Judges 11 COMMENTARY (Pulpit)

Judges 11
Pulpit Commentary
Now Jephthah the Gileadite was a mighty man of valour, and he was the son of an harlot: and Gilead begat Jephthah.
Verse 1. - Jephthah the Gileadite. Gilead has two meanings: it is the name of the country so called (Judges 10:8, note), and it is the name of the son or descendant of Machir the son of Manasseh (1 Chronicles 7:14, 17; Numbers 26:29, 30). Gileadite also may be explained in two ways: it may mean an inhabitant of Gilead (Judges 10:18), or it may mean a member of the family of the Gileadites, either an actual son or a more remote descendant of Gilead (Numbers 26:29) - two meanings which would usually coincide. Gilead begat Jephthah. Here Gilead must mean the person so called, i.e. the son or descendant of Machir, from whom the family, including Jephthah, were called Gileadites; but whether son or descendant cannot positively be affirmed. All that is certain is that he was that one of Maehir's descendants who was the head of that division of the Manassites who were called Gileadites. Again, when it is said Gilead begat Jephthah, we cannot be certain whether it is meant that Gilead was Jephthah's father, or merely his ancestor (see Judges 10:3, note).
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.
Verse 2. - And Gilead's wife. Whenever Gilead lived, besides the son by the foreign harlot, whom Jephthah represented, he had sons and descendants by his legitimate wife, who claimed to be his sole heirs, and who therefore drove Jephthah from the inheritance of their father's house. They might, as far as the language used is concerned, have been Gilead's own sons, or they may have been his grandsons or great-grandsons, and so either the brothers or the cousins and fellow-tribesmen of Jephthah.
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.
Verse 3. - The land of Tob. This is certainly the same country as is spoken of in Ish-tob, i.e. the men of Tob, of whom 12,000 were hired by the children of Ammon to fight against David. They are thus named side by side with the men of Beth-Rehob, and Zoba, and Maacah, other small Aramean or Syrian states (2 Samuel 10:6, 8). Tob is again mentioned in all probability in 1 Macc. 5:13; 2 Macc. 12:17, and the Thauba of Ptolemy agrees in situation as well as in name with Tob, but no identification with any existing place has been hitherto effected. Vain men, as in Judges 9:4.
And it came to pass in process of time, that the children of Ammon made war against Israel.
Verse 4. - This verse brings us back to Judges 10:17, and reunites the two streams of narrative.
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:
Verse 5. - The elders of Gilead. The same as the princes in Judges 10:18.
And they said unto Jephthah, Come, and be our captain, that we may fight with the children of Ammon.
Verse 6. - Our captain. A military term, as in Joshua 10:24. It is also used in Isaiah 1:10 for the rulers of Sodom.
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?
Verse 7. - Did not ye hate me, etc. Jephthah's reproach to the "elders of Gilead" strongly favours the idea that "his brethren" in ver. 3, and the "father's house" in ver. 2, are to be taken in the wider sense of fellow-tribesmen and "house of fathers," and that his expulsion was not the private act of his own brothers training him out of the house they lived in, but a tribal act (taking tribe in the sense of house of fathers), in which the elders of Gilead bad taken a part. If this is so, it removes a great difficulty about Jephthah being Gilead's son, which it is very hard to reconcile with chronology.
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.
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?
Verse 9. - Shall I be, etc. There is no interrogative in the Hebrew. The words may be taken as the laying down of the condition by Jephthah, to which in the following verse the elders express their assent.
And the elders of Gilead said unto Jephthah, The LORD be witness between us, if we do not so according to thy words.
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.
Verse 11. - Head and captain. Both civil ruler or judge, and military chief. Uttered all his words before the Lord. The expression "before the Lord" is used in Exodus 34:34; Leviticus 1:3; Judges 21:2 (before God), and elsewhere, to signify the special presence of the Lord which was to be found in the tabernacle, or with the ark, or where there was the priest with an ephod. And this must be the meaning of the expression here. Jephthah was installed at the national place of gathering and consultation for Gilead, viz., at Mizpah in Gilead, into his office as bead of the State, and there, as in the capital, he performed all his duties under the sanctions of religion. Whether, however, the ark was brought there, or the altar, or a priest with an ephod, or whether some substitute was devised which the unsettled times might justify, it is impossible to say from want of information. There seems to be some reference in the words to Jephthah's vow, in ver. 31, as one of such utterances.
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?
Verse 12. - And Jephthah sent, etc. His first attempt was to make an honourable peace by showing that there was no just cause of quarrel. What hast thou to do with me? or, rather, What business, what cause of quarrel, is there between you and me? (he speaks in the name of Israel, as head of the State) what is it all about?
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.
Verse 13. - And the king, etc. The Ammonite king stated his ground of quarrel very distinctly. He claimed the land between the Amen and the Jabbok as Ammonitish or Moabitish territory, and demanded its surrender as the only condition of peace. It appears from Joshua 13:25 that part of the land of the tribe of Gad, that, namely, "on the western side of the upper Jabbok," had once belonged to the Ammonites, but had been conquered by the Amorites, from whom Israel took it, together with that which had formerly belonged to the Moabites.
And Jephthah sent messengers again unto the king of the children of Ammon:
And said unto him, Thus saith Jephthah, Israel took not away the land of Moab, nor the land of the children of Ammon:
But when Israel came up from Egypt, and walked through the wilderness unto the Red sea, and came to Kadesh;
Verse 16. - When Israel came up, etc. In this and the following verses there is a distinct reference to the history in Numbers and Deuteronomy, and in some instances verbal quotations. Thus in this verse the words below which are put in italics are found in Numbers 13:26; Numbers 14:25: Israel... walked through the wilderness unto the Red Sea, and came to Kadesh.
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.
Verse 17. - Then Israel sent messengers unto the king of Edom, saying, Let me, I Pray thee, pass through thy land (country in A.V. Numbers 20:17). The words in italics are found in Numbers 20:14, 17. And Israel abode in Kadesh. These words are in Numbers 20:1; see also Deuteronomy 1:46. The king of Edom would not hearken. This is related in substance in Numbers 20:18-21. And in like manner they sent unto the king of Moab. There is no mention of this in the Mosaic narrative. The knowledge of it must have been preserved either by tradition or in some other now lost writings; perhaps in the Book of the Wars of the Lord (Numbers 21:14). It is in itself very probable that such a message should have been sent to the king of Moab, whose territories Israel was forbidden to meddle with (Deuteronomy 2:9, 19).
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.
Verse 18. - Then they went along, etc. The narrative here follows Deuteronomy 2:1. For they compassed the land of Edom. Deuteronomy 2:1 has, "we compassed Mount Seir;" but Numbers 21:4 has, "to compass the land of Edom." By the east side - literally, by the sun-rising side, as in Numbers 21:11. They pitched on the other side of Arnon. The identical words occur in Numbers 21:13. For Arnon was the border of Moab. The identical words of Numbers 21:18, where it is added, "between Moab and the Amorites." South of the Amen belonged to Moab, and north to the Amorites. The route taken by the Israelites is carefully traced (Numbers 21:11-20).
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.
Verse 19. - And Israel, etc. The text here follows Numbers 21:21-24 almost verbatim; but the expression, "the king of Heshbon," is from Deuteronomy 2:24, 26, 80.
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.
Verse 20. - In Jahaz. Otherwise Jahazah (Numbers 21:23; Deuteronomy 2:32; Isaiah 15:4; Jeremiah 48:21, 34). It seems to have lain immediately to the north of the Amen.
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.
Verses 21, 22. - These verses are an epitome of Numbers 21:24-32. Cf. also Deuteronomy 2:33-36. The wilderness is the country lying east of Moab up to the hill country (see Judges 10:8, note). From the Amen to the Jabbok is the measurement from south to north; from the wilderness to the Jordan, from east to west.
And they possessed all the coasts of the Amorites, from Arnon even unto Jabbok, and from the wilderness even unto Jordan.
So now the LORD God of Israel hath dispossessed the Amorites from before his people Israel, and shouldest thou possess 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.
Verse 24. - Chemosh. The national god of the Moabites (cf. Numbers 21:29; 1 Kings 11:7, 33; Jeremiah 48:7, 13, 46, etc.). Thy god. The phrase indicates a very close connection between Moab and Ammon at the present time, both possibly being under one king. Chemosh, rather than Moloch, is mentioned because the territory had belonged to the Moabites, but Chemosh had not been able to save it from the Amorites. The Lord our God. Jehovah was the God of Israel as truly as Chemosh was the god of Moab, in one sense. Possibly Jephthah had not risen to the conception of Jehovah as the God of the whole earth.
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,
Verse 25. - Art thou anything better, etc. Jephthah now advances another argument to prove the justice of his cause and the unreasonableness of the Ammonite claim. If the territory in question was Moabite property, bow came it that Balak laid no claim to it? He was an enemy of the Israelites, and yet when Israel took possession of the land, and dwelt in Heshbon, its capital, and the daughter cities or villages thereof, and in Aroer and her daughter cities or villages, and in all the cities on the banks of the Amen, Balak never strove about them with Israel, or went to war to recover them - a plain proof that he did not look upon them as his property. If they were his, that was the time to claim and recover them, but he had not done so.
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?
Verse 26. - The occupation of the cities and villages referred to is related in Numbers 21:23 and following verses, and in Deuteronomy 2:36; see too Joshua 12:2. Aroer is not mentioned among the cities of Moab taken by the Amorites in the ancient book quoted in Numbers 21:27-80, and it has been conjectured that it may have been built by the Amorites to secure their new frontier. It is described by Eusebius and Jerome in the 'Onomasticon' as built on a hill overhanging the bank of the Amen, and a ruin called Arair has been foBy the coasts of Arnon, i.e. on the banks. The Septuagint for Arnon reads Jordan, which was the western boundary, as Arnon was the southern (ver. 22). The corresponding description in Deuteronomy 2:36 is, From Aroer, which is by the brink of the river of Arnon, and from the city that is by the river, even unto Gilead:, there was not owe city too strong for us: the Lord our God delivered all unto us. Three hundred years. These words seem quite unintelligible and out of place. They are also chronologically impracticable. One expects the number of the cities, as in ver. 33, rather than the number of years; and it is remarkable that the whole number of cities taken by the Israelites on the east of Jordan must have been just about 300, since the half-tribe of Manasseh had sixty. If Gad and Reuben had the same proportion, it would be exactly 300 (5 × 60). Within that time. The Hebrew phrase, which occurs about seventy times, invariably means at that time, and here can only refer to the time of the first settlement in the days of Balak, of which he had been speaking - another proof that the enumeration three hundred years is out of place here. If the reading years is not, as above suggested, an error for cities, the whole sentence, three hundred years, may very probably be an interpolation by a professed chronologist. The adding up of all the numbers of the servitudes and rests given in the book gives 301 years from the commencement of the oppression by Chushan-rishathaim to the death of Jair. But this method of reckoning gives the impossible period of 600 years from the exodus to the building of the temple.
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.
Verse 27. - Jephthah now asserts his own entire blamelessness, and appeals to the justice of God to decide between him and the Ammonites.

CHAPTER 11:29-40
Howbeit the king of the children of Ammon hearkened not unto the words of Jephthah which he sent him.
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.
Verse 29. - Then the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah, as upon Othniel, upon Gideon, and upon Samson (Judges 3:16; Judges 6:34; Judges 13:25; Judges 14:19; Judges 15:14). He passed over, i.e. he went all through, Gilead, and Manasseh, - for the purpose, no doubt, of collecting forces, - and passed over Mizpeh. It should be to Mizpeh. Mizpeh was the capital and mustering place of his army, and his base of operations (Judges 10:17; Judges 11:11, note). Having organised his forces at Mizpeh of Gilead, he passed over to the children of Ammon, i.e. commenced his attack upon the invaders, as it is stated in ver. 32, which takes up the thread of the narrative.
And Jephthah vowed a vow unto the LORD, and said, If thou shalt without fail deliver the children of Ammon into mine hands,
Verses 30, 31. - And Jephthah vowed a vow. This verse and the following go back to relate something which preceded his passing over to the children of Ammon, viz., his rash and unhappy vow. This is related, as so many things in Scripture are, without note or comment, and the reader must pass his own sentence upon the deed. That sentence can only be one of unreserved con- detonation on the part of any one acquainted with the spirit and letter of the word of God. Many attempts have been made to show that Jephthah only contemplated the offering of an animal in sacrifice; but the natural and indeed necessary interpretation of the words shows that he had a human victim in mind. He could not expect any but a human being to come forth from the doors of his house, nor could any but a human being come forth "to meet him" - a common phrase always spoken of men (Genesis 14:17; Genesis 24:65; Exodus 4:14; Exodus 18:7; Numbers 20:20; 1 Samuel 25:34, etc., and below in ver. 34). Obviously, in the greatness of his danger and the extreme hazard of his undertaking (Judges 12:3), he thought to propitiate God's favour by a terrible and extraordinary vow. But if we ask how Jephthah came to have such erroneous notions of the character of God, the answer is not far to seek. Jephthah was "the son of a strange woman," probably, as we have seen, a Syrian (Judges 11:1-11, note), and had passed many years of his life as an exile in Syria. Now it is well known that human sacrifices were frequently practised in Syria, as they were also by the Ammonites, who made their children pass through the fire to Moloch, and it cannot surprise us that a man brought up as Jephthah was, and leading the life of a freebooter at the head of a band of Syrian outlaws, should have the common Syrian notion of the efficacy of human sacrifices in great emergencies. His language, indeed, about Jehovah and Chemosh in ver. 24 savoured of semi-heathenism. Nor is it any valid objection that we are told in ver. 29 that "the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah." The phrase does not mean that thenceforth he was altogether under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, so that all that he did was inspired by the Spirit of truth and wisdom, but that the Spirit of the Lord inspired him with extraordinary strength and power for the great task of leading Israel to battle against the Ammonites. And I will offer. The rendering suggested by some, or I will offer, meaning, if the first. comer is a human being he shall be the Lord's, or if it is an animal I will offer it as a burnt offering, is wholly inadmissible.
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.
So Jephthah passed over unto the children of Ammon to fight against them; and the LORD delivered them into his hands.
Verse 32. - So Jephthah. The narrator takes up again the thread of the narrative, which was interrupted at ver. 29, the words he passed over up, to the children of Ammon being repeated.
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.
Verse 33. - From Aroer... to Minnith. The Aroer here mentioned seems to be that in the tribe of Gad (Numbers 32:34; Joshua 13:25), now Nahr Amman. Minnith is thought to have been situated four Roman miles from Heshbon, on the road to Rabbah of the children of Ammon, afterwards called Philadelphia. It was called Manith in the time of Eusebius. The plain of the vineyards, better taken as a proper name, Abel-ceramim. The site is not certainly known. Eusebius speaks of two Abels, both fertile in vineyards, one seven Roman miles from Rabbah, which is probably the one here meant.
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.
Verse 34. - To his house. Soever. 11. His only child (Je'hid) - the same term as is applied to Isaac (Genesis 22:2). Eusebius says that Cronus sacrificed his only son, who on that account was called Jeoud, which in the Phoenician tongue means an only son ('Prep. Evang.,' 4:17).
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.
Verse 35. - Thou hast brought me very low - literally, thou hast thoroughly bowed me down, i.e. with sorrow. I cannot go back. A forcible illustration of the evil of rash vows. He who makes them is so placed that he must sin. If he breaks his vow, he has taken God's name in vain; if he keeps it, he breaks one of God's commandments. So it was with Saul (1 Samuel 14:24, 39-45), with Herod (Mark 6:23); so it has often been since with those who have made unauthorised vows, and who in attempting to keep them have fallen into deadly sin.
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.
Verse 36. - My father, etc. See Numbers 32:2. The touching submission of Jephthah's daughter to her unnatural and terrible fate, while it reveals a most lovable character, seems also to show that the idea of a human sacrifice was not so strange to her mind as it is to ours. The sacrifice of his eldest son as a burnt offering by the king of Moab, some 300 years later, as related 2 Kings 3:27; the intended sacrifices of Iphigenia and of Phrixus in Greek mythology; the sacrifices of children to Moloch, so often spoken of in Scripture; the question in Micah 6:7, "Shall I give my first-born for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?" the Phoenician custom mentioned by Sanchoniatho (quoted by Porphyry), of sacrificing to Saturn one of those most dear to them in times of war, pestilence, or drought; the yearly sacrifice at Carthage of a boy chosen by lot ('Sil. Italicus,' 4, 765), and many other examples, prove the prevalence of human sacrifices in early times, and in heathen lands. This must be borne in mind in reading the history of Jephthah.
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.
Verse 37. - And bewail my virginity. It is a striking evidence of the strong desire among Hebrew women to be mothers, as seen in Sarah, Rachel, Hannah, and others, that it was the prospect of dying unmarried which seemed to Jephthah's daughter the saddest part of her fate. So in Psalm 78:63, their maidens were not given to marriage is one of the items of the misery of Israel (see too ver. 39).
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.
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,
Verse 39. - Who did with her according to his vow. Nothing can be more express than this statement. In fact, except the natural horror we feel at a human sacrifice, there is nothing to cast the least shade of doubt upon the fact that Jephthah's daughter was offered up as a burnt offering, in accordance with heathen notions, but, as Josephus says, neither "conformably to the law, nor acceptably to God." Most of the early Jewish commentators and all the Christian Fathers for ten or eleven centuries (Origen, Chrysostom, Theo-doret, Jerome, Augustine, etc.) held this view. Luther's comment is, "Some affirm that he did not sacrifice her, but the text is clear enough." She knew. Rather, she had known.
That the daughters of Israel went yearly to lament the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite four days in a year.
Verse 40. - The daughters of Israel, etc. No other trace of this custom, which was probably confined to Gilead, remains. To lament. The word rather means to praise, or celebrate, as in Judges 5:11 (rehearse).

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