Jephthah was a mighty warrior. He was from the land of Gilead. His father's name was Gilead. Jephthah's mother was a prostitute.
Gilead's wife also had sons by him. When they had grown up, they drove Jephthah away. "You aren't going to get any share of our family's property," they said. "You are the son of another woman."
So Jephthah ran away from his brothers. He settled in the land of Tob. A group of men who weren't good for anything gathered around him there. And they followed him.
Some time later, the Ammonites went to war against Israel.
So the elders of Gilead went to get Jephthah from the land of Tob.
"Come with us," they said. "Be our commander. Then we can fight against the Ammonites."
Jephthah said to them, "Didn't you hate me? Didn't you drive me away from my father's house? Why are you coming to me only when you are in trouble?"
The elders of Gilead replied to him. "You are right," they said. "That's why we're turning to you now. Come with us and fight against the Ammonites. Then you will be our leader. You will rule over everyone who lives in Gilead."
Jephthah said, "Suppose you take me back to fight against the Ammonites. And suppose the LORD gives them over to me. Then will I really be your leader?"
The elders of Gilead replied, "The LORD is our witness. We'll certainly do as you say."
So Jephthah went with the elders of Gilead. And the people made him their leader and commander. He went to Mizpah. There he repeated to the LORD everything he had said.
Then Jephthah sent messengers to the king of Ammon. They asked, "What do you have against us? Why have you attacked our country?"
The king of Ammon answered Jephthah's messengers. He said, "Israel came up out of Egypt. At that time they took my land away. They took all of the land that was between the Arnon River and the Jabbok River. It reached all the way to the Jordan River. Now give it back. Then there will be peace."
Jephthah sent messengers back to the king of Ammon.
They said, "Here is what Jephthah says to you. Israel didn't take the land of Moab. They didn't take the land of Ammon.
When Israel came up out of Egypt, they went through the desert to the Red Sea. From there they went on to Kadesh.
"Then Israel sent messengers to the king of Edom. They said, 'Please let us go through your country.' But the king of Edom wouldn't listen to them. "They sent the same message to the king of Moab. But he refused too. So Israel stayed at Kadesh.
"Next, they traveled through the desert. They traveled along the borders of the lands of Edom and Moab. They passed along the east side of the country of Moab. They camped on the other side of the Arnon River. They didn't enter the territory of Moab. The Arnon River was Moab's border.
"Then Israel sent messengers to Sihon. He was the king of the Amorites. He ruled in Heshbon. They said to him, 'Let us pass through your country to our own land.'
"But Sihon didn't trust Israel to pass through his territory. Instead, he gathered all of his men together. They camped at Jahaz. And they fought against Israel.
"Then the Lord, the God of Israel, handed Sihon and all of his men over to Israel. Israel won the battle over them. Amorites were living in the country at that time. And Israel took over all of their land.
They captured all of the land that was between the Arnon River and the Jabbok River. It reached from the desert all the way to the Jordan River.
"The Lord, the God of Israel, has driven the Amorites out to make room for his people. So what right do you have to take it over?
You will take what your god Chemosh gives you, won't you? In the same way, we will take over what the LORD our God has given us.
Are you better than Balak, the son of Zippor? Balak was the king of Moab. Did he ever argue with Israel? Did he ever fight against them?
"For 300 years Israel has been living in Heshbon and Aroer. They have been living in the settlements that are around those cities. They have also been living in all of the towns that are along the Arnon River. Why didn't you take those places back during that time?
"I haven't done anything wrong to you. But you are doing something wrong to me. You have gone to war against me. The LORD is the Judge. So let him decide our case today. Let him settle matters between the people of Israel and the people of Ammon."
But the king of Ammon didn't pay any attention to the message Jephthah sent him.
Then the Spirit of the LORD came on Jephthah. He went across the territories of Gilead and Manasseh. He passed through Mizpah in the land of Gilead. From there he attacked the people of Ammon.
Jephthah made a promise to the Lord. He said, "Hand the Ammonites over to me.
If you do, here's what I'll do when I come back from winning the battle. Anything that comes out the door of my house to meet me will belong to you. I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering."
Then Jephthah went over to fight against the Ammonites. The LORD handed them over to him.
Jephthah destroyed 20 towns between Aroer and the area of Minnith. He destroyed them all the way to Abel Keramim. So Israel brought Ammon under their control.
Jephthah returned to his home in Mizpah. And guess who came out to meet him. It was his daughter! She was dancing to the music of tambourines. She was his only child. He didn't have any other sons or daughters.
When Jephthah saw her, he was so upset that he tore his clothes. He cried out, "My daughter! You have filled me with trouble and sorrow. I've made a promise to the Lord. And I can't break it."
"My father," she replied, "you have given your word to the Lord. So do to me just what you promised to do. The Ammonites were your enemies. And the LORD has paid them back for what they did to you.
"But please do one thing for me," she continued. "Give me two months to wander around in the hills. Let me sob there with my friends. I want to do that because I'll never get married."
"You can go," he said. He let her go for two months. She and her friends went into the hills. They were filled with sadness because she would never get married.
After the two months were over, she returned to her father. He did to her just what he had promised to do. And she was a virgin. So that became a practice in Israel.
Each year the young women of Israel go away for four days. They do it in honor of the daughter of Jephthah. He was from the land of Gilead.