Harry Whittaker
Judges And Ruth

14. Jephthah (10:16-11:29)

Perhaps the scanty mention that is given Tola and Jair is deliberate, in order to hasten the reader on from a consideration of worthless Abimelech in ch. 9 to the story of the worthy Jephthah. The contrast between these two is heightened by the correspondences between them.

Son of a judge.
Son of a prince.
Born of a concubine.
Born of a harlot.
Did not inherit with his brethren.
Thrust out in contempt by his brethren and deprived of inheritance and fellowship.
Took pride in his Canaanite origin.
Never ceased to identify himself with Israel.
Massacred his brethren.
Forgave and saved his brethren.
Used a band of dare- devils for their destruction.
Used a band of dare-devils for their redemption
A godless man.
A man of outstanding piety.
Ruthless with his enemies.
Gave his enemies every possible opportunity before going to battle against them.
An ignominious death.
Died respected and honoured.
Disappeared completely
Included in God's roll of honour justified by faith.from the divine record.

Ostracized by his family

Jephthah fled (to the land of Tob, to the north of Gilead) when disinherited by his brethren. Jephthah’s father was the prince of Gilead. His mother was a harlot. The rest of the family were strongly resentful of Jephthah’s place among them, and at the first suitable opportunity — the death of their father? — they combined to exclude him with violence not only from the family inheritance but even from their tribe. This half-brother of theirs was a blot on the family name not to be tolerated.

But there may have been more to it than this. If in early life, Jephthah were already showing signs of outstanding character and ability, such as were evident enough in later days, it is easy to see how, in spite of his origins, he would be a firm favourite with his father and therefore all the more an object of both envy and hatred by his brothers.

Thus, driven out from home, and prevented by family influence and persecution from settling elsewhere in the tribal territory, Jephthah took to the wilds. There he gathered round him a band of other outlaws who, like himself, were prepared to live by their wits and their daring. A fair parallel would be David in his Adullam period. Jephthah was now become a kind of Robin Hood.

The Authorised Version here may be misleading: “And there were gathered vain men unto Jephthah, and went out with him (i.e., on forays).” The word here translated “vain” means literally “empty”, and may signify no more than that they were penniless, without resources. An almost identical word is used for the lean kine of Pharaoh’s dream.

The Judges pattern repeated again

At first it was the eastern tribes of Gad and Manasseh who bore the brunt of Ammonite aggression, but evidently as the power of the marauders grew, so also did their ambition, so that they made inroads also into the territory of the central tribes of Ephraim, Benjamin and Judah. “They vexed and oppressed (literally: crushed) the children of that Israel was sore distressed.”

Again the history followed the familiar pattern already well-established earlier in this period. “The children of Israel cried unto the Lord” — another bread-and-butter repentance.

Nevertheless because “His soul was grieved for the misery of Israel” (a wonderful expression, this!), God brought deliverance, not in any marvellous supernatural way, but by the hand of the man they had despised and ill used.

Appeal to Jephthah

The Ammonite threat becoming critical, the men of Gilead were driven to call in the help of Jephthah and his band. The deputation was coldly received, for Jephthah had many bitter memories, and there amongst the elders who came to parley with him were some of the brothers who had treated him so shabbily in earlier days.

These delegates asked that Jephthah take over the leadership of the eastern tribes until the Ammonite danger was over. But this did not satisfy him. ‘Make me your permanent leader (he said), and I’ll agree.’

With no option left them, they did agree. So, glad at heart to have this reconciliation with own folk, Jephthah came with them to the sanctuary at Mizpeh, and there the agreement was ratified by solemn covenant before the Lord. Jephthah may have been an outlaw, but all his days he was a man of godliness.

This approach to Jephthah shows the kind of man he was. For, in his free-booter life, he had evidently not preyed on his own people — as he well might have done. Yet how many, treated as he had been, would have held off from using opportunities for working off old scores? Had Jephthah’s men actually raided the people of Gilead, hatred for him would have intensified to such an extent as to make concord quite unthinkable. His outstanding ability as a leader was obviously known to everybody. More than this, he had the reputation of being a just man, or the idea of him being head of the tribe would never have been given a moment’s consideration. The leading family in Gilead would not readily eat its own words, except out of a conviction that Jephthah was the very man, the only men n fact, who was equal to the present emergency.

Parley with the enemy

And so he proved to be. Having promptly moved his headquarters to Mizpeh, he sent an immediate deputation to the king of the Ammonites protesting against this latest outrageous invasion. The reply — spoken, surely, with tongue in cheek — was that Gilead belonged to Ammon by right, having been Ammonite until Israel came out of the wilderness under Moses.

Jephthah might justifiably have treated this argument with contempt or even ridicule. But instead he patiently tried to reason the matter out at length. The despatch which he now sent detailed the facts and arguments that were not to be gainsaid:

  1. In bygone days Israel took no land from either Moab or Ammon.
  2. In fact Israel had bee exceedingly careful to avoid offence to any neighbouring people.
  3. At that time the country of Gilead was possessed by the Amorites, not the Ammonites; and it was only when their king, Sihon, became aggressive that Israel fought against him and annexed his land.
  4. Besides, said Jephthah, you believe that your god Chemosh gave you the land you now inhabit. We know that our God gave us this land.
  5. Balak, king of Moab, lost territory to Sihon the Amorite. When we took it from Sihon, Balak knew better than to claim it from us. Hadn’t you better learn that lesson?
  6. You have let this demand of yours slumber for no less than three hundred years. Why has it taken you so long to decide that the land we live on is really yours?
  7. Lastly, we have right on our side; and Jehovah, the God who gave us the land, is still the God of judgement against our enemies.
Jephthah a Bible man

Another feature of Jephthah’s message to the king of Ammon is worth noting: his remonstrance to the Ammonites is full of detailed allusions (about 19 of them) to the history of Numbers 20,21 and the parallel passages in Deut. 1,2.

Evidently Jephthah knew his Bible! He had the history of his people hundred of years before at his finger tips. So here was no uncouth, boorish buccaneer, but a man of culture with a sense of tradition and a deep reverence for the God who had cared for his people in days gone by.

Of course, like all aggressors from that century to this, the king of Ammon had no intention of settling the issue by diplomacy. He was bent on war and complete conquest.

“Then the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah”, as it had upon Othniel and Gideon, and as it came upon Samson some time afterwards. Jephthah not only sent messengers to rally the central tribes but also made a big personally-directed recruiting drive throughout Manasseh and Gilead, and then paused once more before the sanctuary in Mizpeh to make a signal act of self-consecration:

“And Jephthah vowed a vow unto the Lord, and said, If thou shalt without fail deliver the children of Ammon into mine hands, 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” (Jud. 11:31).

Of the battle itself little is told, save that the Lord gave a great victory. In spite of having to face only a small Israelite army (12:3), the Ammonites were routed and pursued many miles. And Jephthah was able to return to Mizpeh satisfied that he had accomplished fully the deliverance he had promised to attempt. The fulfilment of his vow was now due.


Chapter 10

Do thou unto us.... Compare David’s attitude towards divine judgment. 2 Sam. 24:14.
His soul grieved. Compare Isa. 63:9.
Mizpeh means “watchtower”. Josh. 13:26 identified with Ramoth-gilead — see Chapter 26 for details about the numbers of sanctuaries in Israel at this period.

Chapter 11

Gilead; i.e., the prince of Gilead (see v. 26).
Not inherit: compare Gen. 21:10; 25:6.

The son of a strange woman. It is doubtful whether Deut. 23:2 applies here; v. 3 appears to apply v. 2 to cases of incest.
Tob means “good” — probably an ironic name for the “badlands” north of Gilead (2 Sam. 10:6, mg.), a land of barren basalt.
Therefore implies: “because we now wish to make amends” — tactful, if not the whole truth!
Israel took away my land. Contrast Deut. 2:19. What Israel took was parts of Moab and Ammon which had already been seized by Sihon the Amorite; Num. 21:26; Josh. 13:25.
Note the emphasis on Moab in v. 15,17,18, because he was the brother of Ammon; Gen. 19:36-38. At the time spoken of, Ammon was right out of the picture.
In like manner, they sent to the king of Moab. This detail is an addition to the Pentateuch account. As it turned out, this appeal to Moab proved unnecessary.
Into my place. This almost suggests that Israel’s “place” was west — and not east — of Jordan. But it could be read as meaning “the rest of my place”.
The wilderness. Hinting that Ammon could have as much of the wilderness from Rabbath-Ammon and eastward as it liked.
Chemosh. But Milcom was god of Ammon, and Chemosh was god of Moab. However, just as Israel at times took over Chemosh, so also doubtless did Ammon.
Deut. 223:4 implies that Ammon shared with Moab in the hiring of Balaam.
Three humdred years. The exact sum of all the periods mentioned in the Judges up to this point. And Jephthah knew these facts!
The Spirit came upon Jephthah, thus confirming v. 11; cp. Acts 6:3,6

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