Title: Judges 11. Jephthah, part 6: War with Ammon. Jephthah's vow. War with Ephraim.
JDG 11:28 But the king of the sons of Ammon disregarded the message which Jephthah sent him.
JDG 11:29 Now the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah, so that he passed through Gilead and Manasseh; then he passed through Mizpah of Gilead, and from Mizpah of Gilead he went on to the sons of Ammon.
We remember that in the OT, the Holy Spirit would come upon a person in Israel in order to empower them to do a specific task.
The Holy Spirit instructed and empowered Jephthah to take the offensive and launch a preemptive strike into enemy territory. It would have been most unexpected by Ammon.
Israel has been a weakling for 18 long years. No one would have expected them to attack first. They have been cowards, but the power of the Holy Spirit upon Jephthah enables him to lead the people out of their cowardice.
It has been true of every single battle since they left Egypt that Israel has been outnumbered and seemingly weaker than their opponent and every time God is with them in battle, they rout the enemy.
Realizing the need for divine intervention, Jephthah makes a vow.
JDG 11:30 And Jephthah made a vow to the Lord and said, "If Thou wilt indeed give the sons of Ammon into my hand,
JDG 11:31 then it shall be that whatever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the sons of Ammon, it shall be the Lord's, and I will offer it up as a burnt offering."
He only has a daughter. If he intended a human sacrifice by the phrase, "the doors of my house," he would have used the feminine form, but he uses the masculine. He has an animal sacrifice in mind.
The first floor of ancient Israelites had four rooms, and one was for housing animals.
JDG 11:32 So Jephthah crossed over to the sons of Ammon to fight against them; and the Lord gave them into his hand.
JDG 11:33 And he struck them with a very great slaughter from Aroer to the entrance of Minnith, twenty cities, and as far as Abel-keramim. So the sons of Ammon were subdued before the sons of Israel.
A summary is given in vs. 32 and then some of the details in vs. 33.
Twenty Ammonite cities were destroyed. The Lord gave them a very decisive victory.
Jephthah fulfills his vow.
If fulfilling it involved the sin of human sacrifice, the vow was void. If he did this he is has the influence of Moloch worship.
JDG 11:34 When Jephthah came to his house at Mizpah, behold, his daughter was coming out to meet him with tambourines and with dancing. Now she was his one and only child; besides her he had neither son nor daughter.
It was a common practice for women to go out and welcome a victorious army with music and dance. Israel did this after safely crossing the Red Sea and at another time in celebration of David killing Goliath.
As far as I can see, all commentators are troubled in interpreting this. Some say that he never expected a person to first walk out of his house and others say that he would have anticipated that a person would come out of the house, since people live there, and that he had already entertained the possibility of human sacrifice when he made the vow before the war. Yet that is hard to imagine since human sacrifice is clearly forbidden in the Mosaic law, a law he seemed to know well when offering terms of peace to Ammon. Others question his knowledge of the law and attribute the information from Numbers in his message to Ammon as coming from the priesthood, in other words, the Ammonites said that the land was theirs and Jephthah ordered the priests to write a rebuttal.
There are too many unanswerable questions for us to determine the reason why this man who seemed to honor God would go through with a human sacrifice. Another fact that stokes this theological fire is that he made the vow soon after the Holy Spirit came upon him.
However, this is not the only view.
One view is that Jephthah fulfilled the vow by dedicating her to serve the Lord as a virgin for the rest of her life.
There are some good arguments for this conclusion, but there are some good arguments against it, of which the strongest is that Jephthah states that his offering will be a burnt offering, Hebrew olah, which throughout the OT is always used of a burnt offering.
Although they are passing references, we find that women did serve at the Tabernacle.
Moreover, he made the laver of bronze with its base of bronze, from the mirrors of the serving women who served at the doorway of the tent of meeting.
Now Eli was very old; and he heard all that his sons were doing to all Israel, and how they lay with the women who served at the doorway of the tent of meeting.
Yet, not only is Jephthah listed in Heb 11, but he is spoken well of in Samuel's address to Israel when they are given the king they demanded.
He speaks this after appointing Saul as king and as an old man he professes correctly to have personally dealt with Israel virtuously.
1SA 12:6 Then Samuel said to the people, "It is the Lord who appointed Moses and Aaron and who brought your fathers up from the land of Egypt.
1SA 12:7 So now, take your stand, that I may plead with you before the Lord concerning all the righteous acts of the Lord which He did for you and your fathers.
1SA 12:8 When Jacob went into Egypt and your fathers cried out to the Lord, then the Lord sent Moses and Aaron who brought your fathers out of Egypt and settled them in this place.
1SA 12:9 But they forgot the Lord their God, so He sold them into the hand of Sisera, captain of the army of Hazor, and into the hand of the Philistines and into the hand of the king of Moab, and they fought against them.
1SA 12:10 And they cried out to the Lord and said, 'We have sinned because we have forsaken the Lord and have served the Baals and the Ashtaroth; but now deliver us from the hands of our enemies, and we will serve Thee.'
1SA 12:11 "Then the Lord sent Jerubbaal and Bedan and Jephthah and Samuel, and delivered you from the hands of your enemies all around, so that you lived in security.
Those who argue for Jephthah dedicating his daughter to the service of the Lord as a virgin for the rest of her life would ask, "Why would Samuel use the name of an idolater in this address?"
JDG 11:35 And it came about when he saw her, that he tore his clothes and said, "Alas, my daughter! You have brought me very low, and you are among those who trouble me; for I have given my word to the Lord, and I cannot take it back."
If the vow is the burnt offering, then such a vow was never valid since human sacrifice is its result. He would be absolutely wrong that he couldn't take it back. Plus, according to LEV 27:1-8, if a person was redeemed from a vow, the cost or value of the person was determined by price or money, and not his life.
If the fulfilling of his vow is offering her to lifetime service of the Lord as a virgin, why would he be so upset? She was his only daughter. If she remains a virgin then he dies without a child or grandchild and his lineage is halted. This was seen as a great dishonor at that time.
JDG 11:36 So she said to him, "My father, you have given your word to the Lord; do to me as you have said, since the Lord has avenged you of your enemies, the sons of Ammon."
JDG 11:37 And she said to her father, "Let this thing be done for me; let me alone two months, that I may go to the mountains and weep because of my virginity, I and my companions."
In accordance with the view that she was dedicated to God as a virgin, she does not lament her death but her virginity.
This is repeated in the next verse and again in the next verse. This gives emphasis to her virginity and not her death.
JDG 11:38 Then he said, "Go." So he sent her away for two months; and she left with her companions, and wept on the mountains because of her virginity.
JDG 11:39 And it came about at the end of two months that she returned to her father, who did to her according to the vow which he had made; and she had no relations with a man. Thus it became a custom in Israel,
JDG 11:40 that the daughters of Israel went yearly to commemorate the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite four days in the year.
After presenting 25 arguments from various commentators including both the burnt offering view and the dedication to God as a virgin view, Arnold Fruchtenbaum states:
"So, the better view is that Jephthah did not offer his daughter as a human sacrifice but offered her in full-time service." [Arnold Fruchtenbaum]
Keil and Delitzsch share a similar view:
"The men whom God chose as the recipients of His revelation of mercy and the executors of His will, and whom He endowed with His Spirit as judges and leaders of His people, were no doubt affected with infirmities, faults, and sins of many kinds, so that they could fall to a very great depth; but nowhere is it stated that the Spirit of God came upon a worshipper of Moloch [who demanded human sacrifice] and endowed him with His own power, that he might be the helper and savior of Israel."
War with Ephraim. Ephraim is consistently jealous and self-centered as they seek rulership in Israel.
In the book of Judges, the Ephraimites are presented as self-centered, factious, easily offended, and having an inflated estimation of their own importance within the nation.
JDG 12:1 Then the men of Ephraim were summoned, and they crossed to Zaphon and said to Jephthah, "Why did you cross over to fight against the sons of Ammon without calling us to go with you? We will burn your house down on you."
"summoned" - tsa'aq = gathered together, mustered together. They crossed the Jordan and came to Jephthah with hostile intentions.
The jealousy of the tribe of Ephraim, which was striving after the leadership, had already shown itself in the time of Gideon in such a way that nothing but the moderation of Gideon averted open hostilities. And now that the tribes on the east of the Jordan had conquered the Ammonites under the command of Jephthah without the co-operation of the Ephraimites, Ephraim thought it necessary to assert its claim to take the lead in Israel in a very forcible manner. The Ephraimites gathered themselves together, and went over.
It is obvious that their intentions are hostile: "We will burn your house down on you."
JDG 12:2 And Jephthah said to them, "I and my people were at great strife with the sons of Ammon; when I called you, you did not deliver me from their hand.
Jephthah's appeal to the Ephraimites to fight against the Ammonites is not mentioned in chapter 11, probably for no other reason than because it was without effect. The Ephraimites, however, had very likely refused their co-operation simply because the Gileadites had appointed Jephthah as commander without consulting them. Consequently the Ephraimites had no ground whatever for rising up against Jephthah and the Gileadites in this haughty and hostile manner.
With the threat of burning his house down, we would conclude that Jephthah is justified in going to war with them.
JDG 12:3 And when I saw that you would not deliver me, I took my life in my hands and crossed over against the sons of Ammon, and the Lord gave them into my hand. Why then have you come up to me this day, to fight against me?"
Ephraim wants to be chief, but they are complainers. They are not fit to rule anything. When Joshua divided the land they complained about the allotment they received. They were offended by Gideon when he did not invite them to fight the initial battle against Midian, and now we find them complaining again. They want everything just because they demand it and that is the way of a child.
Jephthah gives credit for the victory to Jehovah.
When Jephthah saw that Ephraim would not respond to the call, he took action without them, risking his life and trusting in Jehovah to deliver. Finally, he rebukes Ephraim for their threat. The dispute leads to war.
Gideon pacified Ephraim, but Jephthah is going to kill 42,000 of them.
JDG 12:4 Then Jephthah gathered all the men of Gilead and fought Ephraim; and the men of Gilead defeated Ephraim, because they said, "You are fugitives of Ephraim, O Gileadites, in the midst of Ephraim and in the midst of Manasseh."
Israel's lack of godliness leads to division. The Jordan River is not a barrier and neither are the tribes independent. Gilead is of Manasseh, but they speak as an independent tribe.
Without the worship of God, people remain petty, arrogant, and self-centered. This always causes divisions in a group.
Ephraim's taunt rallies the army under Jephthah, which has since gone home after the war with Ammon, to regroup and fight against Ephraim.
Ephraim said to them: "You are fugitives of Ephraim, O Gileadites, in the midst of Ephraim and in the midst of Manasseh."
We remember that there is no tribe of Gilead. This area of land north of the Jabbok River, east of the Jordan has been labeled Gilead and the people of the area started calling themselves Gileadites instead of Manassehites. Using the name shouldn't be a problem if the people understand and support the unity of the nation under God. But there is no unity here.
The gist of the insult:
"You Gileadites are a fugitive mob having run away from Ephraim and Manasseh, the most noble of the tribes. You are the most despicable of us."
Jephthah and his people did not take very kindly to this estimation of them. They rose up in anger and took their revenge.
This is the result of a breakdown in unity. The root of this division goes back 300 years to the generation after Joshua who worshipped Baal and Ashteroth.
All the men of Israel are to be gathered together at three feasts, but this did not happen. We find in Nehemiah that Israel had not even celebrated the feast of Tabernacles together since the time of Joshua, a period of about 800 years.
Peace exists where righteousness is in harmony with righteousness. Man cannot create his own righteousness and so he cannot make peace. God provides both righteousness and peace.