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Bible Commentaries
Judges 11

Pett's Commentary on the BiblePett's Commentary


Chapter 11 Jephthah the Gileadite.

This chapter gives an account of a further judge of Israel, Jephthah, of his descent and character, of the call the elders of Gilead gave him to be their general and lead out their forces against the Ammonites, and the agreement he made with them.

It tells of the message that he sent to the children of Ammon, which brought on a dispute between him and them, about the land Israel possessed on that side of Jordan, which the Ammonites claimed, stressing Israel's right to it. As he probably expected, the children of Ammon did not agree with what he said, so he prepared to give battle. But prior to it he made a vow, after which he set forward and fought them, and obtained victory over them. The chapter concludes with the difficulties Jephthah had on his return home because of his vow, and the performance of it.

Verse 1

Chapter 11 Jephthah the Gileadite.

This chapter gives an account of a further judge of Israel, Jephthah, of his descent and character, of the call the elders of Gilead gave him to be their general and lead out their forces against the Ammonites, and the agreement he made with them.

It tells of the message that he sent to the children of Ammon, which brought on a dispute between him and them, about the land Israel possessed on that side of Jordan, which the Ammonites claimed, stressing Israel's right to it. As he probably expected, the children of Ammon did not agree with what he said, so he prepared to give battle. But prior to it he made a vow, after which he set forward and fought them, and obtained victory over them. The chapter concludes with the difficulties Jephthah had on his return home because of his vow, and the performance of it.

Judges 11:1

Now Jephthah the Gileadite was a mighty man of valour, and he was the son of a harlot, and Gilead begat Jephthah.’

The man the leaders of Gilead had their eye on was named Jephthah. His name means ‘opens’ and was probably short for Yiptah-el - ‘God opens (the womb)’. He was a great warrior. But there were problems. His father Gilead had begotten him by either an ordinary prostitute or by a wanton woman, although it has to be said in Gilead’s favour that he had then taken him into his home. But it was a different matter with his family. For when Jephthah grew up he was thrown out of his home as the son of ‘another woman’, that is not a true wife or even a concubine. This was contrary to the teaching of the law which protected ‘the fatherless’, for thereby they had made Jephthah fatherless (Deuteronomy 10:18; Deuteronomy 14:29; Deuteronomy 16:11; Deuteronomy 24:17).

Verse 2

And Gilead's wife bore him sons, and when his wife's sons grew up they drove Jephthah out, and said to him, “You shall not inherit in our father's house. For you are the son of another woman.’

It would seem that Jephthah was Gilead’s first child, whom he took into his house. But then his own wife bore him children, and as they grew up the question of inheritance cropped up. One problem was that he was the firstborn, (although not legally), and assertive. We can understand why they feared for the future. But even the child of a prostitute could expect some kind of inheritance from his father when he was a part of the household (compare Genesis 25:6), and he certainly had a right to his father’s reasonable provision. They, however, begrudged him even that, which was why they drove him out. As Gilead would presumably not have permitted this we must presume that he was either ill, or more probably dying, although it may be that he was driven to it by a constantly nagging wife, as Abraham partly was by Sarah (Genesis 21:10-11).

Yet as a bastard Jephthah and all his descendants would be barred from entering the assembly of Yahweh, that is from becoming full Israelites, for ten (or ‘a number of’) generations (Deuteronomy 23:2). It took that long for the taint to be removed. His position was an unhappy one. Interestingly the same was true for their foe, the Ammonites (Deuteronomy 23:3), or even worse, because their barring was ‘for ever’.

Verse 3

Then Jephthah fled from his brothers, and dwelt in the land of Tob, and there were gathered adventurers to Jephthah, and went out with him.’

So Jephthah had to leave his home and make his living as best he could in an unfriendly world. He had every disadvantage. He went to live in the region of Tob. Tob was an Aramaean city and area north of Gilead (compare 2 Samuel 10:6), possibly al-Taiyiba. It was named tby in the list of Thutmose III. But there his worth was recognised by similar stateless and rejected men and other adventurers who joined him under his leadership.

“Went out with him” indicates their purpose. They sought booty and spoils, probably attacking caravans, rustling and even attacking small towns and villages. And so, like David would after him, he developed skills in leading men, in fighting and in generalship, ready for when he would hear the call of Yahweh. He also built up a force of efficient, trained fighting men. It is probable also, that, like David, he did not attack his own countrymen, even possibly coming sometimes to their defence, otherwise they would not have considered him for the leadership.

We must beware of depicting him as too ‘rough’. He had grown up in an aristocratic household as a son of the house, and was used to good living. He had also had opportunity to develop his faith, even though he would have been excluded from much on the grounds that he was a bastard, although that may not have been generally known.

Verse 4

And it happened that, after a while, the children of Ammon made war against Israel.’

This is the continuation of Judges 10:17. Having encamped and waited for an approach from the elders of Gilead with the tribute due, the Ammonites now began to move into a war position and made a few sorties in preparation for the main attack.

Verse 5

And it was so, that when the children of Ammon made war against Israel, the elders of Gilead went to fetch Jephthah from the land of Tob.’

Recognising the imminence of the coming main attack the elders swallowed their pride, and some went personally themselves to see Jephthah to plead with him to come to their assistance. Here was one trained fighting general who would know how to deal with the enemy. It had been one thing in a fit of zeal to destroy the Ammonite idols (Judges 10:16) and withhold tribute, it was another thing now that war was inevitable and the size of the opposing army had been verified.

Verse 6

And they said to Jephthah, “Come and be our general, that we may fight with the children of Ammon.” ’

Their aim was that he should be general of their fighting men and bring his men with him. Victory would provide them with booty sufficient to satisfy them. They were admitting that without him they could not face Ammon with any hope of victory, and he knew it.

Verse 7

And Jephthah said to the elders of Gilead, “Did you not hate me, and drive me from my father's house? And why are you now come to me, when you are in distress?” ’

Jephthah’s reply demonstrates that in his time of need he had found no help from the elders. They had sided with Gilead’s true born sons and had had no time for his bastard. He had been in distress but they had been stony-faced and unwilling to help. Why did they now think that when they were in distress he would be any different? Why should he listen to them?

Verse 8

And the elders of Gilead said to Jephthah, “This is the reason that we are now turned again to you, that you may go with us and fight against the children of Ammon. And you shall be our head over all the inhabitants of Gilead.” ’

The elders frankly and humbly replied that the reason they had come was so that he would fight for them and lead them against the children of Ammon. In return they would offer him the headship of the people who had rejected him. This had not been their first intention but they now recognised that it was necessary. It was a big step, for strictly he had no right to be recognised as a true Israelite, never mind their head.

Verse 9

And Jephthah said to the elders of Gilead, “If you bring me home again to fight with the children of Ammon, and Yahweh deliver them before me, shall I be your head?”

Jephthah wanted to be quite clear about what they were offering. He had had no reason to trust them in the past. Why should he trust them now? But his reply demonstrated that in spite of his way of life, he trusted in Yahweh. His faith had been tested in the fires of affliction, and in his military way of life, and now he recognised that in order to obtain victory he would need Yahweh’s help. But his reply also gave them comfort. If Yahweh did give him victory, surely this would prove that Yahweh was satisfied for him to be their head. And if not, well, what had they lost?

Verse 10

And the elders of Gilead said to Jephthah, “Yahweh shall be witness between us. Surely according to your word, so will we do.” ’

The elders gave their solemn oath before Yahweh that they would do exactly as he requested.

Verse 11

Then Jephthah went with the elders of Israel, and the people made him head and commander-in-chief over them, and Jephthah spoke all his words before Yahweh in Mizpah.’

Satisfied with their oath Jephthah went with them, and no doubt took his men with him, promising them due reward. They would form his spearhead attack. Then he was appointed head and commander-in-chief by acclamation of the people and in the presence of Yahweh by an oath. This was done at Mizpah where the Gileadite forces were gathered, somewhat fearful at the thought of the approaching enemy (Judges 10:17). ‘Before Yahweh.’ It may well be that the Ark had been brought there to lead them into battle as in Judges 20:27 (compare also 1 Samuel 4:3-6; Joshua 6:6-7; Numbers 10:35-36). Or the oath may have been made at some recognised holy place.

Verse 12

And Jephthah sent messengers to the king of the children of Ammon, saying, “What have you to do with me that you are come to me to fight against my land.” ’

Jephthah’s fighting experience was immediately revealed. He knew that nothing was more important than to try to put fear in the hearts of the enemy and to show them that his own army were unafraid. His words were really a challenge. They would also help to delay things until a reply was received, giving him time to organise his forces.

Note the words ‘my land’. He was now its head and its chief and could so speak of it. But we must also remember that he was speaking to the king of Ammon as ‘king’ to king. It emphasised to the king of Ammon to whom the land belonged. He did not expect the king simply to acknowledge his claim and go away. But he knew that the challenge would make him more uncertain.

Verse 13

And the king of the children of Ammon replied to the messengers of Jephthah, “Because Israel took away my land when they came up out of Egypt, from Arnon even to Jabbok, and to Jordan. Now therefore restore those lands again peaceably.” ’

The reply came back just as haughtily. The king demanded the return to him of lands now under the control of Israel, (the territory of Reuben and Gad), which he claimed had once belonged to Ammon, (although Israel had taken them from the occupying Amorites, not from Ammon). But that land had never belonged to Ammon, it had belonged to Moab (Numbers 21:26). Thus it is clear that the king of Ammon was here linking Moab with himself in his claims. In other words he was speaking on behalf of an Ammonite/Moabite confederacy. (Compare Deuteronomy 2:9; Deuteronomy 2:19 where both were to be treated as the same by Israel because they were the descendants of Lot. They were ‘brothers’). Furthermore he knew perfectly well how impossible it would be for Jephthah to acknowledge his claims. It would be to admit that Reuben and Gad should pay tribute to him in perpetuity. That would be worth sacrificing a bit of Gilead for, especially as he could always come back for that later and no doubt would levy tribute, but he did not really expect it to happen. What he hoped was that Jephthah would give up and pay tribute.

“From Arnon even to Jabbok, and to Jordan.” The river Arnon was the border between Moab and the Reubenites (the latter living where the Sihon and the Amorites were previously - Numbers 21:13), and the river Jabbok was the northern border of Gad (formerly of Sihon and the Amorites - Numbers 21:24). It was true that the land occupied by Sihon and the Amorites had formerly belonged to Moab (Numbers 21:26-30) and was captured by the Amorites from Moab, and then by Israel from the Amorites and populated by Reuben and Gad. But it had not been Moab’s for a long time and all saw it as having belonged to the Amorites by right of conquest.

One special importance for us of this statement is that it demonstrates that this attack was therefore not only by Ammon, but included Moab who regularly allied themselves with Ammon, for they were ‘the descendants of Lot’ and therefore ‘brothers’. (Compare Judges 3:13 where Moab was predominant and mentioned alone all the way through except in Judges 11:13. Had it not been for Judges 11:13 we would have thought it was Moab alone. It was a general tendency among kings of a confederacy to take credit to their own people. Also see Deuteronomy 23:3).

We do not of course have here the full text of the message from the king of Ammon, and what follows suggests strongly that he did indeed stress that the territory had belonged to Moab their ‘brother’ and that it was theirs because it belonged to Chemosh their god.

Verse 14

And Jephthah sent messengers again to the king of the children of Ammon.’

Jephthah did not expect for one moment that the king of Ammon would give way. Nor was he arguing a legal case. And he no doubt had the message read out to his own army before sending it. It was written as much for them as for the enemy. The aim of both armies was to put themselves in the right and justify their claims before their deities so as to be sure of their help, and to stir up their armies to support a ‘righteous (in their eyes) cause’. No one fights better than the man who fights for a patriotic principle and considers that he has a grievance and that his god is with him in it. And they would want their gods to fight for them.

So Jephthah was not only trying to put the king of Ammon in the wrong, he was also demonstrating to Yahweh why He should fight for Israel, and demonstrating that Melek and Chemosh had no good reason for fighting for Ammon, indeed that it was Chemosh who had given away the land in the first place. (Compare for a similar attempt at disillusionment, although on different grounds, 2 Kings 17:18-36).

The words he used show a good knowledge of history. This may partly have been a result of guidance and coaching from the elders and priests of Gilead, but he had grown up in an important family and would be aware of the history of the past which exalted Yahweh. But the essential message was his, for he knew exactly what he wanted to do. He wanted to put his enemies in the wrong, disarm their gods, and take away the sense of the patriotism of their action. Whether he really believed in their gods is beside the point. His recipients certainly did.

Verses 15-17

And said to him, “Thus says Jephthah, Israel did not take away the land of Moab, nor the land of the children of Ammon. But when they came from Egypt, and Israel walked through the wilderness to the Sea of Reeds (to Ezion Geber - Numbers 33:35), and came to Kadesh, then Israel sent messages to the king of Edom, saying ‘Let me I pray you pass through your land. But the king of Edom did not respond. And in the same way he sent to the king of Moab, but he would not, and Israel abode in Kadesh.”

Note the majestic opening, ‘thus says Jephthah’. Jephthah wanted the king of Ammon to recognise with whom he was dealing. We can sense here the pride of the newly appointed chief. Then he followed it by reminding the king of Ammon about how Yahweh had delivered them from the might of Egypt. ‘They came from Egypt.’ Not many nations could say that. It was a part of history, and what Yahweh had done in delivering them from Egypt was widely known in the area. Let him think about that! Then they had travelled through the wilderness seeking a home. But when they arrived at Edom, Edom would not help them, and neither would Moab. Every word is loaded as he depicts how Israel were wronged.

His aim here was to put Moab in the wrong. They had refused to help Israel and had made life difficult for them, even though Israel had promised to refrain from attacking them, recognising them as related tribes holding their land under Yahweh’s good hand (Deuteronomy 2:9). This was base ingratitude and demonstrated that they actually deserved worse than they got. Thus they had no case against Israel. It was the other way round. There is more detail here than in Numbers 22:0 where no messengers to Moab are mentioned, but it spoke of what was Moses’ general practise (Numbers 20:14; Numbers 21:21) and he was presenting it in a way that put Moab clearly in the wrong. There was nothing here that could be specifically denied.

Note the use of ‘Israel’ as subject of an active verb, very rare in Judges apart from in this speech. His aim was to depict Israel on a high level as a nation and not simply as a group of confederate tribes. The stronger he could show Israel to be the more likely that they would finally succeed. And there is possibly there too a hint that he now saw them as his people.

Then he went on to point out that not only had Moab or Ammon no right to the land in dispute but that their god Chemosh had actually handed it over to Sihon and the Amorites (Numbers 21:29). And that Israel had obtained it from the latter by right of conquest. Thus the land belonged by right of conquest to the people of Yahweh Who had dispossessed the Amorites.

But first he wanted to put Moab now even more in the wrong.

Verse 18

Then they walked 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 they pitched on the other side of Arnon. But they did not come within the border of Moab, for Arnon was the border of Moab.”

Israel, he pointed out, had carefully avoided Moabite territory. Rather than appropriating it they had left it alone. Thus they had treated Moab more than fairly. Why then were Ammon and Moab now attacking them?

Verse 19

And Israel sent messengers to Sihon king of the Amorites, the king of Heshbon, and Israel said to him, ‘Let us pass, we pray you, through your land to my place.”

Israel had not only been generous to Moab they had also dealt in a friendly way with Sihon and the Amorites, with their capital city at Heshbon. All they had asked to do was pass through without fighting. They had had no intention of conquest. They had just wanted to reach ‘their place’ safely, the land which Yahweh had promised to them and which was therefore theirs. It was Sihon who insisted on fighting for the land. Israel’s behaviour was thus in contrast to Ammon’s now, for Ammon were positively invading it without provocation.

Verses 20-21

But Sihon did not trust Israel to pass through his border. But Sihon gathered all his people together, and pitched in Jahaz, and fought against Israel. And Yahweh, the 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.”

Jephthah stressed that they had been forced to fight Sihon and the Amorites against their will. But that when they had had to do so, Yahweh had delivered it into their hands. It had thus clearly been Yahweh’s intention that they should have the land. So they had divine rights to it. Then he carefully stressed that it was the Amorites who were the actual inhabitants of the country at that time, not the Moabites, so that Israel had not taken it from Moab but from its inhabitants, from the Amorites.

He also probably hoped that the king of Ammon would note in passing what had happened to Sihon and the Amorites as a result of them confronting Yahweh.

Verses 22-23

“And they possessed all the border of the Amorites, from Arnon even to Jabbok, and from the wilderness even to Jordan. So now Yahweh, the God of Israel, has dispossessed the Amorites from before his people Israel, and should you possess them?”

So Jephthah emphasised that their right to possession of the land was because they had possessed it when Yahweh had dispossessed the Amorites on their behalf. Thus the Ammonites and Moabites had no right of possession such as they claimed. Let them beware. Yahweh would not be pleased with their claims.

Note what he was trying to do. He was not denying that the Ammonites could argue that if they conquered it then it meant that their god had given them the land as against Yahweh. He would have accepted that as being correct. But what he wanted them (and Yahweh and Chemosh and Melek) to recognise was that if they did so it was by right of conquest, not because of any previous rights. They had no justification other than conquest. Thus no nationalistic pride was involved. They had no inherent right to it.

Verse 24

Will you not possess that which Chemosh your god gives you to possess? So whoever Yahweh our God has dispossessed from before us, them we will possess.”

Chemosh was in fact the god of Moab, not the god of Ammon. Their god was Melek (Molech, Milcom). Thus many have claimed that Jephthah here made a mistake. But he has made no mistake. The king of Ammon was arguing about and laying claim to land that had in times past, before the Amorites had captured it, belonged to Moab, and he was making his claim on those very grounds (Judges 11:13). From his viewpoint that land had once belonged to Chemosh. So Jephthah wanted him to face up to the fact that it was Chemosh who had relinquished it to the Amorites (Numbers 21:29).

Essentially, he was saying, it was Chemosh, their own god (one of the gods of the confederacy) who had not given its possession to the Moabites, nor to the Ammonites, and it was this Chemosh to whom the king of the Ammonites was in the last resort appealing, Chemosh who had given it to the Amorites. Let them therefore possess what he had patently given to them, and recognise that he gave that other land to the Amorites and that Yahweh has take that land from the Amorites and given it to Israel. And that that is why they now claimed possession of it.

Once we recognise that the king of Ammon was speaking on behalf of an Ammonite/Moabite alliance (which he had to be to make the claim for the land that he made) the difficulty disappears. He was speaking on behalf of both Melek and Chemosh, and in relation to that particular land, of Chemosh. It was Chemosh who could theoretically claim a past right to the land, not Melek.

We must also recognise the possibility that Jephthah was cleverly trying to sow the seeds of division between the two allies. If he could get them to argue Melek against Chemosh, and that it was the king of Moab who should be asking for the land and not the king of Ammon, he would have divided their ranks.

At this point we can consider the effect these arguments, read out before his own men, were having on them. They would be chuckling and cheering and feeling strongly fortified. And his hope was that when the Ammon/Moabite leadership and their men heard it they would be feeling the opposite.

Jephthah now went on to point out that their delay in making this claim itself demonstrated that they had no case, and that no one in the past had dared to argue with Israel about it.

Verse 25

And now are you anything better than Balak, the son of Zippor, king of Moab? Did he ever strive against Israel? Or did he ever fight against them?”

Now Jephthah sought to stress the superiority of Israel and of Yahweh their God. Even the famous Balak of Moab had not dared to claim back the land Israel had taken from the Amorites. Indeed, as they would be aware, he had been so unwilling to take on Israel, because he had heard what they had done to the Amorites with the help of Yahweh their God, that he had had to seek the help of the famous prophet Balaam against them.

Verse 26

While Israel dwelt in Heshbon and her towns, and in Aroer and her towns, and in all the cities that are along by the side of Arnon for three hundred years, why did you not recover them within that time?”

Indeed since then Israel had occupied the cities of the area, even those on the very borders of Moab, for ‘three hundred years’. And there had been no attempt at any time to claim even those cities along the border of the Arnon as theirs, never mind the capital Heshbon itself. Why, if these towns really belonged to Chemosh and Moab, had they not recovered them previously? Thus they had clearly not seen it in the way the king of Ammon did now.

The ‘three hundred years’ means a long period of time going back into the distant past. Three indicates completeness and the hundreds indicate a long period. It is doubtful if it was intended literally. It was a generalisation. No one would have kept a record of the number of years. We know of no official recorder in Israel until the time of David.

But even if taken literally, by ancient reckoning it need represent only about one hundred and fifty years, each ‘century’ being dated from one well known occurrence to another, for a part of one hundred would have been treated as ‘one hundred’. We must remember that there was no continual, carefully worked out calendar. Years were dated backward or forward from outstanding events (e.g. Amos 1:1) or from the accession of kings.

“Heshbon.” Tel Hesban, which has been mooted as Heshbon, had no remains dating back as far as the time of Sihon, although there are remains dating back to this time. Sihon’s Heshbon was thus probably one of the nearby mounds yet to be excavated. ‘Aroer.’ This is probably modern ‘Ara‘ir overlooking the deep gorge of the River Arnon (compare Numbers 32:34). It was later fortified by Mesha, king of Moab as witnessed on the Moabite stone, ‘he built Aroer and made the road by the Arnon’.

Verse 27

I therefore have not sinned against you, but you do me wrong to war against me. Yahweh, the Judge, be judge this day between the children of Israel and the children of Ammon.”

Jephthah then finished on a note of injured hurt. He, representing Israel, had done nothing wrong to Ammon. It was Ammon who were behaving wrongly. Thus Yahweh the righteous Judge would judge appropriately and act accordingly. Yahweh would be on his side. He no doubt trusted that Yahweh, and his own army, would note his words as well as the king of Ammon.

Note how he spoke of himself as representing the nation. He was already behaving like a king. Previously he has spoken only of ‘Israel’, the term used by the king of Ammon (Judges 11:13). Now he speaks of ‘the children of Israel’ because he is contrasting them with ‘the children of Ammon’.

By now, he knew, the king of Ammon would be thinking seriously. These were not the words of some frightened leader trying to bolster up his own courage, these were the words of a man of iron, who was unafraid, who was aware that Yahweh was on his side and would act for him, who was righteously indignant and who had no fear of Ammon. The king had been used to the cowering ways of the elders of Gilead when he received his tribute. Now he would realise why that tribute had recently been refused. A new man had arisen in Israel, a man of Yahweh.

Verse 28

However, the king of the children of Ammon did not listen to the words of Jephthah which he sent him.’

That is, the king did not admit that he was in the wrong and return to Ammon. No one would have been more surprised than Jephthah if he had. It was not likely that he would easily relinquish the tribute that they had been receiving for so long. But Jephthah had made the impact that he wanted to make, both on his own troops and on the enemy, and, he trusted, on Yahweh. He had declared his faith and dependence on Him. Now he looked for Yahweh to respond. And He did.

Verse 29

Then the Spirit of Yahweh came on Jephthah, and he passed over Gilead and Manasseh, and passed over Mizpeh of Gilead, and from Mizpeh of Gilead he passed over to the children of Ammon.’

Jephthah was now taken possession of by Yahweh, and he went through Gilead and Manasseh (not necessarily in person) gathering further troops to join those already gathered in Mizpeh (Judges 10:17). Judges 12:2 may also indicate that he sent a summons to the tribal confederacy. Then he reviewed his army at Mizpeh of Gilead and was satisfied. So then he set off with his men and his army to face the Ammonites.

Alternately it may be that the troops that had gathered at Mizpah (Judges 10:17) had returned home to see to their fields and flocks when no leader was forthcoming, and thus had now to be re-gathered.

Verse 30

And Jephthah vowed a vow to Yahweh, and said, “If you will indeed deliver the children of Ammon into my hand, then it shall be, that whoever comes forth from the doors of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the children of Ammon, they shall be Yahweh’s, and I will offer them up for a whole offering.” ’

Before going into battle Jephthah made a vow to Yahweh. He promised to ‘offer as a whole offering’ to Him whoever first came to meet him from the doors of his house, to be Yahweh’s for ever, a precious gift to God which God could choose for Himself. He possibly also hoped that news would filter through to the Ammonites of what he had done so that they would hear and fear. He may even have ensured that it did. That may well be why he put it in sacrificial terms. They would interpret his words in terms of their own god Melek who demanded such sacrifices. (His previous speech demonstrated the value he put on propaganda).

The question of what Jephthah actually intended here has been hotly debated. At face value, in terms of the system of sacrifices in Israel, it appears to mean that he would offer such a person up as a burnt offering, a human sacrifice, for that is what the technical phrase ‘offer up as a whole offering’, when used of animals, always indicated (e.g. Genesis 22:13). It was also what Abraham originally understood of his son in Genesis 22:2, until God then reinterpreted it. But is that what Jephthah, who probably intended Ammon to see it in that way, actually meant Israel to understand by it?

In considering the matter we should consider the following:

· That the only reference up to this time of a human being being ‘offered up as a whole offering’ resulted in his being substituted by a ram and himself dedicated to the covenant of Yahweh (Genesis 22:2; Genesis 22:13; Genesis 22:17-18). The letter to the Hebrews can actually say of this, “By faith Abraham offered up Isaac”. Thus the whole transaction was seen as ‘the offering up of Isaac’.

· That all mentions of actual human sacrifices up to this time were rather described in terms of being ‘passed through the fire’ (Leviticus 18:21; Deuteronomy 18:10).

· That all human sacrifices in this area (to Melek and possibly to Baal) mentioned in the Old Testament were of children, and probably children of the offerer. Thus the offering of a servant, which Jephthah probably anticipated, would have been an insult to Yahweh.

· That when the firstborn of Israel were ‘due’ to be sacrificed to Yahweh, they were redeemed by the substitution of a lamb and themselves dedicated to serve in the Tabernacle as ‘belonging to Yahweh’ (Exodus 34:19-20; Numbers 3:12-13).

· That in the cult of Israel the offerings of a human being or of an ass were unacceptable. They were ‘unclean’. Thus they had to be replaced by a substitute.

· That this had been a time of Yahwist revival (Judges 10:16) and it is therefore unlikely that a human sacrifice would be permitted.

· That it is unlikely that a priest would be found to make the offering, or that the tribal confederacy would have permitted it or done nothing about it.

· That what is said about the actual event fits well with Jephthah’s daughter being dedicated as a virgin to service at the door of the Tabernacle.


We will now consider this in more detail. In Genesis 22:0 Abraham was told to ‘offer up as a whole offering’ his son Isaac. But as we know God Himself restrained him from doing it, and so he offered up a substitute instead, and was thus seen as obeying Genesis 22:2 (compare Hebrews 11:17). It could be therefore that ‘to offer up as a whole offering’ a human being was later seen as accomplished when that person was wholly dedicated to the service of Yahweh, and ‘offered up’, like Isaac was, by the offering up of a substitute, thus making the person in question ‘sanctified to Yahweh’, which is what finally resulted for Isaac. Alternately it may be that Jephthah, knowing the story of Abraham’s offering, himself interpreted it that way.

It is significant that there are no other examples of the use of the phrase ‘offered up as a whole offering’ of human beings, apart from 2 Kings 3:27 (much later than Jephthah) where the king of Moab ‘took his eldest son who should have reigned in his place and offered him for a whole offering on the wall’. But Moab were a very different kind of nation. They were very familiar with Melek (Molech). Melek was the god of Ammon, their neighbouring ‘brother’ state, and he was also clearly widely worshipped and included in the pantheons of other nations, including probably Moab, as witness the verses soon to be considered And he demanded human sacrifice. We are not told in the case of Moab to whom the offering was made, but the likelihood from what follows below is that it was made to Melek. It was an extreme sacrifice to an extreme god. We cannot determine Israel’s position from Moabite behaviour.

The writer spoke there in terms of what Israel saw. They saw the setting up of a sacrifice, they saw the son offered by fire, and they described it in shocked tones in their own terms of ‘a burnt offering, a whole offering’. Moab may well have described it in terms of ‘passing through the fire’. This cannot be used as determinative of the meaning of the phrase to Jephthah hundreds of year before. It demonstrated that such language could be used of a human sacrifice, but not that that was what the language would have meant to Israel previously.

We should further note that, with the possible exception of 1 Kings 16:34, which may not be speaking of human sacrifice but of providential accidents, (and was anyway referring to his own children), all human sacrifices mentioned in Scripture were of young children, and usually specifically people’s own children (see below), and they were never made to Yahweh, nor were they described as ‘being offered as whole offering’.

In contrast the impression given here is that Jephthah was not expecting his daughter to be the one who came out and that he was not thinking of ‘offering’ his own child but was thinking in terms of a servant. However the idea of offering a servant would seemingly not only be unique in Israel, but unique in that whole wider area as far as we know. For when human sacrifices were made it was their sons that they sacrificed not their servants. The latter is a practise unknown elsewhere in Scripture.

So if Jephthah had really intended an ‘acceptable’ human sacrifice involving death surely he would have offered, right from the beginning, to sacrifice his own child in accordance with custom, for that was the concept which in the area in question lay behind such sacrifices. To do anything less would indeed be an insult to Yahweh. On the other hand if he was thinking of someone being sanctified to the service of the Tabernacle he would think in terms of a male, and would thus consider a male servant acceptable as he had no son. The man would then be ‘adopted’ as a Levite, servicing the sanctuary, like Samuel.

Finally we must consider the confirming fact that under Israelite cultic requirements a human being was no more an acceptable offering than an ass. The Law made clear that neither man nor ass could be offered as a whole offering to Yahweh. Both had to be redeemed, a man compulsorily (Exodus 13:13). For an ass there was the alternative of breaking its neck. There would therefore be no question in the mind of Israel that if a human being was ‘sanctified to Yahweh’, whether by oath or any other way, that human being must be ‘offered’ by being redeemed and replaced by a clean animal, as originally happened with their firstborn. The situation would not otherwise be acceptable to Him.

Additional Note on Human Sacrifices.

We know from archaeology that human sacrifices did take place in Canaan. But they were not commonplace. To a large extent they appear to have been connected with the god Melek (Molech) who, although the god of Ammon, was widely worshipped (as in Israel at times), and that kind of sacrifice formed a pattern, a pattern which does not fit in with that above.

As we have already seen to speak of a human sacrifice as ‘offered up as a whole offering’ only occurs twice elsewhere. The first was Genesis 22:2, where Abraham was told to do so for Isaac and fulfilled it by offering a substitute. The only other example is 2 Kings 3:27 mentioned above where it is Israel’s description of what the king of Moab did in the direst extremity against a Moabite background. The closest phrases otherwise were Abraham’s offering of Isaac where he raised his knife to ‘slay’ his son as ‘a whole offering’ (Genesis 22:10), and Jeremiah 19:5 where it says, ‘they have built the high places of Baal to burn their sons in the fire for whole offerings to Baal’, the latter hundreds of years after the time of Jephthah. Notice the specific emphasis on burn, not used by Jephthah. This may indicate that Jeremiah knew that in Israel to ‘offer up as a whole offering’ could, when used of a human being, have a different meaning.

But this latter use may in fact have been Jeremiah’s own ironic and sarcastic way of describing what was usually described as being ‘passed through the fire to Molech’, for the idea appears nowhere else. And it seems clear that Jeremiah was not intending to be taken literally for he immediately connected this with Topheth and the valley of Hinnom which was the very place where children were ‘passed through the fire’ to Melek (Molech) (2 Kings 23:10; Jeremiah 32:35), not Baal. It would seem that to Jeremiah they could possibly both be dismissed in the same breath.

There may indeed have been some considerable interconnecting in people’s minds between ‘the lord’ Baal and ‘the king’ Melek, and we should especially note that later Jeremiah speaks of ‘building the high places of Baal, which are in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to cause their sons and their daughters to pass through to Molech’ (Jeremiah 32:35), thus connecting the two intimately. So his sarcastic reference to ‘burning their sons as a whole offering to Baal’ may well be his way of describing being passed through the fire to Molech

In view of this, and what our examination below reveals, his words may well not have been a technical description but Jeremiah’s own rather scathing irony.

The fact is that the predominant technical phrase in connection with human sacrifice was to ‘cause their sons and their daughters to pass through the fire’ or even just ‘to pass through’, with ‘fire’ understood (Leviticus 18:21; Deuteronomy 18:10; 2Ki 16:3 ; 2 Kings 17:17; 2 Kings 21:6; 2Ki 23:10 ; 2 Chronicles 33:6; Jeremiah 32:35; Ezekiel 16:20-21; Ezekiel 20:26; Ezekiel 20:31; Ezekiel 23:37). This was said of the action of Ahaz when he ‘made his son to pass through the fire’ (2 Kings 16:3). In Leviticus 20:2 it was described as a person ‘giving their seed to Molech’. Sometimes it was ‘to slay their children’ (Isaiah 57:5; Ezekiel 23:39), but there it was not technical language but contemptuous. Deuteronomy 12:31 refers to ‘their sons and their daughters do they burn in fire to their gods’, Jeremiah 7:31 says, ‘they have built the high places of Topheth, which is in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in fire’, while in 2 Kings 17:31, (compare 2 Kings 17:17 where the same is described as ‘being passed through the fire’), ‘the Sepharvites burnt their children in the fire to Adram-melech and Annam-melech’ (both variants of Molech/Melek). Thus ‘burn in the fire’ may have also been another semi-technical phrase, or it may simply have been a vivid description of what actually happened. But none parallel Jephthah’s technical description. The emphasis in those cases is on ‘burning’.

With regard to other references Psalms 106:37-38 says, ‘Yes, they sacrificed their sons and their daughters to demons, and shed innocent blood, even the blood of their sons and their daughters whom they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan, and the land was polluted with blood.’ Ezekiel 16:20 says, ‘moreover you have taken you sons and your daughters whom you have borne to me, and these you have sacrificed to them to be devoured’. These latter two verses then do look on the child sacrifices as ‘sacrifices’ (zebach), although not necessarily technically. Compare Ezekiel 16:20-21. Micah 6:7; Micah 6:7 is only speaking theoretically of something farfetched but says ‘shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?’ The reply expected is ‘no, it would be no use’. But none see them as ‘whole offerings’.

If we acknowledge that in Jeremiah 19:5 it was not technical language that was being used, it leaves the only serious technical references to the giving of ‘a whole offering’ of a human being, (and in both cases a child of the offerer), as that of Abraham in Genesis 22:0 and the king of Moab in 2 Kings 3:27. But, as we have seen, in the former case the child was offered to God but not slain, as Jephthah would well know, while the latter was a much later description in an area closely involved with a god who demanded human sacrifices and is descriptive of what literally happened. So the message to Israel was clear. Yahweh does not want human sacrifice.

To summarise it would seem that such sacrifices were always of children, and the impression given is that it was of people’s own children, in some cases specifically the firstborn (Ezekiel 20:26; Mic 6:7 ; 2 Kings 3:27; Genesis 22:0). They gave that which was costly. We also note that the main god involved was Melek (Molech), although similar sacrifices may have been offered to other Canaanite gods; that the technical term was ‘to pass through the fire’; that while they were looked on as sacrifices they were not described as such technically; and that the ‘offering as a whole offering’ of a human being was only used in one case and that a unique one. It is so rare that it is only used to describe a human sacrifice which was not offered to Molech in the usual way, and that in a country with close association with Molech. All these factors are absent in the case of Jephthah who used it technically in terms of the cult.

(End of note.)

Additionally we must ask the question as to who, if this was a human sacrifice, would make this offering. Strictly such an offering had to be made by a priest (as head of his household before the time of Moses Abraham was a priest). But what priest of Yahweh would consent to offer such an offering? And would the children of Gilead as a whole also have allowed such an offering, even to a victor? It would have been seen as an abomination to Yahweh, and the substitutionary restriction appealed to. And certainly the tribal confederacy would have protested. This was especially so as it was a time of revival of Yahwism.

Consider the huge impact on Israel of what the king of Moab did in 2 Kings 3:27. They were so appalled that they no longer had the stomach to fight and returned home. They were devastated. It is thus difficult to see how Jephthah could have arranged such an offering with so little protest. And even more difficult to see how it could have caused so small a stir among his compatriots. Even to idolaters among them such sacrifices were made to Molech not to Yahweh.

The usual reply would be to the effect that Jephthah was an outcast who had a crude if rugged faith, and would ‘offer the whole offering’ himself, but he grew up in Gilead, and his basic ideas were formed there, and we have no grounds to consider that his beliefs would be any more crude than those of another young man who lived under the same circumstances, the godly David. He would know as well as anyone else in Gilead that such a self-offered offering would not be acceptable to Yahweh. Such offerings could be made by individuals only when there was direct commandment from Yahweh. And even then we still have to take account of the lack of external reaction to what he supposedly did.

The simplest explanation which alone fits in with all the above facts is that ‘offering a human being as a whole offering’ (Genesis 22:2) was seen as fulfilled in Israel when a person was specifically dedicated to Yahweh by a vow and a substitutionary burnt offering was then made in his stead. The person in question being then seen as belonging to Him and ‘sanctified to Yahweh’, ‘offered as a whole offering’.

Thus our suggested alternative to a literal sacrifice is that the ‘offering of a whole offering’ of a human being meant a total dedication of that person to the service of Yahweh, probably in relation to the Tabernacle, with a clean beast being offered as a literal ‘whole offering’ in his place. This can be further confirmed by comparing the situation regarding the firstborn.

As a result of the slaying of the firstborn in Egypt every firstborn male that opened the womb belonged to Yahweh. ‘Sanctify to me all the firstborn. Whatever opens the womb among the children of Israel, both of man and of beast, it is mine’ (Exodus 13:2). This was later amplified as referring to male firstborn (Exodus 13:12-13; Exodus 13:15). And it is clear that the primary idea behind this was that as Yahweh’s they had to be sacrificed to Him. This is brought out in that the firstborn of cattle had to be offered up as sacrifices, and the firstborn of men redeemed by the offering up of a substitute.

Consider also ‘The firstborn of your sons you shall give to me’ (Exodus 22:29). ‘All that opens the womb is mine --- the firstborn of your sons you shall redeem’ (Exodus 34:19-20). See also Numbers 3:13, ‘I sanctified to myself all the firstborn in the land of Israel, both man and beast. They shall be mine. I am Yahweh.’ This demonstrates that the basic principle was that, as Yahweh’s, the firstborn sons should theoretically be offered to Him and sacrificed. But that their redemption was necessary because, as with asses, they were not cultically ‘clean’, that is, they were not suitable for sacrifice. This was then to be followed by their total ‘dedication’ to Yahweh because they had now been bought by Him, resulting in their subsequent service in His sanctuary, later substituted by the Levites.

And what was the purpose of this? That they may serve in the sanctuary of God. So all firstborn sons wholly belonged to Yahweh, in the case of the cattle to be offered as sacrifices, in the case of the men to be redeemed by a lamb being offered in their stead, and set apart to Yahweh to serve in the Tabernacle. Firstborn asses too could not be sacrificed because they were unclean, but they were not set apart for the Tabernacle but handed back to their owners in return for a substitute offering. They were not suitable for service in the Tabernacle. This brings out the difference between man and ass. Man was ‘unclean’ as far as sacrifice was concerned but ‘clean’ for Tabernacle service once redeemed and once they had gone through due process (in the case of Levites as in Numbers 8:6-14, including the offering of a whole offering), although not in the sanctuary itself which was only for the priests (Numbers 4:20). The ass was unclean for both.

This especially comes out in that God then chose to replace these firstborn with the Levites. ‘And I, behold I have taken the Levites from among the children of Israel instead of all the firstborn who open the womb among the children of Israel, and the Levites shall be mine. For all the firstborn are mine. On the day that I smote all the firstborn in the land of Egypt I sanctified to me all the firstborn in Israel, both man and beast. They shall be mine. I am Yahweh’ (Numbers 3:12-13). So the firstborn males were numbered as against the Levites, and when there were more firstborn males than Levites they had to be redeemed by the payment of five shekels to Aaron and his sons as representatives of Yahweh (Numbers 3:39-51). Then the Levites were to serve in the Tabernacle in their place (Numbers 18:14-18). From then on firstborn male humans had to be redeemed for five shekels once they were a month old, being constantly substituted for by Levites who were also being born (Numbers 18:15-17).

We can gather from this that, in the cases of these humans, service in the Tabernacle replaced their being sacrificed as an offering. They were ‘offered up’, but as living sacrifices to God, while their deaths were symbolised and effected by the sacrifice of a lamb almost certainly as a whole offering. In the eyes of Israel they ‘died’.

Many suggest that that was exactly what Jephthah intended. He saw them as ‘offered up as whole offerings’, and was probably indicating his intention to offer up to the service of Yahweh whoever Yahweh demonstrated that He wanted. What he did not expect was that it would be his daughter that would be involved. But that women did serve ‘at the door of the Tabernacle’ we know (Exodus 38:8; 1 Samuel 2:22), and while they were not particularly required to be virgins, for after all they had not all been ‘offered up’ to Yahweh, there may well have been some dedicated virgins there. But here Jephthah’s daughter was given to Yahweh in a unique way. She was His, a whole offering to Him. A lifelong Nazirite who must touch nothing unclean. And that was why she had thus to remain a virgin.

Such a dedication to the Tabernacle of a human being is also found in the case of Samuel although not in the same terms (1 Samuel 1:11). Compare also Samson’s dedication to Yahweh from birth as a Nazarite (Judges 13:5), although not to the Tabernacle. Such dedications were clearly a feature of the times.

(End of Excursus.)

Verses 32-33

Judges 11:32-33 a

‘So Jephthah passed over to the children of Ammon, to fight against them, and Yahweh delivered them into his hand, And he smote them from Aroer until you come to Minnith, even twenty cities, and to Abel-cheramim, with a very great slaughter. So the children of Ammon were subdued before the children of Israel.’

The details of the battle are brief. Jephthah had been filled with the Spirit of Yahweh and had revealed his dedication by his vow. Thus as far as the writer was concerned Yahweh fought for him and the battle was won. We may, however, consider that he was also greatly helped by having his own trained band of fighting men and an astute knowledge of generalship. The victory was total. He cleared the border of Reuben (Aroer), took town after town (‘ten’ would mean ‘a number of’ so twenty (ten intensified) probably meant ‘a considerable number of’) decimated their army, and swept them out of the land and beyond. Minnith and Abel-cheramim are unknown although Minnith appears to have been famous for its wheat (Ezekiel 27:17) and Abel-cheramim means ‘the meadow of vineyards’. The suggestion may be that he appropriated the richest land of Ammon for Israel, or that he released for Reuben fertile and rich land which had been occupied.

Note the way that Judges 11:29-32 sweep forward. They begin with the Spirit of Yahweh coming on Jephthah, and end with Yahweh delivering the enemy into his hand, with his vow mentioned in the middle. This confirms that his vow was acceptable to Yahweh and militates against it indicating human sacrifice.

Judges 11:33 b

‘So the children of Ammon were subdued before the children of Israel.’

The final state of things is described. Ammon, and probably her brother nation Moab, were subdued. They were no longer able to trouble Israel. Yahweh had fulfilled His promised deliverance.

Verse 34

And Jephthah came to Mizpah to his house, and, behold, his daughter came out to meet him with timbrels, and with dances, and she was his only child, besides her he had neither son nor daughter.’

Yahweh had heard his prayer and had given him victory. Now He took him at his word. For when Jephthah approached his house (which he had presumably set up since arriving in Mizpah and becoming chief), his daughter led the welcoming procession that came out to greet him. She was full of joy at her father’s success, as were those who followed her, and they danced and waved their timbrels. We are reminded of Exodus 15:20 where, after the glorious victory at the Sea of Reeds, Miriam led a similar triumphant procession. But both reader and hearer have been waiting for this moment and know in their hearts the sadness that will result.

The timbrel (or tabret) was a kind of tambourine, held and struck with the hand, used to accompany singing and dancing. It was an instrument of joy and gladness (1 Samuel 18:6; Isaiah 5:12).

“She was his only child, besides her he had neither son nor daughter.” The pathos of the situation comes home. She was all that Jephthah had in the world in order to secure offspring to ensure the future of his house. But now he knew that she must be dedicated to Yahweh, remaining a virgin and serving Him in the Tabernacle. The point is not only that she was his only child, but that, in view of that, after so many years of trying, he was unlikely to have any others. He had no doubt made the effort over the years.

Verse 35

And so it was that, when he saw her, he tore his clothes and said, “Alas my daughter, you have brought me very low, and you are as one of those who trouble me, for I have opened my mouth to Yahweh and I cannot go back.” ’

When he saw who first came from his house he was devastated. He ‘tore his clothes’, an expression of great emotion and deep grief (compare Genesis 37:34). He was not blaming his daughter. He was simply letting her know how deeply he felt the consequences of his vow. But his firm faith comes out in his final words. He intended to fulfil his vow whatever it cost him.

The question of vows is a complicated one. Numbers 18:14 says, ‘everything devoted in Israel shall be yours (that is, Aaron’s).’ But it makes provision for the fact that a human being who is ‘devoted’ (strictly set apart as Yahweh’s) can be redeemed (Judges 11:15). On the other hand Leviticus 27:28-29 says that anything ‘devoted’ must be put to death without redemption. The distinction lies in the meaning of devoted. The latter has in mind when Yahweh has devoted something to destruction (Joshua 6:17 following; Deuteronomy 20:16-17; Numbers 21:2-3 - Hormah means ‘devoted’; 1 Samuel 15:3 onwards). In that case there is no remission. The former means something ‘devoted’ because of legal requirements such as a firstborn, or an oath, when the provisions of the law must be followed whatever they be.

But in Leviticus 27:1-8 provision is made for a rash vow to be redeemed. The price of redemption for a woman would be thirty shekels. On the other hand Numbers 30:2 declares, ‘When a man vows a vow to Yahweh, or swears an oath to bind his soul with a bond, he shall not break his word. He shall do according to all that proceeds from his mouth’. Once put into words it is binding (Deuteronomy 23:21-23). Much clearly therefore depended on what type of vow was in mind. The latter would seem to have especially in mind a vow like Jephthah’s, one made solemnly to Yahweh. From that there was no escape unless it was contrary to Yahweh. However, in the case of a vow to do something displeasing to Yahweh - a vow could not be paid with ‘dirty’ money, nor, we must assume, with something that was an abomination to Yahweh (see Deuteronomy 23:18) - it is probable that Leviticus 27:1-8 would be applied.

This would suggest that while Jephthah’s vow was heartrending, it was pleasing to Yahweh, otherwise Leviticus 27:1-8 could have been invoked. And it thus points to his daughter becoming ‘sanctified to Yahweh’ in the Tabernacle, ‘offered up as a whole offering’ in the offering up of a lamb, and then becoming one of those of whom Yahweh would say, “She is mine”. This rather than actually being sacrificed in a way that could not be pleasing to Him, indeed was an abomination to Him. Jephthah’s ignorance or otherwise does not come into this. He would certainly not have been short on advice and guidance about the matter.

Verse 36

And she said to him, “My father, you have opened your mouth to Yahweh. Do to me in accordance with what has proceeded from your mouth, forasmuch as Yahweh has taken vengeance for you of your enemies, even of the children of Ammon.” ’

His daughter comforted him as best she could. Yahweh had fulfilled His part in the matter, she stressed, now it was up to him to do the same. She wanted him to know that she was in full agreement with what he had to do. Her love for him flowed out through her words. She did not want anything to hurt her father. But she also revealed her trust in Yahweh.

Verse 37

And she said to her father, “Let this thing be done for me, let me alone two months that I may depart and go down on the mountains and bewail my virginity, I and my companions.’

From now on she was to be a perpetual virgin. Like Samuel after her she was sanctified to Yahweh by her parent’s oath ‘all the days of her life’ (1 Samuel 1:11). To a woman of Israel childbearing was everything. Yet for her this was to be denied. What she asked was that she might have two months to prepare herself for her new vocation and to get herself used to her new calling, to bewail the fact that she would never be a mother. And she went with her companions as though she were preparing for her wedding.

And in this preparation she went into the mountains. She knew that this was where Abraham had gone to ‘sanctify’ his son (Genesis 22:0). She knew that this was where Moses had gone to meet and commune with Yahweh. Thus she herself would go into the mountains to make her peace with Yahweh, for there was nowhere else that she could go. But it would not have been seemly, or wise, for her to go alone. ‘Go down on the mountains’ may indicate her desire to abase herself before God.

Verse 38

And he said, “Go.” And he sent her away for two moon periods. And she departed, she and her companions, and she bewailed her virginity on the mountains.’

Jephthah granted her request immediately. And she left him and prepared herself for what was to come, on the mountains, and faced up to her coming lifetime virginity. She remained there for two moon periods. She would be a symbol of what Israel should be, and a contrast with the Canaanite cult prostitutes. But we should note that it was due to her father’s rash vow rather than because Yahweh desired it. Yet Yahweh would use it for good.

Verses 39-40

Judges 11:39 a

‘And so it was that at the end of two months she returned to her father, who did with her according to his vow which he had vowed. And she had not known man.’

Obedient to her calling and to her father’s vow, she returned, and he took her to the central sanctuary and there she served Yahweh at the door of the Tabernacle, possibly even as a prophetess. The only thing that bound her was her father’s vow and her gratitude to Yahweh for the victory he had given to her father. She was a lifelong Nazirite (Numbers 6:2). The same would later be true of Samuel. It was such people who kept faith alive in the darkest days.

“Did with her according to his vow which he had vowed.” This personal action seems more to support the view that he took her to the Tabernacle and committed her to Yahweh and the life of a Nazirite than that she was offered as a burnt offering. Had it been such a positive and outstanding act it would surely have been described and such an act could not have been done personally. All Gilead would have been involved in something so dramatic following the defeat of Ammon, and all Israel would have been appalled. But we have no hint of disparagement from the writer.

Those who support the idea that he actually did offer his daughter as a burnt offering claim that the silence on the matter demonstrates the writer’s disapproval. But it is difficult to see how such an act could have been portrayed as a personal action.

Judges 11:39-40

‘And it was an ordinance in Israel that the daughters of Israel went yearly to rehearse with (or ‘celebrate in song’) the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite four days in a year.’

Jephthah’s daughter became an inspiration to the women of Israel. Every year they would gather and ‘rehearse’ with her the righteous acts of Yahweh (compare Judges 5:11 - same word) and celebrate her life and devotion in song. And it seems very probable that she became a source of guidance and comfort to them in their lives, and an inspiration to Israel. For all who saw her would know of her obedience and dedication to Yahweh and would remember the great victory that Yahweh had given them through her father.

“Four days in a year.” This may have been, for example, a day at each of the three covenant feasts and on the day of atonement. That seems more likely than a four day feast. Those who see her as sacrificed literally see this as referring to a feast of lamentation and many see it as Israel’s equivalent to the feast of weeping for Tammuz celebrated elsewhere.

Bibliographical Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Judges 11". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/pet/judges-11.html. 2013.
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