About forty-five years passed after the death of Abimelech and again the people of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord. They went after the heathen gods, Baal and Ashtaroth, and all the gods of the heathen people, and worshiped them. The Lord was angry with the people of Israel for doing this and allowed the Philistines and the Amorites to overcome them and make slaves of them.
Now their lives were hard indeed, for the heathen oppressed them sorely. The children of Israel cried out to the Lord: "We have sinned against Thee, both because we have forsaken Thee and have served Baal." The Lord told the people that He would deliver them no more from the hands of their enemies for as often as He forgave them they returned to their sins and to the worship of strange gods.
The Lord said to them: "Go, cry unto the gods you have chosen; let them deliver you in the time of your tribulation." The people told the Lord they had sinned and prayed Him to deliver them from their slavery to the Amorites. Then they put away their strange gods and began again to serve the Lord. When the people had returned to His worship, the Lord was no longer angry, but was sorry for the misery of His people.
The Amorites gathered together and were camped in Gilead, on the other side of Jordan. The children of Israel also gathered together and made their camp at Mizpeh. But the people of Israel had no man to lead them, so they asked one of another: "Where is the man that shall lead us in the fight against the Amorites? He shall be ruler over the people of Gilead."
There was a man of Israel named Jephthah, a mighty man of valor. One time his brothers were angry with him, and drove him away from his home, so that he fled and lived in the land of Tob, and the people almost forgot that he was one of them.
Now the Amorites had come down to war with the children of Israel and the children of Israel were resolved no longer to be slaves of the Amorites and had gathered together and were in sore need of a leader, the elders of the people remembered Jephthah. They recalled that he was a mighty man of valor, and was living over in the land of Tob. So the elders went over to the land of Tob to bring Jephthah back to his own people. They came to him and said: "Jephthah, come and be our captain, that we may fight with the children of Ammon."
"Did you not hate me and expel me from my father's house? Why have you come to see me now in your distress?" asked Jephthah.
The elders begged him to come back to his people for they needed him. They told him how the Amorites had treated his people and how they were now encamped for their destruction.
Jephthah asked them: "If I go again to my people and fight against the children of Ammon, and the Lord deliver them into my hand, shall I be your head?" And the elders promised that Jephthah should be ruler over them.
Jephthah went with the elders and the people made him captain and ruler over them. Jephthah sent messengers to the king of the Amorites saying: "Why have you come to fight against the children of Israel?"
To this the king replied: "Because Israel took away our lands, when they came out of Egypt. Now restore those lands peaceably and there shall be no war."
Jephthah sent other messengers, saying that the land had been given them by the Lord, and belonged as much to Israel as it did to the Amorites, and that Israel was not going to give up the land to the enemies of the Lord. He said: "The Lord be judge this day between the children of Israel and the children of Ammon."
Jephthah assembled his men and came to the place where the Amorites had made their camp. Jephthah prayed to the Lord and said: "If Thou shalt deliver the children of Ammon into my hands, then whatsoever comes out of the door of my house to greet me when I return from the victory over the Amorites, shall surely be the Lord's and I will offer it as a burnt offering."
There was a great battle and Jephthah smote the Amorites with a great slaughter. The rest fled before him until they were scattered far and wide over the face of the earth. Then Jephthah turned towards his own house at Mizpeh with all the people shouting and blowing their trumpets for joy that their enemies had been overcome.
Jephthah came near his own home, little knowing what was coming out to meet him. His heart was glad that he had been given the victory and in his mouth was a song of rejoicing. Just then the door opened and out ran his daughter, dancing before him and beating timbrels with her hands. She was his only child and he loved her dearly.
Jephthah cried aloud in great agony: "Oh, my daughter! You have brought me a great grief. My heart is bowed with sorrow. I have vowed to the Lord that I would offer as a burnt offering whatsoever came first to meet me from my house, and behold, it is my only child, my beloved daughter!" And Jephthah bowed to the ground and wept.
"My father, let it be done as you have promised the Lord," his daughter replied, "but let me go for two months into the mountains with my companions that I may prepare for the sacrifice." And Jephthah sent her and her companions into the mountains and there she stayed for two months.
At the end of that time she came back to her father, and was offered as a burnt offering to the Lord, but the people wept before the sacrifice and set apart four days in every year to lament the fate of the daughter of Jephthah.