Jephthah, the Ninth Judge & Syria And Lebanon

Don’t You get tired of the Israelites? 

Who’s going to be their next judge?

We learn that Jephthah is a Gileadite who was a mighty Warrior, and the son of a prostitute.

His father’s name was Gilead.

Gilead’s wife had several other sons , when Jephthah’s half-brothers grew up they threw him out of the house telling him,

”You are not going to receive any of our father’s Inheritance.

For you are the son of a prostitute.”

Jephthah then flee’s from his brothers, living in the land of Tob, a district of Syria.

It wasn’t long before he would be followed by a bunch of rebels.

Meanwhile, the Ammonites would began their war against Israel.

“Now Jephthah the Gileadite was a mighty man of valor, and he was the son of a harlot: and Gilead begat Jephthah. 

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. 

Then Jephthah fled from his brethren, and dwelt in the land of Tob: and there were gathered vain men to Jephthah, and went out with him” (Jdg 11:1-3).

Later, the Ammons attacked Israel so the elders of Gilean ran to Jephthah and asked him to come back and be their captain and fight the Ammons they knew that God was with him.

“And Jephthah said unto the elders of Gilead, Did not ye hate me, and expel me out of my father’s house?  And why are ye come unto me now when ye are in distress?” (Jdg 11:7).

He agreed to go and fight for them as long as he could stay and be in charge after God gave the Ammons to him, and they agreed and even promised God that they would do that.

“And Jephthah sent messengers unto the king of the children of Ammon, saying, What hast thou to do with me, that thou art come against me to fight in my land? 

And the king of the children of Ammon answered unto the messengers of Jephthah, Because Israel took away my land, when they came up out of Egypt, from Arnon even unto Jabbok, and unto Jordan: now therefore restore those lands again peaceably” (Jdg 11:12-13).

He sent more messengers to the king of the Ammons denying it and explained that they had requested to go through the land and they weren’t allowed to do so. 

Also the king of Edom, the king of Moab, king Sihon of the Amories, and the king of Heshbon would not let them go through so God killed them and gave the land to Israel, all the coasts of the Amorites even to Jabbok and from the wilderness to Jordan.

The king of the Ammons said,

“So now the LORD God of Israel hath dispossessed the Amorites from before his people Israel, and shouldest thou possess it?  

Edom – Nahal Zered
The Zered River is believed by most to be Wadi al-Hesa.

There are some difficulties with this identification, but most follow it.

It is 35 miles (55 km) long and 3.5 to 4 miles (5.5 to 6.5 km) wide, and drains into the Dead Sea near the southeastern corner.

The Zered forms the southern border of Moab and the northern border of Edom.

The Israelites crossed the Zered 38 years after they first left Kadesh Barnea (Deut 2:13-14).

Wilt not thou possess that which Chemosh thy god giveth thee to possess?  So whomsoever the LORD our God shall drive out from before us, them will we possess” (Jdg 11:23-24).

“And Jephthah said, Wherefore I have not sinned against thee, but thou doest me wrong to war against me: the LORD the Judge be judge this day between the children of Israel and the children of Ammon” (Jdg 11:27).

Children Sacrificed to Molech
There is a reference to children being sacrificed to Molech in Lev 18:21.

Molech was a large brass idol, that was half man and half bull, with a hollow abdomen.

Its hands were out stretched as if to receive something.

It was a diety of sex and fire for the Ammonites that was very similar to the Moabite god Chemosh.

Fire-gods were common to all the Canaanite, Syrian and Arab tribes, and were worshiped with the most inhuman of rites.

A fire was kindled in the hollow belly until the abdomen glowed with heat.

Priests then took babies and placed them in the red hot hands or belly of Molech where the child screamed out in pain until it finally sucumbed to death.

Molech was also worshiped in Egypt as Amun, or Amun-Ra, “the king of gods”, where the brass idol was heated red hot by fire inside and children were shaken over the flames, passed through the hot arms, or burned alive in order to receive Molech’s favor.

Dancing and sexual activity took place in front of the god while children were burned alive in the hands, or the heated belly of the idol.

The burnt remains of the children were then removed and discarded the following day.

Some Hebrew scholars believe the root word for Molech should be translated “sacrificed as a votive offering” rather than as the proper name, Molech.

Near the ruins of ancient Carthage there is a garden where the remains of thousands of children are buried.

Though most are infants, some remains have been found for children as old as four years.

Each was burned alive as a votive offering to the goddess Tanat.

There was some favor the parents wanted so badly that they were willing to offer this pagan goddess the life of their child in hope of obtaining it.

“Then the Spirit of the LORD came upon Jephthah, and he passed over Gilead, and Manasseh, and passed over Mizpeh of Gilead, and from Mizpeh of Gilead he passed over unto the children of Ammon. 

And Jephthah vowed a vow unto the LORD, and said, If thou shalt without fail deliver the children of Ammon into mine hands,

Then it shall be, that whatsoever cometh forth of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the children of Ammon, shall surely be the LORD’S, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering” (Jdg 11:29-31).

God gave the children of Ammon to him, as well as Aroer, Minnith, and 20 other cities.

“And Jephthah came to Mizpeh unto his house, and, behold, his daughter came out to meet him with timbrels and with dances: and she was his only child; beside her he had neither son nor daughter. 

And it came to pass, when he saw her, that 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.

And she said unto him, My father, if thou hast opened thy mouth unto the LORD, do to me according to that which hath proceeded out of thy mouth; forasmuch as the LORD hath taken vengeance for thee of thine enemies, even of the children of Ammon. 

Ancient Syria covered a substantially larger area than the modern, troubled country.

Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Israel were all part of this ancient area that is often distinguished by the label “Greater Syria.”

Located between the Mediterranean Sea and the desert, it was an important area mainly because it formed a land-bridge among three continents, Europe, Asia and Africa.

Syria was fertile and also supplied lumber.

Major cities in Syria established by the middle of the second millennium B.C. were Damascus, Aleppo, Hamah, Byblos, Joffa, Homs, Gaza, and Tyre.

And she said unto her father, Let this thing be done for me: let me alone two months, that I may go up and down upon the mountains, and bewail my virginity, I and my fellows.

And he said, Go. And he sent her away for two months: and she went with her companions, and bewailed her virginity upon the mountains. 

And it came to pass at the end of two months, that she returned unto her father, who did with her according to his vow which he had vowed: and she knew no man.  And it was a custom in Israel,

That the daughters of Israel went yearly to lament the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite four days in a year” (Jdg 11:34-)40.

Syria and Lebanon

The term “Levant” describes the habitable land along the eastern Mediterranean coast sandwiched between the Mediterranean Sea on the west and the Syro-Arabian Desert to the east. 

Syria and Lebanon comprised the northern sections of the Levant, while Palestine anchored the southern end.  The Levant served as a land bridge, connecting the great cultural centers located in Mesopotamia and Egypt.

 The modern states of Syria and Lebanon occupy most of the northern Levant today, but portions are in southern Turkey.  The Amanus Mountain (up to 7,000 feet), marked the northern limits of ancient Syria.

Syria was south-west of the Euphrates, and the great city of Carchemish that is on the Euphrates, connected Syria with Assyria by way of Haran (Where Jacob’s Uncle Laban lived) across the steppe land known as Al-Jazirah. 

The Orontes River descends from the Beqa Valley, emptying into the Plain of Antioch (after Jesus was crucified the people here started calling His disciples Christians, that’s how there Christian came about – Acts 11:26 – but the majority of the population believed in other gods). 

Ancient Ugarit, where excavations yielded important religious texts detailing the myths of Baal, was a key Syrian port.  

Antioch, on the Orontes River (Antakya, Turkey).

The Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary has this information:

Principal river of Syria which originates east of the Lebanon ridge (modern Asi [Turkish], Nahr el-’Asi [Arabic]), rises near Heliopolis (Bealbek) in the Beka Valley of Lebanon, and flows north some 250 miles through Syria and Turkey before turning southwest into the Mediterranean south of Antioch-on-the-Orontes (Antakya) to reach the coast just south of ancient Seleucia, the seaport of Antioch.

This river is never actually mentioned in the Bible but was famous for its association with Antioch, which owed to the river the fertility of its district.

Cities of the Orontes Valley include Antioch (Acts 11:19; 13:1), Hamath (2 Sam. 8:9; 2 Kings 17:24; 2 Chr 8:4; Isa. 11:11), Qarqar, where King Ahab of Israel joined a coalition of Syrian kings warring against Shalmaneser III, and Riblah (2 Kgs 23:33; 25:6, 21).

Nahr el-’Asi (rebellious river) is the modern name of the Orontes.

Inland, the International Coastal Highway passed through Hamath, Ebla, and Aleppo, all lying in the valleys and plains east of the mountains. 

Caravans traversed the Syrian Desert along an important route that connected Mari with Damascus (where Paul was going to imprison Christians when Jesus spoke to him from Heaven) by way of Tadmor/Palmyra, one of the great caravan cities of the ancient world.  South and east of this route, travel was virtually impossible.

A depression called the “Horns-Tadmor Corridor” gave access to the Mediterranean Sea near Arvad. 

Damascus, also a great caravan city, was located east of the Anti-Lebanon Mountains (up to 10,000 feet) in an oasis formed by the Barada River (the Abana River in 2 Kgs 5:12) as it flowed eastward from the slopes of the Anti-Lebanon into the army of the Damascus kings, referred to the fresh water of the Abana and Pharpar Rivers that sustained Damascus (2 Kgs 5:1-14).

The identity of the latter river is uncertain, but may refer to the el-Away south of Damascus.

Lebanon was a mountainous enclave tucked between the sea and the desert.  Two high chains of mountains – the Lebanon Mountains (up to 10,115 feet) and the Anti-Lebanon Mountains (up to 10,000 feet) lies at the southern end of the Anti-Lebanon chain. 

The name “Lebanon” comes from a Hebrew root meaning “white,” likely a reference to the snow-capped peaks of the region. 

Cedars of Lebanon (Cedrus libani) was prized throughout the ancient Near East.

The Palermo Stone indicates cedar was imported to Egypt in the reign of the 4th dynasty king Sneferu, ca. 2613-2589 B.C.

One of its primary uses was for boat construction.

The Egyptian tale of Wen-Amun, from ca. the 11th century B.C., recounts the travels of an Egyptian official to Byblos to negotiate for cedar wood.

One of the earliest references to cedar in Mesopotamia comes from the reign of Sargon of Akkad, ca. 2334-2279 B.C.

The mountains were the source of the famous “cedars of Lebanon,” prized throughout the Ancient Near East.  Their great size made the cedars desirable for construction of ships and large public buildings such as temples and palaces. 

Solomon used cedars from Lebanon in his temple and palace (1 Kgs 5:6; 7:11).  The Egyptians covered the cedars, using them for sacred barques (sacred boats used in transporting the image of a god) among other things.  Byblos, port of access for the cedars, shows much Egyptian influence in the second millennium B.C.

The fertile Beqa Valley lies between the Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon Mountains. Well-watered at an elevation of 3,000 feet, the Beqa serves as a watershed for the region. 

The Orontes River flows northward from the Beqa while the Litani River drains the valley southward, curing west to join the sea just north of Tyre, Baal-bek, with its magnificent Roman temples, sits near the middle of the Beqa.

The cultural identity of Syria varied historically; but from at least the beginning of the Iron Age (ca 1200 B.C.), the Arameans increasingly dominated the region.  Aramean kingdoms like Aram-Damascus, Aram-zobah, and Hamath appear repeatedly in the biblical record. 

The Phoenicians inhabited the narrow coast of Lebanon.  The Lebanon Mountains restricted the available agricultural land. 

Lebanon Mountains
Mountain range of western Lebanon.

Together with the Anti-Lebanon Mountains, it defines the geographical boundaries of the modern state of Lebanon, divided by the Bekaa Valley.

It is usually suggested that name of the mountains, and from that, the name of the country are from these mountains.

Snow clad in winter, they may have had their name from luban, Aramaic for “white.”

The length is approximately 160 km, and the highest mountain peak is Qornet es-Sawda, 3,088 meters.

The Lebanon Mountains are dominated by valleys and steep mountain sides.

Phoenicia faced the sea; numerous natural harbors – Tyre, Byblos (Gebal), Sidon, Beyrutus, and Arvad – induced the Phoenicians to take to the sea.  Ultimately, the Phoenicians became perhaps the greatest merchant seafarers of the ancient world.  

Phoenician merchants plied the Mediterranean basin planting colonies (Carthage, Cadiz, and Marseilles) as they went.  Israel developed a close commercial relationship with Phoenicia as early as the time of Solomon.

The Phoenicians needed Israel’s agriculture surplus while Israel profited from a link with Phoenicia’s trading ventures.