Jephthah. 1 Now Jephthah the Gileadite was a mighty warrior, but he was the son of a prostitute. Gilead was the father of Jephthah. 2 Gilead’s wife bore him sons, but when his wife’s sons grew up, they drove Jephthah out and said to him, “You shall not have an inheritance in our father’s house, for you are the son of another woman.”
3 Jephthah fled from his brothers and dwelt in the land of Tob. Jephthah gathered some worthless fellows around himself, and they went out with him.
4 After some time, the Ammonites made war against Israel. 5 When the Ammonites fought against Israel, the elders of Israel went to bring back Jephthah from the land of Tob. 6 They said to Jephthah, “Come and be our leader so that we can fight against the Ammonites.” 7 Jephthah said to the elders of Gilead, “Did you not hate me and drive me out of my father’s house? Why have you come to me now that you are in trouble?” 8 The elders of Gilead said to Jephthah, “This is why we have returned to you, so that you can go with us and fight against the Ammonites and be the leader of all of those who live in Gilead.” 9 Jephthah said to the elders of Gilead, “If you take me back to fight against the Ammonites, and the Lord delivers them up to me, will I then be your leader?” 10 The elders of Gilead answered, “The Lord will be a witness between us if we do not do what you have said.” 11 Jephthah went with the elders of Gilead, and the people made him their leader and commander. Jephthah spoke all of his words before the Lord at Mizpah.
12 Jephthah sent messengers to the king of the Ammonites asking, “What do you have against us? Why have you come here to fight in our land?” 13 The king of the Ammonites said to the messengers of Jephthah, “It is because Israel took away my land when they came up out of Egypt. It is the land that lies between the Arnon and the Jabbok, all along the Jordan. Now, give it back to me peacefully.” 14 Jephthah sent the messengers back to the king of the Ammonites 15 saying, “This is what Jephthah says, ‘Israel did not take away the land of the Moabites nor the land of the Ammonites. 16 When they came up out of Egypt, the people of Israel passed through the desert up to the Red Sea and then on to Kadesh. 17 Israel then sent messengers to the king of Edom saying, “Please let me pass through your land,” but the king of Edom would not listen. The same thing happened when they sent to the king of Moab; he would not agree, so Israel remained in Kadesh.
18 “ ‘They then went through the desert, skirting the land of Edom and the land of Moab. Passing along on the eastern side of Moab, they camped on the far side of the Arnon. They did not cross over the border with Moab, for the Arnon was the border with Moab.
19 “ ‘Then Israel sent messengers to Sihon, the king of the Amorites, who reigned in Heshbon. Israel said to him, “Please let us pass through your land into our territory.” 20 But Sihon did not trust Israel enough to let them pass through his land. Sihon and all of his forces camped at Jahaz and fought against Israel. 21 The Lord, the God of Israel, delivered Sihon and all of his men into Israel’s hands. They defeated them, and so Israel took possession of all of the land of the Amorites who lived in that territory. 22 They captured the entire land of the Amorites from the Arnon to the Jabbok, and from the wilderness to the Jordan.
23 “ ‘Now since it was the Lord, the God of Israel, who has driven the Amorites out from before the people of Israel, who are you that you should take it over? 24 Should you not possess what Chemosh,[a] your god, has given you to possess? Whatever the Lord, our God, has given us to possess, we will possess it.
25 “ ‘Are you any better than Balak, the son of Zippor, the king of Moab? Did he ever quarrel with Israel or fight against it? 26 Israel lived in Heshbon and the towns dependent upon it, in Aroer and the towns dependent upon it, and in all of the cities that lie along the Arnon for three hundred years. Why did you not take it back then? 27 I have not wronged you, but you have done this evil to me by attacking me. Let the Lord, the judge, decide between the Israelites and the Ammonites today.’ ”
28 The king of the Ammonites did not heed the message that Jephthah had sent him. 29 The Spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah. He crossed over into Gilead and Manasseh, passing through Mizpah of Gilead, and from Mizpah of Gilead he advanced against the Ammonites.
30 Jephthah’s Vow.[b] Jephthah made a vow to the Lord saying, “If you deliver the Ammonites into my hands, 31 then whatever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me when I come back in peace from the Ammonites, I will surely offer it up to the Lord as a burnt offering.”
32 Jephthah went to fight the Ammonites, and the Lord delivered them into his hands. 33 He devastated some twenty cities between Aroer and up to near Minnith, as far away as Abel-keramim. It was a total massacre, and the Ammonites were subjected to the Israelites.
34 When Jephthah came back to Mizpah, to his home, it was his daughter who came out to meet him dancing and playing the tambourines. (She was his only child, for beside her there were no other sons or daughters.) 35 When he saw her, he tore his clothes and said, “Woe is me, for my daughter has made me miserable and wretched. I made a vow to the Lord; I cannot break it.” 36 “My father,” she said, “you have made a vow to the Lord. Do to me what you have vowed to do, for the Lord has taken vengeance for you upon your enemies, the Ammonites. 37 Only let me do this one thing, my father,” she continued, “may I roam around the hill country to mourn my virginity, for I will never marry.” 38 He answered, “Go!” She and her friends went into the hill country for two months, mourning her virginity. 39 When the two months were over, she returned to her father. He did what he had promised in his vow to do to her. She never knew any man. This is why there is a custom in Israel 40 for young women in Israel to mourn the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite for four days every year.
- Judges 11:24 Chemosh: the principal god of the Moabites (Num 21:29).
- Judges 11:30 The daughter of Jephthah was a victim of the practice of human sacrifice, which had been taken over from the Canaanite religions. The practice elicited indignant protests from the prophets (Jer 7:31; Ezek 16:21). The sacred writer lets it be seen that he disapproves of it (Jdg 11:40).