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Bible Commentaries

Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible

Judges 11

Verse 1

CHAP. XI.

Jephthah's covenant with the Gileadites: his vow; which he performeth on his daughter.

Before Christ 1186.

Judges 11:1. The son of an harlot See the note on Joshua 2:1. Josephus understands it, that he was a stranger by the mother's side. The meaning of the original word, which we render harlot, is explained in the second verse;—a strange woman, or a woman of another country.

REFLECTIONS.—The people being reduced to straits, and a captain wanted, we have here an account of one whom, though under a brand of disgrace, God chooses to be their deliverer. A Gileadite, whose name was Jephthah, the son of an harlot, or a Gentile; whose brethren, on their father's decease, counting him a scandal to the family, expelled him from the house. Being brought hereby into great distress, and a man of valour, he resolves to live by the sword; collecting a band of men, therefore, he maintained them and himself, most probably, by incursions on Israel's enemies. Note; (1.) A man should not be reproached with the unhappiness of his birth, when his ways bespeak him deserving of a more honourable relation. (2.) They who know the difficulties of adversity are best prepared for the blessings of prosperity.

Verse 11

Judges 11:11. Jephthah uttered all his words before the Lord It is evident from these words, that Jephthah was a man of true religion, and had a serious regard for God; since, though the people had done all that was necessary on their part, he would undertake nothing without God's approbation; a remark which will be of use when we consider the performance of his vow. Indeed, the embassy which he sent to the king of Ammon, Jdg 11:12 serves to prove that he was no less just than pious.

REFLECTIONS.—Many days had now passed during which Jephthah suffered an uncomfortable exile; but the fame of his courage being noised, in their distress from the children of Ammon, the men of Gilead bethought them of Jephthah. Hereupon,

1. They send him an honourable embassage to invite him to take the command of their armies. They were collected, but they wanted a head, and such a one as he had shewn himself, a man of conduct and courage; they therefore urge him to give them no denial. Note; The providences which are, to appearance, our greatest misfortunes, are often necessary to fit us for the work for which God designs us.

2. Jephthah, at first, upbraids them with their ill usage of him. It should seem that his brethren were in the embassy, or that the elders of the city had connived at the violence shewn him. As it must appear, that it was not respect for him, but regard to themselves, that produced the invitation, he might justly refuse to go. Note; In distress of soul, men will have recourse to those ministers and people of God whom before they insulted.

3. They acknowledge their wrong dealing, and entreat him to forgive and forget it, and to come with them to lead their army; and, as the best recompence they can make, offer to elect him captain-general of their tribe. Note; (1.) The least we can do when we have injured any one is to beg his pardon. (2.) We should never despise or trample on any man; for we know not how much we may need him before we die.

4. Too generous to retain resentment, though just, he consents to assist them in their distress; but first solemnly questions them concerning their offer, Whether they would really make him their ruler if the Lord blessed them with success? They confirm what they had said with the most positive assurances, for the truth of which they appeal to God; on this, therefore, he accompanies them to Mizpeh. Note; (1.) In all that we take in hand, we must acknowledge God's blessing. (2.) Christ, who has fought for us, must rule in and over us. (3.) No injuries should make us implacable; we must forgive, as we hope to be forgiven.

5. The whole is solemnly recognized in Mizpeh between Jephthah and the assembly. He then lays the matter before the Lord, praying for direction and success in the arduous enterprise. Note; (1.) That undertaking is likely to end well which is begun with fervent prayer. (2.) In our agreements, it is well to be explicit and solemn, that afterwards there may be no room to retract.

Verse 24

Judges 11:24. Wilt not thou possess that which Chemosh thy god, &c.— This is plainly an argument ad hominem, in which Jephthah does not by any means confess Chemosh to be a god; but only argues with the king of the Ammonites, from the opinion which he and his people had, that Chemosh, whom they worshipped, was a god; and that, according to the opinion which all nations held of their gods, they owed their conquests to him. He, therefore, appeals to the king, whether he would not keep what his god had given him, and look upon it as rightfully possessed by him; and if so, continues he, upon the very same foundation, we also will possess what Jehovah, our God, has given us. Wretched, indeed, must be the cause of infidelity, which finds it necessary to pervert so clear a passage as the present in order to serve and support it! Thus did Voltaire.

REFLECTIONS.—Jephthah now being constituted captain, before he draws the sword of war, seeks a peaceable accommodation.

1. He sends to enquire the reason of this invasion of the Ammonitish king; as they had given him no offence, he wishes him quietly to retire, and not oblige him to use force to repel force. Note; We must follow peace with all men, and never seek litigious redress till every fair proposal has been rejected.

2. The Ammonite, unwilling to plead the law of arms, trumps up a demand of a former title, that, at least, he might seem to cover his pretensions with a specious plea of justice. Note; (1.) They, who are destitute of conscience or honesty, are not willing to appear so. (2.) They who seek a pretext for a quarrel will never be at a loss to find one.

3. Jephthah makes a most satisfactory reply to the unreasonable demand. The lands in question between Arnon and Jabbok were not in possession of the Ammonites, but of the Amorites, when Israel dispossessed them; and, though the land might originally belong to the Ammonites, they had suffered them peaceably to enjoy it, and quitted to them the title. So far were the people of Israel from offering the least violence to the children of Lot or Esau, that when refused a passage through their countries, though able, if they had chosen it, to have opened their way by force, they rather underwent the fatigue of a long march to compass their territories, than set a foot upon them, much less seize them for their own use; nor would they have touched the land of Sihon, if himself had not been the aggressor, and not only refused to let them go through, but also came out, unprovoked, to attack them, and thus brought his ruin on his own head. God having delivered Sihon into their hand, his land became theirs by the gift of God, nor was there the least reason why they should conquer it for the Ammonites. He appeals to him, what would be his own conduct in a like case? Would he quit what he thought he had conquered, under the influence of his idol god, or give up his own land to the original inhabitants whom he had dispossessed? No, surely. Why, then, should he expect it of the Israelites? He pleads farther their uninterrupted enjoyment of this country for near three hundred years; during which time neither Balaak nor his successors ever pretended to claim it; and the Moabites had an equal, if not a better right to it, than the Ammonites; so that, on all these accounts, the war must appear most unjust and unprovoked; and therefore Jephthah appeals to God for a decision of the controversy, if he should persevere in his demands. Note; (1.) When we have justice and truth on our side, we may confidently appeal to the God of truth for a decision in our favour. (2.) When our own harmless and inoffensive conduct speaks our peaceableness, it is at their peril who then make themselves ready for battle.

Verse 31

Judges 11:31. Shall surely be the Lord's; and I will offer it up for a burnt-offering Shall be consecrated to the Lord, or I will offer it, &c. Waterland.

It is very evident, that this translation by Dr. Waterland must be right; because it was impossible that Jephthah should mean to offer for a burnt-offering whatever came forth of the doors of his house to meet him, since it was possible for him to have been met by several things which it would be sacrilegious for him to have offered to the Lord; and, indeed, the event sufficiently proves the propriety of this interpretation, since he was met by that which no vow, however solemn, could justify him in offering up.

Verses 39-40

Judges 11:39-40. It came to pass at the end of two months When Jephthah returned victorious, he was met by his daughter, who accordingly became the object of his vow, and therefore, as we understand it, being in every respect improper for a burnt-offering, she was to be devoted to a single state in the service of the Lord: the greater calamity to Jephthah, as she was his only child, Judges 11:34.; a circumstance which the sacred historian dwells upon, besides her he had neither son nor daughter. Immediately upon her father's signifying his vow to her she seems to have understood him, and, with pious alacrity, submits to the decree; though celibacy, and the want of offspring, were esteemed by the women of Israel as one of the severest punishments, Judges 11:36. She requests to be allowed two months to bewail this calamity; to bewail her being cut off, as it were, from Israel, and deprived of all hope to become a mother among those from whom the Messiah was to spring. Jephthah complies with her request; and at the end of two months she returned to her father, who did with her, says the sacred writer, according to his vow;—and she knew no man. In which words, it is as clear as the light, that the vow of Jephthah was fulfilled; for, if she had been slain as a burnt-offering, it would have been absurd to have told us, that she afterwards knew no man. And, indeed, the passage is so plain, that one would wonder that it could ever have come into the heads of writers to conceive, that her father, who was a truly pious man, (see on Judges 11:11.) could have thought of offering up his daughter as a sacrifice to that GOD, who never allowed or admitted such horrid sacrifices, and whose great quarrel against the baneful idols of the heathens was, that they called for and accepted the sacrifices of sons and daughters. See Leviticus 18:21; Leviticus 20:2.Deuteronomy 12:31; Deuteronomy 12:31; Deuteronomy 18:10. Jephthah vowed, that whatever met him upon his return from a victorious war, if a human creature, and proper for that service, should certainly be consecrated to the service of the LORD; or, if an animal fit for a sacrifice, should immediately be offered up for a burnt-offering. His daughter met him; she willingly confirms her father's vow; and wishes to bewail herself for that state of virginity to which she was devoted; which completed, her father did with her according to his vow, and, therefore, she knew no man; but was devoted to the Lord a virgin to the end of her life: and it continued a custom in Israel, we are further informed, for the virgins of Israel to go to the daughter of Jephthah, the Gileadite, to console her four days in the year: so Houbigant translates the verse, observing, that there is nothing in history to lead us to believe that this custom was kept up after the death of Jephthah's daughter; nay, the virgins of Israel are said expressly to have gone to the daughter of Jephthah herself, for no other place is specified whither they could go. This appears to us the genuine sense of a passage upon which volumes have been written. Those who choose to enter more deeply into the subject may consult Pfeifferi, Dub. Vex. Dodwell, Schudt, Smallridge, or Sykes.

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Bibliographical Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Judges 11". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tcc/judges-11.html. 1801-1803.