Jephthah. 1Jephthaha the Gileadite was a warrior. He was the son of a prostitute, fathered by Gilead. 2Gilead’s wife had also borne him sons. When they grew up the sons of the wife had driven Jephthah away, saying to him, “You shall inherit nothing in our father’s house, for you are the son of another woman.” 3So Jephthah had fled from his brothers and taken up residence in the land of Tob.b Worthless men had joined company with him, and went out with him on raids.c
4Some time later, the Ammonites went to war with Israel. 5As soon as the Ammonites were at war with Israel, the elders of Gilead went to bring Jephthah from the land of Tob. 6“Come,” they said to Jephthah, “be our commander so that we can fight the Ammonites.” 7“Are you not the ones who hated me and drove me from my father’s house?” Jephthah replied to the elders of Gilead, “Why do you come to me now, when you are in distress?” 8d The elders of Gilead said to Jephthah, “This is the reason we have come back to you now: if you go with us to fight against the Ammonites, you shall be the leader of all of the inhabitants of Gilead.” 9Jephthah answered the elders of Gilead, “If you bring me back to fight against the Ammonites and the LORD delivers them up to me, I will be your leader.” 10The elders of Gilead said to Jephthah, “The LORD is witness between us that we will do as you say.” 11So Jephthah went with the elders of Gilead, and the army made him their leader and commander. Jephthah gave all his orders in the presence of the LORD in Mizpah.
12Then he sent messengers to the king of the Ammonites to say, “What do you have against me that you come to fight with me in my land?” 13The king of the Ammonites answered the messengers of Jephthah, “Israel took away my land from the Arnon to the Jabbok and the Jordan when they came up from Egypt.e Now restore it peaceably.”
14Again Jephthah sent messengers to the king of the Ammonites, 15saying to him, “This is what Jephthah says: ‘Israel did not take the land of Moab or the land of the Ammonites.f 16For when they came up from Egypt, Israel went through the wilderness to the Red Sea and came to Kadesh. 17Israel then sent messengers to the king of Edom saying, “Let me pass through your land.” But the king of Edom did not give consent.g They also sent to the king of Moab, but he too was unwilling. So Israel remained in Kadesh.h 18Then they went through the wilderness, and bypassing the land of Edom and the land of Moab, they arrived east of the land of Moab and encamped across the Arnon.i Thus they did not enter the territory of Moab, for the Arnon is the boundary of Moab.j 19k Then Israel sent messengers to the Amorite king Sihon, who was king of Heshbon. Israel said to him, “Let me pass through your land to my own place.” 20But Sihon refused to let Israel pass through his territory. He gathered all his soldiers, and they encamped at Jahaz and fought Israel. 21But the LORD, the God of Israel, delivered Sihon and his entire army into the power of Israel, who defeated them and occupied all the land of the Amorites who lived in that region. 22They occupied all of the Amorite territory from the Arnon to the Jabbok and the wilderness to the Jordan.l 23Now, then, it was the LORD, the God of Israel, who dispossessed the Amorites for his people, Israel. And you are going to dispossess them? 24Should you not take possession of that which your god Chemosh* gave you to possess, and should we not take possession of all that the LORD, our God, has dispossessed for us? 25Now, then, are you any better than Balak, son of Zippor, king of Moab? Did he ever quarrel with Israel or make war against them?m 26Israel has dwelt in Heshbon and its villages, Aroer and its villages, and all the cities on the banks of the Arnon for three hundred years.n Why did you not recover them during that time? 27As for me, I have not sinned against you, but you wrong me by making war against me. Let the LORD, who is judge, decide this day between the Israelites and the Ammonites!’” 28But the king of the Ammonites paid no heed to the message Jephthah sent him.
Jephthah’s Vow. 29The spirit of the LORD came upon Jephthah.o He passed through Gilead and Manasseh, and through Mizpah of Gilead as well, and from Mizpah of Gilead he crossed over against the Ammonites. 30* Jephthah made a vow to the LORD.p “If you deliver the Ammonites into my power,” he said, 31“whoever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me when I return from the Ammonites in peace shall belong to the LORD. I shall offer him up as a burnt offering.”
32Jephthah then crossed over against the Ammonites to fight against them, and the LORD delivered them into his power. 33He inflicted a very severe defeat on them from Aroer to the approach of Minnith—twenty cities in all—and as far as Abel-keramin. So the Ammonites were brought into subjection by the Israelites. 34When Jephthah returned to his house in Mizpah, it was his daughter who came out to meet him, with tambourine-playing and dancing. She was his only child: he had neither son nor daughter besides her. 35When he saw her, he tore his garments and said, “Ah, my daughter! You have struck me down and brought calamity upon me. For I have made a vow* to the LORD and I cannot take it back.”q 36“Father,” she replied, “you have made a vow to the LORD. Do with me as you have vowed, because the LORD has taken vengeance for you against your enemies the Ammonites.” 37Then she said to her father, “Let me have this favor. Do nothing for two months, that I and my companions may go wander in the mountains to weep for my virginity.” 38“Go,” he replied, and sent her away for two months. So she departed with her companions and wept for her virginity in the mountains. 39At the end of the two months she returned to her father, and he did to her as he had vowed. She had not had relations with any man.
It became a custom in Israel 40for Israelite women to go yearly to mourn the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite for four days of the year.
* [11:24] Chemosh: the god of the Moabites (1 Kgs 11:7; 2 Kgs 23:13) not the Ammonites, whose god was Milcom (1 Kgs 11:5; 2 Kgs 23:13). Much of the disputed land, which lay between the Jabbok and Arnon Rivers, was actually in Moab, and many of the details of this passage (vv. 12–28) seem more applicable to a quarrel with the king of the Moabites than with the king of the Ammonites.
* [11:30–40] Jephthah’s rash vow and its tragic consequences reflect a widespread folklore motif, most familiar in the Greek story of Iphigenia and her father, Agamemnon. The sacrifice of children was strictly forbidden by Mosaic law (Lv 18:21; 20:2–5), and when the biblical writers report its occurrence, they usually condemn it in strong terms (2 Kgs 16:3; 21:6; Jer 7:31; 19:5). In this case, however, the narrator simply records the old story, offering no comment on the acceptability of Jephthah’s extreme gesture. The story may have been preserved because it provided an explanation of the custom described in vv. 39–40 according to which Israelite women mourned Jephthah’s daughter annually in a four-day ceremony.
* [11:35] Made a vow: lit., “opened my mouth”; so in v. 36.
i. [11:18] Nm 20:21; 21:4, 10–12; Dt 2:8.
k. [11:19–21] Nm 21:21–26; Dt 2:26–36.
m. [11:25] Nm 22–24; Jos 24:9–10; Mi 6:5.
o. [11:29] Jgs 3:10; 6:34; 13:25; 14:6, 19; 15:14; 1 Sm 11:6.
p. [11:30] Gn 28:20–22; 1 Sm 1:11; 2 Sm 15:7–8.