Notes on Judges 11, verses 1-11

by Jonathan Spurlock
(Holts Summit, MO)

Judges 11:1, KJV Now Jephthah the Gileadite was a mighty man of valour, and he (was) the son of an harlot: and Gilead begat Jephthah.

Gilead was the name of Manasseh’s grandson; Machir was Gilead’s father (Num. 26:29). Gilead was the father (perhaps ancestor) of the Gileadites, the half-tribe of Manasseh who settled on the east side of the Jordan River (Num. 32). Jephthah’s name does not appear in the records in 1 Chronicles, nor does that of his mother, only Gilead and Machir.

Jephthah is called a mighty man of valor (updated spelling) but nothing about that is mentioned here. This may be a parallel or contrast with Gideon, who was also called a “mighty man of valor” in Judges 6:12 even though the only thing Gideon had done was thresh wheat in a winepress. Perhaps he was hoping the enemies would not see him and perhaps steal his wheat (implied).

2 And Gilead's wife bare him sons; and his wife's sons grew up, and they thrust out Jephthah, and said unto him, Thou shalt not inherit in our father's house; for thou (art) the son of a strange woman.

Gilead’s wife, whose name is never given, was the true wife, compared to Jephthah’s mother who was a harlot. Like Ishmael, Abraham’s son by Hagar (Genesis 16:15), who was cast out along with his mother (Gren 21), Jephthah was “thrust out” of Gilead’s family—but alone, apparently: the text does not mention anything about other people going anywhere with him. Jephthah’s age is not given here but he may have been old enough to inherit some, at least some part, of Gilead’s estate whenever Gilead died. The other, legitimate, sons, did not want Jephthah to inherit anything.

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.

Where the “land of Tob” was located is not certain. This could be a reference to a landowner whose name was Tob, or, it may mean “good” land “Tob” is a Hebrew word for “good” per ).

Jephthah was not alone for long because “vain” men came to him. Abimelech hired an unspecified number of “vain persons (Judges 9:4)” using money he was given from an idol’s temple and these men followed him. Where Jephthah and his followers went and what they did is nowhere specified.

Jephthah, Abimelech, and later David would be unwanted men, who became leaders of so-called “irregular” troops. But note the differences: Abimelech used his forces to establish rule or control over at least certain parts of Israel; David would use his soldiers as guards or protectors (1 Sam 25), paramilitary or “rogue” operations (1 Sam 27); and even offered to serve the Philistines as mercenaries (1 Sam 29). As mentioned, there is no record of Jephthah’s actions in the text.

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

This was at least the second or third time the Ammonites made war against Israel (see Judges 3, 10).

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:

This may be a restatement of Judges 10:17, where the Ammonites had camped at Gilead. There is no record of that conflict ending. According to Judges 10:18, the people and princes of Gilead were looking for a champion, basically, or military leader to fight against the Ammonites. Now the elders of Gilead, who may or may not have been part of these leaders, went looking for Jephthah in his current location, Tob.

6 And they said unto Jephthah, Come, and be our captain, that we may fight with the children of Ammon.

Incredibly, there is no record that these men, the elders of verse 5, sought the LORD for His instructions what to do or whom to find as a leader. The text, further, does not indicate why these men looked for Jephthah specifically. What deeds had he and his men performed that made him their first choice?

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?

In verse 2, the text says Jephthah’s half-brothers, sons of Gilead and his other (legal?) wife, basically threw him out of their house and their lives. Now the elders of Gilead (Israel on the east side of the Jordan River) want him to be their military leader. Gideon, however, reminds them of days gone by and asks them, why do you come to me now when you wanted nothing to do with me before this?

Does this imply that the elders were related to Jephthah? Had enough time elapsed so that his half-brothers had become elders? The identity of these elders in not revealed anywhere.

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.

The elders never really answer the questions of Jephthah but appeal to him to “fight against the (Ammonites)” and—something not mentioned before—to be the head or ruler over all Gilead. Were they hoping Jephthah would take this offer, or bait, in order to be the captain and ruler?

Taken cynically, they may have figured that if Jephthah did lead Israel—at least Gilead—to battle against the Ammonites, and was killed, then that was one promised they would never have to keep. Another way is to look at this in terms of desperation: unwilling to seek God, they sought a human champion to lead the military against the enemy; Ammon, in this case. Perhaps they thought a strong human leader would be a sign or deterrent against future enemy aggression, conflicts, etc. but history proved this idea wrong.

Even Saul, David and other future kings could do little if an enemy decided to attack except pray and then put boots on their faith to fight as the LORD directed. The books of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles give detailed information about this phase of Israel’s history under a monarchy.

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?

Now Jephthah asks the elders if they are serious about their offer. He asks three questions, perhaps as terms or conditions of his acceptance: first, if they brought him back home (to where? His father’s land?); second, if the LORD delivered the Ammonites (i.e., if Israel was victorious); and then, will you really make me the “head” or are you only making empty promises?

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

This was apparently a very strong oath which the elders replied to Jephthah. They made a genuine offer.

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.

Nothing is known of these words which Jephthah:” . . uttered . . . before the LORD in Mizpeh”

Scripture quotations taken from the King James Version of the Bible (KJV).

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