SynopsisAfter Jair’s time as a judge is over, the Israelites once again fall away from the LORD, and start serving other gods. So God becomes angry with them, and sells them into the hands of the Philistines and Ammonites, who shatter and crush them (verse 10:8), and oppress them for eighteen years. (Actually, it’s mostly the Israelites on the East side of the Jordan river that are being oppressed, although the Ammonites also cross the Jordan to fight the tribes of Judah, Benjamin, and Ephraim.)
So the Israelites assembled, and prepared to do battle with the Ammonites. They decide that they’ll take whoever leads the attack, and make that man their leader of their territory, which is called Gilead, going forward.
The LORD replied, “When the Egyptians, the Amorites, the Ammonites, the Philistines, the Sidonians, the Amalekites and the Maonites oppressed you and you cried to me for help, did I not save you from their hands? But you have forsaken me and served other gods, so I will no longer save you. Go and cry out to the gods you have chosen. Let them save you when you are in trouble!”
But the Israelites said to the LORD, “We have sinned. Do with us whatever you think best, but please rescue us now.” Then they got rid of the foreign gods among them and served the LORD. And he could bear Israel’s misery no longer.
I’m not sure what it means, when it says that Jephthah “repeated all his words before the LORD”—I assume that it means he went to wherever the Ark was, and “repeated his words” there.
Jephthah said to them, “Didn’t you hate me and drive me from my father’s house? Why do you come to me now, when you’re in trouble?”
The elders of Gilead said to him, “Nevertheless, we are turning to you now; come with us to fight the Ammonites, and you will be our head over all who live in Gilead.”
Jephthah answered, “Suppose you take me back to fight the Ammonites and the LORD gives them to me—will I really be your head?”
The elders of Gilead replied, “The LORD is our witness; we will certainly do as you say.” So Jephthah went with the elders of Gilead, and the people made him head and commander over them. And he repeated all his words before the LORD in Mizpah.
However, the king of the Ammonites pays Jephthah no heed. So the Spirit of the LORD came on Jephthah, who takes his men and advances on the Ammonites. And, unfortunately, at this moment Jephthah makes a foolish vow: he tells the LORD that if He gives the Ammonites into Jephthah’s hands, he will make a sacrifice of “whatever” comes out of the door of his house to meet him, when he returns home. (See below for my thoughts on this vow.)
Jephthah sent back messengers to the Ammonite king, saying:
“This is what Jephthah says: Israel did not take the land of Moab or the land of the Ammonites. But when they came up out of Egypt, Israel went through the desert to the Red Sea and on to Kadesh. Then Israel sent messengers to the king of Edom, saying, ‘Give us permission to go through your country,’ but the king of Edom would not listen. They sent also to the king of Moab, and he refused. So Israel stayed at Kadesh.
“Next they traveled through the desert, skirted the lands of Edom and Moab, passed along the eastern side of the country of Moab, and camped on the other side of the Arnon. They did not enter the territory of Moab, for the Arnon was its border.
“Then Israel sent messengers to Sihon king of the Amorites, who ruled in Heshbon, and said to him, ‘Let us pass through your country to our own place.’ Sihon, however, did not trust Israel to pass through his territory. He mustered all his men and encamped at Jahaz and fought with Israel.
“Then the LORD, the God of Israel, gave Sihon and all his men into Israel’s hands, and they defeated them. Israel took over all the land of the Amorites who lived in that country, capturing all of it from the Arnon to the Jabbok and from the desert to the Jordan.
“Now since the LORD, the God of Israel, has driven the Amorites out before his people Israel, what right have you to take it over? Will you not take what your god Chemosh gives you? Likewise, whatever the LORD our God has given us, we will possess. Are you better than Balak son of Zippor, king of Moab? Did he ever quarrel with Israel or fight with them? For three hundred years Israel occupied Heshbon, Aroer, the surrounding settlements and all the towns along the Arnon. Why didn’t you retake them during that time? I have not wronged you, but you are doing me wrong by waging war against me. Let the LORD, the Judge, decide the dispute this day between the Israelites and the Ammonites.”
“My father,” she replied, “you have given your word to the LORD. Do to me just as you promised, now that the LORD has avenged you of your enemies, the Ammonites. But grant me this one request,” she said. “Give me two months to roam the hills and weep with my friends, because I will never marry.” (verses 11:36–37)So Jephthah lets her go, and she and her friends go into the hills and weep, because she will never be able to marry. But in two months, as promised, she returns, still a virgin, and Jephthah sacrifices her.Verses 11:39–40 tell us that this becomes an Israelite custom: Every year, the young Israelite women go out for four days, to commemorate Jephthah’s daughter.