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the Week of Proper 7 / Ordinary 12
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Bible Commentaries
Judges 11

The Pulpit CommentariesThe Pulpit Commentaries

Verses 1-28


Judges 11:1-11

The narrative here goes back probably some years, to explain the antecedents of Jephthah, who was about to play so prominent a part in the ensuing history. Jephthah we learn was a bastard son of Gilead by a foreign harlot, an Aramitess, if there is any connection between this verse and 1 Chronicles 7:14; and when the sons of Gilead's wife were grown up, they expelled Jephthah, and refused to let him have any share in the inheritance of their father, because he was the son of a foreigner; Jephthah therefore fled from Gilead, and took up his residence in the land of Tob, apparently an Aramean settlement (2 Samuel 10:6, 2 Samuel 10:8), and presumably the land of his mother's birth, where he gathered round him "vain men" (Judges 9:4), and became a famous freebooter. There he was at the time of the Ammonite invasion mentioned in Judges 10:17, and thither the Gileadites sent for him to come and be their captain, after the consultation in Judges 10:18, with the promise that if he came he should be the head or prince of all the inhabitants of Gilead. After some demur he agreed, and came, and was installed as head of the State at the Gileadite metropolis of Mizpah (Judges 10:17, note).

Judges 11:1

Jephthah the Gileadite. Gilead has two meanings: it is the name of the country so called (Judges 10:8, note), and it is the name of the son or descendant of Machir the son of Manasseh (1 Chronicles 7:14, 1 Chronicles 7:17; Numbers 26:29, Numbers 26:30). Gileadite also may be explained in two ways: it may mean an inhabitant of Gilead (Judges 10:18), or it may mean a member of the family of the Gileadites, either an actual son or a more remote descendant of Gilead (Numbers 26:29)—two meanings which would usually coincide. Gilead begat Jephthah. Here Gilead must mean the person so called, i.e. the son or descendant of Machir, from whom the family, including Jephthah, were called Gileadites; but whether son or descendant cannot positively be affirmed. All that is certain is that he was that one of Maehir's descendants who was the head of that division of the Manassites who were called Gileadites. Again, when it is said Gilead begat Jephthah, we cannot be certain whether it is meant that Gilead was Jephthah's father, or merely his ancestor (see Judges 10:3, note).

Judges 11:2

And Gilead's wife. Whenever Gilead lived, besides the son by the foreign harlot, whom Jephthah represented, he had sons and descendants by his legitimate wife, who claimed to be his sole heirs, and who therefore drove Jephthah from the inheritance of their father's house. They might, as far as the language used is concerned, have been Gilead's own sons, or they may have been his grandsons or great-grandsons, and so either the brothers or the cousins and fellow-tribesmen of Jephthah.

Judges 11:3

The land of Tob. This is certainly the same country as is spoken of in Ish-tob, i.e. the men of Tob, of whom 12,000 were hired by the children of Ammon to fight against David. They are thus named side by side with the men of Beth-Rehob, and Zoba, and Maacah, other small Aramean or Syrian states (2 Samuel 10:6, 2 Samuel 10:8). Tob is again mentioned in all probability in 1 Macc. 5:13; 2 Macc. 12:17, and the Thauba of Ptolemy agrees in situation as well as in name with Tob, but no identification with any existing place has been hitherto effected. Vain men, as in Judges 9:4.

Judges 11:4

This verse brings us back to Judges 10:17, and reunites the two streams of narrative.

Judges 11:5

The elders of Gilead. The same as the princes in Judges 10:18.

Judges 11:6

Our captain. A military term, as in Joshua 10:24. It is also used in Isaiah 1:10 for the rulers of Sodom.

Judges 11:7

Did not ye hate me, etc. Jephthah's reproach to the "elders of Gilead" strongly favours the idea that "his brethren" in Judges 11:3, and the "father's house" in Judges 11:2, are to be taken in the wider sense of fellow-tribesmen and "house of fathers," and that his expulsion was not the private act of his own brothers training him out of the house they lived in, but a tribal act (taking tribe in the sense of house of fathers), in which the elders of Gilead bad taken a part. If this is so, it removes a great difficulty about Jephthah being Gilead's son, which it is very hard to reconcile with chronology.

Judges 11:9

Shall I be, etc. There is no interrogative in the Hebrew. The words may be taken as the laying down of the condition by Jephthah, to which in the following verse the elders express their assent.

Judges 11:11

Head and captain. Both civil ruler or judge, and military chief. Uttered all his words before the Lord. The expression "before the Lord" is used in Exodus 34:34; Le Exodus 1:3; Judges 21:2 (before God), and elsewhere, to signify the special presence of the Lord which was to be found in the tabernacle, or with the ark, or where there was the priest with an ephod. And this must be the meaning of the expression here. Jephthah was installed at the national place of gathering and consultation for Gilead, viz; at Mizpah in Gilead, into his office as bead of the State, and there, as in the capital, he performed all his duties under the sanctions of religion. Whether, however, the ark was brought there, or the altar, or a priest with an ephod, or whether some substitute was devised which the unsettled times might justify, it is impossible to say from want of information. There seems to be some reference in the words to Jephthah's vow, in verse 31, as one of such utterances.

Judges 11:12

And Jephthah sent, etc. His first attempt was to make an honourable peace by showing that there was no just cause of quarrel. What hast thou to do with me? or, rather, What business, what cause of quarrel, is there between you and me? (he speaks in the name of Israel, as head of the State) what is it all about?

Judges 11:13

And the king, etc. The Ammonite king stated his ground of quarrel very distinctly. He claimed the land between the Amen and the Jabbok as Ammonitish or Moabitish territory, and demanded its surrender as the only condition of peace. It appears from Joshua 13:25 that part of the land of the tribe of Gad, that, namely, "on the western side of the upper Jabbok," had once belonged to the Ammonites, but had been conquered by the Amorites, from whom Israel took it, together with that which had formerly belonged to the Moabites.

Judges 11:16

When Israel came up, etc. In this and the following verses there is a distinct reference to the history in Numbers and Deuteronomy, and in some instances verbal quotations. Thus in this verse the words below which are put in italics are found in Numbers 13:26; Numbers 14:25 : Israel ... walked through the wilderness unto the Red Sea, and came to Kadesh.

Judges 11:17

Then Israel sent messengers unto the king of Edom, saying, Let me, I Pray thee, pass through thy land (country in A.V. Numbers 20:17). The words in italics are found in Numbers 20:14, Numbers 20:17. And Israel abode in Kadesh. These words are in Numbers 20:1; see also Deuteronomy 1:46. The king of Edom would not hearken. This is related in substance in Numbers 20:18-21. And in like manner they sent unto the king of Moab. There is no mention of this in the Mosaic narrative. The knowledge of it must have been preserved either by tradition or in some other now lost writings; perhaps in the Book of the Wars of the Lord (Numbers 21:14). It is in itself very probable that such a message should have been sent to the king of Moab, whose territories Israel was forbidden to meddle with (Deuteronomy 2:9, Deuteronomy 2:19).

Judges 11:18

Then they went along, etc. The narrative here follows Deuteronomy 2:1. For they compassed the land of Edom. Deuteronomy 2:1 has, "we compassed Mount Seir;" but Numbers 21:4 has, "to compass the land of Edom." By the east side—literally, by the sun-rising side, as in Numbers 21:11. They pitched on the other side of Arnon. The identical words occur in Numbers 21:13. For Arnon was the border of Moab. The identical words of Numbers 21:18, where it is added, "between Moab and the Amorites." South of the Amen belonged to Moab, and north to the Amorites. The route taken by the Israelites is carefully traced (Numbers 21:11-20).

Judges 11:19

And Israel, etc. The text here follows Numbers 21:21-24 almost verbatim; but the expression, "the king of Heshbon," is from Deuteronomy 2:24, Deuteronomy 2:26, 80.

Judges 11:20

In Jahaz. Otherwise Jahazah (Numbers 21:23; Deuteronomy 2:32; Isaiah 15:4; Jeremiah 48:21, Jeremiah 48:34). It seems to have lain immediately to the north of the Amen.

Judges 11:21, Judges 11:22

These verses are an epitome of Numbers 21:24-32. Cf. also Deuteronomy 2:33-36. The wilderness is the country lying east of Moab up to the hill country (see Judges 10:8, note). From the Amen to the Jabbok is the measurement from south to north; from the wilderness to the Jordan, from east to west.

Judges 11:24

Chemosh. The national god of the Moabites (of. Numbers 21:29; 1Ki 11:7, 1 Kings 11:33; Jeremiah 48:7, Jeremiah 48:13, Jeremiah 48:46, etc.). Thy god. The phrase indicates a very close connection between Moab and Ammon at the present time, both possibly being under one king. Chemosh, rather than Moloch, is mentioned because the territory had belonged to the Moabites, but Chemosh had not been able to save it from the Amorites. The Lord our God. Jehovah was the God of Israel as truly as Chemosh was the god of Moab, in one sense. Possibly Jephthah had not risen to the conception of Jehovah as the God of the whole earth.

Judges 11:25

Art thou anything better, etc. Jephthah now advances another argument to prove the justice of his cause and the unreasonableness of the Ammonite claim. If the territory in question was Moabite property, bow came it that Balak laid no claim to it? He was an enemy of the Israelites, and yet when Israel took possession of the land, and dwelt in Heshbon, its capital, and the daughter cities or villages thereof, and in Aroer and her daughter cities or villages, and in all the cities on the banks of the Amen, Balak never strove about them with Israel, or went to war to recover them—a plain proof that he did not look upon them as his property. If they were his, that was the time to claim and recover them, but he had not done so.

Judges 11:26

The occupation of the cities and villages referred to is related in Numbers 21:23 and following verses, and in Deuteronomy 2:36; see too Joshua 12:2. Aroer is not mentioned among the cities of Moab taken by the Amorites in the ancient book quoted in Num 21:27 -80, and it has been conjectured that it may have been built by the Amorites to secure their new frontier. It is described by Eusebius and Jerome in the 'Onomasticon' as built on a hill overhanging the bank of the Amen, and a ruin called Arair has been found on the very spot so described. The Aroer mentioned in Numbers 21:33 (where see note) is probably a different place. By the coasts of Arnon, i.e. on the banks. The Septuagint for Arnon reads Jordan, which was the western boundary, as Arnon was the southern (Numbers 21:22). The corresponding description in Deuteronomy 2:36 is, From Aroer, which is by the brink of the river of Arnon, and from the city that is by the river, even unto Gilead:, there was not owe city too strong for us: the Lord our God delivered all unto us. Three hundred years. These words seem quite unintelligible and out of place. They are also chronologically impracticable. One expects the number of the cities, as in Deuteronomy 2:33, rather than the number of years; and it is remarkable that the whole number of cities taken by the Israelites on the cast of Jordan must have been just about 300, since the half-tribe of Manasseh had sixty. If Gad and Reuben had the same proportion, it would be exactly 300 (5 x 60). Within that time. The Hebrew phrase, which occurs about seventy times, invariably means at that time, and here can only refer to the time of the first settlement in the days of Balak, of which he had been speaking—another proof that the enumeration three hundred years is out of place here. If the reading years is not, as above suggested, an error for cities, the whole sentence, three hundred years, may very probably be an interpolation by a professed chronologist. The adding up of all the numbers of the servitudes and rests given in the book gives 301 years from the commencement of the oppression by Chushan-rishathaim to the death of Jair. But this method of reckoning gives the impossible period of 600 years from the exodus to the building of the temple.

Judges 11:27

Jephthah now asserts his own entire blamelessness, and appeals to the justice of God to decide between him and the Ammonites.


Judges 11:1-28

The controversy.

The first element of peace, whether in private or in national controversies, whether in civil or religious disputes, is the genuine desire to be fair. When men have that spirit of justice that they do not desire to claim anything which is not really theirs, or to withhold from their opponents anything that is their due; when their aim is to ascertain what is true, and not to overbear truth by force; when they strive for truth, and not merely for victory—there is a fair chance of both sides arriving at the same result, and so being at peace. The first step in any dispute, therefore, should be a calm and careful examination of the facts of the case. It should not be taken for granted that the views which self-interest, or personal predilection, or party prejudice, incline us to are the right ones, but we should remember that our opponents have equal rights with ourselves, and-that it is at least possible that their predilections and prejudices may rest upon as good grounds as our own. A fair and impartial examination of the facts of the case is therefore the first step in every controversy; and that the examination may be fair, we should patiently allow our opponent to state his own case in his own way. The same fact may wear a different aspect according to the mode of stating it, and according to the side of it which is brought prominently into view. Thus Jephthah acted fairly when he asked the king of the sons of Ammon to state the grounds on which he invaded Israel, and when on his side he refuted that statement by an historical retrospect of the transactions in question. Though, however, the spirit of fairness gives the best chance of an amicable settlement of controversies, it does not always lead to such a settlement. Often fairness on one side is met by prejudice and unfairness on the other. But even when both parties arc actuated by the like desire of getting at the rights of a question, it may happen that there is that measure of doubt in some matter on which the controversy hinges, that honest minds may differ about it, and that it is inevitable that men's different interests, prepossessions, and prejudices, should incline them different ways. Thus in Jephthah's controversy with the Ammonites there was room for doubt how far the defeat and dispossession of the children of Ammon by the Amorites had for ever extinguished the claim of the former to the ownership of the land. That Israel had not taken the land from the children of Ammon, or displayed any hostility towards them, was undoubtedly true. But it did not necessarily follow that the Ammonite claim was wholly unrighteous. The question how long a time it takes to establish or to invalidate ownership is obviously a debateable one, in the decision of which personal feelings will carry much weight. In the Franco-German war of 1870 the Germans no doubt felt about Alsace and Lorraine that even 200 years possession by France had not wholly abrogated the German rights. And so it may have been with the king of the children of Ammon. He may have thought that he was justified in claiming the land which had once belonged to his people; and the matter could only be decided by the arbitrament of war. The practical lesson, however, to be learnt is, in all the business of life, whether in politics, or commerce, or in social intercourse, or in religion, to cultivate a spirit of fairness. In religious controversies especially the value of fairness, with a view to truth, and to the peace of the Church, cannot be overrated. It is as humiliating to our Christian character as it is prejudicial to the real interests of religion, when men approach religious questions in a spirit of heated partisanship, seeking only to crush their opponents by ridicule, or abuse, or vehemence, and treating them with insult and indignity. It is no less painful to see falsehood, and suppression of truth, and pious frauds, imported into controversies, the professed object of which is to vindicate the glory of God and the truth of his holy word. If religious controversialists would approach all subjects of difference in a spirit of thorough fairness, would look at their adversaries' arguments with a sincere desire to understand and appreciate them, would give due weight to them, and would believe it possible that they may have reason and justice on their side, there would be a good chance of agreement on many points which now keep Christians hopelessly asunder. And if there should remain some points on which temperament, or education, or habits of thought, in different men, were too diverse to admit of unanimity on doubtful points, then heavenly charity would step forward and maintain that agreement in love which could not be attained in opinion. The unity of the spirit would not be broken, the peace of the Church would not be violated, and the enemies of the gospel would not find their way to victory through the divisions and hatreds of the servants of one Lord. May the Spirit of God come as a Spirit of fairness upon all that name the name of Jesus Christ!


Judges 11:1-3

The shaping influences of life.

These different in their nature from that of which the poet speaks—"There s a divinity that shapes our ends, rough-hew them how we will" (Hamlet, 5.2) It is an anticipative part they play. In many lives the manner in which they are thus influenced is apparent; but even when otherwise the effect is none the less powerful and lasting. It has been questioned whether this be not the most important part of the work of creation. Of these influences, notice—


1. In Jephthah's birth. He was a child of shame, the fruit of an age of licentiousness and idolatry. He receives the title Gileadite, yet it is said Gilead was his father; he must therefore either have had a father with such a name, a member of the tribe of Manasseh, living in Gilead, or, having no clear proof of his paternity, have received the tribal name in that relation. A foundling, with a shameful mystery lying behind his life.

2. In the behaviour of men towards him. Those who were his brethren according to the flesh acted a most unbrotherly part. Either from selfishness or a false feeling of shame, they expelled him from his father's house, closing the door of peaceful, honourable toil, and compelling him to resort to a career of bloodshed and irregularity. The very men who might, any of them, have committed a like sin to that of Jephthah's father are forward to rid themselves of its results. The world judges of men rather from their misfortunes than from their personal misdeeds. And where nature has been unkind, "man's inhumanity to man" is only the more signal. A social stigma is worse to bear up against than many of the greatest calamities which do not involve it.

3. In the force of his circumstances as they arose. He is compelled to take up his abode in a far off border town, near to Ammon, the hereditary enemy of Israel, and surrounded by the conditions of a desert life, where he had to be "a law unto himself." A life of guerilla warfare, with its comparatively loose morale, is thrust upon him. Men of like misfortune and disposition, all more or less compromised with their tribes or nations, gather about him, and look to him for direction and initiative. But—

II. NEVERTHELESS, THEY DO NOT DETERMINE DESTINY. He has somehow managed to preserve a measure of morality and religious observance, even in that wilderness stronghold. The worship of Jehovah is maintained, and the heart of the chieftain beats true to all the traditions of Israel. His personal influence and warlike prowess are at its service. His greatest exploits are not those of the private marauder, but of the patriot. It is character alone that determines destiny, and character is in our own keeping. One is continually meeting with such people—people who in difficult circumstances are yet kept on the whole pure and faithful. Such were "they of Caesar's household." And—

III. IF RIGHTLY ENCOUNTERED THEY MAY REDOUND TO ADVANTAGE AND HONOUR. In the hour of Israel's need, repentant and humble, its elders approach the outlaw whom they had expelled. The man himself is not prepared for the singular conversion. He questions them suspiciously, nay, with all his magnanimity, reminds them of their different behaviour in years gone by. They admit all; but they are too humbled to make evasion and to conceal their real motive. He is master of the situation. His whole previous training and reputation now stand him in good stead, and he understands a little of God's dealings with him. The Bible is full of instances of men who have gained power and fame through the overcoming of difficulties. Time and God are on the side of them who, notwithstanding temptation, are found faithful. And is there not One who outshines all others in this? "The stone which the builders rejected is become the head stone of the corner." His career is our incentive and example (Philippians 2:5-11). Have not all rejected Christ? In our need let us go to him, a nobler than Jephthah.—M.

Judges 11:4-11

Magnanimity of patriotism.

In the behaviour of Jephthah on this occasion we have a noble illustration of the blending of the religious and the patriotic spirit.

I. PERSONAL WRONGS ARE FORGIVEN. He might have brooded over them, sulked, and rejoiced over the elders in their trouble. But he felt that his country's distress was not a time or occasion for revenging the contumely and wrong that were past. This is the true spirit of the patriot. The individual is lost in the commonwealth.

II. HIS COUNTRY'S NEED IS GENEROUSLY RESPONDED TO. What an opportunity for an. unprincipled, irreligious man! He might have turned Israel's loss to his own gain.

III. HIS OWN FORTUNES ARE LOST SIGHT OF IN THE GREATER AMBITION Of BEING THE SAVIOUR OF HIS COUNTRY. Rank he does not value. He refuses leadership until it is shown that he is the Divinely revealed leader. He gives all the honour to Jehovah. From that moment he was at the service of his people, and the unselfish "servant of Jehovah." Men are found who will behave thus for earthly fatherlands and temporal attachments. Often the human tie and the Divine conflict. Jephthah was serving God and country at once. The Christian will serve his friends and his country best by serving God first. How dear should the Church and kingdom of God on earth be to us! All other considerations should be lost sight of in the zeal for our Master's glory.—M.

Judges 11:11

Recognition of God in positions of honour and responsibility.

How many would have at once swollen with self-conceit! etc. It is a test of the inner life of Jephthah. We may all be more or less tested in this way.

I. HE ENTERED UPON HIS GREAT TASK WITH A SENSE OF SOLEMN RESPONSIBILITY TO GOD. Mizpah was the reminder of an ancient covenant, and its associations are honoured.



Judges 11:12-28

The model diplomatist.

I. THE PROFOUND SAGACITY AND SENSE OF INTERNATIONAL COURTESIES AND OBLIGATIONS DISPLAYED BY JEPHTHAH. An historical site is chosen, which had significance to all the nations neighbouring upon it. At Mizpah had Jacob and Laban made solemn covenant. To their descendant nations the place could not but possess a religious interest. It was a distinct advantage, therefore, to take up his head-quarters there. All his soul is possessed by the old associations of the place. It appears even in his language (Judges 11:10, Judges 11:11). This persistent reference to the place was a guarantee of good faith and brotherly feeling. He speaks of the gods of Ammon and Israel from a neutral point of view.

II. HIS APPEAL TO HISTORY. It is sacred history, with the seal of God upon it. He recounts the details of the conquest by Israel, so far as they are relevant; shows that their own land is held by that title, and asks why for 300 years Israel's occupancy of the disputed territory had not been contested. The example of Balak, who saw that it would be destruction for him to contend with Israel, and forbore, is quoted aptly. The geographical limits are carefully indicated.

III. ALL THIS WAS WORTH WHILE, even with a heathen adversary. It stated the case upon broad, intelligible grounds; it raised no irrelevant questions, but was conciliatory; and there was no attempt at compromise. It is a moral gain when a point in dispute is thus clearly and dispassionately argued. It did not avert war, but it justified it. And Israel were strengthened and encouraged. The people could grasp the outlines of this great claim. They could go forward with confidence that their cause was righteous, and therefore the cause of God. Disputes between individuals and nations should be settled—

(1) upon common grounds and associations;

(2) courteously and kindly;

(3) with careful regard to facts; and

(4) God should be the great Witness.—M.

Judges 11:7

The friend in need.

I. THE VALUE OF A TRUE FRIEND IS SEEN IN THE TIME OF ADVERSITY. Jephthah was hated by the elders of Israel in prosperous times, but when trouble came he was discovered to be their best friend. The wise man will endeavour to cultivate the friendship of the good and great. It is foolish to let valued friends pass away from us through negligence or slight offence. There are few forms of earthly riches more valuable than that of a treasury of friendships. We may be careless of this in circumstances of ease; but if so, trouble will reveal our mistake. Christ is a Friend who sticketh closer than a brother, too often neglected in prosperity, but found to be the one needed Helper in the hour of darkness (Isaiah 32:2).

II. THE BEST FRIEND IS NOT ALWAYS THE MOST POPULAR. He may be poor, unpretending, eccentric, or dull It is foolish to choose our friends by the superficial attractions of social amusement. The boon companion may prove a shallow friend. Sterling qualities of fidelity, self-denying devotion, etc. are not always accompanied by brilliant conversational gifts and such other pleasing characteristics as shine in festive scenes. Christ, the best of friends, was despised and rejected of men. It may be that the very excellency of the friend is the cause of his unpopularity. He will not lend himself to low pursuits, and so is considered morose; he refuses to flatter our weakness,—perhaps bravely and disinterestedly rebukes our faults,—and is therefore thought censorious and offensive; he aims at raising us to what is worthy of our efforts, and is voted "a bore." The time of trouble will destroy this unjust estimate, but it would be more wise and generous in us to value our friends at all times for their best qualities, even though the sobriety of them may appear dull.

III. THE TRUE FRIEND WILL NOT REFUSE HELP IN NEED, ALTHOUGH HE MAY HAVE RECEIVED UNWORTHY TREATMENT IN PROSPEROUS TIMES. Jephthah naturally reproaches the elders of Israel, but he is too noble to refuse to come to their help. True friendship is generous, unselfish, and forgiving. It does not stand "on its rights," "on its dignity." It is more concerned with the welfare of those in whom it is interested than with their deserts. The patriot will not let his country suffer because he is personally piqued at the conduct of its leaders. The Christian should learn not to injure the cause of Christ through the pride and offence which the wrong conduct of responsible persons in the Church may excite. Israel is larger than the elders of Israel. The Church is greater than her doctors and ministers. Jephthah is a type of Christ, who does not refuse to help us though we have rejected him in the past.—A.

Verses 29-40


Judges 11:29

Then the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah, as upon Othniel, upon Gideon, and upon Samson (Judges 3:16; Judges 6:34; Judges 13:25; Judges 14:19; Judges 15:14). He passed over, i.e. he went all through, Gilead, and Manasseh,—for the purpose, no doubt, of collecting forces,—and passed over Mizpeh. It should be to Mizpeh. Mizpeh was the capital and mustering place of his army, and his base of operations (Judges 10:17; Judges 11:11, note). Having organised his forces at Mizpeh of Gilead, he passed over to the children of Ammon, i.e. commenced his attack upon the invaders, as it is stated in verse 32, which takes up the thread of the narrative.

Judges 11:30, Judges 11:31

And Jephthah vowed a vow. This verse and the following go back to relate something which preceded his passing over to the children of Ammon, viz; his rash and unhappy vow. This is related, as so many things in Scripture are, without note or comment, and the reader must pass his own sentence upon the deed. That sentence can only be one of unreserved con- detonation on the part of any one acquainted with the spirit and letter of the word of God. Many attempts have been made to show that Jephthah only contemplated the offering of an animal in sacrifice; but the natural and indeed necessary interpretation of the words shows that he had a human victim in mind. He could not expect any but a human being to come forth from the doors of his house, nor could any but a human being come forth "to meet him"—a common phrase always spoken of men (Genesis 14:17; Genesis 24:65; Exodus 4:14; Exodus 18:7; Numbers 20:20; 1 Samuel 25:34, etc; and below in 1 Samuel 25:34). Obviously, in the greatness of his danger and the extreme hazard of his undertaking (Judges 12:3), he thought to propitiate God's favour by a terrible and extraordinary vow. But if we ask how Jephthah came to have such erroneous notions of the character of God, the answer is not far to seek. Jephthah was "the son of a strange woman," probably, as we have seen, a Syrian (Judges 11:1-11, note), and had passed many years of his life as an exile in Syria. Now it is well known that human sacrifices were frequently practised in Syria, as they were also by the Ammonites, who made their children pass through the fire to Moloch, and it cannot surprise us that a man brought up as Jephthah was, and leading the life of a freebooter at the head of a band of Syrian outlaws, should have the common Syrian notion of the efficacy of human sacrifices in great emergencies. His language, indeed, about Jehovah and Chemosh in Judges 11:24 savoured of semi-heathenism. Nor is it any valid objection that we are told in Judges 11:29 that "the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah.'' The phrase does not mean that thenceforth he was altogether under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, so that all that he did was inspired by the Spirit of truth and wisdom, but that the Spirit of the Lord inspired him with extraordinary strength and power for the great task of leading Israel to battle against the Ammonites. And I will offer. The rendering suggested by some, or I will offer, meaning, if the first. comer is a human being he shall be the Lord's, or if it is an animal I will offer it as a burnt offering, is wholly inadmissible.

Judges 11:32

So Jephthah. The narrator takes up again the thread of the narrative, which was interrupted at Judges 11:29, the words he passed over up, to the children of Ammon being repeated.

Judges 11:33

From Aroer … to Minnith. The Aroer here mentioned seems to be that in the tribe of Gad (Numbers 32:34; Joshua 13:25), now Nahr Amman. Minnith is thought to have been situated four Roman miles from Heshbon, on the road to Rabbah of the children of Ammon, afterwards called Philadelphia. It was called Manith in the time of Eusebius. The plain of the vineyards, better taken as a proper name, Abel-ceramim. The site is not certainly known. Eusebius speaks of two Abels, both fertile in vineyards, one seven Roman miles from Rabbah, which is probably the one here meant.

Judges 11:34

To his house. Soever. 11. His only child (Je'hid)—the same term as is applied to Isaac (Genesis 22:2). Eusebius says that Cronus sacrificed his only son, who on that account was called Jeoud, which in the Phoenician tongue means an only son ('Prep. Evang.,' Judges 4:17).

Judges 11:35

Thou hast brought me very low—literally, thou hast thoroughly bowed me down, i.e. with sorrow. I cannot go back. A forcible illustration of the evil of rash vows. He who makes them is so placed that he must sin. If he breaks his vow, he has taken God's name in vain; if he keeps it, he breaks one of God's commandments. So it was with Saul (1 Samuel 14:24, 1 Samuel 14:39-45), with Herod (Mark 6:23); so it has often been since with those who have made unauthorised vows, and who in attempting to keep them have fallen into deadly sin.

Judges 11:36

My father, etc. See Numbers 32:2. The touching submission of Jephthah's daughter to her unnatural and terrible fate, while it reveals a most lovable character, seems also to show that the idea of a human sacrifice was not so strange to her mind as it is to ours. The sacrifice of his eldest son as a burnt offering by the king of Moab, some 300 years later, as related 2 Kings 3:27; the intended sacrifices of Iphigenia and of Phrixus in Greek mythology; the sacrifices of children to Moloch, so often spoken of in Scripture; the question in Micah 6:7, "Shall I give my first-born for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?" the Phoenician custom mentioned by Sanchoniatho (quoted by Porphyry), of sacrificing to Saturn one of those most dear to them in times of war, pestilence, or drought; the yearly sacrifice at Carthage of a boy chosen by lot, and many other examples, prove the prevalence of human sacrifices in early times, and in heathen lands. This must be borne in mind in reading the history of Jephthah.

Judges 11:37

And bewail my virginity. It is a striking evidence of the strong desire among Hebrew women to be mothers, as seen in Sarah, Rachel, Hannah, and others, that it was the prospect of dying unmarried which seemed to Jephthah's daughter the saddest part of her fate. So in Psalms 78:63, their maidens were not given to marriage is one of the items of the misery of Israel (see too Psalms 78:39).

Judges 11:39

Who did with her according to his vow. Nothing can be more express than this statement. In fact, except the natural horror we feel at a human sacrifice, there is nothing to cast the least shade of doubt upon the fact that Jephthah's daughter was offered up as a burnt offering, in accordance with heathen notions, but, as Josephus says, neither "conformably to the law, nor acceptably to God." Most of the early Jewish commentators and all the Christian Fathers for ten or eleven centuries held this view. Luther's comment is, "Some affirm that he did not sacrifice her, but the text is clear enough." She knew. Rather, she had known.

Judges 11:40

The daughters of Israel, etc. No other trace of this custom, which was probably confined to Gilead, remains. To lament. The word rather means to praise, or celebrate, as in Judges 5:11 (rehearse).


Judges 11:29-40

Human perverseness embittering the sweet cup.

The tragic history of Jephthah and his daughter is one of the saddest in the Bible. It forms a drama full of pathos, and with terrible contrasts of joy and sorrow. Indeed the whole life of Jephthah was one of startling incident. Driven from his home in youth to become a fugitive and an exile; leading the wild and exciting life of a captain of freebooters till middle age; then recalled to his father's house to take his place as head of the State with all the pomp and power of a great prince, a great warrior, a conqueror, and a judge; in the height of his joy and triumph struck to the ground by a sorrow of the intensest bitterness, which must have blighted the few remaining years of his life—his whole life was one of strange vicissitudes and sensational events. The stain of his birth was not, of course, any fault of his; but it led to that irregular course of lawlessness and violence which must have laid the seeds of many faults of character—recklessness, impulsiveness, and indifference to human rights and human sufferings—which were mingled with many great and heroic qualities. Especially we see how the habit of fighting for plunder, and for the purely selfish ends of a livelihood for himself and his followers, produced that lower type of greatness which bartered his own energies and prowess for place and power, instead of the generous self-sacrifice for the good of his country which marked the career of Ehud and Gideon. What, however, is here especially to be remarked and treasured up in our minds is, that the cup of prosperity and joy which God's goodness had mixed for Jephthah was turned into a cup of bitterness by his own perverse folly and rashness and ignorance of God's grace. See what great things God had done for him. He had delivered him from his life of lawlessness; he had placed him in a high and honourable estate; he had brought him from banishment to the land and house of his fathers; he had filled him with his Spirit, and mightily strengthened him for his great task; he had gone forth with his army, and driven his enemies before his face, and crowned him with victory. Jephthah returned to his home as the deliverer of his country, the restorer of peace to the homesteads of Gilead, all glittering with success and glory, Nor was he wanting in sources of a softer and tenderer happiness. A blight and loving spirit, full of affection and joyous sympathy, overflowing with dutiful pride and beaming sympathy, was awaiting his return. His daughter, the light of his home, the solace of his cares, was there to welcome him and to double his happiness by sharing it. And as he looked forward to the future, he might hope to see her the mother of children who would perpetuate his name and his race. Such was his lot as God had prepared it for him. His own rash and perverse act, springing from a culpable ignorance of the character of God, and directed by heathen superstition and cruelty instead of by trust in the love and mercy of Jehovah, poured an ingredient of extreme bitterness into this cup of joy and poisoned his whole life. The hour of triumph was turned into desolation, the bright home was made a house of mourning, what should have been years of peace and honour were turned into years of trouble and despair, and Jephthah had no one but himself to blame for this lamentable reverse. Alas, how often we can match this scene by similar instances of human perverseness embittering the sweet cup of life! A nation's career is checked by crime, or cruelty, or treachery; an individual's life is marred by some act of ungodliness which entails a life-long harvest of bitter fruits; domestic enjoyment is destroyed by the sins of selfishness and self-willed folly. Bountiful gifts of a gracious Providence, wealth and abundance, splendid opportunities for good, intellectual endowments, rare talents, or, in humbler life, openings for advancement and usefulness which might have led to distinction, are through the perverse folly of their possessors worse than wasted, and dark shadows are thrown across what should have been the brightness of a happy life. And then men speak of their bad luck, and murmur against the providence of God; as if one could sow the wind and not reap the whirlwind, or cut off the shadow of sin, remorse and shame and death.


Judges 11:29-33

The spirit of sacred warfare.

There is much at which the modern reader stumbles in the stories of Old Testament warfare. The pitilessness, the assumption that all the right of the question between the belligerents is on one side, the carnage even to extermination, are all repugnant to modern feeling. It is well to look at the Divine background and relation of these wars: therein, and therein alone, will be found their apology, if apology be forthcoming. In the Ammonite war of Jephthah—

I. JUSTIFICATION IS FOUND IN THAT, ON THE LOWEST GROUND, IT WAS A WAR OF SELF-PRESERVATION; AND, ON THE HIGHEST, ISRAEL WAS DEFINITELY AND AUTHORITATIVELY IDENTIFIED WITH THE CAUSE OF GOD'S TRUTH AND RIGHTEOUSNESS, AND APPOINTED THE INSTRUMENT OF HIS JUDGMENTS. In a sense there was "no quarter" in these wars. The claims of the foes of God's people were of the most extreme and exacting character. The barbarians had no pity. It would have been of small moment to them to have "utterly cut off" every man, woman, and child. The greatest crimes were perpetrated by them on the smallest provocation; and they could not be trusted. There was one argument, and one alone, that could be understood—the sword. But there were also weighty interests represented by Israel, for the sake of which it was pre-eminently important that it should continue to exist, and that under conditions of freedom and religion. It was its mission to reveal the will of God to men, not only as a verbal communication, but as a law illustrated in life and conduct. These interests were the highest interests of the world, and Israel was custodian of them for all future ages. There is a humanitarianism that discounts truth, and would reduce all duty to the nearer and more external utilities of life. The Bible, whilst not ignoring the brotherhood of men (no book guards this so jealously), is careful to ground it upon a Divine fatherhood, and to secure its true observance by enforcement of morality and righteousness. Israel, too, was not at liberty to exercise forbearance. "The iniquity" of these nations "was full." They were guilty of unnameable crimes, rejecters of Divine revelation, and cumberers of the ground yet to be occupied by God's gracious purposes.

II. ALL THROUGH JEHOVAH WAS RECOGNISED AS THE TRUE ARBITER. Nothing could be more impressive than the attitude of Jephthah. He is anxious to obtain a just settlement without recourse to arms. He sets forth his statement of the case with the utmost courtesy, exactitude, and forbearance. Every opportunity is given for peaceful understanding; but Ammon turns a deaf ear. Solemnly then, under the peculiar dispensation in which they lived, they put the question in the hands of God. Jehovah is to witness between the disputants, and the war is no longer a confused strife, but a punitive judgment. Israel, under such circumstances, was not at liberty to waive its moral claims, and to grant a truce ere the enemy had yielded the point at issue. Israel is the instrument of Divine vengeance upon a wicked and obstinate nation. It is an anachronism of the gravest consequence to judge of the wars of the ancient world by the ameliorated conditions of modern life.

III. THE LEADER OF ISRAEL RECEIVED HIS COMMISSION DIRECTLY FROM THE HANDS OF GOD. Nothing else can be meant by "then the Spirit of Jehovah came upon Jephthah." Divine impulse, Divine wisdom, Divine obligation are all implied. It is no longer a war whose main issues and movements are subject to fallible human conditions; it is really in God's hands. He bears the blame, so far as his commands are observed. If the mode of warfare, etc. appear inhuman, it will be because our minds fail to grasp the tremendous importance of that righteousness of which they were the slow precursors and rude witnesses.

IV. THE WAR IS CARRIED ON IN THE SPIRIT OF SELF-SACRIFICE AND IMPLICIT DEVOTION. The vow of Jephthah shows this. He anticipates his return in victory, and the people's enthusiastic welcome to him as their deliverer. Like Gideon, he will not accept this; it is Jehovah's alone. To Jehovah, therefore, he vows of his own "whatsoever cometh forth (out) of the doors of my house to meet me." No gratification of self, therefore, could be the motive of such a campaign. If, on the other hand, there is not that repugnance to bloodshed displayed by Jephthah that might be looked for in a Christian leader, we must remember that the religious nature developed slowly in human history, and God chose his instruments not because they were perfect, but, such as they were, to bring on higher possibilities and a better time.—M.

Judges 11:30, Judges 11:31, Judges 11:34-40

Jephthah's vow.

What it involved has been much disputed. But the wording of the vow certainly admits of an interpretation consistent with the highest humanity. The object is expressed neutrally, as being more comprehensive; but there is a distinction introduced into the consequent member of the sentence which shows that regard is had to a dual possibility, viz; of the object being either personal or otherwise. If the former, he or she was to be "Jehovah's," an expression unnecessary if it was to be made a burnt offering, and which could only mean "dedicated to perpetual virginity or priesthood." If the latter, he would "offer it for a burnt offering." It bears out this that his daughter asks for two months "to bewail her virginity." The inference is imperative. It was not death, but perpetual virginity, to which she was devoted. In this vow we observe—

I. THE SPIRIT OF CONSECRATION IT EVINCED. Its meaning was evident. Jehovah was the true Judge and Deliverer of Israel. His, therefore, should be the glory when Israel returned in victory. There was to be no diverting of honour from him to Jephthah. A sacrifice, therefore, should be made before all men to acknowledge this. But as Jephthah is the person most in danger of being tempted to forget God's claim, he himself gives anticipatively of his own, and of his own, especially, which might be considered as specially for his honour. It was a "blank form" to be filled up by Providence as it would.

II. THE UNEXPECTED FORM THE SACRIFICE ASSUMED. How it astonishes men when God takes them at their word! Not that they do not mean what they say, but they do not realise all it implies. God ever does this that he may educate the heart in loving sacrifice, and reveal the grandeur and absoluteness of his own claim upon us.


1. The mutual love of parent and child. They both sorrow because she is an only child, and they are all in all to one another. It was a keen, real sacrifice.

2. The unquestioning and cheerful obedience of the child. Like Isaac and Christ.

3. The unwavering fidelity of Jephthah to his vow. It was the wisest course, and the one that proved best the fidelity and infinite love of God. There was sorrow, but who will say that there was not a compensating blessedness in the act, and a "more exceeding weight of glory" in the ages to come? This is what God expects. Have we ever vowed to him? If so, have we paid our vows? Negligence in this matter will explain much that distresses and perplexes us. Honesty towards God—how few practise it! Yet this is the true proof of him (Malachi 3:10).

IV. HOW AN ABSOLUTE PERSONAL SACRIFICE MAY BECOME A NATIONAL IDEAL AND ATONEMENT. The circumstances were such that all Israel sympathised with the act of self-devotion. It fell in with the national mood and carried it to heroic pitch. The "custom in Israel" shows how profoundly the spirit of the people had been touched. The maiden offered to Jehovah is adopted as the offering of her people, a vicarious sacrifice of their repentance and faith. So does the Lord Jesus, the Son of God, become the world's atonement (2 Corinthians 5:14, 2 Corinthians 5:15).—M.


Judges 11:29

The Spirit of the Lord.

I. THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD IS NOT A MERE INFLUENCE, BUT A LIVING PRESENCE. It is taught throughout Scripture that God does not only bestow graces, but also comes personally into our souls (John 14:16, John 14:17). This Divine presence may not be perceived by the senses, as in the visions of the dove (Matthew 3:16) and of the cloven tongues of fire (Acts 2:3). It need not give rise to any ecstasy or visible excitement, as in the case of the Corinthian Church (1 Corinthians 14:2). It may be without the immediate consciousness of the subject. But it will be proved by its effects.

II. THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD COMES UPON A MAN TO INSPIRE HIM FOR SERVICE. God does not simply inhabit a man as a temple; he infuses his life into the very being of the man; transforms, elevates: enlightens, strengthens. Thus Jephthah found the Spirit to be the source of his power for battle. God's Spirit is always the spring of the Christian's highest energies. It is foolish to attempt to do any good work without the aid that is given by the indwelling power of God.


1. God's Spirit affects us differently, according to our natural differences. To the thoughtful man he is a spirit of understanding. To him who hungers and thirsts after righteousness he is a spirit of holiness. To the sympathiser, the comforting friend, he is a spirit of love. To the active worker he is a spirit of power.

2. God's Spirit also affects us differently according to the needs of the times. God does not waste his influence; he adapts it to requirements. Therefore we must not think that his Spirit is less with us than with men of old because the manifestation is different, nor that he is less with those who have not the form of spiritual influence which we esteem most than with those who possess it (1 Corinthians 12:6).

IV. THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD DOES NOT ANNIHILATE THE INDIVIDUAL CHARACTERS OF MEN. Jephthah retains his natural characteristics, and still shows them.

1. God's Spirit does not supersede natural talent, but enlightens, purifies, and strengthens.

2. God s Spirit does not destroy human weakness. Jephthah has the Spirit of the Lord, yet he may be rash and may err. The spirit of wisdom does not necessarily accompany the spirit of strength. We may have the presence of the Spirit, and yet not be filled with the Spirit, so that human weakness may linger by the side of Divine power.—A.

Judges 11:30-40

Jephthah's vow.

Jephthah's conduct should be viewed in the light of his age and of his own conscientious convictions, and not judged by the clearer light and changed convictions of Christendom. Measured by modern standards, it may appear superstitious, cruel, insane; but measured by the only standards to which Jephthah could bring it, his conduct was noble beyond expression. From the incident generally we may gather the following lessons:—

I. THE HAND OF GOD SHOULD BE RECOGNISED IN OUR GOOD AND FRUITFUL WORKS. The eiders had called upon Jephthah to deliver them from the Ammonites. Yet the warrior saw that his own right hand could not secure the victory; if this came, it must be from God. Such conduct shows humility—a difficult grace for a popular hero to practise in the midst of his triumph; and faith in discerning the secret of success in the presence of God, and trusting to this before entering the battle.

II. IT IS RIGHT THAT WE SHOULD RECOGNISE GOD'S CLAIMS IN RETURN FOR THE RECEPTION OF HIS GRACE. The thank offering belongs not to the Levitical law alone, but to all religion (Romans 12:1). It is foolish to think to buy the help of God by promising him devotion in return (Genesis 28:20-22). But it may be helpful to our fulfilment of the duties of gratitude if we recognise the obligation of thankfulness even before we receive the special blessing of God, as we are more likely to realise it fully then than after we are relieved and satisfied. It should always be remembered that we have already received such great bounties from God that we are under constant obligations to him, that he claims our hearts, our possessions, our all, and that our true blessedness is only found in perfect surrender to him.

III. IT IS GENERALLY FOOLISH AND WRONG TO MAKE A VOW THE CONSEQUENCES OF WHICH WE DO NOT FORESEE. There may be an occasional advantage in the vow to bind the soul by a solemn recognition of its obligations; but we are equally required to give God our all whether we make a vow or no. Nothing is more weak than to vow at a time when we axe not called to make a sacrifice, and then to prove unequal to the sacrifice when this is required. It is better to count the cost and refrain from making the vow if necessary (Luke 14:28). The vow is often only a sign of presumption. It would be well for us to turn our vows into prayers, and instead of promising that we will do some great thing, to ask God to give us grace to do it. Still, viewed from the standpoint of devotion, there is something noble in the perfect surrendering of self, and the brave trustfulness of Jephthah's vow.

IV. WE SHOULD CONSIDER OURSELVES BOUND TO KEEP THOSE VOWS WHICH WE MAKE TO OUR OWN HURT SO LONG AS WE DO NOT FEEL THIS TO BE WRONG. Our own inconvenience is no excuse for declining to fulfil an obligation, just because we did not anticipate the trouble in entering into the obligation (Psalms 15:4). But our conviction of wrong is a reason for not keeping our promise. A promise to do evil is void from the first. It is wrong to make such a promise; to fulfil it is to add a second wrong. We can never bind ourselves by vow to do that which it would not be right for us to do without the vow. Therefore for us, with our Christian light, it would be sinful to fulfil such a vow as Jephthah's. Nevertheless, the great Hebrew hero clearly felt that it was his duty to fulfil it, and therefore to him the vow was binding. If we blame him, it must be

(1) for the rashness which allowed him to contract himself into an obligation which he would never have entered with his eyes opened, and

(2) for the ignorance of the character of God which is shown in his supposition that God could be pleased with the sacrifice of his daughter. Even the imperfect revelation of God then vouchsafed should have prevented such a frightful misconception if it had been rightly used (Genesis 22:12). But we may find more of good example than of warning in the whole incident. Pathetic as is the error of Jephthah, his magnificent fidelity is a model of religious heroism.—A.

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Judges 11". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tpc/judges-11.html. 1897.
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