Jephthah Is Chosen as Leader
1Jephthah was a strong soldier from Gilead. His father was named Gilead, and his mother was a prostitute. 2Gilead’s wife had several sons. When they grew up, they forced Jephthah to leave his home, saying to him, “You will not get any of our father’s property, because you are the son of another woman.” 3So Jephthah ran away from his brothers and lived in the land of Tob. There some worthless men began to follow him.
4After a time the Ammonites fought against Israel. 5When the Ammonites made war against Israel, the elders of Gilead went to Jephthah to bring him back from Tob. 6They said to him, “Come and lead our army so we can fight the Ammonites.”
7But Jephthah said to them, “Didn’t you hate me? You forced me to leave my father’s house. Why are you coming to me now that you are in trouble?”
8The elders of Gilead said to Jephthah, “It is because of those troubles that we come to you now. Please come with us and fight against the Ammonites. You will be the ruler over everyone who lives in Gilead.”
9Then Jephthah answered, “If you take me back to Gilead to fight the Ammonites and the Lord helps me win, I will be your ruler.”
10The elders of Gilead said to him, “The Lord is listening to everything we are saying. We promise to do all that you tell us to do.” 11So Jephthah went with the elders of Gilead, and the people made him their leader and commander of their army. Jephthah repeated all of his words in front of the Lord at Mizpah.
Jephthah Sends Messengers to the Ammonite King
12Jephthah sent messengers to the king of the Ammonites, asking, “What have you got against Israel? Why have you come to attack our land?”
13The king of the Ammonites answered the messengers of Jephthah, “We are fighting Israel because you took our land when you came up from Egypt. You took our land from the Arnon River to the Jabbok River to the Jordan River. Now give our land back to us peacefully.”
14Jephthah sent the messengers to the Ammonite king again. 15They said:
“This is what Jephthah says: Israel did not take the land of the people of Moab or Ammon. 16When the Israelites came out of Egypt, they went into the desert to the Red Sea and then to Kadesh. 17Israel sent messengers to the king of Edom, saying, ‘Let the people of Israel go across your land.’ But the king of Edom refused. We sent the same message to the king of Moab, but he also refused. So the Israelites stayed at Kadesh.
18“Then the Israelites went into the desert around the borders of the lands of Edom and Moab. Israel went east of the land of Moab and camped on the other side of the Arnon River, the border of Moab. They did not cross it to go into the land of Moab.
19“Then Israel sent messengers to Sihon king of the Amorites, king of the city of Heshbon, asking, ‘Let the people of Israel pass through your land to go to our land.’ 20But Sihon did not trust the Israelites to cross his land. So he gathered all of his people and camped at Jahaz and fought with Israel.
21“But the Lord, the God of Israel, handed Sihon and his army over to Israel. All the land of the Amorites became the property of Israel. 22So Israel took all the land of the Amorites from the Arnon River to the Jabbok River, from the desert to the Jordan River.
23“It was the Lord, the God of Israel, who forced out the Amorites ahead of the people of Israel. So do you think you can make them leave? 24Take the land that your god Chemosh has given you. We will live in the land the Lord our God has given us!
25“Are you any better than Balak son of Zippor, king of Moab? Did he ever quarrel or fight with the people of Israel? 26For three hundred years the Israelites have lived in Heshbon and Aroer and the towns around them and in all the cities along the Arnon River. Why have you not taken these cities back in all that time? 27I have not sinned against you, but you are sinning against me by making war on me. May the Lord, the Judge, decide whether the Israelites or the Ammonites are right.”
28But the king of the Ammonites ignored this message from Jephthah.
29Then the Spirit of the Lord entered Jephthah. Jephthah passed through Gilead and Manasseh and the city of Mizpah in Gilead to the land of the Ammonites. 30Jephthah made a promise to the Lord, saying, “If you will hand over the Ammonites to me, 31I will give you as a burnt offering the first thing that comes out of my house to meet me when I return from the victory. It will be the Lord’s.”
32Then Jephthah went over to fight the Ammonites, and the Lord handed them over to him. 33In a great defeat Jephthah struck them down from the city of Aroer to the area of Minnith, and twenty cities as far as the city of Abel Keramim. So the Ammonites were defeated by the Israelites.
34When Jephthah returned to his home in Mizpah, his daughter was the first one to come out to meet him, playing a tambourine and dancing. She was his only child; he had no other sons or daughters. 35When Jephthah saw his daughter, he tore his clothes to show his sorrow. He said, “My daughter! You have made me so sad because I made a promise to the Lord, and I cannot break it!”
36Then his daughter said, “Father, you made a promise to the Lord. So do to me just what you promised, because the Lord helped you defeat your enemies, the Ammonites.” 37She also said, “But let me do one thing. Let me be alone for two months to go to the mountains. Since I will never marry, let me and my friends go and cry together.”
38Jephthah said, “Go.” So he sent her away for two months. She and her friends stayed in the mountains and cried for her because she would never marry. 39After two months she returned to her father, and Jephthah did to her what he had promised. Jephthah’s daughter never had a husband.
From this came a custom in Israel that 40every year the young women of Israel would go out for four days to remember the daughter of Jephthah from Gilead.