Lesson 4: Chapters 9:1-12:6
Part II: The Wars Against Israel's Enemies
Abimelech the Usurper
The Eastern Campaign of Jair and Jephthah

Lord God,
It has been said that in a democracy we get the leaders we deserve.   In the era of the Judges, as in our modern age, people can be deceived by leaders who make promises not based on righteousness but on their personal agendas.   Send us righteous leaders, Lord, and give us the wisdom to recognize the men and women who wear the mask of humility when their hearts are full of deceit.   Send us righteous judges who can determine justice based on more than the capricious laws of modern society, and send us men and women who are willing to take on those responsibilities without the ambition to further their own wealth or prestige.   We pray in the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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The men of Israel said to Gideon, rule over us, you, your son and your grandson, since you have rescued us from the power of Midian. But Gideon replied, I will not rule you, neither will my son.   Yahweh shall rule you.'
Judges 8:22-23

So Jerubbaal son of Joash went to live at home.   Gideon had seventy sons begotten by him, for he had many wives.   His concubine, who lived in Shechem, also bore him a son, to whom he gave the name Abimelech.  
Judges 8:30-31

Abimelech (my-father-is-king), son of Gideon, is not a divinely chosen judge of Israel.   He is a usurper who murdered his own half-brothers and their sons to acquire power.   Therefore, retribution becomes the theme of the narrative of Abimelech, a man who reflects Israel's moral decay.   The theme of retribution is made explicit in two summary statements that complement each other in 9:23-24 and 56-57.   The narrative itself can be divided into three parts, each representing a stage in Abimelech's career that begins after 40 years of peace followed by Gideon's death:

  1. Abimelech becomes king after murdering his kinsmen (9:1-6)
  2. Jotham's fable (9:7-21)
  3. Abimelech's decline and fall (9:22-5)

Notice that in chapter nine Gideon's Israelite name is no longer used.   We only hear the pagan name given to him by his hometown, Jerubbaal, "contends with Baal."     Also notice that God's covenant name is not used in the entire Abimelech narrative.   The last time God's covenant name, Yahweh, was used was in Judges 8:34 at the end of the Gideon narrative: The Israelites no longer remembered Yahweh their God, who rescued them from all the enemies round them.    The divine name will not be used again until the narrative that begins in Judges 10:6.

Judges 9:1-6 ~ Abimelech's bid for Power
1 Abimelech son of Jerubbaal confronted his mother's brothers at Shechem and, to them and to the whole clan of his maternal grandfather's family, he said, 2 Please put this question to the leading men [baalim] of Shechem: Which is better for you: to be ruled by seventy people, all Jerubbaal's sons, or to be ruled by one?   Remember too that I am your own flesh and bone.'   3 His mother's brothers said all this on his behalf to all the leading men [baalim] of Shechem, and their feelings swayed by them to follow Abimelech, since they argued, He is our brother.'   4 So they gave him seventy shekels* of silver from the temple of Baal-Berith, and with this Abimelech paid violent adventurers [empty men] to follow him.   5 He then went to his father's house at Ophrah and put his brothers, Jerubbaal's seventy sons, to death on one and the same stone.   Jotham, however, Jerubbaal's youngest son, escaped by going into hiding.   6 All the leading men [baalim] of Shechem and all Beth-Millo then met and proclaimed Abimelech king at the oak [terebinth] of the cultic stone at Shechem.
*The word "shekels" is not in the Hebrew text but is understood because that was the currency of the times.   The word "brothers" can be meant to refer to "kinsmen" including Abimelech's half-brothers and their sons.   [baalim] = meaning "lords" is the literal translation, IBHG, vol. I, page 658.

The city of Shechem is located about forty miles north of Jerusalem near the mountain pass between Mounts Ebal and Gerizim.     It was designated a Levitical city of refuge (Josh 20:1-3, 7) but the Canaanites had not been driven out of the city and lived side by side with the Israelites.   Gideon declined the offer to become Israel's king but he ruled like a king and gave the son of his slave girl a name that reflected the idea of his power in Israel: "my-father-is-king" = Abimelech.

The ancient city of Shechem was important in the history of the Israelites since the time of Abraham.  Shechem was visited by Abraham after his migration into Canaan from Haran (Syria).   It was at Shechem that Yahweh appeared to Abraham and promised: I shall give this country to your progeny (Gen 12:7).   There Abraham built an altar to Yahweh to commemorate the event of God's covenant promise and as a symbol of his claim to the land (Gen 12:6-7).   The city was also the setting for the tragic story of Jacob-Israel's daughter Dinah and the prince of Shechem.   It was at that time that Jacob's family made a matrimonial covenant treaty with the Hivites of Shechem whose men agreed to circumcision as a condition of the kinship union with Jacob's family.   Three days later, while the men were still incapacitated, three sons of Jacob attacked the city, massacred all the men, looted the city, and took the women as slaves (Gen chapter 34).   This gross violation of a covenant is probably what let the Israelites to allow the Canaanite inhabitants of Shechem to continue to occupy the city after the Israelites successfully captured the central hill country in the first stage of the Conquest.   Joshua held two assemblies of Israel and covenant renewal ceremonies in association with Shechem.   The first was near Shechem on the slopes of Mounts Ebal and Gerizim (Josh 8:30-35) and the second was held at Shechem (chapter 23).   The Israelites also buried Joseph's mummified body that they had brought with them from Egypt near the city (Josh 24:32).   Shechem was within the tribal lands allotted to the tribe of Ephraim on the border with Manasseh (Josh 16; 17:17-18; 20:7).   Like the other Canaanite towns that were allowed to remain, the people of Shechem were also probably obliged to do forced labor (Josh 16:10).  

Gideon-Jerubbaal acquired a concubine from the city of Shechem with whom he had a son.   A good argument can be made from the text that Abimelech's mother was a Canaanite slave and not an Israelite:  

  1. Abimelech went to his uncles in Shechem and reminded them of their blood tie by using the language of covenant kinship: "I am your own flesh and bone" (9:2b).   They took his case to the leaders of Shechem by arguing "He is our brother/kinsman" (9:3b).   If the men of Shechem were Ephraimites they would also consider Gideon's sons and grandsons kinsmen since they were from the tribe of Manasseh and also descendants of Joseph son of Jacob-Israel.
  2. The rulers of Shechem are described in verses 2, 3 and 6 as the baals (baalim meaning "lords") and not the Hebrew word for town rulers which is "elder" (in Hebrew zaqen).
  3. The Shechemites preferred to have a half-Shechemite kinsman rule over them rather than Israelites (Judg 9:1-3).
  4. Abimelech's kinsmen worshiped and obtained money at the pagan temple of Baal-Berith in Shechem (Judg 9:4, 6).
  5. Abimelech was not accepted by his Israelite kinsmen because his mother was a non-Israelite slave (Judg 9:18); one's ethnic identity came from the mother for the Israelites.
  6. The men of Shechem are referred to as "the men of Hamor, father of Shechem" the pagan founder of the city (Judg 9:26; also see Gen 34:19).

A concubine is a woman who is purchased like merchandise and is considered the property of her master.   There was no marriage covenant only a property contract.   She has no rights and her sons have no inheritance rights (see Ishmael in Gen 21:8-10).   Also, if she had been an Ephraimite, her father would have probably demanded a marriage contract.

Judges 9:2 ~ Please put this question to the leading men of Shechem: Which is better for you: to be ruled by seventy people, all Jerubbaal's sons, or to be ruled by one? Remember too that I am your own flesh and bone.'  
Abimelech's twice repletion of the verb "to rule" in this verse recalls Gideon declining the offer of kingship when he also used the verb "to rule" twice, saying "I will not rule you, neither will my son.   Yahweh shall rule you" (Judg 8:23). The term "your own flesh and bone" is the language of covenant kinship and recalls Adam's acceptance of Eve as his wife in Genesis 2:23 (also see Gen 29:14; 2 Sam 5:1; 2 Sam 19:14/13; Chr 11:1).

Question: How did Abimelech become king of Shechem?
Answer: He convinced his uncles that it was to their advantage to have a kinsman rule over them instead of the Israelite sons of Gideon.   They financed his revolt and he hired a mercenary army to attack and execute his half-brothers and probably their sons at the village of Ophrah.  

Question: What is the significance of the seventy silver pieces Abimelech received from the pagan temple treasury?
Answer: He received one piece of silver to pay for taking each of the lives of his seventy Israelite kinsmen.

That there were seventy "brothers/kinsmen" after forty years of peace and until after Gideon's death suggests that Gideon had sons and grandsons.   As you will recall, the invitation to Gideon to become king and rule over the Israelites mentioned not only his son but his grandson.   In the Bible, descendants are referred to as "sons;" for example as in "Jesus son of David" (Mt 1:1).   That they were all killed on the same stone means that were all executed and not killed in fighting.   One wonders if it was the same stone/rock where God accepted Gideon's offering in Judges 6:21.   If so, that stone now receives the unholy sacrifice of Gideon's sons. The number seventy is probably not literal but symbolic of the entire number of the sons and grandsons of Gideon.(1)

Question: Did any of Abimelech's half-brothers and their sons survive?
Answer: Only his youngest brother/kinsman Jotham survived.

Judges 9:6 ~ All the leading [baalim] men of Shechem and all Beth-Millo then met and proclaimed Abimelech king at the oak [terebinth] of the cultic stone at Shechem.
Bible scholars think Beth-Millo refers to a quarter of the city that was higher than the rest of the city and built upon a filling of earth.   It may be been the seat of government for Shechem where the citadel and temple were located and where the town leaders regularly met (see verse 20).   The "cultic stone" in the literal translation is a masseba (massebot is the plural), a standing stone monument.   This was the sort of cultic stone that the Israelites were commanded to tear down since they represented or honored pagan gods: You will not make idols for yourselves;; you will not erect statues or cultic stones [massebot] in your country, for you to worship; for I Yahweh, am your God (Lev 26:1).   It is in the presence of the leaders and the pagan stone monument of their pagan god that Abimelech became a king.

Judges 9:7-15 ~ Jotham's Parable
7 News of this was brought to Jotham.   He went and stood on the top of Mount Gerizim and shouted at the top of his voice:

Hear me, leaders of Shechem, so that God may also hear you!
8 One day the trees went out to anoint a king to rule them.
They said to the olive tree, Be our king!
9 The olive tree replied, Must I forgo my oil which gives honor to gods and men,
to stand and sway over the trees?'
10 Then the trees said to the fig tree, You come and be our king!'
11 The fig tree replied, Must I forgo my sweetness,
forgo my excellent fruit, to go and sway over the trees?'
12 Then the trees said to the vine, You come and be our king!'
13 The vine replied, Must I forgo my wine which cheers gods and men,
to go and sway over the trees?'
14 Then the trees all said to the thorn bush, You come and be our king!'
15 And the thorn bush replied to the trees,
If you are anointing me in good faith to be your king,
come and shelter in my shade.   But if not, fire will come out of the thorn bush
and devour the cedars of Lebanon.'

This is the earliest parable in the Bible using plants as an example in addressing human morality.   For Jotham, standing on the mountain to deliver his parable, affords him a protective distance from his enemies.   It does not matter that the people of Shechem cannot hear him because the delivery of the parable in the form of a curse is what matters.   It was on Mounts Ebal and Gerizim that blessings and curse judgments of the Sinai Covenant were repeated to the Israelites in the covenant renewal ceremony in Joshua 8:30-35 that God commanded Moses to hold in Deuteronomy 11:26-32.   Shechem was over looked by Mount Gerizim to the south.(2)

The key to the symbolic elements of the parable are found in Judges 8:22 in the offer of kingship that was made and declined by Gideon for himself, his son and his grandson.

Symbolic element What the symbolic element represents
The trees searching for a king Men of Israel searching for a king
The olive tree Gideon
The fig tree Gideon's son(s)
The vine Gideon's grandson(s)
The thorn bush Abimelech
Cedars of Lebanon Leaders of Shechem

In verse 15 "shade" is a word often used in the Bible to mean "protection" as the shade protects one from the scorching sun.   A king was expected to protect/shade his people.   The thorn bush/Abimelech offers an ultimatum: his protection to those who acknowledge him as king but "fire" to those who do not.   "Fire" is often a symbol of destruction or purification.   In this case it is a symbol of destruction.  

Question: The olive tree, fig tree, and the vine all have something of value to offer: the fruit of their labors, but what does the thorn bush/Abimelech have to offer?   What is his lie and what is his threat?   What is the significance of the cedars of Lebanon, the tallest trees in the region?
Answer: The thorn tree/Abimelech has no "fruit" to offer only sharp thorns good for nothing.   Instead he lies when he promises shade/protection since the thorn tree is not big enough to provide shade.   His threat is if he is not made king that he will destroy the other "trees," no matter if they are as powerful as the great trees of Lebanon/Shechem's leaders, with fire/war in which their city and their citizens will be burned and destroyed.

Judges 9:16-21 ~ Jotham's Curse for Shechem
16 Now then if you have acted in sincerity and good faith in making Abimelech king, if you have dealt honorably with Jerubbaal and his family, and have treated him as his actions deserved, 17 my father having fought for you, risked his life and rescued you from the power of Midian, and 18 you today having risen up against my father's family, murdered his sons, seventy of them on one and the same stone, and appointed Abimelech, his slave-girl's son, to rule the leading men [baalim] of Shechem, because he is your brother!   19 If, I say, you have acted in sincerity and good faith towards Jerubbaal and his family, then may Abimelech be your joy and may you be his!   20 If not, may fire come out of Abimelech and devour the leading men [baalim] of Shechem and Beth-Millo, and fire come out of the leading men [baalim] of Shechem and Beth-Millo to devour Abimelech!'   21 Jotham then took to his heels; he fled and made his way to Beer; and there he stayed, to be out of his brother Abimelech's reach.  [..]   = the literal translation IBHG, vol. I, pages 659-660.   Beth-Millo is probably another name for the Migdal-Shechem, the citadel of Shechem in verses 46 and 49.

Jotham challenges the leaders of Shechem to an examination of conscience.   If they can truthfully say they acted in good conscience, he wishes them well.
Question: If, however, they have acted ungratefully and deceitfully what curse judgment does Jotham call down upon Shechem and Abimelech?
Answer: He calls down a curse judgment upon them that the baalim of Shechem and Abimelech destroy each other.

Question: How many times is the name of Yahweh invoked in Jotham's cry for justice and curse against the murderers of his kinsmen?
Answer: Yahweh, the God of Israel is not invoked in the parable or in the curse.   Only pagan gods are mentioned.  

Only pagan gods anoint themselves with oil (or their priests anointed the images with oil) and pagan gods are believed to drink wine.   Yahweh is never depicted reveling in the same way men do, but the pagan gods were understood as having all the same vices as men.   Jotham sought refuge in Beer, an unknown location.   Beer means well.

Judges 9:22-24 ~ God's Judgment on Shechem and Abimelech
22 Abimelech ruled Israel for three years.   23 God then sent a spirit of discord between Abimelech and the leaders [baalim] of Shechem, and the leaders of Shechem [baalim] betrayed Abimelech.   24 And this was so that the crime committed against Jerubbaal's seventy sons should be avenged, and their blood recoil on their brother Abimelech who had murdered them, and on those leaders [baalim] of Shechem who had helped him to murder his brothers.   [..]   = the literal translation IBHG, vol. I, page 660.

This is the first statement of the theme of retribution.   God sending of the "spirit of discord" will set in motion the first of four stages in the judgment against Shechem and Abimelech:

  1. The first battle of Shechem (Judg 9:25-41).
  2. The second battle of Shechem (Judg 9:42-45).
  3. The battle at the Tower (Judg 9:46-49).
  4. The battle of Thebez and Abimelech's death (Judg 9:50-54).

With his mercenary army, Abimelech extended his control over the tribes of Israel for three years, some of which willingly served him (see Judg 9:55).   The wording in verse 24: and their blood recoil on their brother Abimelech who had murdered them, and on those leaders [baalim] of Shechem who had helped him to murder his brothers recalls God's words to Cain, another man who spilled the blood of a brother in Genesis 4:10 when God said Your brother's blood is crying out to me from the ground.   The fall of Abimelech and the town of Shechem will be a divine punishment.

Question: Jotham did not invoke the name of Yahweh to bring justice to his brothers and their sons, so why does God work to bring justice to the seventy sons of Gideon/Jerubbaal killed by their half-brother?
Answer: Yahweh is the God of all men, those who believe in Him and even those who abandon Him.   He will bring retribution against Abimelech for the murder of the sons of His former servant Gideon and justice to the victims.

Judges 9:25-33 ~ Shechem Revolts against Abimelech
25 The leaders [baalim] of Shechem put men to ambush him on the mountain tops, and these robbed anyone travelling their way.   Abimelech was told of this.   26 Gaal son of Obed* [ben ebed = son of a slave], with his brothers, happened to pass through Shechem and win the confidence of the leaders [baalim] of Shechem.   27 These went out into the countryside to harvest their vineyards; they trod the grapes and made merry and went into the temple of their god.   They ate and drank there and cursed Abimelech.   28 Gaal son of Obed [ben ebed = son of a slave] said, Who is Abimelech, and what is Shechem, for us to be his slaves?   Should not Jerubbaal's son and his lieutenant, Zebul, be serving the men of Hamor, father of Hamor, father of Shechem?   Why should we be his slaves:   29 Who will put this people under my command, so that I can expel Abimelech?   I should say to him, "Reinforce your army and come out!"   30 Zebul the governor of the town was told what Gaal son of Obed [ben ebed = son of a slave] had said, and he was furious.   31 He sent messengers secretly to Abimelech [at Aruma] to say, Look! Gaal son of Obed [ben ebed = son of a slave] has come to Shechem with his brothers, and they are stirring up the town against you.   32 So, move under cover of dark, you and the men you have with you, and take up concealed positions in the countryside; 33 then in the morning at sunrise, break cover and rush on the town.   When Gaal and his supporters come out to meet you, treat them as occasion offers.'     [..]   = the literal translation IBHG, vol. I, pages 660-661; the word "obed" is an accidental mistranslation and should read "ebed."

God's "spirit of discord" takes effect as the leaders of Shechem become dissatisfied with the kingship of Abimelech and decided to send men to ambush and kill him when Abimelech travels through the pass between the mountains.   The Shechemites are as corrupt and immoral as Abimelech and the men pass the time robbing anyone who travels through the pass.   Zebul sends a message to Abimelech at his headquarters in Aruma, telling him of the robberies but he does not take action against it (verse 25).   He is apparently not living in Shechem because he probably distrusts his subjects there (see 10:41).

Gaal is a Canaanite and the son of a slave.   The inspired writer wants the reader to understand this by identifying Gaal as ben ebed, "son of a slave" five times between verses 26 and 35.   He and his brothers are a band of men who are probably brigands hired by the Shechemites, and he is probably a Shechemite himself (verse 28).   Abimelech did not reside in Shechem and the city was ruled by his lieutenant, Zebul.   It was during the festival of the grape harvest when Gaal, his brothers, and the men of Shechem were drunk on wine in the temple of their pagan god that Gaal began to play on the dissatisfaction of the men of Shechem with Abimelech and to promote himself.

Question: Gaal was able to further convince the men of Shechem to reject Abimelech and to promote him as leader by asking what four rhetorical questions?

  1. Who is Abimelech, and what is Shechem, for us to be his slaves?  
  2. Should not Jerubbaal's son and his lieutenant, Zebul, be serving the men of Hamor, father of Hamor, father of Shechem?
  3. Why should we be his slaves?  
  4. Who will put this people under my command, so that I can expel Abimelech

Question: What is his argument?   What does he imply about himself in the argument?   See verse 28.
Answer: He argued that Abimelech and his city governor Zebul weren't descendants of King Hamor, the patriarchal founder of Shechem, like Gaal and the rest of them, insinuating that this is because Abimelech's father was an Israelite.     The Israelites like Abimelech should be slaves to them and shouldn't they put the people under Gaal's command so he can expel Abimelech.

Question: What is the irony concerning Abimelech's rejection that is encouraged by Gaal?
Answer: Now Abimelech is rejected by both sides of his family.   He was rejected by his Israelite kinsmen because his mother was a Canaanite slave and now he is rejected by the people of his mother because his father was an Israelite.

Question: What is ironic concerning the connection between Gaal, Abimelech, and the leaders of Shechem?
Answer: Like Abimelech, Gaal is also the son of a slave.   Unlike Abimelech who killed his brothers, Gaal is united with his brothers.   The leaders of Shechem first conspired with Abimelech, the son of a slave, to betray Gideon's family and now they conspire with Gaal, the son of a slave, to betray Abimelech.

Judges 9:34-41 ~ Stage One: the Battle between Gaal and Abimelech
34 So Abimelech set off under cover of dark with all his own supporters and took up concealed positions over against Shechem, in four groups.   35 As Gaal son of Obed [ben ebed = son of a slave] was coming out and pausing at the entrance of the town gate, Abimelech and his supporters rose from their ambush.   36 Gaal saw these men and said to Zebul, Look, there are men coming down from the tops of the mountains!'   Zebul answered, You mistake the shadow of the mountains for men.'   37 But Gaal insisted, Look, there are men coming down from the Navel of the Earth and another group is coming from the direction of the Diviners' Oak.'   38 Zebul then said, Where are your mouthings now about "Who is Abimelech, for us to be his slaves?"   Are not these the men you made light of?   Sally out, then, and fight him.'   39 Gaal sallied out at the head of the leaders [baalim] of Shechem and engaged Abimelech.   40 Abimelech drove Gaal off, who turned tail, many of his men falling dead before they could reach the gate.   41 Abimelech then stayed at Aruma, and Zebul expelled Gaal and his brothers and prevented them of living in Shechem.  [..]   = the literal translation IBHG, vol. I, pages 661-662.

The "Navel of the Earth" is probably the pagan name for Mount Gerizim.   The "Diviners Oak", meaning the "oak of the instructor" or "of the diviner" is may be the same tree as the ancient "Oak of Moreh" in Genesis 12:6 (also see Dt 11:30).   Abimelech, warned by his lieutenant Zubal, who also suggested a plan of attack, begins his war against Shechem.   Zubal tries to delay Gaal's response to the attack as long as he can to give Abimelech the advantage, but when he sees that Gaal realizes it is Abimelech, he goads Gaal into the fight by reminding him of his boasting to defeat Abimelech.   The result is total disaster for Gaal and the leaders of Shechem.   Zebal remained in Shechem to rally supporters for Abimelech and closes the gates of the city to Gaal and the city leaders' retreating forces.   After their victory, Abimelech and his army withdrew to Aruma (Judg 9:31 and 41).   It was probably modern Khirbet el-Ormeh, about five miles southeast of Shechem.

Judges 9:42-45 ~ Stage Two: Ambush of the People in the Fields and Destruction of the City
42 Next day, when the people went out into the countryside, Abimelech was told of this.   42 He took his men, divided them into three groups and lay in wait in the fields.   When he saw the people leaving the town, he bore down on them and slaughtered them.   44 While Abimelech and his group rushed forward and took position at the entrance to the town gate, the two other groups fell on everyone in the fields and slaughtered them.   45 All that day Abimelech attacked the town.   He stormed it and slaughtered the people inside, razed the town and sowed it with salt.  

Abimelech and his men cut off the retreat to the town gate and massacred all the men and women inside and outside the walled city of Shechem.  Archaeological excavations at Shechem reveal a destruction of the town in c. the 1100's BC.

Question: Why did he sow the fields with salt?
Answer: It was his final desecration of the town to make the symbolic gesture to assure the bareness of the soil.

Judges 9:46-49 ~ Stage Three: Battle at the Temple of El-Berith
46 On hearing this, all the leading men [baalim] inside Migdal-Shechem took refuge in the crypt of the temple of El-Berith.   47 As soon as Abimelech heard that the leading men inside Migdal-Shechem had all gathered there, 48 he went up Mount Zalmon [shadow/shade] with all his men.   Then taking an axe in his hands, he cut off the branch of a tree, picked it up and put it on his shoulder, and said to the men with him, Hurry and do what you have seen me do.'   49 Each of his men similarly cut off a branch; then, following Abimelech, they piled the branches over the crypt and set it on fire over those who were inside; so that all the people in Migdal-Shechem died too, about a thousand men and women.   [..]   = the literal translation, IBHG, vol. I, page 662.

The city fortress and the temple were part of the same building complex.   The town leaders who had been inside the fortress of Shechem took refuge in the underground crypt of the temple of "god/El of the oath," El-Berith.   El and Baal are both names of Canaanite deities.   Abimelech took his men to gather wood on Mount Zalmon, usually identified as a wooded slope of Mount Gerizim or Mount Ebal which lie on either side of Shechem.   The Hebrew word zalmon in verse 48 is related to the Hebrew word "shade" or "shadow" (sel) in verses 15 and 36.   Mount Zalmon means "shadow/shade" or "dark" mountain.   He then used the wood collected from "shadow" mountain to burn alive all the leaders of Shechem and those men and women taking refuge in the crypt.

Question: How has verse 15 of Jotham's parable/curse been fulfilled in verses 36 and 48?
Answer: In Jotham's parable the thorn bush/Abimelech promised to protect the people by saying "come and shelter in my shade."   His army coming down to annihilate the people had the appearance of shade on the mountain, and he has used the wood from "shadow mountain" and has destroyed them with fire, fulfilling the curse prophecy in Jotham's parable in verse 15: And the thorn bush replied to the trees, If you are anointing me in good faith to be your king, come and shelter in my shade/shadow.   But, if not, fire will come out of the thorn bush and devour the cedars of Lebanon.

Judges 9:50-55 ~ Stage Four: Siege of Thebez and Death of Abimelech
50 Abimelech then marched on Thebez, besieged it and captured it.   51 In the middle of the town there was a fortified tower in which all the men and women and all the leading men of the town took refuge.   They locked the door behind them and climbed up to the roof of the tower.   52 Abimelech reached the tower and attacked it.   As he was approaching the door of the tower to set it on fire, 53 a woman threw down a [riding millstone] millstone on his head and cracked [crushed] his skull.   54 He instantly called his young armor-bearer and said, Draw your sword and kill me, so that it will not be said of me that "A woman killed him."   His armor-bearer ran him through, and he died.   55 When the men of Israel saw that Abimelech was dead, they dispersed to their homes.   [..]   = the literal translation IBHG, vol. I, page 663.

In his insane fury Abimelech attacks a city near Shechem, perhaps a satellite town of Shechem.   Thebez has been identified as either modern Tubas, about ten miles northeast of Shechem, or Tegal which is a little closer.
Question: How was Abimelech killed?
Answer: A woman in the tower threw down the upper part (smaller part) of a millstone that crushed his head.   To save himself from the disgrace of being killed by a woman, Abimelech begged his armor-bearer finish him off, which he did.

Hand millstones used to grind grain were in two parts: the bottom stone upon which the grain was placed and an upper stone, called the "riding" or "rider" stone that was moved back and forth over the grain on the lower stone.   In Jesus' time the milling stones were a bit more sophisticated, but in the era of the Judges the hand mill consisted of a slightly concave lower stone and a loaf-shaped upper "riding" stone.   A woman could lift an upper stone (especially if she had help) and could throw it down upon an enemy (also see 2 Sam 11:21 where this event is recalled by King David's commander Joab).

Question: How is Abimelech's death brought about by a single stone ironic?   See Judg 9:5.
Answer:   He executed all his brothers on a single stone.

Question: What earlier event do you recall that is similar to crushing of Abimelech's head at the hands of a woman?   What prophecy in Scripture from Genesis is partially fulfilled?   You will recall that to "crush the head" means to deal a mortal blow.
Answer: It recalls the killing of Sisera by Jael, who also "crushed" her enemy's head with a tent peg (Judg 4:17-22).   It is another victory won by a woman over Israel's enemies and is once again a partial fulfillment of the prophecy of the destruction Satan in the destruction of his seed (offspring) by a woman (see Gen 3:15).

Once again we are reminded of the significant role women play in the Book of Judges.   The book began with Achsah, the wise daughter of Caleb the Gentile convert hero of the Exodus and the Conquest who was also the wife of Othniel, the first Judge of Israel.   Next there was righteous Deborah who judged Israel and led the army of Israel with her hesitant general Barak in victory over the Canaanite army of King Jabin.   And there was brave Jael who achieved the final victory by killing the Canaanite general Sisera while his mother waited for him to bring home the spoils of war.
Question: What role significant role do women play in the narrative of Abimelech and what is ironic concerning their connection to him?
Answer: The story of Abimelech begins and ends with a woman: the Canaanite slave who gave him life and the Canaanite woman who took it.

Judges 10:55 ~ When the men of Israel saw that Abimelech was dead, they dispersed to their homes. Sadly, Israelites had served Abimelech.

Question: What were God's commands concerning a king to rule over Israel? See Dt 17:14-15.
Answer: A king must be chosen by God, and he must be an Israelite.  

The story of Abimelech serves as a cautionary tale of the disasters that will happen if the people chose a king without God's consent.

Judges 10:56-57 ~ Conclusion
56 Thus God made to recoil on Abimelech the evil he had done his father by murdering his seventy brothers, and all the evil that he men of Shechem had done God made recoil on their heads too.   57 And so the curse of Jotham son of Jerubbaal came true for them.

This is the second theme statement.   God's judgment has been fulfilled and justice has been given the murdered sons of Gideon.

Chapter 10: The Judges Tola and Jair

Judges 10:1-2 ~ The Judge Tola
1 After Abimelech, Tola son of Puah, son of Dodo, rose to deliver Israel.   He belonged to Issachar and lived at Shamir in the mountain country of Ephraim.   2 He was judge in Israel for twenty-three years; he then died and was buried at Shamir.

We do not have the deliverer cycle; we only the information that he belonged to the tribe of Issachar in the north and judged Israel for twenty-three years.   Even though he was of the tribe of Issachar, he lived in a village in the territory of Ephraim and probably provided leadership to the northern tribes.   He is the descendant of the Tola who is named as one of the sons of Issachar and one of the grandsons of Jacob-Israel who made the migration into Egypt (Gen 46:13; also see 1 Chr 7:1-2).   Tola is also listed as one of the clans of Issachar (Num 26:23 and also 1 Chr 7:1-5).

Judges 10:3-5 ~ The Judge Jair
3 After him rose Jair of Gilead, who judged Israel for twenty-two years.   4 He had thirty sons who rode on thirty young donkeys and who owned thirty towns, still known today as the Encampments of Jair, in the territory of Gilead.   5 Jair then died and was buried at Kamon.

Shamgar, Tola, and Jair are listed among the six minor judges (also Ibzan, Elon, and Abdon).(3) The rule of each of the minor judges is announced by the word "after":

While variations of the phrase "the Israelites did what was evil in Yahweh's eyes" introduces each of the major judges:

Jair was the descendant of Jair of Manasseh (see Num 32:41-42; Dt 3:14; 1 Kng 4:13; 1 Chr 2:21-23).   Peace brought prosperity which is indicated by his thirty sons who rode donkeys and were the headmen of thirty towns.   The peace and prosperity of this period makes the Israelites totally unprepared for what comes next.   In the Hebrew text there is word play in the Hebrew words for "young donkey" (air), "town" (ir), and the judge's name, Jair (yair).   Jair is the first judge from the Transjordan.   He is from the tribe of Manasseh who occupied the Upper Gilead in territory north of the tribe of Gad (Dt 3:12-14).   Only Jair and Jephthah were Transjordan judges and both are from Gilead-Manasseh on the east side of the Jordan River.

This next section is presented in five dialogues within five episodes:

  1. Yahweh and Israel (Judg 10:6-16)
  2. The elders of Israel and Jephthah (Judg 10:17-11:11)
  3. Jephthah and the Ammonite king (Judg 11:12-28)
  4. Jephthah and his daughter (Judg 11:29-40)
  5. Jephthah and the Ephraimites (Judg 12:1-7)

Judges 10:6-18 ~ The Oppression of the Ammonites
6 The Israelites again began doing what is evil in Yahweh's eyes.   They served Baal and Astarte, and the gods of Aram and Sidon, the gods of Moab and those of the Ammonites and Philistines.   They deserted Yahweh and served him no more.   7 Yahweh's anger then grew hot against Israel and he gave them over into the power of the Philistines and the power of the Ammonites, 8 who from that year onwards crushed and oppressed the Israelites for eighteen years, all those Israelites on the other side of the Jordan in Amorite territory, in Gilead.   9 Furthermore, the Ammonites would cross the Jordan and also make war on Judah, Benjamin and the House of Ephraim, so that Israel was in distress.   10 The Israelites then cried to Yahweh and said, We have sinned against you, because we have turned from Yahweh our God to serve Baals.'   11 And Yahweh said to the Israelites, When the Egyptians and the Amorites, Ammonites and Philistines, 12 when the Sidonians, Amalek and Midian oppressed you and you cried to me, did I not rescue from their power?   13 But it is you who have forsaken me and served other gods; and so I shall rescue you no more.   14 Go and cry to the gods whom you have chosen.   Let them rescue you in your time of trouble.'   15 The Israelites replied to Yahweh, We have sinned.   Treat us as you see fit, but please rescue us today.'   16 They got rid of their foreign gods and served Yahweh, who could bear Israel's suffering no longer.   17 The Ammonites gathered and pitched camp in Gilead.   The Israelites rallied and pitched camp at Mizpah [watch tower].   18 The people, the chieftains of Gilead, then said to one another, Who will volunteer to attack the Ammonites?   He shall be chief of all who live in Gilead!' [..]   = the literal translation IBHG, vol. I, page 665.

This part of the Judges narrative takes place on the east side of the Jordan River and concerns the lands occupied by the Transjordan tribes of Israel.   The mention of the Philistines in three verses (verses 6, 7 and 11) prepares the reader for the story of the Judge Samson and his wars with the Philistines in Judges 13:1-16:31.   The forty years the Israelites were oppressed by the Philistines on the west side of the River Jordan (13:1) may have been during the time of the oppression of the eastern tribes by the Ammonites and the judgeship of Jephthah.   At the end of the eighteen years of the Ammonite oppressing when Jephthah begins his mission to deliver the eastern tribes, we have a time reference in Judges 11:26 when Jephthah says it has been three hundred years since the Israelites first took possession of the eastern lands.   That is probably a rounded number.

In Judges 10:6-18 we have the repeated cycle of sin, subjugation, supplication, and salvation.
Question: How is the cycle played out in Judges 10:6-18?
Answer: (1) Once again Israel rejects Yahweh in following after false gods until (2) they find themselves in a dangerous situation they cannot resolve, their subjugation by the Ammonites.   (3) In desperation they seek help form Yahweh, the One they rejected.   But Yahweh has lost patience with their continual cycles of sin and He rebuffs their appeal.   (4) Later God relents and responds to their appeal.

Question: How is the idolatry of the Israelites worse than ever?
Answer: They not only worship Baal and Astarte as they have done in the past, but now they also worship all the other gods of the region with the exception of Yahweh.

This is the third direct intervention by God in calling down a covenant lawsuit against Israel:

  1. The messenger (mal'ak) of Yahweh confronts Israel (Judg 2:1-5).
  2. A prophet (nabi) sent by Yahweh confronts Israel (Judg 6:7-10).
  3. Yahweh Himself confronts Israel (Judg 10:11-15).

It is also another beginning in the seven part deliverer formulaic sequence and four parts are fulfilled in this section:

  1. Announcement of Israel's wrong doing (10:7)
  2. Statement of Yahweh's response (10:7)
  3. Notice of how long Israel was oppressed by the enemy (10:8)
  4. Reference to Israel's repentance in "crying out" to God (10:10)

Question: When the Israelites cried out to Yahweh and repented their idolatry, what did God tell them?

  1. God reminded them of the times He had delivered them from their enemies in the past.
  2. He has not abandoned them but they have abandoned Him and so He will rescue them no more.
  3. He challenges them to go to their false gods to rescue them.

Question: The Israelites not only cried out in repenting their sins and in submitting themselves to God's divine judgment (verse 15), but what else did they do and why?
Answer: They followed their words with actions to demonstrate their contrition by destroying their foreign gods and returning to serve Yahweh.   Repenting alone is not enough.   Genuine repentance has to be demonstrated by turning away from sin and turning back to God.

Judges 10:17-18 ~ 17 The Ammonites gathered and pitched camp in Gilead.   The Israelites rallied and pitched camp at Mizpah.   18 The people, the chieftains of Gilead, then said to one another, Who will volunteer to attack the Ammonites?   He shall be chief of all who live in Gilead!'
Preparing for war the Ammonites gathered at an unidentified site in Gilead on the east side of the Jordan River.   The Israelites responded to the threat by gathering at the "watch tower" in Gilead.   The location was on the east side of the Jordan River in the Gilead, north of the Jabbok River.   It was the site of the covenant between Laban and Jacob when Jacob returned to Canaan with his family (Gen 31:49).   The Israelites have responded to the threat but they have no one to lead them and so they ask for a deliverer to step forward.

Chapter 11: The Judge Jephthah

Judges 11:1-3 ~ Jephthah the Outcast
1 Jephthah the Gileadite was a valiant warrior.   He was a prostitute's son.   Gilead was Jephthah's father, 2 but Gilead's wife also bore him sons, and the sons of this wife, when they grew up, drove Jephthah away, saying, No share of the paternal heritage for you, since you are a son of another woman.'   3 Jephthah fled far from his brothers and settled in the territory of Tob.   Jephthah enlisted a group of adventurers [empty men] who used to go raiding with him.  
[..]   = the literal translation IBHG, vol. I, page 665; can also be translated "worthless men".  

Both Gideon and Jephthah are called "valiant warrior" (Judg 6:12).   It is a title God gave Gideon in Judges 6:12 and the inspired writer gives Jephthah in the opening line of his narrative.   Look for comparisons between the two men.

Unlike Gideon but like Abimelech, Jephthah has a dubious beginning.   He is the son of a prostitute who was probably a Canaanite woman since prostitution was forbidden for Israelite women and the penalty, like that of adultery, was death.   He was raised by his father, a man we are told whose name is Gilead.   Since this is the name of a geographic region, it is possible that the man's name is unknown and he is simply identified by the region in which he lived (Num 32:1; 26:29).   Later his father marries and has legitimate offspring.   When his father dies, Jephthah is rejected by his brothers and denied any share in their inheritance (see a similar case in the story of Ishmael in Gen 21:10).   Part of the reason could be that his brothers do not consider him a kinsman because his mother was a Canaanite.   Jephthah becomes the leader of a mercenary band in Tob, a town about twelve miles and slightly north of Ramoth-gilead on the east side of the Jordan River.   This town also supplied mercenaries to the Ammonites in their wars with King David (2 Sam 10:6-13).   The men are described in the Hebrew text as "empty men," meaning soulless men with no family, country, or religious affiliation like the mercenaries hired by Abimelech (Judg 9:4).

Judges 11:4-11 ~ Jephthah is Nominated Deliver and Lays Down his Terms
4 It was some time after this that the Ammonites made war on Israel.   5 And when the Ammonites had attacked Israel, the elders of Gilead went to fetch Jephthah from the territory of Tob.   6 Come,' they said, and be our commander, so that we can fight the Ammonites.'   7 Jephthah replied to the elders of Gilead, Didn't you hate me and drive me out of my father's house?   Why come to me now, when you are in trouble?'   8 The elders of Gilead said to Jephthah, That is why were are turning to you now.   Come with us; fight the Ammonites and be our chief, chief of all the people living in Gilead.'   9 Jephthah then said to the elders of Gilead, If you bring me home to fight the Ammonites and Yahweh defeats them for me, I am to be your chief?'  10 And the elders of Gilead then said to Jephthah, Yahweh will be witness between us, if we do not do as you have said!'   11 So Jephthah set off with the elders of Gilead.   The people put him at their head as chief and commander; and Jephthah repeated all his conditions at Mizpah in Yahweh's presence.  

Question: Who were the Ammonites?   See Gen 12:5; 19:30, 36-38.
Answer: They were the descendants of Abraham's nephew Lot and his younger daughter.  Like their kinsmen the Moabites, they lived on the borders of the Promised Land but never possessed it.

The Gileadites had rejected Jephthah, but now that they find themselves in a dangerous situation with no one else experienced enough to act as Israel's leader.   In desperation they turn to Jephthah and seek his help.   Understandably, Jephthah at first rebuffs their appeal, but later reconsiders.

Question: Compare the stories and the dialogues between Yahweh and Israel in 10:6-18 and between Jephthah and the elders in 11:1-11.   What similarities do you see that the inspired writer has intentional placed in the narrative?
Answer: Both episodes follow the same basic pattern:

Yahweh and Israel Jephthah and the Elders of Gilead
The Israelites reject Yahweh. The Gileadites reject Jephthah.
The Israelites find themselves in a dangerous situation they cannot resolve. The Israelites find themselves in a dangerous situation they cannot resolve.
The Israelites seek help from Yahweh, the One they rejected. The Israelites seek help from Jephthah, the one they rejected.
Yahweh rebuffs their appeal. Jephthah rebuffs their appeal.
Yahweh relents. Jephthah relents.

This deliverer should understand how Yahweh feels about Israel because he has experienced the same rejection.
Question: Who choose Jephthah to be Israel's deliverer, the elders of Gilead or Yahweh and why?   See 10:29, 32-33 and 12:7
Answer: It would appear that he was chosen by the leaders because of his experience in warfare.
However, God accepted their choice since the deliverer sequence will be fulfilled in verses 29, 32-33 and 12:7.

Question: What are Jephthah's conditions of acceptance?   Did the other judges have conditions of acceptance?
Answer: If he is successful they are to make him the ruler of all the Gilead.   The other judges did not have conditions for accepting their missions.

and Jephthah repeated all his conditions at Mizpah in Yahweh's presence.   Jephthah swore to uphold his part of the conditions with Yahweh as the witness to his oath.  

Judges 11:12-13 ~ Jephthah attempts to negotiate with the Ammonites
12 Jephthah sent messengers to the king of the Ammonites to say to him, What do you have against us, for you to come and make war on my country?'   13 The king of the Ammonites replied to Jephthah's messengers, The reason is that when Israel came up from Egypt, they seized my country from the Arnon to the Jabbok and to the Jordan; so now restore it to me peacefully.'

The Ammonites demand the land that is now Israelite territory from the Arnon River (boarder with Moab) in the south to the Jabbok River in the north.

Judges 11:14-28 ~ Jephthah's response to the king of the Ammonites
14 Jephthah sent messengers back to the king of the Ammonites 15 with this answer, Jephthah says this, "Israel seized neither the country of Moab nor the country of the Ammonites.   16 When Israel came out of Egypt, they marched through the desert as far as the Sea of Reeds and, having reached Kadesh, 17 Israel then sent messengers to the king of Edom to say: Please let me pass through your country, but the king of Edom would not listen.   They sent similarly to the king of Moab, but he refused, and Israel remained at Kadesh; 18 later, moving on through the desert and skirting the countries of Edom and Moab until arriving to the east of Moabite territory, the people camped on the other side of the Arnon but did not enter Moabite territory, the Arnon being the Moabite frontier.   19 Israel then sent messengers to Sihon, king of the Amorites, ruling in Heshbon.   Israel's message was: Please let me pass through your country to my destination.   20 But Sihon would not let Israel pass through his territory; he mustered his whole army; they encamped at Jahaz, and he then joined battle with Israel.   21 Yahweh, God of Israel, delivered Sihon and his whole army into the power of Israel, who defeated them; as the result of which, Israel took possession of the entire territory of the Amorites living in that region.   22 Israel took possession of all Amorite territory from the Arnon to the Jabbok and from the desert to the Jordan.   23 And now that Yahweh, God of Israel, has dispossessed the Amorites before his people Israel, do you think you can dispossess us?   24 Will you not keep as your possession whatever Chemosh, your god, has given you?   And just the same, we shall keep as ours whatever Yahweh our God has given us, to inherit from those who were before us!   25 Are you a better man than Balak son of Zippor, king of Moab?   Did he pick a quarrel with Israel?   Did he make war on them?   26 When the Israel settle in Heshbon and its dependencies, and in Aroer and its dependencies, or in any of the towns on the banks of the Arnon (three hundred years ago), why did you not recover them then?   27 I for my part have done you no harm, but you are wronging me by making war on me.   Let Yahweh the Judge give judgment today between the Israelites and the king of the Ammonites."' 28  But the king of the Ammonites took no notice of the message that Jephthah sent him.

Jephthah responds to the king of the Ammonite's demands by providing an accurate account of the historical events leading up to Israel taking possession of the lands in question during the last stage of the journey to their camp on the east side of the Jordan River before crossing over into Canaan.   Notice how Jephthah brings Moab into the discussion.   The Ammonite king failed to mention that the Ammonites and their Amorite allies had attacked Moab and took the disputed territory that originally belonged to Moab before Israel took the territory from them (Num 21:25-30).   The Ammonites had attacked Israel and when Israel won the battle, they rightfully kept the lands Yahweh had given them in their victory.   The account of these events is recorded in Numbers 20:14-21; 21:2131 and chapters 22-24, as well as Deuteronomy 2:19-37.  The god Chemosh who Jephthah mentions in verse 24 is not the god of the Ammonites but the god of the Moabites.   In other words, Chemosh did not give the land to the Ammonites; their god is Molech.

Jephthah mentions both Ammonites and Amorites.   The Ammonites are the descendants of Lot and his younger daughter.   The Amorites were one of the primary groups of peoples in the land of Canaan before the conquest and can simply refer to the basic population of the whole area on both sides of the Jordan River.   The kings Israel fought for the disputed territory were Amorites: king Sihon of Heshbon and king Og (Num 21:21-35; Dt 1:4; 2:24-37; 3:1-13). They were the allies of the Ammonites who received the newly won territory for their support and as a border defense for the Ammonites.  

Judges 11:27 ~  I for my part have done you no harm, but you are wronging me by making war on me.   Let Yahweh the Judge give judgment today between the Israelites and the king of the Ammonites."'
This statement is a declaration of war.   It is also a reminder that although men and women became the Judges of Israel that behind the human judges is Yahweh, the ultimate Judge.   Jephthah's diplomacy had no effect on the king of the Ammonites and both sides prepare for war.

Judges 11:29-33 ~ Jephthah's Vow and his Victory
29 The spirit of Yahweh was on Jephthah, who crossed Gilead and Manasseh, crossed by way of Mizpah in Gilead, and from Miszah in Gilead crossed into Ammonite territory.   30 And Jephthah made a vow to Yahweh, If you deliver the Ammonites into my grasp, 31 the first thing to come out of the doors of my house to meet me when I return in triumph from fighting the Ammonites shall belong to Yahweh, and I shall sacrifice it as a burnt offering.'   32 Jephthah crossed into Ammonite territory to attack them, and Yahweh delivered them into his grasp.   33 He beat them from Aroer to the border of Minnith (twenty towns) and to Abel-Keramim.   It was a very severe defeat, and the Ammonites were humbled by the Israelites.  

Verse 29 is the fifth part in the deliverer sequence for Jephthah: the announcement of God's spirit with a deliverer (in other sequences expressed as "raising up" a deliverer).   That the "spirit of Yahweh was on" the deliverer is the same expression that was used for Othniel (Judg 3:10) and Gideon (Judg 6:34).   Jephthah is the people's choice, but God does give their choice the power to succeed by covering Jephthah with His Spirit.   However, God never talks to Jephthah directly as He dialogued with Gideon or through His prophet as the prophetess Deborah instructed Barak.   The tragedy is that we know that Yahweh' spirit was on Jephthah to give him what he needed to achieve victory, but apparently Jephthah didn't know it; therefore, he attempts to bribe Yahweh with a vow.   Victory means everything to him.   He was an outcast and now he is not only accepted but honored as a leader.   If he loses the battle, Jephthah fears that he will lose everything.  

Question: What does he do in an attempt to assure victory and what is the problem with the action he takes?
Answer: He attempts to bribe Yahweh by making a vow instead of praying to God, placing his life in God's hands, and trusting in God to deliver the victory.

He vows to offer as a whole burnt offering (a sacrifice consumed completely on a sacrificial altar by fire) whatever first greets him coming out of his house on his return from victory.

Judges 11:32-33 ~ Jephthah crossed into Ammonite territory to attack them, and Yahweh delivered them into his grasp.   33 He beat them from Aroer to the border of Minnith (twenty towns) and to Abel-Keramim.   It was a very severe defeat, and the Ammonites were humbled by the Israelites.  
Verses 32-33 are the sixth part in the deliverer cycle, the description of how deliverance was achieved.  

Judges 11:34-40 ~ The Consequence of Jephthah's Vow
34 As Jephthah returned to his house at Mizpah, his daughter came out to meet him, dancing to the sound of tambourines.   She was his only child; apart from her he had neither son nor daughter.   35 When he saw her, he tore his clothes and exclaimed, Oh my daughter, what misery you have brought upon me!   You have joined those who bring misery into my life!   I have made a promise before Yahweh which I cannot retract.'   36 She replied, Father, you have made a promise to Yahweh; treat me as the promise that you have made requires, since Yahweh has granted you vengeance on your enemies the Ammonites.' 37 She then said to her father, Grant me this!   Let me be free for two months.   I shall go and wander in the mountains, and with my companions bewail my virginity.'   38 He replied, Go,' and let her go away for two months.   So she went away with her companions and bewailed her virginity in the mountains.   39 When the two months were over she went back to her father, and he treated her as the vow that he had uttered bound him.   She had remained a virgin.   And hence, the custom in Israel 40 for the daughters of Israel to leave home year by year and lament over the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite for four days every year.

Did Jephthah intend that the whole burnt offering be a human sacrifice?   He must have.   While it is true that animals sometimes shared a side room of living quarters on the first floor of a dwelling or the first floor of a two-story dwelling, he had to know that it was likely either his wife or his daughter or a slave would be the first to open the door to greet him (animals don't open doors).   That he does not name the person only means he is leaving the choice up to "destiny," giving him an excuse for his behavior.

Jephthah's vow is similar to foolish vow by King Saul which could have costs his son his life if the people had not intervened to prevent it (1 Sam 14:24-30, 43-45).   In the case of Jephthah's daughter, no one intervenes.   It is a shocking turn of events since Yahweh never condoned human sacrifice and it is expressly forbidden in the Law of the Sinai Covenant.
Question: What is the penalty for someone who offers a child as a sacrifice?   See Lev 20:1-5.
Answer: The penalty for someone who sacrificed a child was death.  

This event of the sacrifice of Jephthah's daughter cannot be compared to God's command to Abraham to offer Isaac in sacrifice since that was a test of obedience (Gen 22:1) which God stopped before any harm could come to Isaac (Gen 22:11-12).   Some commentators have expressed the belief that Jephthah's daughter remained a virgin consecrated to Yahweh; it is a nice thought but does not fit the text in which Jephthah declares in verse 31 that whatever emerges from his house will be offered as a "whole burnt offering."   Such a profane sacrifice could not, by the way, be offered at God's one Sanctuary and sacrificial altar.   The priests of Yahweh would have refused and would have strongly condemned the offerer.

Question: How can a man who has the spirit of Yahweh upon him do such a despicable act as offer human sacrifice to God?
Answer: The problem begins with the vow itself which was a bribe.   You cannot bribe God.   In addition God's Spirit calls us to holiness and a life set apart as in the Sacrament of Christian baptism, but a human being still has the free will to act with righteousness or not.  

The tragedy is that Jephthah knew Israel's history and he "knew about" Yahweh, but he was so far from truly "knowing" God through His covenantal Law and liturgy of worship that he did not seem to understand that the fulfillment of such a terrible vow was an evil act.   Perhaps because he had been influenced by pagan worship where the offer of bribes for blessings in the form vowed offerings was the practice and in which human sacrifice was practiced as the ultimate offering.   It is possible that he didn't dare to resend his vow in the superstition that all the power and acceptance he had won would be taken away.

In fact Jephthah's victory over the Ammonites (only mentioned in two verses) is eclipsed by his sin against his daughter (seven verses).   To know God is to keep His commandments.   If you are horrified by this story, ask yourself if professing Christians who practice abortion and support abortion laws or those representatives who champion them are any different than Jephthah?  

Judges 12:1-6 ~ War between Ephraim and Gilead
1 The men of Ephraim mobilized; they crossed the Jordan near Zaphon and said to Jephthah, Why did you go and make war on the Ammonites without asking us to go with you? We shall burn down your house over your head!'   2 Jephthah replied, My people and I were in serious conflict with the Ammonites.   I summoned you, but you did not come to rescue me from them.   3 When I saw that no one was coming to rescue me, I took my life in my hands and marched against the Ammonites, and Yahweh handed them over to me.   So why advance on me today to make war on me?'   4 Jephthah then mustered all the men of Gilead and made war on Ephraim, and the men of Gilead defeated Ephraim, since the latter used to say, You are only fugitives from Ephraim, you Gileadites in the heart of Ephraim and Manasseh.'   5 Gilead then cut Ephraim off from the fords of the Jordan, and whenever Ephraimite fugitives said, Let me cross.' The men of Gilead would ask, Are you an Ephraimite?'   6 If he said, No,' they then said, Very well, say Shibboleth [ear-of-wheat].'   If anyone said "Sibboleth," because he could not pronounce it, then they would seize him and kill him by the fords of the Jordan.   Forty-two thousand Ephraimites fell on this occasion.  

As in the confrontation with Gideon in Judges 8:1-3, the Ephraimites take offense because they say that they were not summoned to join the battle against the Ammonites and threaten Jephthah (verse 1).   It is a charge Jephthah refutes (verse 2).   The Ephraimites are ambitious and hope to gain dominance over the other tribes.   They are alarmed at the wide powers granted to Jephthah and are looking for an excuse to eliminate him.     Unfortunately they are the losers in the civil war that follows.  

Question: To catch any straggling Ephraimites trying to cross the Jordan back into Ephraimite lands, what do the Gileadites do?   See verse 6.
Answer: The Gileadites use a password meaning "ear of wheat" that the Ephraimites pronounce differently.   They execute anyone who cannot pronounce it as a Gileadite would.  

Perhaps this episode demonstrates the distancing linguistically as well as emotionally and spiritually between the tribes on the east and west sides of the Jordan River.   It was not God's plan that any tribes should remain on the east side of the River, but the tribes of Gad and Reuben petitioned Moses to let them occupy the land taken from the Amorite kings and finally Moses agreed (Num 32).   Eventually the tribes in the Transjordan will be completely lost to Israel when the Assyrians conquer the eastern tribes and exile them into pagan lands to the east (1 Chr 5:26).

Have you noticed any similarities between the stories of Gideon and Jephthah and the stories of Abimelech and Jephthah?
Question: How are the stories of the "valiant warrior" Gideon (Judg 6:12) and the "valiant warrior" Jephthah (Judg 11:1) alike?
Answer: As in the story of Gideon, the "valiant warrior" Jephthah started out with much promise but in the end failed both himself and his people with his excessive pride and his cruelty.   Gideon's pride caused him to viciously destroy two Israelite villages who offended him.   It was because of his pride that Jephthah refused to release his daughter from his vow.   His excessive pride also caused the civil war with Ephraim and the failure to secure peace within the tribes of Israel.

Question: Women play a role in both the Abimelech and Jephthah narratives.   What similar role do women play in both narratives?
Answer: Like the Abimelech narrative, a woman comes at both the beginning and near the end of Jephthah's story:

Judges 12:7 ~ Conclusion
7 Jephthah judged Israel for six years.   Jephthah the Gileadite then died and was buried in his town, in Gilead.

This verse serves as the seventh part of the Jephthah deliverer sequence which should be the concluding statement of how long peace lasted.   However, this statement only mentions how long Jephthah judged Israel which is evidently the relatively short period of six years of peace.   This becomes the new seventh part statement in the cycle that the judge judged for a certain period of time (see the same statement for the next three judges in Judg 12:9, 11; and 16:31).   As Israelite society grows more spiritually corrupt, so do the judges.

The deliverer cycle for Jephthah:

  1. Announcement of Israel's wrong doing (Judg 10:6)
  2. Statement of Yahweh's response (Judg 10:7)
  3. Notice of how long Israel was oppressed by the enemy (Judg 10:8)
  4. Reference to Israel's repentance in "crying out" to God (Judg 10:10)
  5. Announcement of God "raising up" a deliver is missing, but God does clothe Jephthah in His spirit (Judg 11:29)
  6. Description of how deliverance was achieved (Judg 11:32-33)
  7. Concluding statement of how long peace lasted is missing: "Jephthah judged Israel for six years" (Judg 12:7)

Question for reflection or group discussion:
Question: What qualities do you look for in a local or national leader?   Do you believe a leader should be held to a high moral standard or do you think his personal sins have nothing to do with his abilities as a leader?   What did Jesus say about honesty in "little things" as opposed to honesty in "great things" in Luke 16:10-12?   Do you agree?

Question: No one in the community of the covenant people intervened to stop Jephthah from murdering his daughter. What does the Catechism say about the ways we participate in sin by our silence in not disclosing or hindering sin in CCC 1868-69? How can this participation in sin through inactivity make someone an accomplice to the sin of abortion?


1. Seventy men who were Jacob-Israel's sons and grandsons followed him into Egypt (Gen 46:26-27), and seventy "sons" of King Ahab were murdered on the orders of Jehu (2 Kng 10:1-11).  

2. Later, in probably the 6th century BC, the schismatic Samaritan temple was built on Mount Gerizim.

3. These judges are called "minor" because they are only mentioned briefly and there is no formula deliverer cycle.   The major judges are Othniel, Ehud, Deborah, Gideon, Jephthah and Samson.  

Catechism references:
Abortion: CCC 2270-72, 2274

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