Judges ~ Chapter Twelve
Read: Judges 12:1-15
"And Jephthah judged Israel six years.
Then Jephthah the Gileadite died and was buried among the cities of Gilead.
After him, Ibzan of Bethlehem judged Israel. He had thirty sons.
He judged Israel seven years...After him, Elon the Zebulunite judged Israel.
He judged Israel ten years...After him, Abdon the son of Hillel
the Pirathonite judged Israel...He judged Israel eight years."
(Judges 12:7, 8-9, 11, 13, 14b)
The tribe of Ephraim once again demanded their share of the glories of war, without having to participate in it. While Gideon had flattered the Ephraimites to diffuse their hostility (Judges 8:1-3), Jephthah called them out for their lack of response when the call to arms was given. The men of Ephraim did not like the accusation. Instead of admitting their faults and being grateful for the victory over a common enemy, they mocked the Gileadites to save their own reputation and threatened to burn down Jephthah's house. "And Jephthah said to them, "My people and I were in a great struggle with the people of Ammon; and when I called you, you did not deliver me out of their hands. So when I saw that you would not deliver me, I took my life in my hands and crossed over against the people of Ammon; and the LORD delivered them into my hand. Why then have you come up to me this day to fight against me?" Now Jephthah gathered together all the men of Gilead and fought against Ephraim. And the men of Gilead defeated Ephraim, because they said, "You Gileadites are fugitives of Ephraim among the Ephraimites and among the Manassites" (Judges 12:3). With the spirituality of the nation deteriorating and the unity of the nation disintegrating, civil war was inevitable. The complaining Ephraimites, whose ruthless taunts triggered the war, showed they were all bark and no bite, and were easily conquered by the Gileadites. After Jephthah defeated the Ammonites and decimated Ephraim, he judged Israel six years. The children of Israel experienced an additional twenty-five years of peace under the leadership of Ibzan of Bethlehem, who had thirty sons and thirty daughters (v. 8); Elon the Zebulunite; and Abdon the son of Hillel, who had forty sons and thirty grandsons. The root of every battle is pride in the heart, which leads to rebellion against God, and conflict with others. As the division between the true followers of Jesus Christ and the world rapidly increases, may we cultivate and pray for a spirit of submission among believers. May God remove selfish ambition from the hearts of His people and end that inner struggle, which has so many at war with themselves and with each other. May the spirit of repentance fall upon the children of God and lead to unity among the brethren, so that we will stand together on the battlefield against our common enemy and experience the blessings of God as we advance His Kingdom in the world. "Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!" (Psalm 133:1).
"Where do wars and fights come from among you?
Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members?
You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain.
You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask.
You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss,
that you may spend it on your pleasures.
Do not speak evil of one another, brethren.
He who speaks evil of a brother and judges his brother,
speaks evil of the law and judges the law.
But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge.
There is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy.
Who are you to judge another?"
(James 4:1-3, 11-12)
Judges 12:5, 6
"The Gileadites seized the fords of the Jordan
before the Ephraimites arrived.
And when any Ephraimite who escaped said,
"Let me cross over," the men of Gilead would say to him,
"Are you an Ephraimite?" If he said, "No,"
then they would say to him, "Then say, 'Shibboleth'!"
And he would say,
"Sibboleth," for he could not pronounce it right."
(Judges 12:5, 6a)
The Gileadites, under Jephthah's command, devised a peculiar, but clever test to capture the Ephraimites who tried to escape. By requiring the fugitives to say the word "Shibboleth" before crossing the fords of the Jordan, they were able to prove if they were pretending to be from another tribe or were actually from the tribe of Ephraim. Apparently, the men of the Ephraim were easily identified by their dialect because they could not pronounce the "sh" in shibboleth, but said "sibboleth" instead, and gave themselves away. Shibboleth is now part of our English vocabulary; it stands for a test for outsiders to see whose side they are on, or if they belong. Websters dictionary defines shibboleth as, "a testword or password; a distinctive custom;" Websters 1828 dictionary further defines it as "the criterion of a party; or that which distinguishes one party from another." In Hebrew, the word means "an ear of corn" or "a stream of water," which explains why the Gileadites asked the Ephraimites to say the word before crossing the stream. Today we have our own shibboleths which reveal something about us. Just as a dialect reveals what region we are from; our everyday speech reveals a lot about us. This is especially true of believers when we speak about the Bible and our relationship with Jesus Christ. People learn a lot about our Christian walk by the way we talk. There are some who may be able to pretend that they are Christian's and are able to fool others for a while, but when difficult circumstances arise, their true character is shown. Just like the men of Ephraim revealed their true identity in their inability to pronounce the word "shibboleth," situations will arise and temptations will come that will test men's true character and prove their true identify, if they are really followers of Christ or not. As wickedness increases and hostility to Christianity intensifies in our day, we will be tested as our brothers and sisters in generations past have been, and the faithful remnant will be sifted out. "And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold. But he who endures to the end will be saved. and this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come" (Matthew 24:12-14). May we not spend precious time tearing our Christian brothers and sisters other apart, but rather work diligently to build one another up in love, so that every member of the body will be strengthened and nourished, and we will be able to stand whole and holy under our rightful head - Christ Jesus. The church is weakened, and the name of Jesus dishonored, when we do not address the internal warfare that is raging, not only, within the hearts of God's people, individually, but also, between the members of Body of Christ, corporately. May we take the sword of the Spirit to the flesh, so that our hearts will no longer be divided by competing affections, and so be able to partake fully of the nature of Christ, becoming like Him in humility, obedience, patience, kindness, and forgiveness, and then, being directed by His love, "diffuse the fragrance of His knowledge in every place" (2 Corinthians 2:14). As His Body, let us look for the great things which unite us, instead of the little things which divide us. "I...beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all" (Ephesians 4:1-6).
"Do not grumble against one another, brethren,
lest you be condemned.
Behold, the Judge is standing at the door!" (James 5:9)
"But, speaking the truth in love,
may grow up in all things into Him who is the head - Christ -
from whom the whole body, joined and knit together
by what every joint supplies,
according to the effective working by which every part does its share,
causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love."
(Ephesians 4:15, 16)