whom God sets free, or the breaker through, a "mighty man of valour" who delivered Israel from the oppression of the Ammonites ( Judges 11:1-33 ), and judged Israel six years ( 12:7 ). He has been described as "a wild, daring, Gilead mountaineer, a sort of warrior Elijah." After forty-five years of comparative quiet Israel again apostatized, and in "process of time the children of Ammon made war against Israel" ( 11:5 ). In their distress the elders of Gilead went to fetch Jephthah out of the land of Tob, to which he had fled when driven out wrongfully by his brothers from his father's inheritance (2), and the people made him their head and captain. The "elders of Gilead" in their extremity summoned him to their aid, and he at once undertook the conduct of the war against Ammon. Twice he sent an embassy to the king of Ammon, but in vain. War was inevitable. The people obeyed his summons, and "the spirit of the Lord came upon him." Before engaging in war he vowed that if successful he would offer as a "burnt-offering" whatever would come out of the door of his house first to meet him on his return. The defeat of the Ammonites was complete. "He smote them from Aroer, even till thou come to Minnith, even twenty cities, and unto the plain of the vineyards [Heb. 'Abel Keramim], with a very great slaughter" ( Judges 11:33 ). The men of Ephraim regarded themselves as insulted in not having been called by Jephthah to go with him to war against Ammon. This led to a war between the men of Gilead and Ephraim ( 12:4 ), in which many of the Ephraimites perished. (See SHIBBOLETH .) "Then died Jephthah the Gileadite, and was buried in one of the cities of Gilead" (7).
(whom God sets free ), A judge about B.C. 1143-1137. His history is contained in ( Judges 11:1 ; Judges 12:8 ) He was a Gileadite, the son of Gilead and a concubine. Driven by the legitimate sons from his fathers inheritance, he went to Tob and became the head of a company of freebooters in a debatable land probably belonging to Ammon. ( 2 Samuel 10:6 ) (This land was east of Jordan and southeast of Gilead, and bordered on the desert of Arabia. --ED.) His fame as a bold and successful captain was carried back to his native Gilead; and when the time was ripe for throwing off the yoke of Ammon, Jephthah consented to become the captain of the Gileadite bands, on the condition, solemnly ratified before the Lord in Mizpeh, that int he event of his success against Ammon he should still remain as their acknowledged head. Vowing his vow unto God, ( Judges 11:31 ) that he would offer up as a burn offering whatsoever should come out to meet him if successful, he went forth to battle. The Ammonites were routed with great slaughter; but as the conqueror returned to Mizpeh there came out to meet him his daughter, his only child, with timbrels and dancing. The father is heart-stricken; but the maiden asks only for a respite of two months in which to prepare for death. When that time was ended she returned to her father, who "did with her according to his vow." The tribe of Ephraim challenged Jephthahs right to go to war as he had done, without their concurrence, against Ammon. He first defeated them, then intercepted the fugitives at the fords of Jordan, and there put forty-two thousand men to the sword. He judged Israel six years, and died. It is generally conjectured that his jurisdiction was limited to the transjordanic region. That the daughter of Jephthah was really offered up to God in sacrifice is a conclusion which it seems impossible to avoid. (But there is no word of approval, as if such a sacrifice was acceptable to God. Josephus well says that "the sacrifice was neither sanctioned by the Mosaic ritual nor acceptable to God." The vow and the fulfillment were the mistaken conceptions of a rude chieftain, not acts pleasing to God. --ED.)
Ninth judge of the Israelites. His antecedents are obscure. Assuming Gilead to be the actual name of his father, his mother was a harlot. He was driven from home on account of his illegitimacy, and went to the land of Tobit in Eastern Syria (Judges 11:2,3). Here he and his followers lived the life of freebooters.
The Israelites beyond the Jordan being in danger of an invasion by the Ammonites, Jephthah was invited by the elders of Gilead to be their leader (Judges 11:5,6). Remembering how they had expelled him from their territory and his heritage, Jephthah demanded of them that in the event of success in the struggle with the Ammonites, he was to be continued as leader. This condition being accepted he returned to Gilead (Judges 11:7-11). The account of the diplomacy used by Jephthah to prevent the Ammonites from invading Gilead is possibly an interpolation, and is thought by many interpreters to be a compilation from Numbers 20-21. It is of great interest, however, not only because of the fairness of the argument used (Judges 11:12-28), but also by virtue of the fact that it contains a history of the journey of the Israelites from Lower Egypt to the banks of the Jordan. This history is distinguished from that of the Pentateuch chiefly by the things omitted. If diplomacy was tried, it failed to dissuade the Ammonites from seeking to invade Israel. Jephthah prepared for battle, but before taking the field paused at Mizpeh of Gilead, and registered a vow that if he were successful in battle, he would offer as a burnt offering to Yahweh whatsoever should first come from his doors to greet him upon his return (Judges 11:29-31). The battle is fought, Jephthah is the victor, and now his vow returns to him with anguish and sorrow. Returning to his home, the first to greet him is his daughter and only child. The father's sorrow and the courage of the daughter are the only bright lights on this sordid, cruel conception of God and of the nature of sacrifice. That the sacrifice was made seems certain from the narrative, although some critics choose to substitute for the actual death of the maiden the setting the girl apart for a life of perpetual virginity. The Israelite laws concerning sacrifices and the language used in Judges 11:39 are the chief arguments for the latter interpretation. The entire narrative, however, will hardly bear this construction (11:34-40).
Jephthah was judge in Israel for 6 years, but appears only once more in the Scripture narrative. The men of Ephraim, offended because they had had no share in the victory over the Ammonites, made war upon Gilead, but were put to rout by the forces under Jephthah (Judges 12:1-6).
C. E. Schenk
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