Judges 12:1-7

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Monday, January 16, 2017 0 comments

by Katie Erickson

“The Ephraimite forces were called out, and they crossed over to Zaphon. They said to Jephthah, 'Why did you go to fight the Ammonites without calling us to go with you? We’re going to burn down your house over your head.'
Jephthah answered, 'I and my people were engaged in a great struggle with the Ammonites, and although I called, you didn’t save me out of their hands. When I saw that you wouldn’t help, I took my life in my hands and crossed over to fight the Ammonites, and the Lord gave me the victory over them. Now why have you come up today to fight me?'
Jephthah then called together the men of Gilead and fought against Ephraim. The Gileadites struck them down because the Ephraimites had said, 'You Gileadites are renegades from Ephraim and Manasseh.' The Gileadites captured the fords of the Jordan leading to Ephraim, and whenever a survivor of Ephraim said, 'Let me cross over,' the men of Gilead asked him, 'Are you an Ephraimite?' If he replied, 'No,' they said, 'All right, say ‘Shibboleth.’' If he said, 'Sibboleth,' because he could not pronounce the word correctly, they seized him and killed him at the fords of the Jordan. Forty-two thousand Ephraimites were killed at that time.
Jephthah led Israel six years. Then Jephthah the Gileadite died and was buried in a town in Gilead.” (Judges 12:1-7)

Jephthah has gone to war with the Ammonites, God gave them victory, because of that Jephthah had to kill his daughter (see last week’s post), and now the bad stuff just keeps on coming for Jephthah. Now, the tribe of Ephraim is mad at him.

Ephraim had been mad at Gideon previously for not being invited to participate in the battle against Midian. But then Gideon had gotten them involved, so all was well (Judges 8:1-3). Now, however this dispute with Ephraim ended up in a civil war between the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh. They’re both tribes of the same nation (Israel), and interestingly both of those tribes were descended from the sons of Joseph.

The fact of the matter is that God granted Jephthah and victory over the Ammonites. Ephraim had no reason to be jealous for that; they worshiped the same God and were part of Israel as well. But the tribe of Ephraim was jealous anyway.

These two tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh were close geographically, but they were separated by the Jordan River (one on the east and one on the west). Because of this separation, each tribe had a slightly different dialect. In the Hebrew language, there are two letters called sin and shin (say them like “seen” and “sheen”). The letters look identical, similar to a W, except for the placement of a dot. If the dot is on the left side of the W, then it’s a sin (pronounced like an “s”); if the dot is on the right, then it’s a shin (pronounced like an “sh”). It’s not a huge difference, but the using a sin instead of a shin can change the word entirely, as they are considered two distinct letters.

So, to tell which side any given person was on (Ephraim vs Manasseh), they would be asked to pronounce the word ‘Sibboleth.’ Depending on whether a person pronounced it with a ‘S’ sound or a ‘Sh’ sound, they’d know if you were “us” or “them.” This could possibly be compared to the U.S. with northerners and southerners. Ask someone what they call a group of people, and if they say “y’all” then they’re more likely from the south.

But back to the point. Two nations, under the same tribe and worshiping the same God, were having a civil war. Because of this division, 42,000 people in Ephraim lost their lives! Jephthah was clearly vindicated as their leader, but his actions cost the loss of much life - the Ammonites during the battle, Jephthah’s own daughter, and now thousands of Ephraimites as well. That’s a pretty big deal, and a lot of negative consequences for some actions.

While the pronunciation difference may seem silly to us today (I’m from Michigan and I occasionally do say “y’all”), we have just as much division today as Israel had then, if not more. Instead of asking each other how to pronounce a word, what about these topics: who you voted for in the 2016 election, what’s your position on homosexual marriage, do you believe in creation or evolution, “Black Lives Matter,” etc. We have SO many dividing issues, yet we’re all called to be one nation, united under God. Fortunately in recent history our divisions haven’t killed 42,000 people like with the tribe of Ephraim (yet), but we humans have a way of letting things get out of hand.

Can’t we all just get along? We’re all humans, created to love and serve the God of the universe. We’re all sinful, unfortunately, which causes divisions among us, but that choice is ours to make. Today, make the choice to be unified under God with your fellow humans.

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