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Bible Commentaries

Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary

Judges 11

 

 

Verses 1-33

CHOICE OF A LEADER AND SLAUGHTER OF THE ENEMY

Jud .

CRITICAL NOTES.— Jud . The Gileadite.] Many regard this as not a definite patronymic, but indicating that he belonged to the clan of the Gileadites. The phrase, Gilead begat Jephthah, they suppose to mean that the son of Machir was his ancestor, and add, that his posterity is not more distinctly given because his birth was illegitimate. But this is to put a strain on the passage, for we are told that Jephthah's father had other sons (Jud 11:2). Gilead here spoken of then, must have been a descendant of the son of Machir, wearing the same name, for the same names often recurred in Jewish families (see the genealogies in 1 Chronicles 2, 4.) The ancestor of the family is referred to in Num 26:29. The designation, Gileadite, by itself, may be regarded as a general patronymic, similar to "Elon the Zebulonite" (ch. Jud 12:11-12), signifying that he belonged to the family line of the Gileadites, and that one of the line of the same name with the ancestor, Gilead, was his father. It also implies, that Gilead was the country of his birth.

A mighty man of valour] comp. Jos ; 2Ki 5:1; also ch. Jud 6:12, implying great physical strength, boldness and courage. "A man able to endure hardness as a good soldier," "a man that had often done great exploits on the field, and that had looked death in the face on great adventures in the field"—(Trapp). This feature is mentioned, as it gave him distinction in such an age, an age of wars and fightings. The son of an harlot.] The sacred penman, with ever impartiality, gives the actual outlines of a man's history, whether for honour or dishonour.

Jud . Thrust out Jephthah.] From the circumstance of his birth, he was not entitled to share in the paternal inheritance. Not even the children of the secondary wife were so entitled (Gen 21:10; Gen 25:6). It is probable, that Jephthah from his bold and enterprising spirit, bade fair to take the lead in the general family circle, and so jealousy was awakened.

Jud . Dwelt in the land of Tob.] 2Sa 10:6. Probably some part of Syria, a part on the borders of Gilead, to the north, or north-east. He flees thither as to an asylum, and by constraint, טוֹכ good, may apply to the land, and signify that the land was fertile. Such a phrase as eretz tob, a good land, is used in Exo 3:8. Yet some suppose it may have been owned by one who was called Tob, on account of his goodness, as Aristides was surnamed "the Just," and Phocion was called "the Good." Of Probus, the Emperor, it was said if he had not already had Probus (the honest) for his name, he would certainly have had it given him for a surname, for he was honest all over. (Trapp).

Were gathered unto him vain men.] Rather, they gathered themselves unto him. They were probably attracted to him, partly because he belonged to a family of distinction, but still more by his sterling qualities as a leader of men. Courage, enterprise, and decision of character, are sure to make a following. רָקִים vain men. Men of no moral restraint (see on ch. Jud ), of loose, perhaps infamous character; for it corresponds with the term "Raca" in Matthew 5, which is a term of great reproach. In fact, Jephthah now became an adventurer, not of choice, but through force of circumstances; and "adversity makes us acquainted with strange bedfellows." These were not chosen associates of Jephthah, as was the case with Abimelech (ch. Jud 9:4), but they had this in common, that they were driven out from the pale of constituted society, and were compelled to lead the life of adventurers. Jephthah, however, could have had no sympathy with anything that was ungodly, or dissolute in character.

They went out with him,] i.e. in any of his adventures. These were necessary as a means of subsistence. Nothing would be more to the taste of such a class of men than a system of freebooting, without regard to moral principle. But to a man of conscience, like Jephthah, such considerations as these would regulate his conduct: The heathen all round were the enemies of the God of Israel, and of the people of Israel; they were long ago marked out for destruction; most of them had already oppressed Israel for years without making compensation; and at the present moment (during the 18 years mentioned), the Ammonites were doing their very utmost to tread down the tribes throughout Gilead to the east of Jordan, his own people. Was he not, therefore, justified in attacking the enemies of his people, and of his God, the same as he would be in fighting a battle with an enemy? Was he not at liberty to despoil those who were already doomed to destruction by Jehovah, at the hand of Israel? A parallel case we have in the history of David (1Sa ). David made raids from time to time into the countries of the Lord's enemies (1Sa 27:8-10; 1 Samuel 30; also 1Sa 23:1-5). Jephthah was very successful in these excursions, and so gained a great name as a warrior.

Jud . In process of time.] After several years, or as the years rolled on. The meaning seems to be, when a considerable period had elapsed after Jephthah's expulsion, and many things had come and gone. When he was expelled, it was the period of the people's sin and impenitence, and not at all unlikely, one of the special items of dislike to him on the part of his brethren, was his staunch loyalty to the God of Israel, while they at that time were idolaters. That he was a true fearer of Jehovah is manifest from the whole account, and he was not likely to learn that lesson in Aram while living among heathen strangers. He must have learned it before leaving his father's house and kindred, for in the darkest nights of Israel's history, there were always some glimmerings of the true light left unextinguished. Jephthah's brethren, being now penitent, and having returned to the worship of Israel's God, would feel that his piety, which they formerly disliked, was one of the best qualifications for his becoming their leader in a battle, which was to be won through the aid of Israel's God.

Made war against Israel.] The historian now returns from his digression to the point stated in ch. Jud . The Ammonites had for years made many desultory and desolating excursion into the land of Israel, but now they were collecting their forces for a general subjugation of the country. It was about this period, say some, that the Greeks made war against Troy, and after ten years took it.—Trapp.

Jud . Come and be our captain.] Because of his fame as a warrior, and also because of his loyalty to Israel's God. קָצִין a leader in war (Jos 10:24), and is distinguished in Jud 11:11 from רא̇ שׁ, a chief in peace and war. The former word seems to refer to a temporary appointment, the latter to a permanent office; hence its importance in Jud 11:9, where רא̇ שׁ is used. And the force of the statement is, "If I fight with Ammon as your temporary captain for the battle, and the Lord deliver them into my hand, then I will become your permanent head or judge, or shall I become so?" To this they agreed.

Jud . Did ye not hate me and expel me, etc.?] We see nothing very harsh or resentful in these words as some do. A great injury had been done to him in forcing him into exile, and compelling him to lead the life of a guerilla chief for these eighteen years, and the language now used is only what might be expected from a man of proper self-respect. His brethren really did the wrong, but the elders, or leading men in Gilead of that day, seemed to have concurred in the act, or at least could have prevented it.

Jud . Therefore we turn to thee now, etc.] We now come to make amends, and we not only ask thee to fight with us against the children of Ammon, but to be head or ruler over all Gilead.

Jud . And the Lord deliver them before me.] He speaks of God under his covenant name, Jehovah—not Elohim, which last refers equally to all the inhabitants of the world, but the former relates to the special covenant he had made with Israel as a redeemed people. He also looks for victory, not as coming through his own prowess or skill as a general, but as a blessing coming from Jehovah.

Shall I be your head?] Shall I become your permanent ruler or head (as explained in Jud )? Or, it will be on condition that I become your permanent head.

Jud . The Lord be witness, etc.] The enemy was at the gate, and there was no time for hesitation. They were glad to get the help of a man like Jephthah, on any terms. They are even willing to make the agreement with the solemnity of an oath, for "an oath for confirmation is to men an end of all strife."

Jud . Uttered all his words before the Lord.] He does everything under Jehovah's immediate inspection and sanction. He generously forgets all former grievances, and forgives as he hoped to be forgiven.

In Mizpeh.] This place from Jacob's time had always more or less of a sacred character. There was set up the heap of stones as a witness before God, that neither Laban nor he should pass it to do the other harm (Gen ). It, afterwards, became the capital of Gilead. It was also one of the 48 Levitical cities given to that sacred tribe, among all the other tribes (Jos 21:38), and it was one of the six cities of refuge (Jos 20:8). In these verses it is spoken of as Ramoth-in-Gilead. The special presence of God was supposed to be with the tabernacle, with the ark, or with the priest officiating clothed with the ephod. This latter may have been the case here.

Jud . What hast thou to do with me?] He now speaks in name of the nation, having been chosen their captain. His first step is to try to settle the dispute peacefully, according to the law of his God (Deu 20:10). Even the Romans held that all things ought to be tried first before war.

Jud . Israel took away my land, &c.] This was a mere pretext for a quarrel. A district of fertile land lying between Arnon on the south, and Jabbok on the north, enclosed by Jordan on the west, and the wilderness on the east, did at one time belong to the Moabites, or Ammonites, or both; for being both sons of Lot and brethren, they are often spoken of as if they were but one nation (see Num 21:26-30). But that territory was taken from them by Sihon, king of the Amorites, so that when Israel, at their entrance into Canaan, passed along, they found it to be a part of the kingdom of Sihon, and as they conquered Sihon in turn, it naturally fell into their hands; yet, in no sense, as a portion of Moab or Ammon, but as a division of the kingdom of Sihon (Jud 5:22; Deu 3:16; Jos 13:25). "The Arnon (rushing stream) empties itself into the Dead Sea, mid-way down on the east side (Num 21:13). The Jabbok (pourer) rises in the mountains of Gilead, and empties itself into the Jordan, near the city of Adam" (Jos 3:16) (Lias).

Jud . Sent messengers again.] He was a man of robust intellect, as well as robust body, and saw through the flimsiness of the pretext in a moment.

Jud . Thus saith Jephthah.] He recapitulates all the facts bearing on the case, and shows how fully he was acquainted with all God's past dealings towards his covenant people. Like Moses in the desert, or like David in the cave, he must have occupied much of his time in that foreign land, in meditating on the mighty acts of the Lord towards His chosen people.

Jud . Sent messengers to the King of Edom … and to the King of Moab, etc.] These peoples were descendants of Esau and of Lot, and the Israelites were forbidden to attack any of them (Deu 2:5; Deu 2:9; Deu 2:19; 2Ch 20:10). So "Israel abode in Kadesh," when these kings refused to grant them liberty to pass through. They took no step to force a passage, though they were well able to do so.

Jud . Compassed the land of Edom and of Moab.] Took a long and fatiguing journey round these territories, that they might not come within the borders of Moab nor yet of Edom (Num 21:4; Num 21:11; Num 21:13; Num 22:36; Deu 2:1-12).

Jud . Let us pass through thy land unto my place, etc.] Even Sihon was not attacked by Israel, but the Amorite king himself brought on the war which took place (Num 21:21-25; Deu 2:26-34).

Jud . They possessed all the coasts of the Amorites from Arnon to Jabbok, and from the wilderness to Jordan.] This was the territory in dispute, and Jephthah shows how it came into Israel's possession. It was not taken by Israel from Moab, for at that time Moab had it not. Israel too showed a jealous care not to touch anything that belonged to Moab, being forbidden by Jehovah to do so. What took place before that, between the Amorites and Moab, Israel had nothing to do with—it was a piece of past history. But Israel took it from a king by whom they were attacked in war.

Jud . The Lord God of Israel hath dispossessed the Amorites, etc.] (Deu 2:32-37). The blessed and only Potentate did so. There could be no higher title to any possession than this. "The God that made the world and all things therein … determines for men the bounds of their habitation" (Act 17:24; Act 17:26; Dan 4:25). At the first, "the Most High divided to the nations their inheritance" (Deu 32:8). The Lord of the whole earth (Psa 24:1) has a right to give any part of it to whomsoever he pleaseth. The complaint now made was really a complaint against the doing of the God of Israel.

Jud . That which Chemosh thy god giveth thee.] He appeals to their own principles of action. They were accustomed to hold that what their god gave them they had the fullest right to possess, for no law was higher with them than the decision of their god. Had not Israel then the same high title to possess that which their God gave them? This was unanswerable reasoning (Deu 9:3; Deu 9:5; Deu 18:12; Jos 3:10). Ammon and Moab got possession of the territory they then had, by forcibly driving out its previous possessors (Deu 2:10-22).

Jud . Art thou anything better than Balak, etc.?] Jephthah knew the whole history well and could reason upon it equally well. He means, art thou better than the King of Moab of that day? Yet he never disputed Israel's title to the possession of that which they took from Sihon, when they had conquered him in battle. And if Moab's king at the time did not find fault, why raise a dispute now after the lapse of 300 years? There was now a prescriptive right. "A title so long unquestioned, was to be presumed to be unquestionable"—(Bush). Balak did indeed hire Baalam to curse Israel, but not because he wished thereby to recover the lost portion of land, but his object was to save his crown itself and the kingdom which he possessed. Ammon and Moab went together in this nefarious attempt (Deu 23:4). They were brethren. "Moab was the more civilised and agricultural, Ammon the more fierce, Bedouin-like and marauding half of Lot's descendants (Isaiah 15, 16; Jeremiah 48; comp. with 1Sa 11:2; Amo 1:13; 2Sa 10:1-5; 2Sa 12:31)"—(Fausset).

Jud . Wherefore I have not sinned against thee, &c.] I have the land by right of conquest, the same as that by which you own your own territory. I have it by the gift of our God, who is the Sovereign Proprietor of heaven and earth. And I have it by the right of long unquestioned possession.

The Lord be judge, etc.] He leaves the matter in the hands of the Sovereign "Judge of all the earth." It is clear that throughout this chapter, Jephthah "acknowledged the Lord in all his ways," believing that "He would direct his steps."

Jud . Hearkened not to the words of Jephthah.] Though the reasoning was most conclusive. His purpose to fight was already fixed. It was a case of the wolf and the lamb. God hardened his heart, for He purposed to destroy him for lifting his hand against the people of God.

Jud . The Spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah.] Already he had the spirit of grace, now he got the spirit of power (see on ch. Jud 3:10; Jud 6:34). The effect was to raise him above his natural level in courage, strength, boldness, and wisdom. This was the crowning proof that Jehovah had chosen Jephthah, and not the elders of Israel merely, to be the leader in this important crisis. It was the same as if a horn of oil had been poured on his head. It was also an indication of the fact, that victory was to come, not by natural energy or skill, "not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit saith the Lord."

Passed over Gilead and Manasseh.] To collect an army, in Reuben, Gad, and the tribe of Manasseh east. Mizpeh of Gilead is specially mentioned as being the rendezvous for all public assemblies of the people, on the east side of Jordan. The reasons are given above under Jud . It is called Mizpeh of Gilead, to distinguish it from Mizpeh of Judah, a town about 20 miles to the south of Jerusalem (1Sa 7:5-7; Jos 15:21; Jos 15:38), but some place it in Benjamin (Jos 18:26).

Jud . The Lord delivered them into his hands.] No account is given of the particular means employed. But when God's hand is specially engaged, it is easy with him to set 1000 springs in operation, in the most natural way, to bring out victory. Whatever was fitted to hamper, to enfeeble, to disconcert, or strike with panic the forces of the enemy, was set agoing. Whatever was needful to encourage, to embolden, and to give fresh strength to His own people, was furnished by the God of battles. A very great slaughter followed, and twenty cities fell into the bands of the victors.

Jud . The children of Ammon were subdued, etc.] A single verse is reckoned sufficient to tell the great decision, whether the dark cloud which had hung over Israel for many years was to continue, and grow darker still, or whether light, liberty, and joy were again to visit the homes of the children of the covenant. But nearly two chapters are taken up with getting the people's sins disposed of, and the arguments of the case set forth.

The word וַיִכָּנעוּ signifies greatly brought down, or laid very low. Their pride was humbled, and their strength was utterly broken; so it usually fared with those who dared to attack the people of the living God. They were not merely defeated, but the defeat became a rout, and indeed ruin. None of those who oppressed Israel, after God's controversy with His people was closed, could lift up their heads a second time. Here the word might be translated Canaanised (Bush).

HOMILETIC REMARKS

Jud

THE EXILE LEADER, AND A GREAT TRIUMPH

I. Every man has his starting point in life fixed by God.

All do not enter on the race of life with the same advantages. Some are born king's sons, and have the prestige of royalty at every step they take. Others are the children of parents of high rank and great wealth, to whom many doors of ease and enjoyment, as well as an honourable position in life, are thrown open. But a far larger number are born to tread more among thorns than flowers, and have to climb hard, ere they reach a respectable elevation in society. Others still are born under the shadow of reproach, and have from the first to fight their way through a strong prejudice, which it may take many years to dispel. Thus it was with Jephthah, who in early life was banned even from the society of his own brethren, because of the illegitimacy of his birth, and had at length to flee into a land of strangers. There was no blame on his part; but in God's Providence, this cloud came over him through the sin of his parents.

Similar are the disadvantages, with which many have to contend in fighting the battle of life. How many are born with sickly constitutions, so that many things are a burden or a labour to them, which are a light exercise to others. How many are blind, or have weak eyesight from the first, or are maimed, or deformed. How many have dissolute parents, have uncomfortable homes, are clothed in rags, and see only spectacles of misery and squalor from day to day. How many have to toil hard for the bare necessaries of life, want the means of a liberal education, and have no influential friends to take them by the hand in climbing up the ladder.

In one aspect of the case, this fixing of a man's starting point is the arrangement of God, for it is He who determines every man's lot. Yet it is also true that "when a man's ways please the Lord" (whatever his station in life) He not only gives him promotion, but "maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him" (Pro ), Psa 75:6-7.

II. Much of a man's future in life depends on himself.

This must be taken in connection with the former remark. Jonathan was a king's son, but he had a wicked father, and he knew from his youth that the wicked father's son would not inherit the throne of Israel. Yet notwithstanding this blight in his early hopes, he did not quarrel with the position which God had given him, but nobly turned round and said to David, "Thou shalt be king over Israel, and I shall be next unto thee." That honour denied him, he sought another distinction, that of being a man of strong faith in his God. Such deeds did he perform through that faith, that his name illumines some of the brightest chapters of the Book of God, and stands higher through all time than if he had worn a crown.

Had Jephthah sat down sullenly as an ill-fated man, complained, as an ungodly man would have done, that the fates were against him, or that God had taken a grudge against him, and begun to cherish a gloomy, perhaps a reckless and misanthropic spirit, he would never have risen in the scale in after life. Nor would Joseph have done so, if he had given way to hard thoughts of God, when cast into the pit, or sold for a slave, falsely accused, and immured within the walls of an Egyptian prison. Nor would David have risen to eminence, if, when chased like a roe among the mountains, he had lost all hope in God, and become demoralised. Every man is bound to make the most of his position, and, like the woman of Zarephath, to gather the two sticks that are left to prepare the last meal, in the faith that the covenant God will not let the barrel of meal waste, nor the cruse of oil fail, till the day that He shall send rain on the earth (1Ki ).

III. Disaffection in a family circle brings chastisement sooner or later.

If it were undutifulness to parents, the sentence according to the Mosaic law was most severe. It was the first commandment in the Second Table of the Law, to honour parents, and often breaches of that commandment were visited with death (Exo ; Exo 21:17; Deu 21:18-21), or some severe penalty (Pro 30:17; 1Ti 1:9; Rom 1:30; Rom 1:32); or if disaffection break out among brethren, we have a strong illustration of the Divine scourge coming down in after years, in the case of Joseph's brethren (comp. Genesis 37 with ch. Gen 42:21-22). To what a humiliation had Jephthah's brethren to submit, when, in after years, they had to journey into a far country to seek out him whom they had driven out, and implore him to come to their rescue in the day of their extremity! What earnest charges are given against brethren falling out among one another (Gen 45:24; Mat 20:24-28; 2Co 12:20-21; Jas 3:16; Jas 4:1, etc.)

IV. Adversity in youth is often a blessing (Lam ).

The man whom God sent into Egypt to provide the staff of bread for His people in days of famine, "was sold for a slave (while yet a youth), his feet were hurt with fetters, and he was laid in irons," etc. (Psa ). Joseph, the indulged child, could never have acquired the capacity of dealing with men with firmness, sagacity, and good judgment, as ruler over all the land of Egypt, had he not been taken by God's own far-seeing hand, and set to learn hard lessons in the school of sharp affliction. David learned much during the years that his life was sought by the envious king of Israel, and also while he was in the cave of Adullam, and living actually in the very country of the Philistines. Jacob, Moses, and others, would never have been the men whom they became, had they not been well schooled in adversity, at the beginning of their public life. Many have had reason to say, "It was good for me that I was afflicted."

Jephthah, too, led by the kind hand of God's Providence, was taught to "scorn delights, and live laborious days" in his early youth, little knowing at the time, that he was thus really being sent to school, to learn lessons which he could learn so well in no other way, and which were essential to fit him for the great work marked out for him to perform, and the high position he was to occupy in God's Church in after years.

V. The righteous and the wicked are often compelled to live together in this world.

When driven from his home in Gilead, Jephthah appears to have gone to his mother's country in Aram, or that part of Syria, which is just across the boundary line from Israel, in the north-east. It was a land of idols, yet Jephthah had lived long enough in Israel to acquire a considerable knowledge of Israel's God, and no truth makes so deep an impression on the heart that really receives it, as this truth. So he still lived an Israelite, while surrounded by idolaters. Men came around him whom he did not care to seek, and with whose spirit he had no sympathy—men who were unprincipled in character, and abandoned in their conduct, but who, being outlaws, like himself, and in need of a captain, were attracted by the robust strength and imperial bearing of this stalwart Gileadite. They would naturally also acknowledge him all the more readily, as he belonged to what was reckoned a good family in Manasseh, and already some favourable rumours were heard, respecting his feats in arms against the neighbouring nations.

Thus was Jephthah compelled to live with many men who "had no fear of God before their eyes." On his part, to have a following was a necessity, both, like David, as a protection for his person, and also as a means of fighting the battles of his country and his God. Thus did David (1Sa , etc.; 1Sa 23:1-5; 1Sa 27:8-9). Besides, Jephthah, like David, was not in a position to choose his company. Idolaters were round him on all sides. These exiles, if they were, or if most of them were, desperadoes, were still the only human beings he could associate with. He would have required to have "gone out of the world," if he had determined to keep free of the company of the wicked altogether (1Co 5:9-10). That Jephthah should have consented to act with these men, was not a matter of preference or of choice, but of pure necessity. If this is not expressly stated, it is at least as fair an inference as any other, and harmonises well with his general character.

While a good man is on earth, he will always have something in his surroundings, to remind him that he is in the enemy's country, that it is earth and not heaven. While the people of God are yet only travelling in the wilderness, "a mixed multitude" travel step by step with them. But when they come to cross Jordan, only the circumcised shall be allowed to enter Canaan. There they shall have only their "own company." Here we must act as far as possible by the rule, "Thou shalt not plough with an ox and an ass together." When it is a matter of desire, our prayer should be: "Gather not my soul with sinners." But when necessity leads us to perform the duties of life in company with the wicked, our prayer should be, "lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil."

VI. The same actions may be good or evil, as they are done from right or wrong motives.

If Jephthah and his followers were exiles, or outlaws, the force of their circumstances in such an age, would naturally lead them to act as adventurers. That they made raids in different directions, or prosecuted this kind of life more or less, seems to be implied in the statement, "they went out with him." To the followers, mere pillage or robbery would doubtless be the chief impelling motive, or, we may add to that, the love of adventure. But to a man of conscience like Jephthah, the guiding motive would be, to do battle against the enemies of Jehovah, and to give suitable recompense for all the wrongs they had done to his people. All the nations were of this category, so that wherever he turned, the same rule of action would hold good (see Crit. Notes on Jud ). Thus the same action was to Jephthah the fulfilment of a sacred duty, while to his followers, it was an action of robbery and brigandage. It is also important to remember, that the whole of these heathen lands, north and south, east and west, were gifted to Israel, and the destruction of their inhabitants was appointed to God's people as a duty to be fulfilled. All this would be present to the mind of Jephthah, and give another and totally opposite complexion to the acts, from that which they had in the case of his associates, who did what they did as mere plunderers.

In like manner, any offering made to God, good in itself, may become an abomination, when the motives in the heart are those of hypocrisy, or otherwise displeasing to God (Pro ; Isa 1:11-15). The kiss of salutation, in the way of acknowledging each other as Christian brethren, was well-pleasing to God, but the kiss of Judas in betraying his Master was diabolically bad. To eat flesh that had been offered to idols, was, to an enlightened Christian, nothing more than the means of good nourishment, and most lawful to do, but to eat such, in the presence of one whose conscience felt such an act to be a stumbling-block to his faith, was positively sinful.

VII. God's choice of instruments to do His work often appears singular in the estimation of men.

Who could have looked for any good thing coming out of the land of Tob—a land beyond the boundary of Israel, and where idolatry was universal? Who could have supposed that the illegitimate son of Gilead's family, whose mother was a heathen and a stranger to Israel's God, and who himself in early boyhood was shunned and scowled upon by all the family circle, and was at length so persecuted at home, that he was obliged to take refuge in a foreign land—who could have supposed, that he should become one day the only man, among all the thousands of Israel, that was found qualified to occupy the post of Judge in Israel, and Leader of the hosts of the Lord against the invasion of the enemy. Truly, this was a rose springing up among thorns—staunch loyalty to Jehovah's name amid surrounding treason, like that of the few solitary faithful ones in Sardis, whose undefiled garments do not escape the notice of Him, who walks in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks (Rev ). God saw the affliction of his boyhood, and made him a child of His grace. Having begun the good work, He keeps him by his mighty power through faith against all the temptations of the wicked (Rev 3:10). Thence Jephthah, when called for to do God's work, is found to be a man of decided piety. Despised by all around him, with a ring of marauders hailing him as their captain, and an exile from his people and home, this man seemed little likely to be of any use to the church of God in his generation. But "God seeth not as man seeth." Under the unpromising exterior, He beheld the germ of a thoroughly religious character, and in His holy Providence He made "the last first, and the first last." Jephthah's name went down into the Book of God's remembrance, and that of the Church's remembrance, as a good name (Heb 11:32), a pearl among dross, a child of God among children of the wicked one.

How like is this picture to that of Jephthah's great antitype, who was "despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief," yet in due time was exalted to be "the man of God's right hand." "The stone which the builders rejected became the head of the corner."

It illustrates also the difference between God's estimation and man's estimation of human character (1Sa ; Luk 7:37; Luk 7:50; Jas 4:4; Mar 12:41, &c.; Luk 16:15; Heb 11:38-39).

VIII. God's wisdom and love in seeming to forget His people's sufferings.

For the larger part, if not the whole, of the 18 years of the enemy's oppression, and perhaps longer still, did Jephthah remain in the land of his exile. It must have seemed to him long, very long, to be deprived of having any fellowship with God's people in their religious exercises, and he must often have prayed very earnestly for a restoration of his captivity in language similar to that of Psalms 42. It must have seemed as if God had forgotten His word (Psa ). And so have others of God's people often felt (Psa 74:1; Psa 74:10-11; Psa 77:7-10). The children of Abraham were kept for more than two generations in the iron furnace in Egypt, yet all the while the Divine pity was felt, and kept looking down with intense sympathy on the scene presented. "I have seen, I have seen the affliction of my people, and I have heard their groaning, and am come down to deliver them." Wisdom and love were at work all the time, deciding the best time and mode of deliverance.

But in Jephthah's case, as in David's, the long delay previous to his great public work was needed, to build up a character suitable to the greatness of that work. The seven or more years of David's wanderings among wildernesses, and pits, and caves, and mountains, and valleys, were well occupied in the bringing forth of those clear crystal effusions of a pious heart, which we find in many of the precious Psalms. There is the 63rd for example; we have to thank the wilderness of Judah for that. To his flight beyond Jordan, and its long continuance we owe the 42nd. To his narrow escape from Saul, we owe the 57th; and to his danger when among the Philistines we owe the 56th; so with others. What a loss to the Church of God in all ages, not to have had these genuine outpourings of a pious heart, in the midst of overwhelming troubles. Hence the far-seeing wisdom and love of God, that arranged such a course of life for David.

Thus it was with Jephthah. His many years in the land of Tob, we verily believe he spent more in intercourse with his God, than with his associates in adversity. It would be a relief to him to ponder over from day to day the marvellous history, which Moses and Joshua had left behind them of God's mighty acts of love, and power on behalf of His people; in proof of which, we have a specimen of the accuracy and fulness of his knowledge, in his reasoning with the King of Ammon. Little is indeed recorded, but when it is so, we are to take it, that that little is but a specimen of more that might have been given.

IX. It is wise to make the best of one's circumstances, however adverse.

Many would have said, in his circumstances, that it was of no use to try to do anything to better one's position, or even to do anything for the glory of God, and the good of His church. But this man of faith improved such opportunities as he had, and gained such a name for zeal in vindicating the cause of Jehovah, and such fame as a warrior in the field, that all eyes were turned to him in the day of Israel's distress. He was the first who dared to attack the Ammonites on this occasion, and, according to a public resolution come to, he was chosen to be the captain of Israel's army (ch. Jud ).

X. How legible the records of Scripture history are, compared with those of profane history.

How clear and distinct in every line is the account here given of what took place in Jephthah's days! Yet this is supposed to be about the time of the Trojan war, ending in the overthrow of that famous town by the Greeks. That is reckoned to be about the dawn of general history outside the Bible; and yet even that is so much under a haze, that it is difficult to say how much of the account is truth, and how much is fable. Even before this time, as far back as the days of Moses, the ink seems yet scarcely dry on the page (if the expression might be allowed), everything being so fresh and legible, while all profane records, even of a date less remote, seem covered with lichen, or are musty and moth-eaten.

XI. The unwisdom of despising anyone in the day of prosperity.

The brethren of Jephthah were foolish enough to do this, and lived afterwards bitterly to lament it. God has so dovetailed society together, and made one part so necessary to another (as in the case of the human body), that in many cases, that member of it whom we think we may frown upon or injure at pleasure, may turn out at another time to be a most valuable auxiliary. God has it all arranged in His plan, that now one, now another, of our fellow creatures, shall serve us materially at certain points of our history, and as we do not know who these persons are, our wisdom is to despise no one, but live in amity and peace with all. This is only in conformity with the great law, "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself." Jephthah might be base in the estimation of his brethren, but the day came round, when both they and the brethren of Joseph found it was a capital error to despise their brother. "Base things of the world, and things which are not, hath God chosen to bring to nought things that are." "Kings often despise their soldiers, until such times as their crowns begin to hang on the one side of their heads."—[Trapp.]

A good many years ago, a young man who had been brought up in a religious family circle in Scotland, went out to India to join the army there. He took with him all the peculiarities of the somewhat antiquated and austere school of religion in which he had been trained, including not only the practice of prayer and reading of the Scriptures twice a day, and his strict observance of the Lord's Day, but also such matters as the great length of his prayers, the blessing asked before meat, and the thanks returned after it being also of unusual length, the quaint nature of the language used, and the quaint tone in which it was spoken, his manifold scruples of conscience to joining with his comrades in any practice, important or unimportant, which he thought to be wrong, with many other points of a similar character. These soon drew down upon him a storm of ridicule from the officers of the regiment to which he belonged. He became the butt of innumerable taunts and jeers, his religious profession was treated with constant derision, and every day for years the artillery of reproach was more or less directed against him. In silence and in meekness he endured it all. After some years, a dreadful plague broke out in the camp. Many were laid low and many died. So virulent was the nature of the malady, that none had the courage to approach the victims to supply them with the means of healing. Now was the opportunity for the man of prayer. Fearlessly he entered the area where death was doing its work. He alone day after day stood at the bedsides of the dying, doing the duty of physician, nurse, and chaplain; and he alone had the courage to prepare the dead for a decent sepulture. At length the plague was stayed, and he who formerly had been the object of so much insult and mockery now rose to the rank of a hero. No man was so highly honoured. The last became first, and he was promoted at once from the rank of cadet to that of captain. A prayer meeting under his auspices was opened, which soon became numerously attended, and ere long a second meeting was opened, the culmination of which was, that a revival of religion took place amid signal marks of the Divine blessing. "Them that honour me I will honour."

XII. Confession is better than prevarication (Jud ).

It is nobler to confess at once frankly we have done wrong, and are come to make amends, than to begin partly to deny and partly to palliate, the unworthy act of days gone by (Pro ; Gen 32:31-32; with Gen 42:21-22; 1Ki 18:17-18).

XIII. A pious character formed diligently in secret will sooner or later be justified openly.

Whatever men's first impressions might be about this young man who was banished from his home, when God's time came for a revelation of his true character, there could be no mistake about the spirit of loyalty to his God which he had cultivated, when there was no eye upon him. He began by not fighting with his brethren, but acknowledged the disadvantage arising from his birth (Deu ). He submitted to lead the life of an adventurer. He did not worship strange gods in a heathen land. Afterwards, when it was in his power, he did not take revenge on his brethren by refusing to agree to their requests. He looked for all success as coming only from the God of Israel. The fight he entered into with Ammon was only for the glory of the God of Israel, and not for showing his own prowess. He puts the whole transaction before God in prayer, and by a solemn service, ere he takes a single step in carrying out his mission. All these and other points come out at last in connection with this man's character, and show how high it stood with God (Pro 4:18; Job 17:9; Act 7:35-38; 1Sa 17:34-37).

XIV. To look for God's presence and blessing in all our work is the sure way to success (Jud ).

He acknowledges that all victory comes, not through his prowess or skill, but solely from the God of Israel; and he seems to hint that now, when the people are truly mourning for their sins, there was a good hope that God Would deliver the enemy into their hands. This spirit of Jephthah is yet more clearly shown by his "uttering all his words before the Lord in Mizpeh." In every step he took in so solemn a transaction he called God to witness. David did this continually, and Jephthah, like David, has prospered whithersoever he went. "I have set the Lord always before me" is the proper rule of guidance for every good man (Pro ; Psa 37:5-6; Psa 80:16-17).

XV. It is better to go round about to do what is right, than to go straightforward to do what is wrong.

To have gone straightforward through either Edom or Moab forcibly, on their way to the promised land, would have been for Israel the practical breach of a Divine command, for God had given the one territory to the children of Esau for an inheritance, and the other in like manner to the children of Lot. There are many things in life, where it would save us much trouble if we could get at them directly, instead of having to make a wide detour to the right hand or the left. Israel made a long journey to keep by the right (Deu ).

XVI. Past history is full of instruction for the actors in the present (Jud ; Rom 15:4; 1Co 10:11).

XVII. When God appoints a man to do a special work, He gives him special qualifications for it.

He sends none a warfare on their own charges. "The Spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah." This was done specially to endow him with every gift and grace that he might require for the fulfilment of his arduous work. Thus was Joshua endowed (Jos ; Jos 1:7). Jeremiah (ch. Jud 1:17-19). David (Psa 71:16), and even the Messiah Himself (Isa 61:1; Isa 11:2-3).


Verses 30-40

JEPHTHAH'S VOW

(Jud ; Jud 11:34-40)

CRITICAL NOTES.— Jud . Vowed a vow unto the Lord.] He looked entirely to Jehovah for victory (Psa 18:2; Psa 18:6; Psa 18:29, etc.; Psa 62:6-8; Psa 46:1-7; Psa 118:6-13; Psa 121:1-2). From first to last, He sees God's overruling Providence preserving His church. He recognises this when treating with the elders of Gilead (Jud 11:9-10), when he accepted the office of captain (Jud 11:11), when he spoke of the past victories of Israel (Jud 11:21; Jud 11:23-24; Jud 11:27), and now when about to contend with the enemy in battle (Jud 11:30). As if by instinct he turns to his great refuge in the time of danger. The vow was an engagement that if God should put forth His power on his behalf he would offer something as a sacrifice, not only in acknowledgment of God's goodness but of his own increased obligation to love and serve Him as his God.

If thou Shalt without fail deliver.] lit., If giving thou shall give. The doubling of the phrase, so common in the Hebrew, always implies additional strength of statement.

Jud . Whatsoever cometh forth, etc.] Heb. That which coming forth shall have come forth—a doubling of the statement as in Jud 11:30, and having the force of saying, "assuredly what comes forth, etc., shall be the Lord's." Many read whosoever, but it would be grammatically proper to read either way. The text does not determine certainly, whether a human being or a beast was present to the mind of the speaker. The rendering in the A.V. appears to be preferable, because it leaves the object entirely undefined, which was the real state of the vower's mind. To get quit of the difficulty, some would render the ו by or, turning the copulative into a disjunctive. We cannot agree with Keil, who says that it never has this sense, for see Exo 21:15; 2Sa 2:19. It is, however, a rare use of the particle, and Keil's statement, that it is to be taken here as explanatory, must be accepted as just. To offer up the object as a burnt offering is not an alternative to the consecration of it to the Lord, but an explanation of the manner in which the purpose of so consecrating it was to be carried out (see Bush). Another attempt to solve the difficulty is that made by Dr. Randolph, who would read the last clause—and I would offer (to Him) a burnt offering—an ingenious conjecture, but it simply amounts to the foisting of a meaning into the text, instead of taking one out of it. The suffix pronoun הוֹ added to the verb in Hebrew is always the objective to the verb, not to a preposition, unless that is expressed. We prefer the rendering given in the A.V. to any other.

Jephthah, we believe, was at this moment greatly agitated, under a sense of the vast responsibility which rested on him as having to "order the battle." He was in deep waters and the floods were overflowing him. It would be a strong additional obligation to him to be the Lord's, and to live to Him a more devoted life, were He but to give deliverance at such a crisis. As expressive of this felt obligation, there must be some outward sign. That sign naturally took the form of a sacrificial offering on the altar; but so flurried was he in spirit, that he could not make up his mind as to what the object should be. He therefore leaves it to God to "provide Himself with a lamb for a burnt offering." The object was thus entirely indefinite to Jephthah's mind.

Jud . His daughter came out to meet him with timbrels.] It was customary, in those times, for the women to go forth to meet the conquerors on their return, with songs of joy and with dances (1Sa 18:6; Exo 15:20). A whole choir of maidens would doubtless come, but Jephthah's daughter was the leader. She was his only child.] A term of special endearment (Zec 12:10; Gen 22:2; Gen 22:16). His wife might have had children by a former husband, but this was the only child whom he had. The phrase מִמִּבּוּ seems to mean "besides her," in which case there must have been no other family in the household.

Jud . When he saw her he rent his clothes.] He was completely taken by surprise. He had never imagined this as possible, when he made his vow. Whether he then had thought of any other human sacrifice, it is clear, it had never crossed his mind, that his own daughter might possibly be the victim. Indeed it suggests the doubt, whether he had the idea of any human sacrifice in his mind at all. Certainly nothing seemed to him more unexpected, or was farther from his thoughts, than that she whom "he most tenderly loved should be laid on the altar as a sacrifice unto the Lord."

He rent his clothes.] He tore his clothes in anguish, the usual symptom of a distracted mind (Lev ; Gen 37:29; Job 1:20). "Alas, my daughter! thou hast brought me very low, etc.") Heb. Bowing thou hast made me to bow. The repeating of the word a second time gives empasis to the statement; as if he meant to say, my hopes are crushed; my spirit is broken; a blacker grief has come down on me than that from which I have just been delivered. Instead of returning to my home to enjoy peace, thou art become the occasion of more trouble to me than the Ammonites have been. As David was troubled by Absalom; or Jacob by his sons, when they sold their brother for a slave; or as the Saviour himself was troubled by his own people, the Jews, so Jephthah was now to find in his own daughter, the greatest trouble of his life—in perfect innocence on her part, and through rash presumption on his part.

"I have opened my mouth to the Lord, etc." (Num ; Deu 23:21-23; Psa 118:14; Psa 118:18; Psa 66:13-14). "I cannot revoke it."

Jud . Do to me according to that which hath proceeded, etc.] The whole conversation is not here given. At the close of Jud 11:35 there appears to be a hiatus; at which point, Jephthah would explain to his daughter what he had done in the transaction between him and his God. In the full view of the sacrifice she was suddenly called upon to make, she uttered the noble words of this verse. She would doubtless take a little time to deliberate, that she might fully weigh the case; and then she shows how well she could rise with the occasion.

There is no wild screaming against the terrible fate that was so suddenly presented to her; no positive determination to resist for this once the excessive tax made on her filial obedience; no upbraiding of her father for his rash vow; no proposal to obtain a substitute; and no attempt to fly for her life to a foreign land. There is a calm willingness to accept the sad consequences of her father's error, since now it cannot be altered, and a noble resolution to sacrifice all that was dear in life in the interests of God's Church, and for the glory of God's name. A whole cluster of virtues opens out in this beautiful character.

(1.) Filial dutifulness. "My father has done it; I will submit at once."

(2.) Zeal for the cause of God. "I am nothing; the cause of God is everything."

(3.) A complete renunciation of her share of worldly honours. "A fair morning dawns on others; I am willing that night should fall on me."

(4.) Unselfishness. "The other maidens may continuue their singing and dancing; I accept the lot of the mourner, and the forlorn."

(5.) Willingness to lose life itself at God's call. "It is my God that calls me; I am ready to surrender every prospect I have in life to please Him." Comp. the case of Isaac (Genesis 22).

Jud . Let me alone for two months.] This would be said after some reflection. Even this proposal is mentioned as a request of her father. Mizpeh stood on an eminence. Hence it was proper to speak even of going down to the mountains. And bewail my virginity.] To be a wite and mother was the supreme desire of Israelitish women. Ever from the time that it was said, the great Messiah was to be "the seed of the woman," and to be "born of a woman," it was reckoned the blessing of Heaven to become a mother. In like manner to be barren, or to die childless, was regarded as a curse (Psa 78:63). Compare the cases of Hannah, Rachel, Sarah, and others. Perpetual virginity was among the Israelites a condition of deep reproach, as is strikingly pourtrayed in Isa 4:1; also in Luk 1:25; Jer 16:9; Jer 7:34; contrasted with Psa 127:3-5; Zach. Jud 8:5.

Go up and down among the mountains.] Heb. go to, and go down, meaning—go to the mountains, and down to the valleys between them, to get seclusion from the world. To "bewail" is to weep over, and the cause of weeping was the perpetuation of her virginity. It is not said her sacrifice, which is important to notice. The word used comes from בָתַל a virgin, implying that she was to remain in a fixed state of virginity; and no mention is made of death.

Jud . Did with her according to his vow.] Heb. he did to her his vow—i.e., fulfilled his vow in regard to her, but not a word as to the manner, except the clause which follows, "and she knew no man." Had the original text been according to his vow, the natural interpretation would have been, that he offered her for a burnt offering. But the phrase "did to her his vow" simply means, that he carried his vow into execution, without saying in what manner he did so. He kept his word to his God. But he may have done so in the spirit of the meaning, though not in the letter. Had he done so in the letter, we should have expected, when the matter was so important, that the narrator would have said, "he executed his vow, and offered her for a burnt offering unto the Lord." But in place of this, we have the statement, "he did his vow to her, and she knew no man." This last statement looks like a finger pointing to what he actually did—in which case the interpretation would be, that she was devoted to a life of celibacy. Knew.] Perfect tense. Not had known. It refers to the future, not the past.

A custom in Israel.] Lit. an ordinance, or an established custom.

Jud . Yearly.] Lit. from days to days, or from year to year (Exo 13:10). It was an annual practice.

To lament the daughter, &c.] The more correct translation would be to praise, or to celebrate the praises of— לתּיַּוֹר is only once used elsewhere in Scripture (Jud ), where it is translated "rehearse," and could not mean "lament." Some make it "talk with," as if they condoled with her in her hapless state [Kimchi], This would imply that she was still alive. But if we take the more commonly received interpretation, "to celebrate the praises of," it implies that something like a festival was kept. Analogous to this, the Greek Artemis, the virgin who went about alone, without companions, like the moon in the sky, had her praises celebrated by Greek maidens, because she lived in a state of virginity. In many places they kept festival with song and dance in her honour, not because she died as a virgin, but because her life was spent in virginity.

INTERPRETATION OF THE VOW

This, like many other questions in Scripture history, has been keenly contested for many centuries, without an explanation being arrived at in which all could agree. This is mainly due to the elliptical character of the account given. It is plain, that if only one or two sentences of information had been added, the haze would have been removed which now hangs over the narrative. But to retain that haze seems, for wise and holy reasons, to be intentional on the part of Him who gave the "Holy oracles." Indeed, it appears to be a principle of the Scripture record, in many an important paragraph, to withhold from us some of the elements of the case narrated, and leave the points not given to be found out by inference from the details which are given. This leads the minds of the readers to the healthful exercise of examining more minutely all the recorded details, and sifting more carefully their exact meaning, gathering up the whole information and comparing part with part in the most thorough manner, so as to discover the unknown. It is a higher wisdom which conceals a part, instead of leaving nothing to be found out. one result is, a far more diligent and complete search of Scripture than would be made, if nothing were left to whet the appetite for discovery. Another result is, that Scripture becomes a Book of continual freshness, according to the great variety of lights and shades which fall on the page from the speculations of differently constituted minds.

But the enigma in Jephthah's history, we humbly think, has been made more of a riddle than it really is; and, certainly, it has received a measure of discussion far beyond what the value of its moral teaching would justify; though that is not inconsiderable. Its interest, at first sight, lies in the touching and romantic character of the incident itself. It sheds also a strong light on the religious character of the two persons chiefly concerned; and we cannot wonder that the sacred writer should have thought, that the unflinching decision to adhere to the principles of true piety at any cost, on the part of both, was worthy of being recorded for everlasting remembrance. Looked at deeper still, an important lesson is taught, about the necessity of the heart faithfully examining itself before it ventures to be tried by the test of surrendering all that it best loves at the call of its God.

We shall inquire:—

1. Was it wrong to vow?

By a vow in such a case as that before us is meant, a solemn promise made to God, that, in consideration of some great deliverance granted by Him, the petitioner would acknowledge that the glory of the deliverance was His, and that out of deep gratitude, he would consecrate himself afresh to the love and service of God. It is making a free-will offering of one's self to God, in a formal and solemn manner. It was customary that all offerings presented to God should be laid on the altar, and the burnt offering implied complete consecration. This was the form in which Jephthah meant to express his vow.

Such being the general meaning, how could it be wrong for Jephthah to vow? Some regard it as a mere bribe offered to God to secure His help in a great difficulty; others say, it looks like bargaining with God for His aid, and has a heathenish savour about it. We do not see much force in these objections. Is it not right to express gratitude to God for great deliverances wrought? If so, is it not right to express that gratitude by a fuller consecration of one's self to Him in future, than has been the case in times past? And if this is right after the deliverance has been accomplished, how can it be wrong to promise the same thing beforehand, in the event of deliverance being granted? True, we should always be fully devoted to God, but when a new and special mercy occurs, is not that a good reason for a new and special self-dedication? By deliverance from an imminent danger our life is virtually given to us anew, and so furnishes a new reason for the consecration of our lives to His service. It amounts to giving new pledges of our lives to His service. It amounts to giving new pledges of our love and obedience.

The heathens did indeed vow. The mariners who were in the ship with Jonah, in their terror, made vows as well as offered sacrifices (Jon ). An eminent Greek vowed to Minerva, on the occasion of Greece being invaded by Darius, that if she would grant to his country the victory, he would sacrifice on her altars as many he-goats, as would equal the number slain in the camp of the enemy. It was a common thing among the Romans to vow that, if the Divinity complied with the request of the offerer, he would do some signal service out of gratitude.

But it is to little purpose to know what were the customs of the heathen. It is sufficient for our guidance, that God has always approved of vows when rightly made, and has accepted them. He even lays down rules to guide us as to the manner in which they should be made. This puts the matter beyond dispute (Num ; Num 6:1-12; Leviticus 27; Deu 23:21-23; Ecc 5:4). We have also several instances of pious people recorded, who vowed to the Lord in special circumstances, and were accepted. Jacob did so (Gen 28:20), Hannah, (1Sa 1:11), David frequently (Psa 61:3; Psa 66:13; Psa 116:16, &c)

The mere fact of making a vow in itself is not wrong, provided it is made in the manner God requires. It is indeed an act of deep piety.

II. What did Jephthah mean by his vow?

He seems to have had one great object in view. He wished to save precious interests which were put in great peril. It was an eventful crisis in Israel's history. The good of the whole nation was involved in the decision which now trembled in the balance. Everything was on the point of being won or lost; should Ammon prevail, a long dark night of sorrow must inevitably overspread the land. Should victory be declared for Israel, the heavy incubus of years of oppression would be lifted up, and a joyful morning of liberty would dawn on the homes of the chosen people. The question was one of life or death to Israel, which really meant the rising or falling of the church of God. Was so sacred a thing as a vow of self-dedication to the Lord too solemn for such an occasion?

By making this vow he meant two things:—

1. He wished to ascribe all the glory of the salvation of Israel to the Lord. He knew there would be great rejoicings among the people, and that they would be ready to hail the victory with loud acclamations. There would be gifts and garlands, and dances; voices of song, and the sounding of timbrels. Jephthah will be celebrated and praised, and his name will go down in the lists of Israel's mighty warriors. So now, he will at the outset take a decisive step to secure all the honour to Him to whom it was due. He presents himself and all that he has at the feet of Jehovah. And as a proof of this, he will lay on the altar the first object that presents itself on his return home. That object shall, like the first sheaf representing the whole harvest, stand for the whole property which God has given him, and indicate that all belongs to God. But his meaning went beyond this. He confessed that it was impossible to succeed without the help of his God—that "salvation belonged unto Him," that only through Him "could they do valiantly," and therefore that "their expectation was only from Him."

2. He wished to put a new seal on his obedience. It is obvious that we can give nothing to God to enrich Him. All that we have is already His. "Of thine own have we given thee," said the man who spake in name of the congregation that made the largest contribution ever laid on the altar for sacred purposes in the history of time (1Ch ). We cannot add to God's possessions by what we give (Job 22:2). Our gratitude therefore must find another mode of expression; and that which the heart itself instinctively suggests is deeper love and more implicit obedience. We understand Jephthah accordingly by laying an offering on the altar to mean that he bound himself to love his God more fully than ever he had done before, and in proof of that, to give Him a more faithful and conscientious obedience.

Thus far all appears to be not only right in itself, but most favourable as to the judgment we are to form of Jephthah's character.

III. The choice of an offering left with God.

This is a critical part of the case, where care is needed to hold the balance even. The terms of his vow have been unduly subjected to a harsh criticism. Reference is made to the rude and barbarous age in which he lived, as an apology for him. He is spoken of as a half savage chief, or a bandit leader in a heathen country. He is supposed to partake somewhat of the fierce character of a robber chieftain, or an Indian warrior, from his long sojourn in a country where there was no fear of God, and where human life was cheap. He is also imagined to have lost the knowledge of the laws and institutions that were given by Israel's God, and to be swayed more by heathen practices than by Divine precept. And, accordingly, he is credited with thinking of a human sacrifice to be laid on the altar, equally with an animal offering, should God so determine. And some go the length of saying, that he seems prepared to sacrifice his own daughter, if she were the object whom Providence might put in his way.

Nothing, we believe, of all that line of thought ever entered the mind of Jephthah—a man that lived continually in the presence of his God. Such evil suppositions arise from putting too hard an interpretation on the words he uttered when making his vow. We have already said on Jud , that he had no well-defined conception before his mind as to what the object might be. We must make allowance for the overwhelming sense of responsibility that rested on him, while he was ordering his words, and, at the least, hold it probable that his thoughts never went the length of imagining that a human victim might be presented to him. Such a victim for a sacrificial offering had never been known in all Israel's history; if we except the abnormal case of Abraham being called to offer up his son—an offering, however, which was never made. Neither we believe had Jephthah ever dreamt of such a thing in all his past life. It would, therefore, never occur to him to draw a sharp distinction between a human and an animal sacrifice, in the language which he used. All his thoughts seemed to be swallowed up by the purpose to offer any object that God Himself might choose; and so he uses the widest latitude of expression, "whatsoever cometh forth." He has too much too think of to define his meaning to be, either HE who cometh forth, or THAT which cometh forth. He knew that a human sacrifice was condemned by the law of his God, and therefore never could have supposed, when the choice was left by him to God Himself, that He would choose such a sacrifice as that. How could He choose that, which instead of being pleasing was an abomination in his sight? If Jephthah thought of the matter at all, that must have been his thought.

Yet there was an error committed in the way he took to make choice of an offering. He was in fact both right and wrong.

(1.) He was right in his motive. His heart was full of desire to give all the glory to the God of Israel, and it seemed to him a more complete surrender of himself to God, if he should make God Himself the judge of the kind of offering he should make. He felt assured that he could make no improper choice, and that the best thing that he could do was to leave himself entirely in His hands.

(2.) He was wrong in not counting the cost. He did not consider that a vow once made must be carried out; for it was equivalent to a solemn assertion made in the presence of God, with the lifting up of the hands, and calling God to witness. It was, therefore culpably irreverent to promise anything in this manner, which had not been carefully weighed. No speaking at random is allowed before the Divine footstool (Ecc ; Lev 10:3). It was well for him to say to his God, "I place all that I have before Thee—choose what Thou pleasest, and I shall give it up at once. I solemnly engage to keep my word." But it was wrong to go that length, before he had carefully examined, whether his heart was prepared to give up its dearest object, at the call of his God. It was a similar rashness that induced Peter to say to his Master: "If it be Thou, bid me come to Thee on the water." He soon began to sink, and so did Jephthah. The rule laid down by Christ Himself is, "If any man come to me and hate not father and mother, wife and children, brethren and sisters, yea and his own life, he cannot be my disciple." Similarly, He says, "He that loveth son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me." It was trifling with God for Jephthah solemnly to profess to do that at His call, which he had never settled it with his heart to do.

As Jephthah puts it there was no reservation. Anything which he had in the world God might choose, and he would yield it up. This was true piety, but it was a terrible risk for a human heart that did not know its own weakness.

IV. The choice being: left with God, He chooses the best.

Everything that happens is of God's ordering. It was He who arranged in His Providence that Jephthah's daughter should be the object to go forth to meet him on his return, instead of any member of his flocks or herds. A solemn promise had been made, as the price of a great deliverance asked, and God virtually says, "I have given you all you asked—the salvation of the whole people of Israel; now, therefore, I ask that you give me your daughter in return." This was an overwhelming surprise, and most harrowing to a father's feelings. Yet by two considerations it is justified. It was simply deciding according to Jephthah's own terms, which kept back nothing, but permitted anything even the best, to be taken. Also, when the choice was left open, it was right that the best should be given to God. This was simply His due. It would have been wrong for Jephthah to have said that he loved the creature better than his God. It was reasonable to give up to God the most precious jewel he had; for all that he had, his daughter included, had been given him by God.

V. The selection is made to test Jephthah's character.

This is proved by the simple fact, that a human sacrifice could not be acceptable to Jehovah. It was condemned as one of the worst iniquities of the nations, that were driven out of Canaan, because of their enormous wickedness (Deu ; Lev 20:2-3; Deu 18:10; Deu 18:12). Such a thing as a human sacrifice, is expressly declared to be an abomination to the Lord, nor was such a thing ever heard of in Israel, until the times of Ahaz and Manasseh, not even in Jezebel's time. We cannot therefore for a moment suppose, that God would now take delight in seeing any human sacrifice from Jephthah's house laid on the altar as a burnt offering before Him. It must have been with another intention that He put his daughter in the way. He meant, we believe, to put Jephthah to the test, whether, when now he had put himself entirely in God's hand, he would yield up his very best to his God, without a murmur when called upon to do so.

There is only one other instance in the whole of Israelitish history where a human victim was laid on the altar for immolation by God's command, and that, we are expressly told, was to test the character, or try the faith and obedience of the offerer (Gen ). But to show that actual immolation was not intended, we are informed that, at the extreme moment, Abraham was kept back from slaying his son, by the appearance of an angel from Jehovah, charging him not to proceed farther, for the purpose of the command was gained by his showing his willingness to comply with it (Gen 22:10, &c.). In like manner, an opportunity is afforded to Jephthah here, to show whether he was willing to sacrifice the dearest object he had on earth at the call of his God. Could he say, "There is none on earth I desire besides thee"? Having shown his willingness to go this length, and not even to withhold his only daughter from his God, the purpose was served, and, we believe, the actual burning on the altar was not permitted. If he had gone farther, it would have been a complete solecism in the entire history of God's people. There is nothing to justify it on any side, but much to condemn such an act. It is against the whole spirit of the divine law, which treats human life as sacred, and which, as we have said, condemns human sacrifices as among the most atrocious crimes of the heathen nations. Looked at in itself, indeed, it is difficult to distinguish it from the act of murder, taking the life of a fellow creature, and that, not only without asking her consent, but it was for a father to imbrue his hands in the blood of his own daughter, whose life he was bound by the strongest obligations to preserve! What pleasure could God take in such an offering, where so many of His laws were violated?—the law of parental love, the duty of parental protection, the great moral commandment "Thou shalt not kill," and the peremptory prohibition of human sacrifices.

VI. The vow was fulfilled in the spirit, not in the letter.

This is not expressly said. But the account is manifestly elliptical; for it is not said that Jephthah informed his daughter what his vow actually was. Yet it is obvious, that he must have informed her, for her whole action implied that she knew. In like manner we are not told, that the letter of his vow was exchanged for the spirit, though that seems to be the only possible way in which it could have been acceptable unto God. The very fact, that to lay a human victim on the altar as a burnt offering to God, is so entirely opposed to divine requirement, as well as to Israelitish practice, ought of itself to be sufficient, without any express statement, to make us believe that the vow could not be carried out in the letter. It is indeed alleged, that his vow required him to put his daughter to death in the manner which is done to a victim laid on the altar. For did he not solemnly vow, that the object who might meet him from the doors of his house on his return "would surely be the Lord's, and he would offer it up for a burnt offering"? Also in Jud is it not expressly said, that "he did with her according to his vow which he had vowed"? Many think these statements conclusively prove, that she was offered on the altar for a burnt offering. In this opinion we cannot acquiesce, for these reasons:—

(1.) The idea of a human sacrifice was not in his mind when he made the vow. It is clear from his intense surprise, and overwhelming grief, that the thought of his daughter being the victim never entered his mind. It was also matter of fact, that the laying of a human victim on the altar was unknown in the history of God's people. In Jephthah's conceptions, it was taken for granted, that the victim would be an animal. He knew of no other in the past, and could never imagine anything else now. Had he thought of the possibility of a human victim, it is not likely he would have spoken of offering it as a burnt offering, contrary to all experience, and in face of the fact, that such an offering was as abomination to God (Jer ; Deu 12:30-32). He might be wrong, and we think he was wrong in expressing himself indefinitely, so that the language would apply to any object, whether human or animal. But we believe he thought only of such an object as could properly be laid on the altar. The meaning he attached to his vow we apprehend was this:—"The object that comes to meet me on my return, if it be suitable for laying on the altar, I will offer it for a burnt offering."

(2.) No vow could make that well pleasing to God which was already sinful. The obligation is indeed strong to pay that which we have vowed (Ecc ). But that applies only to things which are lawful. Beyond that limit, the rule does not hold; for no vow of ours, however solemnly made, can make that which God condemns cease to be a sin. And if it be a sin we dare not commit it by way of fulfilling our vow. To do so would only bring down the Divine frown. God's will is always the highest law, and overrides every other law. Jephthah could not carry out his vow literally towards his daughter, without doing a thing which was an abomination to Jehovah. Yet, in so far as it could be done, consistently with what God approved of, he was bound to fulfil it, that is, not in the letter, but in the spirit.

(3.) The kind of vow which he made did not absolutely require a literal fulfilment. The Hebrew word used in Jud is not cherem but neder. The former denoted a devotement to destruction, and was accompanied by an anathema, or execration. There was no power of redemption from this vow (Lev 27:28). When it applied to animals, it meant that they were devoted to destruction; or to things, that they were to be utterly consumed with fire, or to be held exclusively reserved for God in their use for all time coming. When it applied to persons, it was usually to the enemies of God, or the heathen, such as the Canaanites, the Amalekites, and all aliens (Deu 13:12-18; 1Sa 15:33; Num 21:2-3). The neder implied a milder vow. It meant simply the bringing of any offering to God, and dedicating it to Him, such as lands, tithes, beasts, both clean and unclean. These might be redeemed at a certain rate. In the case of a female, it was 30 shekels of silver (Lev 27:4). It is this word which is employed here. Neder, indeed, is a generic word, and includes cherem, but the very fact that the former word is used and not the latter, leaves room for supposing that there might be a fulfilment in the spirit, apart from the letter of the vow.

(4.) In fact he did fulfil his vow, but the manner in which he did so is not recorded. Our A.V. says "he did with her according to the vow which he had vowed." but the original has it, "he did to her the vow which he had vowed." The words "according to" are not in the Hebrew. The averment made there is simply that he accomplished his vow without saying in what manner. Looking a little closer, what is the substance of meaning in the phrase, "I will offer it up for a burnt offering?" It is not the mere act of slaying, or burning the victim we are to look at, but at what that implies. Ceremonialism was nothing in itself, but the meaning it expressed was most important. The meaning here in substance is, that the object so offered is entirely and absolutely devoted to God, so that it cannot belong to any one else but Him. All connection is cut off from the world around. If then this substance of meaning expressed by the vow can be fulfilled in some other way on Jephthah's daughter, than by immolation, which would be the breaking of a Divine command, it is natural to expect that that other way would be chosen. And if so, it would still be true that he had kept his word to his God in the only way he lawfully could.

That mode, we believe, was by devoting her to perpetual virginity. This meant directly the cutting her off from the possibility of marriage, and so removing the principal link by which she might be bound to the world. But indirectly, it meant also the removal of all other links by which she might be bound to all other objects, that she might be reserved for God alone. She was thus set apart exclusively for God. A husband, a father, and relatives, were to be as nothing to her, because of the completeness of her consecration to God. To suppose that this was the form which the fulfilment of the vow took, is no mere fancy. For though we are not told it in so many words, in the narrative, neither are we informed that he placed his daughter as a bleeding victim on the altar. On the mode of fulfilling the vow, the record is silent, the fact that he did fulfil it is explicitly stated. But we are informed that what she bewailed for two months was her "virginity." On this emphasis is put. Why not bewail her impending sacrifice, if sacrificed she was to be. If she were so soon to die, it would be of small consequence to her whether she should die a virgin or not. But if she were bound by a sacred law to a life-long virginity, it would be reckoned to her a perpetual reproach, in view of the stigma put upon it by Israelitish society.

Besides, when it is related that he fulfiled his vow upon her, it follows in the same sentence, "and she knew no man" which naturally means, it was in this way that the vow was performed. She was never married "Her life was dedicated to the Lord as a spiritual burnt offering, in life-long chastity."—(Keil).

To put the tense into the pluperfect as some do, and say "she had known no man" is a gratuitous gloss, for which there is no warrant. The whole statement means that he fulfilled his vow through the fact that she knew no man.

Other arguments confirm this interpretation.

(a.) To be given up to a life of perpetual virginity served the purpose equally well with immolation on the altar. It ought to be remembered what the purpose of the sacrifice really was. It was to express the offerer's entire consecration of himself to the Lord. This he would symbolise by bringing forward an animal as a substitute, and offering it as a whole burnt offering in his stead. But when, to his surprise, it was a human victim that was brought to him, he presents her as an object to be separated from the world, and dedicated wholly unto God for the term of her natural life. There could hardly be more complete consecration to the Lord for any daughter of Israel, than to remain unmarried, and without the prospect of maternity, to be shut out from all society, and to lead a life of solitude and seclusion.

(b.) Human beings were to be redeemed, not sacrificed, when presented to God. (Exo with Exo 13:15, Exo 34:20; Num 18:15.) Jephthah's daughter was his first-born. After the first explosion of grief, it would soon occur to Jephthah himself, as well as to those around him, that the same thing could not be done with a human, as with an animal, offering. But to make good the vow, something must be done to the object that met him at the door of his house on his return. To appoint her to perpetual virginity, and lifelong shutting out from the world, would either naturally be suggested to their own minds, or would be dictated by Heaven as a fitting course to take in carrying out the spirit of the vow. She would thereby become dead to the world, and so it would be equivalent to an actual immolation.

(c.) If she were to die, why should she ask to spend two months on the mountains? When she manifestly loved her father so well, and was so thoroughly beloved by him, it seems unnatural for her to ask to be separate from him for two months. We would rather expect that they would both be too anxious to spend the time in each other's society, and think it all too short.

(d.) If she were to die, why seek to the mountains at all? The same tears might have been shed at home. But it was her virginity that she was to bewail. "She was to remain a bud that had not been allowed to unfold itself, being prevented not by death but by life." "Lamentations about her virginity could not be uttered in the town, and in the presence of men. Modesty required the solitudes of the mountains for these. Only in sacred silence does the virtuous heart of the maiden pour out its lamentations of love."—(Cassel).

(e.) The act of Jephthah is not disapproved by God, but on the contrary seems to be recorded to his honour. The smaller transgression of Gideon is recorded with an express word of censure (Gen ). "Which became a snare to Gideon and his house." Yet here is no word of disapprobation, but on the contrary, the tale ends with a celebration of praise to the daughter of Jephthah for many a long year thereafter. If a human sacrifice had now been offered, why should not the brand of reprobation have been put upon it, as is done everywhere else when it is mentioned in scripture?

(f.) If Jephthah had been guilty of such a scandal, why is he held up as a pattern of faith and an eminently godly man? There can be little doubt that the men in that list were men of God and heirs of salvation, though they had their imperfections and their sins. But the presumption is always against a really good man being deliberately guilty of violating a solemn rule laid down by his God. And Jephthah's name stands in that honoured list (Heb ).

(g.) Once more. If sacrifice there was, it is difficult to explain how it could have been performed. Burnt offerings, those cases where the animal was first put to death, and then had its body burned on the altar, could only be lawfully presented on the altar at the tabernacle, or before the ark by the priests, unless when some extraordinary occurrence in Providence had taken place, which did not apply here. But could any priest of the whole number be found, with boldness enough, to commit such an offence against the jealous God of Israel, as to immolate a human being on the altar? And Jephthah was no priest, so that he could not officiate in doing such a work himself. Shiloh, where the tabernacle was, was in the tribe of Ephraim, a part of the land whither Jephthah was not very likely to go, when the feeling was so hostile between him and the men of that tribe. "If then, there is the best reason to believe that such an offering was not made by the high priest, nor by any priest—that it was not made by Jephthah himself, and that it was not made at Shiloh, the appointed place of sacrifice, what reason is there to suppose it was made at all?"—(Bush).

PRACTICAL LESSONS

(Jud ; Jud 11:34-40)

I. It is possible for the highest religious principle to exist, with irreligion in its worst forms all around it.

Jephthah's character is the proof. Who can doubt the sterling principle of the man who, at the first overwhelming revelation of the price he would have to pay for fidelity to his God, nobly said, "I will rather sacrifice the dearest object I have on earth than take back my word to my God." Not that he loved his daughter less than human instinct prompts, but that he loved his God more. Yet he lived for many years beyond the confines of Israel, with no fearers of the true God around him, no worship of the God of Israel observed, but His laws transgressed, and other gods served instead! This was worse than even the position of David, who lived for a shorter time an outcast from his people, and was not so entirely an outcast, being often within the boundary of the sacred land, and having some partial access to its privileges. Yet Jephthah was full of the law of his God, if we may judge from this chapter, had the fear of God constantly before his eyes, and made no great decision in life without His approbation.

The Divine promise was fulfilled to him, "I will keep thee in all places whither thou goest," not only from temporal dangers, but from spiritual contamination. Jesus himself living in a world of sin knew no sin, and He is able to make any one of those who accept Him as their Redeemer, to live a "holy and harmless" life, "separate from sinners." Temptations when firmly resisted tend to strengthen the character. Greater resolution is required in adhering to one's principles. When a man has to battle with a fierce wind as he proceeds on his course, the more he sets his face to contend with it, his muscles, his nerves, and his whole constitution become strengthened. Wherever we are, we may always live near to God.

II. The human will never bends to the Divine will at a loss.

This is illustrated by the case of both father and daughter. In both, we see straightforwardness and decision of character, and when what seems like a towering rock rising up in their path, neither of them thinks on that account of "going back." They will sacrifice every thing for their God—the father, his dearest treasure on earth; the daughter, her whole interest in life. Each bows to the Divine will; and are they the losers? Of much of earthly comfort and pleasure they may be, and were really, deprived, but that was far more than made up by inward peace with God during life, a high reputation for loyalty to their God in future ages, and a true immortality of fame beyond death and the grave. They lose the lesser joys of time, the indulgences of the body, but they gain a high moral fame in the estimation of all the holy and good to the end of time. In the world to come the gain is unspeakably glorious. The highest piety of the creature is to have no other will but that of its God. That will, will never disappoint in the long run, even where great sufferings intervene (Rom ; Joh 14:27; Joh 16:33; 1Pe 1:6-7). It is a Christ-like spirit that can say, with a bitter cup in the hand, "Not my will, but thine be done!"

III. It Is oftentimes love that dictates our severest trials.

Why not say always? "Whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth" is one of the familiar Christian experiences that go without saying. Jephthah's daughter shone out all at once as a star of the first magnitude, just the moment before it seemed to become extinguished. But it is one of those lights that never can be extinguished. It has shone for 3,000 years and it shines still, nor will it cease to shine so long as high moral virtue and spiritual beauty in the sight of Heaven, continue to be admired. But, before her great trial, this beauty of character was unknown. It was the great sacrifice she was called on to make that made her famous, because she rose with the occasion. She was like those who were unknown—

"Till persecution dragged them into fame

And chased them up to heaven."

If we, by the grace of God, but do the same, we shall find that our mountain waves of trouble are the very things that raise us nearer to heaven. To all eternity will the afflicted Christian, who has profited by his affliction, have reason to bless God that He sent the affliction, because of the immense accession it brings to his spirituality of mind, and heavenliness of character.

IV. The closest ties of the earthly state are often suddenly ruptured without notice given.

The father in this case never intended for a moment to create the risk of losing his daughter by the vow he made, nor did he imagine it could by possibility have any such effect. Yet this separation came all in a moment, nor could it be avoided. Many parents strive hard to build up bright prospects for their children. They spend a fortune to get them well fed and well clad, to make their home comfortable, to supply them with all the conditions of good health, to get them well married and hopefully started in life, and to do all that can be done beyond themselves to advance their health and happiness. Yet, at any moment, God has a thousand means before him for breaking the brittle thread of life, were He so minded. The truest wisdom, therefore, is for father and daughter, and all members of family circles, to strive to become one in the Lord Christ. That tie once formed nothing can break. And when sudden rupture is made of other ties, that link of connection will only come out firmer than before, and prove that the union is still stronger on the other side of death than now, and will last for ever.

V. "Works of righteousness are always satisfactory in the retrospect.

They are always fresh and green, because possessed of moral or spiritual excellence in themselves, and they are always accompanied by peace of conscience. "They make us not ashamed." We can look back on them for ever, and never regret having done such works. All our regrets will be, that we did not strive more earnestly for that strength from on high, through which such works can be done. They are works that bear the light of day, which no one made after the image of God shall ever regret to have done. They will always have the smile of heaven upon them.

VI. Vows should first be settled with the heart, before they are brought out in form.

It ought never to be forgotten that we have to deal with a heart-searching God, and that every service rendered to Him, in order to be acceptable, should arise from a well-considered purpose of the heart. Vows are the free-will offerings of the heart unto God, prompted by a consideration generally of some special act of His goodness. In them the soul steps forward, and solemnly pledges itself to a greater degree of loyalty and obedience to its God. This to be acceptable implies great reverence before God. It is no time for trifling, or incoherent speech. The heart ought to weigh well with itself, whether it is prepared to make this valuable offering, or perform that important service, before it come forward in due form to enter into a special engagement.

"Just prior to the issue of the September proclamation of liberty to the slaves in the United States, the President opened the business of the Cabinet-meeting by saying, that the time for announcing the emancipation policy could be no longer delayed. Public sentiment would sustain it, many warm supporters demanded it, and (speaking in a low tone) I have promised my God that I will do it. On being asked by Mr. Chase, whether he correctly understood him, ‘Yes,' he replied, 'I have made a solemn vow before God, that if General Lee were driven back from Pennsylvania, I would crown the result by the declaration of freedom to the slaves.' He issued his proclamation, and four million slaves became free men."—Chase.

"Vows are easily made, but more easily broken. A sea captain, while resting on a single plank in the wide ocean, vowed to devote his life to God if he should be saved, but he forgot his vow as soon as his feet were on the solid earth. If a child is sick, his ungodly father may vow amendment of life, and attention to the word of God, on condition that the son recovers. Sometimes real conversion follows, but more frequently the person soon returns like the sow that is washed to her wallowing in the mire."

"The Archbishop of Cologne, being asked by the Emperor Sigismund how to reach true happiness, replied, ‘Perform when thou art well what thou didst promise when thou wast sick.'"

 


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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Judges 11:4". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/phc/judges-11.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.

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