Judges 11
Barnes' Notes
Now Jephthah the Gileadite was a mighty man of valour, and he was the son of an harlot: and Gilead begat Jephthah.
The history of Jephthah appears to be an independent history inserted by the compiler of the Book of Judges. Jdg 11:4-5 introduce the Ammonite war without any apparent reference to Judges 10:17-18.

A genealogy of Manasseh 1 Chronicles 7:14-17 gives the families which sprang from Gilead, and among them mention is made of an "Aramitess" concubine as the mother of one family. Jephthah, the son of Gilead by a strange woman, fled, after his father's death, to the land of Tob Judges 11:3, presumably the land of his maternal ancestors (compare Judges 9:1) and an "Aramean" settlement (2 Samuel 10:6, 2 Samuel 10:8; 1 Macc. 5:13). It is difficult to conceive that Jephthah was literally the son of Gilead, if Gilead was the son of Machir, the son of Manasseh. Possibly "Gilead" here denotes the heir of Gilead, the head of the family, whose individual name has not been preserved, nor the time when he lived.

And Gilead's wife bare him sons; and his wife's sons grew up, and they thrust out Jephthah, and said unto him, Thou shalt not inherit in our father's house; for thou art the son of a strange woman.
Then Jephthah fled from his brethren, and dwelt in the land of Tob: and there were gathered vain men to Jephthah, and went out with him.
The land of Tob - To the north of Gilead, toward Damascus. The readiness with which Jephthah took to the freebooter's life gives us a lively picture of the unsettled times in which he lived.

And it came to pass in process of time, that the children of Ammon made war against Israel.
And it was so, that when the children of Ammon made war against Israel, the elders of Gilead went to fetch Jephthah out of the land of Tob:
And they said unto Jephthah, Come, and be our captain, that we may fight with the children of Ammon.
And Jephthah said unto the elders of Gilead, Did not ye hate me, and expel me out of my father's house? and why are ye come unto me now when ye are in distress?
This gives a wider signification to Judges 11:2-3, and shows that Jephthah's "brethren" include his fellow tribesmen.

And the elders of Gilead said unto Jephthah, Therefore we turn again to thee now, that thou mayest go with us, and fight against the children of Ammon, and be our head over all the inhabitants of Gilead.
And Jephthah said unto the elders of Gilead, If ye bring me home again to fight against the children of Ammon, and the LORD deliver them before me, shall I be your head?
Jephthah made his own aggrandisement the condition of his delivering; his country. The circumstances of his birth and long residence in a pagan land were little favorable to the formation of the highest type of character. Yet he has his record among the faithful Hebrews 11:32.

And the elders of Gilead said unto Jephthah, The LORD be witness between us, if we do not so according to thy words.
Then Jephthah went with the elders of Gilead, and the people made him head and captain over them: and Jephthah uttered all his words before the LORD in Mizpeh.
Jephthah uttered all his words before the Lord in Mizpeh - This phrase designates the presence of the tabernacle, or the ark, or of the high priest with Urim and Thummim Judges 20:26; Judges 21:2; Joshua 18:8; 1 Samuel 21:7. The high priest waited upon Jephthah with the ephod, and possibly the ark, at his own house (see Judges 20:18 here). A trace of Jephthah's claim to unite all Israel under his dominion is found in Judges 12:2, and breathes through his whole message to the king of the Ammonites. See Judges 11:12, Judges 11:15, Judges 11:23, Judges 11:27.

And Jephthah sent messengers unto the king of the children of Ammon, saying, What hast thou to do with me, that thou art come against me to fight in my land?
And the king of the children of Ammon answered unto the messengers of Jephthah, Because Israel took away my land, when they came up out of Egypt, from Arnon even unto Jabbok, and unto Jordan: now therefore restore those lands again peaceably.
From Arnon even unto Jabbok ... - The land bounded by the Arnon on the south, by the Jabbok on the north, by the Jordan on the west, and by the wilderness on the east was, of old, the kingdom of Sihon, but then the territory of Reuben and Gad.

And Jephthah sent messengers again unto the king of the children of Ammon:
And said unto him, Thus saith Jephthah, Israel took not away the land of Moab, nor the land of the children of Ammon:
Consult the marginal references. If the ark with the copy of the Law Deuteronomy 31:26 was at Mizpeh, it would account for Jephthah's accurate knowledge of it; and this exact agreement of his message with Numbers and Deuteronomy would give additional force to the expression, "he uttered all his words before the Lord" Judges 11:11.

But when Israel came up from Egypt, and walked through the wilderness unto the Red sea, and came to Kadesh;
Then Israel sent messengers unto the king of Edom, saying, Let me, I pray thee, pass through thy land: but the king of Edom would not hearken thereto. And in like manner they sent unto the king of Moab: but he would not consent: and Israel abode in Kadesh.
No mention is made of this embassy to Moab in the Pentateuch.

Then they went along through the wilderness, and compassed the land of Edom, and the land of Moab, and came by the east side of the land of Moab, and pitched on the other side of Arnon, but came not within the border of Moab: for Arnon was the border of Moab.
And Israel sent messengers unto Sihon king of the Amorites, the king of Heshbon; and Israel said unto him, Let us pass, we pray thee, through thy land into my place.
Into my place - This expression implies that the trans-Jordanic possessions of Israel were not included in the land of Canaan properly speaking.

But Sihon trusted not Israel to pass through his coast: but Sihon gathered all his people together, and pitched in Jahaz, and fought against Israel.
And the LORD God of Israel delivered Sihon and all his people into the hand of Israel, and they smote them: so Israel possessed all the land of the Amorites, the inhabitants of that country.
The title "God of Israel" has a special emphasis here, and in Judges 11:23. in a narrative of transactions relating to the pagan and their gods.

And they possessed all the coasts of the Amorites, from Arnon even unto Jabbok, and from the wilderness even unto Jordan.
So now the LORD God of Israel hath dispossessed the Amorites from before his people Israel, and shouldest thou possess it?
Wilt not thou possess that which Chemosh thy god giveth thee to possess? So whomsoever the LORD our God shall drive out from before us, them will we possess.
Chemosh was the national god of the Moabites (see the marginal references); and as the territory in question was Moabitish territory before the Amorites took it from "the people of Chemosh," this may account for the mention of Chemosh here rather than of Moloch, or Milcom, the god of the Ammonites. Possibly the king of the children of Ammon at this time may have been a Moabite.

And now art thou any thing better than Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab? did he ever strive against Israel, or did he ever fight against them,
Jephthah advances another historical argument. Balak, the king of Moab, never disputed the possession of Sihon's kingdom with Israel.

While Israel dwelt in Heshbon and her towns, and in Aroer and her towns, and in all the cities that be along by the coasts of Arnon, three hundred years? why therefore did ye not recover them within that time?
Wherefore I have not sinned against thee, but thou doest me wrong to war against me: the LORD the Judge be judge this day between the children of Israel and the children of Ammon.
Howbeit the king of the children of Ammon hearkened not unto the words of Jephthah which he sent him.
Then the Spirit of the LORD came upon Jephthah, and he passed over Gilead, and Manasseh, and passed over Mizpeh of Gilead, and from Mizpeh of Gilead he passed over unto the children of Ammon.
Then the Spirit of the Lord ... - This was the sanctification of Jephthah for his office of Judge and savior of God's people Israel. Compare Judges 6:34; Judges 13:25. The declaration is one of the distinctive marks which stamp this history as a divine history.

The geography is rather obscure, but the sense seems to be that Jephthah first raised all the inhabitants of Mount Gilead; then he crossed the Jabbok into Manasseh, and raised them; then he returned at the head of his new forces to his own camp at Mizpeh to join the troops he had left there; and thence at the head of the whole army marched against the Ammonites, who occupied the southern parts of Gilead.

And Jephthah vowed a vow unto the LORD, and said, If thou shalt without fail deliver the children of Ammon into mine hands,
Then it shall be, that whatsoever cometh forth of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the children of Ammon, shall surely be the LORD'S, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering.
The words of this verse prove conclusively that Jephthah intended his vow to apply to human beings, not animals: for only one of his household could be expected to come forth from the door of his house to meet him. They also preclude any other meaning than that Jephthah contemplated a human sacrifice. This need not, however, surprise us, when we recollect his Syrian birth and long residence in a Syrian city, where such fierce rites were probably common. The Syrians and Phoenicians were conspicuous among the ancient pagan nations for human sacrifices, and the transfer, under such circumstances, to Yahweh of the rites with which the false gods were honored, is just what one might expect. The circumstance of the Spirit of the Lord coming on Jephthah Judges 11:29 is no difficulty; as it by no means follows that because the Spirit of God endued him with supernatural valor and energy for vanquishing the Ammonites, He therefore also endued him with spiritual knowledge and wisdom. The Spirit of the Lord came upon Gideon, but that did not prevent his erring in the matter of the ephod Judges 8:27. Compare 1 Corinthians 12:4-11; Galatians 2:11-14.

So Jephthah passed over unto the children of Ammon to fight against them; and the LORD delivered them into his hands.
And he smote them from Aroer, even till thou come to Minnith, even twenty cities, and unto the plain of the vineyards, with a very great slaughter. Thus the children of Ammon were subdued before the children of Israel.
As in the conflicts with the Moabites, Canaanites, and Midianites Judges 3; 4; 7, the battle was on Israelite territory, in self-defense, not in aggressive warfare.

The plain of the vineyards - Rather, "Abel-Ceramim" (compare Abel-Meholah), identified with an "Abel" situated among vineyards, 7 miles from Robbah. "Minnith" is "Maanith," 4 miles from Heshbon, on the road to Rab-bah.

And Jephthah came to Mizpeh unto his house, and, behold, his daughter came out to meet him with timbrels and with dances: and she was his only child; beside her he had neither son nor daughter.
His daughter came out to meet him - The precise phrase of his vow Judges 11:31. She was his "only child," a term of special endearment (see Jeremiah 6:26; Zechariah 12:10). The same word is used of Isaac Genesis 22:2, Genesis 22:12, Genesis 22:16.

And it came to pass, when he saw her, that he rent his clothes, and said, Alas, my daughter! thou hast brought me very low, and thou art one of them that trouble me: for I have opened my mouth unto the LORD, and I cannot go back.
Jephthah was right in not being deterred from keeping his vow by the loss and sorrow to himself (compare the marginal references), just as Abraham was right in not withholding his son, his only son, from God, when commanded to offer him up as a burnt-offering. But Jephthah was wholly wrong in that conception of the character of God which led to his making the rash vow. And he would have done right not to slay his child, though the guilt of making and of breaking such a vow would have remained. Josephus well characterizes the sacrifice as "neither sanctioned by the Mosaic law, nor acceptable to God."

And she said unto him, My father, if thou hast opened thy mouth unto the LORD, do to me according to that which hath proceeded out of thy mouth; forasmuch as the LORD hath taken vengeance for thee of thine enemies, even of the children of Ammon.
The touching submission of Jephthah's daughter to an inevitable fate shows how deeply-rooted at that time was the pagan notion of the propriety of human sacrifice.

And she said unto her father, Let this thing be done for me: let me alone two months, that I may go up and down upon the mountains, and bewail my virginity, I and my fellows.
Bewail my virginity - To become a wife and a mother was the end of existence to an Israelite maiden. The premature death of Jephthah's daughter was about to frustrate this end.

And he said, Go. And he sent her away for two months: and she went with her companions, and bewailed her virginity upon the mountains.
And it came to pass at the end of two months, that she returned unto her father, who did with her according to his vow which he had vowed: and she knew no man. And it was a custom in Israel,
That the daughters of Israel went yearly to lament the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite four days in a year.
There is no allusion extant elsewhere to this annual lamentation of the untimely fate of Jephthah's daughter. But the poetical turn of the narrative suggests that it may be taken from some ancient song (compare the marginal note 4).

Notes on the Bible by Albert Barnes [1834].
Text Courtesy of Internet Sacred Texts Archive.

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