Judges 11 Bible Commentary

John Wesley’s Explanatory Notes

(Read all of Judges 11)

Verse 1

[1] Now Jephthah the Gileadite was a mighty man of valour, and he was the son of an harlot: and Gilead begat Jephthah.

Gileadite — So called, either from his father Gilead, or from the mountain, or city of Gilead, the place of his birth.

Son of a harlot — That is, a bastard. And though such were not ordinarily to enter into the congregation of the Lord, Deuteronomy 23:2. Yet God can dispense with his own laws, and hath sometimes done honour to base-born persons, so far, that some of them were admitted to be the progenitors of the Lord Jesus Christ. And Gilead - One of the children of that ancient Gilead, Numbers 32:1.

Verse 3

[3] Then Jephthah fled from his brethren, and dwelt in the land of Tob: and there were gathered vain men to Jephthah, and went out with him.

Of Tob — The name either of the land, or of the man who was the owner or ruler of it. This place was in, or near Gilead, as appears by the speedy intercourse which here was between Jephthah and the Israelites.

Vain men — Idle persons, who desired rather to get their living by spoil and rapine, than by honest labour. These evil persons Jephthah managed well, employing them against the enemies of God, and of Israel, that bordered upon them; and particularly upon parties of the Ammonites, which made the Israelites more forward to chuse him for their chieftain in this war.

Went out — When he made excursions and attempts upon the enemy.

Verse 4

[4] And it came to pass in process of time, that the children of Ammon made war against Israel.

Made war — The Ammonites had vexed and oppressed them eighteen years, and now the Israelites begin to make opposition, they commence a war against them.

Verse 5

[5] And it was so, that when the children of Ammon made war against Israel, the elders of Gilead went to fetch Jephthah out of the land of Tob:

Went — By direction from God, who both qualified him for, and called him to the office of a judge, otherwise they might not have chosen a bastard.

Verse 7

[7] And Jephthah said unto the elders of Gilead, Did not ye hate me, and expel me out of my father's house? and why are ye come unto me now when ye are in distress?

Expel me — And deprive me of all share in my father's goods, which, though a bastard, was due to me. This expulsion of him was the act of his brethren; but he here ascribes it to the elders of Gilead; either because some of them were among these elders, as is very probable from the dignity of this family; or because this act, though desired by his brethren, was executed by the decree of the elders, to whom the determination of all controversies about inheritance belonged; and therefore it was their faults they did not protect him from the injuries of his brethren.

Verse 8

[8] And the elders of Gilead said unto Jephthah, Therefore we turn again to thee now, that thou mayest go with us, and fight against the children of Ammon, and be our head over all the inhabitants of Gilead.

Therefore — Being sensible that we have done thee injury, we come now to make thee full reparation.

Verse 9

[9] And Jephthah said unto the elders of Gilead, If ye bring me home again to fight against the children of Ammon, and the LORD deliver them before me, shall I be your head?

If, … — If you recall me from this place where I am now settled, to the place whence I was expelled.

Shall I, … — Will you really make good this promise? Jephthah was so solicitous in this case, either from his zeal for the public good, which required that he should be so; or from the law of self-preservation, that he might secure himself from his brethren; whose ill-will he had experienced, and whose injuries he could not prevent, if, after he had served their ends, he had been reduced to his private capacity.

Verse 10

[10] And the elders of Gilead said unto Jephthah, The LORD be witness between us, if we do not so according to thy words.

The Lord be witness — The Lord be an hearer: so the Hebrew word is. Whatever we speak it concerns us to remember, that God is an hearer!

Verse 11

[11] Then Jephthah went with the elders of Gilead, and the people made him head and captain over them: and Jephthah uttered all his words before the LORD in Mizpeh.

All his words — Or, all his matters, the whole business.

Before the Lord — That is, before the public congregation, wherewith God was usually, and then especially present.

Verse 12

[12] And Jephthah sent messengers unto the king of the children of Ammon, saying, What hast thou to do with me, that thou art come against me to fight in my land?

Messengers — That is, ambassadors, to prevent blood-shed, that so the Israelites might be acquitted before God and men, from all the sad consequences of this war; herein he shewed great prudence, and no less piety.

What hast thou, … — What reasonable cause hast thou for this invasion? In my land - He speaks this in the name of all the people.

Verse 13

[13] And the king of the children of Ammon answered unto the messengers of Jephthah, Because Israel took away my land, when they came up out of Egypt, from Arnon even unto Jabbok, and unto Jordan: now therefore restore those lands again peaceably.

My land — That is, this land of Gilead, which was mine, but unjustly taken from me, by Sihon and Og, the kings of the Ammonites; and the injury perpetuated by Israel's detaining it from me. This land, before the conquests of Sihon and Og, belonged partly to the Ammonites, and partly to the Moabites. And indeed, Moab and Ammon did for the most part join their interests and their forces.

Verse 16

[16] But when Israel came up from Egypt, and walked through the wilderness unto the Red sea, and came to Kadesh;

The Red-sea — Unto which they came three times; once, Exodus 13:18, again, a little after their passage over it, and a third time, long after, when they came to Ezion Geber, which was upon the shore of the Red-Sea, from whence they went to Kadesh; of this time he speaks here.

Verse 17

[17] Then Israel sent messengers unto the king of Edom, saying, Let me, I pray thee, pass through thy land: but the king of Edom would not hearken thereto. And in like manner they sent unto the king of Moab: but he would not consent: and Israel abode in Kadesh.

Abode — Peaceably, and did not revenge their unkindness as they could have done.

Verse 19

[19] And Israel sent messengers unto Sihon king of the Amorites, the king of Heshbon; and Israel said unto him, Let us pass, we pray thee, through thy land into my place.

My place — That is, unto the land of Canaan, which God hath given me.

Verse 20

[20] But Sihon trusted not Israel to pass through his coast: but Sihon gathered all his people together, and pitched in Jahaz, and fought against Israel.

Sihon fought — So Sihon was the aggressor, and the Israelites were forced to fight in their own defence.

Verse 22

[22] And they possessed all the coasts of the Amorites, from Arnon even unto Jabbok, and from the wilderness even unto Jordan.

The coasts — Or, borders; together with all the land included within those borders.

Wilderness — Namely, the desert of Arabia.

Verse 23

[23] So now the LORD God of Israel hath dispossessed the Amorites from before his people Israel, and shouldest thou possess it?

So the Lord — God, the sovereign Lord of all lands, hath given us this land; this he adds, as a farther and convincing reason; because otherwise it might have been alledged against the former argument, that they could gain no more right to that land from Sihon, than Sihon himself had.

Verse 24

[24] Wilt not thou possess that which Chemosh thy god giveth thee to possess? So whomsoever the LORD our God shall drive out from before us, them will we possess.

Wilt not thou — He speaks according to their absurd opinion: the Ammonites and Moabites got their land by conquest of the old inhabitants, whom they cast out; and this success, though given them by the true God, for Lot's sake, Deuteronomy 2:9,19, they impiously ascribe to their god Chemosh, whose gift they owned to be a sufficient title.

Verse 25

[25] And now art thou any thing better than Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab? did he ever strive against Israel, or did he ever fight against them,

Than Balak — Art thou wiser than he? Or hast thou more right than he had? Balak, though he plotted against Israel, in defence of his own land, which he feared they would invade and conquer, yet never contended with them about the restitution of those lands which Sihon took from him or his predecessors.

Verse 26

[26] While Israel dwelt in Heshbon and her towns, and in Aroer and her towns, and in all the cities that be along by the coasts of Arnon, three hundred years? why therefore did ye not recover them within that time?

Three hundred years — Not precisely, but about that time, either from their coming out of Egypt; or, from their first conquest of those lands. He urges prescription, which is by all men reckoned a just title, and it is fit it should be so for the good of the world, because otherwise the door would be opened both to kings, and to private persons, for infinite contentions and confusions.

Verse 27

[27] Wherefore I have not sinned against thee, but thou doest me wrong to war against me: the LORD the Judge be judge this day between the children of Israel and the children of Ammon.

I have not — I have done thee no wrong.

Be judge — Let him determine this controversy by the success of this day and war.

Verse 29

[29] Then the Spirit of the LORD came upon Jephthah, and he passed over Gilead, and Manasseh, and passed over Mizpeh of Gilead, and from Mizpeh of Gilead he passed over unto the children of Ammon.

Spirit came — Indued him with a more than ordinary courage and resolution.

Manasseh — That is, Bashan, which the half tribe of Manasseh beyond Jordan inhabited.

Mizpeh of Gilead — So called to distinguish it from other cities of the same name, having gathered what forces he suddenly could, he came hither to the borders of the Ammonites.

Verse 33

[33] And he smote them from Aroer, even till thou come to Minnith, even twenty cities, and unto the plain of the vineyards, with a very great slaughter. Thus the children of Ammon were subdued before the children of Israel.

Minnith — A place not far from Rabbah, the chief city of the Ammonites.

Subdued before Israel — It does not appear, that he offered to take possession of the country. Tho' the attempt of others to wrong us, will justify us in the defence of our own right, yet it will not authorize us to do them wrong.

Verse 34

[34] And Jephthah came to Mizpeh unto his house, and, behold, his daughter came out to meet him with timbrels and with dances: and she was his only child; beside her he had neither son nor daughter.

His daughter — In concert with other virgins, as the manner was.

Verse 35

[35] And it came to pass, when he saw her, that he rent his clothes, and said, Alas, my daughter! thou hast brought me very low, and thou art one of them that trouble me: for I have opened my mouth unto the LORD, and I cannot go back.

Trouble me — Before this, I was troubled by my brethren; and since, by the Ammonites; and now most of all, tho' but occasionally, by thee.

Opened my mouth — That is, I have vowed.

Cannot go back — That is, not retract my vow; I am indispensably obliged to perform it.

Verse 36

[36] And she said unto him, My father, if thou hast opened thy mouth unto the LORD, do to me according to that which hath proceeded out of thy mouth; forasmuch as the LORD hath taken vengeance for thee of thine enemies, even of the children of Ammon.

Do to me — Do not for my sake make thyself a transgressor; I freely give my consent to thy vow.

Verse 37

[37] And she said unto her father, Let this thing be done for me: let me alone two months, that I may go up and down upon the mountains, and bewail my virginity, I and my fellows.

Mountains — Which she chose as a solitary place, and therefore fittest for lamentation.

Bewail — That I shall die childless, which was esteemed both a curse and a disgrace for the Israelites, because such were excluded from that great privilege of increasing the holy seed, and contributing to the birth of the Messiah.

Verse 39

[39] And it came to pass at the end of two months, that she returned unto her father, who did with her according to his vow which he had vowed: and she knew no man. And it was a custom in Israel,

Did with her — Jephthah's daughter was not sacrificed, but only devoted to perpetual virginity. This appears, 1. From verse 37,38, where we read, that she bewailed not her death, which had been the chief cause of lamentation, if that had been vowed, but her virginity: 2. From this verse 39, where, after he had said, that he did with her according to his vow; he adds, by way of declaration of the matter of that vow, and she knew no man. It is probably conceived, that the Greeks, who used to steal sacred histories, and turn them into fables, had from this history their relation of Iphigenia (which may be put for Jephtigenia) sacrificed by her father Agamemnon, which is described by many of the same circumstances wherewith this is accompanied.

Verse 40

[40] That the daughters of Israel went yearly to lament the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite four days in a year.

The daughter of Jephthah — It is really astonishing, that the general stream of commentators, should take it for granted, that Jephthah murdered his daughter! But, says Mr. Henry, "We do not find any law, usage or custom, in all the Old Testament, which doth in the least intimate, that a single life was any branch or article of religion." And do we find any law, usage or custom there, which doth in the least intimate, that cutting the throat of an only child, was any branch or article of religion? If only a dog had met Jephthah, would he have offered up that for a burnt-offering? No: because God had expressly forbidden this. And had he not expressly forbidden murder? But Mr. Poole thinks the story of Agamemnon's offering up Iphigenia took its rise from this. Probably it did. But then let it be observed, Iphigenia was not murdered. Tradition said, that Diana sent an hind in her stead, and took the maid to live in the woods with her.