The Book of Judges describes a historical pattern that recurred after Joshua's conquest of Canaan, before Israel had a king. Israel worships Canaan’s idols; God punishes them by having enemies attack; the Israelites return to God, who appoints a savior (a “judge”) to defeat the enemy; after peace is obtained, Israel returns to idolatry, and the cycle resumes. After many cycles, God declares (Jud. 10:11-14) that He will not save them from their enemies, bitingly telling them that, instead, their idols should save them. Nonetheless, Israel again abandons idolatry and cries to God, who relents and saves them. The Haftarah tells the beginning of this salvation, focusing on a southern section of the mountainous Gilead region, east of the Jordan River. (See Haftarah History and Geography, below.)
The Haftarah takes place after 300 years of Israelite possession of the area. Ammon had recently conquered it, and was pushing westward across the Jordan to conquer more Israelite territory; God’s promise, above, not to save the Israelites includes these attacks. Gilead’s elders decide to fight for their land after 18 years of Ammonite occupation. To lead them, they turn to a native son, the warrior Yiftach, whom they had earlier banished from Gilead; they promise him Gilead’s leadership if he and his men defeat Ammon. Recounting the history, below, Yiftach tells Ammon that their conquest is unjust since they had not contested the area’s Israelite rule in the centuries since Moses conquered it; even in Moses’s day, Moab’s King Balak had not contested it. Ammon rejects Yiftach’s argument; see below for a possible explanation. Diplomacy having failed, Yiftach turns to God, vowing an offering if God grants him victory in battle. The Haftarah concludes with Yiftach’s Divinely-inspired victory.
Verses 1-3: Born of a prostitute, Yiftach is banished and flees to Tob where he leads a band of societal outcasts.
Gilead’s [legitimate] wife bore him [other] sons. The wife’s sons grew up, and they drove Yiftach out. They said to him, “You shall not inherit among our father’s household for you are the son of a different woman.”
וַתֵּ֧לֶד אֵֽשֶׁת־גִּלְעָ֛ד ל֖וֹ בָּנִ֑ים וַיִּגְדְּל֨וּ בְֽנֵי־הָאִשָּׁ֜ה וַיְגָרְשׁ֣וּ אֶת־יִפְתָּ֗ח וַיֹּ֤אמְרוּ לוֹ֙ לֹא־תִנְחַ֣ל בְּבֵית־אָבִ֔ינוּ כִּ֛י בֶּן־אִשָּׁ֥ה אַחֶ֖רֶת אָֽתָּה׃
Verses 4-6: The elders of Gilead travel to Tob to ask Yiftach to drive the Ammonites from their territory.
They said to Yiftach, “Come and be our captain, that we may battle the Ammonites.”
וַיֹּאמְר֣וּ לְיִפְתָּ֔ח לְכָ֕ה וְהָיִ֥יתָה לָּ֖נוּ לְקָצִ֑ין וְנִֽלָּחֲמָ֖ה בִּבְנֵ֥י עַמּֽוֹן׃
Verses 7-11: Yiftach agrees to lead the battle after the elders offer him leadership of all Gilead if he defeats Ammon.
Yiftach said to the elders of Gilead, “If you bring me back home to fight against the children of ῾Ammon, and the Lord deliver them before me, shall I be your head?”
וַיֹּ֨אמֶר יִפְתָּ֜ח אֶל־זִקְנֵ֣י גִלְעָ֗ד אִם־מְשִׁיבִ֨ים אַתֶּ֤ם אוֹתִי֙ לְהִלָּחֵם֙ בִּבְנֵ֣י עַמּ֔וֹן וְנָתַ֧ן ה' אוֹתָ֖ם לְפָנָ֑י אָנֹכִ֕י אֶהְיֶ֥ה לָכֶ֖ם לְרֹֽאשׁ׃
Verses 12-13: Ammon’s king replies to Yiftach’s complaint against their occupation, asserting that the Israelites had taken it from them after the Exodus.
And the king of the children of Ammon answered the messengers of Yiftah, Because Israel took away my land, when they came up out of Egypt, from Arnon as far as the Yabboq, and the Jordan: now, therefore, restore those lands again peaceably.
וַיֹּ֩אמֶר֩ מֶ֨לֶךְ בְּנֵֽי־עַמּ֜וֹן אֶל־מַלְאֲכֵ֣י יִפְתָּ֗ח כִּֽי־לָקַ֨ח יִשְׂרָאֵ֤ל אֶת־אַרְצִי֙ בַּעֲלוֹת֣וֹ מִמִּצְרַ֔יִם מֵאַרְנ֥וֹן וְעַד־הַיַּבֹּ֖ק וְעַד־הַיַּרְדֵּ֑ן וְעַתָּ֕ה הָשִׁ֥יבָה אֶתְהֶ֖ן בְּשָׁלֽוֹם׃
Verses 14-23: Yiftach rejects Ammon’s claim by retelling the area’s political history; for details, see Haftarah History and Geography, below.
“Now, then: the Lord, God of Israel, dispossessed the Amorites before His people, Israel; [yet] you [Ammon] shall possess [their land]?!”
וְעַתָּ֞ה ה' ׀ אֱלֹקי יִשְׂרָאֵ֗ל הוֹרִישׁ֙ אֶת־הָ֣אֱמֹרִ֔י מִפְּנֵ֖י עַמּ֣וֹ יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל וְאַתָּ֖ה תִּירָשֶֽׁנּוּ׃
Verses 24-28: Yiftach also rejects Ammon’s claim by noting that centuries before, in Moses’s day, even Moab’s own king, Balak, had not contested the Israelites’ possession of the area.
Are you [present day Ammon] any better than Balak son of Zippor, king of Moab [300 years ago]? Did he ever strive against Israel, or did he ever fight against them?
וְעַתָּ֗ה הֲט֥וֹב טוֹב֙ אַתָּ֔ה מִבָּלָ֥ק בֶּן־צִפּ֖וֹר מֶ֣לֶךְ מוֹאָ֑ב הֲר֥וֹב רָב֙ עִם־יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל אִם־נִלְחֹ֥ם נִלְחַ֖ם בָּֽם׃
Verses 29-33: God inspires Yiftach, who in turn makes a vow to God as he prepares to battle Ammon. God grants Yiftach overwhelming success in defeating Ammon and driving them from Gilead.
Yiftah passed over to the children of Ammon to battle them: and the Lord delivered them into his hands.
וַיַּעֲבֹ֥ר יִפְתָּ֛ח אֶל־בְּנֵ֥י עַמּ֖וֹן לְהִלָּ֣חֶם בָּ֑ם וַיִּתְּנֵ֥ם ה' בְּיָדֽוֹ׃
Haftarah History and Geography
The nation of Moab long dwelt west of the Jordan River in southern Gilead, in the 50 miles between Wadi Arnon (an east-west Dead Sea tributary) and the Jabbok River (an east-west tributary to the Jordan River).
The Parashah (Num. 21:26) recounts that King Sichon’s Amorite tribes conquered this area from Moab. After Moses requested safe passage through the area, Sichon attacked the Israelites, who defeated the Amorites and took possession of the area (Num. 21:21-32).
The tribe of Gad settled in the northern portion of the Amorite territory (i.e., Moab’s previous territory), south of the Jabbok River. Note the city of Gilead, Yiftach’s place of birth; his father was also named Gilead. The tribe of Reuben settled to their south.
Ammon was Moab’s historical, powerful ally to its east; its territory is on the map’s right. The Parashah states (ibid, v. 24) that the Israelites did not cross Ammon’s fortified border; this was in keeping with God’s command (Deut. 2:19, 36).
Nonetheless, Joshua 13:24 includes “half of Ammon” among the land Moses gave to the tribe of Gad. According to this, Ammon’s King may have rejected Yiftach’s historical account because Gad had indeed been dwelling for centuries in Ammon’s territory.
Yiftach fled to Tob after being chased from his father’s household in the city of Gilead. Gilead’s elders traveled to him there to ask him to lead the battle against Ammon. Afterwards, in Mitzpeh Gilead between Tob and the city of Gilead, the Gileadites publicly proclaimed Yiftach as their commander, promising him future leadership of all of Gilead if he leads them to victory.
With emendations, all translations are from Sefaria.org. To dedicate, comment, or subscribe, email email@example.com.