— Jephthah's sinful vow and the Conquest of Jericho

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[commentary interspersed below]


Joshua 6

1Now Jericho was straitly [restrictedly] shut up because of the children of Israel: none went out, and none came in.

2And the LORD said unto Joshua, See, I have given into thine hand Jericho, and the king thereof, and the mighty men of valour.

3And ye shall compass the city, all ye men of war, and go round about the city once. Thus shalt thou do six days.

4And seven priests shall bear before the ark seven trumpets of rams’ horns: and the seventh day ye shall compass the city seven times, and the priests shall blow with the trumpets.

5And it shall come to pass, that when they make a long blast with the ram’s horn, and when ye hear the sound of the trumpet, all the people shall shout with a great shout; and the wall of the city shall fall down flat, and the people shall ascend up every man straight before him.

6And Joshua the son of Nun called the priests, and said unto them, Take up the ark of the covenant, and let seven priests bear seven trumpets of rams’ horns before the ark of the LORD.

7And he said unto the people, Pass on, and compass the city, and let him that is armed pass on before the ark of the LORD.

8And it came to pass, when Joshua had spoken unto the people, that the seven priests bearing the seven trumpets of rams’ horns passed on before the LORD, and blew with the trumpets: and the ark of the covenant of the LORD followed them.

9And the armed men went before the priests that blew with the trumpets, and the rereward came after the ark, the priests going on, and blowing with the trumpets.

10And Joshua had commanded the people, saying, Ye shall not shout, nor make any noise with your voice, neither shall any word proceed out of your mouth, until the day I bid you shout; then shall ye shout.

11So the ark of the LORD compassed the city, going about it once: and they came into the camp, and lodged in the camp.

12And Joshua rose early in the morning, and the priests took up the ark of the LORD.

13And seven priests bearing seven trumpets of rams’ horns before the ark of the LORD went on continually, and blew with the trumpets: and the armed men went before them; but the rereward came after the ark of the LORD, the priests going on, and blowing with the trumpets.

14And the second day they compassed the city once, and returned into the camp: so they did six days.

15And it came to pass on the seventh day, that they rose early about the dawning of the day, and compassed the city after the same manner seven times: only on that day they compassed the city seven times.

16And it came to pass at the seventh time, when the priests blew with the trumpets, Joshua said unto the people, Shout; for the LORD hath given you the city.

17And the city shall be accursed, even it, and all that are therein, to the LORD: only Rahab the harlot shall live, she and all that are with her in the house, because she hid the messengers that we sent.

18And ye, in any wise keep yourselves from the accursed thing, lest ye make yourselves accursed, when ye take of the accursed thing, and make the camp of Israel a curse, and trouble it.

The Hebrew word for accursed KHEY-rem / KHEH-rem means literally "to enclose" like casting a net to entrap fish or birds or animals; and hence with the connotation of "doomed".  The word also means "devoted or dedicated". 

The word "thing" is added by the translators and not in the text. 

The text could equally be translated, "that which is accursed" or "that which is dedicated".

Things that were dedicated to God were consumed on the altar, thus, the thing to be dedicated was "doomed"; it was accursed in regard to its own fate and it was dedicated or devoted in relation to God.  Hence, we see with Jephthah and his "rash vow" in that he vowed to dedicate to the Lord as a burnt offering whatever came out of his house to greet him, when he returned home, if God would give him victory in the battle against the Ammonites, (Judges 11:30-39)

Actually, "rash" is really a bit of a euphemism and is overly generous.  It was not a rash vow, but a STUPID vow and a SINFUL vow.

Would not it be some human who would come out of his house to greet him?  Did he keep all the barnyard animals in his house and were they accustomed to rushing out to greet him?  Clearly he intended to offer a human sacrifice.  Maybe he had a wife he wanted to get rid of?

This indeed is shocking.  However, we must also remember that this was the time of the period of the Judges in which "every man did that which was right in his own eyes" and there are many shocking things mentioned in the book of Judges, in which Scripture merely relates what happened, and does not deign to offer commentary on the morality of the event.  This of course is seen with how the levite treated his concubine, after his host had offered the levite's concubine to the sodomite perverts in Gibeah (even as Lot himself had done attempted to do with his own daughters, though the angels intervened and blinded the perverts), who violated her to the point she died.  The levite chopped her up in pieces, like a sacrifice, and sent by courier a piece of her to the heads of the 12 tribes.

Some commentators try to claim that Jephthah did not intend a human sacrifice, and that he did not really kill her but stuck her in a convent.  This makes sense from a humanistic point of view, since a common law maxim tells us:

 “A contract without consideration, or upon a false consideration, (which fails) or upon unlawful consideration, cannot have any effect.” ( Codex Justinianus 3,3,4; Chitty on Contracts (11th Am. Ed.) 25, note; Noy’s  Maxims 24; 2 Blackstone’s  Commentaries on the Law 445; 1 Joseph Story on “Contracts” s. 525)

“A contract founded on a base consideration, or against good morals, is null and cannot be enforced by action.” (Hobart’s English King’s Bench Reports 167; Broom’s Legal Maxims 730,732; Joseph Story on “Agency” s. 195; Digest of Justinian 2,14,27,4;  Codex Justinianus 2,3,6; Bank of U.S. vs. Owens , 2 Peters 539; 2 James Kent’s Commentaries on American Law 466)

“From an illegal contract an [obligation of] action does not arise.” (Broom’s  Legal Maxims 742)

 “Those things which are impossible to be given, or which are not in the nature of things, are regarded as no part of an agreement.” (Digest of Justinian 50, 17, 135)

HOWEVER, what makes sense to man is not necessarily what God has determined to be.  Often they overlap (God's Ways with our thinking) but quite often they do not.  And this is one of those cases in which they do not. 

How could God bless human sacrifice.  Well, it is an error of logic that God blessed it.


The Pulpit Commentary offers this partial insight:

"But if we ask how Jephthah came to have such erroneous notions of the character of God, the answer is not far to seek. Jephthah was “the son of a strange woman,” probably, as we have seen, a Syrian (Judges 11:1-11, note), and had passed many years of his life as an exile in Syria. Now it is well known that human sacrifices were frequently practised in Syria, as they were also by the Ammonites, who made their children pass through the fire to Moloch, and it cannot surprise us that a man brought up as Jephthah was, and leading the life of a freebooter at the head of a band of Syrian outlaws, should have the common Syrian notion of the efficacy of human sacrifices in great emergencies. His language, indeed, about Jehovah and Chemosh in ver. 24 savoured of semi-heathenism. Nor is it any valid objection that we are told in ver. 29 that “the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah.’’ The phrase does not mean that thenceforth he was altogether under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, so that all that he did was inspired by the Spirit of truth and wisdom, but that the Spirit of the Lord inspired him with extraordinary strength and power for the great task of leading Israel to battle against the Ammonites. And I will offer. The rendering suggested by some, or I will offer, meaning, if the first. comer is a human being he shall be the Lord’s, or if it is an animal I will offer it as a burnt offering, is wholly inadmissible."


It is a false assumption that Jephthah's mother was a Syrian.  It is assumed she was a Syrian since when his half-brothers rejected him, since he was not of their mother, he fled to Syria.  While she may have been Syrian, this is not proof.

Also, though she was a strange woman, she was not an alien (outside the race or of a cursed line, which all inevitably married into alien peoples).

The original Chaldeans and Aramaens, were pure descendents of Shem (and like the Midianites* and Ishmaelites) as long as they remained pure (did not corrupt their bloodlines by intermarriage with alien stock or cursed lines, such as the Ammonites, Moabites, Canaanites) the women could marry into Israel.  They were all of the same pure stock, but only the women could marry in.  While the men could marry Israelite women, the descents of those unions would not be Israelites.  God forbade marrying those outside the race and all cursed peoples, but those pure women of lateral branches could marry in.  The men could not marry into Israel, because then inheritance would pass out of those families and no longer be Israel's possession. 

[* The Midianites later joined with the cursed Moabites against Israel, and most probably intermarried with them; and later still, we find in Joshua 13:21 that the Midianites had joined with the Amorites, and were even Dukes in that confederation with the Amorites; and so, the Midianites most probably had been intermarrying with the Amorite-Canaanites as well.  This is why after a point in time God forbade Israel to intermarry with the Midianites; or even take to wife those Midianite women captured in battle.]

Anyone pure from Adam, if they had faithfully transmitted by word of mouth what God commanded for atonement patriarch to patriarch, who sacrificed as God commanded from a pure heart, remorseful for their sins and repentant, was saved. 

Only pure Adamite women of lateral branches not through the chosen line could marry into Israel; the pure Adamite men could not marry into Israel, or they would then dispossess the Israelites of their inheritance since the bloodline of inheritance goes through the male line of pure Adamite-Israelites.  But the pure Adamite men could still be saved, they were the only ones allowed into the so-called "court of the gentiles"; that is the court of the pure peoples of the greater family/race.  The court of the nations did not admit those peoples outside the greater family nor those lines that God had cursed.

Abraham, Isaac and Jacob married those descended from Abraham's brothers Nahor and Haran.

Laban (whose daughters Leah and Rachel Jacob married) is called a Syrian.  However Syrian seems to be a terrible translation, because the Hebrew word is ar-am-MEE which should be translated Aramean.  WHERE the translators got the notion to translate Aramiy as "Syrian" is anyone's guess.  My guess would be the corrupt Latin Vulgate which they relied  heavily upon; but I don't see how the Latin could so corrupt the word to make it Syrian.

[Hold on, I will go check it.]

Yes indeed, we have the corrupt Latin Vulgate to blame, they translated Aramiy as "Syri de Mesopotamia".

WHY they so translated it, indeed is a mystery; probably because of the name of the land at the time that the Vulgate was translated; but clearly it is a poor "translation" if they substituted modern names
for the original.

Actually, nowhere in the Biblical text concerning Jephthah is Syria even mentioned; however, "the land of Tob" was in Syria (or believed to have been). 

Tob is the same as Tobit, and the people there were also called Tubieni.

Now, the original Arameans descended from Shem's son Aram.

However, Abraham and his father and brothers and nephews did not descend from Aram, but from Shem's son Arphaxad; but they all moved from Ur in NORTHERN Mesopotamia (just a short distance) to Aram, and they became known as Arameans because they lived there among kindred.

Regardless, we see that God departs from the norm, in the book of Judges, and often used a lower quality of person than the cloth from which the prophets (Moses, David, Jeremiah, etc.) were cut (except for Jonah, who is the odd man out; a very carnal prophet).  Part of this seems to be God judging His people in a manner befitting their own godlessness (even as God used heathen nations to judge Israel).

Samson was another carnal judge/deliverer.  A very carnal, sinful man.

It seems Jephthah was similar.  When his half-brothers rejected him, he went to Syria and lived the life of a pirate or bandit.  Since he was known to be a ruthless man of action when the people needed help to fight off their oppressors, they sought him.  God used him also to judge (not deliver) a sinful group of Ephraimites, whom he killed (Judges 12).

Regardless, it seems odd to us that God would bless with military victory someone who vowed to God to murder whoever first came out of his house upon his return home.  It staggers our mind that God would honor such a vow.  However, God ordained it all.  Even as he ordained to use a sinful Samson who would end his own life to take out several thousand Philistines.  Oddly, the sons of Jacob, Simeon and Levi, were later cursed for taking actions that were similar to what Samson did in his many escapades.  The difference seems to be the time period in which Simeon and Levi  did it, and for not consulting God or their father Jacob before they took their revenge on Shechem. 

Curious also is Jacob's silence in the entire story of his daughter being raped and then even when Simeon and Levi (lying) suggested that the whole family of Israel should intermarry with the Canaanites of that town... which violated God's commands.  Jacob's only gripe was that their action made his reputation to stink in the land, and the new threat of retaliation by other Canaanite tribes caused him fear (I discuss this in depth in my commentary on Genesis; which also covers the chapters in Judges dealing with the near extermination of the tribe of Benjamin for harboring the sodomite murderers of the levite's concubine).

Jacob, likewise was a carnal man.  Samson was carnal.  Jephthah seems to have been carnal.  Often God does not work through us as much as He works in spite of us. 

It seems at times during the book of Judges, God sometimes used judges who themselves were an insult and bad reflection on Israel. 

Deborah was a woman. 

Barack himself was a coward.

Gideon so lacked faith that after speaking directly to God, after having an angel from God speak to him he needed not merely 1 "fleece" (miraculous sign) but 2, to verify that the message was from God.

Because God's people themselves were vile, in unrepentant sin, it seems that God often used vile Israelites to deliver them.  So it appears with Jephthah. 

Something vowed to God is holy and cannot be recanted.  Scripture tells us that the altar of sacrifice was holy.  The smoke was holy, the coals were holy, even the ash was holy.  Anything that accidentally fell onto or touched the altar became holy and became the Lord's and was to be sacrificed.  So it was with this stupid, godless vow of Jephthah's.  Clearly he intended to sacrifice a human.  This clearly violated the law against murder as well as the laws that governed what could be sacrificed to God.  God's intention was to deliver Israel that day in battle and Jephthah's foolish vow not only could not thwart God's plan for victory, God himself ordained to have Jephthah make this foolish vow, to show that the victory was not due to any ability or goodness in Jephthah, but was due solely to the fact that God had ordained to deliver His people; and as an indicator of their utter unworthiness to be delivered, God used a sinful Israelite to be the deliverer, rather than a more sterling individual (like Joseph, Samuel, David, Ezra, Nehemiah, etc.).

Jephthah sacrificing his daughter was barbaric.  God commanded in His Law against anyone passing his seed through the fire to Molech or any other pagan forms of sacrifice, or worshipping in the groves (under trees, usually oak).   However, Jephthah's act did not bear God's stamp of approval.  God did not deliver Israel that day in battle because of Jephthah's vow, but in spite of it.

Scripture tells us clearly,

"21When thou shalt vow a vow unto the LORD thy God, thou shalt not slack to pay it: for the LORD thy God will surely require it of thee; and it would be sin in thee. 22But if thou shalt forbear to vow, it shall be no sin in thee. 23That which is gone out of thy lips thou shalt keep and perform; even a freewill offering, according as thou hast vowed unto the LORD thy God, which thou hast promised with thy mouth." (Deuteronomy 23)

They were barbaric times full of tragedy, which God ordained to show us all the fruit of our rebellion and sin against Him and rejecting what He commanded.  Be not deceived, God is not mocked; whatsoever a man soweth that shall He also reap.  God had mercy on His people even when they did not deserve it; even as Scripture says "But God commendeth (demonstrated) His Love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us."

It seems that since God's people themselves were vile, in unrepentant sin, and did not repent of their vileness, God then used vile people, at times, to deliver them in His Mercy, when their cries from oppression reached a certain point.  Like a rebellious child refusing to cry out from a spanking, if the spanking is long an hard enough, most will eventually cry out.  Even if they do not cry out in repentance, they at least cry out from the discipline, and so it was with God's people.  The transition from the times of the judges to the times of the kings, through the prophet Samuel, opens a new era of God using the pure-hearted (like Samuel and David) rather than the vile (though the vile lingered a little with Samuel's near-sighted choice of Saul).

Interestingly, Jephthah was Israel's 9th judge/deliverer.  9 in Scripture symbolizes Judgment, Finality, or the End/Conclusion of a matter.

19But all the silver, and gold, and vessels of brass and iron, are consecrated unto the LORD: they shall come into the treasury of the LORD.

20So the people shouted when the priests blew with the trumpets: and it came to pass, when the people heard the sound of the trumpet, and the people shouted with a great shout, that the wall fell down flat, so that the people went up into the city, every man straight before him, and they took the city.

21And they utterly destroyed all that was in the city, both man and woman, young and old, and ox, and sheep, and ass, with the edge of the sword.

22But Joshua had said unto the two men that had spied out the country, Go into the harlot’s house, and bring out thence the woman, and all that she hath, as ye sware unto her.

23And the young men that were spies went in, and brought out Rahab, and her father, and her mother, and her brethren, and all that she had; and they brought out all her kindred, and left them without the camp of Israel.

24And they burnt the city with fire, and all that was therein: only the silver, and the gold, and the vessels of brass and of iron, they put into the treasury of the house of the LORD.

Here we see the dual nature of the Hebrew KHEY-rem / KHEH-rem means literally "to enclose" like casting a net to entrap fish or birds or animals; and hence with the connotation of "doomed".  The word also means "devoted or dedicated".

The Israelites enclosed the city, it was shut up (as verse 1 told us) and therefore, the victims were doomed.  The Israelite men of war marched in a circle around the city, once a day, for 7 days and then 7 times on the seventh day.  This seventh day was not the Sabbath.  It was not the seventh day of the week, but the seventh day of their assault against Jericho.  The Sabbath was one of the previous days in which they only marched around the city once.  They marched around the city a total of 13 times, which number represents Rebellion.

The accursed / dedicated city was offered to God by fire, except those things that fire would not have consumed, gold, silver, brass, and iron.  We later see in a subsequent chapter that Achan was soon to be achin' from judgment.  As we saw, that which touches the altar becomes holy (dedicated/accursed) so Achan touched (stole) that which was holy and set apart for God alone... and therefore, all that he had was stoned to death and offered to God by fire.  Achan had buried the wedge of gold and silver and Babylonish garment in the ground inside his tent, so presumably the rest of his family knew about it and therefore were accomplices and likewise had touched that which was holy.

The conquest of Jericho was the very first city in the Promised Land, against which the Israelites went to war.  It, therefore, represented the Firstfruits, and were holy and belonged to God (Ezekiel 48:14; Romans 11:16); that is why no one was allowed to take any booty in any form.

25And Joshua saved Rahab the harlot alive, and her father’s household, and all that she had; and she dwelleth in Israel even unto this day; because she hid the messengers, which Joshua sent to spy out Jericho.
Rahab was neither a Canaanite nor a harlot, as my commentary on James 2 / Rahab shows.
26And Joshua adjured them at that time, saying, Cursed be the man before the LORD, that riseth up and buildeth this city Jericho: he shall lay the foundation thereof in his firstborn, and in his youngest son shall he set up the gates of it.
This was later verified by archaeology, that both the walls fall flat outward, and the new city was built with the bones of the sacrificed son of the person who rebuilt the city.
27So the LORD was with Joshua; and his fame was noised throughout all the country.