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11 Now Jephthah the Gileadite was a brave warrior. His mother was a prostitute, but Gilead was his father.[a] Gilead’s wife also gave[b] him sons. When his wife’s sons grew up, they made Jephthah leave and said to him, “You are not going to inherit any of our father’s wealth,[c] because you are another woman’s son.” So Jephthah left[d] his half brothers[e] and lived in the land of Tob. Lawless men joined Jephthah’s gang and traveled with him.[f]

It was some time after this when the Ammonites fought with Israel. When the Ammonites attacked,[g] the leaders[h] of Gilead asked Jephthah to come back[i] from the land of Tob. They said,[j] “Come, be our commander, so we can fight with the Ammonites.” Jephthah said to the leaders of Gilead, “But you hated me and made me leave[k] my father’s house. Why do you come to me now, when you are in trouble?” The leaders of Gilead said to Jephthah, “That may be true,[l] but now we pledge to you our loyalty.[m] Come with us and fight with the Ammonites. Then you will become the leader[n] of all who live in Gilead.”[o] Jephthah said to the leaders of Gilead, “All right.[p] If you take me back to fight with the Ammonites and the Lord gives them to me,[q] I will be your leader.”[r] 10 The leaders of Gilead said to Jephthah, “The Lord will judge any grievance you have against us,[s] if we do not do as you say.”[t] 11 So Jephthah went with the leaders of Gilead. The people made him their leader and commander. Jephthah repeated the terms of the agreement[u] before the Lord in Mizpah.

Jephthah Gives a History Lesson

12 Jephthah sent messengers to the Ammonite king, saying, “Why have[v] you come against me to attack my land?” 13 The Ammonite king said to Jephthah’s messengers, “Because Israel stole[w] my land when they[x] came up from Egypt—from the Arnon River in the south to the Jabbok River in the north, and as far west as the Jordan.[y] Now return it[z] peaceably!”

14 Jephthah sent messengers back to the Ammonite king 15 and said to him, “This is what Jephthah says, ‘Israel did not steal[aa] the land of Moab and the land of the Ammonites. 16 When they left[ab] Egypt, Israel traveled[ac] through the desert as far as the Red Sea and then came to Kadesh. 17 Israel sent messengers to the king of Edom, saying, “Please allow us[ad] to pass through your land.” But the king of Edom rejected the request.[ae] Israel sent the same request to the king of Moab, but he was unwilling to cooperate.[af] So Israel stayed at Kadesh. 18 Then Israel[ag] went through the wilderness and bypassed the land of Edom and the land of Moab. They traveled east of the land of Moab and camped on the other side of the Arnon River;[ah] they did not go through Moabite territory (the Arnon was Moab’s border). 19 Israel sent messengers to King Sihon, the Amorite king who ruled in Heshbon, and said to him, “Please allow us to pass through your land to our land.”[ai] 20 But Sihon did not trust Israel to pass through his territory. He[aj] assembled his whole army,[ak] camped in Jahaz, and fought with Israel. 21 The Lord God of Israel handed Sihon and his whole army over to Israel and they defeated them. Israel took[al] all the land of the Amorites who lived in that land. 22 They took all the Amorite territory from the Arnon River on the south to the Jabbok River on the north, from the desert in the east to the Jordan in the west.[am] 23 Since[an] the Lord God of Israel has driven out[ao] the Amorites before his people Israel, do you think you can just take it from them?[ap] 24 You have the right to take what Chemosh your god gives you, but we will take the land of all whom the Lord our God has driven out before us.[aq] 25 Are you really better than Balak son of Zippor, king of Moab? Did he dare to quarrel with Israel? Did he dare to fight with them?[ar] 26 Israel has been living in Heshbon and its nearby towns, in Aroer and its nearby towns, and in all the cities along the Arnon for 300 years! Why did you not reclaim them during that time? 27 I have not done you wrong,[as] but you are doing wrong[at] by attacking me. May the Lord, the Judge, judge this day between the Israelites and the Ammonites!’” 28 But the Ammonite king disregarded[au] the message sent by Jephthah.[av]

A Foolish Vow Spells Death for a Daughter

29 The Lord’s Spirit empowered[aw] Jephthah. He passed through Gilead and Manasseh and went[ax] to Mizpah in Gilead. From there he approached the Ammonites.[ay] 30 Jephthah made a vow to the Lord, saying, “If you really do hand the Ammonites over to me, 31 then whoever is the first to come through[az] the doors of my house to meet me when I return safely from fighting the Ammonites—he[ba] will belong to the Lord and[bb] I will offer him up as a burnt sacrifice.” 32 Jephthah approached[bc] the Ammonites to fight with them, and the Lord handed them over to him. 33 He defeated them from Aroer all the way to Minnith—twenty cities in all, even as far as Abel Keramim. He wiped them out![bd] The Israelites humiliated the Ammonites.[be]

34 When Jephthah came home to Mizpah, there was his daughter hurrying out[bf] to meet him, dancing to the rhythm of tambourines.[bg] She was his only child; except for her he had no son or daughter. 35 When he saw her, he ripped his clothes and said, “Oh no! My daughter! You have completely ruined me![bh] You have brought me disaster![bi] I made an oath to the Lord, and I cannot break it.”[bj] 36 She said to him, “My father, since[bk] you made an oath to the Lord, do to me as you promised.[bl] After all, the Lord vindicated you before[bm] your enemies, the Ammonites.” 37 She then said to her father, “Please grant me this one wish.[bn] For two months allow me to walk through the hills with my friends and mourn my virginity.”[bo] 38 He said, “You may go.” He permitted her to leave[bp] for two months. She went with her friends and mourned her virginity as she walked through the hills.[bq] 39 After two months she returned to her father, and he did to her as he had vowed. She died a virgin.[br] Her tragic death gave rise to a custom in Israel.[bs] 40 Every year[bt] Israelite women commemorate[bu] the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite for four days.[bv]


  1. Judges 11:1 tn Heb “Now he was the son of a woman, a prostitute, and Gilead fathered Jephthah.”
  2. Judges 11:2 tn Heb “bore.”
  3. Judges 11:2 tn Heb “in the house of our father.”
  4. Judges 11:3 tn Or “fled from.”
  5. Judges 11:3 tn Heb “brothers.”
  6. Judges 11:3 tn Heb “Empty men joined themselves to Jephthah and went out with him.”
  7. Judges 11:5 tn Heb “When the Ammonites fought with Israel.”
  8. Judges 11:5 tn Or “elders.”
  9. Judges 11:5 tn Heb “went to take Jephthah.”
  10. Judges 11:6 tn Heb “to Jephthah.”
  11. Judges 11:7 tn Heb “Did you not hate me and make me leave?”
  12. Judges 11:8 tn Heb “therefore”; “even so.” For MT לָכֵן (lakhen, “therefore”) the LXX has an opposite reading, “not so,” which seems to be based on the Hebrew words לֹא כֵן (loʾ khen).
  13. Judges 11:8 tn Heb “we have returned to you.” For another example of שׁוּב אֶל (shuv ʾel) in the sense of “give allegiance to,” see 1 Kgs 12:27b.
  14. Judges 11:8 sn Then you will become the leader. The leaders of Gilead now use the word רֹאשׁ (roʾsh, “head, leader”), the same term that appeared in their original, general offer (see 10:18). In their initial offer to Jephthah they had simply invited him to be their קָצִין (qatsin, “commander”; v. 6). When he resists they must offer him a more attractive reward—rulership over the region. See R. G. Boling, Judges (AB), 198.
  15. Judges 11:8 tn Heb “leader of us and all who live in Gilead.”
  16. Judges 11:9 tn “All right” is supplied in the translation for clarification.
  17. Judges 11:9 tn Heb “places them before me.”
  18. Judges 11:9 tn Some translate the final statement as a question, “will I really be your leader?” An affirmative sentence is preferable. Jephthah is repeating the terms of the agreement in an official manner. In v. 10 the leaders legally agree to these terms.
  19. Judges 11:10 tn Heb “The Lord will be the one who hears between us.” For the idiom שָׁמַע בַּיִן (shamaʿ bayin, “to hear between”), see Deut 1:16.
  20. Judges 11:10 sn The Lord will judge…if we do not do as you say. The statement by the leaders of Gilead takes the form of a legally binding oath, which obligates them to the terms of the agreement.
  21. Judges 11:11 tn Heb “spoke all his words.” This probably refers to the “words” recorded in v. 9. Jephthah repeats the terms of the agreement at the Lord’s sanctuary, perhaps to ratify the contract or to emphasize the Gileadites’ obligation to keep their part of the bargain. Another option is to translate, “Jephthah conducted business before the Lord in Mizpah.” In this case, the statement is a general reference to the way Jephthah ruled. He recognized the Lord’s authority and made his decisions before the Lord.
  22. Judges 11:12 tn Heb “What to me and to you that…?”
  23. Judges 11:13 tn Or “took”; or “seized.”
  24. Judges 11:13 tn Heb “he” (a collective singular).
  25. Judges 11:13 tn Heb “from the Arnon to the Jabbok and to the Jordan.” The word “River” has been supplied in the translation with “Arnon” and “Jabbok,” because these are less familiar to modern readers than the Jordan.
  26. Judges 11:13 tc The translation assumes a singular suffix (“[return] it”); the Hebrew text has a plural suffix (“[return] them”), which, if retained, might refer to the cities of the land.
  27. Judges 11:15 tn Or “take”; or “seize.”
  28. Judges 11:16 tn Heb “For when they went up from.”
  29. Judges 11:16 tn Or “went.”
  30. Judges 11:17 tn Heb “me.” (Collective Israel is the speaker.)
  31. Judges 11:17 tn Heb “did not listen.”
  32. Judges 11:17 tn Heb “Also to the king of Moab he sent, but he was unwilling.”
  33. Judges 11:18 tn Heb “he”; the referent (Israel; the pronoun in the Hebrew text represents a collective singular) has been specified in the translation for clarity.
  34. Judges 11:18 tn The word “River” is not in the Hebrew text, but has been supplied in the translation for clarity.
  35. Judges 11:19 tn Heb “to my place.”
  36. Judges 11:20 tn Heb “Sihon.” The proper name (“Sihon”) has been replaced in the translation by the pronoun (“he”) because of English style; a repetition of the proper name here would be redundant in English.
  37. Judges 11:20 tn Heb “all his people” (also in the following verse).
  38. Judges 11:21 tn That is, took as its own possession.
  39. Judges 11:22 tn Heb “from the Arnon to the Jabbok, and from the desert to the Jordan.” The word “River” has been supplied in the translation with “Arnon” and “Jabbok,” because these are less familiar to modern readers than the Jordan.
  40. Judges 11:23 tn Heb “Now.”
  41. Judges 11:23 tn Or “dispossessed.”
  42. Judges 11:23 tn Heb “will you dispossess him [i.e., Israel; or possibly “it,” i.e., the territory]?” There is no interrogative marker in the Hebrew text.
  43. Judges 11:24 tn Heb “Is it not so that what Chemosh your god causes you to possess, you possess, and all whom the Lord our God dispossesses before us we will possess?” Jephthah speaks of Chemosh as if he is on a par with the Lord God of Israel. This does not necessarily mean that Jephthah is polytheistic or that he recognizes the Lord as only a local deity. He may simply be assuming the Ammonite king’s perspective for the sake of argument. Other texts, as well as the extrabiblical Mesha inscription, associate Chemosh with Moab, while Milcom is identified as the god of the Ammonites. Why then does Jephthah refer to Chemosh as the Ammonite god? Ammon had likely conquered Moab and the Ammonite king probably regarded himself as heir of all territory formerly held by Moab. Originally Moab had owned the disputed territory (cf. Num 21:26-29), meaning that Chemosh was regarded as the god of the region (see R. G. Boling, Judges [AB], 203-4). Jephthah argues that Chemosh had long ago relinquished claim to the area (by allowing Sihon to conquer it), while the Lord had long ago established jurisdiction over it (by taking it from Sihon and giving it to Israel). Both sides should abide by the decisions of the gods which had stood firm for 300 years.
  44. Judges 11:25 tn The Hebrew grammatical constructions of all three rhetorical questions indicate emphasis, which “really” and “dare to” are intended to express in the translation. sn Jephthah argues that the Ammonite king should follow the example of Balak, who, once thwarted in his attempt to bring a curse on Israel, refused to attack Israel and returned home (Num 22-24).
  45. Judges 11:27 tn Or “sinned against you.”
  46. Judges 11:27 tn Or “evil.”
  47. Judges 11:28 tn Heb “did not listen to.”
  48. Judges 11:28 tn Heb “Jephthah’s words which he sent to him.”
  49. Judges 11:29 tn Heb “was on.”
  50. Judges 11:29 tn Heb “passed through.”
  51. Judges 11:29 tn Heb “From Mizpah in Gilead he passed through [to] the Ammonites.”
  52. Judges 11:31 tn Heb “the one coming out, who comes out from.” The text uses a masculine singular participle with prefixed article, followed by a relative pronoun and third masculine singular verb. The substantival masculine singular participle הַיּוֹצֵא (hayyotseʾ, “the one coming out”) is used elsewhere of inanimate objects (such as a desert [Num 21:13] or a word [Num 32:24]) or persons (Jer 5:6; 21:9; 38:2). In each case context must determine the referent. Jephthah may have envisioned an animal meeting him, since the construction of Iron Age houses would allow for an animal coming through the doors of a house (see R. G. Boling, Judges [AB], 208). But the fact that he actually does offer up his daughter indicates the language of the vow is fluid enough to encompass human beings, including women. He probably intended such an offering from the very beginning, but he obviously did not expect his daughter to meet him first.
  53. Judges 11:31 tn The language is fluid enough to include women and perhaps even animals, but the translation uses the masculine pronoun because the Hebrew form is grammatically masculine.
  54. Judges 11:31 tn Some translate “or,” suggesting that Jephthah makes a distinction between humans and animals. According to this view, if a human comes through the door, then Jephthah will commit him/her to the Lord’s service, but if an animal comes through the doors, he will offer it up as a sacrifice. However, it is far more likely that the Hebrew construction (vav [ו] + perfect) specifies how the subject will become the Lord’s, that is, by being offered up as a sacrifice. For similar constructions, where the apodosis of a conditional sentence has at least two perfects (each with vav) in sequence, see Gen 34:15-16; Exod 18:16.
  55. Judges 11:32 tn Heb “passed over to.”
  56. Judges 11:33 tn Heb “with a very great slaughter.”
  57. Judges 11:33 tn Heb “The Ammonites were humbled before the Israelites.”
  58. Judges 11:34 tn Heb “Look! His daughter was coming out.”
  59. Judges 11:34 tn Heb “with tambourines and dancing.”
  60. Judges 11:35 tn Heb “you have brought me very low,” or “you have knocked me to my knees.” The infinitive absolute precedes the verb for emphasis.
  61. Judges 11:35 tn Heb “You are among [or “like”] those who trouble me.”
  62. Judges 11:35 tn Heb “I opened my mouth to the Lord and I am not able to return.”
  63. Judges 11:36 tn The conjunction “since” is supplied in the translation for clarification.
  64. Judges 11:36 tn Heb “you opened your mouth to the Lord, do to me according to [what] went out from your mouth.”
  65. Judges 11:36 tn Or “has given you vengeance against.”
  66. Judges 11:37 tn Heb “Let this thing be done for me.”
  67. Judges 11:37 tn Heb “Leave me alone for two months so I can go and go down on the hills and weep over my virginity—I and my friends.”
  68. Judges 11:38 tn Heb “he sent her.”
  69. Judges 11:38 tn Heb “on the hills.” The words “as she walked” are supplied.
  70. Judges 11:39 tn Heb “She had never known a man.” Some understand this to mean that her father committed her to a life of celibacy, but the disjunctive clause (note the vav + subject + verb pattern) more likely describes her condition at the time the vow was fulfilled. (See G. F. Moore, Judges [ICC], 302-3; C. F. Burney, Judges, 324.) She died a virgin and never experienced the joys of marriage and motherhood.
  71. Judges 11:39 tn Heb “There was a custom in Israel.”
  72. Judges 11:40 tn Heb “From days to days,” a Hebrew idiom for “annually.”
  73. Judges 11:40 tn Heb “go to commemorate.” The rare Hebrew verb תָּנָה (tanah, “to tell; to repeat; to recount”) occurs only here and in 5:11.
  74. Judges 11:40 tn The Hebrew text adds, “in the year.” This is redundant (note “every year” at the beginning of the verse) and has not been included in the translation for stylistic reasons.