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Adam Clarke Commentary

Judges 11


The history of Jephthah, and his covenant with the Gileadites, Judges 11:1 -10. He is elected by the people, Judges 11:11 . Sends an embassy to the king of the Ammonites, to inquire why they invaded Israel; and receives an answer, to which he sends back a spirited reply, vv. 12-27. This is disregarded by the Ammonites, and Jephthah prepares for battle, Judges 11:28 , Judges 11:29 . His vow, Judges 11:30 , Judges 11:31 . He attacks and defeats them, Judges 11:32 , Judges 11:33 . On his return to Mizpeh he is met by his daughter, whom, according to his vow, he dedicates to the Lord, Judges 11:34 -40.

Verse 1

Now Jephthah - was the son of a harlot - I think the word זונה zonah, which we here render harlot, should be translated, as is contended for on Joshua 2:1 (note), viz. a hostess, keeper of an inn or tavern for the accommodation of travelers; and thus it is understood by the Targum of Jonathan on this place: והוא בר אתתא פונדקיתא vehu bar ittetha pundekitha, "and he was the son of a woman, a tavern keeper." She was very probably a Canaanite, as she is called, Judges 11:2 , a strange woman, אשה אחרת ishshah achereth, a woman of another race; and on this account his brethren drove him from the family, as he could not have a full right to the inheritance, his mother not being an Israelite.

Verse 3

There were gathered vain men to Jephthah - אנשים ריקים anashim reykim, empty men - persons destitute of good sense, and profligate in their manners. The word may, however, mean in this place poor persons, without property, and without employment. The versions in general consider them as plunderers.

Verse 4

The children of Ammon made war - They had invaded the land of Israel, and were now encamped in Gilead. See Judges 10:17 .

Verse 6

Come, and be our captain - The Israelites were assembled in Mizpeh, but were without a captain to lead them against the Ammonites. And we find, from the conclusion of the preceding chapter, that they offered the command to any that would accept it.

Verse 8

Therefore we turn again to thee now - We are convinced that we have dealt unjustly by thee, and we wish now to repair our fault, and give thee this sincere proof of our regret for having acted unjustly, and of our confidence in thee.

Verse 11

Jepthah went with the elders - The elders had chosen him for their head; but, to be valid, this choice must be confirmed by the people; therefore, it is said, the people made him head. But even this did not complete the business; God must be brought in as a party to this transaction; and therefore Jephthah uttered all his words before the Lord - the terms made with the elders and the people on which he had accepted the command of the army; and, being sure of the Divine approbation, he entered on the work with confidence.

Verse 12

Jepthah sent messengers - He wished the Ammonites to explain their own motives for undertaking a war against Israel; as then the justice of his cause would appear more forcibly to the people.

Verse 13

From Arnon even unto Jabbok, and unto Jordan - That is, all the land that had formerly belonged to the Amorites, and to the Moabites, who it seems were confederates on this occasion.

Verse 22

From the wilderness even unto Jordan - From Arabia Deserta on the east to Jordan on the west.

Verse 23

The Lord God of Israel hath dispossessed the Amorites - Jephthah shows that the Israelites did not take the land of the Moabites or Ammonites, but that of the Amorites, which they had conquered from Sihon their king, who had, without cause or provocation, attacked them; and although the Amorites had taken the lands in question from the Ammonites, yet the title by which Israel held them was good, because they took them not from the Ammonites, but conquered them from the Amorites. So now the Lord - hath dispossessed the Amorites. - The circumstances in which the Israelites were when they were attacked by the Amorites, plainly proved, that, unless Jehovah had helped them, they must have been overcome. God defeated the Amorites, and made a grant of their lands to the Israelites; and they had, in consequence, possessed them for three hundred years, Judges 11:26 .

Verse 24

Wilt not thou possess that which Chemosh thy god giveth thee - As if he had said: "It is a maxim with you, as it is among all nations, that the lands which they conceive to be given them by their gods, they have an absolute right to, and should not relinquish them to any kind of claimant. You suppose that the land which you possess was given you by your god Chemosh and therefore you will not relinquish what you believe you hold by a Divine right. Now, we know that Jehovah, our God, who is the Lord of heaven and earth, has given the Israelites the land of the Amorites; and therefore we will not give it up." The ground of Jephthah's remonstrance was sound and good.1. The Ammonites had lost their lands in their contests with the Amorites.2. The Israelites conquered these lands from the Amorites, who had waged a most unprincipled war against them.3. God, who is the Maker of heaven and earth had given those very lands as a Divine grant to the Israelites.4. In consequence of this they had possession of them for upwards of three hundred years.5. These lands were never reclaimed by the Ammonites, though they had repeated opportunities of doing it, whilst the Israelites dwelt in Heshbon, in Aroer, and in the coasts of Arnon; but they did not reclaim them because they knew that the Israelites held them legally. The present pretensions of Ammon were unsupported and unjustifiable.

Verse 27

The Lord the Judge be judge - between the children of Israel - If you be right, and we be wrong, then Jehovah, who is the sovereign and incorruptible Judge, shall determine in your favor; and to Him I submit the righteousness of my cause.

Verse 29

Then the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah - The Lord qualified him for the work he had called him to do, and thus gave him the most convincing testimony that his cause was good.

Verse 31

Shall surely be the Lord's, and I will offer it up for a burnt-offering - The text is והיה ליהוה והעליתיהו עולה vehayah layhovah, vehaalithihu olah; the translation of which, according to the most accurate Hebrew scholars, is this: I will consecrate it to the Lord, or I will offer it for a burnt-offering; that is, "If it be a thing fit for a burnt-offering, it shall be made one; if fit for the service of God, it shall be consecrated to him." That conditions of this kind must have been implied in the vow, is evident enough; to have been made without them, it must have been the vow of a heathen, or a madman. If a dog had met him, this could not have been made a burnt-offering; and if his neighbor or friend's wife, son, or daughter, etc., had been returning from a visit to his family, his vow gave him no right over them. Besides, human sacrifices were ever an abomination to the Lord; and this was one of the grand reasons why God drove out the Canaanites, etc., because they offered their sons and daughters to Molech in the fire, i.e., made burnt-offerings of them, as is generally supposed. That Jephthah was a deeply pious man, appears in the whole of his conduct; and that he was well acquainted with the law of Moses, which prohibited all such sacrifices, and stated what was to be offered in sacrifice, is evident enough from his expostulation with the king and people of Ammon, Judges 11:14 -27. Therefore it must be granted that he never made that rash vow which several suppose he did; nor was he capable, if he had, of executing it in that most shocking manner which some Christian writers ("tell it not in Gath") have contended for. He could not commit a crime which himself had just now been an executor of God's justice to punish in others.It has been supposed that "the text itself might have been read differently in former times; if instead of the words והעליתיהו עולה, I will offer It a burnt-offering, we read והעליתי הוא עולה, I will offer Him (i.e., the Lord) a burnt-offering: this will make a widely different sense, more consistent with everything that is sacred; and it is formed by the addition of only a single letter, (א aleph), and the separation of the pronoun from the verb. Now the letter א aleph is so like the letter ע ain, which immediately follows it in the word עולה olah, that the one might easily have been lost in the other, and thus the pronoun be joined to the verb as at present, where it expresses the thing to be sacrificed instead of the person to whom the sacrifice was to be made. With this emendation the passage will read thus: Whatsoever cometh forth of the doors of my house to meet me - shall be the Lord's; and I will offer Him a burnt-offering." For this criticism there is no absolute need, because the pronoun הו hu, in the above verse, may with as much propriety be translated him as it. The latter part of the verse is, literally, And I will offer him a burnt-offering, עולה olah, not לעולה leolah, For a burnt-offering, which is the common Hebrew form when for is intended to be expressed. This is strong presumption that the text should be thus understood: and this avoids the very disputable construction which is put on the ו vau, in והעליתיהו vehaalithihu, Or I will offer It up, instead of And I will offer Him a burnt-offering.Those who assert that Jephthah did sacrifice his daughter, attempt to justify the opinion from the barbarous usages of those times: but in answer to this it may be justly observed, that Jephthah was now under the influence of the Spirit of God, Judges 11:29 ; and that Spirit could not permit him to imbrue his hands in the blood of his own child; and especially under the pretense of offering a pleasing sacrifice to that God who is the Father of mankind, and the Fountain of love, mercy, and compassion.The versions give us but little assistance in clearing the difficulties of the text. In the Targum of Jonathan there is a remarkable gloss which should be mentioned, and from which it will appear that the Targumist supposed that the daughter of Jephthah was actually sacrificed: "And he fulfilled the vow which he had vowed upon her; and she knew no man: and it was made a statute in Israel, that no man should offer his son or his daughter for a burnt-offering, as did Jephthah the Gileadite, who did not consult Phinehas the priest; for if he had consulted Phinehas the priest, he would have redeemed her with money."The Targumist refers here to the law, Leviticus 27:1 -5, where the Lord prescribes the price at which either males or females, who had been vowed to the Lord, might be redeemed. "When a man shall make a singular vow, the persons shall be for the Lord at thy estimation: the male from twenty years old even unto sixty, shall be fifty shekels of silver; and if it be a female, then thy estimation shall be thirty shekels; and from five years old unto twenty years, the male twenty shekels, and for the female ten." This also is an argument that the daughter of Jephthah was not sacrificed; as the father had it in his power, at a very moderate price, to have redeemed her: and surely the blood of his daughter must have been of more value in his sight than thirty shekels of silver.Dr. Hales has entered largely into the subject: his observations may be seen at the end of this chapter.

Verse 33

Twenty cities - That is, he either took or destroyed twenty cities of the Ammonites, and completely routed their whole army.

Verse 34

With timbrels and with dances - From this instance we find it was an ancient custom for women to go out to meet returning conquerors with musical instruments, songs, and dances; and that it was continued afterwards is evident from the instance given 1 Samuel 18:6 , where David was met, on his return from the defeat of Goliath and the Philistines, by women from all the cities of Israel, with singing and dancing, and various instruments of music.

Verse 35

Thou hast brought me very low - He was greatly distressed to think that his daughter, who was his only child, should be, in consequence of his vow, prevented from continuing his family in Israel; for it is evident that he had not any other child, for besides her, says the text, he had neither son nor daughter, Judges 11:34 . He might, therefore, well be grieved that thus his family was to become extinct in Israel.

Verse 36

And she said unto him - What a pattern of filial piety and obedience! She was at once obedient, pious, and patriotic. A woman to have no offspring was considered to be in a state of the utmost degradation among the Hebrews; but she is regardless of all this, seeing her father is in safety, and her country delivered.

Verse 37

I and my fellows - Whether she meant the young women of her own acquaintance, or those who had been consecrated to God in the same way, though on different accounts, is not quite clear; but it is likely she means her own companions: and her going up and down upon the mountains may signify no more than her paying each of them a visit at their own houses, previously to her being shut up at the tabernacle; and this visiting of each at their own home might require the space of two months. This I am inclined to think is the meaning of this difficult clause.

Verse 39

And she knew no man - She continued a virgin all the days of her life.

Verse 40

To lament the daughter of Jephthah - I am satisfied that this is not a correct translation of the original לתנות לבת יפתח lethannoth lebath yiphtach. Houbigant translates the whole verse thus: Sed iste mos apud Israel invaluit, ut virgines Israel, temporibus diversis, irent ad filiam Jepthe-ut eam quotannis dies quatuor consolarentur; "But this custom prevailed in Israel that the virgins of Israel went at different times, four days in the year, to the daughter of Jephthah, that they might comfort her." This verse also gives evidence that the daughter of Jephthah was not sacrificed: nor does it appear that the custom or statute referred to here lasted after the death of Jephthah's daughter.The following is Dr. Hales' exposition of Jephthah's vow: - "When Jephthah went forth to battle against the Ammonites, he vowed a vow unto the Lord, and said, 'If thou wilt surely give the children of Ammon into my hand, then it shall be that whatsoever cometh out of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the children of Ammon, shall either be the Lord's, or I will offer it up (for) a burnt-offering,' Judges 11:30 , Judges 11:31 . According to this rendering of the two conjunctions, ו vau in the last clause 'either,' 'or,'(which is justified by the Hebrew idiom thus, 'He that curseth his father and his mother,' Exodus 21:17 , is necessarily rendered disjunctively, 'His father or his mother,' by the Septuagint, Vulgate, Chaldee, and English, confirmed by Matthew 15:4 , the paucity of connecting particles in that language making it necessary that this conjunction should often be understood disjunctively), the vow consisted of two parts:1. That what person soever met him should be the Lord's or be dedicated to his service; and,2. That what beast soever met him, if clean, should be offered up for a burnt-offering unto the Lord.2. It does not relate to private property, as in the foregoing. And,3. The subject of it was to be utterly destroyed, instead of being most holy unto the Lord.This law, therefore, related to aliens, or public enemies devoted to destruction either by God, the people, or by the magistrate. Of all these we have instances in Scripture.And that Jephthah could not possibly have sacrificed his daughter, (according to the vulgar opinion), may appear from the following considerations: - The celebrated sacrifice of Iphigenia has been supposed by many learned men to be a fable founded on this account of Jephthah's daughter; and M. De Lavaur, Conference de la Fable avec l'Histoire Sainte, has thus traced the parallel: -

Judges 11

  1 Now Jephthah the Gileadite was a mighty man of valour, and he was the son of an harlot: and Gilead begat Jephthah.
  2 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.
  3 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.
  4 And it came to pass in process of time, that the children of Ammon made war against Israel.
  5 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:
  6 And they said unto Jephthah, Come, and be our captain, that we may fight with the children of Ammon.
  7 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?
  8 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.
  9 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?
  10 And the elders of Gilead said unto Jephthah, The LORD be witness between us, if we do not so according to thy words.
  11 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.
  12 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?
  13 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.
  14 And Jephthah sent messengers again unto the king of the children of Ammon:
  15 And said unto him, Thus saith Jephthah, Israel took not away the land of Moab, nor the land of the children of Ammon:
  16 But when Israel came up from Egypt, and walked through the wilderness unto the Red sea, and came to Kadesh;
  17 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.
  18 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.
  19 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.
  20 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.
  21 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.
  22 And they possessed all the coasts of the Amorites, from Arnon even unto Jabbok, and from the wilderness even unto Jordan.
  23 So now the LORD God of Israel hath dispossessed the Amorites from before his people Israel, and shouldest thou possess it?
  24 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.
  25 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,
  26 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?
  27 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.
  28 Howbeit the king of the children of Ammon hearkened not unto the words of Jephthah which he sent him.
  29 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.
  30 And Jephthah vowed a vow unto the LORD, and said, If thou shalt without fail deliver the children of Ammon into mine hands,
  31 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.
  32 So Jephthah passed over unto the children of Ammon to fight against them; and the LORD delivered them into his hands.
  33 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.
  34 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.
  35 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.
  36 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.
  37 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.
  38 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.
  39 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,
  40 That the daughters of Israel went yearly to lament the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite four days in a year.

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