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Jephthah Chosen as Leader Against Ammon
v. 1. Now Jephthah, the Gileadite, was a mighty man of valor, distinguished for courage and energy, but he was the son of an harlot, born outside of wedlock; and Gilead, one of the prominent men of the tribe, begat Jephthah, afterwards acknowledging him and rearing him in his house.
v. 2. And Gilead's wife bare him sons; and his wife's sons grew up, and they thrust out Jephthah, expelled him from the home as not on the same level with them, and said unto him, Thou shalt not inherit in our father's house; for thou art the son of a strange woman, of one who was not properly a wife, even in the sense of a concubine, the stain resting upon his birth excluded him from the rights of a child in the family.
v. 3. Then Jephthah, unable to find support among the elders of Gilead, fled from his brethren, an outcast of society, and dwelt in the land of Tob, a region toward the northeast, on the boundary of Syria; and there were gathered vain men, idle adventurers, to Jephthah, and went out with him, on expeditions of war and plunder, after the manner of the Bedouins.
v. 4. And it came to pass in process of time that the children of Ammon made war against Israel, as related in the preceding chapter.
v. 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, for they believed him, with his qualities of valor and sagacity, with his military ability, to be the very man in this emergency;
v. 6. and they said unto Jephthah, who had meanwhile acquired fame, rest, a family, and possessions, and was a worshiper of the true God, Come and be our captain, that we may fight with the children of Ammon.
v. 7. And Jephthah said unto the elders of Gilead, in reminding them of the former harsh treatment which he had received at their hands, Did not ye hate me and expel me out of my father's house, namely, by not taking his part against the jealous brothers of his family? And why are ye come unto me now, when ye are in distress? So many years they had permitted the wrong to be unrighted, but now that they were in trouble they could find him.
v. 8. 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. That was their way of acknowledging the wrong they had done and trying to atone for it.
v. 9. And Jephthah said unto the elders of Gilead, If ye bring me home again to fight against the children of Ammon and the Lord deliver them before me, shall I be your head? It is a condition rather than a question: If you bring me back, and then stand united to fight Ammon and Jehovah finds you worthy of His blessing, then I will be your head.
v. 10. And the elders of Gilead said unto Jephthah, with a solemn oath, The Lord be witness between us if we do not so according to thy words. Not only in their obedience toward him, but also in their behavior toward Jehovah they were willing to be guided by his instruction and direction.
v. 11. Then Jephthah went with the elders of Gilead, and the people made him head and captain over them, leader in both peace and war; and Jephthah uttered all his words before the Lord in Mizpeh, he repeated the conditions under which he would accept the office, and stated the obligations which devolved upon both him and the people. Thus Jephthah forgave and forgot the past insults in his willingness to serve Jehovah.
Jephthah's Message to the Ammonites
v. 12. And Jephthah sent messengers unto the king of the children of Ammon, for he intended to remove every suspicion as though he had ruthlessly violated the Lord's command not to molest the children of Ammon, Deuteronomy 2:5 to Deuteronomy 9:19, saying, What hast thou to do with me, what matter should cause us to wage war against each other, that thou art come against me to fight in my land?
v. 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, for a part of the land of Sihon, king of the Amorites, had originally been in the hands of Moab and Ammon, Numbers 21:26. Now, therefore, restore those lands again peaceably.
v. 14. And Jephthah sent messengers again unto the king of the children of Ammon,
v. 15. and said unto him, Thus saith Jephthah, Israel took not away the land of Moab nor the land of the children of Ammon;
v. 16. but when Israel came up from Egypt and walked through the wilderness unto the Red Sea, and came to Kadesh, Numbers 14:25; Numbers 13:26,
v. 17. then Israel sent messengers unto the king of Edom, saying, Let me, I pray thee, pass through thy land; but the king of Edom would not hearken thereto, Numbers 20:18; Numbers 20:21. And in like manner they sent unto the king of Moab; but he would not consent; and Israel abode in Kadesh. This was at the time when the children of Israel were on the western side of the mountains of Seir.
v. 18. Then they went along through the wilderness, marching south to the Elanitic Gulf, and thence east into the desert, and compassed the land of Edom and the land of Moab, and came by the east side of the land of Moab, Numbers 21:11, and pitched on the other side of Arnon, on the south side, but came not within the border of Moab, to the territory actually occupied by the Moabites; for Arnon was the border of Moab.
v. 19. 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.
v. 20. 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.
v. 21. And the Lord God of Israel delivered Sihon and all 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.
v. 22. And they possessed all the coasts of the Amorites, from Arnon even unto Jabbok, and from the wilderness even unto Jordan. This account agrees exactly and almost verbally with Numbers 21:21-25. Jephthah relates the history as it concerned the children of Israel and shows the false pretense of the king of Ammon.
v. 23. So now the Lord God of Israel hath dispossessed the Amorites from before His people Israel, by a war of extermination, and shouldest thou possess it? For Ammon had not conquered Sihon and his host.
v. 24. Wilt not thou possess that which Chemosh, thy god, giveth thee to possess? They would surely consider such a procedure as just and fair, if they believed their war-god to have given them the victory in battle. So whomsoever the Lord, our God, shall drive out from before us, them will we possess, for Israel was surely entitled to the same consideration.
v. 25. And now art thou anything better than Balak, the son of Zipper, king of Moab, namely, at the time when Israel conquered the land east of Jordan? Did he ever strive, enter into litigation, against Israel, or did he ever fight against them, although he might have claimed an interest in the land with greater right than the Ammonites, Numbers 21:26,
v. 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, if so sure of their ownership, did ye not recover them within that time? Possession, so long undisputed, could not be called in question at this late day.
v. 27. Wherefore I, Israel, have not sinned against thee, but thou doest me wrong to war against me; the Ammonites were using their supposed claim to the land as a pretext for attacking Israel. The Lord, the Judge, be judge this day between the children of Israel and the children of Ammon. Jephthah placed his case in the hands of Jehovah as the righteous Judge, who would render His decision by bestowing victory upon the righteous cause.
v. 28. Howbeit the king of the children of Ammon hearkened not unto the words of Jephthah which he sent him; he refused to change his plans. The fact that God occasionally suffers the wickedness of the enemies to continue as a punishment upon His people does not change the fact that their doing is still wickedness before Him.
Jephthah, after his Victory, Keeps His Vow
v. 29. Then the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah, and he passed over Gilead and Manasseh, through the entire country east of Jordan, in order to muster as large an army as possible, and passed over Mizpeh of Gilead, to Remote in Gilead, with his entire army, to join that already assembled in camp at that place, and from Mizpeh of Gilead he passed over unto the children of Ammon, he attacked them in battle.
v. 30. And Jephthah vowed a vow unto the Lord and said, If Thou shalt without fail, most assuredly, deliver the children of Ammon into mine hands,
v. 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, after having gained the victory over them, shall surely be the Lord's, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering.
v. 32. So Jephthah passed over unto the children of Ammon to fight against them; and the Lord delivered them into his hands.
v. 33. And he smote them from Aroer, the northern city of this name, even till thou come to Minnith, a city not far from Heshbon, even twenty cities, and unto the plain of the vineyards, Abel Keramim, whose location is not known, with a very great slaughter. Thus the children of Ammon were subdued before the children of Israel. Jephthah's victory was a deed of faith.
v. 34. And Jephthah came to Mizpeh unto his house, and, behold, his daughter came out to meet him with timbrels, castanets, and with dances, an expression of highest joy, a springing and leaping for happiness; and she was his only child; beside her he had neither son nor daughter, he lavished upon her as his pet, the darling of his household, all the affection and devotion of a heart that had long been lonely.
v. 35. And it came to pass, when he saw her, that he rent his clothes, as a sign of deep distress and mourning, and said, Alas, my daughter! thou hast brought me very low, and thou art one of them that trouble me, literally, "Deeply hast thou caused me to bow, and thou alone art distressing me," unwittingly causing him the depest agony; for I have opened my mouth unto the Lord, and I cannot go back, he could not make his vow unsaid.
v. 36. And she said unto him, in a most beautiful and, at the same time, a most profoundly pathetic manner, 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. Jehovah had hearkened to Jephthah in giving him the victory, and so he must, in return, unfailingly keep his vow. The entire narrative is full of delicate and tender touches.
v. 37. And she said unto her father, Let this thing be done for me: let me alone two months, so long he should delay the paying of his vow, that I may go up and down upon the mountains, far from the haunts of men, and bewail my virginity, I and my fellows, for by the vow of her father she was destined to perpetual virginity, one of the saddest lots that could befall a daughter of Israel, the only child, moreover, through which the house of her father could be continued.
v. 38. And he said, Go. And he sent her away for two months; and she went with her companions and bewailed her virginity upon the mountains.
v. 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, by consecrating her to the service of the Lord, Exodus 13:12; Numbers 18:15, as one of the women serving at the door of the Tabernacle, Exodus 38:8; 1 Samuel 2:22; and she knew no man, the vow of her father denied her the married estate, and she had agreed to that vow. And it was a custom in Israel
v. 40. that the daughters of Israel went yearly to lament the daughter of Jephthah, the Gileadite, four days in a year, celebrating her in songs, in a festival, of which nothing further is known. That, then, was the sacrifice of Jephthah's daughter: she had to leave the house of her father and was deprived of the right to marry, her fate being at that time unparalleled in Israel. It should be noted that this story affords no basis of proof for the unnatural system in vogue in convents, especially since the motive was entirely different.
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Kretzmann, Paul E. Ph. D., D. D. "Commentary on Judges 11". "Kretzmann's Popular Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 7 / Ordinary 12