Threat from the East

During the lives of Tola and Jair, the Jews lived a steadfast Jewish life. However, after the death of Jair, the Israelites fell back into the darkest idolatry, and were attacked by the heathen nations. First the Philistines and then the Ammonites fell upon the tribes of Gilead on the east of the Jordan, made them tributary, and imposed upon them heavy burdens, under which they sighed for eighteen years.

Soon afterwards, the Ammonites, forcing their way across the Jordan, attacked the powerful tribes of Judah, Ephraim, and Benjamin. There were mourning and consternation among the Israelites, who could not but feel that their own sins had called down upon them this terrible scourge. They prayed earnestly for deliverance, and, promising faithful obedience, they destroyed their idols. In greater force than ever, and flushed by their victories, the Ammonites were assembled in the land of Gilead, prepared for warfare.


The Jews held council at Mizpah in trembling fear; for there was none who durst lead them against the mighty hosts of the heathen. At last they bethought themselves of an able chieftain, and to him they appealed in their despair. Jephtah, a Gileadite, renowned for his valor, had been driven from his father's house by his brothers, who disputed his share in the inheritance. He had fled to the land of Tob, where he lived a reckless and carefree life, surrounded by a band of followers. To him came the elders of Gilead, entreating him to return with them, and to lead the Hebrew hosts against their dreaded enemy. He acceded to their request, but insisted upon one condition, which was accepted, namely, that should he defeat and drive back the Ammonites, he was to be the sole chief and ruler of the people of Gilead. Jephtah felt that he had been chosen to fight as the warrior of the L-rd for the glory of His name and the rescue of His people.

Negotiations Fail

Jephtah sent a delegation to the king of Ammon, asking that he and his army abandon their invasion plan and depart peacefully. To this the Ammonites answered by stating that historically the province in Transjordania belonged to them, that they had been deprived of it by force, and that they now wanted to recapture it. Jephtah then pointed out that Israel had no quarrel with Ammon. The land of the Ammonites had originally been conquered by Sihon, and when Sihon had attempted to prevent Israel from entering the Promised Land, he was defeated, and his land was annexed by Israel at the word of G‑d. It was now too late for the Ammonites to lay any claims to the province. Jephtah's arguments, however, were of no avail, and so he decided to strike the enemy first. In a short and decisive battle, the Ammonites were routed.

A Strange Vow

Before the battle, Jephtah had made a vow. If successful, he would offer as a sacrifice to G‑d the first thing that would come out of his house to meet him on his return. Imagine his despair, when on his return he noticed coming towards him his only daughter. Human sacrifice was, of course, strictly forbidden, and the only way Jephtah could keep his oath was to have his daughter confined to a life of solitude upon the mountains. Four days a year, the daughters of Israel went to the mountains to bewail her fate, until she died.

Strife among Brothers

The Ephraimites now declared war on Jephtah. They were angry because he had not invited them to join in the attack against Ammon. Jephtah easily defeated them, forcing them to flee hurriedly to the Jordan. Many of them were caught there, however, and they were easily identified on being ordered to pronounce the word "Shibboleth,"1 which they could pronounce only as "Sibboleth."

Jephtah ruled over Israel for six years.