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The Blue Letter Bible

David Guzik :: Study Guide for Judges 12

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Jephthah and the Ephraimites; Three Minor Judges

A. Jephthah and the Ephraimites conflict.

1. (Jdg 12:1) The men of the tribe of Ephraim are angry with Jephthah.

Then the men of Ephraim gathered together, crossed over toward Zaphon, and said to Jephthah, "Why did you cross over to fight against the people of Ammon, and did not call us to go with you? We will burn your house down on you with fire!"

a. Why did you cross over to fight against the people of Ammon, and did not call us to go with you? The tribe of Ephraim felt slighted by Jephthah, and were angry that they did not have a central and prestigious role in the victorious battle over the Ammonites.

i. There is a tendency within all of us to not want to do a job unless we receive credit. It is evident that the people of the tribe of Ephraim were more concerned with getting the credit than with seeing a job done. This seems to be a consistent problem with the people of the tribe of Ephraim; they gave a similar response to Gideon in 8:1.

ii. Being a real servant of Jesus Christ means that we serve without concern for credit, knowing that it is up to Jesus to give any reward.

b. We will burn your house down on you with fire! The people of Ephraim also backed up their anger with a threat. They threatened to burn down Jephthah's house with him in it.

2. (Jdg 12:2-3) Jephthah responds to the people of the tribe of Ephraim.

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?"

a. The LORD delivered them into my hand: Jephthah's idea is clear. God won a great victory through him when the Ephraimites stood by, though they had the opportunity to help. In this he pointed out the essentially unjust character of their complaint.

b. When I called you, you did not deliver me: The people of Ephraim come off here as chronic complainers. When they had a chance to step out boldly for God they did not do it. Yet when the work was done and God was glorified, they complained that they didn't get to participate.

3. (Jdg 12:4-6) The Gileadites (led by Jephthah) overwhelm the people of the tribe of Ephraim.

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." 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. Then they would take him and kill him at the fords of the Jordan. There fell at that time forty-two thousand Ephraimites.

a. The men of Gilead defeated Ephraim: Apparently the men of Ephraim were better at talking than fighting, because the men of Gilead seemed to conquer them easily.

b. Then they would say to him, "Then say, 'Shibboleth'!" The word shibboleth means either "ear of grain" or "flowing stream." With this word the people from the tribe of Ephraim were easily identified by their dialect. They had a hard time pronouncing the "h" in Shibboleth and said Sibboleth instead, therefore giving themselves away.

i. During World War II, the German soldiers sometimes identified Russian Jews by the way they pronounced the word for corn: "kookoorooza." Their distinctive pronunciation revealed their ethnic background. So it was for these men of Ephraim.

ii. The term shibboleth therefore came into the English language as something which determines which side you are one. In modern English usage a shibboleth is the same as an "acid test."

iii. Today, there are certain true shibboleths in a person's vocabulary. In Judges 12:6, you could know something about a person by how they said Shibboleth. Today when someone talks about Jesus, you can listen to what they say and learn something about them. You can listen as they speak about the Bible, and you know something about them. It is also true that as much as our dialect gives us away, so does our everyday speech. Others should be able to tell that we are Christians by the way we talk.

4. (Jdg 12:7) The remainder of Jephthah's time as a judge.

And Jephthah judged Israel six years. Then Jephthah the Gileadite died and was buried in among the cities of Gilead.

B. Three minor judges.

1. (Jdg 12:8-10) The judge Ibzan.

After him, Ibzan of Bethlehem judged Israel. He had thirty sons. And he gave away thirty daughters in marriage, and brought in thirty daughters from elsewhere for his sons. He judged Israel seven years. Then Ibzan died and was buried at Bethlehem.

2. (Jdg 12:11-12) The judge Elon.

After him, Elon the Zebulunite judged Israel. He judged Israel ten years. And Elon the Zebulunite died and was buried at Aijalon in the country of Zebulun.

3. (Jdg 12:13-15) The judge Abdon.

After him, Abdon the son of Hillel the Pirathonite judged Israel. He had forty sons and thirty grandsons, who rode on seventy young donkeys. He judged Israel eight years. Then Abdon the son of Hillel the Pirathonite died and was buried in Pirathon in the land of Ephraim, in the mountains of the Amalekites.

© 2003 David Guzik - No distribution beyond personal use without permission

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