v1 Jephthah, a man from Gilead’s family, was a brave soldier. Gilead was his father. v2 His mother was a woman who sold her body for sex. Gilead’s real wife had several sons. When they grew up, they forced Jephthah to leave. ‘You will not receive anything when our father dies’, they said. ‘You are another woman’s son.’ v3 So Jephthah ran away from his brothers and he lived in the area called Tob. There, a group of men that were worth nothing joined him. And they followed him.
Jephthah was Gilead’s son. His mother was probably not an *Israelite. His parents were not married to each other. His family made him leave. He became the leader of a group of terrorists. (Terrorists are people that use cruel force. They use it to get political power.) He did do wrong things to some other people. However, more people did wrong things to him. Hebrews 11 has a list of people that had *faith. Jephthah is in that list. He does not seem to be a suitable person for such a list. But he had *faith when other people did wrong things to him.
v4 Later, the people from Ammon attacked *Israel. v5 The leaders of Gilead went to fetch Jephthah from the area called Tob. v6 ‘Come’, they said. ‘Lead us. So then we can fight against the people from Ammon.’ v7 Jephthah said to them, ‘You hated me. You made me leave my father’s house. Why are you coming to me now when you are in trouble?’ v8 The leaders said to him, ‘We are coming to you now. Come and help us. Help us to fight against the people from Ammon. You can lead all the people that live in Gilead.’ v9 Jephthah answered, ‘Let us suppose that you take me back to fight the people from Ammon. If the *Lord gives them to me, will I become your ruler?’ v10 The leaders said, ‘The *Lord hears what we say. We promise that you will become our ruler.’ v11 So Jephthah went with them and they made him their leader. Jephthah came in front of the *Lord at Mizpah. There he repeated everything that he had said.
The area where Gilead’s relatives lived was called Gilead too. The leaders of Gilead asked Jephthah to come so that he could help them. He said that he would help them if they let him be their ruler. He said that the *Lord would be the person who really freed them. God heard what he said. He also saw what he did. This event was almost a ceremony to make him king. Compare Judges 10:11-14. Like God, Jephthah was not sorry for them. He had a good reason to be very angry. God did not call him, nor did God give his Spirit to Jephthah at first. People appointed him because he was the answer to a practical problem. Perhaps he was already a local ruler.
v12 Jephthah sent people with messages to Ammon’s king. They asked, ‘Why have you attacked our country?’ v13 This was the king’s answer. ‘When *Israel’s people left Egypt, they took my country. This country spread from the Arnon river to the Jabbok river. It spread all the way to the Jordan river. Now give it back and do not fight for it.’ v14 Jephthah sent people back with messages. v15 ‘This is what Jephthah says. “*Israel’s people did not *capture the country called Moab. Nor did they *capture the country where Ammon’s people lived. v16 When they left Egypt, *Israel’s people went through the desert to the Red Sea. Then they travelled on to Kadesh. v17 They sent people with messages to Edom’s king. They asked if they could go through his country. The king of Edom did not listen. They also asked the king of Moab, but he said ‘No.’ So *Israel’s people stayed at Kadesh. v18 Next they went through the desert. Then they went round those countries called Edom and Moab. They went along the east side of Moab. Then they camped on the other side of the Arnon river. They did not enter the country called Moab because the Arnon river was its border. v19 Then *Israel’s people sent people with messages to Sihon. He was the king of the *Amorites and he ruled in Heshbon. They asked him to let them go through his country to their own country. v20 He did not trust them to do this. So he got his army together and he camped at Jahaz. There he fought against *Israel’s people. v21 Then the *Lord, the God of *Israel’s people, helped them. They *captured Sihon. They also *captured all his men. They defeated them. v22 *Israel’s people *conquered all the area of the *Amorites that lived in that country. They *captured it all, from the Arnon river to the Jabbok river. They *captured it from the desert to the Jordan river.”
Jephthah began with a discussion that did not offend anyone. ‘Why are you fighting?’ ‘Because you have taken my country’, said the king. ‘Now give it back. Before that time, that country belonged to Ammon’s people.’ Then Jephthah replied. He first explained what had actually happened in the past. Look at verses 15-22. He explained why the country did not belong to Ammon’s people. The people that lived there before had actually been *Amorites. The *Amorites had taken the country from Moab’s people at first.
v23 “Now the *Lord, the God of *Israel’s people, has made the *Amorites leave. This is so that his people, *Israel’s people, can have the country. v24 You have no right to live in it. You take what your god Chemosh gives you. We will take whatever the *Lord our God gives us. v25 You are not better than Zippor’s son Balak, the king of Moab. He never quarrelled with *Israel’s people. Nor did he ever fight against them. v26 For 300 years, *Israel’s people occupied Heshbon, Aroer and the villages round them. They also occupied all the towns along the Arnon river. You did not take them back during that time. v27 I have not done wrong things to you, but you are doing wrong things to me. You are fighting against me. Let the *Lord, the judge, settle the quarrel this day between the *Israelites and the people from Ammon.” ’ v28 Jephthah sent that message to the king of Ammon. But the king would not listen to the message.
Jephthah then explained how *religious beliefs affected the matter. God had given that country to *Israel’s people. Chemosh was the god of Ammon’s people. He said that they could have whatever Chemosh gave to them. So that should satisfy them. (Chemosh was actually the god of the people in Moab. The people in Ammon may have had links with Moab’s people. Maybe Jephthah did not know the difference between their gods. He did not know what his own God wanted. So he probably would not know about another god!) Finally, as another reason, he explained a similar event that had happened earlier. Balak had made peace with *Israel’s people and he had not demanded to have the country. *Israelites had been there for 300 years. The people in Ammon had not decided to say anything during all that time. Then Jephthah said that the *Lord was the real judge. He would settle this case.
v29 Then the Spirit of God came upon Jephthah. He crossed Gilead and the area where Manasseh’s *tribe lived. Then he went through Mizpah in Gilead. And he advanced against the army from Ammon.v30 He made a promise to the *Lord. ‘Help me to defeat the people from Ammon. v31 When I have succeeded against them, I will return. And I will do this. Something may come out of the door of my house to meet me. Whatever comes out, I will give it to the *Lord. I will *sacrifice it as a *burnt offering.’ v32 Then Jephthah went over to fight against the army from Ammon. The *Lord gave him success.v33 He destroyed 20 towns from Aroer to near Minnith, as far as Abel Keramim. So *Israel’s people defeated the people from Ammon.
God’s Spirit came upon Jephthah and he got an army to follow him. He made a promise to God. If he was successful, he would make a *sacrifice. He would give whatever came to meet him on his return. It was a very bad promise. It showed that there was something very wrong with his nation. Something was slowly destroying basic ideas of what was right and wrong. The Spirit of God helped him to free his people. However, he did not understand God’s plans. He did not trust God’s power. He wanted to please God by what he did. But God did not want people to praise him in this way. Jephthah did not know that. The writer does not tell us very much about how Jephthah defeated the people from Ammon. He says that God caused the success.
v34 Jephthah returned to his home in Mizpah. His daughter came out to meet him. She danced to the sound of tambourines. (These are round, flat musical instruments that people shake.) She was his only child. He had no other sons or daughters. v35 When he saw her, he tore his clothes. He said, ‘Oh my daughter, you have made me miserable and unhappy. I have made a promise to the *Lord and I must obey it.’ v36 ‘My father’, she replied, ‘you have promised it to the *Lord. Do to me what you have promised. God has given you great success against the people from Ammon. v37 But do this one thing for me. Let me have two months. I can walk in the hills then with my friends. We will weep because I will never marry.’ v38 ‘You may go’, he said. She and the girls went into the hills and they wept. She would die and she would never marry. v39 After two months she came back to her father. Then he did what he had promised. So she died and she never married. From this comes an *Israelite custom. v40Every year the young women in *Israel go out for 4 days. They do this to remember the daughter of Jephthah from Gilead.
Jephthah returned. He had won the battle. He probably thought that he would only have to *sacrifice an animal. Unfortunately, his daughter came out to meet him. This was a very bad experience for Jephthah, for two reasons. First, she was his only child. Second, she did not marry. People in that society did not clearly understand life after death. But they thought that people would remember them by their *descendants. When Jephthah’s daughter died, there would be no more members in their family. There would be none after her or Jephthah. Her life was not complete. With her, the family name died out. She was a very noble person, who was willing to pay the price of success. She persuaded Jephthah to do what he had promised after all. In this way, she showed her courage. She and her father were loyal to what they believed. They did not know very much about God. Jephthah still did what he had foolishly promised. He killed his daughter as an *offering. First, he allowed her to spend two months to say goodbye to her friends. Then he killed her. This story shows us the origin of a yearly ceremony. In the ceremony, women were sorry because people had died. This ceremony probably happened only in Gilead. (Some people think that Jephthah did not kill his daughter. They say that he did not allow her to marry. That would be like death for a woman. That is because, in that society at that time, women usually married.)
The story is about reactions to God’s message. Jephthah had failed to hear God’s message. God had said that people should not *sacrifice other people. Jephthah’s promise did not mean that he should not obey that rule. ‘You may obey one law. But that does not give you an excuse not to obey another law.’ That is what Jesus was telling the *Pharisees in Mark 7:9-13. One could not refuse to help one’s parents because one gave money to God. But Jephthah did hear God’s message about promises and he obeyed it. God had said that we must do what we have promised to do. And Jephthah did do what he had promised. But he did not know everything. From the Bible we learn this. What he did was a wrong thing. The reason why he did it was right.