Judges chapter 11 (13 June, 2013, Tammuz 5, 5773)
Duration: 24 minutes
Jephthah was the son of a loose woman who had been disowned and expelled by his brothers. He became the head of guerilla band in the land of Gilead east of the Jordan. When the Israelites were in danger from the people of Ammon they turned to Jephthah to lead them. The daughter of Jephthah was destined to live a life of perpetual virginity in fulfillment of a vow made by here father.
1 Now Jephthah the Gileadite was a mighty man of valor, but he was the son of a harlot; and Gilead begot Jephthah.
Hebrew "Yiftach" with the final "ch" being pronounced something like "h". The name appears to mean "He who will open".
GILEADITE: He belonged to the section of Gilead in Manassseh and in addition his father was also named Gilead.
HARLOT: In Hebrew "Zonah". The word "zonah" is derived from the root "zoneh" meaning turn away from or "sin". The English word "sin" is derived from this root. At one stage the Northern peoples lost the use of the sound "z" and replaced it with "z". That is how the Sabulingoi derived their name from "Zebulon-goi" or "Zebulon-people". They were located in the region of Denmark and Frissia and from there moved southward into the Netherlands. It had been prophesied that Zebulon would dwell on the shores of the Sea. (Genesis 49:13). That is what the people of the netherlands, of the Zebulon-goi do! They dwell on reclaimed sea-land!
"Zonah" is the usual Hebrew word for "harlot" or prostitute BUT it can also have other connotations and possibilities and simply mean a woman who departs from the straight path.
2 Gilead's wife bore sons; and when his wife's sons grew up, they drove Jephthah out, and said to him, 'You shall have no inheritance in our father's house, for you are the son of another woman.'
It may be that the mother of Yiftach was a loose woman who had given birth to him prior to the birth of heirs from the legitimate wife similar to the case of Ishmael and Hagar. Alternately the mother of Yiftach may have been a second wife who was sent away because of her sons but Yiftach was kept on though in an inferior position. It would seem that there was something legal about his dispossession whether justified or not.
3 Then Jephthah fled from his brothers and dwelt in the land of Tob; and worthless men banded together with Jephthah and went out raiding with him.
<<TOB>> also pronounced "Tov" and in Hebrew the word can mean "Good". In Hebrew parlance the opposite expression is sometimes used when dealing with negative term. The region known as "Good" (Tov) may actually have been bad. It would have been our equivalent of the "Badland" where bandites and raiders were accustomed to congregrate. The land of TOB was north of Gilead somewhere in the north of Syria. The present days countries known as Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan should all be parts of Israel. This was the land that had been promised to Israel and in which Israelites settled though they had to struggle for it. Ultimately the Israelites were pushed out or subordinated and the area became part of the Aramaean Kingdoms of the region. Yiftach appears to have acted in a similar way to how David did before he became king and when he was hiding from Saul. Yiftach apparently led a band of bandits who would prey on the non-Israelite heathen enemies of Israel who dwelt in the region. He gained both experience and a reputation as a warrior leader. Someone once suggested that Robin Hood was really a Jew (Reuben Hod) who led an armed band of "Merry Men" in opposition to wicked King John who oppressed the Jews alongside the rest of his English subjects.
<< worthless men >>: In Hebrew "rakim", i.e. empty ones. This is the probable source of the English word, "rake" meaning "profligate" and often used in that very same sense in Hebrew.
4 It came to pass after a time that the people of Ammon made war against Israel. 5 And so it was, when the people of Ammon made war against Israel, that the elders of Gilead went to get Jephthah from the land of Tob. 6 Then they said to Jephthah, 'Come and be our commander, that we may fight against the people of Ammon.'
7 So Jephthah said to the elders of Gilead, 'Did you not hate me, and expel me from my father's house? Why have you come to me now when you are in distress?'
8 And the elders of Gilead said to Jephthah, 'That is why we have turned again to you now, that you may go with us and fight against the people of Ammon, and be our head over all the inhabitants of Gilead.'
9 So Jephthah said to the elders of Gilead, 'If you take me back home to fight against the people of Ammon, and the Lord delivers them to me, shall I be your head?'
10 And the elders of Gilead said to Jephthah, 'The Lord will be a witness between us, if we do not do according to your words.' 11 Then Jephthah went with the elders of Gilead, and the people made him head and commander over them; and Jephthah spoke all his words before the Lord in Mizpah.
12 Now Jephthah sent messengers to the king of the people of Ammon, saying, 'What do you have against me, that you have come to fight against me in my land?'
13 And the king of the people of Ammon answered the messengers of Jephthah, 'Because Israel took away my land when they came up out of Egypt, from the Arnon as far as the Jabbok, and to the Jordan. Now therefore, restore those lands peaceably.'
Israel had conquered these lands from Sihon King of the Amorites but previously the Amorites had conquered them from Moab and Ammon, mostly from Moab. The Ammonites were now trying to claim that Israel had taken them directly from Ammon and that they had all belonged to Ammon.
14 So Jephthah again sent messengers to the king of the people of Ammon, 15 and said to him, 'Thus says Jephthah: 'Israel did not take away the land of Moab, nor the land of the people of Ammon; 16 for when Israel came up from Egypt, they walked through the wilderness as far as the Red Sea and came to Kadesh. 17 Then Israel sent messengers to the king of Edom, saying, 'Please let me pass through your land.' But the king of Edom would not heed. And in like manner they sent to the king of Moab, but he would not consent. So Israel remained in Kadesh. 18 And they went along through the wilderness and bypassed the land of Edom and the land of Moab, came to the east side of the land of Moab, and encamped on the other side of the Arnon. But they did not enter the border of Moab, for the Arnon was the border of Moab. 19 Then Israel sent messengers to Sihon king of the Amorites, king of Heshbon; and Israel said to him, 'Please let us pass through your land into our place.' 20 But Sihon did not trust Israel to pass through his territory. So Sihon gathered all his people together, encamped 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 defeated them. Thus Israel gained possession of all the land of the Amorites, who inhabited that country. 22 They took possession of all the territory of the Amorites, from the Arnon to the Jabbok and from the wilderness to the Jordan.
23 'And now the Lord God of Israel has dispossessed the Amorites from before His people Israel; should you then possess it? 24 Will you not possess whatever Chemosh your god gives you to possess? So whatever the Lord our God takes possession of before us, we will possess.
<<Chemosh your god gives you to possess>>: The Hebrew construction implies: "Chemosh your god gives you [in your mind] to possess", i.e. according to your notions, not mine [Meshek Chochmah]. In the same way one may argue with a Muslim, "Should not you act in such and such a way according to the Koran?" because he claims to believe in the Koran even though we do not believe in it.
It has become fashionable nowadays for people who have read articles about Islam to quote Islamic sources against terrorism etc.
This to our mind is somewhat irrelevant.
People are what they do
25 And now, are you any better than Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab? Did he ever strive against Israel? Did he ever fight against them? 26 While Israel dwelt in Heshbon and its villages, in Aroer and its villages, and in all the cities along the banks of the Arnon, for three hundred years, why did you not recover them within that time? 27 Therefore I have not sinned against you, but you wronged me by fighting against me. May the Lord, the Judge, render judgment this day between the children of Israel and the people of Ammon.'' 28 However, the king of the people of Ammon did not heed the words which Jephthah sent him.
29 Then the Spirit of the LORD came upon Jephthah, and he passed through Gilead and Manasseh, and passed through Mizpah of Gilead; and from Mizpah of Gilead he advanced toward the people of Ammon. 30 And Jephthah made a vow to the Lord, and said, 'If You will indeed deliver the people of Ammon into my hands, 31 then it will be that whatever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the people of Ammon, shall surely be the LORDs, and I will offer it up as a burnt offering.'
32 So Jephthah advanced toward the people of Ammon to fight against them, and the Lord delivered them into his hands. 33 And he defeated them from Aroer as far as Minnith, twenty cities, and to Abel Keramim, with a very great slaughter. Thus the people of Ammon were subdued before the children of Israel.
34 When Jephthah came to his house at Mizpah, there was his daughter, coming out to meet him with timbrels and dancing; and she was his only child. Besides her he had neither son nor daughter. 35 And it came to pass, when he saw her, that he tore his clothes, and said, 'Alas, my daughter! You have brought me very low! You are among those who trouble me! For I have given my word to the LORD, and I cannot go back on it.'
36 So she said to him, 'My father, if you have given your word to the Lord, do to me according to what has gone out of your mouth, because the Lord has avenged you of your enemies, the people of Ammon.' 37 Then she said to her father, 'Let this thing be done for me: let me alone for two months, that I may go and wander on the mountains and bewail my virginity, my friends and I.'
38 So he said, 'Go.' And he sent her away for two months; and she went with her friends, and bewailed her virginity on the mountains. 39 And it was so at the end of two months that she returned to her father, and he carried out his vow with her which he had vowed. She knew no man.
And it became a custom in Israel 40 that the daughters of Israel went four days each year to lament the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite.
Some understand this passage to mean that he sacrificed his daughter.
Josephus is one of these.
Josephus: Antiquities of the Jews, Book 5, chapter 8
10. And when he had given them this answer, he sent the ambassadors away. And when he had prayed for victory, and had vowed to perform sacred offices, and if he came home in safety, to offer in sacrifice what living creature soever should first meet him, (17) he joined battle with the enemy, and gained a great victory, and in his pursuit slew the enemies all along as far as the city of Minnith. He then passed over to the land of the Ammonites, and overthrew many of their cities, and took their prey, and freed his own people from that slavery which they had undergone for eighteen years. But as he came back, he fell into a calamity no way correspondent to the great actions he had done; for it was his daughter that came to meet him; she was also an only child and a virgin: upon this Jephtha heavily lamented the greatness of his affliction, and blamed his daughter for being so forward in meeting him, for he had vowed to sacrifice her to God. However, this action that was to befall her was not ungrateful to her, since she should die upon occasion of her father's victory, and the liberty of her fellow citizens: she only desired her father to give her leave, for two months, to bewail her youth with her fellow citizens; and then she agreed, that at the forementioned thee he might do with her according to his vow. Accordingly, when that time was over, he sacrificed his daughter as a burnt-offering, offering such an oblation as was neither conformable to the law nor acceptable to God, not weighing with himself what opinion the hearers would have of such a practice.
Others opine that she was set aside like a hermit, a perpetual virgin. The whole passage is difficult. It would seem that an actual sacrifice was implied but not necessarily so, and if so, what is the big deal about her virginity? If her life was to be taken would she not bewail the impending loss of it more than anything else? This indicates that she remained alive.
Human Sacrifice had been know to the ancient Israelites. They had copied it from the pagans.
cf. Jeremiah 7:31: AND THEY HAVE BUILT THE HIGH PLACES OF TOPHET, WHICH IS IN THE VALLEY OF THE SON OF HINNOM, TO BURN THEIR SONS AND THEIR DAUGHTERS IN THE FIRE; WHICH I COMMANDED THEM NOT, NEITHER CAME IT INTO MY HEART.
39 And it was so at the end of two months that she returned to her father, and he carried out his vow with her which he had vowed. She knew no man. And it became a custom in Israel 40 that the daughters of Israel went four days each year to lament the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite.
Some Commentators seem to think that Yiftach did sacrifice his daughter. We however are inclined towards the contrary opinion proposed by the Radak and others.
The Radak says:
he carried out his vow with her which he had vowed. She knew no man: "He made her a house and placed her within it and she was there reclused from human company and the outside world. It was a custom that once a year the daughters of Israel would go and visit her".
This explanation fits the verses as well as any other.
Malbim: " The vow was fulfilled in that she never knew a man and remained closed away, as a woman who cannot marry, until she died."
the daughters of Israel went four days each year. This was part of their education that girls should want to marry and appreciate their marriages once they have done so.