Jephthah, a brave soldier from Gilead, was the son of a prostitute. His father Gilead
had other sons by his wife, and when they grew up, they forced Jephthah to leave home. They told him, "You will not inherit anything from our father; you are the son of another woman."
Jephthah fled from his brothers and lived in the land of Tob. There he attracted a group of worthless men, and they went around with him.
It was some time later that the Ammonites went to war against Israel.
When this happened, the leaders of Gilead went to bring Jephthah back from the land of Tob.
They told him, "Come and lead us, so that we can fight the Ammonites."
But Jephthah answered, "You hated me so much that you forced me to leave my father's house. Why come to me now that you're in trouble?"
They said to Jephthah, "We are turning to you now because we want you to go with us and fight the Ammonites and lead all the people of Gilead."
Jephthah said to them, "If you take me back home to fight the Ammonites and the Lord gives me victory, I will be your ruler."
They replied, "We agree. The Lord is our witness."
So Jephthah went with the leaders of Gilead, and the people made him their ruler and leader. Jephthah stated his terms at Mizpah in the presence of the Lord.
Then Jephthah sent messengers to the king of Ammon to say, "What is your quarrel with us? Why have you invaded our country?"
The king of Ammon answered Jephthah's messengers, "When the Israelites came out of Egypt, they took away my land from the Arnon River to the Jabbok River and the Jordan River. Now you must give it back peacefully."
Jephthah sent messengers back to the king of Ammon
with this answer: "It is not true that Israel took away the land of Moab or the land of Ammon.
This is what happened: when the Israelites left Egypt, they went through the desert to the Gulf of Aqaba and came to Kadesh.
Then they sent messengers to the king of Edom to ask permission to go through his land. But the king of Edom would not let them. They also asked the king of Moab, but neither would he let them go through his land. So the Israelites stayed at Kadesh. 1
Then they went on through the desert, going around the land of Edom and the land of Moab until they came to the east side of Moab, on the other side of the Arnon River. They camped there, but they did not cross the Arnon because it was the boundary of Moab. 2
Then the Israelites sent messengers to Sihon, the Amorite king of Heshbon, and asked him for permission to go through his country to their own land. 3
But Sihon would not let Israel do it. He brought his whole army together, camped at Jahaz, and attacked Israel.
But the Lord, the God of Israel, gave the Israelites victory over Sihon and his army. So the Israelites took possession of all the territory of the Amorites who lived in that country.
They occupied all the Amorite territory from the Arnon in the south to the Jabbok in the north and from the desert on the east to the Jordan on the west.
So it was the Lord, the God of Israel, who drove out the Amorites for his people, the Israelites.
Are you going to try to take it back? You can keep whatever your god Chemosh has given you. But we are going to keep everything that the Lord, our God, has taken for us.
Do you think you are any better than Balak son of Zippor, king of Moab? He never challenged Israel, did he? Did he ever go to war against us? 4
For three hundred years Israel has occupied Heshbon and Aroer, and the towns around them, and all the cities on the banks of the Arnon River. Why haven't you taken them back in all this time?
No, I have not done you any wrong. You are doing wrong by making war on me. The Lord is the judge. He will decide today between the Israelites and the Ammonites."
But the king of Ammon paid no attention to this message from Jephthah.
Then the spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah. He went through Gilead and Manasseh and returned to Mizpah in Gilead and went on to Ammon.
Jephthah promised the Lord: "If you will give me victory over the Ammonites,
I will burn as an offering the first person that comes out of my house to meet me, when I come back from the victory. I will offer that person to you as a sacrifice."
So Jephthah crossed the river to fight the Ammonites, and the Lord gave him victory.
He struck at them from Aroer to the area around Minnith, twenty cities in all, and as far as Abel Keramim. There was a great slaughter, and the Ammonites were defeated by Israel.
When Jephthah went back home to Mizpah, there was his daughter coming out to meet him, dancing and playing the tambourine. She was his only child.
When he saw her, he tore his clothes in sorrow and said, "Oh, my daughter! You are breaking my heart! Why must it be you that causes me pain? I have made a solemn promise to the Lord, and I cannot take it back!" 5
She told him, "If you have made a promise to the Lord, do what you said you would do to me, since the Lord has given you revenge on your enemies, the Ammonites."
But she asked her father, "Do this one thing for me. Leave me alone for two months, so that I can go with my friends to wander in the mountains and grieve that I must die a virgin."
He told her to go and sent her away for two months. She and her friends went up into the mountains and grieved because she was going to die unmarried and childless.
After two months she came back to her father. He did what he had promised the Lord, and she died still a virgin. This was the origin of the custom in Israel
that the Israelite women would go out for four days every year to grieve for the daughter of Jephthah of Gilead.