After the time of Abimelech, a man of Issachar named Tola son of Puah, the son of Dodo, rose to save Israel. He lived in Shamir, in the hill country of Ephraim. He led Israel twenty-three years; then he died, and was buried in Shamir.
He was followed by Jair of Gilead, who led Israel twenty-two years. He had thirty sons, who rode thirty donkeys. They controlled thirty towns in Gilead, which to this day are called Havvoth Jair. When Jair died, he was buried in Kamon. Judges 10:1-5
Jotham, Gideon’s youngest son, escaped Abimelech’s massacre of his brothers. Jotham’s curse was fulfilled upon Abimelech and upon the Shechemites, who had made him king. After the death of evil Abimelech, God raised up Tola and Jair to serve as judges and the Israelites enjoyed fifty-five years of peace in the land.
Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord. They served the Baals and the Ashtoreths, and the gods of Aram, the gods of Sidon, the gods of Moab, the gods of the Ammonites and the gods of the Philistines. Judges 10:6a
Baal was the chief god of the Canaanites. Each locality had its special Baal, and the various local Baals were summed up under the name of Baalim, or “lords.” Baal won his dominance by defeating the other deities, including the god of the sea, the god of storms (also of rain, thunder, and lightning), and the god of death. Baal’s victory over death was thought to be repeated each year when he returned from the land of death (underworld), bringing rain to renew the earth’s fertility. Hebrew culture viewed the sea as evil and destructive, so Baal’s promise to prevent storms and control the sea, as well as his ability to produce abundant harvests, made him attractive to the Israelites.
Asherah was known as the goddess of motherhood and fertility. Asherah or Ashtoreth was their supreme female divinity and Baal’s consort or wife. Believing the sexual union of Baal and Asherah produced fertility, their worshipers engaged in immoral sex to cause the gods to join together, ensuring good harvests. This practice became the basis for religious prostitution. The priest or a male member of the community represented Baal. The priestess or female members of the community represented Asherah. In this way, God’s incredible gift of sexuality was perverted to the most obscene public prostitution. No wonder God’s anger burned against his people and their leaders.
In addition to the Baals and Ashtoreths, the Israelites also served the gods of: Aram (Hadad), of Sidon (Astarte), of the Moabites (Chemosh), the Ammonites (Molech), and the god of the Philistines (Dagon).
The worship of Chemosh, the national deity of the Moabites, whose name most likely meant “destroyer” or “subduer” included human sacrifice.
In addition to sexual rituals, Molech worship included child sacrifice, or “passing children through the fire.” It is believed that idols of Molech were giant metal statues of a man with a bull’s head. Each image had a hole in the abdomen and possibly outstretched forearms that made a kind of ramp to the hole. A fire was lit in or around the statue. Babies were placed in the statue’s arms or in the hole. When a couple sacrificed their firstborn, they believed that Molech would ensure financial prosperity for the family and future children.
Dagon was the principal deity of the Philistines, whose ancestors migrated to the shores of Canaan from Crete. According to ancient mythology, Dagon was the father of Baal. He was the fish god (dag in Hebrew means “fish”), and he was represented as a half-man, half-fish creature. The Philistines depended on Dagon for success in war and they offered various sacrifices for his favor.
And because the Israelites forsook the Lord and no longer served him, he became angry with them. He sold them into the hands of the Philistines and the Ammonites, who that year shattered and crushed them. For eighteen years they oppressed all the Israelites on the east side of the Jordan in Gilead, the land of the Amorites. Judges 10:6b-8
After wandering in the wilderness for forty years, the people of Israel conquered territory on the eastern side of the Jordan in the areas that belonged to the Amorites and the people of Bashan. The tribes of Reuben and Gad were attracted to this territory because it was well-suited for the raising of livestock and they had much livestock. Along with Reuben and Gad, half of the tribe of Manasseh also took a portion of the land east of the Jordan. The people of Reuben, Gad and the southern portion of Manasseh who had occupied Gilead were severely oppressed by the Ammonites for eighteen years.
The Ammonites also crossed the Jordan to fight against Judah, Benjamin and Ephraim; Israel was in great distress. Then the Israelites cried out to the Lord, “We have sinned against you, forsaking our God and serving the Baals.” Judges 10:9-10
Coming from the east, the Ammonites attacked the central and southern tribes of Israel on the west side of the Jordan; while the Philistines came from the coastlands located to the west.
The Lord replied, “When the Egyptians, the Amorites, the Ammonites, the Philistines, the Sidonians, the Amalekites and the Maonites oppressed you and you cried to me for help, did I not save you from their hands? But you have forsaken me and served other gods, so I will no longer save you. Go and cry out to the gods you have chosen. Let them save you when you are in trouble!” Judges 10:11-14
Yehovah reprimands the Israelites for their great ingratitude and reminds them of the great things He had done for them. He delivered them from the bondage of Egypt and from the Amorites whom they conquered and into whose land they settled. He rescued them when the Ammonites had joined with the Moabites to oppress them, from the Philistines in the days of Shamgar, and from other enemies as well. Yet, they still turned to other gods. Yehovah challenges the unfaithful Israelites to have the gods they served now save them.
But the Israelites said to the Lord, “We have sinned. Do with us whatever you think best, but please rescue us now.” Then they got rid of the foreign gods among them and served the Lord. And he could bear Israel’s misery no longer. Judges 10:15-16
The Israelites had committed two great offences. First they had forsaken their God, the fountain of living water, and then they had hewn themselves idols, broken cisterns which could hold no water. Their sufferings were just. Finally they humbled themselves, submitted to God, sincerely repented and got rid their worthless idols.
When the Ammonites were called to arms and camped in Gilead, the Israelites assembled and camped at Mizpah. The leaders of the people of Gilead said to each other, “Whoever will take the lead in attacking the Ammonites will be head over all who live in Gilead.” Judges 10:17-18
The Israelites needed a capable commander to lead them in the impending war with the Ammonites. As an inducement, they promised that whoever consented to embrace this daunting task would be recognized as their ruler.
Jephthah the Gileadite was a mighty warrior. His father was Gilead; his mother was a prostitute. Gilead’s wife also bore him sons, and when they were grown up, they drove Jephthah away. “You are not going to get any inheritance in our family,” they said, “because you are the son of another woman.” So Jephthah fled from his brothers and settled in the land of Tob, where a gang of scoundrels gathered around him and followed him. Judges 11:1-3
After the death of Jephthah’s father, his half brothers drove him away not wanting to share their inheritance with the son of a harlot. This mighty warrior settled in Tob which was a district on the east of Jordan. It was on the northern boundary of Perea, an area located opposite Judea and Samaria, between Syria and the land of Ammon.
Although the NIV describes his followers as a gang of scoundrels other translations speak of them as vain men—idle, daring, or desperate. They sustained themselves by frequent raids on the Ammonites and other neighboring people
Some time later, when the Ammonites were fighting against Israel, the elders of Gilead went to get Jephthah from the land of Tob. “Come,” they said, “be our commander, so we can fight the Ammonites.”
Jephthah said to them, “Didn’t you hate me and drive me from my father’s house? Why do you come to me now, when you’re in trouble?”
The elders of Gilead said to him, “Nevertheless, we are turning to you now; come with us to fight the Ammonites, and you will be head over all of us who live in Gilead.” Judges 11:4-8
After eighteen years, the Israelites were so severely oppressed by the Ammonites and Philistines that they cried out to the LORD in desperation to deliver them. The LORD initially rebuked them and mocked them by saying that they should cry out to the idols they served to deliver them. But eventually the LORD relented and was willing to rescue them when the Israelites were willing to serve Him only.
Now in desperation, the elders of Gilead seek to enlist Jephthah to command their troops. Jephthah initially confronts them for their hatred towards him and questions why he should come to their aid.
The elders respond that they would submit to his rulership.
Jephthah answered, “Suppose you take me back to fight the Ammonites and the LORD gives them to me—will I really be your head?”
The elders of Gilead replied, “The LORD is our witness; we will certainly do as you say.” So Jephthah went with the elders of Gilead, and the people made him head and commander over them. And he repeated all his words before the LORD in Mizpah. Judges 11:9-11
The Israelites had repented of their idolatries and vowed to serve the LORD only, and therefore the LORD forgave them. Now that the elders of Gilead (Jephthah’s half brothers) had turned to him and vowed to make him their ruler, Jephthah agreed to lead them in battle against the Ammonites.
Then Jephthah sent messengers to the Ammonite king with the question: “What do you have against me that you have attacked my country?”
The king of the Ammonites answered Jephthah’s messengers, “When Israel came up out of Egypt, they took away my land from the Arnon to the Jabbok, all the way to the Jordan. Now give it back peaceably.” Judges 11:12-13
The king of the Ammonites claimed that the Israelites had taken his land but this statement was not in accordance with facts. It was quite true that a large district in this territory had originally belonged to Moab and Ammon, but had been seized from them by Sihon and Og, the kings of the Ammorites.
Jephthah sent back messengers to the Ammonite king, saying:
“This is what Jephthah says: Israel did not take the land of Moab or the land of the Ammonites. But when they came up out of Egypt, Israel went through the wilderness to the Red Sea and on to Kadesh. Then Israel sent messengers to the king of Edom, saying, ‘Give us permission to go through your country,’ but the king of Edom would not listen. They sent also to the king of Moab, and he refused. So Israel stayed at Kadesh.
“Next they traveled through the wilderness, skirted the lands of Edom and Moab, passed along the eastern side of the country of Moab, and camped on the other side of the Arnon. They did not enter the territory of Moab, for the Arnon was its border.
“Then Israel sent messengers to Sihon king of the Amorites, who ruled in Heshbon, and said to him, ‘Let us pass through your country to our own place.’ Sihon, however, did not trust Israel to pass through his territory. He mustered all his troops and encamped at Jahaz and fought with Israel.
“Then the LORD, the God of Israel, gave Sihon and his whole army into Israel’s hands, and they defeated them. Israel took over all the land of the Amorites who lived in that country, capturing all of it from the Arnon to the Jabbok and from the desert to the Jordan. Judges 11:14-22
The LORD had distinctly forbidden the Israelites to war against the Moabites and Ammonites. But when Sihon the king of the Amorites had refused the Israelites permission to pass peaceably through his land and then went out into battle against them, they had defeated him and seized his territory.
“Now since the LORD, the God of Israel, has driven the Amorites out before his people Israel, what right have you to take it over? Will you not take what your god Chemosh gives you? Likewise, whatever the LORD our God has given us, we will possess. Are you any better than Balak son of Zippor,king of Moab? Did he ever quarrel with Israel or fight with them? For three hundred years Israel occupied Heshbon, Aroer, the surrounding settlements and all the towns along the Arnon. Why didn’t you retake them during that time? I have not wronged you, but you are doing me wrong by waging war against me. Let the LORD, the Judge, decide the dispute this day between the Israelites and the Ammonites.” Judges 11:23-27
Jephthah maintains the right of Israel to the land of Gilead on three grounds:
(1) The right of direct conquest, not from Ammon but from the Amorites.
(2) The decision of the LORD God to give them the land.
(3) Three hundred years of undisputed possession
The king of Ammon, however, paid no attention to the message Jephthah sent him. Judges 11:28
The king of Ammon didn’t care about the truth; that based on several grounds Israel had a right to the land. This attitude still prevails today among almost all the nations of the world concerning modern Israel’s right to the land.
Then the Spirit of the LORD came on Jephthah. He crossed Gilead and Manasseh, passed through Mizpah of Gilead, and from there he advanced against the Ammonites. And Jephthah made a vow to the LORD: “If you give the Ammonites into my hands, whatever comes out of the door of my house to meet me when I return in triumph from the Ammonites will be the LORD’s, and I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering.”
Then Jephthah went over to fight the Ammonites, and the LORD gave them into his hands. He devastated twenty towns from Aroer to the vicinity of Minnith, as far as Abel Keramim. Thus Israel subdued Ammon. Judges 11:29-33
The Spirit of the LORD came upon Jephthah 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. The people had chosen him for their leader and now God publicly declares his approval of their choice and anoints him as their judge.
As in the former conflicts with the Moabites, Canaanites, and Midianites the battle against Ammon was on Israelite territory, in self-defense, not in aggressive warfare, and God gave them the victory. The same has held true in modern times since Israel’s “War of Independence” in 1948 – the wars Israel fought were on Israeli territory, in self-defense, not in aggressive warfare, and God gave them the victories.
When Jephthah returned to his home in Mizpah, who should come out to meet him but his daughter, dancing to the sound of timbrels! She was an only child. Except for her he had neither son nor daughter. When he saw her, he tore his clothes and cried, “Oh no, my daughter! You have brought me down and I am devastated. I have made a vow to the LORD that I cannot break.” Judges 11:34-35
Jephthah made a vow to the LORD in fear of being defeated by the Ammonites and in an attempt to purchase God’s favor. Instead, sacrifices and offerings should be made in response of our love and reverence for God.
“My father,” she replied, “you have given your word to the LORD. Do to me just as you promised, now that the LORD has avenged you of your enemies, the Ammonites. But grant me this one request,” she said. “Give me two months to roam the hills and weep with my friends, because I will never marry.”
“You may go,” he said. And he let her go for two months. She and her friends went into the hills and wept because she would never marry. After the two months, she returned to her father, and he did to her as he had vowed. And she was a virgin.
From this comes the Israelite tradition that each year the young women of Israel go out for four days to commemorate the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite. Judges 11:36-40
The Bible clearly states that God considers human sacrifice to be an abomination.
You shall not worship the LORD your God in that way; for every abomination to the LORD which He hates they [the pagan nations around Israel] have done to their gods; for they burn even their sons and daughters in the fire to their gods. Deuteronomy 12:31
Since God is so clearly opposed to human sacrifice, which is murder (Exodus 20:13), how could He seemingly endorse it in the case of Jephthah, which is recorded in Judges 11?
The Israelite society allowed for a man to dedicate his daughter to remain a lifelong virgin in the LORD’s service. Leviticus 27:2 seems to indicate that such vows could be made: “When a man consecrates by a vow certain persons to the LORD.” Apparently, a man could devote his daughter to the Lord’s service in such a way. There are examples similar to this in Scripture. In fulfillment of her own vow, Hannah dedicated Samuel to the LORD’s service (1 Samuel 1:11, 24–28).
Many people believe Jephthah did not actually sacrifice his daughter as a burnt offering. Instead, they believe that Jephthah gave his daughter to be a lifelong virgin who would serve at Israel’s main sanctuary. The text stresses that she was a virgin, so this may be a possibility.
But there is a great problem for the dedication view. Jephthah’s daughter would not have been allowed to serve at the tabernacle. Deuteronomy 23:2 states, “One of illegitimate birth shall not enter the assembly of the LORD; even to the tenth generation none of his descendants shall enter the assembly of the LORD.” Since Jephthah was the son of a harlot, he could not enter the assembly of the LORD, nor could his daughter, or any other descendant to the tenth generation.
In either case, since Jephthah’s daughter was an only child, whether she served as a lifelong virgin or she was sacrificed, Jephthah was devastated in part because his line would end do to his foolish vow.