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Bible Commentaries

Joseph Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments

Judges 11

 

 

Verse 1

11:1. Jephthah the Gileadite — So called, either from his father Gilead, or from the mountain, or city of Gilead, the place of his birth. Son of a harlot — That is, a bastard. And though such were not ordinarily to enter into the congregation of the Lord, Deuteronomy 23:2; yet God can dispense with his own laws, and hath sometimes done honour to base-born persons, so far, that some of them were admitted to be the progenitors of the Lord Jesus Christ. And Gilead begat Jephthah — One of the children of that ancient Gilead, Numbers 32:1.


Verse 3

11:3. Of Tob — The name either of the land, or of the man who was the owner or ruler of it. This place was in or near Gilead, as appears by the speedy intercourse which there was between Jephthah and the Israelites. Vain men — Idle persons, who desired rather to get their living by spoil and rapine, than by honest labour. These evil persons Jephthah managed well, employing them against the enemies of God, and of Israel, that bordered upon them; and particularly against parties of the Ammonites, which made the Israelites more forward to choose him for their chieftain in this war. Went out with him — When he made excursions and attempts upon the enemy.


Verse 4-5

11:4-5. The children of Ammon made war against Israel — The Ammonites had oppressed them eighteen years, and now, when the Israelites begin to make opposition, they commence a war against them. The elders of Gilead went to fetch Jephthah — By direction from God, who both qualified him for, and called him to the office of a judge, otherwise they would not have been at liberty to choose a base-born person.


Verse 7

11:7. Did ye not hate me, and expel me — And deprive me of all share in my father’s goods, which, though a bastard, was due to me? This expulsion of him was the act of his brethren; but he here ascribes it to the elders of Gilead; either because some of his brethren were among these elders, as is very probable from the dignity of this family; or because this act, though desired by his brethren, was executed by the decree of the elders, to whom the determination of all controversies about inheritances belonged; and therefore it was their faults they did not protect him from the injuries of his brethren.


Verse 8

11:8. Therefore we turn again to thee — Being sensible we have done thee an injury, we come now to make thee full reparation. That thou mayest go with us — They acknowledge that they need his assistance and are humble enough to request it.


Verse 9

11:9. If ye bring me home — If ye recall me from this place where I am now settled to the place whence I was expelled. Shall I be your head? — Will you really make good this promise? Jephthah was so solicitous in this case, either from his zeal for the public good, which required that he should be so; or from the law of self-preservation, that he might secure himself from his brethren; whose ill-will he had experienced, and whose injuries he could not prevent, if, after he had served their ends, he had been reduced to his private capacity.


Verse 10-11

11:10-11. The Lord be witness — The Lord be a hearer; so the Hebrew word is. Whatever we speak, it concerns us to remember that God is a hearer! The people made him head, &c. — They confirmed in full assembly, by unanimous consent, what the elders, who had been sent to him, had promised. Jephthah uttered all his words before the Lord — That is, before the public congregation, where God was usually and then especially present. This most probably refers to the words of the people, in making him captain and head over them, which, it is likely, Jephthah repeated with an audible voice, calling God to witness to them at the same time, that the people might look upon their promise as more solemn, and that there might be no dispute afterward about the offer which they now made to him.


Verse 12

11:12. Jephthah sent messengers — That is, ambassadors, to prevent bloodshed, that so the Israelites might be acquitted before God and men from all the sad consequences of the war; and herein he showed great prudence, and no less piety. What hast thou to do with me, &c. — What reasonable cause hast thou for this invasion? To fight in my land — He speaks this in the name of all the people.


Verse 13

11:13. Because Israel took away my land — The land was not theirs when the Israelites conquered it, but the land of Sihon, king of the Amorites. For as to the country of the Ammonites, God expressly charged the children of Israel not to meddle with it, Deuteronomy 2:19. It is true, this land, which they now claimed, had formerly belonged to the Moabites, but Sihon had made a conquest of it, and driven them out, as we read Numbers 21:26.


Verse 16-17

11:16-17. Unto the Red sea — Unto which they came three times; once, Exodus 13:18; again, a little after their passage over it; and a third time, long after, when they came to Ezion-geber, which was upon the shore of the Red sea, from whence they went to Kadesh; of this time he speaks here. In the like manner they sent to the king of Moab — We do not read of such a message sent to the Moabites; but when the Israelites came from Ezion-geber into the wilderness of Moab, we find a command of God given to them not to distress the Moabites, nor contend with them in battle. This intimates there was some occasion for such a command, which was probably their refusing to grant them some common civility.


Verses 19-22

11:19-22. Let us pass through thy land unto my place — That is, unto the land of Canaan, which the Lord hath given me. But Sihon fought against Israel — He not only refused, after the example of his neighbours, to grant the Israelites a passage through his country, which they could not insist upon as their absolute right, but raised all his forces, and proudly marched to drive them away from his borders. So that, as Jephthah intends to signify, Sihon was the aggressor, and the Israelites were compelled to fight in their own defence. They possessed all the coasts — Or borders, together with all the land included within those borders. From the wilderness — Namely, the desert of Arabia; unto Jordan.


Verse 23

11:23. So now the Lord, &c. — God, the sovereign Lord of all lands, hath given us this land; this he adds, as a further and convincing reason; because otherwise it might have been alleged against the former argument, that they could gain no more right to that land from Sihon, than Sihon himself had. And shouldest thou possess it? — It was absurd to think that they should take pains to conquer it, and God should give it to them, only that they might reinstate the Moabites or Ammonites in the possession of it, with whom they had no alliance.


Verse 24

11:24. Wilt not thou possess, &c. — He does not call Chemosh a god; but only argues from the opinion that they had of him, which was such as all nations entertained of their gods, namely, that they owed their conquests to them: to whom, therefore, they gave thanks for all their victories. The Ammonites and Moabites got their land by conquest of the old inhabitants, whom they cast out; and their success, though given them by the true God, for Lot’s sake, Deuteronomy 2:9; Deuteronomy 2:19, they impiously ascribed to their god Chemosh, whose gift they owned to be a sufficient title. Jephthah, therefore, here appeals to themselves, whether they would not keep what they believed their god had given them, and consider it as lawfully possessed by them. So whomsoever the Lord our God shall drive out, them will we possess — By the very same title whereby the Moabites and Ammonites conceived that they possessed the country in which they now lived, and from whence they had driven out the ancient inhabitants.


Verse 25

11:25. Art thou any thing better than Balak? — Art thou wiser than he? Or hast thou more right than he had? This is a third argument, that though Balak plotted against Israel, in defence of his own land, which he feared they would invade and conquer, yet he never contended with them about the restitution of those lands which Sihon took from him or his predecessors, laid no claim to them, nor ever demanded to have them restored.


Verse 26

11:26. Three hundred years — Not precisely, but about that time, either from their coming out of Egypt, or from their first conquest of those lands. Here he pleads prescription, which by all men is reckoned a just title, and it is fit it should be so, for the good of the world; because otherwise a door would be opened both to kings and private persons for infinite contentions and confusions. And the prescription he pleads was for a long space of time, during which none of the kings of Moab or Ammon had pretended a right to this country, much less contested it with them. Wherefore did ye not recover them within that time? — No answer could be given to this question, why, in so long a time, they never asserted their claim till now.


Verse 27

11:27. Wherefore I have not sinned — I have done thee no wrong. The Lord, the Judge, be judge — Let him determine this controversy by the success of this day and war. The meaning is, that if they were not moved by these reasons, but the controversy must be decided by arms, he committed his cause to God, the righteous Judge of the whole world, who, he doubted not, would do him right. Be judge this day — He does not mean that God would determine the right by giving him the victory then, when he spake these words, (for he was not yet ready to give them battle,) but that God would judge of the justice of his present plea, and accordingly give sentence when the matter came to be tried in battle. There cannot be a finer picture of justice, candour, fair reasoning, moderation, and unwillingness to proceed to the dreadful miseries of war, joined with a noble spirit to defend his country in its just rights, than that which Jephthah shows in his messages to the Ammonites. It were to be wished that all kings would follow his steps, and not rush into the shocking inhumanities and miseries of war with too much precipitation, but first try what good temper, moderation, fair reasoning, and a claim to no more than their just rights, will do with their enemies.


Verse 29

11:29. The Spirit of the Lord came on Jephthah — The people had chosen him for their leader, and promised to continue him their chief governor, as they had already made him; and now God publicly declares his approbation of their choice; and appoints him their judge, as he had others before, ( 3:10,) by endowing him with an extraordinary measure of courage and wisdom, and all other qualities necessary to render him fit to be a ruler of his people. He passed over Manasseh — That is, Bashan, which the half-tribe of Manasseh beyond Jordan possessed. Mizpeh of Gilead — So called, to distinguish it from other cities of the same name. Having gathered what forces he could, he suddenly came hither to the borders of the Ammonites.


Verse 31

11:31. Shall surely be the Lord’s, and I will offer it up for a burnt- offering — Dr. Waterland translates it, shall be consecrated to the Lord, or, I will offer it, &c. “It is very evident,” says Dr. Dodd, “that this translation of Dr. Waterland must be right, because it was impossible that Jephthah should mean to offer for a burnt-offering whatever came forth of the doors of his house to meet him, since it was possible for him to have been met by several things which it would have been sacrilegious for him to have offered to the Lord; and indeed the event sufficiently proves the propriety of this interpretation, since he was met by that which no vow, however solemn, could justify him in offering up. This is Mr. Locke’s opinion, in his gloss upon the place.” See the note on 11:39-40.


Verse 33

11:33. Till thou come to Minnith — A place not far from Rabbah, the chief city of the Ammonites. The children of Ammon were subdued before Israel — It does not appear that Jephthah offered to take possession of their country. Though the attempt of others to wrong us will justify us in the defence of our own right, yet it will not authorize us to do them wrong.


Verse 34-35

11:34-35. Behold his daughter came out to meet him — In concert with other virgins, as the manner was. Alas, my daughter! thou art one of them that trouble me — Before this I was troubled by my brethren, and since by the Ammonites, and now most of all, though but occasionally, by thee. I have opened my mouth — That is, I have vowed. I cannot go back That is, not retract my vow; I am indispensably obliged to perform it.


Verse 36

11:36. Do to me according, &c. — Do not for my sake make thyself a transgressor; I freely give my consent to thy vow. Forasmuch as the Lord hath taken vengeance, &c. — What a generous, noble, and pious answer is this of this virgin! It expresses such a noble love for her country, such true piety and filial obedience, as can scarcely be exceeded.


Verse 37

11:37. That I may go up and down upon the mountains — Which she chose as a solitary place, and therefore fittest for lamentation. Bewail — That I shall die childless, which was esteemed both a curse and a disgrace for the Israelites, because such were excluded from that great privilege of increasing the holy seed, and contributing to the birth of the Messiah.


Verse 39

11:39. Did with her — That Jephthah’s daughter was not sacrificed, but only devoted to perpetual virginity, appears, 1st, From 11:37-38, where we read that she bewailed, not her death, which had been the chief cause of lamentation, if that had been vowed, but her virginity; 2d, From this verse, where, after the sacred writer had said, that he did with her according to his vow; he adds, by way of declaration of the matter of that vow, and she knew no man.


Verse 40

11:40. The daughters of Israel went yearly to lament the daughter of Jephthah — The Hebrew word לתנות, lethannoth, here rendered, to lament, occurs nowhere else in Scripture, but 5:11, where it is rendered rehearse, or celebrate, namely, There shall they rehearse, says Deborah, the righteous acts of the Lord, surely not lament them. And the word might certainly be much more properly rendered to celebrate, or talk with, here, than to lament. Buxtorf interprets it thus, on the authority of the Jewish rabbi, Kimchi, allowed to be the best Hebrew grammarian the Jews ever had, and famous as a commentator on the Old Testament. His words on the passage are — “Ad confabulandum juxta Kimchium, ut amicis colloquiis eam de virginitate et statu vitæ solitario consolarentur.” To converse with her, according to Kimchi, namely, that by friendly discourses they might comfort her concerning her virginity, and the solitary condition of her life. Houbigant translates the words, They went to the daughter of Jephthah to console her, four days in a year. If we render the clause thus, the matter is put beyond dispute; for they could neither converse with, nor console her, after she was sacrificed: but if we translate the expression, to celebrate, or even to lament, its being repeated four times every year, plainly indicates that she was alive, because we nowhere find that the Israelites ever had any custom of celebrating or lamenting the dead after the funeral obsequies were performed. Their law rather tended to prohibit every thing of the kind, and inspire them with an abhorrence of it, by representing the dead as unclean, and those who came near and touched them as defiled thereby. So that there is not the least reason to conclude that the daughters of Judah went yearly, much less four times every year, either to lament or praise the daughter of Jephthah after she was dead; but rather that they went while she lived, to visit and converse with her, and comfort her with their company and discourses. All, therefore, that Jephthah did with his daughter, according to his vow, was to devote her to a single state, as a Nazarite, or consecrated person, to be employed in the service of God in the tabernacle, under the care of the high-priests, probably in making the hangings and other ornaments of it, the habits of the priests, the show-bread, the cakes used in sacrifices, and other such like offices, and to continue in a virgin state till the day of her death. Thus Samuel was vowed to the Lord by his mother, 1 Samuel 1:11 . That his daughter must live and die single was felt by Jephthah as the greater calamity, because she was his only child, 11:34, a circumstance which the sacred historian dwells upon, observing that besides her he had neither son nor daughter. But, says Mr. Henry, “we do not find any law, usage, or custom, in all the Old Testament, which doth in the least intimate that a single life was any branch or article of religion.” “And do we find,” replies Mr. Wesley, “any law, usage, or custom there, which does in the least intimate that cutting the throat of an only child was any branch or article of religion?” If only a dog had met Jephthah, would he have offered up that for a burnt-offering? No, because God had expressly forbidden this. And had he not expressly forbidden murder? But Mr. Pool thinks the story of Agamemnon’s offering up Iphigenia (put for Jephtigenia) took its rise from this. Probably it did, as the Greeks used, as he observes, “to steal sacred histories and turn them into fables.” But then let it be observed Iphigenia was not murdered. Tradition says that Diana sent a hind in her stead, and took the maid to live in the woods with her. Upon the whole, this one single circumstance, mentioned above, that, when the sacred writer had informed us, Jephthah did with his daughter according to his vow, he adds, and she knew no man, renders it as “clear as the light,” as Dr. Dodd observes, that her father’s vow was thus fulfilled; “for if she had been slain as a burnt-offering, it would have been absurd enough to have told us that she afterward knew no man. And indeed,” adds he, “the passage is so plain, that one would wonder it could ever have come into the heads of writers, to conceive that her father, who was a truly pious man, ( 11:11,) could have thought of offering up his daughter as a sacrifice to that God who never allowed or admitted such horrid sacrifices, and whose great quarrel against the baneful idols of the heathen was, that they called for and accepted the sacrifices of sons and daughters:” see Leviticus 18:21; Leviticus 20:2; Deuteronomy 12:31; Deuteronomy 18:10.

 


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Bibliography Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Judges 11:4". Joseph Benson's Commentary. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/rbc/judges-11.html. 1857.

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