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JEPHTHAH; AN UNUSUAL LEADER
There was one man whose capacities for leadership stood out above others in Israel, Jephthah a Gileadite, but he was not popular, being the son of a prostitute (v. 1). His father's wife had sons who, when they grew up, refused to own Jephthah as their brother and expelled him from any inheritance in his father's house (v. 2). Of course Jephthah's birth was not his fault, but his father's. But this made no difference to his brothers.
Jephthah went to the land of Tob, evidently east of Gilead, and there his abilities attracted the following of unwholesome characters (v. 3). They "went out" together, likely as a band of marauders, by which means Jephthah evidently made a name for himself.
When Ammon then came to make war against Israel, the elders of Gilead went to Tob to urge Jephthah to consent to be their commander to fight against Ammon (vv. 4-6). Jephthah reminded them that they had shown hatred toward him by expelling him from his father's house, and he asks why then were they coming to him when they were in distress (v. 7). Thy had no real answer except that now they were turning back to him to ask him to be their head in fighting against Ammon (v. 8)
Jephthah would agree on one condition. If he defeated Ammon, would Israel agree to make him their head?In acceding to this proposition, the elders called God as a witness to their agreement (vv. 9-10). Bringing him to Mizpah the elders and the people appointed Jephthah as their head, where he spoke to them as in the presence of the Lord (v. 11).
HIS DISPUTATION WITH THE KING OF AMMON
Rather than going to battle first, Jephthah sent a message to the king of Ammon asking him why he had come to fight against him in his land(v. 12).The king of Ammon sent the reply that Israel had taken away Ammon's land when they came out of Egypt. So now he demanded that Israel should restore those lands peaceably.
Jephthah replied that Israel had not taken the lands of the Ammonites, but had in fact bypassed Moab and Ammon, but when the Amorites refused Israel permission to pass through their land, Israel had defeated the Amorites and took possession of their lands (vv. 16-21). These lands therefore were not taken from Ammon, but from the Amorites, but now Ammon was demanding them (v.13).
Jephthah, in answering the king of Ammon, asks, since the Lord God of Israel had dispossessed the Amorites before Israel, was it right that Ammon should possess that land? (v. 23). In fact, Jephthah tells them that they can possess what their idol Chemosh was able to give them, but what the Lord God had given Israel would not be given up (v. 24).
He reminds Ammon of the animosity of Balak toward Israel when they came out of Egypt (Numbers 22:1-41; Numbers 23:1-30; Numbers 24:1-25), but that he did not fight against Israel. Were the Ammonites better than Balak that they could hope to defeat Israel? (v. 25). Also, now that Israel had dwelt for 300 years in Heshbon and Aroer and their villages, why did Ammon not in all this time recover (as they considered they wanted to do) that land if it was really theirs? (v. 26).
Therefore, Jephthah concludes, the sin was not on Israel's part, but on the part of the Ammonites, and he appeals to the Lord, the Judge, to render fair judgment in this matter (v.27).The king of Ammon had no reply to this, but simply refused to consider Jephthah's words (v. 28). Let us remember that Ammon stands for the fundamental false doctrines by which Satan seeks to destroy the people of God.
JEPHTHAH'S VOW AND CONQUEST
God at this time gave His Spirit to Jephthah, as He did at various times in the Old Testament for a specific occasion (v. 29). This is not the indwelling of the Spirit such as was accomplished at Pentecost in Acts 2:1-47, but a temporary infusion of power given to one who was called to fight God's battle. With the confidence that God would back him up, Jephthah passed through Gilead and Manasseh and through Mizpah, with his army, boldly advancing toward the Ammonites.
Yet even having the confidence of God's favor, Jephthah sadly failed in making a foolish vow to the effect that if God would deliver Ammon into his hands, then at his return he would offer as a burnt offering to God whatever would first come out of his house to meet him (vv. 30-31). What was he thinking? Did he suppose that a sheep or an ox would come out of his door? God did not put this vow into his mind. If we too conceive some thought as to what we might do for God, let us first be sure God is moving us to do this, for we cannot trust our own natural thoughts.
Jephthah and his army went forward then to engage the Ammonites in battle, and the Lord delivered the Ammonites into his hands. The victory was decisive and complete, with a very great slaughter of the armies of the enemy (vv. 32-33).
Returning home to Mizpath, Jephthah was shocked to see his only child, his daughter, come out of the house to meet him with timbrels and dancing, for of course she knew of his great victory (v. 34).Certainly this should not have surprised him, but his vow had been without sober consideration.
Why did he not blame himself for his foolish vow? But he tells his daughter that she had brought him very low, as one of those who troubled him (v. 35). But he said that since he had given his word to the Lord, he could not go back on it. It is true that when a promise is made it should be kept. But since the promise involved wrongdoing, then it would only be right for Jephthah to confess before the Lord the foolishness of his vow, and therefore not keep it. This is similar to the vow of Herod that he would give to the daughter of Herodias whatever she wanted (Matthew 14:7). When she asked for the head of John the Baptist, he was sorry, but for his oath's sake (supposing this would preserve his integrity!) he ordered the murder of the prophet.
Jephthah's daughter showed a remarkable attitude of submission to her father, however, not protesting against this deliberate case of human sacrifice (v. 36).God never gave instructions for such a thing, but Jephthah was determined to fulfill his vow. The girl asked him, however, to defer the offering for two months, during which she would wander on the mountains with her friends, bewailing her virginity, that is, bewailing the fact that she would die without ever being married (v. 37).
Jephthah agreed to this, and after the two months his daughter returned and submitted to the ordeal of human sacrifice.We are simply told that Jephthah did to her as he had vowed (v.39).Thus she died without having a relationship with any man.We may wonder in what way Jephthah offered her.Surely no priest would consent to offer such a sacrifice, so that action had to be outside of the order God had established. But Jephthah seems to be the kind of a man who would not let anything stop him once he had committed himself.
Jephthah's daughter being gone, the daughters of Israel adopted a custom of going four days each year to the mountains to lament for her.Is there not a lesson in this for us today? One may be the victim of an unfair action, and we can do nothing about it. At least we can remember this injustice in self-judgment before the Lord. This is different than raising an indignant outcry against injustice, a common practice today, but learning to judge ourselves will bear much more good fruit than judging others.
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Grant, L. M. "Commentary on Joshua 11". Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany