Haydock Catholic Bible Commentary
Harlot. Hebrew Zona, Josue ii. 1. It is uncertain whether she was properly a concubine, or a wife of inferior dignity. She lived with her son in the house of Galaad; (Calmet) at least the latter was in his father's house. (Haydock) --- Hence Jephte complains that he had been expelled, not that he was debarred from enjoying his father's inheritance, and consequently the law was not observed in his regard. Moses makes no provision for illegitimate children, but he excludes the son of a mamzer from the church of God, Deuteronomy xxiii. 2. Some think that the mother of Jephte was of a nation with whom it was not lawful to marry. (Josephus, [Antiquities?] v. 9.) Said. (Grotius) --- Serarius believes that his father was already married, when he had to do with this harlot. (Menochius) --- But he might have first taken her to wife, without the usual formalities. (Drusius; Cornelius a Lapide) --- It is equally uncertain whether Jephte was of the tribe of Gad or of Manasses, as both occupied the country of Galaad. Interpreters generally conclude that he was of one of these tribes, and most probably of the latter; his father also was called Galaad. (Haydock)
Sons. Grabe's Septuagint determines the number to be "two." (Haydock) --- They caused the magistrates to declare that Jephte should not partake in the inheritance, ver. 7. (Menochius)
Tob, to the north of Galaad, of which it is a part. (Josephus) --- It is called Tubim, 1 Machabees v. 13. See 2 Kings x. 6. --- And robbers. This is a farther explication of rekim, poor vain fellows, chap ix. 4. They did not infest the Israelites, but made war on their enemies around; latro, in Latin, often signifies a soldier, particularly such as lived on plunder, as wer reat in Plautus. (Mil. glorios.) Latrocinatus annos decm, mercedem accipio. Some have imagined that Jephte was at the head of some banditti. (St. Augustine, q. 43.) --- But David's followers were of the same description (1 Kings xxii. 2,) as those of Jephte, men of determined resolution and valour. (Calmet) --- Such a man as Jephte, was therefore a valuable acquisition to the dispirited Israelites; and Providence had inured him to labour, and endued him with extraordinary prudence, notwithstanding his want of education, ver. 12. Necessity has often supplied every deficiency, and produced the most consummate generals. Prince. Hebrew and Septuagint, "and there were gathered unto Jephte vain men, and they went out with him." (Haydock)
Hard. Hebrew, "and when the Ammonites made war." As both armies were encamped near Maspha, they could hardly avoid having some skirmishes. But the Israelites durst not come to a pitched battle till they had Jephte at their head. (Haydock) --- The Ammonites infested them every year with similar incursions, ver. 12. (Calmet)
House. Perhaps he saw some of his brothers among them: though he might speak thus to the magistrates, because they had not prevented this injustice, (Calmet) as it was their duty to do. (Haydock)
Cause to make some reparation for our offence, though we must acknowledge that our present distress caused us to think of doing so. (Haydock) --- Hebrew, "therefore we turn again to thee," &c. (Calmet) --- Galaad. they only engage that the tribes of Gad and Manasses, who inhabited that country, should submit to his authority. (Menochius) --- But as they were the most in danger, they first make head against the enemy, not doubting but their brethren in other parts would come to their assistance, chap. xii. 1. God ratified their choice, ver. 11, 29; (Haydock) and he was acknowledged, after his victory, judge of all Israel. (Menochius)
Prince. Hebrew, "head or captain," (Haydock) to carry on the war, with a promise that he should be the judge of all the people, if he succeeded. (Calmet) --- Words. Plans, explaining how he would first send a message to the king of Ammon, and if he would not accede to reasonable terms, he would collect all the forces of Galaad, and invites all their brethren on the other side of the river to make a joint attack upon him. (Haydock) --- The Lord was considered as present in their public assemblies, Deuteronomy vi., and xx. (Menochius) --- He had also been taken by the people to witness their engagement; and Jephte promises, in like manner, to perform his part with fidelity. (Haydock) --- They promise on oath to be constant to each other. (Calmet)
Land. Jephte acts with a prudence and moderation which could not have been expected from one who had been brought up amid the noise of arms. (Calmet) --- He gives notice that he has been recognized by the lawful proprietors of the land for their head; and therefore begs that that Ammonites would desist from their unjust warfare. If words prove ineffectual, he must then try the fortune of a battle. (Haydock)
To me. The king falsely asserts, that all the country between the Arnon and the Jaboc belonged to him when Moses took it. The Ammonites had possession when the Israelites arrived, and it had formerly been occupied by Moab, and not by Ammon, Deuteronomy ii. 19., and 37; (Menochius) unless both might claim different parts. (Calmet)
Moab. After the death of Eglon, the Ammonites had probably seized upon his dominion, (ver. 25,) as we find no farther mention of the Moabites among the enemies of Israel, nor any king of that nation till the reign of David. Hence, as the king of Ammon laid claim to all the country, and had many of the Moabites in his army, Jephte answers at once, that the land under dispute belonged to neither of these nations. (Calmet) --- They had entirely lost it when Israel attacked Sehon, and took it from him, as was plain from the history of Moses and of the Amorrhites, Numbers xxi. 27. (Haydock) --- Jephte refers to facts universally known. (Calmet)
Red Sea, as Asiongaber, many years after they left Egypt.
Moab. This is not specified by Moses, but he sufficiently insinuates that he had done it, Deuteronomy ii. 8, 9. (Calmet)
His land, which the Amorrhite had first conquered, and which God took from him to give to Israel. It was clear that this country was not then considered as the property of the sons of Lot, since God expressly forbad his people to molest them. (Haydock) --- Jephte produces the right of conquest, the grant of God, and the possession of 300 years, to prove that the country belonged to the Israelites. All acknowledge that the right of conquest, in a just war, give a good title. (Grotius, Jur. iii. 6, 7.) --- The children of Lot had lost all hopes of recovering what Sehon had taken from them. (Calmet) --- He could not be proved to be a thief or an usurper, but was in peaceable possession when the war with Israel commenced, in which he lost all his dominions. (Haydock) --- By the same right, David kept what he had taken from the Amalecite plunderers, (1 Kings xxx. 20,) and Abraham might have retained the spoils which had been carried off from Sodom, Genesis xiv. 21. The Roman and Grecian histories are full of such examples; and this right was admitted by all as the law of nations, Quæ ex hostibus, jure gentium, statim capientium fiunt. (Caius. J. C.) --- The second argument of Jepthe is unanswerable, since God may undoubtedly transfer the property of one to another. But as the Ammonites might reply that they did not admit the God of Israel, he observes that the latter might at least have the same privilege as their Chamos, ver. 24. Prescription of so long a time, with good faith, was the third argument, as the Amorrhites being destroyed, and the Moabites disheartened, could not pretend to reclaim the conquered country. There would never be an end of disputes among men, if the undisturbed possession of a country for such a length of time did not confirm their right to it. These principles establish the tranquillity of families and of states. (Calmet; Grotius, Jur. ii. 4.)
Chamos. The idol of the Moabites and Ammonites. He argues from their opinion, who thought they had a just title to the countries which they imagined they had conquered by the help of their gods: how much more then had Israel an indisputable title to the countries which God, by visible miracles, had conquered for them. (Challoner) --- Hebrew, "And shall not we possess those (counties occupied by the people whom) the Lord our God has driven out from before us?" (Haydock) --- The Emim had been expelled by the people, Deuteronomy ii. 10. Chamos was the peculiar deity of Moab, (Numbers xxi. 29., and Jeremias xlviii. 46., &c.; Calmet) and signifies "as taking away." It is commonly supposed to be the sun. (Haydock)
Him. Josue (xxiv. 9,) says that Balac fought against Israel. But it was not in a pitched battle, (Calmet) at least of which we have the particulars, (Haydock) nor to recover the territory which the Israelites had taken from Sehon, but only to defend his own dominions. He collected an army, and called the soothsayer to curse Israel, Numbers xxii. 4, &c. (Calmet)
He. Hebrew, "While Israel," &c. --- Years. He makes use of a round number. (Haydock) --- Chronologists generally suppose that either more or fewer years had elapsed; (Menochius) and the Scripture only relates what Jephte said. (Sa) --- The Jews reckon 394. Some date from the coming out of Egypt 305. (Calmet) --- Petau has 365. But as Jephte only speaks of the time during which the Israelites had occupied the land, the 40 years' sojournment must be deducted, and still Petau will have 25 years too many; (Haydock) whereas "those who adduce the title of prescription, are accustomed rather to increase than to diminish the length of time." (Usher, p. 74.) --- Hence this author allows only 263 years. Houbigant comes rather nearer to the number of Jephte, and reckons 281, which the ambassadors might represent, in a round number as 300. (Proleg.) --- Salien almost agrees with Usher dating 306 years from the exit, and 266 from the victory over Sehon. He observes, with Eusebius, that Hercules instituted the Olympic games in the first year of Jephte, in the year of the world 2849. But they were restored, and became a famous epoch only 400 years after. He place the first rape of Helen by Theseus at the same time, when she was about 12 years ole. In her 24th, she was stolen again by Paris, and gave occasion to the famous siege of Troy. (Haydock)
And decide. Literally, "the arbiter of this day." Jephte is so well convinced of the justice of his cause, that he is willing to abide by God's decision, (Haydock) to be manifested by the issue of the battle. (Menochius) --- At the same time, he threatens the Ammonites with God's judgments, if by their fault blood be shed unjustly, as he, like a good prince, had tried every means to prevent that misfortune, and to bring things to an amicable conclusion. (Calmet)
Therefore. Hebrew, "then." Septuagint, "and." The refusal of the king of Ammon was not precisely the reason why God endued Jephte with shuch wisdom and courage, though we may say that it was the occasion. (Haydock) --- Jephte summoned the troops in Galaad, and in the two tribes of Manasses, to attend his standard. He also invited Ephraim, (chap. xii. 2.; Calmet) and we may reasonably suppose the other tribes also, who were near enough to be ready for the day of battle. Having collected what force he could in so short a time, he returned to Maspha, and thence proceeded to attack the enemy. (Haydock)
He. Hebrew and Septuagint, "And he vowed." A new sentence commences; (Cajetan) so that it is not clear that Jephte was moved to make this vow by the spirit of the Lord; else it could not be blamed. (Haydock)
Whosoever, &c. Some are of opinion, that the meaning of this vow of Jephte, was to consecrate to God whatsoever should first meet him, according to the condition of the thing; so as to offer it up as a holocaust, if it were such a thing as might be so offered by the law; or to devote it otherwise to God, if it were not such as the law allowed to be offered in sacrifice. And therefore they think the daughter of Jephte was not slain by her father, but only consecrated to perpetual virginity. But the common opinion followed by the generality of the holy fathers and divines is, that she was offered as a holocaust, in consequence of her father's vow: and that Jephte did not sin, at least not mortally, neither in making nor in keeping his vow; since he is no ways blamed for it in scripture; and was even inspired by God himself to make the vow, (as appears from ver. 29, 30.) in consequence of which he obtained the victory; and therefore he reasonably concluded that God, who is the master of life and death, was pleased, on this occasion, to dispense with his own law; and that it was the divine will he should fulfil his vow. (Challoner) --- St. Thomas [Aquinas] (2. 2. q. 88. a. 2.) acknowledges that Jephte was inspired to make a vow, and his devotion herein is praised by the apostle, Hebrews xi. 32. But he afterwards followed his own spirit, in delivering himself, without mature deliberation, and in executing what he had so ill engaged himself, to perform. This decision seems to be the most agreeable to the Scripture, and to the holy fathers. St. Jerome (in Jer. vii.) says, non sacrificium placet, sed animus offerentis. "If Jephte offered his virgin daughter, it was not the sacrifice, but the good will of the offerer which deserves applause." Almost all the ancients seem to agree that the virgin was really burnt to death; and the versions have whosoever, which intimates that Jephte intended to offer a human victim; particularly as he could not expect a beast fit for such a purpose, would come out of the doors of his house to meet him. (Calmet) --- Yet many of the moderns, considering how much such things are forbidden by God, cannot persuade themselves that Jephte should be so ignorant of the law, or that the priests and people of Israel should suffer him to transgress it. The original may be rendered as well, "whatsoever proceedeth....shall surely be the Lord's, and (Protestants) or I will offer it up for a holocaust." (Pagnin. &c.) --- The version of Houbigant is very favourable to this opinion. See Hook's Principia. --- It is supposed that the sacrifice of Iphigenia, which took place about this time, (Aulis. v. 26,) was only in imitation of this of Jephte's daughter. But the poets say, that Diana saved her life, and substituted a doe in her place; (Ovid, Met. xii.) which, if true, would make the conformity more striking, if we admit that the sacrifice of Jephte's daughter was not carried into effect. Iphigenia was made a priestess of Dians, to whom human victims were immolated. The daughter of Jephte, whom the false Philo calls Seila, was consecrated to the Lord, and shut up (Haydock) to lead a kind of monastic life; as the wives of David, (2 Kings xx. 3.; Grotius) after they had been dishonoured, were obliged to live in a state of continency. Although (Haydock) forced chastity be not a virtue, (Calmet) yet Jephte had no reason to believe that his daughter would not enter into the spirit of his vow, and embrace that state for God's honour and service. We know that she gave her entire consent to whatever might be the nature of his vow; and surely she would be as ready to refrain from marriage, however desirable at that time, as to be burnt alive, which would effectually prevent her from becoming a mother, ver. 37. To require this of her, was not, at least, more cruel in her father than to offer her in sacrifice. Then Chaldean paraphrast says, "Jephte did not consult Phinees, the priest, or he might have redeemed her;" and Kimchi gives us a very mean idea, both of Jephte and of the high priest, the great Phinees, whom the Rabbins foolishly suppose was still living, and of course above 300 years old, ver. 26. --- "Phinees said, He wants me, let him come to me. But Jephte, the head of the princes of Israel, shall I go to him? During this contest the girl perished." To such straits are those reduced who wish to account for the neglect of Jephte in redeeming his daughter, as the Targum observes, was lawful for a sum of money, Leviticus xxvii. 2, 3, 28. --- But (Haydock) his vow was of the nature of the cherom, which allowed of no redemption, and required death. (Calmet) --- On this point, however, interpreters are not agreed, and this manner of devoting to death, probably, regarded only the enemies of God, or such things as were under a person's absolute dominion. (Haydock) --- If a dog had first come out to meet Jephte, could he have offered it up for a holocaust? Certainly not, (Grotius) because it was prohibited, (Deuteronomy xxiii. 18,) to offer even its price, (Haydock) and only oxen, sheep, goats, turtles and doves, were the proper victims. If, therefore, a person made a vow, of a man, he was to be consecrated to the Lord, (Grotius) like Samuel, and he might marry. But a woman could not, as she was already declared the servant of the Lord, and was not at liberty to follow her husband. (Amama) --- We need not herein labour to defend the conduct of Jephte. The Scripture does not canonize him on this account. If he did wrong, his repentance, and other heroic acts of virtue, might justly entitle him to be ranked among the saints of the old law. (St. Augustine, q. 49) --- "Shew me the man who has not fallen into sin....Jephte returned victorious from the enemy, but in the midst of his triumph, he was overcome by his own vow, so that he thought it proper to requite the piety of his daughter, who came out to meet him, by parricide. In the first place, what need was there of making a vow so hastily, to promise things uncertain, the event of which he knew not, instead of what was certain? Then why did he perform so sorrowful a vow to the Lord God, by shedding blood?" (St. Ambrose, Apol. Dav. i. 4.) --- This saint adopts the common opinion that Jephte really immolated his daughter. But he is far from thinking that he was influenced by the holy spirit to make the vow, otherwise he would never represent it in such odious colours. If God had required the life of Jephte's daughter, as he did formerly command Abraham to sacrifice his son, the obedience and faith of the former would have been equally applauded, as the good will of the latter. But most of those who embrace the opinion that Jephte sacrificed his daughter, are forced to excuse or to condemn the action. They suppose that he was permitted to fulfil his vow, that others might be deterred from making similar promises, without the divine authority. (St. Chrysostom, hom. xiv. ad pop. Ant.; St. Jerome, contra Jov. i.) "I shall never, says St. Ambrose (Off. iii. 12,) be induced to believe that Jephte, the prince, did not promise incautiously that he would immolate whatever should meet him "at the door of his own house;" whence he seems to take whosoever in the same latitude as we have given in the Hebrew. He concludes, "I cannot accuse the man who was obliged to fulfil his vow," &c. We may imitate his moderation, (Haydock) rather than adopt the bold language of one who has written notes on the Protestant Bible, (1603) who says, without scruple, that by this rash vow and wicked performance, his victory was defaced; and again, that he was overcome with blind zeal, not considering whether the vow was lawful or not. (Worthington). --- If Jephte was under the immediate influence of the Holy Ghost in what he did, as Salien believes, and the context by no means disproves, we ought to admire the faith of this victorious judge, though he gave way to the feelings of human nature, ver. 35. We should praise his fidelity either in sacrificing or in consecrating his daughter to God's service in perpetual virginity: but if he followed his own spirit, we cannot think that he was so ill-informed or so barbarous as to murder his daughter, nor that she would consent to an impiety which so often disgraced the pagan superstition, though she might very well agree to embrace that better part, which her father and God himself, by a glorious victory, seems to have marked out for her. Amid the variety of opinions which have divided the learned on this subject, infidels can derive no advantage or solid proof against the divine authority of the Scripture, and of our holy religion. The fact is simply recorded. People are at liberty to form what judgment of it they think most rational. If they decide that Jepthe was guilty of an oversight, or of a downright impiety, it will in the first place be difficult for them to prove it to the general satisfaction; and when they have done so, they will only evince that he was once a sinner, and under this idea the word of God gives him no praise. But if he did wrong in promising, as many of the Fathers believe, he might be justified in fulfilling his vow, as God might intimate to him both interiorly, and by granting him the victory, that he dispensed with his own law, and required this sort of victim in order to foreshew the bloody sacrifice of Jesus Christ for our sins, (Serarius and Salien, in the year of the world 2850) or the state of virginity which his blessed Mother and so many nuns and others in the Christian Church embrace with fervour. --- Peace, with victory. --- Same. Hebrew, "it shall be the Lord's, and (or) I will make it ascend a whole burnt offering." (Haydock) --- The particle ve often signifies or as well as and, and it is explained in this sense here by the two Kimchis, by Junius, &c. See Exodus xxi. 17. Piscator says, the first part of the sentence determines that whatever the thing was it should be consecrated to the Lord, with the privilege of being redeemed, (Leviticus xxvii. 11,) and the second shews that it should be immolated, if it were a suitable victim. (Amama)
Aroer, upon the Arnon, belonged to the tribe of Gad. Menith was four miles from Hesebon, towards Rabbath. --- Abel was noted for its vineyards, 12 miles east of Gadara, so that Jephte pursued the enemy, as they fled towards the north for about 60 miles, and during the course of the war destroyed 20 of their cities, (Calmet) to punish them for their unjust revenges and usurpation of another's property. (Haydock)
Daughter. It seems the vow had been kept secret, as no precautions were taken to prevent the affliction of the general; (Calmet) and indeed to have done so, would have been injurious to God's providence, and childish in Jephte, as he meant to offer whatever should come to meet him. It would have been very mean, and contrary to the meaning of the vow, for him to procure something for which he had no great value, to present itself. (Haydock) --- Dances, as it was customary on such occasions, 1 Kings xviii. 6.
Alas. These indications of grief are the effects of nature. (Salien) --- St. Ambrose considerst them as the marks of repentance; (ver. 31,) and we might hence infer that the vow was not dictated by the holy spirit, who would have endued Jepthe with fortitude, as he did Abraham, though all may not possess the virtue of that great father of believers, Genesis xxii. (Haydock) --- Deceived. We mutually expected comfort, from each other's presence: but we must both experience the reverse. Hebrew may signify, "depressed, terrified," &c. --- Thing. Hebrew, "I cannot recede." (Haydock) --- It appears that he could not redeem what he had promised, (Calmet) as the condition had been fulfilled on the part of God. He might consider that he as no longer at liberty to use the privilege which the law allowed, when no condition had been specified, Leviticus xxvii. 4. (Haydock)
Bewail my virginity. The bearing of children was much coveted under the Old Testament, when women might hope that from some child of theirs the Saviour of the world might one day spring. But under the New Testament virginity is preferred, 1 Corinthians vii. 35.
Mountains. Such places were frequented in times of mourning, Jeremias xxxi. 15., and Isaias xv. 2. (Calmet) --- Jepthe allowed his daughter this short respite, without any offence, (Deuteronomy xxiii. 21,) before he immolated her, (Menochius) or before he debarred her from the society of men. (Grotius, &c.)
Father. Her fortitude is commended by St. Ambrose (Off. iii. 12,) as more worthy of admiration than that of the two Pythagorean friends, one of whom, being sentenced to die, procured the other to stand bond for his return; and, at the time appointed, came freely to deliver himself up; an instance of generosity which made the tyrant who had sentenced him to die, beg that they would admit him into the society of their friendship. (Haydock) --- Whatever we may think of Jephte, "we cannot sufficiently admire the dutiful behaviour, and amiable simplicity of the daughter, who voluntarily submitted to her parent's will, and exhorted him to do as he had vowed. To die to sin, to resign the pomps of a licentious world, to renounce those pleasures and incentives to vice, which are inconsistent with a clean heart, is a sacrifice truly meritorious, and acceptable to God; it is a sacrifice which was solemnly begun at the font of baptism." (Reeves, in the year of the world 2817.) --- No man. It is remarked by those who believe that she was not slain, that this observation would be very unnecessary in the contrary opinion. No mention of death is made. The virgin only deplores, with pious resignation, that she cannot be the happy mother of the Messias.
Lament. Hebrew Lethanoth. On this term the solution of this question greatly depends. (Haydock) --- Kimchi translates, "to talk with," or "to comfort the daughter of Jephte" as he supposes that the custom subsisted during her life, while she was shut up either near the tabernacle, or in her father's house. (Calmet) --- Montanus renders "to speak to." Junius and the Tigurin version, "to discourse with." --- Thanan certainly is used for "he related," &c. Judges v. 11., yethannu narrentur, or rather narrent; and the construction here seems to require this sense. (Amama) --- If this be admitted, the bloody sacrifice is at an end, since the daughters of Israel could not meet to comfort the virgin every year, if she was immolated at the expiration of two months. But if we follow the translation of the Vulgate, Septuagint, and Chaldean, as the Protestants have done, the lamentation might still be viewed in the same light, as tending to condole with the lady, rather than bewail her untimely death, (Haydock) as, for the latter purpose, it would not have been necessary for them to assemble together. (Amama) --- They might well enter into her sentiments, when she mourned her virginity, (ver. 38,) and strive to yield her some comfort in her secluded state, by coming in such numbers, and with the permission of the priests of God, continuing with her four days. (Haydock) --- Some translate "to publish," or sound forth the praises (Calmet) of this heroic virgin, which may be true, whether she was slain, or only consecrated to the Lord. (Haydock) --- St. Epiphanius (hær. 55., and 78,) informs us that "at Sichem an annual sacrifice was still offered up in the name of the virgin, and that she was revered as a goddess by the people in the vicinity." The vow of Jephte seems to have given rise to what we read in profane authors, of that which Idomeneus, king of Crete, made in the midst of a storm at sea: "He vowed that he would sacrifice to the gods whatever met him first. It happened that his son was the person, whom, when he had immolated, or, as others say, had wished to do it, and afterwards a pestilence had ensued, his subjects drove him from his kingdom." (Servius in Æneid iii., and xi.) (Calmet) --- Aldrovandus (in Asino) relates a similar vow of Alexander the Great. Even the more sober pagans could not, it seems, approve of the unwarranted vows of parents to destroy the lives of their children. But of people consecrated to the Lord, by their parents, without first requiring their consent, we have many examples, in Samuel. (St. Bonaventure, July 14, &c.) --- If we explain the vow of Jephte in the same sense, every difficulty will be removed, and infidels will not allege this example to prove that human victims are pleasing to God. (Haydock)