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(MT versing)
Jephthah the Ninth Judge Jephthah Jephthah
Jephthah Jephthah Lays Down His Terms
11:1-3 11:1-3 11:1-3 11:1-3 11:1-3
11:4-11 11:4-11 11:4-11 11:4-6 11:4-11
11:10-11 Jephthah Negotiates with the Ammonites
11:12-28 11:12-28 11:12-28 11:12 11:12-28
Jephthah's Tragic Vow Jephthah's Vow and Victory Jephthah's Vow and His Victory
11:29-33 11:29-31 11:29-33 11:29-31 11:29-33
11:32-33 11:32-33
The Daughter of Jephthah Jephthah's Daughter
11:34-40 11:34-40 11:34-40 11:34-35 11:34-40

READING CYCLE THREE (see "Bible Interpretation Seminar")


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

  1. First paragraph
  2. Second paragraph
  3. Etc.


1Now Jephthah the Gileadite was a valiant warrior, but he was the son of a harlot. And Gilead was the father of Jephthah. 2Gilead's wife bore him sons; and when his wife's sons grew up, they drove Jephthah out and said to him, "You shall not have an inheritance in our father's house, for you are the son of another woman." 3So Jephthah fled from his brothers and lived in the land of Tob; and worthless fellows gathered themselves about Jephthah, and they went out with him.

11:1 "Jephthah" His name means "He (God) opens" (BDB 836, possibly "God opens the womb"). See note about him in Heb. 11:37.

▣ "the Gileadite" The name "Gilead" (BDB 167) is used for

  1. the hill country of northeast Jordan (BDB 166), which was the tribal allocation of Reuben and Gad (Deut. 3:12)
  2. an ADJECTIVE for a person living in northeast trans-Jordan (BDB 167) between the Arnon and Jabbok Rivers, Jdgs. 11:1
  3. the proper name of a person (BDB 167, #6), Jdgs. 11:1

▣ "a valiant warrior" This was used by the angel to describe Gideon (cf. Jdgs. 6:12). It could denote

  1. fighting courage and ability
  2. nobility of some type (wealth, influence, social standing, see Roland deVaux, Ancient Israel, p. 70; quotes Jos. 8:30; Ruth 2:1; 1 Sam. 9:1; 2 Kgs. 15:20; 24:14)

▣ "harlot"This (BDB 275, KB 278) was a socially unacceptable union within Israel. A concubine was a socially acceptable union but still not a full legal wife (i.e., limited inheritance). Jephthah's mother was probably Canaanite. Jephthah had no inheritance rights (cf. Jdgs. 11:3).

▣ "the father of" This phrase is really from one VERB "begot" (BDB 408, KB 411, Hiphil IMPERFECT with waw).

11:3 "Tob" This word (BDB 376 IV) means "good" or "fruitful," possibly northeast in Gilead on the eastern side of the Jordan.

▣ "worthless fellows" This refers to mercenaries. This was much like David's early life (i.e., 1 Sam. 22:1-2). It shows Jephthah was a leader of men; those without hope or social standing rallied to him.

Josephus (Antiq. 5.7.8) says they asked for Jephthah's help because he maintained an army (i.e., "worthless fellows") at his own expense.

4It came about after a while that the sons of Ammon fought against Israel. 5When the sons of Ammon fought against Israel, the elders of Gilead went to get Jephthah from the land of Tob; 6and they said to Jephthah, "Come and be our chief that we may fight against the sons of Ammon." 7Then Jephthah said to the elders of Gilead, "Did you not hate me and drive me from my father's house? So why have you come to me now when you are in trouble?" 8The elders of Gilead said to Jephthah, "For this reason we have now returned to you, that you may go with us and fight with the sons of Ammon and become head over all the inhabitants of Gilead." 9So Jephthah said to the elders of Gilead, "If you take me back to fight against the sons of Ammon and the Lord gives them up to me, will I become your head?" 10The elders of Gilead said to Jephthah, "The Lord is witness between us; surely we will do as you have said." 11Then Jephthah went with the elders of Gilead, and the people made him head and chief over them; and Jephthah spoke all his words before the Lord at Mizpah.

11:4 See Jdgs. 10:7-9, where the eighteen year affliction is described.

11:5 "elders" It is uncertain if the "elders" included part of Jephthah's brothers who rejected him and sent him away. Obviously the community of Gilead knew about it and, at the least, condoned it by silence and inaction.


11:6 "chief" This is a rare term (BDB 892), which means "the decider" or "man in authority."

  1. in Joshua 10:24 ‒ chiefs of the men of war
  2. in Daniel 11:18 ‒ a military commander
  3. in Judges 11 he is designated
    1. chief ‒ BDB 892, cf. Jdgs. 11:6, 11
    2. head ‒ BDB 910, cf. Jdgs. 11:8, 9, 11

He is never designated "king" but "head over all the inhabitants of Gilead" (Jdgs. 11:8).


11:7 Jephthah's expulsion from Gilead was a community decision.

NASB  "For this reason"
NKJV, NJB  "This is why"
NRSV  "Nevertheless"
JPSOA  "Honestly"
REB  "It is because of that"
NET Bible  "That may be true"
LXXA (AB, p. 198)  "It is not like that"

The problem is the wide semantical field of the Hebrew ADVERB (BDB 485-487). The leaders of Gilead were forced, because of circumstances, to turn to Jephthah, the only military force in the area. They wanted the past to be the past. They could not change what happened to Jephthah by his half-brothers. His countrymen needed him now!

11:9 "if. . .the Lord gives them up to me" This shows Jephthah's faith in YHWH, but without having a full knowledge of His will (cf. Dan. 3:17-18, 28).

11:10 "the Lord is witness" This is a covenant oath.


11:11 "Jephthah spoke all his words before the Lord at Mizpah" Mizpah (BDB 859 I, "watchtower") was a local holy place. This seems to be his inauguration into public office.

12Now Jephthah sent messengers to the king of the sons of Ammon, saying, "What is between you and me, that you have come to me to fight against my land?" 13The king of the sons of Ammon said to the messengers of Jephthah, "Because Israel took away my land when they came up from Egypt, from the Arnon as far as the Jabbok and the Jordan; therefore, return them peaceably now." 14But Jephthah sent messengers again to the king of the sons of Ammon, 15and they said to him, "Thus says Jephthah, 'Israel did not take away the land of Moab nor the land of the sons of Ammon. 16For when they came up from Egypt, and Israel went through the wilderness to the Red Sea and came to Kadesh, 17then Israel sent messengers to the king of Edom, saying, "Please let us pass through your land," but the king of Edom would not listen. And they also sent to the king of Moab, but he would not consent. So Israel remained at Kadesh. 18Then they went through the wilderness and around the land of Edom and the land of Moab, and came to the east side of the land of Moab, and they camped beyond the Arnon; but they did not enter the territory of Moab, for the Arnon was the border of Moab. 19And Israel sent messengers to Sihon king of the Amorites, the king of Heshbon, and Israel said to him, "Please let us pass through your land to our place." 20But Sihon did not trust Israel to pass through his territory; so Sihon gathered all his people and camped in Jahaz and fought with Israel. 21The Lord the God of Israel, gave Sihon and all his people into the hand of Israel, and they defeated them; so Israel possessed all the land of the Amorites, the inhabitants of that country. 22So they possessed all the territory of the Amorites, from the Arnon as far as the Jabbok, and from the wilderness as far as the Jordan. 23Since now the Lord the God of Israel, drove out the Amorites from before His people Israel, are you then to possess it? 24Do you not possess what Chemosh your god gives you to possess? So whatever the Lord our God has driven out before us, we will possess it. 25Now are you any better than Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab? Did he ever strive with Israel, or did he ever fight against them? 26While Israel lived in Heshbon and its villages, and in Aroer and its villages, and in all the cities that are on the banks of the Arnon, three hundred years, why did you not recover them within that time? 27I therefore have not sinned against you, but you are doing me wrong by making war against me; may the Lord the Judge, judge today between the sons of Israel and the sons of Ammon.'" 28But the king of the sons of Ammon disregarded the message which Jephthah sent him.

11:12 "What is between you and me" He uses an idiom, asking why are we fighting? (cf. 2 Sam. 16:10; 19:22; 1 Kgs. 17:18; 2 Kgs. 3:13; 2 Chr. 35:21). Jephthah tries to solve the issue by dialogue.

11:13-27 This is a historical summary of the situation and the opposing claims. It reviews the events of the exodus (see Num. 20:1, 4-12; 21:4, 22, 25-26; 22:2). Jephthah knew the history of Israel well (i.e., oral tradition or records).

11:13 Three rivers are listed as the boundaries of the disputed area. They were in the tribal allocation of Reuben and the southern part of Gad.

11:16 "Red Sea" This could refer to (1) the miraculous water crossing when leaving Egypt or (2) Israel's later arrival at the Gulf of Aqaba.



▣ "Kadesh" This was a large desert oasis in the southern part of Judah's allocation in the wilderness of Paran, where Israel camped so long (cf. Num. 13:26; 20:1; Deut. 1:19-25).

11:17 "Edom" Edomites were relatives of the Israelites from Esau (cf. Num. 20:14-21; Deut. 2:5-8).


▣ "Moab" These were relatives of the Israelites from Lot (cf. Gen. 19:36-38), as is Ammon (cf. Deut. 2:19, 27). Ammon was not well established during the conquest era but by the time of the Judges they were.

11:19 "Heshbon" Heshbon is located on the "King's Highway" and was Sihon's capital (cf. Num. 21:26).

11:20 "trust" This term (BDB 52, KB 63, Hiphil PERFECT) basically meant "to confirm" of "to support." It is an important theological word.


11:21 "the Lord. . .gave Sihon. . .into the hand of Israel" God is the controller of history.


11:23 "Chemosh" This was the god of Moab, not the Ammonites. From Ugaritic a connection has been found between Molech and Chemosh through Anath-Chemosh.

11:24 The NASB Study Bible, p. 330, suggests that because Chemosh was the chief deity of the Moabites, not the Canaanites:

  1. at this time, Ammon ruled Moab
  2. at this time, there was a confederation between Ammon and Moab.

11:25 This verse has three emphatic grammatical structures (i.e., INFINITIVE ABSOLUTE plus a VERBAL of the same root).

  1. better than ‒ BDB 373, KB 370, Qal INFINITIVE ABSOLUTE plus Qal PARTICIPLE
  2. ever strive ‒ BDB 936, KB 1224, Qal INFINITIVE ABSOLUTE plus Qal PERFECT
  3. ever fight against ‒BDB 535, KB 526, Niphal INFINITIVE ABSOLUTE plus Niphal PERFECT

▣ "Balak" See Numbers 22:2-24:5.

11:26 "Aroer" It was a region associated with the Arnon River.

▣ "three hundred years" This seems too long! The Jewish Study Bible, p. 537, thinks this refers to the time from the conquest to Jephthah. However, this number also equals the number of years already mentioned in Judges. Modern scholarship would see them as overlapping, but the author of Judges records them chronologically. The exact number is 319 (see Tyndale OT Commentaries, Judges and Ruth, p. 145).


11:27 "may the Lord, the Judge" The Qal ACTIVE PARTICIPLE "Judge" (BDB 1047, KB 1622) is combined with a Qal IMPERFECT of the same VERB used in a JUSSIVE sense (cf. 1 Sam. 24:12). YHWH is the only true Judge (cf. Gen. 16:5; 18:28; 31:53; 1 Sam. 24:15)!

One day all will appear before Him to give an account for the stewardship of the gift of life.



29Now the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah, so that he passed through Gilead and Manasseh; then he passed through Mizpah of Gilead, and from Mizpah of Gilead he went on to the sons of Ammon. 30Jephthah made a vow to the Lord and said, "If You will indeed give the sons of Ammon into my hand, 31then it shall be that whatever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the sons of Ammon, it shall be the Lord's, and I will offer it up as a burnt offering." 32So Jephthah crossed over to the sons of Ammon to fight against them; and the Lord gave them into his hand. 33He struck them with a very great slaughter from Aroer to the entrance of Minnith, twenty cities, and as far as Abel-keramim. So the sons of Ammon were subdued before the sons of Israel.

11:29 "the Spirit of the Lord" This is God's means of giving skill, power, and wisdom (cf. Exod. 31:3; 35:31; Jdgs. 3:10; 6:34; 13:25; 14:6,19; 15:14; 1 Sam. 10:10; 11:6; 16:13; 2 Sam. 23:2; 1 Chr. 12:18).


The VERB "passed through" (BDB 716, KB 778) in this verse occurs three times, all in the Qal stem. Jephthah is on the move through the direction of the "Spirit of YHWH."

11:30 "Jephthah made a vow to the Lord" Proverbs 20:25 warns against making rash vows.

An "oath" is given when someone promises to do something in God's name which involves a curse on themselves if they do not do it.

A "vow" is a promise made to God based on God doing something first (cf. Gen. 28:20-22; Num. 21:2; Jdgs. 11:30-31; 1 Sam. 1:11; 2 Sam. 15:8 [cf. NIDOTTE, vol. 4, p. 33]).

11:31-33 There has been much confusion here as to the precise conditions of the vow. See Hard Sayings of the Bible, pp. 193-195).

  1. human sacrifice
    1. part of surrounding cultures
    2. historical precedent in Israel
      (1) Genesis 22
      (2) Leviticus 27:28-29
    3. context of Jdgs. 11:31
    4. the Targums, Josephus (Antiq. 5.7.10) and all early Christian commentators
  2. religious seclusion
    1. Hebrew text of Jdgs. 11:31 can mean "or" or "and"
    2. existence of Temple virgins (cf. Exod. 38:8; 1 Sam. 2:22)
    3. Lev. 27:1-8 (i.e., a person could be bought back)
    4. context of Jdgs. 11:38
    5. Kimchi, a Jewish commentator of the Middle Ages, was the first to advocate the concept of seclusion

If I had to choose, I regrettably must choose #1 in this context.

34When Jephthah came to his house at Mizpah, behold, his daughter was coming out to meet him with tambourines and with dancing. Now she was his one and only child; besides her he had no son or daughter. 35When he saw her, he tore his clothes and said, "Alas, my daughter! You have brought me very low, and you are among those who trouble me; for I have given my word to the Lord, and I cannot take it back." 36So she said to him, "My father, you have given your word to the Lord; do to me as you have said, since the Lord has avenged you of your enemies, the sons of Ammon." 37She said to her father, "Let this thing be done for me; let me alone two months, that I may go to the mountains and weep because of my virginity, I and my companions." 38Then he said, "Go." So he sent her away for two months; and she left with her companions, and wept on the mountains because of her virginity. 39At the end of two months she returned to her father, who did to her according to the vow which he had made; and she had no relations with a man. Thus it became a custom in Israel, 40that the daughters of Israel went yearly to commemorate the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite four days in the year.

11:34 "with tambourines and with dancing" This was a common victory celebration (cf. Exod. 15:20; 1 Sam. 18:6; Ps. 68:25; and Jer. 31:4).

▣ "she was his one and only child" This meant that she was his only hope for grandchildren! His line would be permanently cut off.

11:35 "tore his clothes" This is a typical sign of mourning.


▣ "brought me very low" This is another example of an emphatic Hebrew grammatical structure (i.e., INFINITIVE ABSOLUTE plus a PERFECT VERB of the same root, BDB 502, KB 499, cf. Jdgs. 11:25).

▣ "those who trouble me" This VERB (BDB 747, KB 824, Qal PARTICIPLE) occurs only here and Job 6:4, describing a state of psychological disruption and agitation.

▣ "I have given my word to the Lord" This account merges great faith and tragedy!

▣ "I cannot take it back" See Leviticus 27; Num. 30:2; Deut. 23:21-23; and Eccl. 5:4-5.

11:36 This verse shows the faith of the daughter!

11:37 See notes at Jdgs. 11:31-33 for the interpretive options.

NASB  "go to the mountains"
NKJV  "go and wander on the mountains"
NRSV, TEV, NJB, Peshitta  "wander on the mountains"
JPSOA  "lament"
REB  "roam the hills"
LXX  "descend on the mountains"

The VERB (BDB 432, KB 434, Qal PERFECT with waw) means "to come down" or "go down" (LXX). Most translations see the difficulty of "descending on the mountains" and see the VERB as an idiom for grief (i.e., bow down or descend).

11:38 "her virginity" See SPECIAL TOPIC: VIRGIN.

11:39 "had no relations with a man" The VERB is literally "know" (BDB 393, KB 390, Qal PERFECT) but used in a specialized sense of "no sexual contact." See "know" used for sexual relations in Gen. 4:1; 19:8; Num. 31:17, 35; Jdgs. 11:39; 21:11; 1 Sam. 1:19; 1 Kgs. 1:4.


11:40 "commemorate" This can mean either (1) "celebrate," as in Ps. 8:1 or (2) "mourn," as in New Jerusalem Bible translation.


This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought-provoking, not definitive.

  1. List the acts and words of Jephthah in Judges 11 that show his faith!
  2. Why does Jdgs. 11:15-25 mention the exodus and conquest?
  3. What does Jdgs. 11:29 imply?
  4. Did Jephthah really sacrifice his daughter?

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