the Ammonites in receiving from their god Chemosh (cf. Numbers 21:29, where he is stated to be the tutelary deity of Moab also) the territory they now occupied; and, fourthly, that no attempt had been made, even by Balak, to dispossess the Israelites of Heshbon, Aroer, etc., all the time they occupied those places. The Israelite camp was pitched north of the Arnon, and the main body remained there while the fighting men were engaged in the conquest of Bashan. Afterward the camp was removed to Abel-shittim, in the Jordan valley; but a considerable portion of the Israelites seem to have remained on the eastern uplands, and to have inhabited the towns to the very brink of the Arnon ravine (cf. Numbers 21:24).

Verses 15-25

And said unto him, Thus saith Jephthah, Israel took not away the land of Moab, nor the land of the children of Ammon:

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 26

While Israel dwelt in Heshbon and her towns, and in Aroer and her towns, and in all the cities that be along by the coasts of Arnon, three hundred years? why therefore did ye not recover them within that time? Three hundred years. This is believed to be a corrupt reading for three hundred cities; After "cities," Lord

A. Hervey ('Genealogies,' p. 240) suggests an amended translation as follows:-`Did Balak ever strive against Israel, or did he ever fight against them, when Israel dwelt in Heshbon and her towns, and in Aroer and her towns and in all the cities that be along by the coasts of Arnon, three hundred cities? Why, therefore, did ye not recover them at that time?' (See 'Introduction' to Judges.') This diplomatic statement, so admirable for the clearness and force of its arguments, which doubtless were embodied in a state paper or letter of instructions furnished to the ambassadors, concluded with a solemn appeal to God to maintain, by the issue of events, the cause of right and justice.

Verse 27

Wherefore I have not sinned against thee, but thou doest me wrong to war against me: the LORD the Judge be judge this day between the children of Israel and the children of Ammon.

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verse 28

Howbeit the king of the children of Ammon hearkened not unto the words of Jephthah which he sent him.

Howbelt the kings of ... Ammon hearkened not unto the words of Jephthah. His remonstrances to the aggressor were disregarded; and war being inevitable, preparations were made for a determined resistance.

Verse 29

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.

Then the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthan. The calm wisdom, sagacious fore-thought, and indomitable energy which he was enabled to display, were a pledge to himself, and a convincing evidence to his countrymen, that he was qualified by higher resources than his own for the momentous duties of his office.

He passed over Gilead and Manasseh - the provinces most exposed and in danger for the purpose of He passed over Gilead and Manasseh - the provinces most exposed and in danger, for the purpose of levying troops, and exciting by his presence a widespread interest in the national cause. Returning to the camp at Mizpeh, he thence began his march against the enemy, and there he made his celebrated vow, in accordance with an ancient custom for generals at the outbreak of a war, or on the eve of a battle, to promise the god of their worship a costly oblation, or dedication of some valuable booty, in the event of a victory. Vows were in common practice also among the Israelites. (1 Samuel 1:11; 2 Samuel 15:8, etc.) They were encouraged by the divine approval, as emanating from a spirit of piety and gratitude, and rules laid down in the law for regulating the performance. But it is difficult to bring Jephthah's vow within the legitimate range (see the note at Leviticus 27:28).

Verse 30

And Jephthah vowed a vow unto the LORD, and said, If thou shalt without fail deliver the children of Ammon into mine hands,

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verse 31

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.

Whatsoever cometh forth of the doors of my house to meet me. This evidently points not to an animal-for that might have been a dog, which, being unclean, was unfit to be offered; but to a person: and it looks extremely like as if he, from the first, contemplated a human sacrifice. Bred up as he had been, beyond the Jordan, where the Israelite tribes, far from the tabernacle were looser in their religious sentiments, and living latterly on the borders of a pagan country where such sacrifices were common, it is not impossible that he may have been so ignorant as to imagine that a similar immolation would be acceptable to God. His mind, engrossed with the prospect of a contest, on the issue of which the fate of his country depended, might through the influence of superstition, consider the dedication of the object dearest to him the most likely to ensure success.

Shall surely be the Lord's, and (or) I will offer it up for a burnt offering. The adoption of the latter particle, which many interpreters suggest, introduces the important alternative, that if it were a person, the dedication would be made to the service of the sanctuary; if a proper animal or thing, it would be offered on the altar.

Verse 32

So Jephthah passed over unto the children of Ammon to fight against them; and the LORD delivered them into his hands.

Passed over unto the children of Ammon ... and the Lord delivered them into his hands. He met and engaged them at Aroer, a town in the tribe of Gad, upon the Arnon. A decisive victory crowned the arms of Israel, and the pursuit was continued to 'Aabeel (H57) Kªraamiym (H3754) - i:e., plain of the vineyards; from south to north, over an extent of about 60 miles.

Verse 33

And he smote them from Aroer, even till thou come to Minnith, even twenty cities, and unto the plain of the vineyards, with a very great slaughter. Thus the children of Ammon were subdued before the children of Israel.

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verse 34

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; beside her he had neither son nor daughter.

Jephthah came to Mizpeh unto his house. The return of the victors was hailed, as usual, by the joyous acclaim of a female band (1 Samuel 18:6), the leader of whom Was Jephthah's daughter. The vow was full in his mind; and it is evident that it had not been communicated to any one, otherwise precautions would doubtless have been taken to place another object at his door. The shriek, and other accompaniments of irrepressible grief, seem, in the opinion of many, to indicate that her life was to be forfeited as a sacrifice; that the nature of the sacrifice (which was abhorrent to the character of God), and distance from the tabernacle, does not suffice to overturn this view, which the language and whole strain of the narrative plainly support; and that although the lapse of two months might be supposed to have afforded time for reflection, and a better sense of his duty, there is but too much reason to conclude that he was impelled to the fulfillment by the dictates of a pious but unenlightened conscience. On the other hand, there are strong reasons for the adoption of another view of the mode in which this vow was carried into effect-namely, by the daughter being devoted to perpetual virginity.

The words, Judges 11:35, "thou hast brought me very low," or thou hast greatly crushed me, are quite, susceptible of a meaning which implies Jephthah's being reduced from his high position to deep obscurity-nay, of having his name and family extinguished, through want of posterity. Then again, the statement, "thou art one of them that trouble me," is very singular to be made at the time when her presence and her purpose were intended to do honour to her father. [ `aakar (H5916) means to disturb, to put in confusion, or bring evil, upon one (cf. Joshua 6:18; Joshua 7:25; 1 Samuel 14:29); and the daughter cannot be conceived to have produced such an effect upon Jephthah, but by her presence suddenly calling up the remembrance of his rash vow.]

Verse 35

And it came to pass, when he saw her, that he rent his clothes, and said, Alas, my daughter! thou hast brought me very low, and thou art one of them that trouble me: for I have opened my mouth unto the LORD, and I cannot go back.

I have opened my mouth, [ paatsiytiy (H6475)] - the verb used for the utterance of rash, hasty, and foolish words (cf. Job 35:16; Psalms 66:13-14); and it is perfectly evident that the daughter had no knowledge of what her father had bound himself by solemn obligation to do, until he informed her; and when, on the startling information being communicated, that her own fate was involved in his vow, does it seem wonderful that, under the mental agitation the intelligence must have produced, she requested that the performance of the vow should be delayed for a specified time. When that time had expired, she returned home, and surrendered herself, with filial piety, to her father's disposal.

Verses 36-38

And she said unto him, My father, if thou hast opened thy mouth unto the LORD, do to me according to that which hath proceeded out of thy mouth; forasmuch as the LORD hath taken vengeance for thee of thine enemies, even of the children of Ammon.

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 39

And it came to pass at the end of 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,

She returned unto her father who did with her according to his vow which he had vowed But how or She returned unto her father, who did with her according to his vow which he had vowed. But how or what did he do with her? Certainly he did not offer her in sacrifice. The immolation of a human victim had never been made by any Israelite who was a worshipper of the true God; and supposing the case of Jephthah was an exception, the offering of his daughter must either have been made at Shiloh, where the tabernacle, the only appointed place of sacrifice, was established, or at some place east of Jordan. But the sacrifice could not have been offered at Shiloh, not only because Jephthah was not likely to go to Shiloh, having a bitter feud with the Ephraimites, within whose territory it lay, but because no Levitical priest would have lent his services to put a human victim upon the altar of God; and if Jephthah himself had immolated her at his own home, he would have incurred the triple guilt of the impious assumption of the priestly office, of offering at an unaccepted place, and presenting a sacrifice abhorrent to the law and character of God. Jephthah, who appears to have been a pious man (Judges 11:11), and from his despatch to the Ammonite king (Judges 11:14-27), well acquainted with the Mosaic history, would not have perpetrated any of these presumptuous sins; and hence, we conclude that no sacrifice of the kind was made.

Dropping, therefore, the alternative part of the vow, and accepting the first part of it as that which Jephthah performed-namely, that whatsoever came forth of the doors of his house to meet him, when he returned in peace from the children of Ammon, should surely be the Lord's-we believe that his daughter was consecrated for life to the service of the sanctuary. This view is strengthened both by the significant clause, "she knew no man," being doomed to live unmarried-a disappointment particularly severe to a Hebrew damsel-and by the annual custom, which was thenceforth adopted by her female associates, of celebrating her deed of public devotion.

It was a custom in Israel,

Verse 40

That the daughters of Israel went yearly to lament the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite four days in a year.

That the daughters of Israel went yearly to lament ... [ lªtanowt (H8567)] - to rehearse (Judges 11:11) her doings; i:e., to praise her for the religions life she led. It might be that this anniversary was observed only during the lifetime of Jephthah's daughter, and chiefly by the women of the Gileadite district who were acquainted with her, or cognizant of the circumstances connected with her pious self-sacrifice. This view of Jephthah's vow, which has occasioned perplexity in every subsequent age of the Church, seems in perfect accordance with Scripture, and possesses the merit of rescuing from the reproach of a dark and malignant superstition the character of a judge in Israel, whom the Spirit of God has enrolled among the worthies of the ancient congregation.

Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Judges 11". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jfu/judges-11.html. 1871-8.
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