The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
Now Jephthah the Gileadite was a mighty man of valour, and he was the son of an harlot: and Gilead begat Jephthah.Judges 11 (Annotated)
["The history of Jephthah appears to be an independent history inserted bodily by the compiler of the Book of Judges. For it is obvious that Judges 11:4-5, introduce the Ammonitish war without any apparent reference to chap. Judges 10:17-18, though in perfect agreement with what is there related."—The Speaker's Commentary.]
(Giving the results of the best available criticism.)
1. Now Jephthah the Gileadite was a mighty man of valour, and he was the son of an harlot: and Gilead begat [may mean, was the ancestor of] Jephthah.
2. And Gilead's wife bare him sons; and his wife's sons grew up, and they thrust out Jephthah [in perfect accordance with the law, see Deuteronomy 23:2-3], and said unto him, Thou shalt not inherit in our father's house; for thou art the son of a strange woman.
3. Then Jephthah fled from his brethren, and dwelt in the land of Tob [a Syrian district on the north-east of Peræa]; and there were gathered vain ["These are exactly analogous to the doruphoroi,—a body guard of spear-bearers, which an ambitious Greek always hired as the first step to setting up a tyranny. We find David (1Samuel 22:2), and Absalom (2Samuel 15:1), and Rezon (1Kings 11:24), and Adonijah (1Kings 1:5), and Jeroboam (2Chronicles 13:7), all doing the same thing."] men to Jephthah, and went out with him [as fellow freebooters].
4. And it came to pass in process of time [after days], that the children of Ammon made war against Israel [this has been fully related in chap. x].
5. And it was so, that when the children of Ammon made war against Israel [at the close of eighteen years of oppression, chap. Deuteronomy 10:9], the elders of Gilead went to fetch Jephthah out of the land of Tob:
6. And they said unto Jephthah, Come, and be our captain [our leader in time of war], that we may fight with the children of Ammon.
7. And Jephthah said unto the elders of Gilead, Did not ye hate me, and expel me out of my father's house? and why are ye come unto me now when ye are in distress?
8. And the elders of Gilead said unto Jephthah, Therefore we turn again to thee now, that thou mayest go with us, and fight against the children of Ammon, and be our head over all the inhabitants of Gilead.
9. And Jephthah said unto the elders of Gilead, If ye bring me home again to fight against the children of Ammon, and the Lord deliver them before me, shall I be your head? [more than merely leader in times of war.]
10. And the elders of Gilead said unto Jephthah, The Lord be witness [be hearing] between us, if we do not so according to thy words.
11. Then Jephthah went with the elders of Gilead, and the people made him head and captain [civil as well as military leader] over them: and Jephthah uttered all his words before the Lord in Mizpeh [by some solemn religious ceremony].
12. 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? [He speaks officially in the name of all Israel.]
13. And the king of the children of Ammon answered unto the messengers of Jephthah, Because Israel took away my land [plausible, but not factual], when they came up out of Egypt, from Arnon even unto Jabbok [the space occupied by Gad and Reuben], and unto Jordan: now, therefore, restore those lands again peaceably.
14. And Jephthah sent messengers again [because he disputed the king's facts] unto the king of the children of Ammon:
15. And said unto him, Thus saith Jephthah, Israel took rot away the land of Moab, nor the land of the children of Ammon: ["What they took was the territory of Sihon which they had never been forbidden to take, and had, indeed, been forced to take by Sihon's attack upon them."]
16. But when Israel came up from Egypt [compare Numb. xx, xxi.], and walked through the wilderness [in the second year of the wanderings] unto the Red sea, and came to Kadesh;
17. Then Israel sent messengers unto the king of Edom [as narrated in Numbers 20:14, etc.], saying, Let me, I pray thee, pass through thy land: but the king of Edom would not hearken thereto. And in like manner they sent unto the king of Moab: but he would not consent: and Israel abode in Kadesh [where they may have encamped for a great part of forty years].
18. Then they went along through the wilderness, and compassed the land of Edom, and the land of Moab, and came by the east side of the land of Moab, and pitched on the other side of Arnon, but came not within the border of Moab: for Arnon was the border of Moab.
19. And Israel sent messengers unto Sihon king of the Amorites, the king of Heshbon [king of the Amorites by birth, king of Heshbon by conquest]; and Israel said unto him, Let us pass, we pray thee, through thy land into my place.
20. But Sihon trusted not Israel to pass through his coast: but Sihon gathered all his people together, and pitched in Jahaz, and fought against Israel.
21. And the Lord God of Israel delivered Sihon and all his people into the hand of Israel, and they smote them: so Israel possessed all the land of the Amorites, the inhabitants of that country.
22. And they possessed all the coasts of the Amorites, from Arnon even unto Jabbok, and from the wilderness even unto Jordan.
23. So now the Lord God of Israel hath dispossessed the Amorites from before his people Israel, and shouldest thou possess it? [a theological as well as a military view.]
24. Wilt not thou possess that which Chemosh thy god ["The expression shows the close connection between Ammon and Moab. Chemosh was distinctively the god of Moab, and Molech of Ammon: but the two nations were of kindred blood and allied institutions."] giveth thee to possess? So whomsoever the Lord our God shall drive out from before us, them will we possess.
25. And now art thou any thing better than Balak [are you the good, good in comparison with?] the son of Zippor, the king of Moab? did he ever strive against Israel [except with pure hatred], or did he ever fight against them,
26. While Israel dwelt in Heshbon and her towns, and in Aroer and her towns, and in all the cities that be along by the coasts of Arnon, three hundred years? [An argument drawn from undisputed possession. The time mentioned may be a marginal gloss which has crept into the text] why therefore did ye not recover them within that time [at that crisis]?
27. Wherefore I have not sinned against thee, but thou doest me wrong to war against me: the Lord the Judge be judge this day between the children of Israel and the children of Ammon. [A familiar appeal. See Genesis 16:5, Genesis 31:53, Genesis 18:25; 1Samuel 24:15.]
28. Howbeit the king of the children of Ammon hearkened not unto the words of Jephthah which he sent him.
29. Then the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah [endowing him with courage and wisdom], and he passed over ["he swept through the land from end to end to kindle the torch of war, and raise the population"] Gilead, and Manasseh, and passed over Mizpeh of Gilead, and from Mipzeh of Gilead he passed over unto the children of Ammon [went to attack them].
30. And Jephthah vowed a vow ["A practice among all ancient nations, but especially among the Jews: Genesis 28:20-22; 1Samuel 1:11; 2Samuel 15:8; Psalm 66:13."] unto the Lord, and said, If thou shalt without fail deliver the children of Ammon into mine hands,
31. Then it shall be, that whatsoever cometh forth ["Jephthah ignorant as he was,—being a man of semi-heathen parentage, and long familiarised with heathen surroundings—contemplated a human sacrifice." St. Augustine ridicules the idea that there is any reference to a mere animal.] of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the children of Ammon, shall surely be the Lord's, and I will offer it up for a burnt-offering.
32. So [And] Jephthah passed over unto the children of Ammon to fight against them; and the Lord delivered them into his hands.
33. And he smote them from Aroer, even till thou come to Minnith [Maanith, four miles from Heshbon], even twenty cities, and unto the plain of the vineyards, with a very great slaughter. Thus the children of Ammon were subdued before the children of Israel.
34. And Jephthah came to Mizpeh unto his house, and behold, his daughter came out to meet him with timbrels and with dances: [As Miriam went to meet Moses (Exodus 15:20); and the women to meet Saul and David (1Samuel 18:6-7)] and she was his only child; beside her he had neither son nor daughter.
35. And it came to pass, when he saw her, that he rent his clothes [" Every Jew on approaching Jerusalem for the first time has to submit to the Krie, i.e., to a cut made in his sleeve, as a sort of symbol of rending his clothes."], and said, Alas, my daughter! thou hast brought me very low [crushing, thou hast crushed me], and thou art one of them that trouble me: for I have opened my mouth unto the Lord [a vow to be binding, must have been actually expressed in words], and I cannot go back [no room was left for mental reservations: Leviticus 27:28-29].
36. And she said unto him, My father, if [omit if] thou hast opened thy mouth unto the Lord, do to me according to that which hath proceeded out of thy mouth; forasmuch as the Lord hath taken vengeance for thee of thine enemies, even of the children of Ammon.
37. And she said unto her father, Let this thing be done for me: Let me alone two months, that I may go up and down upon the mountains, and bewail my virginity, [The thought most intolerable to a Hebrew maiden was to die unwedded and childless. In this case there was additional bitterness because she was an only child, and in her early death prophecy would seem to come to nought] I and my fellows.
38. And he said, Go. And he sent her away for two months: and she went with her companions, and bewailed her virginity upon the mountains.
39. And it came to pass at the end of two months, that she returned unto her father, who did with her according to his vow which he had vowed [offered her up for a burnt offering]: and she knew no man. And it was a custom in Israel [the Targum of Jonathan adds—"in order that no one should make his son or his daughter a burnt offering as Jephthah did, and did not consult Phinehas the priest," who would have redeemed her with money],
40. That the daughters of Israel went yearly to lament [to praise or celebrate] the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite four days in a year.
JEPHTHAH was an illegitimate son. His brethren were cruel to him: they thrust him out, and said unto him, "Thou shalt not inherit in our father's house; for thou art the son of a strange woman." (Judges 11:2). So the man was driven away. That is the first picture. The man was unfortunate, not criminal. He was the victim of circumstances. Why should society be so cruel? Is a man to be blamed because he was born blind? Who does not thrust the cripple away when there is a great feast, or a grand show, or some occasion of family pride and delight? Who does not hide the thing that is unpleasant? This is the mystery of society—that we should fix responsibility where there is none, and be very light in our thought concerning responsibility where it is evident and incommunicable—that is to say, where it is fastened upon the individual and cannot be transferred to any other person. There is something wrong here in social thought. Who does not gather himself up in a kind of conscious or unconscious disdain and look severely and repudiatingly upon a man who has come into the world under infinite disadvantages? We should show a better quality if we were more kindly disposed towards such, saying to them in effect: Poor souls! you had a bad beginning; the time will go heavy with you; you have somehow come into a world that is lacking in compassion and magnanimity; but, in God's name, some of us will stand by you, and help you, and make the world as glad for you as we can. That would be noble chivalry; that would be the very Spirit of Christ. So Jephthah is doomed to everlasting obscurity: is he? The Lord is very pitiful and kind. Jephthah was disreputable in birth, but he was illustrious in faith. That is your opportunity! However you came into the world you may go out of it a gentleman, a hero, a saint Says the Apostle: "What shall I more say? for the time will fail me to tell of Gideon, and of Barak, and of Samson, and of Jephthah." So when his mocking brothers or alien kin are all forgotten, the bastard Jephthah stands out elect, precious—a mighty man in faith as in valour. Cheer ye! you may yet have a time of gladness. There is no difficulty that is not conquerable. Many a time your disadvantages will be thrown in your face. When you are advancing with terrific pace upon the foremost men and threatening to overrun them, they will not forget your birth and your disadvantages. Every one of them will be turned into a stone, which will be thrown at you, but not one of the stones will strike you. Never mind what is thrown—have your purpose right and good, and God will defend you.
So "Jephthah fled from his brethren, and dwelt in the land of Tob" (Judges 11:3)—perhaps in the land of his maternal ancestors. There is room enough in the world. Do not crowd one another so. If there is a family difference, a disagreement of a painful kind, you will find that Space may be turned into a kind of reconciliation. Divide, separate: there is wonderful healing in fresh air, and in new sunshine, and in new scenery and surroundings. If you are thrust out, it may be the making of you. Some men would have been better today if they had been driven from home. They have grown not one visible inch during the last quarter of a century. A little hardship would have been the making of them; it would have awakened them all through and through, so that most of them would not have been asleep, but every faculty would have become a burning point, a centre of new vitality. Jephthah went, and he left the shame with his brothers. That must be the law of life, if we would follow Christ. Behave you like a gentleman, however much others may mock you and persecute you. Let the shame be theirs! Wear them out by the very patience of goodness; be so constant in all nobleness, truth, honour, and genuine goodness, that at last they will give up, saying, Truly this man is a son of God! Marvellous are the healings of time and space, mountains and seas.
Was there, then, no compensation? Was there nothing but disadvantage in the life of Jephthah? The question turns us back again to the first verse:—"Now Jephthah... was a mighty man of valour." Even his mother might not be without great qualities. Surely the mother lives again in the son. She was a giantess of a mother, fit to be the mother of kings. Do not scatter your contempt about too freehandedly. You cannot tell whom you are undervaluing, and whom you are attempting to deride. Your virtue may consist of some one point of respectability, and the person you contemn may be a person whose shoe's latchet you are not worthy to unloose. God knows what is in every man, woman, and child. He does not fix his eye upon little points or great, but takes in the whole man, the entire life, in its whole bulk and weight and force. Jephthah has a fortune in himself. The young man who went out from his father's house with the portion of goods that fell to him, had a fortune in his hand, not in his head—not in his heart; and whatever is in the hand only may be spent, for there is nothing so easy as spending: any fool can learn the art without a premium. Jephthah's fortune was internal, spiritual; within him, in his mind, not yet awakened: for that gigantic body habited a mind worthy of itself. Study the law of compensations. If a dozen boys are playing at a game, and there is a cripple amongst them, the cripple is the winning man; nothing can stand before the cripple; all the handsome boys will be behind. You may have seen this again and again. It seems to be a kind of law of nature. Where a man is unable to speak much, you should see one of his letters—every sentence meaning something, and there is more in one page of his letters than in all the epistles some of the most fluent speakers ever wrote. See a man who is very timid under some circumstances, and that same man may be as bold as a lion under others: in the first instance the circumstances were not equal to the man—they did not awake him; the latter appealed to his best quality. So it is all through and through life. The unsuccessful man may have a happy temperament, which is worth a very great amount as to quietness and happiness and music. God hath not left any of his creatures without some token of blessing, some point of light, some gift all his own. Search for that particular gift, and make it the beginning of heaven. You may be driven out, but how strong you are! You may be derided by others, but how wonderfully you can take care of yourself! Look at the bright side, and though you be driven into far-away lands, yet, with a soul touching God's great economies, and drawing out of them all nutriment and inspiration, every land is home.
Now came a period of trial. The brethren got into trouble: "The children of Ammon made war against Israel" (Judges 11:5). But a bastard might not reign in Israel; so it was written in the law. Jephthah, therefore, must keep out of the way; the captaincy is forbidden to him. There were social reasons for this, strong enough for their time, adapted to the civilisation which they ruled. What, then, was to be done? A provision was made for overgetting the difficulty. Such a man must be called to the captaincy by the elders. Hence we find "the elders of Gilead," including the brethren, in a formal and official manner "went to fetch Jephthah out of the land of Tob" (Judges 11:5). Now we see a turn in the wheel of Providence which is not unusual. The elders said unto Jephthah, "Come, and be our captain, that we may fight with the children of Ammon" (Judges 11:6). Jephthah was but a man; who can be more, unless he be crucified with Christ—unless the life he now live in the flesh be a life of faith of the Son of God? "And Jephthah said unto the elders of Gilead, Did not ye hate me, and expel me out of my father's house? and why are ye come unto me now when ye are in distress?" (Judges 11:7). Your opportunity will come, and you will feel that question though you may not ask it. When men are in distress they seem almost inspired to be able to find out one's address. We think we are well concealed, and it will be impossible for any person whom we wish to avoid to find out where we are; but there is a kind of invisible directory they get hold of, and as soon as the wolf is upon them they are upon us. Who could keep back the question, "Why are ye come unto me now when ye are in distress? "—remember the old times when you were hard with me, and thrust me away, hardly giving me a garment with which to cover my shoulders, sending me away from my father's house without a blessing or a cheer, without one word of prayer or benediction, without a single "God bless you" to shorten the road and brighten the end; why are ye come to me now? If we push the question too much, we shall show that we are unworthy of the honour which is sought to be conferred upon us. Joseph showed a right spirit when he said to his brethren, "Now, therefore, be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves.... It was not you... but God." Jephthah was not so well instructed. Presently we shall find that he did not know the law of Israel, for if he had known it he would have saved himself infinite pain. How could Jephthah know the law? We thrust men out of their houses, drive them away into far lands, and then blame them for not being as civilised as we are, as highly educated, as fully trained. This is the evil way of the human spirit when it is not subdued and sanctified. We give men no chances, we turn them out into the bare desert, we treat them as if they were of inferior quality: and then if they make a slip or mistake, or commit offence, we charge them with ignorance of the law. We first make the heathen, then we deride him, and at last we feebly attempt to convert him! Have we not driven away many? What this land has to answer for, and many other lands, in the way of exiling men from their natural positions and opportunities! Surely the day must come when our Christian preachers will not be afraid to read and preach the whole Bible. When that day comes there will be a sword in the country, there will be a fire in the earth! Now we read the comforting promises, the tender exhortations, we apply all the needful solaces, and call such reading and preaching honouring the Bible! There is no fire so hot as the fire that burns in God's Book, in relation to all sin, injustice, irrational and oppressive inequality. The wrath of the Lamb is such wrath as cannot burn in evil breasts. Jephthah said, "If ye bring me home again"—we cannot get rid of that word" home"; it follows us into the land of Tob, and into every land, and makes a song for itself—"to fight against the children of Ammon, and the Lord deliver them before me, shall I be your head? And the elders of Gilead said unto Jephthah, The Lord be witness between us, if we do not so according to thy words" (Judges 11:9-10.) It is really a pitiful moment when one gets the better of the enemy. There is something so crouching in the humiliation of the foe that we almost wish the conquest had never been effected. The elders of Israel would do anything, give anything, promise anything, if this great Samson in anticipation would only come and deliver them from the children of Ammon.
Then came the battle and the victory. Jephthah stated his case in a statesmanlike manner (Judges 11:12-27, ante, p. 71).
There is nothing furious in the claim; history is stated, victories are avouched, and a claim is made. Jephthah wishes to be strong in justice. If a man is not morally strong even an arm of iron may be broken and sinews of brass may be melted. Have right on your side. That is the coat-of-mail. There is no crevice in it. Let the arrows come with the thickness of rain; they will fall harmlessly at your feet. Jephthah was a superstitious man, not well trained in the law. How could he be? He was full of a wild kind of superstition. "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" (Judges 11:29)—passed like a mighty tempest! Who can arrest a man who is made mad by the divine presence? He was not inspired in the prophetic or apostolic sense of the term, but he was "possessed "; he was no more himself, but a tabernacle of the living God. He had a purpose to realise, and God was in him that that purpose might be consummated.
Jephthah made a vow. He said that whoever came out of his house when he returned should be offered in sacrifice (Judges 11:30-31). "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" (Judges 11:34). Here he was just as steadfast as at the earlier points of his history. There is a wonderful consistency about the man. When he saw the child, "he rent his clothes, and said, Alas, my daughter! thou hast brought me very low, and thou art one of them that trouble me; for I have opened my mouth unto the Lord, and I cannot go back" (Judges 11:35). So he was a great man even in his heathenism. But he did not know the law, we have said. If he had been allowed to remain at home, and to study the law and acquaint himself with the ordinances of Israel, he might have known that provision was made for this very crisis. Oh, had one been at hand that day to whisper in his ear, "And if it be a female, then thy estimation shall be thirty shekels" (Leviticus 27:4)! Jephthah did not know that in the law there was mercy hidden. Jephthah was not aware that all the great necessities of life have been anticipated by providential economies, and that heaven's great, sweet law provides against the rashness and the madness into which we are plunged by our sin. For "thirty shekels" he could have redeemed his vow, and his only child might have been spared! Search the Bible for the way out of your difficulty. Everything is in the Book of God. Whatever your sorrow or strait, sit down to the inspired volume and read it until you find the gate that opens upon liberty; it is unquestionably in the Bible. All the deepest questions man has ever asked were answered before they were propounded. Who can be before the Lord, or prevent the Eternal?
Into the mystery of what then happened we cannot enter. The daughter was worthy of the father. She said, "If thou hast opened thy mouth unto the Lord, do to me according to that which hath proceeded out of thy mouth" (Judges 11:36). We sometimes understand fathers best by studying the children. Jephthah's child had in her the making of a great woman. So the compensations of Providence are a million in number. They come upon a man at unexpected points, and they cheer him in the most critical distresses. Jephthah might have felt himself filled with a pride pleasing to heaven, as he heard his child utter this sublime reply. Men are sacrificing their daughters today in quite as heathenish a manner as Jephthah ever sacrificed his only child. There is less hope of them. They have passed through Moses and the prophets, the evangelists and the apostles, in so far as their moral teaching is concerned; and the men in question have come out of the process more obdurate and worldly than ever. Are there not men today who are saying, If I can marry my child to a rich man I shall be satisfied; no matter what his belief, no matter what his conduct, wealth is the one condition? Such men are cruel; they are not fit to live. They may not put the case to themselves quite so boldly; they may throw a good deal of social decoration around their proposals; but if at the heart of those proposals there is this idea of wealth, then truly their condemnation is just. There is only one thing perhaps worse than this, and that is that a daughter should vow herself away on this mean altar. But are there not people who are saying, If there is wealth, no matter what else there is or is not? What can come of an association of that kind, but disappointment, bitterness, death? Are there not some also who are saying: I dedicate my children to enjoyment; they must have a good opportunity in the world, for life is brief and chances are few, and they must not be brought up to slave as I have slaved: they must be saved from hard work, and drudgery, and humiliation; they shall run with the footmen and outstrip the horsemen in the race of time? Poor fools! they, too, are cruel. There is no kindness like the kindness of bringing up a child to work. He ought to be punished by society who leaves his child without a trade or a means of obtaining an honest living. These are the vices to frown down. These are the injustices that ought to be put down. The children will arise to condemn the memory that ought to have been for ever kept clean. Dedicate your children to honesty, industry, self-reliance, sobriety, honour. Tell them there is a poverty which is wealth, and a wealth which is poverty: a repute which is infamous, and a repudiation of a social kind which amounts to a real crowning and enthronement. If we cannot look for these things from Christian people, from whom can we expect them? This is the Spirit of Christ. In all things he was our example—in making his living, in giving an equivalent for everything he received, in giving himself for the life of the world. "If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them." "To him that knoweth to do good and doeth it not, to him it is sin." I know of no cruelty so great as to substitute a momentary kindness for a lifelong discipline. Let us learn that every direction suited to the education and development of human life is to be found in the Book of God. He who walks by this book will walk straight into heaven; he will make no permanent mistakes; he may sometimes have a rod in his hand; sometimes his face may be darkened by a frown; sometimes his voice may tremble with menace; but, pursuing the course of education marked down in God's Book, at the last his children shall bless him, and they will speak with their father's enemies in the gate, if he should ever need to be vindicated or his honour to be upheld. Let us stand by the Bible—preach, read, study, proclaim the Bible. Human life has no necessity that has not been anticipated by the living Book of the living God.
Volumes have been written on the subject of "Jephthah's rash vow;" the question being whether, in doing to his daughter "according to his vow," he really did offer her in sacrifice or not. The negative has been stoutly maintained by many able pens, from a natural anxiety to clear the character of one of the heroes in Israel from so dark a stain. But the more the plain rules of common sense have been exercised in our view of Biblical transactions, and the better we have succeeded in realizing a distinct idea of the times in which Jephthah lived and of the position which he occupied, the less reluctance there has been to admit the interpretation which the first view of the passage suggests to every reader, which is, that he really did offer her in sacrifice. The explanation which denies this maintains that she was rather doomed to perpetual celibacy, and this, as it appears to us, on the strength of phrases which to one who really understands the character of the Hebrew people and their language suggest nothing more than that it was considered a lamentable thing for any daughter of Israel to die childless. To live unmarried was required by no law, custom, or devotement among the Jews; no one had a right to impose so odious a condition on another, nor is any such condition implied or expressed in the vow which Jephthah uttered. To get rid of a difficulty which has no place in the text, but arises from our reluctance to receive that text in its obvious meaning, we invent a new thing in Israel, a thing never heard of among the Hebrews in ancient or modern times, and more entirely opposed to their peculiar notions than anything which the wit of man ever devised, such as that a damsel should be consecrated to perpetual virginity in consequence of a vow of her father, which vow itself says nothing of the kind. If people allow themselves to be influenced in their interpretations of Scripture by dislike to take the words in their obvious meaning, we might at least expect that the explanations they would have us receive should be in accordance with the notions of the Hebrew people, instead of being entirely and obviously opposed to them. The Jewish commentators themselves generally admit that Jephthah really sacrificed his daughter; and even go so far as to allege that the change in the pontifical dynasty from the house of Eleazar to that of Ithamar was caused by the high-priest of the time having suffered this transaction to take place.
Professor Bush maintains with us that a human sacrifice was all along contemplated. But he suggests that during the two months, Jephthah might have obtained better information respecting the nature of vows, by which he would have learned that his daughter could not be legally offered, but might be redeemed at a valuation (Leviticus 27:2-12). This is possible, and is much more likely than the popular alternative of perpetual celibacy; but we have serious doubts whether even this meets the conclusion that "he did with her according to his vow." Besides, in this case, where was the ground for the annual "lamentations" of the daughters of Israel, or even for the "celebrations" which some understand the word to mean?
And Jephthah said unto the elders of Gilead, Did not ye hate me, and expel me out of my father's house? and why are ye come unto me now when ye are in distress?"Handfuls of Purpose"
For All Gleaners
"Why are ye come unto me now when ye are in distress? "—Judges 11:7.
A proper inquiry to address to all applicants.—A rebuke is implied in the terms of the question.—The men had not come before. Up to this time they had disowned Jephthah; now in distress they wished to make use of him.—Circumstances test friendships and the reality and unselfishness of appeals.—God is always exposed to this kind of prayer.—Why thus ill-treat and dishonour God in the very act, as we suppose, of recognising his existence and goodness?—God does not ask us why we have come to him, but why we have come to him in distress; the coming itself is right, but the time—namely, the time of distress—may give peculiar significance to our approach.—This is a great hold which God has upon the human race.—The time of distress comes in every life, and in that hour men ask the greatest questions, and are, as it were, forced into the exercise of prayer.—When pain seizes the body, or when difficulty perplexes the circumstances, when severe family affliction clouds the house, when death has sent its forecast into the heart of the family, then men may begin to cry out for the living God.—God interrogates us, as Jephthah interrogated the elders of Gilead.—Our answer must often be one of pitiful humiliation.—God does not intend to disown us or repel us by asking the question; his purpose is to make us acquainted with ourselves, and to show us how complex is the structure and action of human motives.—Selfishness cannot pray.—Selfishness can beg, implore, intreat, whine, and make tragical appeals; but selfishness cannot get near enough to God to commune with him, or in the true sense to ask a favour at his hands.—The prayers of the wicked are an abomination unto the Lord.—If the prayer of our selfishness is answered, it is not because it is a selfish prayer, but because of God's infinite graciousness.