Judges – Lesson 14


Judges Chapter 11:1-29 



In chapter 10, we saw the beginning of the reign of many minor judges in the nation of Israel.      The people had dual captivity after sinning against the Lord, and it went on for many years.  We closed the chapter seeing the children of Gilead questioning who would rise up to deliver the people from Ammonites at this time.


Judg 10:17  Then the children of Ammon were gathered together, and encamped in Gilead. And the children of Israel assembled themselves together, and encamped in Mizpeh.

Judg 10:18  And the people and princes of Gilead said one to another, What man is he that will begin to fight against the children of Ammon? he shall be head over all the inhabitants of Gilead.



I.                   Jephthah the Ninth Judge


No sooner was the question raised, than God raised up his man.  It was Jephthah that God chose to deliver Israel from the Ammonite oppression.


Judg 11:1  Now Jephthah the Gileadite was a mighty man of valour, and he was the son of an harlot: and Gilead begat Jephthah.

Judg 11:2  And Gilead's wife bare him sons; and his wife's sons grew up, and they thrust out Jephthah, and said unto him, Thou shalt not inherit in our father's house; for thou art the son of a strange woman.


Jephthah was the son of a Gileadite, named Gilead, and a harlot.  In other words, Jephthah was an illegitimate son in his family.  But our backgrounds, whether great or bad, have nothing to do when God calls us to do a work.   Because of being an illegitimate son, Gilead suffered some unjust treatment from his half brothers.  They even decide to drive him from his home so that they would not have to share their father’s inheritance with him.   You and I should never be hateful to a child due to his or her birth not being perfect.  The child did not commit the sin, the parents did the wrong.   I believe God never wants us to condone sin, but we should show love and compassion to all, and reach those that have done wrong for the Lord.   When the men wanted to stone the lady caught in adultery, Jesus did not go along with their feelings.  Of all those present, He was the only one who would have been right in condemning and judging her, because He was without sin.  But rather, he chose to use this to teach the men a lesson, and told them to let the man without sin cast the first stone.  As he wrote on the ground, one man after another dropped his rock and walked away.  And when he looked up at the woman, he asked “Where are thine accusers? “


John 8:4  They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act.

John 8:5  Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou?

John 8:6  This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not.

John 8:7  So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.

John 8:8  And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground.

John 8:9  And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst.

John 8:10  When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee?

John 8:11  She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.


I believe that woman was saved that day.  Jesus did not take up for her sin, he took up for her.  He told her to go and sin no more.  And many others accepted Christ after this based upon the woman’s testimony.



Judg 11:3  Then Jephthah fled from his brethren, and dwelt in the land of Tob: and there were gathered vain men to Jephthah, and went out with him.


After the hatred he faced, Jephthah fled from his brethren and dwelt in the land of Tob.   He gathered men together to become an effective fighting unit.  Not good men, but vain men the Bible says.  We aren’t for sure, but perhaps his group worked like David did later in protecting the cities from invaders.


Judg 11:4  And it came to pass in process of time, that the children of Ammon made war against Israel.

Judg 11:5  And it was so, that when the children of Ammon made war against Israel, the elders of Gilead went to fetch Jephthah out of the land of Tob:

Judg 11:6  And they said unto Jephthah, Come, and be our captain, that we may fight with the children of Ammon.


The elders of Gilead know about Jephthah, and they ask him to return and lead them.  They needed someone with leadership ability, who could get the job done.  Not always is the man that we would think chosen by God to do the leading. Many times

it is exactly the opposite of what the world expects.


1 Cor 1:26  For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called:

1 Cor 1:27  But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty;

1 Cor 1:28  And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are:

1 Cor 1:29  That no flesh should glory in his presence.

1 Cor 1:30  But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption:

1 Cor 1:31  That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.


God confounds the wise by using the simple of the world to do his work.  When you and I are involved, there is little doubt that God is the one accomplishing great things.  If we were a great person, one with great auditory capabilities, one with flair and poise, then there would be the doubt as to who was doing the saving and the great works of the spirit.  God can use all, but most of the time, only the simple and only the willing are used of the Lord.  As humble Isaiah said, “Here am I Lord, I will go.”


Isa 6:8  Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me.


God can do more with your limited talent than you would ever imagine.  You can look at how God has blessed this church, and all those involved in it, and you can tell that God is still using those who will be used.  But it comes by commitment, and being willing to be used, and most of all, it takes a humble heart.  I praise God for all the wonderful men and women we have in our church that God is using to accomplish His work.


In choosing Jephthah as their leader, Israel had made up their minds to fight.  Jephthah’s reputation preceded him, and it proves how far we can go even from humble beginnings.  Perhaps his own family did not want him, but the nation said this is the man we need to lead us into battle.  In verse 5 it says it was the “elders of Gilead” who asked Jephthah to lead them.  It was important to them.  They traveled to ask him, and feared that he might refuse unless everything was properly explained.  We see how he responds in verse 7 – 11. 


Judg 11:7  And Jephthah said unto the elders of Gilead, Did not ye hate me, and expel me out of my father's house? and why are ye come unto me now when ye are in distress?

Judg 11:8  And the elders of Gilead said unto Jephthah, Therefore we turn again to thee now, that thou mayest go with us, and fight against the children of Ammon, and be our head over all the inhabitants of Gilead.

Judg 11:9  And Jephthah said unto the elders of Gilead, If ye bring me home again to fight against the children of Ammon, and the LORD deliver them before me, shall I be your head?

Judg 11:10  And the elders of Gilead said unto Jephthah, The LORD be witness between us, if we do not so according to thy words. 


Jephthah reminding the people of how much mistreatment he had received years before.  He asks, “Did ye not hate me, and expel me from my Father’s house?  From this,

we must conclude that some of his brothers were part of the group.   If not, it would have to mean that some of the town leaders had been in sympathy with their decision to run Jephthah away.  They ask him to come with them and they would make the wrong right by making him head over all the inhabitants of Gilead.  It sounded good, and Jephthah asks for them to repeat the offer before he accepted it.


Judg 11:11  Then Jephthah went with the elders of Gilead, and the people made him head and captain over them: and Jephthah uttered all his words before the LORD in Mizpeh.

Judg 11:12  And Jephthah sent messengers unto the king of the children of Ammon, saying, What hast thou to do with me, that thou art come against me to fight in my land?


What a turnaround for the one that his brothers sent away.  Jephthah was not the first to come to a leadership position when his brothers turned against him.  We know that Joseph faced years in prison before God ultimately put him in charge in the land of Egypt.  And Joseph never gave up on God.   And when he could have punished the brothers for all the wrongs they had done to him, he rather saw the providence of God in

what had happened.


Gen 50:20  But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive.


Matthew Henry said this about the elders asking Jephthah to come and help them.


The court which the elders made to Jephthah ask him to come and help them. They did not write or send a messenger to him, but went themselves to fetch him, resolving to have no denial, and the exigence of the case was such as would admit no delay. Their errand to him was, Come, and be our captain, v. 6. They knew none among themselves that was able to undertake that great trust, but in effect confessed themselves unfit for it; they know him to be a bold man, and inured to the sword, and therefore he must be the man. See how God prepared men for the service he designs them for, and makes their troubles work for their advancement. If Jephthah had not been put to his shifts by his brethren’s unkindness, he would not have had such occasion as this gave him to exercise and improve his martial genius, and so to signalize himself and become famous. Out of the eater comes forth meat. The children of Israel were assembled and encamped, ch. 10:17. But an army without a general is like a body without a head; therefore Come, say they, and be our captain, that we may fight. See the necessity of government; though they were hearty enough in the cause, yet they owned they could not fight without a captain to command them. So necessary is it to all societies that there be some to rule and others to obey, that any community would humbly beg the favour of being commanded rather than that every man should be his own master. Blessed be God for government, for a good government.  [1]


Judg 11:13  And the king of the children of Ammon answered unto the messengers of Jephthah, Because Israel took away my land, when they came up out of Egypt, from Arnon even unto Jabbok, and unto Jordan: now therefore restore those lands again peaceably.

Judg 11:14  And Jephthah sent messengers again unto the king of the children of Ammon:

Judg 11:15  And said unto him, Thus saith Jephthah, Israel took not away the land of Moab, nor the land of the children of Ammon:

Judg 11:16  But when Israel came up from Egypt, and walked through the wilderness unto the Red sea, and came to Kadesh;

Judg 11:17  Then Israel sent messengers unto the king of Edom, saying, Let me, I pray thee, pass through thy land: but the king of Edom would not hearken thereto. And in like manner they sent unto the king of Moab: but he would not consent: and Israel abode in Kadesh.


Jephthah asks the Ammonite king why he was coming against the Israelites.  Their answer was because Israel earlier and seized land that had belonged to Ammon at the time of the conquest.  


Judg 11:18  Then they went along through the wilderness, and compassed the land of Edom, and the land of Moab, and came by the east side of the land of Moab, and pitched on the other side of Arnon, but came not within the border of Moab: for Arnon was the border of Moab.

Judg 11:19  And Israel sent messengers unto Sihon king of the Amorites, the king of Heshbon; and Israel said unto him, Let us pass, we pray thee, through thy land into my place.

Judg 11:20  But Sihon trusted not Israel to pass through his coast: but Sihon gathered all his people together, and pitched in Jahaz, and fought against Israel.

Judg 11:21  And the LORD God of Israel delivered Sihon and all his people into the hand of Israel, and they smote them: so Israel possessed all the land of the Amorites, the inhabitants of that country.

Judg 11:22  And they possessed all the coasts of the Amorites, from Arnon even unto Jabbok, and from the wilderness even unto Jordan.

Judg 11:23  So now the LORD God of Israel hath dispossessed the Amorites from before his people Israel, and shouldest thou possess it?

Judg 11:24  Wilt not thou possess that which Chemosh thy god giveth thee to possess? So whomsoever the LORD our God shall drive out from before us, them will we possess.

Judg 11:25  And now art thou any thing better than Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab? did he ever strive against Israel, or did he ever fight against them,

Judg 11:26  While Israel dwelt in Heshbon and her towns, and in Aroer and her towns, and in all the cities that be along by the coasts of Arnon, three hundred years? why therefore did ye not recover them within that time?

Judg 11:27  Wherefore I have not sinned against thee, but thou doest me wrong to war against me: the LORD the Judge be judge this day between the children of Israel and the children of Ammon.


The first thing that Jephthah does is negotiate with the enemy.   He first attempts to reason with the Ammonite ruler.   He tries to talk to not have to use force.  This was unlikely to work since the Ammonites had already been victorious over Israel for the past 18 years.  In spite of this, it is good that he tried.  God has blessed our nation for never being a bully, but always attempting to do things diplomatically before we use force. Jephthah began by asking the Ammonite king why he was coming against the Israelites.

as in the case of many feuds, he says that it was due to Israel seizing land that belong to Ammon at the time of the conquest.  While this was true, it was not considered that God had promised the land to His people.    Jephthah points out that they did not take the land from Ammon, but from Sihon, the king of the Amorites.  (Numbers 21:21-31).  The second point was that since Israel now held the land in question for 300 years, it was a little late to come making a claim for it.   Possession if very important in determining ownership.  Jephthah points out that their neighbor Ammon had not made a similar claim, and it would be wrong for Israel to give this land back to them.  But despite the good words, the enemy would not listen.


Judg 11:28  Howbeit the king of the children of Ammon hearkened not unto the words of Jephthah which he sent him.

Judg 11:29  Then the spirit of the LORD came upon Jephthah, and he passed over Gilead, and Manasseh, and passed over Mizpeh of Gilead, and from Mizpeh of Gilead he passed over unto the children of Ammon.


After all the talking, Jephthah prepares the men for battle.  We are told that the spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah.  This was the third judge where this was mentioned.  It showed God’s favor and approval upon what Jephthah was doing.  After this, Jephthah makes a tour through the eastern half of Manasseh and Gilead in search of additional troops.  We are not told if more troops were added, but we can be sure that his army was outmanned by the opposition.   But as a youth, David proved that one man with God is a majority when we go against the enemies of God.  And Gideon’s record of winning with 300 over 100,000 men proved it again. 


J. Vernon McGee said this about the King of Ammon.


The king of Ammon totally rejects the paper that Jephthah apparently had sent to him. He said he would not accept what had been said. So Jephthah leads his army against the Ammonites. But when he passes through the land and gets a look at the enemy, he becomes a little fearful. Now he does something that under normal circumstances he probably would not have done. Remember that this man had spent years in exile and then suddenly he is exalted to the highest position in the land. He is made a judge. The natural reaction of a man who is suddenly elevated is excitement. In his excitement he makes a rash promise. Also remember that Jephthah did not have the light that we have today. He was one-half pagan with a heathen background. He did know God but not very well. God did not require him to make a vow.  [2]


Judg 11:30  And Jephthah vowed a vow unto the LORD, and said, If thou shalt without fail deliver the children of Ammon into mine hands,

Judg 11:31  Then it shall be, that whatsoever cometh forth of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the children of Ammon, shall surely be the LORD'S, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering.


This was not required, and to make a vow unto God is serious.  We should never vow things to God without considering the costs.


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Prov 4:18  But the path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day.


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[1]Henry, Matthew, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Bible, (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers) 1997.

[2]J. Vernon McGee, Thru the Bible commentary [computer file], electronic ed., Logos Library System, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson) 1997, c1981 by J. Vernon McGee.