Click to donate today!
Jephthah Elected as Prince; Negotiations with the Ammonites; Victory, Vow, and Office of Judge - Judges 11-12:7
(Note: On the nature of the sources from which the author drew this tolerably elaborate history of Jephthah, all that can be determined with certainty is, that they sprang from some contemporary of this judge, since they furnish so clear and striking a picture of his life and doings. Bertheau's hypothesis, that the section extending from Judges 11:12 to Judges 11:28 is founded upon some historical work, which is also employed in Num 21; Deut 2:1-3:29, and here and there in the book of Joshua, has really no other foundation than the unproved assumption that the Pentateuch and the book of Joshua were written towards the close of the period of the kings. For the marked agreement between Jephthah's negotiations with the king of the Ammonites concerning the possession of the land to the east of the Jordan, and the account given in the Pentateuch, especially in Num 20-21, may be explained very simply and very perfectly, on the supposition that the author possessed the Pentateuch itself. And the account which is wanting in the Pentateuch, namely, that Israel petitioned the king of Moab also for permission to go through his land (Judges 11:17), may have bee added from oral tradition, as those glorious victories gained by Israel under Moses were celebrated in verse by contemporaneous poets (see Numbers 21:14, Numbers 21:17, Numbers 21:27); and this certainly contributed not a little to keep alive the memory of those events in the nation for centuries long.)
Election of Jephthah as Prince and Judge of Israel. - Judges 11:1-3. The account begins with his descent and early mode of life. “ Jephthah (lxx Ἰεφθά ) the Gileadite was a brave hero” (see Judges 6:12; Joshua 1:14, etc.); but he was the son of a harlot, and was begotten by Gilead, in addition to other sons who were born of his wife. Gilead is not the name of the country, as Bertheau supposes, so that the land is mythically personified as the forefather of Jephthah. Nor is it the name of the son of Machir and grandson of Manasseh (Numbers 26:29), so that the celebrated ancestor of the Gileadites is mentioned here instead of the unknown father of Jephthah. It is really the proper name of the father himself; and just as in the case of Tola and Puah, in Judges 10:1, the name of the renowned ancestor was repeated in his descendant. We are forced to this conclusion by the fact that the wife of Gilead, and his other sons by that wife, are mentioned in Judges 11:2. These sons drove their half-brother Jephthah out of the house because of his inferior birth, that he might not share with them in the paternal inheritance; just as Ishmael and the sons of Keturah were sent away by Abraham, that they might not inherit along with Isaac (Genesis 21:10., Genesis 25:6).
Jephthah departed from his brothers into the land of Tob, i.e., according to 2 Samuel 10:6, 2 Samuel 10:8, a district in the north-east of Perea, on the border of Syria, or between Syria and Ammonitis, called Τώβιον in 1 Macc. 5:13, or more correctly Τουβίν , according to 2 Macc. 12:17, where loose men gathered round him (cf. Judges 9:4), and “went out with him,” viz., upon warlike and predatory expeditions like the Bedouins.
But when the Ammonites made war upon Israel some time afterwards, the elders of Gilead (= “the princes of Gilead,” Judges 10:18) went to fetch Jephthah out of the land of Tob, to make this brave warrior their leader. In Judges 11:4 the account of the war between the Ammonites and Israel, which is mentioned in Judges 10:17, is resumed, and its progress under Jephthah is then more fully described. “ In process of time ” ( מיּמים , a diebus, i.e., after the lapse of a long period, which cannot be more precisely defined), sc., after the expulsion of Jephthah from his home (see Judges 14:8; Judges 15:1; Joshua 23:1). קצין signifies a leader in war ( Joshua 10:24), and is therefore distinguished in Judges 11:11 from ראשׁ , a chief in peace and war.
Jephthah expressed to the elders his astonishment that they had formerly hated and expelled him, and now came to him in their distress, sc., to make him their leader in time of war. Thus he lays his expulsion upon the shoulders of the elders of Gilead, although it was only by his brethren that he had been driven away from his father's house, inasmuch as they had either approved of it, or at all events had not interfered as magistrates to prevent it. We cannot indeed infer from this reproach, that the expulsion and disinheriting of Jephthah was a legal wrong; but so much at all events is implied, namely, that Jephthah looked upon the thing as a wrong that had been done to him, and found the reason in the hatred of his brethren. The Mosaic law contained no regulation upon this matter, since the rule laid down in Deuteronomy 21:15-17 simply applied to the sons of different wives, and not to a son by a harlot.
The elders replied, “ Therefore ( לכן , because we have formerly done thee wrong) we have now come to thee again to make thee our head, if thou comest with us and fightest against the Ammonites. ” The clauses והלכתּ ונלהמתּ , and והיית , which are formally co-ordinate, are logically to be subordinated to one another, the first two expressing the condition, the third the consequence, in this sense, “ If thou go with us and fight, ... thou shalt be head to us, namely, to all the inhabitants of Gilead, ” i.e., to the two tribes and a half on the east of the Jordan.
Jephthah assented to this: “ If ye will take me back to make war upon the Ammonites, and Jehovah shall give them up to me ( lit. 'before me,' as in Joshua 10:12; Deuteronomy 2:31, etc.), I will be your head.” “ I ” is emphatic as distinguished from he; and there is no necessity to regard the sentence as a question, with which the expression in Judges 11:10, “according to thy words,” which presuppose an affirmative statement on the part of Jephthah, and not a question, would be altogether irreconcilable.
The elders promised this on oath. “ Jehovah be hearing between us, ” i.e., be hearer and judge of the things concerning which we are negotiating; “ truly according to thy word so will we do ” ( לא אם , a particle used in connection with an oath).
Then Jephthah went with the elders of Gilead, “ and the people (i.e., the inhabitants of Gilead) made him head and captain, and Jephthah spoke all his words before Jehovah at Mizpeh: ” i.e., he repeated in a solemn assembly of the people, before God at Mizpeh, the conditions and obligations under which he would accept the honour conferred upon him. “ Before Jehovah ” does not necessarily presuppose the presence of the ark at Mizpeh; nor can we possibly assume this, since the war was resolved upon primarily by the eastern tribes alone, and they had no ark at all. It merely affirms that Jephthah performed this act, looking up to God, the omnipresent head of Israel. Still less do the words warrant the assumption that there was an altar in Mizpeh, and that sacrifices were offered to confirm the treaty, of which there is not the slightest indication in the text. “'Before Jehovah' implies nothing more than that Jephthah confirmed all his words by an oath” ( Hengstenberg, Diss. ii. pp. 35, 36).
Jephthah's Negotiations with the King of the Ammonites. - Judges 11:12. Before Jephthah took the sword, he sent messengers to the king of the Ammonites, to make complaints to him of his invasion of the land of the Israelites. “ What have we to do with one another ('what to me and thee?' see Joshua 22:24; 2 Samuel 16:10), that thou hast come to me to fight against my land? ” Jephthah's ambassadors speak in the name of the nation; hence the singulars “ me ” and “ my land.”
The king of the Ammonites replied, that when Israel came up out of Egypt, they had taken away his land from the Arnon to the Jabbok (on the north), and to the Jordan (on the west), and demanded that they should now restore these lands in peace. The plural אתהן (them) refers ad sensum to the cities and places in the land in question. The claim raised by the king of the Ammonites has one feature in it, which appears to have a certain colour of justice. The Israelites, it is true, had only made war upon the two kings of the Amorites, Sihon and Og, and defeated them, and taken possession of their kingdoms and occupied them, without attacking the Ammonites and Moabites and Edomites, because God had forbidden their attacking these nations (Deuteronomy 2:5, Deuteronomy 2:9, Deuteronomy 2:19); but one portion of the territory of Sihon had formerly been Moabitish and Ammonitish property, and had been conquered by the Amorites and occupied by them. According to Numbers 21:26, Sihon had made war upon the previous king of Moab, and taken away all his land as far as the Arnon (see the comm. on this passage). And although it is not expressly stated in the Pentateuch that Sihon had extended his conquests beyond Moabitis into the land of the Ammonites, which was situated to the east of Moab, and had taken a portion of it from them, this is pretty clearly indicated in Joshua 13:25, since, according to that passage, the tribe of Gad received in addition to Jaezer and all the towns of Gilead, half the land of the children of Ammon, namely, the land to the east of Gilead, on the western side of the upper Jabbok (Nahr Ammân: see at Joshua 13:26).
After Jephthah had adduced all that could be said, to prove that the Israelites were the rightful possessors of the land of Gilead,
But the king of the Ammonites did not hearken to the words of Jephthah “which he had sent to him,” i.e., had instructed his messengers to address to him; so that it was necessary that Jehovah should decide for Israel in battle.
Jephthah's Victory over the Ammonites. - As the negotiations with the king of the Ammonites were fruitless, Jephthah had no other course left than to appeal to the sword.
In the power of the Spirit of Jehovah which came upon him (see Judges 3:10), he passed through Gilead (the land of the tribes of Reuben and Gad between the Arnon and the Jabbok) and Manasseh (northern Gilead and Bashan, which the half tribe of Manasseh had received for a possession), to gather together an army to battle, and then went with the assembled army to Mizpeh-Gilead, i.e., Ramoth-mizpeh, where the Israelites had already encamped before his call (Judges 10:17), that he might thence attach the Ammonites. עבר (to pass over) with an accusative signifies to come over a person in a hostile sense.
Before commencing the war, however, he vowed a vow to the Lord: “ If Thou givest the Ammonites into my hand, he who cometh to meet me out of the doors of my house, when I return safely (in peace, shalom) from the Ammonites, shall belong to the Lord, and I will offer him for a burnt-offering.” By the words אשׁר היּוצא , “he that goeth out,” even if Jephthah did not think “only of a man, or even more definitely still of some one of his household,” he certainly could not think in any case of a head of cattle, or one of his flock. “Going out of the doors of his house to meet him” is an expression that does not apply to a herd or flock driven out of the stall just at the moment of his return, or to any animal that might possibly run out to meet him. For the phrase לקראת יצא is only applied to men in the other passages in which it occurs.
(Note: Augustine observes in his Quaest. xlix. in l. Jud.: “He did not vow in these words that he would offer some sheep, which he might present as a holocaust, according to the law. For it is not, and was not, a customary thing for sheep to come out to meet a victorious general returning from the war. Nor did he say, I will offer as a holocaust what ever shall come out of the doors of my house to meet me; but he says, ' Who ever comes out, I will offer him;' so that there can be no doubt whatever that he had then a human being in his mind.”)
Moreover, Jephthah no doubt intended to impose a very difficult vow upon himself. And that would not have been the case if he had merely been thinking of a sacrificial animal. Even without any vow, he would have offered, not one, but many sacrifices after obtaining a victory.
(Note: “What kind of vow would it be if some great prince or general should say, 'O God, if Thou wilt give me this victory, the first calf that meets me shall be Thine!' Parturiunt montes, nascetur ridiculus mus! ” - Pfeiffer, dubia vex. p. 356.)
If therefore he had an animal sacrifice in his mind, he would certainly have vowed the best of his flocks. From all this there can be no doubt that Jephthah must have been thinking of some human being as at all events included in his vow; so that when he declared that he would dedicate that which came out of his house to meet him, the meaning of the vow cannot have been any other than that he would leave the choice of the sacrifice to God himself. “In his eagerness to smite the foe, and to thank God for it, Jephthah could not think of any particular object to name, which he could regard as great enough to dedicate to God; he therefore left it to accident, i.e., to the guidance of God, to determine the sacrifice. He shrank from measuring what was dearest to God, and left this to God himself” ( P. Cassel in Herzog's Real-encycl.). Whomsoever God should bring to meet him, he would dedicate to Jehovah, and indeed, as is added afterwards by way of defining it more precisely, he would offer him to the Lord as a burnt-offering. The ו before העליתיהוּ is to be taken as explanatory, and not as disjunctive in the sense of “ or,” which ו never has. But whether Jephthah really thought of his daughter at the time, cannot be determined either in the affirmative or negative. If he did, he no doubt hoped that the Lord would not demand this hardest of all sacrifices.
After seeking to ensure the help of the Lord by this vow, he went against the Ammonites to fight against them; and the Lord delivered them into his hand, so that Jephthah smote them in a very great slaughter “from Aroër (or Nahr Ammân; see Judges 11:26) to the neighbourhood of ('till thou come to;' see at Genesis 10:19) Minnith, (conquering and taking) twenty cities, and to Abel Keramim (of the vineyards).” Minnith, according to the Onom. ( s. v. Mennith), was a place called Manith in the time of Eusebius, four Roman miles from Heshbon on the road to Philadelphia, with which the account given by Buckingham of the ruins of a large city a little to the east of Heshbon may be compared (see v. Raum. Pal. p. 265). The situation of Abel Keramim (plain of the vineyards: Luther and Eng. Ver.) cannot be determined with the same certainty. Eusebius and Jerome mention two places of this name ( Onom. s. v. Abel vinearum), a villa Abela vinetis consita ( κώμη ἀμπελοφόρος Ἄβελ ) seven Roman miles from Philadelphia, and a civitas nomine Abela vini fertilis twelve Roman miles to the east of Gadara, and therefore in the neighbourhood of the Mandhur. Which of the two is referred to here remains uncertain, as we have no precise details concerning the battle. If the northern Abela should be meant, Jephthah would have pursued the foe first of all towards the south to the neighbourhood of Heshbon, and then to the north to the border of Bashan. Through his victory the Ammonites were completely subdued before the Israelites.
Jephthah's Vow. - Judges 11:34, Judges 11:35. When the victorious hero returned to Mizpeh, his daughter came out to meet him “ with timbrels and in dances,” i.e., at the head of a company of women, who received the conqueror with joyous music and dances (see at Exodus 15:20): “ and she was the only one; he had neither son nor daughter beside her.” ממּנּוּ cannot mean ex se , no other child of his own, though he may have had children that his wives had brought him by other husbands; but it stands, as the great Masora has pointed it, for ממּנּה , “besides her,” the daughter just mentioned-the masculine being used for the feminine as the nearest and more general gender, simply because the idea of “ child ” was floating before the author's mind. At such a meeting Jephthah was violently agitated. Tearing his clothes (as a sign of his intense agony; see at Leviticus 10:6), he exclaimed, “ O my daughter! thou hast brought me very low; it is thou who troublest me ” ( lit. thou art among those who trouble me, thou belongest to their class, and indeed in the fullest sense of the word; this is the meaning of the so-called בּ essentiae : see Ges. Lehrgeb. p. 838, and such passages as 2 Samuel 15:31; Psalms 54:6; Psalms 55:19, etc.): “ I have opened my mouth to the Lord (i.e., have uttered a vow to Him: compare Psalms 66:14 with Numbers 30:3., Deuteronomy 23:23-24), and cannot turn it, ” i.e., revoke it.
The daughter, observing that the vow had reference to her (as her father in fact had, no doubt, distinctly told her, though the writer has passed this over because he had already given the vow itself in Judges 11:31), replied, “ Do to me as has gone out of thy mouth (i.e., do to me what thou hast vowed), since Jehovah has procured the vengeance upon thine enemies the Ammonites. ” She then added (Judges 11:37), “ Let this thing be done for me (equivalent to, Let this only be granted me); let me alone two months and I will go, ” i.e., only give me two months to go, “ that I may go down to the mountains (i.e., from Mizpeh, which stood upon an eminence, to the surrounding mountains and their valleys) and bewail my virginity, I and my friends.” בּתוּלים does not mean “youth” ( נעוּרים ), but the condition of virginity (see Leviticus 21:13). The Kethibh רעיתי is a less common form of רעותי ( Keri).
The father granted this request.
At the end of two months she returned to her father again, “ and he did to her the vow that he had vowed, and she knew no man. ” I consequence of this act of Jephthah and his daughter, “ it became an ordinance (a standing custom) in Israel: from year to year (see Exodus 13:10) the daughters of Israel go to praise the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite four days in the year. תּנּה does not mean θρηνεῖν , to lament or bewail (lxx, Chald., etc.), but to praise, as R. Tanchum and others maintain.
With regard to Jephthah's vow, the view expressed so distinctly by Josephus and the Chaldee was the one which generally prevailed in the earlier times among both Rabbins and fathers of the church, viz., that Jephthah put his daughter to death and burned her upon the altar as a bleeding sacrifice to Jehovah. It was not till the middle ages that Mos. and Dav. Kimchi and certain other Rabbins endeavoured to establish the view, that Jephthah merely dedicated his daughter to the service of the sanctuary of Jehovah in a lifelong virginity. And lastly, Ludov. Cappellus, in his Diatriba de voto Jephtae, Salm. 1683 (which has been reprinted in his Notae critic. in Jud. xvi., and the Critici Sacri, tom. i.), has expressed the opinion that Jephthah put his daughter to death in honour of the Lord according to the law of the ban, because human beings were not allowed to be offered up as burnt-sacrifices. Of these different opinions the third has no foundation in the text of the Bible. For supposing that Jephthah had simply vowed that on his return he would offer to the Lord whatever came to meet him out of his house, with such restrictions only as were involved in the very nature of the case - viz., offering it as a burnt-offering if it were adapted for this according to the law; and if it were not, then proceeding with it according to the law of the ban, - the account of the fulfilment of this vow would certainly have defined with greater precision the manner in which he fulfilled the vow upon his daughter. The words “he did to her his vow which he had vowed,” cannot be understood in any other way than that he offered her as עולה , i.e., as a burnt-offering, to the Lord. Moreover, the law concerning the ban and a vow of the ban could not possibly give any individual Israelite the right to ban either his own child or one of his household to the Lord, without opening a very wide door to the crime of murder. The infliction of the ban upon any man presupposed notorious wickedness, so that burnt-offering and ban were diametrically opposed the one to the other. Consequently the other two views are the only ones which can be entertained, and it is not easy to decide between them. Although the words “and I offer him as a burnt-offering” appear to favour the actual sacrifice so strongly, that Luther's marginal note, “some affirm that he did not sacrifice her, but the text is clear enough,” is perpetually repeated with peculiar emphasis; yet, on looking more closely into the matter, we find insuperable difficulties in the way of the literal interpretation of the words. Since יצא אשׁר היּוצא cannot be taken impersonally, and therefore when Jephthah uttered his vow, he must at any rate have had the possibility of some human being coming to meet him in his mind; and since the two clauses “ he shall be the Lords, ” and “ I will offer him up for a burnt-offering, ” cannot be taken disjunctively in such a sense as this, it shall either be dedicated to the Lord, or, if it should be a sacrificial animal, I will offer it up as a burnt-offering, but the second clause simply contains a more precise definition of the first-Jephthah must at the very outset have contemplated the possibility of a human sacrifice. Yet not only were human sacrifices prohibited in the law under pain of death as an abomination in the sight of Jehovah (Leviticus 18:21; Leviticus 20:2-5; Deuteronomy 12:31; Deuteronomy 18:10), but they were never heard of among the Israelites in the early times, and were only transplanted to Jerusalem by the godless kings Ahaz and Manasseh.
(Note: “Human sacrifices do not even belong to heathenism generally, but to the darkest night of heathenism. They only occur among those nations which are the most thoroughly depraved in a moral and religious sense.” This remark of Hengstenberg (Diss. iii. p. 118) cannot be set aside by a reference to Euseb. praep. ev. iv. 16; Baur, Symb. ii. 2, pp. 293ff.; Lasaulx, Sühnopfer der Griechen und Römer, 1841, pp. 8-12; Ghillany, die Menschenopfer der alten Hebräer, 1842, pp. 107ff., as Kurtz supposes, since the uncritical character of the proofs collected together in these writings is very obvious on a closer inspection, and Eusebius has simply taken his examples from Porphyry, and other writings of a very recent date.)
If Jephthah therefore vowed that he would offer a human sacrifice to Jehovah, he must either have uttered his vow without any reflection, or else have been thoroughly depraved in a moral and religious sense. But what we know of this brave hero by no means warrants any such assumptions, His acts do not show the slightest trace of impetuosity and rashness. He does not take to the sword at once, but waits till his negotiations with the king of the Ammonites have been without effect. Nor does he utter his vow in the midst of the confusion of battle, so that we might fancy he had made a vow in the heat of the conflict without fully weighting his words, but he uttered it before he set out against the Ammonites (see Judges 11:30 and Judges 11:32). So far as the religious training of Jephthah was concerned, it is true that he had led the life of a freebooter during his exile from his country and home, and before his election as the leader of the Israelites; but the analogous circumstances connected with David's life preclude us from inferring either moral depravity or religious barbarism from this. When David was obliged to fly from his country to escape from Saul, he also led a life of the same kind, so that all sorts of people came to him, not pious and virtuous people, but all who were in distress and had creditors, or were embittered in spirit (1 Samuel 22:2); and yet, even under these circumstances, David lived in the law of the Lord. Moreover, Jephthah was not destitute of the fear of God. This is proved first of all by the fact, that when he had been recalled from his exile he looked to Jehovah to give him the victory over the Ammonites, and made a treaty with the elders of Gilead “before Jehovah” (Judges 11:9 and Judges 11:10); and also by the fact, that he sought to ensure the help of God in war through the medium of a vow. And again, we have no right to attribute to him any ignorance of the law. Even if Kurtz is correct in his opinion, that the negotiations with the king of the Ammonites, which show the most accurate acquaintance with the Pentateuch, were not carried on independently and from his own knowledge of the law, and that the sending of messengers to the hostile king was resolved upon in the national assembly at Mizpeh, with the priests, Levites, and elders present, so that the Levites, who knew the law, may have supplied any defects in his own knowledge of the law and of the early history of his people; a private Israelite did not need to study the whole of the law of the Pentateuch, and to make himself master of the whole, in order to gain the knowledge and conviction that a human sacrifice was irreconcilable with the substance and spirit of the worship of Jehovah, and that Jehovah the God of Israel was not a Moloch. And again, even if we do not know to what extent the men and fathers of families in Israel were acquainted and familiar with the contents of the Mosaic law, the opinion is certainly an erroneous one, that the Israelites derived their knowledge of the law exclusively from the public reading of the law at the feast of tabernacles in the sabbatical year, as enjoined in Deuteronomy 31:10.; so that if this public reading, which was to take place only once in seven years, had been neglected, the whole nation would have been left without any instruction whatever in the law. The reason for this Mosaic precept was a totally different one from that of making the people acquainted with the contents of the law (see the commentary on this passage). And again, though we certainly do not find the law of the Lord so thoroughly pervading the religious consciousness of the people, received as it were in succum et sanguinem , in the time of the judges, that they were able to resist the bewitching power of nature-worship, but, on the contrary, we find them repeatedly falling away into the worship of Baal; yet we discover no trace whatever of human sacrifices even in the case of those who went a whoring after Baalim. And although the theocratical knowledge of the law seems to have been somewhat corrupted even in the case of such men as Gideon, so that this judge had an unlawful ephod made for himself at Ophrah; the opinion that the Baal-worship, into which the Israelites repeatedly fell, was associated with human sacrifices, is one of the many erroneous ideas that have been entertained as to the development of the religious life not only among the Israelites, but among the Canaanites, and which cannot be supported by historical testimonies or facts. That the Canaanitish worship of Baal and Astarte, to which the Israelites were addicted, required no human sacrifices, is indisputably evident from the fact, that even in the time of Ahab and his idolatrous wife Jezebel, the daughter of the Sidonian king Ethbaal, who raised the worship of Baal into the national religion in the kingdom of the ten tribes, persecuting the prophets of Jehovah and putting them to death, there is not the slightest allusion to human sacrifices. Even at that time human sacrifices were regarded by the Israelites as so revolting an abomination, that the two kings of Israel who besieged the king of the Moabites - not only the godly Jehoshaphat, but Jehoram the son of Ahab and Jezebel - withdrew at once and relinquished the continuance of the war, when the king of the Moabites, in the extremity of his distress, sacrificed his son as a burnt-offering upon the wall (2 Kings 3:26-27). With such an attitude as this on the part of the Israelites towards human sacrifices before the time of Ahaz and Manasseh, who introduced the worship of Moloch into Jerusalem, we cannot, without further evidence, impute to Jephthah the offering of a bloody human sacrifice, the more especially as it is inconceivable, with the diametrical opposition between the worship of Jehovah and the worship of Moloch, that God should have chosen a worshipper of Moloch to carry out His work, or a man who was capable of vowing and offering a human-being sacrifice. The men whom God chose as the recipients of His revelation of mercy and the executors of His will, and whom He endowed with His Spirit as judges and leaders of His people, were no doubt affected with infirmities, faults, and sins of many kinds, so that they could fall to a very great depth; but nowhere is it stated that the Spirit of God came upon a worshipper of Moloch and endowed him with His own power, that he might be the helper and saviour of Israel.
We cannot therefore regard Jephthah as a servant of Moloch, especially when we consider that, in addition to what has already been said, the account of the actual fulfilment of his vow is apparently irreconcilable with the literal interpretation of the words עולה והעליתיהוּ , as signifying a bleeding burnt-offering. We cannot infer anything with certainty as to the mode of the sacrifice, from the grief which Jephthah felt and expressed when his only daughter came to meet him. For this is quite as intelligible, as even the supporters of the literal view of these words admit, on the supposition that Jephthah was compelled by his vow to dedicate his daughter to Jehovah in a lifelong virginity, as it would be if he had been obliged to put her to death and burn her upon the altar as a burnt-offering. But the entreaty of the daughter, that he would grant her two months' time, in order that she might lament her virginity upon the mountains with her friends, would have been marvellously out of keeping with the account that she was to be put to death as a sacrifice. To mourn one's virginity does not mean to mourn because one has to die a virgin, but because one has to live and remain a virgin. But even if we were to assume that mourning her virginity was equivalent to mourning on account of her youth (which is quite untenable, as בּתוּלים is not synonymous with נעוּרים ), “it would be impossible to understand why this should take place upon the mountains. It would be altogether opposed to human nature, that a child who had so soon to die should make use of a temporary respite to forsake her father altogether. It would no doubt be a reasonable thing that she should ask permission to enjoy life for two months longer before she was put to death; but that she should only think of bewailing her virginity, when a sacrificial death was in prospect, which would rob her father of his only child, would be contrary to all the ordinary feelings of the human heart. Yet, inasmuch as the history lays special emphasis upon her bewailing her virginity, this must have stood in some peculiar relation to the nature of the vow. When a maiden bewails her virginity, the reason for this can only be that she will have to remain a bud that has not been allowed to unfold itself, prevented, too, not by death, but by life” ( P. Cassel, p. 473). And this is confirmed by the expression, to bewail her virginity “ upon the mountains.” “If life had been in question, the same tears might have been shed at home. But her lamentations were devoted to her virginity, and such lamentations could not be uttered in the town, and in the presence of men. Modesty required the solitude of the mountains for these. The virtuous heart of the maiden does not open itself in the ears of all; but only in sacred silence does it pour out its lamentations of love” ( P. Cassel, p. 476).
And so, again, the still further clause in the account of the fulfilment of the vow, “and she knew no man,” is not in harmony with the assumption of a sacrificial death. This clause would add nothing to the description in that case, since it was already known that she was a virgin. The words only gain their proper sense if we connect them with the previous clause, he “did with her according to the vow which he had vowed,” and understand them as describing what the daughter did in fulfilment of the vow. The father fulfilled his vow upon her, and she knew no man; i.e., he fulfilled the vow through the fact that she knew no man, but dedicated her life to the Lord, as a spiritual burnt-offering, in a lifelong chastity. It was this willingness of the daughter to sacrifice herself which the daughters of Israel went every year to celebrate-namely, upon the mountains whither her friends had gone with her to lament her virginity, and which they commemorated there four days in the year. And the idea of a spiritual sacrifice is supported not only by the words, but also most decisively by the fact that the historian describes the fulfilment of the vow in the words “he did to her according to his vow,” in such a manner as to lead to the conclusion that he regarded the act itself as laudable and good. But a prophetic historian could never have approved of a human sacrifice; and it is evident that the author of the book of Judges does not conceal what was blameable even in the judges themselves, from his remarks concerning the conduct of Gideon (Judges 8:27), which was only a very small offence in comparison with the abomination of a human sacrifice. To this we have to add the difficulties connected with such an act. The words “he did to her according to his vow” presuppose undoubtedly that Jephthah offered his daughter as עולה to Jehovah. But burnt-offerings, that is to say bleeding burnt-offerings, in which the victim was slaughtered and burnt upon the altar, could only be offered upon the lawful altar at the tabernacle, or before the ark, through the medium of the Levitical priests, unless the sacrifice itself had been occasioned by some extraordinary manifestation of God; and that we cannot for a moment think of here. But is it credible that a priest or the priesthood should have consented to offer a sacrifice upon the altar of Jehovah which was denounced in the law as the greatest abomination of the heathen? This difficulty cannot be set aside by assuming that Jephthah put his daughter to death, and burned her upon some secret altar, without the assistance and mediation of a priest; for such an act would not have been described by the prophetic historian as a fulfilment of the vow that he would offer a burnt-offering to the Lord, simply because it would not have been a sacrifice offered to Jehovah at all, but a sacrifice slaughtered to Moloch.
(Note: Auberlen's remarks upon this subject are very good. “The history of Jephthah's daughter,” he says, “would hardly have been thought worth preserving in the Scriptures if the maiden had been really offered in sacrifice; for, in that case, the event would have been reduced, at the best, into a mere family history, without any theocratic significance, though in truth it would rather have been an anti-theocratic abomination, according to Deuteronomy 12:31 (cf. Judges 18:9; Leviticus 18:21; Leviticus 20:1-5). Jephthah's action would in that case have stood upon the same platform as the incest of Lot (Genesis 19:30.), and would owe its adoption into the canon simply to genealogical considerations, or others of a similar kind. But the very opposite is the case here; and if, from the conclusion of the whole narrative in Judges 11:39-40, the object of it is supposed to be simply to explain the origin of the feast that was held in honour of Jephthah's daughter, even this would tell against the ordinary view. In the eye of the law the whole thing would still remain an abomination, and the canonical Scriptures would not stoop to relate and beautify an institution so directly opposed to the law.”)
All these circumstances, when rightly considered, almost compel us to adopt the spiritual interpretation of the words, “offer as a burnt-offering.” It is true that no exactly corresponding parallelisms can be adduced from the Old Testament in support of the spiritual view; but the germs of this view, as met with in the Psalms and the writings of the prophets, are contained in the demand of God addressed to Abraham to offer Him his only son Isaac as a burnt-offering, when compared with the issue of Abraham's temptation-namely, that God accepted his willingness to offer up his son as a completed sacrifice, and then supplied him with a ram to offer up as a bleeding sacrifice in the place of his son. As this fact teaches that what God demands is not a corporeal but a spiritual sacrifice, so the rules laid down in the law respecting the redemption of the first-born belonging to the Lord, and of persons vowed to Him (Exodus 13:1, Exodus 13:13; Numbers 18:15-16; Leviticus 27:1.), show clearly how the Israelites could dedicate themselves and those who belonged to them to the Lord, without burning upon the altar the persons who were vowed to Him. And lastly, it is evident, from the perfectly casual reference to the women who ministered at the tabernacle (Exodus 38:8; 1 Samuel 2:22), that there were persons in Israel who dedicated their lives to the Lord at the sanctuary, by altogether renouncing the world. And there can be no doubt that Jephthah had such a dedication as this in his mind when he uttered his vow; at all events in case the Lord, to whom he left the appointment of the sacrifice, should demand the offering up of a human being. The word עולה does not involve the idea of burning, like our word burnt-offering, but simply that of going up upon the altar, or of complete surrender to the Lord. עולה is a whole offering, as distinguished from the other sacrifices, of which only a part was given up to the Lord. When a virgin, therefore, was set apart as a spiritual עולה , it followed, as a matter of course, that henceforth she belonged entirely to the Lord: that is to say, was to remain a virgin for the remainder of her days. The fact that Nazarites contracted marriages, even such as were dedicated by a vow to be Nazarites all their lives, by no means warrants the conclusion that virgins dedicated to the Lord by a vow were also free to marry if they chose. It is true that we learn nothing definite from the Old Testament with regard to this spiritual sacrificial service; but the absence of any distinct statements upon the subject by no means warrants our denying the fact. Even with regard to the spiritual service of the women at the tabernacle we have no precise information; and we should not have known anything about this institution, if the women themselves had not offered their mirrors in the time of Moses to make the holy laver, or if we had not the account of the violation of such women by the sons of Eli. In this respect, therefore, the remarks of Clericus, though too frequently disregarded, as very true: “It was not to be expected, as I have often observed, that so small a volume as the Old Testament should contain all the customs of the Hebrew, and a full account of all the things that were done among them. There are necessarily many things alluded to, therefore, which we do not fully understand, simply because they are not mentioned elsewhere.”
The Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary is a derivative of a public domain electronic edition.
Keil, Carl Friedrich & Delitzsch, Franz. "Commentary on Judges 11". Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 15 / Ordinary 20