1 Jephthah of Gilead was a brave soldier. His father's name was Gilead, but his mother was a prostitute. 2 Gilead's wife also gave birth to sons for him. When they were older, they sent Jephthah away from the family home. They said to him, ‘You will not receive any of our father's things when he dies. You are the son of a prostitute, not our mother.’
3 So Jephthah ran away from his brothers. He went to live in the land of Tob. Other men joined the group that Jephthah led. They did not obey any laws.
4 Some time later, the Ammonite soldiers came to fight against Israel. 5 When the Ammonites attacked, the leaders of Gilead went to bring Jephthah from the land of Tob. 6 They said to him, ‘Come and lead our army to fight against the Ammonites.’
7 Jephthah said to them, ‘Before this, you hated me. You made me leave my father's house. So why do you come to me for help, now that you are in trouble?’
8 The leaders of Gilead replied, ‘But we really need you to help us. Please join us to fight against the Ammonites. Then we will make you the leader of everyone who lives in Gilead.’
9 Jephthah said to them, ‘So, you are saying that I should come back home to fight with you against the Ammonites. You are saying that if the Lord gives them to me, I will be your leader. Is that really true?’
10 The leaders of Gilead said, ‘We promise to do that. The Lord will judge between us if we do not do what you have said.’ 11 So Jephthah went back with them to Gilead. The people made him their ruler and leader of their army. In Mizpah, Jephthah repeated his promise to the Lord.
Jephthah's message to the Ammonites
12 Jephthah sent men with a message to the Ammonite king. He asked, ‘Why have you come to fight against our people? What have we done to make you angry?’
13 The Ammonite king answered Jephthah's men, ‘You Israelites came here from Egypt and you took our land on the east side of the Jordan river. You have taken for yourselves all our land from the Arnon river in the south to the Jabbok river in the north. You have taken it all, as far as the Jordan river in the west. Now give it back to us, so that we do not need to fight for it.’
14 Jephthah sent the men back to the Ammonite king. 15 They said to him, ‘This is what Jephthah says: “Israel did not take for themselves the land of Moab, or the land of the Ammonites. 16 When the Israelites left Egypt, they went through the desert as far as the Red Sea. Then they travelled to Kadesh. 17 Then they sent a message to the King of Edom. They asked him, ‘Please let us travel through your land.’ But the King of Edom refused to let them do that. The Israelites sent the same message to the King of Moab. He also refused to agree. So the Israelites stayed at Kadesh.
18 Next, the Israelites went through the desert, around the edge of Edom and Moab. They arrived on the east side of Moab's land. They put up their tents on the other side of the Arnon river, which was the border of Moab's land. They did not go into Moab.
19 Sihon was the Amorite king who ruled in Heshbon. The Israelites sent a message to him. They asked him, ‘Please let us travel through your land to our own place.’ 20 But King Sihon did not trust the Israelites. He would not let them travel through his land. He brought his whole army to meet together at Jahaz. Then he fought against the Israelites.
21 The Lord, Israel's God, put Sihon and his whole army under the power of the Israelites. The Israelites won the fight against the Amorites. They took the Amorites' land for themselves. 22 The land went from the Arnon river in the south to the Jabbok river in the north. It went from the desert in the east to the Jordan river in the west.
23 You should realize that the Lord, Israel's God, chased out the Amorites. He has done that so that his own people, the Israelites, can live there. So why do you think that you can take it from them? 24 You may take the land that your god Chemosh gives to you. We will live in the land that the Lord our God has given to us. 25 Do you think that you are better than Zippor's son Balak, King of Moab? He was not brave enough to argue with the Israelites or to fight against them. 26 Israelites have been living here for 300 years! They have lived in Heshbon and Aroer and the villages around those towns. They have lived in all the towns along the Arnon river too. In all that time, you have not tried to take back those places for yourselves.
27 I have not done anything to hurt you. You are the one who is doing something wrong if you attack us. The Lord himself is the judge! He will decide whether the Israelites or the Ammonites are doing what is right.” ’
28 The Ammonite king refused to listen to the message that Jephthah had sent to him.
29 Then the Lord's Spirit took hold of Jephthah. Jephthah travelled through the land of Gilead and of Manasseh. He arrived at Mizpah in Gilead and he prepared to fight against the Ammonites. 30 Jephthah promised the Lord, ‘Please let us win the battle against the Ammonites. 31 Then, when I return home safely, I will give you a burnt offering. Whatever is first to come out through the door of my house as I arrive, I will offer it to you as a sacrifice.’
32 Then Jephthah went to attack the Ammonites. The Lord put them under his power. 33 Jephthah destroyed them all the way from Aroer to Minnith. He took 20 Ammonite cities, as far as Abel Karamim. He completely destroyed them! So the Israelites had complete power over the Ammonites.
34 After that, Jephthah returned to his home in Mizpah. As he arrived, his daughter came out to meet him. She was dancing and making music with a tambourine. She was Jephthah's only child. He had no other son or daughter. 35 When Jephthah saw her, he was so upset that he tore his clothes. He said, ‘Oh no! My daughter! You have made me very sad. I made a serious promise to the Lord and I must do what I promised.’
36 She said to her father, ‘You have made a promise to the Lord. You must do to me what you told him you would do. The Lord gave you the power to punish your enemies, the Ammonites. So you must do what you promised him. 37 But please allow me to do this one thing. Let me walk in the hills with my friends for two months. I need time to be sad because I will die before I can marry a man.’
38 Jephthah said, ‘You may go.’ He sent her away from home for two months. She and her friends walked in the hills. They wept together because she would never marry. 39 After two months she returned to her father, Jephthah. He did what he had promised to the Lord. His daughter never married. 40 Because of that, the young women of Israel now go into the hills for four days every year. They do that to remember the daughter of Jephthah, the man from Gilead.