Judges 11:39
And it came to pass at the end of two months, that she returned to 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,
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(39) Who did with her according to his vow.—In this significant euphemism the narrator drops the veil—as though with a shudder—over the terrible sacrifice. Of course, “did with her according to his vow” can only mean offered her up for a burnt offering” (Judges 11:31). “Some,” says Luther, “affirm that he did not sacrifice her; but the text is clear enough.” The attempt, first started by Rabbi Kimchi, to make this mean “kept her unmarried until death”—i.e., shut her up in a sacred celibacy—is a mere sophistication of plain Scripture. That he did actually slay her in accordance with his cherem is clear, not only from the plain words, but also for the following reasons:—(1) The customs of that day knew nothing about treating women as nuns.” If there had been any institution of vestals among the Jews we should without fail have heard of it, nor would the fate of Jephthah’s daughter been here regarded and represented as exceptionally tragic. (2) There are decisive Scriptural analogies to Jephthah’s vow, taken in its most literal sense—Abraham (Genesis 23:3), Saul (1Samuel 14:44), &c. (See on Judges 11:31.) (3) There are decisive Pagan analogies, both Oriental (2Kings 3:27; Amos 2:1) and classical. Thus Idomeneus actually sacrificed his eldest son (Serv. ad Æn. iii. 331) in an exactly similar vow, and Agamemnon his daughter Iphigenia. (4) The ancient Jews, who were far better acquainted than we can be with the thoughts and customs of their race and the meaning of their own language, have always understood that Jephthah did literally offer his daughter as “a burnt offering.” The Targum of Jonathan adds to the words “it was a custom in Israel” the explanation, “in order that no one should make his son or his daughter a burnt offering, as Jephthah did, and did not consult Phinehas the priest. Had he done so, he would have redeemed her with money”—i.e., Phinehas would have decided that it was less crime to redeem such a cherem than to offer a human sacrifice. It is curious to find that another legend (hagadah) connects Phinehas with this event in a very different way. It says that Phinehas sanctioned, and even performed the sacrifice, and that for this very reason he was superseded by the indignation of the Israelites, which is the reason they offer for the fact that Eli was of the house, not of Phmehas, but of Ithamar (Lightfoot, Works, i. 12-18). In the same way Idomeneus, after sacrificing his eldest son, is punished by the gods with plague and by his citizens with banishment. Josephus agrees with these Jewish authorities, and says that Jephthah offered (holokautôsen) his daughter (see on Judges 11:31); and so does Rabbi Tanchum. The opinion was undisputed till a thousand years after Christ, when Rabbi Kimchi invented the plausible hypothesis which has pleased so many commentators who carry their own notions to the Bible ready made, and then find them there. Ewald contents himself with saying that this “timid modern notion needs no refutation.” It is remarkable that we find a similar vow as late as the sixth century after Christ. Abd Almuttalib, grandfather of Mohammed, vows to kill his son Abd Allah if God will give him ten sons. He had twelve sons; but when he wishes to perform his vow the Koreish interfere, and Abd Almuttalib, at the bidding of a priestess, gives one hundred camels as a ransom (Weil, Mohammed, p. 8).

It was a custom.—Or, ordinance—namely, to lament Jephthah’s daughter. Probably the custom was local only, for we find no other allusion to it.

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.11:29-40 Several important lessons are to be learned from Jephthah's vow. 1. There may be remainders of distrust and doubting, even in the hearts of true and great believers. 2. Our vows to God should not be as a purchase of the favour we desire, but to express gratitude to him. 3. We need to be very well-advised in making vows, lest we entangle ourselves. 4. What we have solemnly vowed to God, we must perform, if it be possible and lawful, though it be difficult and grievous to us. 5. It well becomes children, obediently and cheerfully to submit to their parents in the Lord. It is hard to say what Jephthah did in performance of his vow; but it is thought that he did not offer his daughter as a burnt-offering. Such a sacrifice would have been an abomination to the Lord; it is supposed she was obliged to remain unmarried, and apart from her family. Concerning this and some other such passages in the sacred history, about which learned men are divided and in doubt, we need not perplex ourselves; what is necessary to our salvation, thanks be to God, is plain enough. If the reader recollects the promise of Christ concerning the teaching of the Holy Spirit, and places himself under this heavenly Teacher, the Holy Ghost will guide to all truth in every passage, so far as it is needful to be understood.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. 34-40. Jephthah came to Mizpeh unto his house, and, behold, his daughter came out to meet him with timbrels and with dances—The return of the victors was hailed, as usual, by the joyous acclaim of a female band (1Sa 18:6), the leader of whom was Jephthah's daughter. The vow was full in his mind, and it is evident that it had not been communicated to anyone, otherwise precautions would doubtless have been taken to place another object at his door. The shriek, and other accompaniments of irrepressible grief, seem to indicate that her life was to be forfeited as a sacrifice; the nature of the sacrifice (which was abhorrent to the character of God) and distance from the tabernacle does not suffice to overturn this view, which the language and whole strain of the narrative plainly support; and although the lapse of two months might be supposed to have afforded time for reflection, and a better sense of his duty, there is but too much reason to conclude that he was impelled to the fulfilment by the dictates of a pious but unenlightened conscience. Quest. What was it which Jephthah vowed and performed concerning his daughter?

Answ. Many, especially of modern writers, conceive that Jephthah’s daughter was not sacrificed, but only devoted to perpetual virginity, which then was esteemed a great curse and reproach. This they gather,

1. From Judges 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.

2. From Judges 11:39, where, after he 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. But for the first, there may be a fair reason given, That she could not with honour bewail her death, which she had so generously and cheerfully accepted of, because it was attended with and occasioned by the public good, and her father’s honour and happiness, Judges 11:36, and was a kind of martyrdom; and moreover, an act of religion, the payment of a vow, which ought to be done cheerfully; but only bewailed the circumstance of her death, that it was in some sort accursed and opprobrious; she having had no husband to take away her reproach, as they speak, Isaiah 4:1, and leaving no posterity to her father’s comfort, and the increase of God’s people. And for the second, that clause, and she knew no man, is plainly distinguished from the execution of his vow, which is here mentioned before; and this is added, not as an explication of the vow, but as an aggravating circumstance, that this was executed when she had not yet known any man. Besides, this opinion seems liable to weighty objections:

1. There is no example in all the Scripture of any woman that was obliged to perpetual virginity by any vow of her own, much less by the vow of her parents; nor have parents any such power over their children, either by the law of nature, or by the Holy Scripture.

2. The express words of the vow, Judges 11:31, mention nothing of her virginity. but only that she should surely be the Lord’s, i.e. devoted to the service of the Lord, which might be without any obligation to perpetual virginity; for even Samuel, who was as fully devoted to the Lord by his parents as she could be, 1 Samuel 1:11; and Samson, who was devoted not only by his parents, but by God himself, and that in the highest degree, even to be a perpetual Nazarite, Judges 13:5,7; yet were not prohibited marriage; nor were any of the most sacred persons, Levites, or priests, or high priests, though they were the Lord’s in a singular manner, obliged to perpetual virginity: and therefore if she was not offered up for a burnt-offering, as the authors of this opinion say, but only was consecrated to God, there was no occasion to bewail her virginity, which, for any thing that appears, she was not tied to.

3. If this were all, here was no sufficient cause why so wise and valiant a man as Jephthah should so bitterly and passionately lament over himself or his daughter. And therefore it may seem most probable that Jephthah did indeed sacrifice his daughter, as he had vowed to do; which was the opinion of Josephus the Jew, and of the Chaldee Paraphrast, and of divers of the Jewish doctors, and almost all the ancient fathers, and many eminent writers; and this best agrees with the words of the vow, delivered Judges 11:31,

Whatsoever cometh forth of the doors of my house to meet me—shall surely be the Lord’s, and I will offer it for a burnt-offering. Nor is there one word in all the following verses which denies that she was thus offered; only the execution of the vow is delivered in more ambiguous and general terms, Judges 11:39, which in all reason, and by the laws of good interpretation, ought to be limited and explained by the more plain and particular description of it. It is true, those words may seem capable of another interpretation; the conjunctive particle and may be here put for the disjunctive or, as it often is, as Exodus 21:16 17 Le 6:3,5 2 Samuel 2:19, &c.; and so the meaning is, That what I first meet shall surely be the Lord’s, or, I will offer it up for a burnt-offering, to wit if it be a creature fit to be offered; otherwise, say they, if a dog or an ass should have met him first, he should have been obliged to offer them, which was against the law. But it is sufficiently evident that he speaks of a human person, from the very phrase of

coming forth. to meet him at his return; which plainly argues a design to meet him, purposely to congratulate his return; this phrase of going to meet a person coming being very oft used in Scripture, and constantly of one person meeting another, as Genesis 14:17 Genesis 17:2 24:17, &c., and never of any brute creature. And although and is sometimes put for or, yet it is not to be so used without necessity, which seems not to be in this place; nor is it very proper to distinguish two sentences in this manner, where the one is more general, and the other being more special, is comprehended within it, which is the case here; for it shall surely be the Lord’s, is the general; and its being offered up for a burnt-offering is the particular way or manner how it was to be the Lord’s; as it were very improper to say, this is either a man, or it is my servant John; because the latter branch is contained in the former; and therefore in all the alleged instances where and is put for or, they are two distinct persons or things, and not one comprehended within another, as Exodus 21:17, father or mother; 2 Samuel 2:19, right hand or left. But the great objection against this opinion is this, that it seems a most horrid act, directly contrary to the law of nature, and to plain Scripture, thus to sacrifice his own daughter; and that it seems altogether incredible, either that such a man as Jephthah, so eminent for piety, and wisdom, and zeal, and faith, should either make so barbarous a vow, or pursue it for above two months’ space; and that none of the priests of that time should inform him of the unlawfulness of executing so wicked a vow, and of the liberty he had to redeem such a vow, by virtue of Leviticus 27:2,3, &c.; or that Jephthah would not willingly receive information, especially where it was so agreeable to his own interest and natural affection; or that the priests and people would suffer him to execute his own daughter, and not rather hinder him by force, as they afterwards did Saul which he had sworn the death of Jonathan. These and other such difficulties I confess there are in the case; but something may be truly and fairly said to allay the seeming monstrousness of this act.

1. These were times of great and general ignorance and corruption of religion, wherein the Israelites had apostatized from God, and learnt and followed the practices and worships of the heathen nations, Judges 10:6, whereof this was one, to offer up human sacrifices to Moloch; and although they seem now to have repented and forsaken their idols, Judges 10:16, yet they seem still to have retained part of the old leaven, and this among the rest, that they might offer human sacrifices, not to Moloch, as they had done, but unto the Lord. And whereas some of the Jewish writers pretend that Phinehas was alive at this time; and tell a fine story concerning him and Jephthah, that both stood upon their terms, and neither would go to the other to advise about the matter; yet it is more than probable that Phinehas was dead long before this time, and whosoever was the high priest then, he seems to be guilty either of gross ignorance or negligence; so that a late learned writer conceives that this was the reason why the priesthood was taken from him, and from that line, and translated to the line of Ithamar, which was done in the time of the judges, as may be gathered from 1 Samuel 2:35,36. Moreover Jephthah, though now a good man, may seem to have had but a rude and barbarous education; having been banished from his father’s house, and forced to wander and dispose himself in the utmost borders of the land of Gilead, beyond Jordan, at a great distance from the place of worship and instruction: nor is it strange that the priests and people did not resist Jephthah in this enterprise; partly because many of them might be under the same ignorance and mistake that Jephthah did; and partly because they knew Jephthah to be a stout, and resolute, and boisterous man, and were afraid to oppose him in a matter wherein he seemed to be so peremptory, and their persons and families were not much concerned.

2. This mistake of Jephthah’s, and of the rest of that age, was not without some plausible appearance of warrant from the holy text, even from Leviticus 27:28,29, wherein it is expressly provided, that no devoted thing, whether man or beast, should be redeemed, but should surely be put to death; a place which it is not strange that a soldier in so ignorant an age should mistake, seeing even some learned divines, in this knowing age, and Capellus, amongst the rest, have fallen into the same error, and justified Jephthah’s action from that place; and though I doubt not they run into the other extreme, as men commonly do, those words being to be otherwise understood than they take them, (of which see my notes on that place,) yet it must be granted that place gave Jephthah a very colourable pretext for the action; and being pushed on by zeal for God, and the conscience of his vow, he might easily be induced to it; and though this was a sin in him, yet it was but a sin of ignorance; which therefore was overlooked by a gracious God, and not reproved by any holy men of God. It is probably conceived, that the Greeks, who used to steal sacred histories, and turn them into fables, had from this history their relation of Iphigenia, (which may be put for Jephtigenia,) sacrificed by her father Agamemnon, which is described by many of the same circumstances wherewith this is accompanied.

She knew no man, to wit, carnally; she, died a virgin. And it came to pass at the end of two months she returned to her father,.... For the request she made was not a pretence to make her escape out of his hands; but having done what she proposed to do, and the time fixed for it being come, she returned to her father's house, and delivered herself to him:

who did with her according to his vow which he had vowed: but what he did is a question, and which is not easily resolved; some think he really sacrificed her, through a mistaken sense of Leviticus 27:29 and which his action are accounted for through his living a military life, and in a distant part of the country, and at a time when idolatry had greatly prevailed in Israel, and to such a degree as it had not before, and no doubt that branch of it, sacrificing children to Molech; and Jephthah might think that though that was sinful, yet such a sacrifice might be acceptable to the Lord; and especially since his vow, as he thought, bound him to it; and how far the instance of Abraham offering up his son Isaac might encourage him to it, cannot be said: of this mind were Josephus (k), Jonathan Ben Uzziah the Targumist, and some other Jewish writers (l); and many of the ancient Christian fathers, and many modern authors of every name among Christians; and it has been thought that the story of Iphigenia, who Capellus (m) thinks is the same with Jepthigenia, that is, the daughter of Jephthah, and was slain by her father Agamemnon, having several circumstances in it similar to this, is taken from hence: and there is much such a case as this related (n) of Idomeneus, a king of the Cretians, who upon his return after the destruction of Troy, being in a tempest, vowed, should he be saved, that he would sacrifice the first he met with to the gods; and as it was his son he first met with, he sacrificed him; or, as others say, would have done it, but was prevented by the citizens, and who on this account drove him from his kingdom. But others are of opinion that what Jephthah did according to his vow was, that he shut up his daughter, and separated her from the company of men, and obliged her to live unmarried all her days, and therefore she is said to bewail her virginity. Kimchi and Ben Melech say, he built a house for her without the city, where she dwelt alone, and knew no man; and where her father supported her, and obliged her to live all her days; and Abarbinel thinks, that the Romanists from hence learnt to build their cloisters to put their nuns in; and so Ben Gersom interprets this vow of her being separated from men, and devoted to the service of God; and which is the sense of many Christian interpreters. Now though Jephthah had no such power over his daughter, as to oblige her to perpetual virginity, nor did his vow bind him to it; for persons devoted to the Lord were not obliged to abstain from marriage, nor have we any instances of a monastic life in those times, nor among the Jews at any time; yet as he did something not right, which he thought his vow obliged him to, one would be rather tempted to think, in charity to him, that of the two evils he did the least; for if she was put to death, it must be done either by the magistrates, or by the priests, or by Jephthah himself; neither of which is probable:

and she knew no man; never married, but lived and died a virgin: "and it was a custom in Israel"; the Targum adds,"that a man might not offer his son or his daughter for a burnt offering, as Jephthah the Gileadite did, and did not consult Phinehas the priest; for had he consulted Phinehas the priest, he would have redeemed her with a price;''so Jarchi, according to Leviticus 27:4 but each stood upon their honour, as the Jews say (o); Jephthah being a king would not go to Phinehas, and Phinehas being an high priest; and the son of an high priest, would not go to a plebeian; and so, between them both, the maiden was lost: but the custom refers to what follows.

(k) Antiqu l. 5. c. 7. sect. 10. (l) Bereshit Rabba, sect. 60, fol. 52. 3. Vajikra Rabba, sect. 37. fol. 176. 4. (m) De Voto Jephthae, sect. 12. (n) Alex. ab Alex. Genial. Dier. l. 3. c. 22. Servius in Virgil. Aeneid. l. 3. col. 693. in l. 11. col. 1634. (o) Bereshit Rabba & Vajikra, ut supra. (l)); Midrash Kohelet, fol. 81. 3.

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,
39. who did with her according to his vow] The language is marked by a fine reserve, but the plain sense of it is that Jephthah offered the tragic sacrifice. Early Jewish interpretation took it to mean this; Talm. Ta‘anith 4 a (where the sacrifice is compared with that of Isaac and of Mesha’s son); Midrash Bereshith Rab. § 60; Jos., Ant. Jdg 11:7; Jdg 11:10. The same view was adopted by the Christian Fathers and Church writers (e.g. St Augustine, Opera, t. iii. 812 ‘procul dubio nihil aliud quam hominem cogitabit’; St Ambrose, Op. t. ii. 177, 178 and 281, 282; St Chrysostom, Op. t. ii. 147). In the Middle Ages, however, the natural meaning of the words was explained away, first by the Jewish commentators (e.g. by Ḳimḥi in loc. ‘he made a house for her and brought her into it, and she was there separated from mankind and from the ways of the world’), and following them by Christian interpreters. More recently it has been suggested that Jephthah dedicated the maiden to Jehovah as a virgin priestess or vestal in the local sanctuary; cf. Code of Ḫammurabi, § 181, which alleges the case of a father dedicating a votary to a god; Benzinger, Hebr. Arch.2 (1907), 360.

and she had not known man] she being a virgin (for the Hebr. idiom see Driver, Tenses, § 159). The sacrifice, therefore, was all the greater; her father’s race perished with her. Similarly in early Greek myths the human victim is nearly always a virgin; see Murray, Rise of the Gk. Epic, 121–123. Cf. Virgil, Aen. x. 518–520 (note juvenes).Verse 39. - Who did with her according to his vow. Nothing can be more express than this statement. In fact, except the natural horror we feel at a human sacrifice, there is nothing to cast the least shade of doubt upon the fact that Jephthah's daughter was offered up as a burnt offering, in accordance with heathen notions, but, as Josephus says, neither "conformably to the law, nor acceptably to God." Most of the early Jewish commentators and all the Christian Fathers for ten or eleven centuries (Origen, Chrysostom, Theo-doret, Jerome, Augustine, etc.) held this view. Luther's comment is, "Some affirm that he did not sacrifice her, but the text is clear enough." She knew. Rather, she had known. After seeking to ensure the help of the Lord by this vow, he went against the Ammonites to fight against them; and the Lord delivered them into his hand, so that Jephthah smote them in a very great slaughter "from Aror (or Nahr Ammn; see Judges 11:26) to the neighbourhood of ('till thou come to;' see at Genesis 10:19) Minnith, (conquering and taking) twenty cities, and to Abel Keramim (of the vineyards)." Minnith, according to the Onom. (s. v. Mennith), was a place called Manith in the time of Eusebius, four Roman miles from Heshbon on the road to Philadelphia, with which the account given by Buckingham of the ruins of a large city a little to the east of Heshbon may be compared (see v. Raum. Pal. p. 265). The situation of Abel Keramim (plain of the vineyards: Luther and Eng. Ver.) cannot be determined with the same certainty. Eusebius and Jerome mention two places of this name (Onom. s. v. Abel vinearum), a villa Abela vinetis consita (κώμη ἀμπελοφόρος Ἄβελ) seven Roman miles from Philadelphia, and a civitas nomine Abela vini fertilis twelve Roman miles to the east of Gadara, and therefore in the neighbourhood of the Mandhur. Which of the two is referred to here remains uncertain, as we have no precise details concerning the battle. If the northern Abela should be meant, Jephthah would have pursued the foe first of all towards the south to the neighbourhood of Heshbon, and then to the north to the border of Bashan. Through his victory the Ammonites were completely subdued before the Israelites.
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