"Whom God sets free", "The breaker through." A "mighty man of valor" who delivered Israel from the oppression of the Ammonites,1 and judged Israel for a period of six years.2 He has been described as "a wild, daring, Gilead mountaineer, a sort of warrior Elijah." After forty-five years of comparative quiet Israel again apostatized, and in "process of time the children of Ammon made war against Israel."3 In their distress the elders of Gilead went to fetch Jephthah out of the land of Tob, to which he had fled when driven out wrongfully by his brothers from his father's inheritance,4 and the people made him their head and captain.
The "elders of Gilead" in their extremity summoned him to their aid, and he at once undertook the conduct of the war against Ammon. Twice he sent an embassy to the king of Ammon, but in vain. War was inevitable. The people obeyed his summons, and "the spirit of the Lord came upon him."
Before engaging in war he vowed that if successful he would offer as a "burnt-offering" whatever would come out of the door of his house first to meet him on his return. The defeat of the Ammonites was complete. "He smote them from Aroer, even till thou come to Minnith, even twenty cities, and unto the plain of the vineyards [Heb. 'Abel Keramim], with a very great slaughter."5
When Jephthah returned to his house at Mizpah, his daughter come out to meet him with timbrels and with dances. She was his one and only child. When he saw her, he rent his clothes and said, "Alas, my daughter! thou hast brought me very low, and thou art one of them that trouble me: for I have opened my mouth unto the Lord, and I cannot go back." She told her father to keep his vow, but asked for two months respite so that she may go to the mountains and weep because of her virginity. At the end of two months she returned to her father, who did to her according to the vow which he had made. Thus it became a custom in Israel that the daughters of Israel went yearly to lament the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite four days in the year.6
The men of Ephraim regarded themselves as insulted in not having been called by Jephthah to go with him to war against Ammon. This led to a war between the men of Gilead and Ephraim,7 in which many of the Ephraimites perished. "Then died Jephthah the Gileadite, and was buried in one of the cities of Gilead."8