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?
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 (verses 12,13).We see here Jephthah opening negotiations with the Ammonites. The cause of Ammon's antagonism to Israel was ostensibly the question of the land that had been taken by Israel at their entry into Canaan. It was a plausible plea, but not one in accordance with the facts. This Jephthah now makes clear to the king in verses 14 to 27.
Israel had not taken away the land of Moab, nor the land of the children of Ammon; but when they came up from Egypt, through the wilderness unto the Red Sea, and came to Kadesh, then Israel sent messengers to the king of Edom, asking to pass through his land, but he would not allow them. In like manner to the king of Moab: but he would not consent either. When they compassed the land of Edom, and of Moab, they pitched on the other side of Arnon, but did not come within the border of Moab. Israel then sent to Sihon king of the Amorites asking to pass through his land, but Sihon was mistrustful of Israel, and instead fought against them. But the Lord delivered Sihon and all his people into the hands of Israel and smote them, and they took possession of all the coasts of the Amorites, from Arnon to Jabbok, and from the wilderness unto Jordan.
Now Jephthah challenges the king of Ammon why he should think to take possession of land which the Lord had taken from the Amorites and given to Israel. Why did not the Ammonites recover these lands during the three hundred years Israel had been in possession?
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 (verse 27).
These verses contain a deeply interesting specimen of what may be called diplomacy, and very powerful and straightforward it is. At once honest, conciliatory and firm, it certainly reveals Jephthah now as an exceedingly able man and a man of faith, a servant of Jehovah, who ascribed Israel's victorious conquest of Gilead to the One true God. He maintains the rights of Israel on three grounds:
1. Right of direct conquest, not from Ammon, but from the Amorites.
2. It was God given. Jehovah gave it to Israel. Ammon would take possession of land that their god Chemosh gave them.
3. If the lands were theirs, why had they not claimed possession during the three hundred years Israel had been there?
This period of three hundred years is not an approximate figure either. Dr. Bullinger in The Companion Bible shows that from Israel's entry into their land up to the first year of Jephthah's office, was exactly three hundred years. This objection was one that could not be disputed, and it is one that could be advanced today in any court of law.
The LORD the Judge be judge this day between the children of Israel and the children of Ammon.
For eighteen years, however, the Ammonites had oppressed the tribes of Reuben, Gad and Manasseh, and they had taken more or less what they pleased. They had found the sweets of the spoil very pleasant, and they were determined now to enrich themselves still further by driving the Israelites out of Gilead altogether.
Howbeit the king of the children of Ammon hearkened not unto the words of Jephthah which he sent him.
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 (verses 28,29).
The king of Ammon, whose name is not given, cared only for the argument of the sword. However, Jehovah's hour had struck. In His mercy He used Jephthah to overthrow their enemies and to deliver them from their bondage. So we read,
the Spirit of the LORD came upon him'. Once again we are reminded in this Book of Judges that man in his own strength cannot prevail. It is not by might nor by strength, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord. It is felt by most commentators that the Lord endowed Jephthah here with the courage and wisdom and power which he needed to defeat Israel's enemies, and to drive them from the land. It certainly does not imply that every action he took from now on was under the direct inspiration of God. That is reading into these words something that is not there. Divine wisdom and power was given him to carry out God's purpose and complete the task that lay ahead.
It was no light commission, for the enemy was well-armed and already on the offensive. When we read in verse 29 that Jephthah 'passed over' Gilead, clearly his object now was to rouse the tribes to war. A man with his drive and energy would sweep through the land from end to end, to kindle the torch of battle and raise an army that would follow him into war against the common foe. In this he was successful, and so he passed over to the attack.
Before the engagement took place, however, we have Jephthah's vow recorded, but our English translation appears to be faulty here, and as a result has led to much speculation and controversy:
And Jephthah vowed a vow unto the LORD, and said, If Thou shalt without fail deliver the children of Ammon into mine hands,
Then it shall be, that whatsoever cometh forth of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the children of Ammon, shall surely be the LORD'S, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering (verses 30,31).
From these words it would appear that Jephthah makes a solemn vow with Jehovah that providing he is victorious in battle, he will offer up as a burnt offering the first thing that should come to meet him from the doors of his house. The first question that comes to mind here is, does Jephthah mean the first person that comes out to greet him, or perhaps the first animal? When you consider this a minute, you realize an animal could not be meant. It would be ridiculous to say 'Lord, if you will give me victory this day, I will sacrifice the first calf to you that meets me on my return home'. Many commentators tell us, therefore, that a human offering was intended by this vow. They point out that Jephthah had been living rough with cutthroats, criminals and outlaws for many years, and that the Canaanites' religions included human sacrifices.
Somehow, however, there lurks in our minds an element of doubt. We remember that Jephthah's father was Gilead, a prince in Israel, a direct descendant of Manasseh. Although his mother was a Canaanite, while he was young he was brought up in the family household, and lived as a member of the family until he grew up and was turned out. He therefore would be well conversant with the God of Israel, the Law of Moses, and the promises to the fathers. Added to this fact is the reference to him in the chapter of 'faith heroes' in Hebrews 11. His name would never have been included among this list of giants in the faith unless he had worthily merited it, a fact surely indicative of a quality more personal and sanctified than the equipment necessary for the leader of an expedition, no matter now dangerous.
Dr. Bullinger puts forward the solution that the word 'VAV' translated 'and I will offer it up for a burnt offering' could be read 'or I will offer it up for a burnt offering', implying either he would dedicate the first person, or if he were met by an animal, he would offer it up as a burnt offering. This explanation does bear the light of investigation, and Charles H. Welch, concerned about this, took a good hard look at the original words used. He could well have found the answer, for his suggested translation is:
If thou shalt without fail deliver the children of Ammon into mine hands, then it shall be that whosoever cometh forth out of the doors of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the children of Ammon, shall surely be for the LORD, and I will offer to Him a burnt offering.
This certainly ties in with the events that followed, and so would seem to be the answer to the problem here. No offering of a human sacrifice was ever intended. It was indeed expressly forbidden by the Lord, and Moses was given the command that the nation of Israel were never to commit this heathen custom. The promise was that someone would be dedicated to service to the Lord all the days of their life.
In the battle that followed, the Lord gave Jephthah a resounding victory, and Ammon were defeated and subdued.
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.
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.
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. 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.
And he said, Go. And he sent her away for two months: and she went with her companions, and bewailed her virginity upon the mountains. 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, that the daughters of Israel went yearly to lament the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite four days in a year (verses 34-40).
Jephthah's distress on seeing his daughter, and his realization of the rashness of his vow, is poignantly brought home by the words, 'beside her he had neither son nor daughter'. In spite of his grief, however, he recognized the sacredness of his promise. The bright light that shines from this incident is undoubtedly the gracious submission of the daughter. She nobly supported her father and willingly devoted her life in separation unto the Lord.
"I have opened by mouth unto the LORD, and I cannot go back". Have we opened our mouths unto the Lord, and how often have we gone back? How splendid it is to know He never goes back on us! He abideth faithful, He will always help us to pick up the pieces. Born like his great Antitype under a cloud, scorned and derided by his own kith and kin, finally turned out of his inheritance, Jephthah became the saviour of his people. He never went back. In Jephthah we find indeed a picture of the One Who was to come, the Son of God Himself, Who turned a band of feeble frightened men into a mighty force; Who turned a bigoted Pharisee into the apostle of the Gentiles, whose influence, praise the Lord, has brought about such a change in our lives today.