1 Now Jephthah of Gilead was a great warrior. He was the son of Gilead, but his mother was a prostitute. 2 Gilead’s wife also had several sons, and when these half brothers grew up, they chased Jephthah off the land. “You will not get any of our father’s inheritance,” they said, “for you are the son of a prostitute.” 3 So Jephthah fled from his brothers and lived in the land of Tob. Soon he had a band of worthless rebels following him.
4 At about this time, the Ammonites began their war against Israel. 5 When the Ammonites attacked, the elders of Gilead sent for Jephthah in the land of Tob. 6 The elders said, “Come and be our commander! Help us fight the Ammonites!”
7 But Jephthah said to them, “Aren’t you the ones who hated me and drove me from my father’s house? Why do you come to me now when you’re in trouble?”
8 “Because we need you,” the elders replied. “If you lead us in battle against the Ammonites, we will make you ruler over all the people of Gilead.”
9 Jephthah said to the elders, “Let me get this straight. If I come with you and if the Lord gives me victory over the Ammonites, will you really make me ruler over all the people?”
10 “The Lord is our witness,” the elders replied. “We promise to do whatever you say.”
11 So Jephthah went with the elders of Gilead, and the people made him their ruler and commander of the army. At Mizpah, in the presence of the Lord, Jephthah repeated what he had said to the elders.
12 Then Jephthah sent messengers to the king of Ammon, asking, “Why have you come out to fight against my land?”
13 The king of Ammon answered Jephthah’s messengers, “When the Israelites came out of Egypt, they stole my land from the Arnon River to the Jabbok River and all the way to the Jordan. Now then, give back the land peaceably.”
14 Jephthah sent this message back to the Ammonite king:
15 “This is what Jephthah says: Israel did not steal any land from Moab or Ammon. 16 When the people of Israel arrived at Kadesh on their journey from Egypt after crossing the Red Sea,a 17 they sent messengers to the king of Edom asking for permission to pass through his land. But their request was denied. Then they asked the king of Moab for similar permission, but he wouldn’t let them pass through either. So the people of Israel stayed in Kadesh.
18 “Finally, they went around Edom and Moab through the wilderness. They traveled along Moab’s eastern border and camped on the other side of the Arnon River. But they never once crossed the Arnon River into Moab, for the Arnon was the border of Moab.
19 “Then Israel sent messengers to King Sihon of the Amorites, who ruled from Heshbon, asking for permission to cross through his land to get to their destination. 20 But King Sihon didn’t trust Israel to pass through his land. Instead, he mobilized his army at Jahaz and attacked them. 21 But the Lord, the God of Israel, gave his people victory over King Sihon. So Israel took control of all the land of the Amorites, who lived in that region, 22 from the Arnon River to the Jabbok River, and from the eastern wilderness to the Jordan.
23 “So you see, it was the Lord, the God of Israel, who took away the land from the Amorites and gave it to Israel. Why, then, should we give it back to you? 24 You keep whatever your god Chemosh gives you, and we will keep whatever the Lord our God gives us. 25 Are you any better than Balak son of Zippor, king of Moab? Did he try to make a case against Israel for disputed land? Did he go to war against them?
26 “Israel has been living here for 300 years, inhabiting Heshbon and its surrounding settlements, all the way to Aroer and its settlements, and in all the towns along the Arnon River. Why have you made no effort to recover it before now? 27 Therefore, I have not sinned against you. Rather, you have wronged me by attacking me. Let the Lord, who is judge, decide today which of us is right—Israel or Ammon.”
28 But the king of Ammon paid no attention to Jephthah’s message.
29 At that time the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah, and he went throughout the land of Gilead and Manasseh, including Mizpah in Gilead, and from there he led an army against the Ammonites. 30 And Jephthah made a vow to the Lord. He said, “If you give me victory over the Ammonites, 31 I will give to the Lord whatever comes out of my house to meet me when I return in triumph. I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering.”
32 So Jephthah led his army against the Ammonites, and the Lord gave him victory. 33 He crushed the Ammonites, devastating about twenty towns from Aroer to an area near Minnith and as far away as Abel-keramim. In this way Israel defeated the Ammonites.
34 When Jephthah returned home to Mizpah, his daughter came out to meet him, playing on a tambourine and dancing for joy. She was his one and only child; he had no other sons or daughters. 35 When he saw her, he tore his clothes in anguish. “Oh, my daughter!” he cried out. “You have completely destroyed me! You’ve brought disaster on me! For I have made a vow to the Lord, and I cannot take it back.”
36 And she said, “Father, if you have made a vow to the Lord, you must do to me what you have vowed, for the Lord has given you a great victory over your enemies, the Ammonites. 37 But first let me do this one thing: Let me go up and roam in the hills and weep with my friends for two months, because I will die a virgin.”
38 “You may go,” Jephthah said. And he sent her away for two months. She and her friends went into the hills and wept because she would never have children. 39 When she returned home, her father kept the vow he had made, and she died a virgin.
So it has become a custom in Israel 40 for young Israelite women to go away for four days each year to lament the fate of Jephthah’s daughter.
a. 11:16 Hebrew sea of reeds.