Judges 11:1, 2: Jephthah, Son of a Harlot

Verse 1:[1] Now Jephthah (Heb. 11:32, called Jephthae[2]) the Gileadite was (Judg. 6:12; 2 Kings 5:1) a mighty man of valour, and he was the son of an harlot (Heb. a woman an harlot[3]): and Gilead begat Jephthah.


[The Gileadite] Gilead is a name, either, 1. of a place: both of a mountain, Genesis 31; Numbers 32; and of a city in that mountain, as Jerome testifies; and of a region named after the mountain and city: or, 2. of a man. Thus it is taken here (Serarius). Some think that Jepthah was a Gadite (thus Cajetan and Tostatus in Serarius). Others, a Manassite (thus Serarius, Lapide, Bonfrerius, etc.). For Manassites (not Gadites) are everywhere called Gileadites (Lapide, Bonfrerius): either because a twofold rationale of the name was concurring in their case (namely, their place and progenitor, Gilead); or because the mount Gilead was thus principally called, to which place Manasseh reaches (Bonfrerius).


The Gileadite; so called, either from his father Gilead, Joshua 17:1, 2, or from the mountain or city of Gilead, the place of his birth or abode.


[The son of a woman, a harlot, אִשָּׁ֣ה זוֹנָ֑ה] Of a woman hired (Montanus), or, a harlot (Septuagint, Syriac, Munster, Pagnine, Tigurinus, Junius and Tremellius), a female innkeeper (Vatablus out of the Chaldean), a female merchant (Arabic). She was not a common harlot, but a private concubine (Munster, Lapide, similarly Vatablus, Drusius). He was properly illegitimate, born, not before the marriage of the father, but afterwards through adultery (Serarius out of Josephus). You will say, The Illegitimate were not to be admitted into the Church of God, Deuteronomy 23:2, that is, unto the privileges of the people of Israel. Response: God has prescribed law to men, not to Himself (Martyr). He dispensed with His own law (Lapide). But God chose such; 1. lest those that were born in this way should immediately lose heart: 2. so that they might consider that they were excluded, not for their own sin, but for the sin of their father (Martyr). Even if generally the illegitimate, by either twisted or neglected education, proceed to a wicked life, that is neither necessary nor universal (Bonfrerius, see Serarius’ question 3).


The son of an harlot, that is, a bastard; for though such were not ordinarily to enter into the congregation of the Lord, Deuteronomy 23:2, yet God can dispense with his own laws, and hath sometimes done honour to base-born persons, so far, that some of them were admitted to be the progenitors of the Lord Jesus Christ.


[Who was born of Gilead] This is a different Gilead from that more ancient one, concerning whom Numbers 32; Joshua 17. But this Gilead appears to have been of the offspring of the other, and indeed a famous man, unto whom assembled those that, being poor, were pursuing military action (Serarius).


Gilead; one of the children of that ancienter Gilead, Numbers 32:1; Joshua 17:1.


Verse 2:[4] 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.


[Thou shalt not be able to be an heir, because thou wast born of the other mother, כִּ֛י בֶּן־אִשָּׁ֥ה אַחֶ֖רֶת אָֽתָּה׃] Because thou art the son of the other woman (Pagnine, Montanus, Piscator, Vatablus, Jonathan), of a strange woman (Syriac), of a woman foreign, or extraneous (Arabic, Junius and Tremellius, Josephus in Grotius). Among some nations those born to a woman not a citizen were called νόθοι (that is, illegitimate), as we show out of Aristophanes[5] in Concerning the Law of War and Peace 2:5:15. But among the Hebrews the mother that had subjected herself to the Law was not polluting her offspring, neither was she hindering them from inheriting. Wherefore Jephthah justly complains of this injury in verse 7 (Grotius). By harlot here some understand a woman of another tribe, whom Gilead took as a wife or concubine; and so her son was not able to succeed his father in the inheritance, since the Law on this account forbids the intermarriages of diverse tribes, lest there be a confusion of estates (Munster). A son, if one had been born in the tribe of the father, was obtaining the inheritance, which alone the brothers of Jephthah were denying to him, as he himself brings as a reproach against them, verse 7, which he would not dare to utter, if he had been born to a harlot (Mattheus Galenus[6] in Lapide). He that had taken a wife from another tribe, if he had received a son from her, he did not take possession of the inheritance: but he that was born of a concubine, if she was not a handmaid, or a foreigner, did take possession of the inheritance. Whence they say, He that has a son, he is altogether his son, unless he was born of a handmaid or foreigner (Drusius). But here she is called the other woman, not who is of another Tribe, but who is other than the legitimate wife, that is, which is a harlot and concubine (Lapide), that is, a woman unconnected to him (that is, Gilead), that is, joined to him by no bond of matrimony (Cajetan in Serarius). Now, they unjustly cast Jephthah out: for by common right maintenance was due to one illegitimate from the father and his household, yet not an inheritance (Lapide).

[1] Hebrew: וְיִפְתָּ֣ח הַגִּלְעָדִ֗י הָיָה֙ גִּבּ֣וֹר חַ֔יִל וְה֖וּא בֶּן־אִשָּׁ֣ה זוֹנָ֑ה וַיּ֥וֹלֶד גִּלְעָ֖ד אֶת־יִפְתָּֽח׃


[2] Greek: Ἰεφθάε.


[3] Hebrew: אִשָּׁ֣ה זוֹנָ֑ה.


[4] Hebrew: וַתֵּ֧לֶד אֵֽשֶׁת־גִּלְעָ֛ד ל֖וֹ בָּנִ֑ים וַיִּגְדְּל֙וּ בְֽנֵי־הָאִשָּׁ֜ה וַיְגָרְשׁ֣וּ אֶת־יִפְתָּ֗ח וַיֹּ֤אמְרוּ לוֹ֙ לֹֽא־תִנְחַ֣ל בְּבֵית־אָבִ֔ינוּ כִּ֛י בֶּן־אִשָּׁ֥ה אַחֶ֖רֶת אָֽתָּה׃


[5] Birds 1650.


[6] Mattheus Galenus (c. 1528-1573) was a Dutch Roman Catholic theologian. He was skilled in Greek, Hebrew, and Latin, composing sermon and writing commentaries on Hebrews and Isaiah; but his principal contributions were in the field of Church History.

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Dr. Steven Dilday holds a BA in Religion and Philosophy from Campbell University, a Master of Arts in Religion from Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia), and both a Master of Divinity and a  Ph.D. in Puritan History and Literature from Whitefield Theological Seminary.  He is also the translator of Matthew Poole's Synopsis of Biblical Interpreters and Bernardinus De Moor’s Didactico-Elenctic Theology.

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