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Fausset's Bible Dictionary

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Son of Gilead by an harlot, the father bearing the same name as the famous Gilead his ancestor. Gilead's sons by his wife drove Jephthah out from share of the father's inheritance as being "son of a strange woman," just as Ishmael and Keturah's sons were sent away by Abraham, so as not to inherit with Isaac (Genesis 21:10, etc.; Genesis 25:6). Jephthah went to the land of Tob, N.E. of Persea, between Syria and Ammon (2 Samuel 10:6-8, Ιsh Τob , "man of Tob"), and there gathered about him a band of loose (1 Samuel 22:2) men, whom be led in marauding Bedouin-like expeditions. Meantime, through Jehovah's anger at Israel's apostasy to Baalim, Ashtaroth, the gods of Ammon, etc, he sold them (compare Romans 7:14, gave them up to the wages that their sin had earned) into the hands of those very people whose gods they chose (Judges 10:7; Judges 10:17-18), the instrument of their sin being made the instrument of their punishment (Proverbs 1:31; Jeremiah 2:19).

Then the princes ("elders") of Gilead with Israel encamped at Mizpeh (Judges 10:17-18; Judges 11:5-11), having resolved to make "head" (civil) and "captain" (military) over all Israelite Gilead (the Israelites in Persea) whatever warrior they could find able to lead them against Ammon, applied to Jephthah in Tob. Jephthah, whose temper seems to have been resentful (compare Judges 11:12), upbraided them with having hated and expelled him out of his father's house; yet it was not just to charge them all with what was the wrong of his brethren alone, except in so far as they connived at and allowed his brethren's act. Passion is unreasoning. They did not reason with him the matter, but acknowledged the wrong done him and said, "therefore (to make amends for this wrong) we turn again to thee now, and if thou go with us and fight against Ammon thou shalt be our head, namely over all Gilead."

Jephthah accepted the terms, and "uttered all his words (repeated the conditions and obligations under which he accepted the headship) before Jehovah (as in His presence; not that the ark or any altar of Jehovah was there; simply Jephthah confirmed his engagement by an oath as before Jehovah) in Mizpeh," where the people were met in assembly, Ramoth Mizpeh in Gilead, now Salt. Jephthah before appealing to the sword sent remonstrances to the Ammonite king respecting his invasion of Israel. The marked agreement of Jephthah's appeal with the Pentateuch account proves his having that record before him; compare Judges 11:17; Judges 11:19-22 agreeing almost verbatim with Numbers 20:1; Numbers 21:21-25. He adds from independent sources (such as the national lays commemorating Israel's victories, quoted by Moses Numbers 21:14; Numbers 21:17; Numbers 21:27) that Israel begged from the king of Moab leave to go through his land (Numbers 21:17).

The Pentateuch omitted this as having no direct bearing on Israel's further course. The Ammonite king replied that what he claimed was that Israel should restore his land between the Arnon, Jabbok, and Jordan. This claim was so far true that Israel had taken all the Amorite Sihon's land (because of his wanton assault in answer to Israel's peaceable request for leave to pass through unto "his place," i.e. to Israel's appointed possession), including a portion formerly belonging to Moab and Ammon, but wrested from them by Sihon (Numbers 21:26; Numbers 21:28-29); for Joshua 13:25-26 shows that Sihon's conquests must have included, besides the Moabite land mentioned in the Pentateuch, half the Ammonite land E. of Moab and Gilead and W. of the upper Jabbok. But Israel, according to God's prohibition, had not meddled with Edom, Moab, or Ammon (Deuteronomy 2:5; Deuteronomy 2:9; Deuteronomy 2:19), i.e. with the land which they possessed in Moses' time.

What was no longer Ammon's, having been taken from them by Sihon, the prohibition did not debar Israel from. Israel, as Jephthah rejoindered, went round Edom add Moab, along the eastern boundary by Ije Abarim (Numbers 21:11-13), on the upper Arnon, the boundary between Moab and the Amorites. (See IJE ABARIM.) Jephthah reasons, Jehovah Elohim of Israel has dispossessed the Amorites, and transferred their land to Israel; Ammon therefore has no claim. Ammon can only claim what his god Chemosh gives him to possess; so Israel is entitled to all that land which Jehovah gives, having dispossessed the previous owners. Further, Jephthah reasons, Balak did not strive against Israel for the once Moabite land taken by the Amorites then transferred to Israel; he bribed Balaam indeed to curse them, but never fought against them. Moreover, it was too late now, after Israel's prescriptive right was recognized for 300 years, for Ammon to put forward such a claim. "I (says Jephthah, representing Israel) have not sinned against thee, but thou doest me wrong to war against me."

Ammon having rejected his remonstrances, Jephthah gathered his army out of Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh (northern Gilead and Bashan), and went to (translated Judges 11:29 "passed over to") Mizpeh Gilead, the encampment and rendezvous of Israel (Judges 10:17), and thence to Ammon. He smote them from Aroer to Minnith, 20 cities, "with a very great slaughter," so that Ammon was completely subdued. Jephthah had vowed, in the event of Jehovah giving him victory, to "offer as a burnt offering whatsoever (rather whosoever) should come forth from the doors of his house to meet him"; certainly not a beast or sheep, for it is human beings not brutes that come forth from a general's doors to meet and congratulate him on his victory. Jephthah intended a hard vow, which the sacrifice of one animal would not be. He left it to Providence to choose what human being should first come forth to meet him.

"In his eagerness to smite the foe and thank God for it Jephthah could not think of any particular object to name, great enough to dedicate. He shrank from measuring what was dearest to God, and left this for Him to decide" (Cassel in Herzog Encyclopedia). He hoped (if he thought of his daughter at the time) that Jehovah would not require this hardest of sacrifices. She was his only child; so on her coming out to meet him with timbrels and dances (Exodus 15:20) Jephthah rent his clothes, and exclaimed: "Thou hast brought me very low, for I have opened my mouth (vowing) unto the Lord, and I cannot go back" (Numbers 30:2-3; Ecclesiastes 5:2-5; Psalms 15:4 end, Psalms 66:14). Her filial obedience, patriotic devotion, and self sacrificing piety shine brightly in her reply: "My father (compare Isaac's reverent submission, Genesis 22:6-7; Genesis 22:10), do to me according to that which hath proceeded out of thy mouth, forasmuch as the Lord hath taken vengeance for thee of ... Ammon."

She only begged two months to bewail with her fellows her virginity, amidst the surrounding valleys and mountains (margin 37). Afterward he did with her according to his vow, namely, doomed her forever to "virginity," as her lamentation on ibis account proves, as also what follows, "she knew no man." So it became "a custom in Israel that the daughters of Israel went yearly to praise (timah; Judges 5:11, not 'to lament') the daughter of Jephthah ... four days in a year." Jephthah contemplated evidently a human sacrifice. A literal human sacrifice was forbidden as an abomination before Jehovah (Leviticus 18:21; Leviticus 20:2-5). It was unknown until introduced by the godless Ahaz and Manasseh. Leviticus 27:28-29 is not in point, for it refers to a forced devoting of the wicked to God's glory in their destruction; God alone could so devote any. Nor was Jephthah otherwise impetuous and hasty; he had not recourse to the sword until negotiation with Ammon proved of no avail.

His vow was made, not in the heat of battle without weighing his words, but before he set out. Jephthah, though a freebooter (the godly David was one too), was one who looked to Jehovah as the only Giver of victory, and uttered all his words of engagement with the princes of Gilead "before Jehovah." He showed in his message to Ammon his knowledge of the Pentateuch, therefore he must have known that a human sacrifice was against the spirit of the worship of Jehovah. "The Spirit of Jehovah came upon Jephthah" moreover, which shows he was no Moloch worshipper. Above all Jephthah is made an instance of FAITH for our imitation, in Hebrews 11:32. Therefore the sense in which he fulfilled his vow was "she knew no man," words adverse to the notion of a sacrificial death. He dedicated her life to Jehovah as a spiritual "burnt offering" in a lifelong "virginity." Her willingness to sacrifice herself and her natural aspirations as a virgin, who as the conqueror's daughter might have held the highest place among Israel's matrons, to become like a Gibeonite menial of the sanctuary (Joshua 9:23), as the price of her country's deliverance, is what the virgins used yearly to come to celebrate in praises.

They would never have come to praise a human sacrifice; Scripture would never have recorded without censure an anti-theocratic abomination. Moreover literal burnt offerings could only be offered at the altar of the tabernacle. This spiritual burnt offering answers somewhat to Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac (Hebrews 11:17) in will though not in deed, and to the Israelites redeeming their firstborn belonging to Jehovah instead of sacrificing them (Exodus 13:1-13; Numbers 18:15-16), and to Aaron's offering the Levites to the Lord for an offering for Israel (Numbers 8:10-16), and redeeming vowed persons at an estimation (1 Samuel 1:11-20; 1 Samuel 1:22; 1 Samuel 1:28; 1 Samuel 2:20; Leviticus 27:1, etc.). After the victory was won over Ammon, the tribe of Ephraim, ever jealous of any rival and claiming the supremacy, threatened Jephthah.

"Wherefore passedst thou over to fight against ... Ammon, and didst not call us to go with thee? We will burn thine house upon thee with fire." Jephthah did not show Gideon's magnanimity in dealing with their perversity. He did not give the "soft answer" that "turneth away wrath," but let their "grievous words stir up strife" (Proverbs 15:1). Herein Gideon was superior, for "he that is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city" (Proverbs 16:32). (For "Ephraim gathered ... and went northward." Keil translated it "went to Zaphon, the city of Gad in the Jordan valley": Joshua 13:27; Judges 12:1). Jephthah however answered truly that he had "called them" but they had refused, doubtless because the Gileadites had made Jephthah their commander without consulting Ephraim. They fared as they richly deserved.

Besides threats of destroying Jephthah they insultingly had called the Gileadites whom Jephthah led "fugitives of Ephraim among the Ephraimites and Manassites," i.e. a mob of runaway Ephraimites in the midst of the two noblest tribes, Ephraim and Manasseh (compare 1 Samuel 25:10). They who began the strife paid the bitter penalty (Proverbs 17:14). "Shibboleth," a stream, was the test whereby the Gileadites detected the fugitive Ephraimites when trying to cross the Jordan fords, in the hands of their conquerors; 42,000 were slain who betrayed their birth by saying Sibboleth (compare on the Galilean dialect Matthew 26:73; Luke 22:59; Acts 2:7). They who first flung the taunt "fugitives" perished as fugitives at the hands of those they taunted (Proverbs 26:17). Jephthah judged Israel E. of the Jordan six years, and was buried in one of the cities of Gilead.

Bibliography Information
Fausset, Andrew R. Entry for 'Jephthah'. Fausset's Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​fbd/​j/jephthah.html. 1949.
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