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Judges 11:29-40

A Foolish Vow Spells Death for a Daughter

11:29 The Lord’s spirit empowered 1  Jephthah. He passed through Gilead and Manasseh and went 2  to Mizpah in Gilead. From there he approached the Ammonites. 3  11:30 Jephthah made a vow to the Lord, saying, “If you really do hand the Ammonites over to me, 11:31 then whoever is the first to come through 4  the doors of my house to meet me when I return safely from fighting the Ammonites – he 5  will belong to the Lord and 6  I will offer him up as a burnt sacrifice.” 11:32 Jephthah approached 7  the Ammonites to fight with them, and the Lord handed them over to him. 11:33 He defeated them from Aroer all the way to Minnith – twenty cities in all, even as far as Abel Keramim! He wiped them out! 8  The Israelites humiliated the Ammonites. 9 

11:34 When Jephthah came home to Mizpah, there was his daughter hurrying out 10  to meet him, dancing to the rhythm of tambourines. 11  She was his only child; except for her he had no son or daughter. 11:35 When he saw her, he ripped his clothes and said, “Oh no! My daughter! You have completely ruined me! 12  You have brought me disaster! 13  I made an oath to the Lord, and I cannot break it.” 14  11:36 She said to him, “My father, since 15  you made an oath to the Lord, do to me as you promised. 16  After all, the Lord vindicated you before 17  your enemies, the Ammonites.” 11:37 She then said to her father, “Please grant me this one wish. 18  For two months allow me to walk through the hills with my friends and mourn my virginity.” 19  11:38 He said, “You may go.” He permitted her to leave 20  for two months. She went with her friends and mourned her virginity as she walked through the hills. 21  11:39 After two months she returned to her father, and he did to her as he had vowed. She died a virgin. 22  Her tragic death gave rise to a custom in Israel. 23  11:40 Every year 24  Israelite women commemorate 25  the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite for four days. 26 

1 tn Heb “was on.”

2 tn Heb “passed through.”

3 tn Heb “From Mizpah in Gilead he passed through [to] the Ammonites.”

4 tn Heb “the one coming out, who comes out from.” The text uses a masculine singular participle with prefixed article, followed by a relative pronoun and third masculine singular verb. The substantival masculine singular participle הַיּוֹצֵא (hayyotse’, “the one coming out”) is used elsewhere of inanimate objects (such as a desert [Num 21:13] or a word [Num 32:24]) or persons (Jer 5:6; 21:9; 38:2). In each case context must determine the referent. Jephthah may have envisioned an animal meeting him, since the construction of Iron Age houses would allow for an animal coming through the doors of a house (see R. G. Boling, Judges [AB], 208). But the fact that he actually does offer up his daughter indicates the language of the vow is fluid enough to encompass human beings, including women. He probably intended such an offering from the very beginning, but he obviously did not expect his daughter to meet him first.

5 tn The language is fluid enough to include women and perhaps even animals, but the translation uses the masculine pronoun because the Hebrew form is grammatically masculine.

6 tn Some translate “or,” suggesting that Jephthah makes a distinction between humans and animals. According to this view, if a human comes through the door, then Jephthah will commit him/her to the Lord’s service, but if an animal comes through the doors, he will offer it up as a sacrifice. However, it is far more likely that the Hebrew construction (vav [ו] + perfect) specifies how the subject will become the Lord’s, that is, by being offered up as a sacrifice. For similar constructions, where the apodosis of a conditional sentence has at least two perfects (each with vav) in sequence, see Gen 34:15-16; Exod 18:16.

7 tn Heb “passed over to.”

8 tn Heb “with a very great slaughter.”

9 tn Heb “The Ammonites were humbled before the Israelites.”

10 tn Heb “Look! His daughter was coming out.”

11 tn Heb “with tambourines and dancing.”

12 tn Heb “you have brought me very low,” or “you have knocked me to my knees.” The infinitive absolute precedes the verb for emphasis.

13 tn Heb “You are among [or “like”] those who trouble me.”

14 tn Heb “I opened my mouth to the Lord and I am not able to return.”

15 tn The conjunction “since” is supplied in the translation for clarification.

16 tn Heb “you opened your mouth to the Lord, do to me according to [what] went out from your mouth.”

17 tn Or “has given you vengeance against.”

18 tn Heb “Let this thing be done for me.”

19 tn Heb “Leave me alone for two months so I can go and go down on the hills and weep over my virginity – I and my friends.”

20 tn Heb “he sent her.”

21 tn Heb “on the hills.” The words “as she walked” are supplied.

22 tn Heb “She had never known a man.” Some understand this to mean that her father committed her to a life of celibacy, but the disjunctive clause (note the vav + subject + verb pattern) more likely describes her condition at the time the vow was fulfilled. (See G. F. Moore, Judges [ICC], 302-3; C. F. Burney, Judges, 324.) She died a virgin and never experienced the joys of marriage and motherhood.

23 tn Heb “There was a custom in Israel.”

24 tn Heb “From days to days,” a Hebrew idiom for “annually.”

25 tn Heb “go to commemorate.” The rare Hebrew verb תָּנָה (tanah, “to tell; to repeat; to recount”) occurs only here and in 5:11.

26 tn The Hebrew text adds, “in the year.” This is redundant (note “every year” at the beginning of the verse) and has not been included in the translation for stylistic reasons.

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