Gaebelein's Annotated Bible
Now Jephthah the Gileadite was a mighty man of valour, and he was the son of an harlot: and Gilead begat Jephthah.CHAPTER 11 Jephthah and the Ammonites
1. Jephthah’s covenant (Judges 11:1-11)
2. The messages to Ammon (Judges 11:12-28)
3. Jephthah’s vow and victory (Judges 11:29-33)
4. Jephthah keeps his vow (Judges 11:34-40)
Jephthah the judge who delivered Israel from the servitude of Ammon was the offspring of an unholy union “the son of an harlot.” Then he became an outcast and had to flee from his brethren. He dwelt in the land of Tob (goodness) and vain, or worthless, men gathered unto him. Yet he was a mighty man of valor. He was therefore an humble instrument, despised and rejected by his own. But finally those who rejected him had to send for Jephthah to be their saviour from the hands of the children of Ammon. They had to own him as their leader, whom they had hated and cast out on account of his lowly birth. He reminds us of our Lord, who was hated by His own and who is yet to be their deliverer.
Jephthah means “he opens.” Gilead, to which he belonged, means “witness.” The enemy, Ammon, as we stated in the annotations of the previous chapter, typifies for us rationalism and the wicked errors connected with it, which distress the people of God. Here then we have in a simple yet blessed way the deliverance from those evils indicated. It needs “a true witness,” one who “opens.” The witness of an opened Word, the testimony of the Word of God and with it the Spirit of God, will make an end of error. It is the only true way to combat the wicked departures from the faith so prominent in the last days. How God in this book bears witness in types to the one remedy for all the declensions and backslidings of His people! Othniel has Debir “the Word”; Ehud with his sword, the sword of the Spirit; Shamgar and his oxgoad; Deborah and Lapidoth, the Word and the Spirit; the barley loaf which smote down Midian’s tent and Jephthah, the one who opens, the true witness.
Jephthah made a hasty vow. It was bargaining with Jehovah, as Jacob did. And when his daughter met him first the awful vow was carried out. In reading the story one can hardly escape the literal offering up of the child.
“it is true that a mode of interpreting this vow and its fulfilment has been proposed, according to which Jephthah’s daughter was not offered as a sacrifice, but devoted to a life of celibacy, and consecrated to the service of the tabernacle; and the confirmation of this view has been sought in the institution of an order of females who served before the tabernacle (Exodus 38:8; 1Samuel 2:22; Luke 2:37). Luther already remarked: ‘Some maintain that she was not sacrificed, but the text is too clear to admit of this interpretation.’ But stronger evidence of her sacrifice than even the unambiguous words of the vow afford, is found in the distress of the father, in the magnanimous resignation of the daughter, in the annual commemoration and lamentation of the daughters of Israel, and, particularly, in the narrative of the historian himself, who is not able to describe clearly and distinctly the terrible scene on which he gazes both with admiration and with abhorrence. The Law undoubtedly prohibited human sacrifices as the extreme of all heathen abominations (Leviticus 18:21; Deuteronomy 12:31, etc.). But the age of the judges had descended to a point far below the lofty position occupied by the Law.” (J.H. Kurtz, Sacred History.)
And yet there are difficulties in connection with literal interpretation. The word burnt-offering is in the Hebrew “an offering that ascends.”
“The great Jewish commentators of the Middle Ages have, in opposition to the Talmud, pointed out that these two last clauses (‘shall surely be the Lord’s and I will offer it up for a burnt-offering’) are not identical. It is never said of an animal burnt offering that it ‘should be to Jehovah,’ for the simple reason that as a burnt offering it is such. But where human beings are offered to Jehovah, there the expression is used, as in the case of the firstborn among Israel and of Levi (Numbers 3:12-13). But in these cases it has never been suggested that there was actual human sacrifice. If the loving daughter had devoted herself to death, it is next to incredible that she should have wished to have spent the two months of her life conceded to her, not with her broken-hearted father, but in the mountains with her companions” (A. Edersheim).
Whatever it was, one thing stands out very prominently, the loyalty of Jephthah to Jehovah and the obedience and surrender of the daughter.