Judges 11
Matthew Poole's Commentary
Now Jephthah the Gileadite was a mighty man of valour, and he was the son of an harlot: and Gilead begat Jephthah.
Jephthah dwells in the land of Tob, Judges 11:1-3; is called by the elders of Gilead to command in chief against the Ammonites, Judges 11:4-6. He demands to be continued head after the war should cease; they swear it shall be so, Judges 11:7-11. He sendeth twice messengers to the king of the Ammonites to treat of peace, but in vain, Judges 11:12-28. Jephthah marcheth against him; maketh a vow; smiteth the Ammonites; performeth his vow on his daughter, Judges 11:29-40.

No text from Poole on this verse.

And Gilead's wife bare him sons; and his wife's sons grew up, and they thrust out Jephthah, and said unto him, Thou shalt not inherit in our father's house; for thou art the son of a strange woman.
The Gileadite; so called, either from his father Gilead, Joshua 17:1,2, or from the mountain or city of Gilead, the place of his birth or abode.

The son of an harlot, i.e. a bastard; for though such were not ordinarily to enter into the congregation of the Lord, Deu 23:2, yet God can dispense with his own laws, and hath sometimes done honour to base-born persons, so far, that some of them were admitted to be the progenitors of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Gilead; one of the children of that ancienter Gilead, Numbers 32:1 Joshua 17:1.

Then Jephthah fled from his brethren, and dwelt in the land of Tob: and there were gathered vain men to Jephthah, and went out with him.
The land of Tob, the name either of the land or territory, or of the man who was the owner or ruler of it. This place was in or near Gilead, as appears by the speedy intercourse which here was between Jephthah and the Israelites.

Vain men; idle persons, who desire to get their living rather by spoil and rapine, than by honest and diligent labour. These evilminded persons Jephthah managed well, employing them against the enemies of God and of Israel that bordered upon them; and particularly, upon parties of the Ammonites, which made the Israelites more forward to choose him for their chieftain in this war. Went out with him, when he made excursions and attempts upon his and their enemies.

And it came to pass in process of time, that the children of Ammon made war against Israel.
In process of time, Heb. after some days; or, after a year; days being oft put for a year, as hath been showed, after that year mentioned Judges 10:8. The Ammonites had vexed and oppressed them eighteen years, and now that the Israelites begin to make opposition, they commence a war against them. Or, some time after Jephthah had been banished, and after he had taken up arms, and given them some disturbance. Or, after the Israelites assembled together, as is said, Judges 10:18.

And it was so, that when the children of Ammon made war against Israel, the elders of Gilead went to fetch Jephthah out of the land of Tob:
By direction or instinct from God, who both qualified him for and called him to the office of a judge. See Judges 12:7 Hebrews 11:32. Otherwise they might not have chosen a bastard, Deu 23:2. Unless we will say, that there being no other person among them fit for and willing to this work, necessity dispensed with this law, as it did with other positive laws, as those of the sabbath and sacrifices.

And they said unto Jephthah, Come, and be our captain, that we may fight with the children of Ammon.
Our captain: they say not our king; for the experience of Abimelech’s kingship had cooled their appetite in that particular; but our captain.

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?
Did not ye expel me out of my father’s house, and deprive me of all share in my father’s goods, which, though a bastard, was due to me? This expulsion of him was the act of his brethren; but he here ascribes it to the elders of Gilead; either because some of them were among these elders, as is very probable from the dignity of this family; or because this act, though desired and promoted by his brethren, was executed by the decree of the elders, to whom the determination of all controversies about inheritances belonged; and therefore it was their fault that they did not protect him from the injuries of his brethren, as their duty was.

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.
Therefore we turn again to thee now; being sensible that we have done thee injury, we come now to make time full reparations.

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?
If ye bring me home again; if you recall me from this place where I am now settled, to the place whence I was expelled.

Shall I be your head? will you really make good this promise? Jephthah was so solicitous in this case, either from his zeal for the public good, which required that he should be so; or from the law of self-preservation, that he might secure himself from his brethren; whose ill will he had experienced, and whose injuries he could not prevent, if, after he had served their ends, he had been reduced to his private capacity: or there might be some tincture of ambition in him; for which God therefore severely, though paternally, chastiseth him, as we see afterwards.

And the elders of Gilead said unto Jephthah, The LORD be witness between us, if we do not so according to thy words.
They confirm their promise by a solemn and sacred oath.

Then Jephthah went with the elders of Gilead, and the people made him head and captain over them: and Jephthah uttered all his words before the LORD in Mizpeh.
Jephthah uttered all his words, objectively so called; i.e. all that was spoken, not only by him, but also by the elders of Gilead concerning him, and concerning this whole transaction, and the conditions of it; or, all his matters, the whole business.

Before the Lord, i.e. before the public congregation, wherewith God was usually and then especially present: see Exodus 20:24 Deu 6:25 Matthew 18:10. Or, before the altar, which possibly they did erect upon this special occasion, by God’s permission. Or, in God’s presence, calling him to be present, as a witness and judge between them.

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?
Messengers, i.e. ambassadors, to prevent bloodshed, and make peace, as far as in him lay; that so the Israelites might be acquitted before God and men from all the sad consequences of this war: herein he showed great prudence, and no less piety.

What hast thou to do with me? what pretence or reasonable cause hast thou for this invasion?

My land; he speaks this in the name of all the people, whose the land was.

And the king of the children of Ammon answered unto the messengers of Jephthah, Because Israel took away my land, when they came up out of Egypt, from Arnon even unto Jabbok, and unto Jordan: now therefore restore those lands again peaceably.
My land, i.e. this land of Gilead, which was mine, but unjustly taken from me, by Sihon and Og, the kings of the Amorites, and the injury perpetuated by Israel’s detaining it from me. This land, before the conquests of Sihon and Og, belonged partly to the Ammonites, as is affirmed, Joshua 13:25; and partly and principally to the Moabites, as appears from Numbers 21:24,26 Deu 3:11. And indeed Moab and Ammon did for the most part join their interests and their forces, as appears from Scripture story; and as Balak the king of the Moabites acted for the Ammonites, so now the king of Ammon seems to act for the Moabites; either as being now his subjects, or as his confederates; whence it comes to pass that Moab and Ammon are here promiscuously mentioned, as Judges 11:15,17,18,25; and Chemosh, the known god of the Moabites, Numbers 21:29 1 Kings 11:33 2 Kings 23:13 Jeremiah 48:13,46, is here called the god of the Ammonites, Judges 11:24, though, to speak strictly, Moloch or Milcom was their god, 1 Kings 11:5,7,33 2 Kings 23:13.

And Jephthah sent messengers again unto the king of the children of Ammon:
No text from Poole on this verse.

And said unto him, Thus saith Jephthah, Israel took not away the land of Moab, nor the land of the children of Ammon:
No text from Poole on this verse.

But when Israel came up from Egypt, and walked through the wilderness unto the Red sea, and came to Kadesh;
Unto the Red Sea; unto which they came three times; once, Exodus 13:18; again, a little after their passage over it, Exodus 15:22; and a third time, long after, when they came to Ezion-gaber, Numbers 33:35 Deu 2:8, which was upon the shore of the Red Sea, 1 Kings 9:26 2 Chronicles 8:17, from whence they went to Kadesh, Num 20$: of this time he speaks here.

Then Israel sent messengers unto the king of Edom, saying, Let me, I pray thee, pass through thy land: but the king of Edom would not hearken thereto. And in like manner they sent unto the king of Moab: but he would not consent: and Israel abode in Kadesh.
Peaceably, and did not revenge their unkindness and inhumanity, as they could have done.

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.
No text from Poole on this verse.

And Israel sent messengers unto Sihon king of the Amorites, the king of Heshbon; and Israel said unto him, Let us pass, we pray thee, through thy land into my place.
i.e. Unto the land of Canaan, which God hath given to me.

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.
So Sihon was the aggressor or beginner of the war; and the Israelites were forced to it for their own defence.

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.
No text from Poole on this verse.

And they possessed all the coasts of the Amorites, from Arnon even unto Jabbok, and from the wilderness even unto Jordan.
The coasts, or borders, together with all the land included within those borders; for so that word is oft used, as Exodus 8:2 Psalm 147:14 Jeremiah 15:13 17:3.

The wilderness, to wit, the desert of Arabia.

So now the LORD God of Israel hath dispossessed the Amorites from before his people Israel, and shouldest thou possess it?
God, the sovereign Lord of all lands, hath given us this land: this he adds, as a further and a convincing reason; because otherwise it might have been alleged against the former argument, that they could gain no more right to that land from Sihon than Sihon himself had, and he had but an unjust claim to it.

Wilt not thou possess that which Chemosh thy god giveth thee to possess? So whomsoever the LORD our God shall drive out from before us, them will we possess.
He speaks according to their fond and absurd opinion. The Ammonites and Moabites got their land by right of war, and conquest of the old inhabitants, whom they cast out; and this success, though given them by the true God, for Lot’s sake, Deu 2:19, they impiously and ridiculously ascribe to their god Chemosh, whose gift they owned to be a firm and sufficient title.

And now art thou any thing better than Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab? did he ever strive against Israel, or did he ever fight against them,
Art thou better than Balak? art thou wiser than he? or hast thou more right than he had? Balak, though he plotted against Israel, in defence of his own land, which he feared they would invade and conquer, Numbers 22:4; yet he never contended with them about the restitution of those lands which Sihon took from him or his predecessors, after the Israelites had conquered them.

While Israel dwelt in Heshbon and her towns, and in Aroer and her towns, and in all the cities that be along by the coasts of Arnon, three hundred years? why therefore did ye not recover them within that time?
Three hundred years; not precisely, but about that time; either from their coming out of Egypt, or from their first conquest of those lands; and thus numbers are oft expressed: see Numbers 1:46 2:32 11:21 Judges 20:46. He urgeth prescription, which is by all men reckoned a just title, and it is fit it should be so for the good of the world, because otherwise the door would be opened both to kings and to private persons for infinite contentions and confusions.

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.
I have not sinned against thee; I have done thee no wrong.

The Lord be judge this day; let him determine this controversy by the success of this day and war.

Howbeit the king of the children of Ammon hearkened not unto the words of Jephthah which he sent him.
No text from Poole on this verse.

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.
The Spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah; endued him with a more than ordinary courage and resolution.

Manasseh, i.e. Bashan, which the half tribe of Manasseh, beyond Jordan, inhabited, Joshua 20:8 21:6.

Mizpeh of Gilead; so called, to distinguish it from other cities of that name. Having gathered what forces he suddenly could, he came hither to the borders of the Ammonites.

And Jephthah vowed a vow unto the LORD, and said, If thou shalt without fail deliver the children of Ammon into mine hands,
Of this and the following verse, See Poole "Judges 11:39"

Then it shall be, that whatsoever cometh forth of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the children of Ammon, shall surely be the LORD'S, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering.
No text from Poole on this verse.

So Jephthah passed over unto the children of Ammon to fight against them; and the LORD delivered them into his hands.
No text from Poole on this verse.

And he smote them from Aroer, even till thou come to Minnith, even twenty cities, and unto the plain of the vineyards, with a very great slaughter. Thus the children of Ammon were subdued before the children of Israel.
Minnith; a place not far from Rabbah, the chief city of; the Ammonites.

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.
With timbrels and with dances; in consort with other virgins, as the manner was. See Exodus 15:20 1Sa 18.

And it came to pass, when he saw her, that he rent his clothes, and said, Alas, my daughter! thou hast brought me very low, and thou art one of them that trouble me: for I have opened my mouth unto the LORD, and I cannot go back.
Thou art one of them that trouble me: before this, I was troubled by my brethren; and since, by the Ammonites; and now most of all, though but occasionally, by thee. I have opened my mouth, i.e. I have vowed, which was done by words, Numbers 30:2,6.

I cannot go back, i.e. not retract my vow; I am indispensably obliged to perform it.

And she said unto him, My father, if thou hast opened thy mouth unto the LORD, do to me according to that which hath proceeded out of thy mouth; forasmuch as the LORD hath taken vengeance for thee of thine enemies, even of the children of Ammon.
Do to me according to that which hath proceeded out of thy mouth; do not for my sake make thyself a transgressor; I freely give my consent to thy vow; wherewith, and with the success of his arms, he had now acquainted her, though it be not here expressed.

Forasmuch as the Lord hath taken vengeance for thee of thine enemies; I am willing to bear my burden, being abundantly satisfied with the great deliverance which God hath given to his people by thy hands.

And she said unto her father, Let this thing be done for me: let me alone two months, that I may go up and down upon the mountains, and bewail my virginity, I and my fellows.
She chose

the mountains as a solitary place, and therefore fittest both for lamentations, and for her preparation for her approaching calamity.

Bewail my virginity; that I shall die childless, which was esteemed both a curse and a disgrace for the Israelites, Genesis 30:23 1 Samuel 1:6 7 Isa 4:1, because such were excluded from that great privilege of increasing the holy seed, and contributing to the birth of the Messiah, who was to be born of an Israelitish woman.

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.
No text from Poole on this verse.

And it came to pass at the end of two months, that she returned unto her father, who did with her according to his vow which he had vowed: and she knew no man. And it was a custom in Israel,
Quest. What was it which Jephthah vowed and performed concerning his daughter?

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

1. From Judges 11:37,38, where we read that she bewailed not her death, which had been the chief cause of lamentation, if that had been vowed, but her virginity.

2. From Judges 11:39, where, after he had said that

he did with her according to his vow, he adds, by way of declaration of the matter of that vow,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She knew no man, to wit, carnally; she, died a virgin.

That the daughters of Israel went yearly to lament the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite four days in a year.
Went yearly, to a place appointed for their meeting to this end, possibly to the place where she was sacrificed.

To lament the daughter of Jephthah; to express their sorrow for her loss, according to thee manner. Or, to discourse of (so the Hebrew lamed is sometimes used)

the daughter of Jephthah, to celebrate her praises, who had so willingly yielded up herself for a sacrifice.

Matthew Poole's Commentary

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