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Bible Commentaries

Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments
Judges 11

 

 

Verses 1-40

11:1. Jephthah—son of a harlot. The Hebrew is the same as in Joshua 2:1. The rabbins mostly read here, as Joshua 2., son of a hostess.

11:3. Vain men, rogues and rakes. The Hebrews is the same as for those who followed Abimelech: 9:4.

11:5. The land of Tob. Ish-tob is mentioned. 2 Samuel 10:8. It lay between Syria and Ammon. Here Jephthah led a species of martial life, it would seem, with his men; and being ready to hire himself to any cause, he acquired great fame as a soldier.

11:11. Before the Lord. Jephthah, like other good men, began his work with God’s counsel and blessing.

11:14. Jephthah sent messengers. This was fair: reason is a better bar of appeal than the sword. Expostulations have often prevented war, which in every nation should be the work of dire necessity only.

11:26. While Israel dwelt in Heshbon—three hundred years. Though we cannot find three hundred in the book of Chronicles, yet the possession of that city by the Hebrews is not disputed.

11:31. Whatsoever (or that which or whosoever) cometh forth of the doors of my house to meet me shall surely be the Lord’s, and I will offer it up for a burnt-offering. We now tread on controverted ground, ground on which the ancients are very much divided in opinion. The rabbins followed by Josephus, speak as the letter of the text. They make no scruple, no hesitation to say, that Jephthah offered up his daughter a burnt-offering, conformably to his vow. Tertullian, Athanasius, Nazianzen, Jerome, Ambrose, Chrysostom, Augustine, and very many others, all eminent fathers in the primitive church, concur in belief with the rabbins. They severely censure Jephthah as a parricide, and lament the ignorance of the Israelites in those times, especially the priests who did not teach him better. The superstition of the age strongly corroborates the evidence, that their belief was founded on facts. Moloch was the god of the Ammonites, to whom human victims had been largely offered; and to whom in India they are still offered, though not so largely as aforetime. And Jephthah, more than half a heathen in his habits and religion, might wish to engage both the Lord and Moloch in his cause. Besides, nearly the whole of the seventy two clans dispersed from Babel, having Druids for their priests, did in all the nations offer up human victims, when severely pressed by calamities. The polished nations of Greece and Rome indulged, during a succession of ages, in the same abominable devotion. The persons so offered were all young; and the greater dignity they possessed in regard to birth, the more acceptable they were supposed to be to the gods. Idomeneus returning to Crete from the Trojan war, in consequence of a vow to Neptune during a storm, pierced his own son; and was expelled by his subjects for so cruel a deed.

The history also, or fable of Iphigenia, has often been adduced as illustrative of the case of Jephthah’s daughter. Agamemnon her father having killed a sacred stag belonging to Diana, the goddess excited the tempests so dreadfully as to obstruct the navigation of Greece. It was resolved, if possible, to appease her. The oracle, on being consulted, answered that this must be done by the blood of him who had offended her. Iphigenia was the victim selected, and conducted to the altar at Aulis by Ulysses, who had the address to steal her away from her mother Clytemnestra. But as she lay extended on the pile, and while the Greeks were busy in preparations for the sacrifices, the goddess, touched with the piety of the princess, surrounded the altar with a cloud and took her away, leaving a hind in her place. The goddess conducted her to mount Taurus, where Thoas the king appointed her priestess to Diana, to whom human victims were immolated, and especially Greek strangers. She remained there till Orestes arrived to purge himself from the blood of his mother, and of others. He was arrested as a stranger; and when about to be offered up to Diana, he was recognized and saved by his sister. Presently after he stole away his sister, and escaped with the image of the goddess into Italy. The image was erected in the Arcynian forests, to which human victims long continued to be offered.

I have been the more particular in translating the substance of this history or fable, because some contend that it is merely a fable founded on Jephthah’s daughter; and they would vary the orthography from Iphigenia to Jephigenia. They are the more confident in this opinion, because Jephthah was contemporary with Agamemnon. Hence, unless we allow of some force, in the fable of Iphigenia’s escape from the altar, I think the letter of the text, the wicked and superstitious manners of all the heathen nations, the opinion of the rabbins, in which the fathers of the primitive church have concurred, are decided, that Jephthah made a burnt-offering of his only child to the Lord, according to his vow.

To this many of the moderns object, that he devoted his daughter in perpetual virginity to God. Consequently, she was a nun in his own house. But that sacrifice bears no proportion to the magnitude of his danger before the battle; nor does it relieve the latter part of his vow, that the devoted object should be a burnt-offering. And why should the virgins of Israel meet annually to mourn for Jephthah’s daughter? Had she survived to give them an annual feast, surely they would have met, being all virgins, to rejoice, not to weep. Moses affirms that every one of the surrounding nations did burn their sons and daughters to their gods. Deuteronomy 12:31. And Jephthah having been exiled among them, it is most likely he would vow according to his habits and education. Besides, the scriptures, which relate every circumstance of Abraham’s offering up Isaac, refuse here to narrate the horrors of the scene.

11:39. At the end of two months she returned to her father, who did with her according to his vow, as in 11:31. והעליתיהו עולה vehaâlithíhoo ôlah. I will offer it up, says Montanus, in holocaustum, in burnt-offering. The elders of Israel were so shocked at this deed, as to have enacted a law that no man in future should make a vow of the oblation of human victims; proof sufficient that Jephthah performed his vow.

Those who try various versions of the text, and make it a vow of virginity, forget the uncertainty of Jephthah, whether it might not be a male that might run with joyful salutations to the conquering hero. This was most likely. It was Jonadab who came to meet Jehu; and Melchizedek who came to meet Abraham.

It is said also, that Jephthah was now inspired, and in too good a frame to make such a tragic vow. It is replied, that he was inspired with courage to fight; but the opinion of holy men is, that the catalogue of the worthies mentioned in Hebrews 11., refers to their virtues, not their errors, as models of christian conduct.

REFLECTIONS.

Jephthah, on being elevated to command, seemed to become all at once a better man. He sought the Lord; he expostulated in a dignified way with Ammon; and during the whole of his presidency he protected the true religion. Thus in regard, and solely in regard to his faith and courage, he is proposed as a model to new-testament believers. Hebrews 11:32.

The rash vow is almost the only thing censurable in his conduct. Vows, if made at all, should be wise and discreet. How vain for a mortal to think that heaven will become an auxiliary for the hire of gifts and offerings! A broken and a contrite heart for sin, is the best oblation which a nation can offer to God in the day of trouble. A rash vow is better repented of than kept. The vow itself was wicked, and the keeping of it was the completion of crime. Israel often broke their vows and covenants, and the Lord required no sacrifice but unfeigned repentance. Jonathan broke the foolish vow of Saul, by eating honey, and the army saved him from death; nor was God angry in any peculiar way on that account. Whoever utters an ill- advised word, a word that will trouble his soul for life, had better cast himself on the divine clemency by unfeigned repentance. Notwithstanding, all holy and lawful vows must be kept, though they be to our own hurt.

The next grand object in this chapter, is the filial piety of Jephthah’s daughter. “If thou hast opened thy mouth unto the Lord, she said, do with me as thou hast promised.” As much as to say, I regret not life. I feel too much honoured in being a victim to the Lord: for I account myself too small a price for so great a victory. I only regret the dying without a son to perpetuate the glorious memory of a father to me, and to his country. What an example of religious obedience; what a preference of rectitude to life itself! Let all young people remember this, whose parents have devoted them to God by a thousand prayers, vows and tears.

 


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Bibliography Information
Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on Judges 11:4". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jsc/judges-11.html. 1835.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, November 17th, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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