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2002 11 11
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Chapter 11


There was a chieftain, the Gileadite Jephthah, born to Gilead of a harlot.


Gilead's wife had also borne him sons, and on growing up the sons of the wife had driven Jephthah away, saying to him, "You shall inherit nothing in our family, for you are the son of another woman."


So Jephthah had fled from his brothers and had taken up residence in the land of Tob. A rabble had joined company with him, and went out with him on raids.


Some time later, the Ammonites warred on Israel.


When this occurred the elders of Gilead went to bring Jephthah from the land of Tob.


"Come," they said to Jephthah, "be our commander that we may be able to fight the Ammonites."


"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?"


The elders of Gilead said to Jephthah, "In any case, we have now come back to you; if you go with us to fight against the Ammonites, you shall be the leader of all of us who dwell in Gilead."


Jephthah answered the elders of Gilead, "If you bring me back to fight against the Ammonites and the LORD delivers them up to me, I shall be your leader."


The elders of Gilead said to Jephthah, "The LORD is witness between us that we will do as you say."


So Jephthah went with the elders of Gilead, and the people made him their leader and commander. In Mizpah, Jephthah settled all his affairs before the LORD.


Then he sent messengers to the king of the Ammonites to say, "What have you against me that you come to fight with me in my land?"


He 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. Now restore the same peaceably."


Again Jephthah sent messengers to the king of the Ammonites,


saying to him, "This is what Jephthah says: Israel did not take the land of Moab or the land of the Ammonites.


For when they came up from Egypt, Israel went through the desert to the Red Sea and came to Kadesh.


Israel then sent messengers to the king of Edom saying, 'Let me pass through your land.' But the king of Edom did not give consent. They also sent to the king of Moab, but he too was unwilling. So Israel remained in Kadesh.


Then they went through the desert, and by-passing the land of Edom and the land of Moab, went east of the land of Moab and encamped across the Arnon. Thus they did not go through the territory of Moab, for the Arnon is the boundary of Moab.


Then Israel sent messengers to Sihon, king of the Amorites, king of Heshbon. Israel said to him, 'Let me pass through your land to my own place.'


But Sihon refused to let Israel pass through his territory. On the contrary, he gathered all his soldiers, who encamped at Jahaz and fought Israel.


But the LORD, the God of Israel, delivered Sihon and all his men into the power of Israel, who defeated them and occupied all the land of the Amorites dwelling in that region,


the whole territory from the Arnon to the Jabbok, from the desert to the Jordan.


If now the LORD, the God of Israel, has cleared the Amorites out of the way of his people, are you to dislodge Israel?


1 Should you not possess that which your god Chemosh gave you to possess, and should we not possess all that the LORD, our God, has cleared out for us?


Again, are you any better than Balak, son of Zippor, king of Moab? Did he ever quarrel with Israel, or did he war against them


when Israel occupied Heshbon and its villages, Aroer and its villages, and all the cities on the banks of the Arnon? Three hundred years have passed; why did you not recover them during that time?


I have not sinned against you, but you wrong me by warring against me. Let the LORD, who is judge, decide this day between the Israelites and the Ammonites!"


But the king of the Ammonites paid no heed to the message Jephthah sent him.


The spirit of the LORD came upon Jephthah. He passed through Gilead and Manasseh, and through Mizpah-Gilead as well, and from there he went on to the Ammonites.


2 Jephthah made a vow to the LORD. "If you deliver the Ammonites into my power," he said,


"whoever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me when I return in triumph from the Ammonites shall belong to the LORD. I shall offer him up as a holocaust."


Jephthah then went on to the Ammonites to fight against them, and the LORD delivered them into his power,


so that he inflicted a severe defeat on them, from Aroer to the approach of Minnith (twenty cities in all) and as far as Abel-keramin. Thus were the Ammonites brought into subjection by the Israelites.


When Jephthah returned to his house in Mizpah, it was his daughter who came forth, playing the tambourines and dancing. She was an only child: he had neither son nor daughter besides her.


When he saw her, he rent his garments and said, "Alas, daughter, you have struck me down and brought calamity upon me. For I have made a vow to the LORD and I cannot retract."


"Father," she replied, "you have made a vow to the LORD. Do with me as you have vowed, because the LORD has wrought vengeance for you on your enemies the Ammonites."


3 Then she said to her father, "Let me have this favor. Spare me for two months, that I may go off down the mountains to mourn my virginity with my companions."


"Go," he replied, and sent her away for two months. So she departed with her companions and mourned her virginity on the mountains.


At the end of the two months she returned to her father, who did to her as he had vowed. She had not been intimate with man. It then became a custom in Israel


for Israelite women to go yearly to mourn the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite for four days of the year.



1 [24] Chemosh: the chief god of the Moabites - not of the Ammonites, whose leading deity was called Molech or Milcom; cf Numbers 21:29; 1 Kings 11:7; 2 Kings 23:13. The error is probably due to an ancient copyist. Jephthah argues from the viewpoint of his adversaries, the Ammonites, that they were entitled to all the land they had conquered with the aid of their god. It does not necessarily follow that Jephthah himself believed in the actual existence of this pagan god.

2 [30-40] The text clearly implies that Jephthah vowed a human sacrifice, according to the custom of his pagan neighbors; cf 2 Kings 3:27. The inspired author merely records the fact; he does not approve of the action.

3 [37] Mourn my virginity: to bear children was woman's greatest pride; to be childless was regarded as a great misfortune. Hence Jephthah's daughter asks permission to mourn the fact that she will be put to death before she can bear children.

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