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Jephthah Called to Be Judge

11 Jephthah was a soldier from the region of Gilead. Jephthah’s father was named Gilead. His mother was a prostitute. Gilead’s wife also gave birth to sons. When his wife’s sons grew up, they threw Jephthah out. They told him, “You’ll get no inheritance from our father. You’re the son of that other woman.” Jephthah fled from his brothers. He went to live in the land of Tob. Worthless men gathered around Jephthah and went out on raids with him.

Later, Ammon waged war with Israel. When the Ammonites attacked Israel, Gilead’s leaders went to get Jephthah from the land of Tob. They said to Jephthah, “Come and be our commander so that we can wage war against Ammon.”

But Jephthah replied to Gilead’s leaders, “Don’t you hate me? Didn’t you throw me out of my father’s house? So why are you coming to me now when you’re in trouble?”

Gilead’s leaders answered Jephthah, “The reason we’ve turned to you now is that we want you to go with us and wage war against Ammon. You will be the ruler of everyone who lives in Gilead.”

Jephthah told them, “If you take me back to fight against Ammonites and Yahweh gives them to me, I will be your leader.”

10 Gilead’s leaders said to Jephthah, “Yahweh is a witness between us. We will certainly do what you say.” 11 Jephthah went with them, and the people made him their leader and commander. So Jephthah went to Mizpah and repeated all these things in the presence of Yahweh.

The King of Ammon Refuses to Deal with Jephthah

12 Jephthah sent messengers to the king of Ammon. They asked the king, “Why did you invade my land and wage war against me?”

13 The king of Ammon answered Jephthah’s messengers, “When the people of Israel left Egypt, they took my land. It stretched from the Arnon River to the Jabbok River and the Jordan River. Now give it back peacefully.”

14 Jephthah again sent messengers to the king of Ammon. 15 They said, “This is what Jephthah says: The people of Israel didn’t take away the land belonging to Moab or Ammon. 16 When the people of Israel left Egypt, they went through the desert to the Red Sea and came to Kadesh. 17 The people of Israel sent messengers to the king of Edom. They said, ‘Please let us go through your country.’ But the king of Edom wouldn’t listen to them. They also sent messengers to the king of Moab. But he wouldn’t allow it, either. So the people of Israel remained at Kadesh.

18 “Then they went through the desert, by-passing Edom and Moab. They camped east of Moab—east of the Arnon River. They did not cross the Arnon River because it was Moab’s border.

19 “Then the people of Israel sent messengers to King Sihon of the Amorites. Sihon ruled from Heshbon. The people of Israel said to him, ‘Please let us go through your land to our own.’ 20 But Sihon did not trust the Israelites enough to let them go through his territory. Sihon assembled all his troops. He camped at Jahaz and attacked Israel. 21 But Yahweh Elohim of Israel handed Sihon and all his people over to Israel. Israel defeated them and took possession of all the land of the Amorites who lived there. 22 Israel took all the Amorite territory from the Arnon River to the Jabbok River and from the desert to the Jordan River.

23 Yahweh Elohim of Israel forced the Amorites out of the way of his people Israel. So what right do you have to take it back? 24 Shouldn’t you take possession of what your god Chemosh took for you? Shouldn’t we take everything Yahweh our Elohim took for us? 25 You’re not any better than Balak, son of King Zippor of Moab, are you? Did he ever have a case against Israel? Or did he ever fight against Israel? 26 Israel has now lived in Heshbon, Aroer, all their villages, and in all the cities along the Arnon River for 300 years. Why didn’t you recapture these cities during that time? 27 I haven’t sinned against you. But you have done wrong by waging war against me. Yahweh is the Shophet who will decide today whether Israel or Ammon is right.”

28 But the king of Ammon didn’t listen to the message Jephthah sent him.

Jephthah’s Vow

29 Then the Ruach Yahweh came over Jephthah. Jephthah went through Gilead, Manasseh, and Mizpah in Gilead to gather an army. From Mizpah in Gilead Jephthah went to attack Ammon.

30 Jephthah made a vow to Yahweh. He said, “If you will really hand Ammon over to me, 31 then whatever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me when I return safely from Ammon will belong to Yahweh. I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering.”

32 So Jephthah went to fight against Ammon. Yahweh handed the people of Ammon over to him. 33 He defeated them from Aroer to Minnith and on to Abel Keramim, 20 cities in all. It was a decisive defeat. So the Ammonites were crushed by the people of Israel.

34 When Jephthah went to his home in Mizpah, he saw his daughter coming out to meet him. She was dancing with tambourines in her hands. She was his only child. Jephthah had no other sons or daughters. 35 When he saw her, he tore his clothes in grief and said, “Oh no, Daughter! You’ve brought me to my knees! What disaster you’ve brought me! I made a foolish promise to Yahweh. Now I can’t break it.”

36 She said to him, “Father, you made a promise to Yahweh. Do to me whatever you promised since Yahweh has punished your enemy Ammon.” 37 Then she said to her father, “Do me a favor. Give me two months for my friends and me to walk in the mountains and mourn that I will never have an opportunity to get married.”

38 “Go!” he said, and he sent her off for two months. She and her friends went to the mountains, and she cried about never being able to get married. 39 At the end of those two months she came back to her father. He did to her what he had vowed, and she never had a husband. So the custom began in Israel 40 that for four days every year the girls in Israel would go out to sing the praises of the daughter of Jephthah, the man from Gilead.

11 Jephthah(A) the Gileadite was a mighty warrior.(B) His father was Gilead;(C) his mother was a prostitute.(D) Gilead’s wife also bore him sons, and when they were grown up, they drove Jephthah away. “You are not going to get any inheritance in our family,” they said, “because you are the son of another woman.” So Jephthah fled from his brothers and settled in the land of Tob,(E) where a gang of scoundrels(F) gathered around him and followed him.

Some time later, when the Ammonites(G) were fighting against Israel, the elders of Gilead went to get Jephthah from the land of Tob. “Come,” they said, “be our commander, so we can fight the Ammonites.”

Jephthah said to them, “Didn’t you hate me and drive me from my father’s house?(H) 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 head(I) over all of us 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?”

10 The elders of Gilead replied, “The Lord is our witness;(J) we will certainly do as you say.” 11 So Jephthah went with the elders(K) of Gilead, and the people made him head and commander over them. And he repeated(L) all his words before the Lord in Mizpah.(M)

12 Then Jephthah sent messengers to the Ammonite king with the question: “What do you have against me that you have attacked my country?”

13 The king of the Ammonites answered Jephthah’s messengers, “When Israel came up out of Egypt, they took away my land from the Arnon(N) to the Jabbok,(O) all the way to the Jordan. Now give it back peaceably.”

14 Jephthah sent back messengers to the Ammonite king, 15 saying:

“This is what Jephthah says: Israel did not take the land of Moab(P) or the land of the Ammonites.(Q) 16 But when they came up out of Egypt, Israel went through the wilderness to the Red Sea[a](R) and on to Kadesh.(S) 17 Then Israel sent messengers(T) to the king of Edom, saying, ‘Give us permission to go through your country,’(U) but the king of Edom would not listen. They sent also to the king of Moab,(V) and he refused.(W) So Israel stayed at Kadesh.

18 “Next they traveled through the wilderness, skirted the lands of Edom(X) and Moab, passed along the eastern side(Y) of the country of Moab, and camped on the other side of the Arnon.(Z) They did not enter the territory of Moab, for the Arnon was its border.

19 “Then Israel sent messengers(AA) to Sihon king of the Amorites, who ruled in Heshbon,(AB) and said to him, ‘Let us pass through your country to our own place.’(AC) 20 Sihon, however, did not trust Israel[b] to pass through his territory. He mustered all his troops and encamped at Jahaz and fought with Israel.(AD)

21 “Then the Lord, the God of Israel, gave Sihon and his whole army into Israel’s hands, and they defeated them. Israel took over all the land of the Amorites who lived in that country, 22 capturing all of it from the Arnon to the Jabbok and from the desert to the Jordan.(AE)

23 “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? 24 Will you not take what your god Chemosh(AF) gives you? Likewise, whatever the Lord our God has given us,(AG) we will possess. 25 Are you any better than Balak son of Zippor,(AH) king of Moab? Did he ever quarrel with Israel or fight with them?(AI) 26 For three hundred years Israel occupied(AJ) Heshbon, Aroer,(AK) the surrounding settlements and all the towns along the Arnon. Why didn’t you retake them during that time? 27 I have not wronged you, but you are doing me wrong by waging war against me. Let the Lord, the Judge,(AL) decide(AM) the dispute this day between the Israelites and the Ammonites.(AN)

28 The king of Ammon, however, paid no attention to the message Jephthah sent him.

29 Then the Spirit(AO) of the Lord came on Jephthah. He crossed Gilead and Manasseh, passed through Mizpah(AP) of Gilead, and from there he advanced against the Ammonites.(AQ) 30 And Jephthah made a vow(AR) to the Lord: “If you give the Ammonites into my hands, 31 whatever comes out of the door of my house to meet me when I return in triumph(AS) from the Ammonites will be the Lord’s, and I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering.(AT)

32 Then Jephthah went over to fight the Ammonites, and the Lord gave them into his hands. 33 He devastated twenty towns from Aroer to the vicinity of Minnith,(AU) as far as Abel Keramim. Thus Israel subdued Ammon.

34 When Jephthah returned to his home in Mizpah, who should come out to meet him but his daughter, dancing(AV) to the sound of timbrels!(AW) She was an only child.(AX) Except for her he had neither son nor daughter. 35 When he saw her, he tore his clothes(AY) and cried, “Oh no, my daughter! You have brought me down and I am devastated. I have made a vow to the Lord that I cannot break.(AZ)

36 “My father,” she replied, “you have given your word to the Lord. Do to me just as you promised,(BA) now that the Lord has avenged you(BB) of your enemies,(BC) the Ammonites. 37 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.”

38 “You may go,” he said. And he let her go for two months. She and her friends went into the hills and wept because she would never marry. 39 After the two months, she returned to her father, and he did to her as he had vowed. And she was a virgin.

From this comes the Israelite tradition 40 that each year the young women of Israel go out for four days to commemorate the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite.

Footnotes

  1. Judges 11:16 Or the Sea of Reeds
  2. Judges 11:20 Or however, would not make an agreement for Israel

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