Jephthah was from the tribe of Gilead. He was a strong soldier. But Jephthah was the son of a prostitute. His father was a man named Gilead. Gilead’s wife had several sons. When they grew up, they did not like Jephthah. They forced Jephthah to leave his hometown. They said to him, “You will not get any of our father’s property, because you are the son of another woman.” So Jephthah went away because of his brothers and lived in the land of Tob. In the land of Tob, some rough men began to follow Jephthah.
After a time the Ammonites fought with the Israelites. The Ammonites were fighting against Israel, so the elders in Gilead went to Jephthah. They wanted Jephthah to leave the land of Tob and come back to Gilead.
The elders said to Jephthah, “Come and be our leader so that we can fight the Ammonites.”
But Jephthah said to the elders of the land of Gilead, “You forced me to leave my father’s house. You hate me. So why are you coming to me now that you are having trouble?”
The elders from Gilead said to Jephthah, “That is the reason we have come to you now. Please come with us and fight against the Ammonites. You will be the commander over all the people living in Gilead.”
Then Jephthah said to the elders from Gilead, “If you want me to come back to Gilead and fight the Ammonites, I will do it. But if the LORD helps me win, I will be your new leader.”
10 The elders from Gilead said to Jephthah, “The LORD is listening to everything we are saying. And we promise to do everything you tell us to do.”
11 So Jephthah went with the elders from Gilead, and the people made him their leader and commander. Jephthah repeated all of his words in front of the LORD at the city of Mizpah.
Jephthah Warns the King of Ammon
12 Jephthah sent messengers to the king of the Ammonites with this message: “What is the problem between the Ammonites and the Israelites? Why have you come to fight in our land?”
13 The king of the Ammonites said to the messengers of Jephthah, “We are fighting Israel because the Israelites took our land when they came up from Egypt. They took our land from the Arnon River to the Jabbok River to the Jordan River. Now, tell the Israelites to give our land back to us without fighting for it.”
14 So the messengers of Jephthah took this message back to Jephthah.* Then Jephthah sent the messengers to the king of the Ammonites again. 15 They took this message:
This is what Jephthah says: Israel did not take the land of the Moabites or the land of the Ammonites. 16 When the Israelites came out of the land of Egypt, they went into the desert. They went to the Red Sea. Then they went to Kadesh. 17 The Israelites sent messengers to the king of Edom. The messengers asked for a favor. They said, ‘Let the Israelites cross through your land.’ But the king of Edom didn’t let us go through his land. We also sent the same message to the king of Moab. But the king of Moab would not let us go through his land either. So the Israelites stayed at Kadesh.
18 Then the Israelites went through the desert and around the edges of the land of Edom and the land of Moab. They traveled east of the land of Moab. They made their camp on the other side of the Arnon River. They did not cross the border of the land of Moab. (The Arnon River was the border of the land of Moab.)
19 Then the Israelites sent messengers to King Sihon of the Amorites. Sihon was the king of the city of Heshbon. The messengers asked Sihon, ‘Let the Israelites pass through your land. We want to go to our land.’ 20 But King Sihon of the Amorites would not let the Israelites cross his borders. So Sihon gathered all of his people and made a camp at Jahaz. Then the Amorites fought with the Israelites. 21 But the LORD, the God of Israel, helped the Israelites defeat Sihon and his army. So the land of the Amorites became the property of the Israelites. 22 The Israelites got all the land of the Amorites from the Arnon River to the Jabbok River. The land also went from the desert to the Jordan River.
23 It was the LORD, the God of Israel, who forced the Amorites to leave their land. And he gave the land to the Israelites. Do you think you can make the Israelites leave this land? 24 Surely you can live in the land that your god Chemosh has given to you. So we will live in the land that the LORD our God has given to us. 25 Are you any better than Balak son of Zippor? He was the king of the land of Moab. Did he argue with the Israelites? Did he actually fight with the Israelites? 26 The Israelites have lived in the city of Heshbon and the towns around it for 300 years. They have lived in the city of Aroer and the towns around it for 300 years. They have lived in all the cities along the side of the Arnon River for 300 years. Why have you not tried to take these cities in all that time? 27 The Israelites have not sinned against you. But you are doing a very bad thing against them. May the LORD, the true Judge, decide whether the Israelites or the Ammonites are right.”
28 The king of the Ammonites refused to listen to this message from Jephthah.
Jephthah’s Promise
29 Then the Spirit of the LORD came on Jephthah, and he passed through the area of Gilead and Manasseh. He went through the city of Mizpah in Gilead on his way to the land of the Ammonites.
30 Jephthah made a promise to the LORD. He said, “If you will let me defeat the Ammonites, 31 I will give you the first thing that comes out of my house when I come back from the victory. I will give it to the LORD as a burnt offering.”
32 Then Jephthah went to the land of the Ammonites. He fought the Ammonites, and the LORD helped him defeat them. 33 He defeated them from the city of Aroer to the city of Minnith. Jephthah captured 20 cities. Then he fought the Ammonites to the city of Abel Keramim. The Israelites defeated them. It was a very great defeat for the Ammonites.
34 Jephthah went back to Mizpah. He went to his house, and his daughter came out to meet him. She was playing a tambourine and dancing. She was his only daughter, and Jephthah loved her very much. He did not have any other sons or daughters. 35 When Jephthah saw that his daughter was the first thing to come out of his house, he tore his clothes to show his sadness. Then he said, “Oh, my daughter! You have ruined me! You have made me very sad! I made a promise to the LORD, and I cannot change it!”
36 Then his daughter said to Jephthah, “Father, you have made a promise to the LORD, so keep your promise. Do what you said you would do. After all, the LORD did help you defeat your enemies, the Ammonites.”
37 Then Jephthah’s daughter said to her father, “But do this one thing for me first. Let me be alone for two months. Let me go to the mountains. I will not marry and have children, so let me and my friends go and cry together.”
38 Jephthah said, “Go.” He sent her away for two months. Jephthah’s daughter and her friends stayed in the mountains. They cried for her because she would not marry and have children.
39 At the end of two months, Jephthah’s daughter returned to her father, and Jephthah did what he had promised. His daughter never had sexual relations with anyone. So this became a custom in Israel. 40 Every year the young women of Israel would go out for four days to remember the daughter of Jephthah from Gilead and to cry for her.
* 11:14 So the messengers … Jephthah This is from the ancient Greek version. 11:25 Balak son of Zippor See Num. 22-24 for his story.