Notes on Judges 11, verses 34-40
by Jonathan Spurlock
(Holts Summit, MO)
Judges 11:34, KJV: 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.
Mizpeh was where Jephthah “uttered all his words before the LORD (verse 11).” This may be the same place where Jephthah began his attack against Ammon (verse 29). Apparently he had set up his residence there, after leaving the land of Tob (compare verse 30 with verses 5-11). He had no idea that his only child, his daughter, would be the one leading a victory celebration when he returned.
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.
Rending or tearing one’s clothes was a sign of distress or grief (Gen. 37:29, 34; 44:13, Joshua 7:6, e.g.). Jehoram, king of the Ten Northern Tribes, did this perhaps twice (compare 2 Kings 3:1 with 2 Kings 5:7 and 6:30). This even happened occasionally in the New Testament era. See Matthew 26:65, where the High Priest did this; Acts 14:14, when Barnabas and Paul tried to stop the people of Lystra from offering sacrifice to them; and Acts 16:22, when the civil authorities in Philippi beat Paul and Silas before throwing them into the prison.
Jephthah also knew that once he had made a vow, he had to fulfill it. The Law was very clear on this (Numbers 30:2). Even Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes 5 that one should “pay what (you have) vowed.”
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.
Jephthah’s daughter seems to be a believer in the LORD based on her acceptance (resignation?) that Jephthah had vowed a vow and he couldn’t break it. She also knew the LORD had given Israel the victory over Ammon.
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.
Aware, somehow, of what Jephthah’s vow entailed, his daughter simply asked for two months so that she and some of her friends could mourn (in advance?) of what was going to happen to her.
38 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.
Jephthah allowed his daughter the time she requested.
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,
There is a significant amount of debate about what actually happened to Jephthah’s daughter. Some believe she was indeed offered as a “burnt offering (see verses 30-31).” Human sacrifice did occur as part of worship in Ammon (compare Lev. 20:3 with 1 Kings 11:7) and Moab (compare 2 Kings 3:26-27 with 1 Kings 11:7). Others think that she was simply never allowed to marry (“she knew no man”). The thing to remember is that Jephthah did not need to make any vow whatsoever, yet honored that vow, and his daughter did not fight against her father’s vow.
40 (That) the daughters of Israel went yearly to lament the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite four days in a year.
Why these women only used four days to mourn Jephthah’s daughter is not stated. This is the only place where this custom is mentioned. How long this custom was observed, or other information, is not revealed anywhere else in Scripture.
Scripture quotations taken from the King James Version of the Bible (KJV).