[Judges 11:1] NOW JEPHTHAH THE GILEADITE WAS A MIGHTY MAN OF VALOUR, AND HE
WAS THE SON OF AN HARLOT: AND GILEAD BEGAT JEPHTHAH.
<<JEPHTHAH>> Hebrew "Yiftach" with the final "ch" being pronounced
something like "h". The name appears to mean "He who will open".
GILEADITE: He belonged to the section of Gilead in Manassseh and in
addition his father was also named Gilead.
<<HARLOT: << In Hebrew "Zonah". The word "zonah" is derived from the root
"zoneh" meaning turn away from or "sin". The English word "sin" is derived
from this root. At one stage the Northern peoples lost the use of the sound
"z" and replaced it with "z". That is how the Sebulingoi derived their name
from "Zebulon-goi" or "Zebulon-people". They were located in the region of
Denmark and Frissia and from there moved southward into the Netherlands.
"Zonah" is the usual Hebrew word for "harlot" or prostitute BUT it can also
have other connotations and possibilities and simply mean a woman who
departs from the straight path.
One explanation (Targum Yehonatan, Rabbeinu Bachai) that is a little
difficult but may have something in it is that the mother of JEPHTHAH was
the prospective inheritress of her ancestors' Tribal portion but she
married someone from another tribe and so lost her right.
[Judges 11:2] AND GILEAD'S WIFE BARE HIM SONS; AND HIS WIFE'S SONS GREW UP,
AND THEY THRUST OUT JEPHTHAH, AND SAID UNTO HIM, THOU SHALT NOT INHERIT IN
OUR FATHER'S HOUSE; FOR THOU ART THE SON OF A STRANGE WOMAN.
It may be that the mother of Yiftach was a loose woman who had given birth
to him prior to the birth of heirs from the legitimate wife similar to the
case of Ishmael and Hagar.
Alternately the mother of Yiftach may have been a second wife who was sent
away because of her sons but Yiftach was kept on though in an inferior
position. It would seem that there was something legal about his
dispossession whether justified or not.
[Judges 11:3] THEN JEPHTHAH FLED FROM HIS BRETHREN, AND DWELT IN THE LAND
OF TOB: AND THERE WERE GATHERED VAIN MEN TO JEPHTHAH, AND WENT OUT WITH
<<TOB>> also pronounced "Tov" and in Hebrew the word can mean "Good". The
land of TOB was north of Gilead somewhere in the north of Syria. This was
land that had been promised to Israel and in which Israelites settled
though they had to struggle for it. Ultimately the Israelites were pushed
out or subordinated and the area became part of the Aramaean Kingdoms of
the region. Yiftach appears to have acted in a similar way to how David did
before he became king and when he was hiding from Saul. Yiftach apparently
led a band of bandits who would prey on the non-Israelite heathen enemies
of Israel who dwelt in the region. He gained both experience and a
reputation as a warrior leader. Someone once suggested that Robin Hood was
really a Jew (Reuben Hod) who led an armed band of "Merry Men" in
opposition to wicked King John who oppressed the Jews alongside the rest of
his English subjects.
<<VAIN MEN>>: In Hebrew "rakim", i.e. empty ones. This is the probable
source of the English word, "rake" meaning "profligate" and often used in
that very same sense in Hebrew.
[Judges 11:4] AND IT CAME TO PASS IN PROCESS OF TIME, THAT THE CHILDREN OF
AMMON MADE WAR AGAINST ISRAEL.
[Judges 11:5] AND IT WAS SO, THAT WHEN THE CHILDREN OF AMMON MADE WAR
AGAINST ISRAEL, THE ELDERS OF GILEAD WENT TO FETCH JEPHTHAH OUT OF THE
LAND OF TOB::
[Judges 11:6] AND THEY SAID UNTO JEPHTHAH, COME, AND BE OUR CAPTAIN, THAT
WE MAY FIGHT WITH THE CHILDREN OF AMMON..
[Judges 11:7] AND JEPHTHAH SAID UNTO THE ELDERS OF GILEAD, DID NOT YE HATE
ME, AND EXPEL ME OUT OF MY FATHER'S HOUSE? AND WHY ARE YE COME UNTO ME NOW
WHEN YE ARE IN DISTRESS?
[Judges 11:8] AND THE ELDERS OF GILEAD SAID UNTO JEPHTHAH, THEREFORE WE
TURN AGAIN TO THEE NOW THAT THOU MAYEST GO WITH US, AND FIGHT AGAINST THE
CHILDREN OF AMMON, AND BE OUR HEAD OVER ALL THE INHABITANTS OF GILEAD.
[Judges 11:9] AND JEPHTHAH SAID UNTO THE ELDERS OF GILEAD, IF YE BRING ME
HOME AGAIN TO FIGHT AGAINST THE CHILDREN OF AMMON, AND THE LORD DELIVER
THEM BEFORE ME, SHALL I BE YOUR HEAD?
[Judges 11:10] AND THE ELDERS OF GILEAD SAID UNTO JEPHTHAH, THE LORD BE
WITNESS BETWEEN US, IF WE DO NOT SO ACCORDING TO THY
[Judges 11:11] THEN JEPHTHAH WENT WITH THE ELDERS OF GILEAD, AND THE PEOPLE
MADE HIM HEAD AND CAPTAIN OVER THEM: AND JEPHTHAH UTTERED ALL HIS WORDS
BEFORE THE LORD IN MIZPEH.
[Judges 11:12] AND JEPHTHAH SENT MESSENGERS UNTO THE KING OF THE CHILDREN
OF AMMON, SAYING, WHAT HAST THOU TO DO WITH ME, THAT THOU ART COME AGAINST
ME TO FIGHT IN MY LAND?
[Judges 11:13] AND THE KING OF THE CHILDREN OF AMMON ANSWERED UNTO THE
MESSENGERS OF JEPHTHAH, BECAUSE ISRAEL TOOK AWAY MY LAND, WHEN THEY CAME UP
OUT OF EGYPT, FROM ARNON EVEN UNTO JABBOK, AND UNTO JORDAN: NOW THEREFORE
RESTORE THOSE LANDS AGAIN PEACEABLY.
Israel had conquered these lands from Sihon King of the Amorites but
previously the Amorites had conquered them from Moab and Ammon, mostly from
Moab. The Ammonites were now trying to claim that Israel had taken them
directly from Ammon and that they had all belonged to Ammon.
[Judges 11:14] AND JEPHTHAH SENT MESSENGERS AGAIN UNTO THE KING OF THE
CHILDREN OF AMMON:
[Judges 11:15] AND SAID UNTO HIM, THUS SAITH JEPHTHAH, ISRAEL TOOK NOT AWAY
THE LAND OF MOAB, NOR THE LAND OF THE CHILDREN OF AMMON:
[Judges 11:16] BUT WHEN ISRAEL CAME UP FROM EGYPT, AND WALKED THROUGH THE
WILDERNESS UNTO THE RED SEA, AND CAME TO KADESH;
[Judges 11:17] THEN ISRAEL SENT MESSENGERS UNTO THE KING OF EDOM, SAYING,
LET ME, I PRAY THEE, PASS THROUGH THY LAND: BUT THE KING OF EDOM WOULD NOT
HEARKEN THERETO. AND IN LIKE MANNER THEY SENT UNTO THE KING OF MOAB: BUT HE
WOULD NOT CONSENT: AND ISRAEL ABODE IN KADESH.
[Judges 11:18] THEN THEY WENT ALONG THROUGH THE WILDERNESS, AND COMPASSED
THE LAND OF EDOM, AND THE LAND OF MOAB, AND CAME BY THE EAST SIDE OF THE
LAND OF MOAB, AND PITCHED ON THE OTHER SIDE OF ARNON, BUT CAME NOT WITHIN
THE BORDER OF MOAB: FOR ARNON WAS THE BORDER OF MOAB.
[Judges 11:19] AND ISRAEL SENT MESSENGERS UNTO SIHON KING OF THE AMORITES,
THE KING OF HESHBON; AND ISRAEL SAID UNTO HIM, LET US PASS, WE PRAY THEE,
THROUGH THY LAND INTO MY PLACE.
[Judges 11:20] BUT SIHON TRUSTED NOT ISRAEL TO PASS THROUGH HIS COAST: BUT
SIHON GATHERED ALL HIS PEOPLE TOGETHER, AND PITCHED IN JAHAZ, AND FOUGHT
[Judges 11:21] AND THE LORD GOD OF ISRAEL DELIVERED SIHON AND ALL HIS
PEOPLE INTO THE HAND OF ISRAEL, AND THEY SMOTE THEM: SO ISRAEL POSSESSED
ALL THE LAND OF THE AMORITES, THE INHABITANTS OF THAT COUNTRY.
[Judges 11:22] AND THEY POSSESSED ALL THE COASTS OF THE AMORITES, FROM
ARNON EVEN UNTO JABBOK, AND FROM THE WILDERNESS EVEN UNTO
[Judges 11:23] SO NOW THE LORD GOD OF ISRAEL HATH DISPOSSESSED THE AMORITES
FROM BEFORE HIS PEOPLE ISRAEL, AND SHOULDEST THOU POSSESS IT?
[Judges 11:24] WILT NOT THOU POSSESS THAT WHICH CHEMOSH THY GOD GIVETH THEE
TO POSSESS? SO WHOMSOEVER THE LORD OUR GOD SHALL DRIVE OUT FROM BEFORE US,
THEM WILL WE POSSESS.
<<CHEMOSH THY GOD GIVETH THEE TO POSSESS>>: The Hebrew construction
implies: "CHEMOSH THY GOD GIVETH THEE [in your mind] TO POSSESS", i.e.
according to your notions, not mine [Meshek Chochmah]. In the same way one
may argue with a Muslim, "Should not you act in such and such a way
according to the Koran?" because he claims to believe in the Koran even
though we do not believe in it.
[Judges 11:25] AND NOW ART THOU ANY THING BETTER THAN BALAK THE SON OF
ZIPPOR, KING OF MOAB? DID HE EVER STRIVE AGAINST ISRAEL, OR DID HE EVER
FIGHT AGAINST THEM,
[Judges 11:26] WHILE ISRAEL DWELT IN HESHBON AND HER TOWNS, AND IN AROER
AND HER TOWNS, AND IN ALL THE CITIES THAT BE ALONG BY THE COASTS OF ARNON,
THREE HUNDRED YEARS? WHY THEREFORE DID YE NOT RECOVER THEM WITHIN THAT TIME?
[Judges 11:27] WHEREFORE I HAVE NOT SINNED AGAINST THEE, BUT THOU DOEST ME
WRONG TO WAR AGAINST ME: THE LORD BE JUDGE THIS DAY BETWEEN THE CHILDREN OF
ISRAEL AND THE CHILDREN OF AMMON.
[Judges 11:28] HOWBEIT THE KING OF THE CHILDREN OF AMMON HEARKENED NOT UNTO
THE WORDS OF JEPHTHAH WHICH HE SENT HIM.
[Judges 11:29] THEN THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD CAME UPON JEPHTHAH, AND HE
PASSED OVER GILEAD, AND MANASSEH, AND PASSED OVER MIZPEH OF GILEAD, AND
FROM MIZPEH OF GILEAD HE PASSED OVER UNTO THE CHILDREN OF
[Judges 11:30] AND JEPHTHAH VOWED A VOW UNTO THE LORD, AND SAID, IF THOU
SHALT WITHOUT FAIL DELIVER THE CHILDREN OF AMMON INTO MINE HANDS,
[Judges 11:31] THEN IT SHALL BE, THAT WHATSOEVER COMETH FORTH OF THE DOORS
OF MY HOUSE TO MEET ME, WHEN I RETURN IN PEACE FROM THE CHILDREN OF AMMON,
SHALL SURELY BE THE LORD'S, AND I WILL OFFER IT UP FOR A BURNT
[Judges 11:32] SO JEPHTHAH PASSED OVER UNTO THE CHILDREN OF AMMON TO
FIGHT AGAINST THEM; AND THE LORD DELIVERED THEM INTO HIS
[Judges 11:33] AND HE SMOTE THEM FROM AROER, EVEN TILL THOU COME TO
MINNITH, EVEN TWENTY CITIES, AND UNTO THE PLAIN OF THE VINEYARDS, WITH A
VERY GREAT SLAUGHTER. THUS THE CHILDREN OF AMMON WERE SUBDUED BEFORE THE
CHILDREN OF ISRAEL.
[Judges 11:34] AND JEPHTHAH CAME TO MIZPEH UNTO HIS HOUSE, AND, BEHOLD, HIS
DAUGHTER CAME OUT TO MEET HIM WITH TIMBRELS AND WITH DANCES: AND SHE WAS
HIS ONLY CHILD; BESIDE HER HE HAD NEITHER SON NOR
[Judges 11:35] AND IT CAME TO PASS, WHEN HE SAW HER, THAT HE RENT HIS
CLOTHES, AND SAID, ALAS, MY DAUGHTER! THOU HAST BROUGHT ME VERY LOW, AND
THOU ART ONE OF THEM THAT TROUBLE ME: FOR I HAVE OPENED MY MOUTH UNTO THE
LORD, AND I CANNOT GO BACK.
[Judges 11:36] AND SHE SAID UNTO HIM, MY FATHER, IF THOU HAST OPENED THY
MOUTH UNTO THE LORD, DO TO ME ACCORDING TO THAT WHICH HATH PROCEEDED OUT OF
THY MOUTH; FORASMUCH AS THE LORD HATH TAKEN VENGEANCE FOR THEE OF THINE
ENEMIES, EVEN OF THE CHILDREN OF AMMON.
[Judges 11:37] AND SHE SAID UNTO HER FATHER, LET THIS THING BE DONE FOR
ME: LET ME ALONE TWO MONTHS, THAT I MAY GO UP AND DOWN UPON THE MOUNTAINS,
AND BEWAIL MY VIRGINITY, I AND MY FELLOWS..
[Judges 11:38] AND HE SAID, GO. AND HE SENT HER AWAY FOR TWO MONTHS: AND
SHE WENT WITH HER COMPANIONS, AND BEWAILED HER VIRGINITY UPON THE
[Judges 11:39] AND IT CAME TO PASS AT THE END OF TWO MONTHS, THAT SHE
RETURNED UNTO HER FATHER, WHO DID WITH HER ACCORDING TO HIS VOW WHICH HE
HAD VOWED: AND SHE KNEW NO MAN. AND IT WAS A CUSTOM IN ISRAEL.
Some understand this passage to mean that he sacrificed his daughter.
Others that she was set aside like a hermit, a perpetual virgin. The whole
passage is difficult. It would seem that an actual sacrifice was implied
but not necessarily so, and if so, what is the big deal about her
virginity? If her life was to be taken would she not bewail the impending
loss of it more than anything else?
Josephus: Antiquities of the Jews, Book 5, chapter 8
10. <<And when he had given them this answer, he sent the ambassadors away.
And when he had prayed for victory, and had vowed to perform sacred
offices, and if he came home in safety, to offer in sacrifice what living
creature soever should first meet him,
joined battle with the enemy, and gained a great victory, and in his
pursuit slew the enemies all along as far as the city of Minnith. He then
passed over to the land of the Ammonites, and overthrew many of their
cities, and took their prey, and freed his own people from that slavery
which they had undergone for eighteen years. But as he came back, he fell
into a calamity no way correspondent to the great actions he had done; for
it was his daughter that came to meet him; she was also an only child and a
virgin: upon this Jephtha heavily lamented the greatness of his affliction,
and blamed his daughter for being so forward in meeting him, for he had
vowed to sacrifice her to God. However, this action that was to befall her
was not ungrateful to her, since she should die upon occasion of her
father's victory, and the liberty of her fellow citizens: she only desired
her father to give her leave, for two months, to bewail her youth with her
fellow citizens; and then she agreed, that at the aforementioned time he
might do with her according to his vow. Accordingly, when that time was
over, he sacrificed his daughter as a burnt-offering, offering such an
oblation as was neither conformable to the law nor acceptable to God, not
weighing with himself what opinion the hearers would have of such a practice.>>
(cf. Jeremiah 7:31: AND THEY HAVE BUILT THE HIGH PLACES OF TOPHET, WHICH IS
IN THE VALLEY OF THE SON OF HINNOM, TO BURN THEIR SONS AND THEIR DAUGHTERS
IN THE FIRE; WHICH I COMMANDED THEM NOT, NEITHER CAME IT INTO MY HEART.)
Most Commentators seem to think that Yiftach did sacrifice his daughter. I
however am inclined towards the contrary opinion proposed by the Radak and
The Radak says:
<<WHO DID WITH HER ACCORDING TO HIS VOW WHICH HE HAD VOWED: He made her a
house and placed her within it and she was there reclused from human
company and the outside world. It was a custom that once a year the
daughters of Israel would go and visit her.>> This explanation fits the
verses as well as any other.
Malbim: <<The vow was fulfilled in that she never knew a man and remained
closed away, as a woman who cannot marry, until she died.>>
[Judges 11:40] THAT THE DAUGHTERS OF ISRAEL WENT YEARLY TO LAMENT THE
DAUGHTER OF JEPHTHAH THE GILEADITE FOUR DAYS IN A YEAR.
This was part of their education that girls should want to marry and
appreciate their marriages once they have done so.