Lange Commentary on the Holy Scriptures
Now Jephthah the Gileadite was a mighty man of valour, and he was the son of an harlot: and Gilead begat Jephthah.The previous history and exile of Jephthah. His recall by the elders of Gilead.
1Now [And] Jephthah the Gileadite was a mighty man of valour [a valiant hero], and he was the son of an harlot: and Gilead begat Jephthah. 2And Gilead’s wife bare him sons; and his [the] wife’s sons grew up, and they thrust [drove] out Jephthah, and said unto him, Thou shalt not inherit in our father’s house; for 3thou art the son of a strange [another] woman. Then [And] Jephthah fled from his brethren, and dwelt in the land of Tob: and there were gathered [there gathered themselves] vain men [lit. empty men, i. e. adventurers]1 to Jephthah, and went out with him. 4And it came to pass in process of [after a considerable] time, that the children [sons] of Ammon made war against [with] Israel. 5And it was so, that when the children [sons] of Ammon made war against [with] Israel, the elders of Gilead went to fetch Jephthah out of the land of Tob: 6And they said unto Jephthah, Come, and be our captain, that we may [and let us] fight with the children [sons] of Ammon. 7And 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? 8And 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 9[sons] 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 [back] again to fight against the children [sons] of Ammon, and the Lord [Jehovah] deliver them before me, shall I [then I will] be your head? [.] 10And the elders of Gilead said unto Jephthah, The Lord [Jehovah] be witness [lit. hearer] between us, if we do not so according to thy words [word]. 11Then Jephthah went with the elders of Gilead, and the people2 made [placed] him [for a] head and captain over them: and Jephthah uttered all his words before the Lord [Jehovah] in Mizpeh [Mizpah].
TEXTUAL AND GRAMMATICAL
[1 Judges 11:3—רֵיקִים. Dr. Cassel here (cf. Judges 9:4) renders, lose Leute, loose, unsettled persons. In his article on “Jephthah” in Herzog’s Real-Encyklopädie, vi. 466, he describes them as—“people who had nothing to lose. The character and condition of such persons is more definitely described in 1 Sam. 22:2, where distressed persons, embarrassed debtors, and men of wild dispositions, are said to have attached themselves to the fugitive David.” To prevent erroneous inferences, it is necessary to add the next sentence: “But that Jephthah, like David, engaged in marauding expeditions, cannot be proved.”—TR.]
[2 Judges 11:11.—הָעָם. Dr. Cassel: Gesammtheit—“the collective body,”—evidently with reference to his previous rendering in Judges 10:18. Cf. note 1, p. 161.—TR.]
EXEGETICAL AND DOCTRINAL
The story of Jephthah is one of the most remarkable episodes of the Sacred Scriptures. But at the same time it is one of those episodes which, from being too exclusively considered in the character of disconnected fragments, have been subjected both anciently and in modern times, to the most singular misapprehensions and distortions. It gives the moral likeness of an Israelitish tribe, in the time of its awakening and return to God. Manasseh is again the coöperating tribe,—not the western half, however, but the eastern, its equal in warlike spirit (1 Chr. 5:24) and strength, but holding a relation to the hero who appears among them different from that formerly held by the other toward Gideon. When Gideon entered on his work, everything depended on his own personality. No divine awakening had preceded, not even in his own city. In his own house, there was an altar to be destroyed. The number of those who deserved to be his followers was only three hundred. Even in the time of his success and greatness, it is he alone who keeps and upholds the divine life in the nation.
The history of Jephthah furnishes a different picture. Gilead too had sinned, but it had repented. The whole people had put away its false gods, before it found its hero. This hero, on his part, finds himself supported by a spiritually awakened tribe, thoroughly animated with the spirit of faith and obedience toward Jehovah. Every part of the picture is projected on a background of true piety. Jephthah is the hero, the leader, the head of the tribe: but he is not the only one whose eyes are fixed on God; the whole tribe, like members of the head, obey the same attraction. It is only because this background was ignored, i. e. because the connection between chapters 10 and 11 was overlooked, that the principal incident in the history of Jephthah has from the earliest times given rise to such singular explanations.
Judges 11:1, 2. And Jephthah the Gileadite was a valiant hero. The same terms were applied to Gideon by the Messenger of God (Judges 6:12). The nobles of Gilead had determined (Judges 10:18) to elect as their leader, him who should give evidence that God is with him, by beginning to wage successful warfare. Thereupon the narrative proceeds: “And Jephthah was a valiant hero.” It was he concerning whom they learned that he answered their description. His history is then related. A noble of Gilead had begotten him by a public harlot, and taken him into his house. The name of the father is unknown. In the statement: “Gilead begat Jephthah;” and also when we read of the “wife of Gilead;” the term “Gilead,” as tribe name, takes the place of the unknown personal name. Not, indeed, as if “Gilead” could not be a personal name; but if it were, Jephthah would have been designated as “son of Gilead,” and not as a “Gileadite,” without any paternal surname, as he is styled at the first mention, when he enters on the scene, and at the last, when he dies (Judges 12:7). This conclusion is strengthened by a comparison with the names of other heroes; with that of his predecessor Gideon, for instance, who is constantly styled the “son of Joash;” and also, among others, with that of one of his successors, “Elon the Zebulonite (Judges 12:11), as to whom there can be no doubt that he was of the tribe of Zebulun, and had no more definite patronymic.—The father, subsequently, had other sons by his lawful wife. These, when they had grown up, and their father had died, expelled Gideon from the house, although the eldest; for, said they,—
Thou art the son of another woman (אַחֶרֶת אִשָּׁה). “Other” is here to be taken in a bad sense, as in the expression “other (acherim) gods.” As those are spurious gods, so “another ishah” is a spurious wife. The expulsion of Jephthah was a base act; for his father had reared him in his house, and left him there, and he was the oldest child. The act cannot be compared with the removal of Ishmael and the sons of Keturah from the house of Abraham. Those the father himself dismissed with presents. But Jephthah’s father had kept him in the house, and had thus signified his purpose to treat him as a son. Nevertheless, Jephthah could obtain no redress from the “elders of Gilead” (Judges 11:7). If he had been the son of one who was properly a wife, his brothers would doubtless have been obliged to admit him to a share in the inheritance; for Rachel, the ancestress of Gilead, had also several co-wives, whose sons—of whom, be it observed in passing, Gad in Gilead was one—inherited as well as Joseph himself. But they maintained that his mother had not been a wife of their father at all, not even one of secondary rank,—that she was nothing but an harlot. On the ground of bastardy, they could drive him out of the house; and at that time, no voice raised itself in Gilead but that of mockery and hatred toward Jephthah. Such being the case he fled.
Judges 11:3. And dwelt in the land of Tob. The name Tob is found again in 2 Sam. 10:6, in connection with a war of the Ammonites against king David. Its subsequent mention in the Books of the Maccabees (I. Judges 5:13; II. 12:17), as Τώβ, Τούβ, affords no material assistance to any attempt at identification. But since Jephthah flees thither as to an asylum; and since adventurers collect about him there, as in a region of safety, whence he is able to make successful expeditions, we may be justified perhaps to hazard a conjecture which would tend to increase our knowledge of the Hauran. Erets tob (אֶרֶץ טוֹב) means good land, and fertile, as Canaan is said to be (Ex. 3:8). The best land in Hauran, still named from its fertility, and with which Wetzstein has made us again acquainted, is the Ruhbeh, in eastern Hauran. Its name signifies, “fertile cornfield.” It is the best land in Syria. It is still the seat of Bedouin tribes, who extend their pillaging expeditions far and wide. Of the present tribes, Wetzstein relates that they frequently combine with the Zubêd, whose name reminds us of the Zabadeans (1 Macc. 12:31). Their land is an excellent place of refuge, difficult of attack, and easily defended.
At the head of adventurous persons whom the report which soon went out concerning his valor, had collected about him, he made warlike expeditions like those of David (1 Sam. 22:2), directed, as David’s were also, against the enemies of his nation. Of the son of Jesse, it is true, we know for certain that, notwithstanding his banishment, he attacked and defeated the Philistines (cf. 1 Sam. 23:1 ff.); but though we have no such direct statements concerning Jephthah, we yet have good grounds for concluding that his expeditions were directed against the Ammonites. For he evinced himself to be a mighty hero; and the Gileaditish nobles had pledged themselves to elect him as their head who should initiate victories over Ammon. Therefore, when their choice falls on Jephthah, it must be because they have heard of his deeds in the land of Tob against this enemy.—Modern writers, especially, have made a real Abällino of Jephthah, steeped in blood and pillage. The character belongs to him as little as to David. Though banished, he was a valiant guerilla chieftain of his people against their enemies. He was the complete opposite of an Abimelech. The latter sought adventurers (רֵיקִים) for a wicked deed; to Jephthah, as to David, they come of their own accord and subordinate themselves to him. Abimelech was without cause an enemy of his father’s house, and dipped his sword in the blood of his own brothers. Jephthah, banished and persecuted by his brothers, turned his strength against the enemies of Israel; and when recalled, cherished neither revenge nor grudge in his heart. Abimelech had fallen away from God; Jephthah was his faithful servant. All this appears from his words and conduct.
Judges 11:4–6. And after a considerable time it came to pass that the sons of Ammon made war with Israel. It was during the time of sin and impenitence, that Jephthah was driven away by violence and hatred. He returned as an elderly man, with a grown-up daughter. The Ammonitish conflict and oppression lasted eighteen years. The flight of Jephthah to Tob occurred probably some time previous to the beginning of these troubles. In the course of these years he had acquired fame, rest, house, and possessions. He had found God, and God was with him. If this were not his character, he would not have met the “elders of Gilead” as he did. Meanwhile, however, another spirit had asserted itself in Gilead also. For it is the sign of new life, that the elders of Gilead do not shun the humiliation of going to Jephthah. To be sure, they must have been informed that he also served no strange gods; for how otherwise could he be of service to them? In any case, however, it was no small matter to go to the hero whom, not his brothers only, but they also, the judges, had once ignominiously driven forth, and now say to him: Come with us, and be our captain! (קָצין: a leader in war, and according to later usage in peace also.)
Judges 11:7–9. And Jephthah said unto the elders of Gilead, Did ye not hate me, and expel me out of my father’s house? The interview between him and the elders affords a striking proof of the subduing influence which the confession of God exercises, even over persons of vigorous and warlike spirits. Jephthah’s speech does not conceal the reproach, that after the hard treatment he received, they should have invited him back before this, not first now when they are in distress. He speaks in a strain similar to that in which the voice of God itself had recently addressed Israel (Judges 10:11).
And nobly do “the elders” answer him. For that very reason, say they, because we are in distress, do we come to thee. Such being the fact, thou wilt surely come. Did matters stand differently, thou wouldest probably (and not unjustly) refuse; but as it is, we call thee to go with us to fight, and be our head over all the inhabitants of Gilead. The satisfaction thus made to Jephthah is indeed great; but the danger and responsibility to which he is invited are not less eminent. His answer, nevertheless, exhibits no longer any trace of sensitiveness or pride. If his tribe call him to fight, he will obey their summons—as all heroes have ever done, who loved their native land. He, however, does it under a yet nobler impulse. Under other circumstances—such is the underlying thought—I would not have come to be your head. If you were now as heretofore, who would wish to come! for far as it is from being a blessing to the trees when the thorn-bush reigns, so far is it from pleasing to a noble mind to rule over thorn-bushes. But since you come to get me to fight with you against Ammon—full of a new spirit, so that I can cherish the hope that God will deliver the enemy before me—I consent to be your head. It is not to be overlooked that Jephthah speaks of “Jehovah,” not of “Elohim,” and that he places the issue in God’s hand; for, as Judges 10 teaches, Gilead had learned to see that only God can help. Jephthah is called because God’s Spirit is recognized in him. Verse 9 has often been taken as a question; a construction which Keil has already, and very properly, rejected.3 The position of affairs has altogether erroneously been so apprehended, as if Jephthah were fearful lest, after victory achieved, they would then no longer recognize him as head, and wished to assure himself on this point beforehand. This view originates in the failure to perceive the spiritual background on which the action is projected. Jephthah is not a man who will be their head at any cost. There is no trace of ambition in his language. He is willing to be their head, if they are such members as will insure the blessing of God. Whoever knows his countrymen as he knew them, and has himself turned to God, will not be willing to be their leader, unless they have become other than they were. For that reason he says: If you bring me back, in order truly and unitedly to fight Ammon, and be worthy of God’s blessing,—in that case, I will be your head. The guaranty of victory is sought by this valiant man, not in his own courage, but in the worthiness of the warriors before God.
Judges 11:10. Jehovah be a hearer between us, if we do not so according to thy word. They invoke God, whom they have penitently supplicated, as witness; they swear by Him that they will do whatever Jephthah will command. They give him thereby a guaranty, not only that as soldiers they will obey their general, but also that in their conduct towards God they will be guided by their leader’s instruction and direction. For not in military discipline only, but much rather in the moral and religious spirit by which Israel is animated, lies his hope of victory.
Judges 11:11. And Jephthah spake all his words before Jehovah in Mizpah. Jephthah goes along; the people—the collective nobility—make him head and leader; but not by means of sin and dishonor, as Abimelech became king. Jephthah receives his appointment from the hand of God. In the spirit of God, he enters on his work. As chieftain, it devolves on him to tell his people what course must be pursued: he does it in the presence of God. It is the ancient God of Israel before whom, at Mizpah, where the people are encamped, he issues his regulations, addresses, and military orders. On Mizpah, see at Judges 11:29.
Keil has justly repelled the idea that the expression לִפְנֵי יְהוָֹה, “before Jehovah,” necessarily implies a solemn sacrificial ceremony. But, on the other hand, the impossibility of such a solemnity cannot be maintained. Whatever the ceremonial may have been, the meaning is, that Jephthah, in speaking all his words before God, thereby confessed Jehovah and his law, in contradistinction to heathenism and idolatry. In the spirit of this confession, he entered on his office.
HOMILETICAL AND PRACTICAL
The manner in which divine compassion fills men with his Spirit, for the salvation of Israel, is wonderful. The inquiry into the origin of the heroes who suddenly arise in Israel, and in nations generally, to deliver and save, is one which leads down into the profoundest depths of divine wisdom. The selection of every Israelitish Judge is a new sign of compassion, but also of corrective chastening. For presumption and self-sufficiency were always at the bottom of their apostasies. Hence, in the selection of the Judges, the admonition to humility becomes continually more urgent. Israel is made to know that God chooses whom He wills, and raises from the dust him whom the people will place at their head. They have already experienced this in the cases of Ehud, the left-handed, of Deborah, a woman, of Gideon, the youngest and least of his family. All these, however, had been well-born persons, connected with the people by normal relations. In Jephthah’s case, the choice becomes still more extraordinary. A bastard, an exile and adventurer, must be gone after. The magnates of the land must humble themselves to bring the exile home, to submit themselves to him, and make him the head of the tribe. That they do it, is proof of their repentance; that the choice is just, is shown by the result.
Thus, many a stone, rejected by the builders, has, typically, even before Christ, become the head of the corner. Unbelief deprives a nation of judgment. To discern spirits, is a work to be done only by an inward life in God. Sin expels whomsoever it cannot overcome; but penitence recalls him, whenever it perceives the ground of its own distress. Only he, however, returns without a grudge in his heart, who shares in the penitence.
STARKE: Men are accustomed to go the nearest way; but God commonly takes a roundabout way, when He designs to make one noble and great.4—THE SAME: Happy he, who in all he speaks and does looks with holy reverence, even though it be not expressed in words, to the omniscient and omnipresent God; for this is the true foundation of all faithfulness and integrity.
[BP. HALL: The common gifts of God respect not the parentage or blood, but are indifferently scattered where He pleases to let them fall. The choice of the Almighty is not guided by our rules: as in spiritual, so in earthly things, it is not in him that willeth.—SCOTT: As the sins of parents so often occasion disgrace and hardship to their children, this should unite with higher motives, to induce men to govern their passions according to the law of God.—BUSH: The pretense of legal right, is often a mere cover to the foulest wrongs and injuries.—HENRY: The children of Israel were assembled and encamped, Judges 10:17; but, like a body without a head, they owned they could not light without a commander. So necessary it is to all societies that there be some to rule, and others to obey, rather than that every man be his own master. Blessed be God for government, for a good government!—BP. HALL (on Judges 11:7): Can we look for any other answer from God than this? Did ye not drive me out of your houses, out of your hearts, in the time of your health and jollity? Did ye not plead the strictness of, my charge, and the weight of my yoke? Did not your willful sins expel me from your souls? What do you now, crouching and creeping to me in the evil day?—TR.]
1[Judges 11:3—רֵיקִים. Dr. Cassel here (cf. Judges 9:4) renders, lose Leute, loose, unsettled persons. In his article on “Jephthah” in Herzog’s Real-Encyklopädie, vi. 466, he describes them as—“people who had nothing to lose. The character and condition of such persons is more definitely described in 1 Sam. 22:2, where distressed persons, embarrassed debtors, and men of wild dispositions, are said to have attached themselves to the fugitive David.” To prevent erroneous inferences, it is necessary to add the next sentence: “But that Jephthah, like David, engaged in marauding expeditions, cannot be proved.”—TR.]
2[Judges 11:11.—הָעָם. Dr. Cassel: Gesammtheit—“the collective body,”—evidently with reference to his previous rendering in Judges 10:18. Cf. note 1, p. 161.—TR.]
3[Keil observes that the reply of the elders in Judges 11:10, כִּדְבָרְךָ כֵּן נַעְשֶׂד, “presupposes an affirmative, not an interrogative utterance on the part of Jephthah.” The אָנֹכִי (Judges 11:9) is simply the emphatic correlative of the preceding אַתֵּם.—TR.]
4[Judges 11:13.—Dr. Cassel omits “Because.” כִּי, in this place, may be either the sign of a direct quotation, as which it would be sufficiently indicated by a colon after “Jephthah”; or a causal conjunction (E. V., De Wette). If the latter, the sentence is elliptical: “We have much to do with each other,” or, “I am come to fight against thee,” because, etc.—TR.]
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?Jephthah’s diplomatic negotiations with the king of Ammon
12And Jephthah sent messengers unto the king of the children [sons] of Ammon, saying, What hast thou to do with me [What is there between me and thee], that thou art come against [unto] me to fight in my land? 13And the king of the children [sons] of Ammon answered unto the messengers of Jephthah, Because5 Israel took away my land, when they [he] came up out of Egypt, from Arnon even unto [the] Jabbok, and unto [the] Jordan: now therefore restore those lands again peaceably. 14And Jephthah sent messengers again unto the king of the children 15[sons] of Ammon: And said unto him, Thus saith Jephthah, Israel took not away 16the land of Moab, nor the land of the children [sons] of Ammon: But [For] when Israel [they] came up from Egypt, and [then Israel] walked through the wilderness 17unto the Red Sea, and came to Kadesh; [.] Then [And] Israel6 sent messengers unto the king of Edom, saying, Let me, I pray thee, pass through thy land:7 but the king of Edom would not hearken [hearkened not] thereto. And in like manner they sent unto the king of Moab; but he would not consent. And Israel abode in Kadesh. 18Then they went along through the wilderness, and compassed8 the land of Edom, and the land of Moab, and came by [on] the east side9 of [to] the land of Moab, and pitched [encamped] on the other [yonder] side of Arnon, but came not within the border of Moab: for Arnon was [is] the border of Moab.10 19And Israel sent messengers unto Sihon king of the Amorites,11 the king of Heshbon; and Israel said unto him, Let us pass, we pray thee, through thy land12 unto my place. 20But Sihon trusted not Israel to pass through his coast [territory]: but Sihon gathered all his people together,13 and [they] pitched [encamped] in Jahaz, and [he] fought against [with] Israel.14 21And the Lord [Jehovah, the] God of Israel delivered Sihon and all his people into the hand of Israel, and they smote them;15 so [and] Israel possessed [took possession of, i. e. conquered] all the land of the Amorites, the inhabitants of that country. 22And they possessed [conquered] all the coasts [the entire territory] of the Amorites, from Arnon even unto [the] Jabbok, and from the wilderness even unto [the] Jordan. 23So now the Lord [Jehovah, the] God of Israel hath dispossessed the Amorites from before his people Israel, and shouldest thou possess [dispossess]16 it [i. e. the people Israel]? 24Wilt not thou possess that which Chemosh thy god giveth thee to possess? So whomsoever [whatsoever] the Lord [Jehovah] our God shall drive out from 25before us [shall give us to possess], them [that] will we possess. And now art thou any thing better than Balak the son of Zippor king of Moab? did he ever strive 26against [litigate with]17 Israel, or did he ever fight against them, [?] While [Since] Israel dwelt in Heshbon and her towns [daughter-cities], and in Aroer [Aror] and her towns [daughter-cities], and in all the cities that be along by the coasts [banks] of Arnon [there have passed] three hundred years? [;] why therefore did ye not recover them within that time? 27Wherefore I have not sinned against thee, but thou doest me wrong to war against me: the Lord [Jehovah] the Judge be judge this day between 28the children [sons] of Israel and the children [sons] of Ammon. Howbeit, the king of the children [sons] of Ammon hearkened not unto the words of Jephthah which he sent him.
TEXTUAL AND GRAMMATICAL
[1 Judges 11:13.—Dr. Cassel omits “Because.” כִּי, in this place, may be either the sign of a direct quotation, as which it would be sufficiently indicated by a colon after “Jephthah”; or a causal conjunction (E. V., De Wette). If the latter, the sentence is elliptical: “We have much to do with each other,” or, “I am come to fight against thee,” because, etc.—TR.]
[2 Judges 11:23.—תִּירָשֶׁנּרּ, lit. “seize him.” “The construction of יָרַשׁ with the accusative of the people,” says Keil, “arises from the fact that in order to seize upon a land, it is necessary first to overpower the people that inhabits it.” Both he and Bertheau, however, refer the suffix to “the Amorite,” and are then obliged to make the Amorite stand for the “land of the Amorite.”—TR.]
[3 Judges 11:25.—רִיב, to contend in words, to plead before a judge. Dr. Cassel translates by rechten, to litigate, which must here of course be taken in a derivative sense.—TR.]
EXEGETICAL AND DOCTRINAL
Judges 11:12. The peaceable negotiations into which Jephthah, before he proceeds to war, enters with Ammon, demonstrate—and the less successful such efforts usually are, the more characteristically—the truly God-fearing character of the new chieftain. The Ammonites were a strong and valiant people (cf. Num. 21.; Deut. 2:20, 21); but it was not on this account that he sought to negotiate with them once more. The Ammonites were descended from Lot, the nephew of Abraham; and Israel, on their journey to Canaan, had not been allowed to assail them (Deut. 2:19). Jephthah, before he draws the sword, wishes to free himself from every liability to be truthfully charged with the violation of ancient and sacred prescriptions. He desires to have a clear, divine right to war, in case Ammon will not desist from its hostile purposes. He hopes for victory, not through strength of arms, but through the righteousness of his cause. This he would secure; so that he may leave it to God to decide between the parties.
What is there between me and thee, וָלָךְ מַה־לִּי. A proverbial form of speech, which may serve the most divergent states of mind to express and introduce any effort to repel and ward off. While it might here be rendered, “What wilt thou? what have I done to thee?” in the mouth of the prophet Elisha, repelling the unholy king (2 Kgs. 3:13), it means, “How comest thou to me? I know thee not!” and in that of the woman whose sorrow for the loss of her child breaks out afresh when she sees Elijah (1 Kgs. 17:18), “Alas, let me alone, stay away!” The Gospel translates it by τί ἐμοὶ καὶ σοί; in which form it appears in the celebrated passage, John 2:4, where Jesus speaks to Mary. But it has there not the harsh sense, “What have I to do with thee!” (which it has not even here in the message of Jephthah), but only expresses a hurried request for silence, for his “hour was not yet come.”
Judges 11:13. Israel took away my land. For a question of right, Ammon, like other robbers and conquerors, was not at all prepared; but since it is put, the hostile king cannot well evade it. Reasons, however, have never been wanting to justify measures of violence. Although unacquainted with the arts of modern state-craft, ancient nations, as well as those of later times, understood how to base the demands of their desires on historical wrongs. Only, such claims, when preferred by nations like the Ammonites, usually did not wear even the appearance of truth. The king of Ammon seeks to excuse his present war against Israel, by asserting that when Israel came up out of Egypt they took from him the territory between Arnon, Jabbok, and Jordan, about coextensive with the inheritance of Reuben and Gad. It was utterly untrue. For when Israel went forth out of Egypt, this territory was in the hands of Sihon, king of the Amorites, who ruled in Heshbon (Num. 21). This king, it is true, had obtained it by conquest; but not so much from Ammon as from Moab, even though some connection of the Ammonites with the conquered lands is to be inferred from Josh. 13:25. Israel itself had fought with neither Moab nor Ammon, taken nothing from them, nor even crossed their borders.
Jephthah does not fail to reduce this false pretense to its nothingness; for it was of the utmost importance in his view to make it manifest that the war, on the side of the Ammonites, was thoroughly unjust. The memoir which he sends to the king of Ammon, is as clear as it is instructive. It shows the existence of a historical consciousness in the Israel of that day, asserting itself as soon as the people became converted to God. For only a believing people is instructed and strengthened by history. Jephthah unfolds a piece of the history of Israel in the desert. It has been asked, in what relation the statements here made stand to those contained in the Pentateuch. The answer is, that the message of Jephthah makes a free use of the statements of the Pentateuch.
Judges 11:15–28. Thus saith Jephthah. This introduction to Judges 11:15 already indicates the free combination by Jephthah, of statements derived from the ancient records. That which is of peculiar interest in this document, and strongly evinces its originality, is, that while the turns of the language and the various verbal repetitions (already pointed out in the text) indicate the source whence it was borrowed, its departures from that source evidence the freedom with which the material is used for the end in view. Nothing is said which is not contained in the Pentateuch; only a few facts, of present pertinence, are brought forward and freely emphasized. Bertheau is inaccurate, when he thinks that the statement in Judges 11:17, concerning Israel’s sending to Moab to ask for passage through their land and Moab’s refusal, is altogether new. For in the first place the perfect equality of Edom and Moab as regards the policy pursued towards them by Moses, is already intimated in Deut. 2:9; and in the next place, Judges 11:29 of the same chapter makes Moses request Sihon to give a passage to Israel through his land, and that he will not do “as the sons of Esau and the Moabites did,” to wit, deny them. That which connects Judges 11:29 with Judges 11:28 (Deut. 2), is not that Esau and Moab had granted what Moses now requests of Sihon, but that they had not allowed his petition, by reason of which he is compelled to demand it of Sihon.18 Here, therefore, it is plainly intimated, that Moab also refused a passage. This fact, Jephthah clothes in his own language, and weaves into his exact narrative with the selfsame design with which Moses alluded to it in the passage already quoted, namely, to prove that Israel was compelled by necessity to take its way through the land of the Amorite. The same tracing of events to their causes, leads Jephthah in Judges 11:20 to say of Sihon: “he trusted not Israel,” whereas Num. 21:23 merely says: “he permitted not.” Jephthah seeks to give additional emphasis to the fact, that if Sihon lost his land, the fault lay not with Israel. Sihon could not but see that no other passage remained for Israel; but he refused to credit the peaceable words of Moses. His distrust was his ruin. Further: instead of the expression, “until I pass over Jordan, into the land which Jehovah our God giveth us” (Deut. 2:29), Jephthah writes, “let us pass through thy land to my place.” At that time, he means to say, the Canaan this side the Jordan was Israel’s destination; for not till after that—and this is why he changes the phraseology—did God give us Canaan beyond the Jordan also. For the same reason he substitutes “Israel” for “Moses” in the expression, “And Moses sent messengers” (Num. 20:14). Over against Ammon, he brings Israel into view as a national personality.
On the basis of this historical review, Jephthah in a few sentences places the unrighteousness of his demands before the king of Ammon. What, therefore, Jehovah our God allowed us to conquer—that thou wilt possess? thou, who hadst no claims to it at any time, since, properly speaking, it was never thine? If any party could maintain a claim, it was Moab; but Balak, the king of Moab, never raised it, nor did he make war on that account. The conquest, by virtue of which Israel held the land, was not the result of wrongful violence, but of a war rashly induced by the enemy himself. God gave the victory and the land. A more solid title than that which secures to Israel the country between the Arnon and the Jabbok, there cannot be. Or has Ammon a better for his own possession? Were they not taken by force of arms from the Zamzummim (Deut. 2:21)? or, as Jephthah expresses it, “were they not given thee by Chemosh, thy god?” He makes use of Ammon’s own form of thought and expression. Chemosh (the desolater, from כָּבַשׁ = כָּמַשׁ) is the God of War. As such, he can here represent the god of Ammon, although usually regarded as the Moabitish deity; for it is the martial method in which Ammon obtained his land on which the stress is laid. Chemosh is war personified, hence especially honored by the Moabites, whose Ar Moab, the later Areopolis, is evidently related to the Greek Ares19 (Mars). Hence also the representation of him on extant specimens of ancient Areopolitan coins, where he appears with a sword in his right, and a lance and shield in his left hand, with torches on either side (Eckhel, Doctr. Nummor, iii. 394; Movers, Phönizier, i. 334).
Jephthah is sincere in this reference to the title by which Ammon holds his land. He does not dispute a claim grounded on ancient conquest. For in Deut. 2:21, also, it is remarked, from a purely Israelitish point of view, that “Jehovah gave the land to the sons of Ammon for a possession.” Quite rightly too; inasmuch as Jehovah is the God of all nations. But as Jephthah desires to speak intelligibly and forcibly to Ammon, who does not understand the world-wide government of Jehovah, he connects the same sentiment with the name of Chemosh, to whom Ammon traces back his warlike deeds and claims.20 He thereby points out, in the most striking and conclusive manner, that if Ammon refuses to recognize the rights of Israel to its territory, he at the same time undermines, in principle, his own right to the country he inhabits. Aside from this, 300 years have passed since Israel first dwelt in Heshbon, Aroer, and on the banks of the Arnon. The statement exhibits a fine geographical arrangement: Heshbon, as capital of the ancient kingdom, is put first; then, to the north of it, Aroer (or Aror, probably so called to distinguish it from the southern Aroer) in Gad, over against the capital of Ammon; and finally, in the south, the cities on the Arnon. Possession, so long undisputed, cannot now be called in question. Jephthah concludes, therefore, that on his side no wrong had been committed; but Ammon seeks a quarrel—may God decide between them! But Ammon hearkened not—a proof how little the best and most righteous state papers avail, when men are destitute of good intentions. On the other hand, let this exposition of Jephthah be a model for all litigating nations, and teach them not only to claim, but truly to have, right and justice on their side. For God, the judge, is witness and hearer for all.
HOMILETICAL AND PRACTICAL
[P. H. S.: Jephthah as Diplomatist—a noble model for modern imitation. His document is, 1. Straightforward and convincing by its truthfulness; 2. Firm in its maintenance of righteous claims; yet, withal, 3. Winning and conciliating in its tone.—The most upright diplomacy may fail to avert war; but it is nevertheless powerful for the right. Israel doubtless fought better, and with higher feelings, when it saw the righteousness of its cause so nobly set forth; while the enemy must have been proportionably depressed by convictions of an opposite character.—Jephthah’s diplomacy as contrasted with that of the king of Moab. Alas, that representatives of Christian nations should so often imitate the heathen king rather than the Hebrew Judge, and that Christian nations should uphold them in it!
HENRY: Jephthah did not delight in war, though a mighty man of valor, but was willing to prevent it by a peaceable accommodation. War should be the last remedy, not to be used till all other methods of ending matters in variance have been tried in vain. This rule should also be observed in going to law. The sword of justice, as the sword of war, must not be appealed to till the contending parties have first endeavored by gentler means to understand one another, and to accommodate matters in variance (1 Cor. 6:1).—THE SAME: (on Judges 11:17, 18): Those that conduct themselves inoffensively, may take the comfort of it, and plead it against those that charge them with injustice and wrong. Our righteousness will answer for us in time to come, and will “put to silence the ignorance of foolish men.”—THE SAME: One instance of the honor and respect we owe to God, as our God, is, rightly to possess that which He gives us to possess, receive it from Him, use it for Him, keep it for his sake, and part with it when He calls for it.—THE SAME: (on Judges 11:27, 28): War is an appeal to heaven, to God the Judge of all, to whom the issues of it belong. If doubtful rights be disputed, He is thereby requested to determine them; if manifest rights be invaded or denied, He is thereby applied to to vindicate what is just, and punish what is wrong. As the sword of justice was made for lawless and disobedient persons (1 Tim. 1:9), so was the sword of war for lawless and disobedient princes and nations. In war, therefore, the eye must be ever up to God; and it must always be thought a dangerous thing to desire or expect that God should patronize unrighteousness.—TR.]
5[BP. HALL: “Men love to go the nearest way, and often fail. God commonly goes about, and in his own time comes surely home.”—TR.]
6Judges 11:17.—The words printed in blackfaced type are found in Num. 20. and 21. The first part of Judges 11:17 is from Num. 20:14, except that there “Moses” takes the place of “Israel.” On the other hand, the expression, “Thus saith thy brother Israel,” there used, is here wanting.
7Judges 11:17.—Num. 20:17; only, “let me pass,” is there read, “let us pass.”
8Judges 11:18.—Num. 21:4 has לִםְבֹּב.
9Judges 11:18.—Num 21:11
10Judges 11:18.—Num. 21:13.
11Judges 11:19.—Num. 21:21.
12Judges 11:19.—Num. 21:22 has אֶעְבְּרָה for נָּא נַעְבְּרָה־.
13Judges 11:20.—Num. 21:23.
14Judges 11:20.—Num. 21:23, the words “they encamped” being substituted for “he came.”
15Judges 11:21.—Num. 21:24; “Israel smote him.”
16[Judges 11:23.—תִּירָשֶׁנּרּ, lit. “seize him.” “The construction of יָרַשׁ with the accusative of the people,” says Keil, “arises from the fact that in order to seize upon a land, it is necessary first to overpower the people that inhabits it.” Both he and Bertheau, however, refer the suffix to “the Amorite,” and are then obliged to make the Amorite stand for the “land of the Amorite.”—TR.]
17[Judges 11:25.—רִיב, to contend in words, to plead before a judge. Dr. Cassel translates by rechten, to litigate, which must here of course be taken in a derivative sense.—TR.]
18[This interpretation of Deut. 2:29, which would clear it of all appearance of conflict with Num. 20:14–20, is unfortunately not supported by the language of the original. The natural rendering of the text is substantially that of the E. V.: “Thou shalt sell me food for money, that I may eat; and thou shalt give me water for money, that I may drink; only I will pass through on my feet: as did unto me the sons of Esau who dwell in Seir, and the Moabites who dwell in Ar: until I pass over Jordan, into the land which Jehovah our God giveth us.” The reader’s first thought is, that the conduct of Edom and Moab is referred to as a precedent covering both parts of the present request to Sihon: “Sell me food and grant me a passage—as Edom and Moab did, so do thou.” But history relates that Edom denied a passage, and that Israel made a detour around the Edomite territories. May we then regard the precedent as referring only to the matter of supplies? and the clause which recalls it to the memory of Sihon, as occupying a place after that which a logical arrangement of the clauses would assign it? This supposition, by no means unlikely in itself, seems to be favored by the construction of the sentence. It does not, however, relieve the passage of all difficulty. For it still leaves the implication that Edom and Moab sold food and water to Israel, whereas according to Num. 20:20 they refused to do that also. Keil therefore argues that this refusal was made when Israel was on the western boundary of Edom, where the character of the mountains made it easy to repulse an army; but that when Israel had reached their eastern boundary, where the mountains sink down into vast elevated plains, and present no difficulty to an invading army, the Edomites took counsel of prudence, and instead of offering hostilities to the Israelites, contented themselves with the profitable sale of what would otherwise have been taken by force. This is at least a plausible explanation, although not founded on historical evidence, unless, what is by no means improbable, Deut. 2:2–9 is designed to explain the course of actual events by a statement of divine instructions.—TR.]
19Hence, the name Aroer proves also that the worship of the “War-god” obtained in Ammon as well as in Moab. For a city of that name existed in the territories of each of these nations.
20[WORDSWORTH: “It does not seem that Jephthah is here using the language of insult to the Ammonites, but is giving them a courteous reply. He appears to recognize Chemosh as a local deity; and he speaks of the Lord as the God of Israel, and as our God; and calls Israel his people. He regards Him [speaks of Him?] as a national deity, but does not claim universal dominion for Him.”—TR.]
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.Jephthah proceeds to the conflict. He vows a vow unto Jehovah
29Then the Spirit of the Lord [Jehovah] came upon Jephthah, and he passed over [through] Gilead, and [namely,] Manasseh, and passed over [through] Mizpeh of Gilead [Mizpeh-Gilead], and from Mizpeh of Gilead [Mizpeh-Gilead] he passed over unto [against] the children [sons] of Ammon. 30And Jephthah vowed a vow unto the Lord [Jehovah], and said, If thou shalt without fail21 deliver the children 31[sons] of Ammon into mine hands, Then it shall be, that whatsoever cometh forth [out] of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the children [sons] of Ammon, shall surely be the Lord’s [Jehovah’s], and I will offer it 32up for a burnt-offering. So [And] Jephthah passed over unto the children [sons] of Ammon to fight against them: and the Lord [Jehovah] delivered them into his hands. 33And he smote them from Aroer even till thou come to Minnith, even twenty cities, and unto the plain of the vineyards [unto Abel Keramim], with a very great slaughter. Thus the children [sons] of Ammon were subdued before the children [sons] of Israel.
TEXTUAL AND GRAMMATICAL
[1 Judges 11:30.—It would be better, perhaps, with Dr. Cassel to omit the words “without fail.” The Hebrew infinitive before the finite verb serves to intensify the latter; but the endeavor to give its value in a translation, is very apt to result in the suggestion of thoughts or shades of thought foreign to the original. Cf. Ges. Gram. 131, 3, a.—TR.]
EXEGETICAL AND DOCTRINAL
Judges 11:29, 33. Noble words are followed by splendid deeds. It is, however, no easy matter to determine the geographical arena in which the history of Jephthah is enacted. The sons of Israel, according to Judges 10:17, assembled themselves in Mizpah. To Mizpah also, Jephthah is brought from the land of Tob: and there he utters his words before Jehovah (Judges 11:11). This Mizpah cannot be identical with Mizpeh-Gilead; for, according to Judges 11:29, Jephthah “proceeded—namely, from Mizpah—through Gilead, even through that part of it which belonged to Manasseh, thence to Mizpeh-Gilead, and from Mizpeh-Gilead against the sons of Ammon.” The position of Mizpeh-Gilead may be probably determined. According to Josh. 13:26, there was in the territory of Gad a place called Ramath ha-Mizpeh. This place, the same doubtless which is elsewhere called Ramoth-Gilead (1 Kgs. 4:13) and Ramoth in Gilead (Josh. 21:38), a possession of the Levites, and distinguished as a city of refuge (Josh. 21:8 ff.), is with great probability referred to the site of the present es-Salt, in modern times the only important place south of the Jabbok, the central point of the Belka, and meeting-place of all its roads (Ritter, xv. 1122). Being built around the sides of a steep hill, which is still crowned with a castle, this place answers very well to a city bearing the name Ramoth (Height). It is still a place of refuge; and, as Seetzen relates, those who flee thither, are, according to ancient custom, protected by the inhabitants, even at the risk of their own lives. Now, as Ramoth ha-Mizpeh may be compared with es-Salt, so Mizpeh or ha-Mizpeh Gilead with what in modern times is called el-Belka.22 If this be allowed, the point of departure of Jephthah’s course of victory is plain. From Mizpeh-Gilead he pressed forward against the enemy, and smote him “from Aroer” (Judges 11:33). Now, according to Josh. 13:25, Aroer lay over against Rabbath Ammon (at present Ammân), the capital of the Ammonites, and its position may therefore not improperly be compared with that of the modern Aireh. The places “unto” which Jephthah smote the enemy, Minnith and Abel Keramim, can scarcely be discovered. They only indicate the wealth and cultivation of the now desolate land. Minnith supplied Tyre with wheat (Ezek. 27:17). As to Abel Keramim (Meadow of Vineyards), it implies the vicinity of the Ammonitish capital, whose ruins, and also many of its coins, still exhibit the grape-bunch prominent among their ornaments (Ritter, xv. 1152, 1157). But with all this, Mizpah, whence Jephthah and his men set out to go to es-Salt and Aireh, pursuing their march through Gilead, more definitely, through the Gilead of Manasseh, north of the Jabbok, remains yet undetermined. Although it does not occur again, it muse yet have been a place of some importance. Inasmuch as it has a name which characterizes its situation only in a general way, it may in later times have borne a different one. It seems to agree most nearly with what in Josh. 11:3 is called the “land of Mizpeh,”—“the Hivite under Hermon in the land of Mizpeh.” For, as is also stated 1 Chr. 5:23, “the half tribe of Manasseh dwelt in the land of Bashan, as far as Baal-Hermon, and Senir, and Mt. Hermon.” Now, the Pella of later times, so named on account of the similarity of its situation to the Macedonian city of the same name—it lay on a height, surrounded by water—is said formerly to have been called Butis, still in agreement with the Macedonian city, which lay in the district Bottiæis. A similarity of sound between the name Butis and Mizpah could only then be found, if it might be assumed that as Timnah was also called Timnatah, so Mizpah had also been called Mizpatah. It would at all events be worth while to fix, even conjecturally, upon the place where the great hero prepared himself for his victory. As he enters on the conflict, the Spirit of Jehovah rests upon him. He has given the decision into Jehovah’s hands; he looks to Him for victory; and to Him he makes a vow.
Judges 11:30–32. This vow has been the subject of the most singular misapprehensions; and yet, rightly understood, it crowns the deep piety of this hero of God. Jephthah perceives the full significance of the course on which he decides. He knows how greatly victory will strengthen faith in God throughout all the tribes. He sees a new Israel rise up. The people have trustingly committed themselves to his leadership, and he has uttered all his “words before Jehovah.” In this state of mind, he bows himself before his God (1 Sam. 1:28), and makes a vow.23 To the national spirit which expresses itself in the Bible, vows are the signs and expression of the deepest self-surrender to God. Jacob makes vows to be fulfilled on his prosperous return home (Gen. 28:20 ff.). In the Psalms, “to pay one’s vows,” has become synonymous with “to live in God” (Ps. 61:8; 116:16 ff). The prophet describes the coming salvation of the nations by saying that they shall “make vows and perform them” (Isa. 19:21). And this idea is deeply grounded in truth: for in the vows which man makes to God, there is evidently expressed a living faith in the divine omnipotence and omniscience. Man expects from Him, and would fain give to Him. The more one feels himself to have received from God, the more will he desire to consecrate to Him. Such is the feeling under which Jephthah makes his vow to Jehovah. He promises that if God grant him victory, and he return home crowned with success, “then that which goeth forth from the doors of my house to meet me, shall be Jehovah’s, and I will present it as a whole burnt-offering.” He makes this vow from the fullness of his conviction that victory belongs to God alone, and from the fullness of his love, which would give to God that which belongs to Him as the author of success. He would make it known to God, that he regards Him, and not himself, as the commander-in-chief. There exists, therefore, a profound connection between the words, “when I return in peace from the sons of Ammon,” and the expression, “whatsoever cometh forth to meet me;” and it is essential to the right understanding of the vow that this be borne in mind. Victory will awaken great rejoicings among the people. They will meet the returning victor with loud acclamations of gladness. They will receive him with gifts and adornments, with garlands and dances. Such receptions were customary among all nations. The multitude scattered roses, myrtles,24 and perfumes. Similar customs obtained in Israel (1 Sam. 18:6). Jephthah will be celebrated and praised. But not to him—to God, belongs the honor! That which is consecrated to him, belongs, wholly and entirely, to God. This is the first ground of his vow. Jephthah’s overflowing heart knows not what to consecrate. He feels that nothing is sufficient to be presented to God. But all things are subject to God’s disposal. Therefore, whatever comes forth over the threshold of his house to meet him, when he returns victorious,—it shall be for God. He will have no part in it. By this first ground of the vow, its analogy with heathen narratives is so far limited, that there is here no talk of a sacrifice to consist of just the first25 whom he meets, and the first alone. Nor is it necessary to assume that הַיּוֹצֵא אֶשֶׁר יֵצֵא, “that which goeth forth,” must be understood to mean only one person. It is as little necessary as that in Num. 30:3 (2), where vows are treated of, the words הַיּוֹצֵא מִפִּיו, “that which proceedeth out of his mouth,” must mean one word. The participle is in the singular on account of its neutral signification. This indefiniteness is the peculiar characteristic of the votive formula. Equally indefinite is the meaning of the verb יֵצֵא (“goeth forth”), which may be used of persons and things, men and animals (cf. Gen. 9:10). But the occasion of the vow shows also that Jephthah must have thought of persons as coming forth to meet him. At all events, he cannot have thought that precisely a lamb or an ox would come forth from his doors to meet him. Notwithstanding the breadth of the vow, notwithstanding all its indefiniteness, which is left, as it were, to be filled out by God himself, the chieftain must have thought of persons coming to meet him; for they come forth on account of the victory, and for that reason may be given to God who gives the triumph. Doubtless, the abundance of his love is as boundless as that of his faith. As little as he analyzes the latter, by which God’s victorious might enters his heart, so little does his vow separate and individualize the objects of the former. He calculates not—raises no difficulties: whatever comes to meet him, that he will give to God. But as surely as this does not include things beyond the range of possible contingencies, so surely must he have had some thoughts as to who might meet him on a victorious return home. And if he was aware that not only oxen and lambs might come out to meet him—for such a limitation would contradict the breadth of the vow itself—he was equally aware that not everything which might come forth, could be offered up like oxen and lambs.
Due stress being laid on the fact that the meeting is contemplated as one taking place in consequence of victory, there is suggested, for the further understanding of the vow, a second point of view, not yet properly considered. Jephthah’s war is a national war against Ammon. The freedom and rights, which Israel had received from Jehovah, are thereby vindicated. The negotiations about the claims to certain lands, set up by Ammon, and refuted by Jephthah, have not been related in vain. They exhibit the God of Israel in his absolute greatness, over against Chemosh, the false deity of the Ammonites. Israel has repented; and it is not one man, but the whole tribe, that is represented as beseeching Jehovah for help. To bring out this contrast between Jehovah and the gods of the heathen, the history of Israel, which rests on the power and will of Jehovah, is referred to in a free and living way. Jephthah is conversant with the divine record. He calls on Jehovah to decide as judge between himself and Ammon (Judges 11:27), just as in his dealings with the Gileadites he appeals to Him as “Hearer” (ver.11). He utters his words “before Jehovah,” and the “Spirit of Jehovah” comes upon him. The name “Elohim” is not used,—for that Ammon considers applicable to his gods also,—but always that name which involves the distinctive faith of Israel, namely, Jehovah. All through, Jephthah is represented as familiar with the Mosaic institutes, and imbued with their spirit; and this just because the history deals with a national war against Ammon. The vow also, which Jephthah makes, is modeled by this contrast between Israel and Ammon. The tribes descended from Lot are especially notorious for the nature of their idolatrous worship. The abominations practiced by Ammon and Moab in honor of Milcom (as they called Molech) and Chemosh, are sufficiently familiar from the history of Israel under the kings (1 Kgs. 11:7, etc.). The sacrifice of human beings, particularly children, formed a terrible part of their worship. They burned and slaughtered those whom they loved, in token of devotion and surrender to the dreaded demon. The same practices were generally diffused among the Phœnicians (cf. Movers, i. 302). On great national occasions, such as war or pestilence, parents vowed to sacrifice their children on the public altars. In the Second Book of Kings (Judges 3:27) we have the horrible story of the king of Moab, who slaughtered his eldest son on the walls of his city. Without entering farther into this terrible superstition, the explanation of which by Movers is not exhaustive, thus much it is necessary to say here: that the sacrifices it required were regarded by the nations who offered them, as the highest expression of their self-surrender to the idol-god. Hence, it is only upon the background of this practice, that the offering of Isaac by Abraham can be rightly understood. Abraham is put to the proof, whether he will show the same free and obedient self-surrender. As soon as he has done that, it is made clear that such sacrifices God does not desire.
A similar contrast is unquestionably exhibited in the vow of Jephthah; only, here the reference is specially to Ammon. Jephthah appears before Jehovah with devotion and readiness to make sacrifices not inferior to that of which idolaters boast themselves. He promises to present to God whatever shall come to meet him. In the form of a vow, and with indefinite fullness, he declares his readiness to resign whatsoever God himself, by his providential orderings, shall mark out. It is precisely in this that the conscious opposition of the vow to the abominable sacrifices of the Ammonites expresses itself. The highest self-abnegation is displayed; but in connection with it, the will of God is sought after. God himself will determine what is acceptable to Him; and Jephthah knows that this God has said: “When thou art come into the land which Jehovah thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not learn to do after the abominations of those nations. There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire (which was the Molech-worship of the Ammonites); .… for every one that doeth these things, is an abomination unto Jehovah; and because of these abominations doth Jehovah thy God drive them out from before thee” (Deut. 18:9 ff). To the expulsion of the nations by God, in favor of Israel, Jephthah26 himself formerly appealed. We conclude, therefore, that the very formula of this vow, made on the eve of war with Ammon, excludes the idea of a human sacrifice.
The sacrificial system of Israel stands throughout in marked contrast with the Canaanitish Molech service. Its animal sacrifices are the spiritual symbols which it opposes to the abominations of Canaan. To see this, it is only necessary to refer once more to the sacrifice of Abraham. God says to him: Offer me Isaac for a whole burnt-offering (לְעֹלָה); and when Abraham is about to give Isaac wholly up, an animal is substituted for him (Gen. 22:2, 10 ff.). Since that time, עֹלָה (burnt-offering or whole burnt-offering) is the typical and technical term for an animal sacrifice, symbolical of perfect surrender and consecration to God. The offerings which were thus named, were wholly consumed by fire. Nothing was left of them. Hence, precisely עֹלָה, in its sense of animal sacrifice, presented a strong contrast with the worship of the Ammonites, for among them human beings were offered up in the same manner as the Israelites offered animals.
When Gideon is directed to destroy the altar of Baal, he is at the same time commanded to offer a bullock as a whole burnt-offering (עוֹלָה) on an altar to be erected by himself, and to consume it with the wood of the Asherah (Judges 6:26).27 Such also is the whole burnt-offering (עֹלָה), to offer which permission is given to Manoah, the father of Samson, without any mention being made of the animal (Judges 13:16). The influence of worship on language in Israel, brought it about that עָלָה, to offer, signifies the offering of an animal which is to be wholly consumed in the sacred fire. It is therefore significant and instructive, when in Jephthah’s vow we find the expression: “It shall be Jehovah’s, and I will present it as a whole burnt offering (עֹלָה). in no other instance in which the bringing of a whole burnt-offering is spoken of, is the additional expression, “it shall be Jehovah’s,” made use of, not even in the instances of Gideon and Manoah, although this of Jephthah is chronologically enclosed between them. How strangely would it have sounded, if it had been said to Gideon: “Take the bullock; it shall belong to Jehovah, and thou shalt present it as a whole burnt-offering. For the bullock is presented in order that Gideon may belong to God. It is offered, not for itself, but for men. It is placed on the altar of God, just because it is the property of man. It is foreign to the spirit of Biblical language and life to say of a sacrificial animal, “it shall belong to God,” for the reason that the animal comes to hold a religious relation to God, only because it belongs to man, and is offered in man’s behalf. An animal belonging to God, in s religious sense, without being offered up, is inconceivable. At least, it cannot be permitted to live.
Very important for this subject, is the passage in Ex. 13:12, 13. It is there commanded that, when Israel shall have come into Canaan, every first-born shall be set apart unto Jehovah, both the firstlings of every beast “which thou hast” (אֲשֶׁר יִהְיֶה לְךָ), and the first-born of man. The firstling of such animals as cannot be offered, the ass, for instance, is to be redeemed with money; or, if the owner do not wish to redeem it, he must kill it. The first-born of man, however, must be redeemed. The first-born animal is moreover set apart for God only on account of man, its owner. This substitutionary “belonging to God,” it can only represent in death. Hence the expression, “it shall belong to God,” is never used of animals, but they are said to be “offered.” On the contrary, it can be applied only to human beings; “he shall belong to God,” shall live for God, conscious of his own free will and of the divine Spirit, which consciousness is wanting in animals. Scripture itself gives this explanation, Num. 3:12, where it is said: “Behold, I have taken the Levites from among the sons of Israel, instead of all the first-born; therefore, the Levites belong to me (לִי הַלְוִיִּם וְהָיוּ).” The Levites belong to God for all Israel through their life; the first-born of animals, through their sacrificial death. Accordingly, Hannah also, when she makes her vow to God, says, that if a son be granted her, she will give him unto Jehovah; and when she brings him to the tabernacle, that he is “lent unto Jehovah (שָׁאוּל לַיהוָֹה, 1 Sam. 1:28) as long as he liveth.”
We perceive, therefore, that in the words of Jephthah, “it shall be Jehovah’s, and I will present it as a whole burnt-offering,” there can be no mere tautology. The two clauses do not coincide in meaning; they cannot stand the one for the other.
It is necessary, however, to attend to every word of this remarkable verse. For the vow is a contract, every point of which has its importance, and in which not only one being is thought of, but in which all creatures, human beings as well as brute beasts, the few or the many, that may come forth to meet Jephthah, are included, and each is consecrated as his kind permits. The vow speaks of whatsoever cometh forth “out of the doors of my house.” Many will come to meet him, but he can offer only of that which is his; over the rest he has no power of disposition. His promise extends to what comes out of his own house; and not to anything that comes accidentally, but to what comes “to meet him.” It must come forth for the purpose of receiving him. But even then, the vow becomes binding only when he returns crowned with victory and salvation (בְּשָׁכוֹם), and that, not over any and every foe, but over Ammon. If thus he be permitted to return, then whatever meets him “shall be Jehovah’s, and he will present it as a whole burnt-offering.”
The promise must necessarily be expressed with the greatest exactitude. This was demanded by the requirement of the law, that he who makes a vow “shall keep and perform that which is gone out of his lips, even as he vowed” (Deut. 23:24 ; Num. 30:2). Had Jephthah thought only of animals, he would merely have employed the formula usual in such cases—“and I will present it unto thee as a whole burnt-offering.” It would not have been sufficient to have said, “it shall belong to Jehovah,” because an animal belongs to God in this sense only when sacrificed for men. Precisely the insertion of the words, “it shall belong to Jehovah,” proves, therefore, that he thought also of human beings. The generality and breadth of the vow makes both clauses necessary, since either one alone would not have covered both men and animals. The first was inapplicable to animals, the second to human beings. Both being used, the one explains and limits the other. The main stress lies on the words, “it shall belong to Jehovah,” for therein is suggested the ground of the vow. They also stand first. Were human beings in question? then the first clause went into full operation; and the second taught that a life “belonging to God” must be one as fully withdrawn from this earthly life as is the sacrificial victim not redeemed according to law; while the first limited the second, by intimating that a human being need not be actually offered up, as the letter of the promise seemed to require, but that the important point is that it belong wholly to God.
God demands no vows. It is no sin, when none are made. But when one has been made, it must be kept. Jephthah obtains the victory: God does his part; and the trying hour soon comes in which Jephthah must do his. But, as in battle, so in the hour of private distress, he approves himself, and triumphs, albeit with tears.
HOMILETICAL AND PRACTICAL
Jephthah is deeply impressed with the extraordinary nature of the call he has received. For it is only because he is humble, that he is called. Gideon, in his slight estimate of himself, asks of God to show him miraculous signs on such objects as he points out. Jephthah, regarding the undertaking as great and himself as small, would fain give to God whatever He himself shall elect. His vow is the offspring of his humility. It is pressed out of him by the extraordinary calling which is imposed upon him. His love values nothing so highly, that he should not leave it to God to decide what shall be given up; but the will of God often goes sorely against the heart.
So deeply, also, does every truly humble man feel his calling as Christian and as citizen. “It is difficult to be a Christian,” says the heart, terrified at itself. And yet, for him who has been redeemed through penitence and faith, it is so easy. He only would give all, who knows that he must receive all. But the love of the soul that gives itself up, is stronger than its own strength. No true vow is made to the Lord without self-crucifixion. God’s ways are incomprehensible. Whom He loves, He chastens. We are ready to give Him everything; but when He takes, we weep. A broken heart is more pleasing to Him than sacrifice. No Passion, no Gospel.
GERLACH: The design of this history (concerning the vow) is not so much to set forth the rudeness of the age, or the dangers of rashly made vows, as rather to show how Israel was saved from its enemies, by the faith of Jephthah, at d how the service of the true God was restored under the heaviest sacrifices of the faithful.
21[Judges 11:30.—It would be better, perhaps, with Dr. Cassel to omit the words “without fail.” The Hebrew infinitive before the finite verb serves to intensify the latter; but the endeavor to give its value in a translation, is very apt to result in the suggestion of thoughts or shades of thought foreign to the original. Cf. Ges. Gram. 131, 3, a.—TR.]
22[El-Belka is a modern division of the east-jordanic territory, and is bounded by Wady Zerka (the Jabbok) on the north, and by Wady Mojeb (the Arnon) on the south. It is evident, therefore, that our author regards Mizpeh-Gilead as the name of a district, not of a city. The reasoning from the identification of Ramoth-Mizpeh with es-Salt to that of Mizpeh-Gilead with el-Belka, is not so clear, but seems to be this: Since Ramoth-Mizpeh is also called Ramoth-Gilead and Ramoth in Gilead, it is to be inferred that Mizpeh, like Gilead, indicates the district in which Ramath is situated, with this difference, however, that Mizpeh is more definite, being only a division of Gilead. But Ramoth may be identified with es-Salt in the Belka; hence the ancient district Mizpeh may be compared with the modern province el-Belka.—TR.]
23For the history of the exegesis, and its characteristic points, I refer to my article “Jephthah,” in Herzog’s Real-Encyklopädie, the materials of which cannot here be reproduced, but the drift of which is here, I trust, provided with fresh support. The other recent literature on the subject is indicated by Keil, who justly explains that the assumption of a spiritual sacrifice is almost imperatively demanded. The opinions of the church fathers are collected in the Commentary of Serarius. Bertheau’s decision for an actual sacrificial death, may probably be explained by the supposition that he did not view the transaction freely and independently, but only with reference to the opinions of others, a proceeding of too frequent occurrence.
24Cf. Gerhard, Auserlesene griech. vasengemälde, i. 130, 166.
25Which is the decisive point in the legends concerning Idomeneus, as told by Servius, and Alexander, as related by Valerius Maximus (vii. 3; cf. my article in Herzog, vi. 472). This also is the turning point in a series of later, especially German, popular tales, in which the “first” is not so much freely promised to, as demanded by, the demon power who, for that price, has supported or delivered the person from whom the sacrifice is required. This “first” is usually the person most beloved by him who, to his great regret, has made the promise (cf. Müllenhoff, Sagen, pp. 384, 386, 395; Sommer, Sagen, pp. 87, 131). Sometimes, the “first human being” is successfully rescued from the devil—for it is he who appears in Christian legends—by the substitution of an animal. In one of Müllenhoff’s legends (p. 162, Anmerk.) a dog becomes the “first;” in Grimm’s Mythologie, p. 973 (cf. Wolf, Deutsche Sagen, p. 417, etc.), it is a goat. No doubt, a mistaken exposition of Jephthah’s vow, had its influence here. It is, therefore, the more important to insist that in the vow nothing is said of a first one who may meet the returning conqueror.
26That it is just Jephthah, and he as the hero of law and faith, who presents this contrast with Ammon and human sacrifices, those expositors have overlooked, who, in spite of the God who was with him, describe, this very Jephhah as a barbarous transgressor of law.
27Our exposition puts no new and strained interpretations on נֶדֶר and עוֹלָה, but leaves them to be under stood in their general and well known Biblical acceptation—עוֹלָה being here the symbol of a spiritual truth, while yet it ignores animal sacrifices as little as does זֶבַח, see Ps. 51:21 (19).
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.Jephthah, returning victoriously, is met by his daughter. The fulfillment of his vow
34And Jephthah came to Mizpeh [Mizpah] unto his house, and behold, his daughter came [comes] out to meet him with timbrels and with dances: and she was his only child; beside her28 he had neither son nor daughter. 35And it came to pass, when he saw her, that he rent his clothes, and said, Alas, my daughter! thou hast brought [thou bringest] me very low, and thou art one of them [the only one]29 that trouble [afflicteth] me: for I have opened my mouth unto the Lord [Jehovah], and I cannot go back. 36And she said unto him, My father, if [omit: if] thou hast [hast thou] opened thy mouth unto the Lord [Jehovah], [then] do to me according to that which hath proceeded out of thy mouth; forasmuch as the Lord [Jehovah] hath taken30 vengeance for thee of thine enemies, even of the children [sons] of Amnion. 37And she said unto her father, Let this thing be done for [to] me:31 Let me alone two months, that I may go up and down [may go and descend]32 upon the mountains, and bewail [weep over] my virginity, I and my fellows [companions]. 38And he said, Go. And he sent her away [dismissed her] for two months: and she went with her companions, and bewailed [wept over] her virginity upon the mountains. 39And 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 40vowed: and she knew no man. And it was [became] a custom in Israel, That the daughters of Israel went yearly to lament [praise] the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite four days in a [the] year.
TEXTUAL AND GRAMMATICAL
[1 Judges 11:34.—מִמֶּנּוּ, for מּמֶּנָּה, because the neutral conception “child” floats before the writer’s mind, cf. Bertheau. The explanation of מִמֶּנּוּ by ex se, implying that Jephthah, though he had no other child of his own, had step-children, would, as Bertheau says, be “unworthy of mention,” were it not suggested in the margin of the E. V.—TR.]
[2 Judges 11:35.—הָיִית בְּעֹכְרָי might be rendered: “thou art among those who afflict me.” But the ב is probably the so-called ב essentiœ (Keil), and simply ascribes the characteristic of a class to the daughter (cf. Ges. Gram. 154, 3, a). Dr. Cassel’s “only” is not expressed in the original, but is readily suggested by the contrast, of the sad scene with all the other relations of the moment.—TR.]
[3 Judges 11:36.—עָשָׂה, lit. “done,” with evident reference to the same word used just before: “do, since Jehovah hath done,” cf. the Commentary.—TR.]
[4 Judges 11:37—Dr. Cassel makes this clause refer to the fulfillment of the vow, and renders: “Let this thing be done unto me, only let me alone two months,” etc. But it clearly introduces the request for a brief period of delay, and is rightly rendered by the E. V., with which Bertheau, Keil, De Wette agree, cf. the Commentary.—TR.]
[5 Judges 11:37.—וְיָרַדְתִּי, “descend,” i. e. from the elevated situation of Mizpah (cf. on Judges 11:29, 33), to the neighboring lower hills and valleys (Keil). יָרָד does not mean to “wander up and down,” a rendering suggested only by the apparent incongruity of “descending” upon the “mountains.”—TR.]
EXEGETICAL AND DOCTRINAL
Judges 11:34–36. And behold, his daughter comes out to meet him. A great victory had been gained. The national enemy was thoroughly subdued. All Gilead was in a joyful uproar. The return of the victorious hero is a triumphal progress; but when he approaches his home, his vow receives a most painful and unexpected definition. “It shall be God’s, and not belong to the victor”—so runs the vow—“whatsoever comes out of my house to meet me.” And here is his daughter coming towards him, with tambourines and choral dances, to celebrate her father’s victory! He sees her, and is struck with horror. It is his only child; and his vow tears her from his arms, and makes him childless. Broad as his vow was, he never thought that he could, even if he would, include her in it. This again appears from the circumstance, already adverted to, that the victory and the vow are against Ammon. The heathen promised or sacrificed their first-born sons. According to the Mosaic law, also, the first-born males (זְכָרִים) belong to God. The same law permitted only male33 victims to be presented as whole burnt-offerings (Lev. 1:3). Jephthah’s design was to testify that he gave himself up to his God as entirely as the Ammonites imagined themselves to do to their idols. He would have consecrated his first-born son to God—Abraham’s child, also, was a boy,—but he had none. Hence, he expresses his self-renunciation in the form of a vow, in which he leaves it to God to select whatever should be most precious in his eyes. But of his daughter he did not think. It never even occurred to him that she might come forth to meet him; for that was usually done only by women34 (נָשִׁים, Ex. 15:20; 1 Sam. 18:6), not by maidens, who remained within the house; and Jephthah’s daughter was yet a בְּתוּלָה, virgin. But this daughter was worthy of her father. The victory was so great, that she breaks through the restraints of custom, and, like Miriam (the same terms are used here as on the occasion of Moses’ song of victory, Ex. 15:20), goes forth to meet the conqueror. As soon as Jephthah sees her, he recognizes the will of God. His vow is accepted; but comprehensive as he consciously made it, it is God who now first interprets it for him in all its fullness. The hero had made the vow in this indefinite form, because he had no only and dearly loved son like Isaac. True, he had a daughter; but he deemed himself debarred from consecrating her, and therefore makes his vow. God now teaches him that he looks not at the sex of the consecrated, but at the heart of the consecrator. However comprehensive Jephthah’s vow, without his daughter it would at most have cost him money or property, but his heart would have offered no sacrifice. God teaches him that He delights not in he-goats and oxen;35 that that which pleases Him is a broken heart. His heart breaks within him, when he sees his daughter. She is his darling, his sole ornament, the light of his house, the jewel of his heart; and from her he must separate. He comes home the greatest in Israel; he now feels himself the poorest. But he perceives that this is the real fulfillment of his vow; that God cares not for money or property. The highest offering, which God values, is a chastened heart. Obedience is better than sacrifice. The life is not in the letter: every contract with God must be kept in the spirit. Jephthah’s faith revealed itself before the battle. That God was with him, was proved by his victory. But his entire self-surrender to God approves itself still more beautifully after the battle. For he conquers himself. He bowed himself reverently before God, before the decision was given; but his deepest piety manifests itself afterwards. He gives his own people, he gives Ammon and Moab, an instance of the power of an Israelite to perform the vows he has made. He suffers his vow to bind him, but does not attempt to bind it. He interprets it, not according to the letter, but the spirit Lev. 27:4, 5 prescribes the way in which a woman, concerning whom a vow has been made, is to be redeemed. But his only little daughter, who comes to meet him, he cannot protect. Since God leads her forth towards him, He cannot intend an offering of ten shekels (Lev. 27:5). His pious soul does not take, refuge behind external formulæ; as we read in connection with heathen vows and bad promises.36 He recognizes the fact that, since his only, dearly loved child comes to meet him, God demands of him all the love which he cherishes for her, and all the pain which it will cost him to part with her. And in this conviction, he hesitates not for an instant. He believes like Abraham; and, like him, albeit with a bleeding heart, makes full surrender of what God requires.
The scene of Jephthah’s meeting with his daughter has no equal in pathetic power. Her we see advancing with a radiant face, giving voice to her jubilant heart, surrounded by dancing companions, and longing to hear her father’s happy greeting; while he, in the midst of sounding timbrels and triumphant shouts—hides his face for agony! What might have been a moment of loudest jubilation, is become one of the deepest sorrow. That on which his imagination had fondly dwelt as the crowning point of his joy—the honor with which he could encircle the head of his only child, his virgin-daughter, now the first in all the nation—was instantly transformed into the heaviest woe. “O my daughter, deeply hast thou caused me to bow, and thou alone distressest me.” He borrows the words perhaps from the panegyrical song in which she celebrates him as “having caused the enemy to kneel,37 and to be distressed;” and in the extremity of his grief applies them to his child, thus suddenly astonished and struck dumb in the midst of her joy. “But,” continues the hero, though his heart weeps, “I have opened my mouth unto Jehovah, and I cannot go back.” I promised God in the spirit of sincerity, and must perform it in the same spirit. And there is not in all antiquity, no, nor yet in Holy Scripture, an instance of a maiden uttering a more beautiful, more profoundly pathetic word, than that which Jephthah’s daughter, a hero’s daughter, a true child of Israel, speaks to her father, even while as yet she knows not the purport of the vow: “Hast thou opened thy mouth to Jehovah, then do according to that which proceeded out of thy mouth; for Jehovah also hath done according to thy word, and hath taken vengeance on thy enemies.” She neither deprecates nor laments, gives no start, exhibits no despair—does nothing to make her father waver; but, on the contrary, encourages him, refers him to what God has done, and bids him do as he has promised, not to think, as he might perhaps be tempted to do, of change or modification in her favor. Such is the delicacy and tenderness of the narrative, that the modes of thought and feeling characteristic of this heroic daughter, as such, stand out in full relief; for it is in true womanly style that she says to her father: “Since Jehovah hath taken vengeance of thine enemies.” The utterance is altogether personal, as her womanly interest was personal. She concentrates the national victory in that of her father; the national enemy in the enemies of her father. God has given him vengeance (נְקָמוֹת); consequently he is bound, personally, to give to God what he has promised.
Judges 11:37–40. And she said to her father, Let this thing be done to me. The noble maiden may boldly take her place by the side of Isaac, who, according to the narrative in Genesis, was not aware of the sacrifice to which he was destined. She gives herself up to her father, freely and joyfully, to be dealt with as his vow demanded. Heathen antiquity, also, has similar instances of virgins voluntarily offering themselves up for their native land. But comparison will point out the difference between them and the case of Jephthah’s daughter, and will help to show that here there can be no thought of a literal sacrifice of life. Pausanias (i. 32) relates the legend, dramatically treated by Euripides, that when the Athenians, who harbored the descendants of Hercules, were at war with the Peloponnesians, an oracle declared the voluntary death of one of those descendants to be necessary in order to secure victory to the Athenians; whereupon Macaria killed herself.—When the Thebans were waging war with the Orchomenians, the oracle advised them, that, if they were to conquer, their most distinguished fellow-citizen must sacrifice himself (Paus. ix. 17). Antipœnus, who is this most distinguished citizen, despises the oracle; his daughters, on the contrary, honor it, and devote themselves to death.—In the war of Erechtheus with Eumolpus, the oracle required of the former the sacrifice of his daughters. They voluntarily killed themselves (Apoll. iii. 15, 11; cf. Heyne on the passage). The same thing is told of Marius by Plutarch. Defeated by the Cimbrians, a divine oracle informed him that he would conquer, if he offered up his daughter, which he did. In all these legends, which might be greatly multiplied, an oracle commands the virgin-sacrifice; in all of them, a vigorous, superstitious belief in the atoning efficacy of pure, blood, such as appears in the German legend of Poor Heinrich, is the underlying motive; in all of them, also, the virgin-sacrifice forms the preliminary condition of victory. But in the history of Jephthah all this is changed. Jephthah makes a vow, but does not think of his daughter. In his case, the vow is a recognition of the fact that victory belongs, not to men, but to God. He makes a vow, although God has not required one. He keeps it, even after victory, although the extent of the sacrifice had not been anticipated. Neither he nor his daughter think of evasions, such, e. g., as Pausanias (iv. 9) speaks of in connection with similar histories in Messenia. And yet, the offering which each of them brings is as trying as death would be, although it cannot actually involve death. For that point is decided, not only by the different statements of the history itself, but especially by the fact that the offering is made to Jehovah, who, even when, as in the case of Abraham, he himself requires a sacrifice, will not suffer obedience to consummate itself in deeds of blood.
Let me alone two months, that I may go and descend upon the mountains, and weep over my virginity, I and my companions. No equivocal intimation is here given of the fate which befell the daughter of Jephthah. She was still in her father’s house, an only daughter, not yet married. Since the vow touches her, and devotes her entirely as an offering to God, she must belong to no one else, consequently not to her father, nor to a husband. She cannot be married, and will never rejoice over children. That is Jephthah’s sorrow—his house is withered away (עֲרִירִי), his family disappears. The highest happiness in Israel, to have children, and thus to see one’s name or house continued, will not be his. The dearest of all beings, his only child, is dead to him. The same sorrow, and in accordance with ancient feelings with even greater severity, if that were possible, falls on the virgin daughter herself. An unmarried life was equivalent to death for the maidens of ancient Israel. For the bud withers away. Conjugal love and duty, the blossoms of life, do not appear. Unmarried maidens have no place in the life of the state. Marriage forms the crown of normal family life. The psalm (Psalm 78:63) notes it as part of the utmost popular misery, that “the, fire (of war) consumes the young men, and the maidens are not celebrated” (in marriage songs). Analogous sentiments are frequent in the life of ancient nations. The Brahminism of India looks upon a childless condition as in the highest degree disgraceful. A woman is always in need of manly guidance and protection; be it as daughter from her father, as wife from her husband, or as mother from her sons (cf. Bohlen, Altes Indien, ii. 141 ff.). The laws of Lycurgus concerning marriage, and their penalties against men who did not marry, are familiar. Noteworthy, with reference to the customs of Asia Minor, is an episode in the history of Polycrates, the tyrant of Samos. Being urgently warned by his daughter against leaving his island to go to Oroetus, who was on the continent, he became angry, and threatened her, that in case of his safe return home, she should long afterwards continue to be a virgin; to which the dutiful daughter replied, that she would gladly remain virgin much longer still, if only she did not lose her father (Herod. iii. 124).
And weep over my virginity. Not, then, it appears, to mourn her own untimely death. If she was to die, it would have been unnatural to ask for a space of two months to be spent on the mountains in weeping. In that case, why depart with her maiden companions? why not remain at home with her father? A person expecting death and ready for it, would ask no time for lamentation. Such a one dies, and is lamented by others. But Jephthah’s daughter is to live—a virgin life, to which no honor is paid, from which no blossoms spring—a life of stillness and seclusion. No nuptial song shall praise, no husband honor, no child grace her. This weeping of virgins,38 because they remain without the praise of wedlock, is characteristic of the naïve manners and candid, unaffected purity of ancient life through wide-extended circles. Sophocles, in “King Œdipus” (Judges 11:1504), makes the father express his fears that “age will consume his children, fruitless and unmarried.” Electra, in the tragedy which bears her name, says of Chrysothemis (Judges 11:962 f.): “Well mayest thou lament that thou must grow old so long in unmarried joylessness;” just as she is herself commiserated by Orestes (Judges 11:1185): “Oh, the years of unmarried, anxious life which thou hast lived.” In many other instances of virgins who must die or have died, the fact of their dying unmarried is lamented. So, for example, in the beautiful inscription of the Anthology (cf. Herder, Werke, xx. 73): “Dear daughter, thou wentest so early, and ere I adorned thy bridal couch, down to the yellow stream under the shades,” and in the plaint of Polyxena (Euripides, Hecuba, Judges 11:414): “Unmarried, without nuptial song, which nevertheless is my due.” The daughter of Jephthah laments not that she must die as a virgin, but with her maiden companions bewails her virginity itself.
From year to year the daughters of Israel go to celebrate in songs (לְהַנּוֹת, cf. Judges 5:11) the daughter of Jephthah. Of this festival39 nothing further is known. A reflection of the feelings it expressed might, however, be found in very ancient analogies. After the maiden, with her companions, has wept on the mountains for two months, over the vain promise of her youth, she returns to her father. The mountains are the abode of a pure and elevated solitude, in which her own chaste heart and those of her companions can open themselves without being overheard. On mountains, also, and in unfrequented pasture-lands and forests, abode the Greek Artemis, the virgin who goes about alone, without companions, like the moon in the sky. It was on account of this her virginity, that Greek maidens celebrated her in many places with song and dance; from which practice she derived the name Artemis Hymnia, especially current in the mountains of Arcadia. The hymns were sung by virgin-choirs (cf. Welcker, Griech. Mythol. i. 585). A similar festival was devoted to Artemis on Mount Taygetus. At Caryæ, also in Laconia, festive choral dances were yearly executed in her honor (Paus. iii. 10). The virgin goddess was also called Hecaerge (‛Εκαέργη), and Opis or Oupis (Ὦπις or οὖπις). Οὔπιγγος is the song of praise, with which, especially in Delos, and in accordance with peculiar myths, virgins celebrated the chaste Oupis, and brought her, as soon as they married, a lock of their hair (Callim. in Del. Judges 11:292; Paus. i. 43). The same custom was observed at Megara with reference to Iphinoe, who died a virgin (Paus. i. 43). Here also tradition leads us back to Artemis, who is styled protectress of her father. That it is the attributes of chastity and virginity which are thus celebrated, is indicated by the transfer of the custom in honor of a man, in the legend of Hippolytus. “Him,” Euripide makes Artemis say, “shall virgins ever praise in lyric songs;” and locks of hair were dedicated to him by Trœzenian brides (cf. Euripides, Hippol. Judges 11:1425; Paus. ii. 32).
These observances are a reflection of the narrative concerning Jephthah’s daughter, for the reason that they present us with virgin festivals, and with songs to the goddess who did not die, but remained a virgin. In point of fact, the existence of such festivals points to conceptions of life under whose influence woman, contrary to the common rule, lived in a state of virginity. The circumstance, also, that it became a custom in Israel to “praise” the daughter of Jephthah four days in every year, is itself a proof that the practice did not refer to a maiden who had been put to death. For what would there have been to praise in what was not necessarily dependent on her own free will? As in Artemis, so in her, it is voluntary, self-guarded chastity that is praised, just as Hippolytus also is not celebrated because he died unmarried, but because his life fell a sacrifice to his virtuous continence.
And he did with her according to his vow, and she knew no man. Had she been put to death, that fact must here have been indicated in some way. The narrator would have said, “and he presented her as a sacrifice at the altar in Mizpah,” or, “and she died, having known no man,” or some other similar formula. At all events, it does not “stand there in the text,” as Luther wrote, that she was offered in sacrifice. Much rather does this sentence show the contrary. For its second clause is explanatory of the nature and purport of the vow as it was fulfilled. The end to which it looked was the very thing which it is stated was actually secured, that she should know no man.40 On any other interpretation, the addition of this clause would be inexplicable and questionable. For the fact that she was a virgin in her father’s house, has already been twice brought forward. Moreover, it is surely not an event of very rare occurrence, for young women to die before they are married. And why should the narrator have hesitated to speak of the transaction in such terms as properly and plainly described it? In other cases he does not fail to speak of the most fearful aberrations just as they are. The truth is, the whole narrative derives its mighty charm only from the mysterious, and at that time in Israel very extraordinary fact, that the daughter of the great hero, for whom a life of brilliant happiness opened itself, spent her days in solitude and virginity.41 Death, even unnatural, was nothing uncommon. But a life such as Jephthah’s daughter henceforth lived, was at that time unparalleled in Israel, and affords therefore profound instruction, not to be overlooked because issuing from the silence of retirement.
Jephthah performs his vow. That which comes to meet him, even when it proves to be his daughter, he consecrates entirely to God, as a true offering of righteousness (cf. Ps. 51:19: עוֹלָה וְכָליל זִכְחֵי־צֶדֶק). He fulfills his vow so fully as to put it beyond his own reach to annul or commute us purport. For he fulfills, as he vowed, voluntarily; no one called on him to make his promise good. The background of the history, without which it cannot be understood, is life in and with God. The providence to which the hero commits the definition of his vow, is that of Jehovah. And if God leads his daughter forth to meet him, and thus in her receives the highest object in the gift of Jephthah, the consecration of which she becomes the subject cannot be of a nature opposed to God.
The event throws a brightness over the life of perpetual virginity which rescues it from ignominy and dishonor. Jephthah’s daughter typically exemplifies the truth that a virgin life, if it be consecrated to God, is not such an utter abnormity, as until then it had appeared. In Jephthah’s fulfillment of his vow and the consequent unmarried life of his daughter, there is a foreshadowing of those evangelical thoughts by means of which the Apostle liberates woman from the dread of remaining unwedded. Not, however, that we are to look here for the germ or type of the nunnery system;42 but for an example of belonging wholly to God, and of living unmarried, without being burdened or placed in a false position.
That Jephthah through his vow became the occasion of such an example, is already some mitigation of his fate. He has become the father, not of children who inherited his house, but of countless virgins who learned from his daughter to remain free and wholly devoted to God. Jephthah is a truly tragic hero. His youth endures persecution. His strength grows in exile. His victory and fame veil themselves in desolation when his only daughter leaves his home. But everywhere he is great. Whatever befalls, he comes out conqueror at last. God is always the object of his faith. He suffers more than Gideon; but what he does at last does not become a snare to Israel. He also had no successors in his office of wisdom and heroism—just as Gideon, and Samson, and Samuel had none; but it was not his fault that he had them not. His daughter, who resembled a Miriam, gave herself up to God.43
HOMILETICAL AND PRACTICAL
Jephthah’s call was extraordinary: extraordinary also is the manner of his own endurance and his daughter’s obedience. He parts with her, though deeply afflicted. He yields, though possessed of secular power. His daughter comforts him, though herself the greatest loser. Isaac did not know that he was to be the sacrifice; but Jephthah’s daughter knows it, and is content.
1. Thus it appears that a child who loves its father, can also love God. In true devotion of children to parents, there lies a germ of the like relation to God. The daughter of Jephthah loves her father so dearly, that for his sake she calmly submits to that which he has vowed to God. It is written: Honor thy father and mother, that thy days may be long in the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee. To Jephthah’s daughter this was fulfilled in the spirit. Her memory has never faded from the books of Israel, nor from the heaven of God, where all sorrows are redeemed.
2. Jephthah might have conquered without a vow; but having vowed before his victory, he fulfills it after the same. Faithfulness to his word is man’s greatest wisdom, even though he moisten it with tears. Faithfulness towards a sin is inconceivable; because unfaithfulness lies in the nature of sin. Faithfulness has the promise: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee the crown of life.
3. Jephthah’s daughter does not die like one sacrificed to Molech: she dies to the world. She loses a thousand joys that are sweet as love. But no one ever dies to the world and lives to God, without experiencing sorrow. A virgin life is a nameless life, as Jephthah’s daughter is nameless in Scripture. But the happiness of this world is not indispensable; and like the solitary flower, the unmarried woman can belong to her God, in whose heaven they neither give nor are given in marriage.
GERLACH: That the Judges whom God raised up, when they thus offered to the Lord even that which they held most dear, did not deliver the estranged and deeply fallen people in a merely outward sense, is shown by this act of believing surrender.
28[Judges 11:34.—מִמֶּנּוּ, for מּמֶּנָּה, because the neutral conception “child” floats before the writer’s mind, cf. Bertheau. The explanation of מִמֶּנּוּ by ex se, implying that Jephthah, though he had no other child of his own, had step-children, would, as Bertheau says, be “unworthy of mention,” were it not suggested in the margin of the E. V.—TR.]
29[Judges 11:35.—הָיִית בְּעֹכְרָי might be rendered: “thou art among those who afflict me.” But the ב is probably the so-called ב essentiœ (Keil), and simply ascribes the characteristic of a class to the daughter (cf. Ges. Gram. 154, 3, a). Dr. Cassel’s “only” is not expressed in the original, but is readily suggested by the contrast, of the sad scene with all the other relations of the moment.—TR.]
30[Judges 11:36.—עָשָׂה, lit. “done,” with evident reference to the same word used just before: “do, since Jehovah hath done,” cf. the Commentary.—TR.]
31[Judges 11:37—Dr. Cassel makes this clause refer to the fulfillment of the vow, and renders: “Let this thing be done unto me, only let me alone two months,” etc. But it clearly introduces the request for a brief period of delay, and is rightly rendered by the E. V., with which Bertheau, Keil, De Wette agree, cf. the Commentary.—TR.]
32[Judges 11:37.—וְיָרַדְתִּי, “descend,” i. e. from the elevated situation of Mizpah (cf. on Judges 11:29, 33), to the neighboring lower hills and valleys (Keil). יָרָד does not mean to “wander up and down,” a rendering suggested only by the apparent incongruity of “descending” upon the “mountains.”—TR.]
33[Dr. Cassel manifestly views Jephthah’s vow as sui generis—not belonging to the class of vows treated of in Lev 27:1 ff. and therefore not falling under the provisions there made. Jephthah proposes a whole burnt-offering—spiritual indeed so far as its possible human subjects are concerned, but still bound by the law of whole burnt-offerings. Now, that law requires that offerings shall be of the male gender; whereas ordinary vows might embrace females, Lev. 27:4. This view will impart clearness to some of our author’s sentences farther on, where he intimates that Jephthah could not redeem his daughter without taking “refuge behind external formulæ,” i. e. without interpreting the vow, as if it belonged to a class of vows to which it was not originally meant to belong.—TR.]
34[Frauen, by which the author evidently means married women. But נָשׁים bears no such restricted sense, cf. Ges. Lex. s. v. Moreover, that maidens were confined to the house is a proposition decidedly negatived by all we know of the position of the female sex among the Hebrews. See Bible Dict., art. “Women.”—TR.]
35Apparently similar thoughts, it is true, are suggested from a heathen point of view, not only by such examples as that of Iphigenia (cf. Cicero, de Officiis, ii. 95), and of Curtius in Rome, but also by that of Anchurus, the son of the Phrygian king Midas, who deemed his own life the most precious sacrifice that could be offered from his father’s possessions to the gods. But in reality, these exhibit only the principles that underlie the practice of human sacrifices—principles, with which the spirit of the Scriptures, and their spiritual modes of conception, stand strongly in contrast.
36Cf. Nägelsbach, Nachhomerische Theologie, p. 244, etc.
37 הַכְרֵעַ הִכְרַעְתִּנִי, from כָּרַע, to kneel; Hiphil, to cause to kneel, to subdue. She sang perhaps about the enemies whom he had subdued (cf. Judges 5:27); he sadly applies her words to what she is doing with reference to himself.
38Similar customs may be found even in modern times. In a West-Slavic legend a maiden is blamed for having married without having taken leave of maidenhood, which it was customary to do in pathetic and elegiac terms Wenzig, West-Slav. Marchenschatz, pp. 13, 311.
39On the statement of Epiphanius, that a festival of the daughter of Jephthah was still celebrated in his time, compare my article in Herzog, p. 476.
40Hengstenberg, in his valuable essay on Jephthah’s vow (Pentateuch, ii. 105 ff.), seeks to explain the daughter’s destiny by means of an institute of holy women, into which she perhaps entered. This is not the place to treat that subject, which must be referred to 1 Sam. 2:22. This much only seems to me to be certain, that by the צֹבְאוֹת, Ex. 38:8 and 1 Sam 2:22, we are not to understand ministering women. It must be remarked, in general, that the fundamental signification of צָבָא is, not militare, but to be in a multitude.” From this the idea of the צבָאוֹת, the hosts, in heaven and on earth, is derived. צבָא derives its meaning “host,” not from military discipline, but from the assembling of a multitude at one place. The women of the passages alluded to are therefore not ministering women, but persons who collected together at the tabernacle for purposes of prayer, requests, and thanks-giving, like the wives of Elkanah (1 Sam. 1), or to consult with and inquire of the priests. Some, of course, were more instant and continuous in their attendance than others (cf. Kimchi on 1 Sam. 2:22). At all events, they were women who were either married or widowed. But the history of Jephthah’s daughter is related as something extraordinary. Her virginity must remain intact. On this account she is lamented, and a festival is celebrated for her sake. These are uncommon matters, not to be harmonized with the idea of a familiarly known institute. Even among the Talmudists, a female ascetic is a phenomenon unheard of and unapproved (Sota, 22 a).
41Nor is it necessary to assume anything more to explain the lament of the daughter or the grief of the bereaved father. Even Roman fathers took it sorrowfully, when their daughters became vestal virgins, notwithstanding the great honor of such a vocation. They were glad to leave such honors to the children of freedmen (Sueton. Aug. 31; Dio Cass. 55, p. 563).
42On this point, compare my article in Herzog, p. 474, note.
43Poets, unfortunately, have almost without exception considered a sacrificial death more poetical, and have thus done serious injustice to the memory of Jephthah. It was done, among others, by Dante (Paradise, v. 66), who herein followed the Catholic exegesis of his day (cf. my article in Herzog, p. 470). To be sure, Herder did the same. Lord Byron also, in his Hebrew Melodies (see a translation of his poems in Klein’s Volkskalender, for 1854, p 47). The names in Händel’s Oratorio seem to have been borrowed from the poem of Buchanan, published in Strasburg, 1568. Cf. Gödeke, Pamphilus Gengenbach, p. 672. In Faber’s Historischer Lustgarten (Augsburg and Frankfort, 1702), the daughter is called “Jephtina.”