Now Jephthah the Gileadite was a mighty man of valour, and he was the son of an harlot: and Gilead begat Jephthah.Jdg 11:1. Jephthah the Gileadite — So called, either from his father Gilead, or from the mountain, or city of Gilead, the place of his birth. Song of Solomon of a harlot — That is, a bastard. And though such were not ordinarily to enter into the congregation of the Lord, Deuteronomy 23:2; yet God can dispense with his own laws, and hath sometimes done honour to base-born persons, so far, that some of them were admitted to be the progenitors of the Lord Jesus Christ. And Gilead begat Jephthah — One of the children of that ancient Gilead, Numbers 32:1.
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.Jdg 11:3. Of Tob — The name either of the land, or of the man who was the owner or ruler of it. This place was in or near Gilead, as appears by the speedy intercourse which there was between Jephthah and the Israelites. Vain men — Idle persons, who desired rather to get their living by spoil and rapine, than by honest labour. These evil persons Jephthah managed well, employing them against the enemies of God, and of Israel, that bordered upon them; and particularly against parties of the Ammonites, which made the Israelites more forward to choose him for their chieftain in this war. Went out with him — When he made excursions and attempts upon the enemy.
And it came to pass in process of time, that the children of Ammon made war against Israel.Jdg 11:4-5. The children of Ammon made war against Israel — The Ammonites had oppressed them eighteen years, and now, when the Israelites begin to make opposition, they commence a war against them. The elders of Gilead went to fetch Jephthah — By direction from God, who both qualified him for, and called him to the office of a judge, otherwise they would not have been at liberty to choose a base-born person.
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?Jdg 11:7. Did ye not hate me, and expel me — And deprive me of all share in my father’s goods, which, though a bastard, was due to me? This expulsion of him was the act of his brethren; but he here ascribes it to the elders of Gilead; either because some of his brethren were among these elders, as is very probable from the dignity of this family; or because this act, though desired by his brethren, was executed by the decree of the elders, to whom the determination of all controversies about inheritances belonged; and therefore it was their faults they did not protect him from the injuries of his brethren.
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.Jdg 11:8. Therefore we turn again to thee — Being sensible we have done thee an injury, we come now to make thee full reparation. That thou mayest go with us — They acknowledge that they need his assistance and are humble enough to request it.
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?Jdg 11:9. If ye bring me home — If ye recall me from this place where I am now settled to the place whence I was expelled. Shall I be your head? — Will you really make good this promise? Jephthah was so solicitous in this case, either from his zeal for the public good, which required that he should be so; or from the law of self-preservation, that he might secure himself from his brethren; whose ill-will he had experienced, and whose injuries he could not prevent, if, after he had served their ends, he had been reduced to his private capacity.
And the elders of Gilead said unto Jephthah, The LORD be witness between us, if we do not so according to thy words.Jdg 11:10-11. The Lord be witness — The Lord be a hearer; so the Hebrew word is. Whatever we speak, it concerns us to remember that God is a hearer! The people made him head, &c. — They confirmed in full assembly, by unanimous consent, what the elders, who had been sent to him, had promised. Jephthah uttered all his words before the Lord — That is, before the public congregation, where God was usually and then especially present. This most probably refers to the words of the people, in making him captain and head over them, which, it is likely, Jephthah repeated with an audible voice, calling God to witness to them at the same time, that the people might look upon their promise as more solemn, and that there might be no dispute afterward about the offer which they now made to him.
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.
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?Jdg 11:12. Jephthah sent messengers — That is, ambassadors, to prevent bloodshed, that so the Israelites might be acquitted before God and men from all the sad consequences of the war; and herein he showed great prudence, and no less piety. What hast thou to do with me, &c. — What reasonable cause hast thou for this invasion? To fight in my land — He speaks this in the name of all the people.
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.Jdg 11:13. Because Israel took away my land — The land was not theirs when the Israelites conquered it, but the land of Sihon, king of the Amorites. For as to the country of the Ammonites, God expressly charged the children of Israel not to meddle with it, Deuteronomy 2:19. It is true, this land, which they now claimed, had formerly belonged to the Moabites, but Sihon had made a conquest of it, and driven them out, as we read Numbers 21:26.
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:
But when Israel came up from Egypt, and walked through the wilderness unto the Red sea, and came to Kadesh;Jdg 11:16-17. Unto the Red sea — Unto which they came three times; once, Exodus 13:18; again, a little after their passage over it; and a third time, long after, when they came to Ezion-geber, which was upon the shore of the Red sea, from whence they went to Kadesh; of this time he speaks here. In the like manner they sent to the king of Moab — We do not read of such a message sent to the Moabites; but when the Israelites came from Ezion-geber into the wilderness of Moab, we find a command of God given to them not to distress the Moabites, nor contend with them in battle. This intimates there was some occasion for such a command, which was probably their refusing to grant them some common civility.
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.
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.Jdg 11:19-22. Let us pass through thy land unto my place — That is, unto the land of Canaan, which the Lord hath given me. But Sihon fought against Israel — He not only refused, after the example of his neighbours, to grant the Israelites a passage through his country, which they could not insist upon as their absolute right, but raised all his forces, and proudly marched to drive them away from his borders. So that, as Jephthah intends to signify, Sihon was the aggressor, and the Israelites were compelled to fight in their own defence. They possessed all the coasts — Or borders, together with all the land included within those borders. From the wilderness — Namely, the desert of Arabia; unto Jordan.
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.
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?Jdg 11:23. So now the Lord, &c. — God, the sovereign Lord of all lands, hath given us this land; this he adds, as a further and convincing reason; because otherwise it might have been alleged against the former argument, that they could gain no more right to that land from Sihon, than Sihon himself had. And shouldest thou possess it? — It was absurd to think that they should take pains to conquer it, and God should give it to them, only that they might reinstate the Moabites or Ammonites in the possession of it, with whom they had no alliance.
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.Jdg 11:24. Wilt not thou possess, &c. — He does not call Chemosh a god; but only argues from the opinion that they had of him, which was such as all nations entertained of their gods, namely, that they owed their conquests to them: to whom, therefore, they gave thanks for all their victories. The Ammonites and Moabites got their land by conquest of the old inhabitants, whom they cast out; and their success, though given them by the true God, for Lot’s sake, Deuteronomy 2:9; Deuteronomy 2:19, they impiously ascribed to their god Chemosh, whose gift they owned to be a sufficient title. Jephthah, therefore, here appeals to themselves, whether they would not keep what they believed their god had given them, and consider it as lawfully possessed by them. So whomsoever the Lord our God shall drive out, them will we possess — By the very same title whereby the Moabites and Ammonites conceived that they possessed the country in which they now lived, and from whence they had driven out the ancient inhabitants.
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,Jdg 11:25. Art thou any thing better than Balak? — Art thou wiser than he? Or hast thou more right than he had? This is a third argument, that though Balak plotted against Israel, in defence of his own land, which he feared they would invade and conquer, yet he never contended with them about the restitution of those lands which Sihon took from him or his predecessors, laid no claim to them, nor ever demanded to have them restored.
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?Jdg 11:26. Three hundred years — Not precisely, but about that time, either from their coming out of Egypt, or from their first conquest of those lands. Here he pleads prescription, which by all men is reckoned a just title, and it is fit it should be so, for the good of the world; because otherwise a door would be opened both to kings and private persons for infinite contentions and confusions. And the prescription he pleads was for a long space of time, during which none of the kings of Moab or Ammon had pretended a right to this country, much less contested it with them. Wherefore did ye not recover them within that time? — No answer could be given to this question, why, in so long a time, they never asserted their claim till now.
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.Jdg 11:27. Wherefore I have not sinned — I have done thee no wrong. The Lord, the Judge, be judge — Let him determine this controversy by the success of this day and war. The meaning is, that if they were not moved by these reasons, but the controversy must be decided by arms, he committed his cause to God, the righteous Judge of the whole world, who, he doubted not, would do him right. Be judge this day — He does not mean that God would determine the right by giving him the victory then, when he spake these words, (for he was not yet ready to give them battle,) but that God would judge of the justice of his present plea, and accordingly give sentence when the matter came to be tried in battle. There cannot be a finer picture of justice, candour, fair reasoning, moderation, and unwillingness to proceed to the dreadful miseries of war, joined with a noble spirit to defend his country in its just rights, than that which Jephthah shows in his messages to the Ammonites. It were to be wished that all kings would follow his steps, and not rush into the shocking inhumanities and miseries of war with too much precipitation, but first try what good temper, moderation, fair reasoning, and a claim to no more than their just rights, will do with their enemies.
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.Jdg 11:29. The Spirit of the Lord came on Jephthah — The people had chosen him for their leader, and promised to continue him their chief governor, as they had already made him; and now God publicly declares his approbation of their choice; and appoints him their judge, as he had others before, (Jdg 3:10,) by endowing him with an extraordinary measure of courage and wisdom, and all other qualities necessary to render him fit to be a ruler of his people. He passed over Manasseh — That is, Bashan, which the half-tribe of Manasseh beyond Jordan possessed. Mizpeh of Gilead — So called, to distinguish it from other cities of the same name. Having gathered what forces he could, he suddenly came hither to the borders of the Ammonites.
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.Jdg 11:31. Shall surely be the Lord’s, and I will offer it up for a burnt- offering — Dr. Waterland translates it, shall be consecrated to the Lord, or, I will offer it, &c. “It is very evident,” says Dr. Dodd, “that this translation of 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 have been 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. This is Mr. Locke’s opinion, in his gloss upon the place.” See the note on Jdg 11:39-40.
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.Jdg 11:33. Till thou come to Minnith — A place not far from Rabbah, the chief city of the Ammonites. The children of Ammon were subdued before Israel — It does not appear that Jephthah offered to take possession of their country. Though the attempt of others to wrong us will justify us in the defence of our own right, yet it will not authorize us to do them wrong.
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.Jdg 11:34-35. Behold his daughter came out to meet him — In concert with other virgins, as the manner was. Alas, my daughter! thou art one of them that trouble me — Before this I was troubled by my brethren, and since by the Ammonites, and now most of all, though but occasionally, by thee. I have opened my mouth — That is, I have vowed. I cannot go back — That is, not retract my vow; I am indispensably obliged to perform it.
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.
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.Jdg 11:36. Do to me according, &c. — Do not for my sake make thyself a transgressor; I freely give my consent to thy vow. Forasmuch as the Lord hath taken vengeance, &c. — What a generous, noble, and pious answer is this of this virgin! It expresses such a noble love for her country, such true piety and filial obedience, as can scarcely be exceeded.
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.Jdg 11:37. That I may go up and down upon the mountains — Which she chose as a solitary place, and therefore fittest for lamentation. Bewail — That I shall die childless, which was esteemed both a curse and a disgrace for the Israelites, because such were excluded from that great privilege of increasing the holy seed, and contributing to the birth of the Messiah.
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,Jdg 11:39. Did with her — That Jephthah’s daughter was not sacrificed, but only devoted to perpetual virginity, appears, 1st, From Jdg 11:37-38, where we read that she bewailed, not her death, which had been the chief cause of lamentation, if that had been vowed, but her virginity; 2d, From this verse, where, after the sacred writer had said, that he did with her according to his vow; he adds, by way of declaration of the matter of that vow, and she knew no man.
That the daughters of Israel went yearly to lament the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite four days in a year.Jdg 11:40. The daughters of Israel went yearly to lament the daughter of Jephthah — The Hebrew word לתנות, lethannoth, here rendered, to lament, occurs nowhere else in Scripture, but Jdg 5:11, where it is rendered rehearse, or celebrate, namely, There shall they rehearse, says Deborah, the righteous acts of the Lord, surely not lament them. And the word might certainly be much more properly rendered to celebrate, or talk with, here, than to lament. Buxtorf interprets it thus, on the authority of the Jewish rabbi, Kimchi, allowed to be the best Hebrew grammarian the Jews ever had, and famous as a commentator on the Old Testament. His words on the passage are — “Ad confabulandum juxta Kimchium, ut amicis colloquiis eam de virginitate et statu vitæ solitario consolarentur.” To converse with her, according to Kimchi, namely, that by friendly discourses they might comfort her concerning her virginity, and the solitary condition of her life. Houbigant translates the words, They went to the daughter of Jephthah to console her, four days in a year. If we render the clause thus, the matter is put beyond dispute; for they could neither converse with, nor console her, after she was sacrificed: but if we translate the expression, to celebrate, or even to lament, its being repeated four times every year, plainly indicates that she was alive, because we nowhere find that the Israelites ever had any custom of celebrating or lamenting the dead after the funeral obsequies were performed. Their law rather tended to prohibit every thing of the kind, and inspire them with an abhorrence of it, by representing the dead as unclean, and those who came near and touched them as defiled thereby. So that there is not the least reason to conclude that the daughters of Judah went yearly, much less four times every year, either to lament or praise the daughter of Jephthah after she was dead; but rather that they went while she lived, to visit and converse with her, and comfort her with their company and discourses. All, therefore, that Jephthah did with his daughter, according to his vow, was to devote her to a single state, as a Nazarite, or consecrated person, to be employed in the service of God in the tabernacle, under the care of the high-priests, probably in making the hangings and other ornaments of it, the habits of the priests, the show-bread, the cakes used in sacrifices, and other such like offices, and to continue in a virgin state till the day of her death. Thus Samuel was vowed to the Lord by his mother, 1 Samuel 1:11. That his daughter must live and die single was felt by Jephthah as the greater calamity, because she was his only child, Jdg 11:34, a circumstance which the sacred historian dwells upon, observing that besides her he had neither son nor daughter. But, says Mr. Henry, “we do not find any law, usage, or custom, in all the Old Testament, which doth in the least intimate that a single life was any branch or article of religion.” “And do we find,” replies Mr. Wesley, “any law, usage, or custom there, which does in the least intimate that cutting the throat of an only child was any branch or article of religion?” If only a dog had met Jephthah, would he have offered up that for a burnt-offering? No, because God had expressly forbidden this. And had he not expressly forbidden murder? But Mr. Pool thinks the story of Agamemnon’s offering up Iphigenia (put for Jephtigenia) took its rise from this. Probably it did, as the Greeks used, as he observes, “to steal sacred histories and turn them into fables.” But then let it be observed Iphigenia was not murdered. Tradition says that Diana sent a hind in her stead, and took the maid to live in the woods with her. Upon the whole, this one single circumstance, mentioned above, that, when the sacred writer had informed us, Jephthah did with his daughter according to his vow, he adds, and she knew no man, renders it as “clear as the light,” as Dr. Dodd observes, that her father’s vow was thus fulfilled; “for if she had been slain as a burnt-offering, it would have been absurd enough to have told us that she afterward knew no man. And indeed,” adds he, “the passage is so plain, that one would wonder it could ever have come into the heads of writers, to conceive that her father, who was a truly pious man, (Jdg 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 heathen was, that they called for and accepted the sacrifices of sons and daughters:” see Leviticus 18:21; Leviticus 20:2; Deuteronomy 12:31; Deuteronomy 18:10.