Chapter 56
Jealousy of the Ephraimites [Judges 12.1-12.7]

Scripture: Judges 12.1-7(KJV)

The Ephraimites, quarreling with Jephthah, are slain by the Gileadites.

1 And the men of Ephraim gathered themselves together, and went northward, and said unto Jephthah, Wherefore passedst thou over to fight against the children of Ammon, and didst not call us to go with thee? we will burn thine house upon thee with fire.
2 And Jephthah said unto them, I and my people were at great strife with the children of Ammon; and when I called you, ye delivered me not out of their hands.
3 And when I saw that ye delivered me not, I put my life in my hands, and passed over against the children of Ammon, and the LORD delivered them into my hand: wherefore then are ye come up unto me this day, to fight against me?
4 Then Jephthah gathered together all the men of Gilead, and fought with Ephraim: and the men of Gilead smote Ephraim, because they said, Ye Gileadites are fugitives of Ephraim among the Ephraimites, and among the Manassites.
5 And the Gileadites took the passages of Jordan before the Ephraimites: and it was so, that when those Ephraimites which were escaped said, Let me go over; that the men of Gilead said unto him, Art thou an Ephraimite? If he said, Nay;
6 Then said they unto him, Say now Shibboleth: and he said Sibboleth: for he could not frame to pronounce it right. Then they took him, and slew him at the passages of Jordan: and there fell at that time of the Ephraimites forty and two thousand.
7 And Jephthah judged Israel six years. Then died Jephthah the Gileadite, and was buried in one of the cities of Gilead.


The Ephraimites are incensed against Jephthah, because he did not include them when he went to war against the Ammonites; and, therefore, they threaten his destruction:
1. THE TRIBE OF EPHRAIM SEEMS TO HAVE BEEN EASILY UPSET as they took exception to Jephthah’s strategy against Ammon (verse 1). The men of Ephraim had been angered before when Gideon did not ask them to join in his surprise attack on the camp of the Midianites. Their jealousy was a real infection that led to a defection. Later on when the kingdom is divided into north and south, you will find out that Ephraim is the center of the rebellion. And it goes back to their jealousy.
2. HE VINDICATES HIMSELF, verses 2 and 3. Jephthah lacked the diplomacy of Gideon and he was in no mood for debate. In essence he said “Where were you when we needed you?”
3. AFTER HE HAD EXPLAINED HIS CONDUCT HE THEN LAUNCHED AN ATTACK AGAINST EPHRAIM, which was a tragic civil war, verse 4? He arms the Gileadites against the men of Ephraim; they fight against them, and kill forty-two thousand Ephraimites when those killed on the battlefield is combined with those killed at the passages (places where the Jordan could be easily and safely crossed) of Jordan, verses 4-6. As the Ephraimites tried to escape across the Jordan River they were challenged to identify themselves by repeating the word “Shibboleth” (vv. 5-6). Those, whose speech betrayed them, were slain at the crossing of the Jordan.
4. THE BATTLE WAS SHORT AND DECISIVE as Jephthah and the Gileadites scored a complete victory. Jephthah dies, having judged Israel for six years. Jephthah was a leader of Israel for six years, before he died and was buried in his hometown of Mizpah in Gilead (v. 7).
This example of the judges is certainly a negative one. As Christians we are not to act in envy or arrogance or to do anything at the expense of our brothers and neighbors. Such conflict usually brings tragic results as in this case. There is jealousy in the church today. It is one of our greatest problems. Paul said, “Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves” (Phil. 2:3).


What is my attitude toward those who have left me out of some plans where I thought I should have been included? This happened to me in the past. Remember “vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord” (v. 12:19).

1 And the men of Ephraim gathered themselves together, and went northward, and said unto Jephthah, Wherefore passedst thou over to fight against the children of Ammon, and didst not call us to go with thee? we will burn thine house upon thee with fire.—Judges 12.1(KJV)
1 Now the men of Ephraim came together and took up arms and went over to Zaphon; and they said to Jephthah, Why did you go over to make war against the children of Ammon without sending for us to go with you? Now we will put your house on fire over you.—Judges 12.1(BBE)

And the men of Ephraim gathered themselves together…
The men of Ephraim summoned all their tribe and friends and had them arm themselves for the purpose of warring against Jephthah and the Gileadites, because of jealously, and suspicion that they might acquire too much power. In the Hebrew text the men of Ephraim are, "a man of Ephraim"; not a single man, but a body of men, who met together and joined as one man. It is highly probable that there were no less than 50,000 of them; for 42,000 of them were slain, (see Judges 12:6)
On another occasion, they had confronted Gideon in a similar manner, but he appeased them with diplomatic words and by sharing with them the spoils of war. When they attempted to do a similar thing here, no doubt expecting exactly the same kind of meek and submissive response that Gideon gave, they encountered a man of a different temperament from Gideon. Jephthah simply rejected their claims as false and promptly deployed his men in battle array.

The reaction of the men of Ephraim was cruel and outrageous. They get together in a turbulent manner, cross over the Jordan and then go as far as Mizpeh in Gilead, where Jephthah lived, and nothing will satisfy their fury, except burning his house to the ground, with him in it (see verse 6). Those resentments that are held until they turn into pure rage often have little basis in reason, but when they surface, they commonly have the most rage in them. Jephthah was now a conqueror over the common enemies of Israel, and they should have come to congratulate him, and offer him the thanks of their tribe for the good services he had done; but we should not think it is strange if we receive unpleasant treatment from those whom we deserve to be treated better. Jephthah was now a mourner, because of the tragedy that has befallen his family on account of his daughter, and they should have come to console him; but barbaric men take a pleasure in adding affliction to the afflicted. In this world, the end of one trouble often proves to be the beginning of another.

Here is what has happened:
1. The men of the tribe of Ephraim are angry with Jephthah

a. 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 with the Ammonites

i. There is a tendency within us all to not want to do a job unless we receive credit for doing it; it is evident that the people of the tribe of Ephraim are more concerned with getting the credit than with seeing a job done

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 us any credit that may be coming to us

2. This seems to be a consistent problem with the people of the tribe of Ephraim; they gave a similar response to Gideon in [1]Judges 8:1; which goes to show that ambition envies God’s work in others.

3. The people of Ephraim also back up their anger with a threat; they threaten to burn down Jephthah's house with him in it

and went northward
After crossing the Jordan, their route from Ephraim was, strictly speaking, in a northeasterly direction, toward Mizpeh; that is, they crossed over the river Jordan, which lay between Gilead and Ephraim; and when they had crossed the river, they turned northward; since Mizpeh, where Jephthah lived, was in the north of the land, near Hermon and Lebanon, [2](Joshua 11:3).

and said unto Jephthah, wherefore passedst thou over to fight against the children of Ammon?
As Dalglish's discerning comment has it, "The vow of Jephthah and its fulfillment had carried the story beyond the defeat of the Ammonites [10](Judges 11:33), and the editor (we think it was Samuel) now returns to that setting in order to relate in more detail the altercation between Jephthah and the men of Ephraim."

The question is not, “Why have you crossed the Jordan to fight us?” What they asked was, “Why have you passed through the land of Israel from the plain where Jephthah dwelt, to the country of the children of Ammon.

and didst not call us to go with thee?
They quarrel with him just like they did with Gideon: these Ephraimites were a proud and unstable people, and they were very jealous of the tribe of Manasseh. Both Gideon and Jephthah were from this tribe; the one was from the half tribe on this side of the Jordan, and the other was from the half that was on the other side; and they were jealous of each other.

Ephraim believed they were superior in all respects to Manessah and that they deserved any honor and glory accredited to them, since Jacob their father had given the preference to Ephraim; and this seems to lie at the bottom of all their disputes.
The jealousy of the tribe of Ephraim was boiling over and they had Jephthah in their sights, because they were striving after the leadership of Israel. It had already shown itself in the time of Gideon in such a way that nothing but the moderation of that judge, and his skill at compromise averted open hostilities. And now that the tribes on the east of the Jordan had conquered the Ammonites under the command of Jephthah without the co-operation of the Ephraimites, Ephraim thought it was necessary to assert its claim and to take the lead in Israel in a very forcible manner, and the time to do it is now.

And as for the critical complaint that the request of Jephthah for Ephraim's help, which Ephraim refused, "does not correspond with Judges 11," the critics simply failed to see that Ephraim's allegations against Jephthah were false. A man in who was the Spirit of God would not have lied about what happened.

We have seen that the men of Ephraim also quarreled with Gideon [1](Judges 8:1) when he didn’t summon them to help him rout the Midianites. Now in a hostile way, they demanded that Jephthah give them the reason why he did not ask for their help in the battle. The jealousy of Ephraim was a real infection that led to a defection. Later on, when the kingdom is divided into north and south, you will find out that Ephraim is the center of all of the rebellion. And it goes back to their jealousy.

There is jealousy in the church today. It is one of our greatest problems. Paul said, “Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves” (Phil. 2:3). “Strife and vainglory” can be vanity and envy. These are two things that cause problems in churches today. When I hear some person in a church complain that it is not being run the way he thinks it should be, I wonder if he is jealous. When I find someone who is opposing the preacher all of the time, I suspect there is jealousy behind it.

Jealousy was the problem here. Jephthah had to protect himself. The men of Ephraim were going to burn his house down right over his head!

Compare the similar complaint of the Ephraimites to Gideon [1](Judges 8:1), when a civil war was only avoided by Gideon's wise and patriotic moderation. The overbearing pride of Ephraim comes out in both occurrences (see also Joshua 17:14-18). See Table 25; below.

Table 25: Compare the Similar Complaint of the Ephraimites to Gideon, and to Joshua
Judges 8.1(KJV) “And the men of Ephraim said unto him, Why hast thou served us thus, that thou calledst us not, when thou wentest to fight with the Midianites? And they did chide with him sharply.”

Joshua 17.14-18(KJV) And the children of Joseph spake unto Joshua, saying, Why hast thou given me but one lot and one portion to inherit, seeing I am a great people, forasmuch as the LORD hath blessed me hitherto? And Joshua answered them, If thou be a great people, then get thee up to the wood country, and cut down for thyself there in the land of the Perizzites and of the giants, if mount Ephraim be too narrow for thee. And the children of Joseph said, The hill is not enough for us: and all the Canaanites that dwell in the land of the valley have chariots of iron, both they who are of Bethshean and her towns, and they who are of the valley of Jezreel. And Joshua spake unto the house of Joseph, even to Ephraim and to Manasseh, saying, Thou art a great people, and hast great power: thou shalt not have one lot only: But the mountain shall be thine; for it is a wood, and thou shalt cut it down: and the outgoings of it shall be thine: for thou shalt drive out the Canaanites, though they have iron chariots, and though they be strong.

This is a brand new development of the jealous, rash, and irritable temper of the Ephraimites. The ground of their offense now was their desire of enjoying the credit for patriotism, although they had not shared in the glory of victory.

Ephraim and Manasseh were nearer akin than any of the other tribes, seeing that both were the sons of Joseph, and yet they were more jealous of one another than any of the other tribes. Jacob, when he blessed the children of Joseph, crossed his hands, and gave Ephraim the preference. Perhaps God allowed him to look forward in time and to see the kingdom of the ten tribes, which Ephraim was the head of, after the revolt from the house of David. That tribe was not content with that honor, but was displeased if Manasseh received any honor for doing good work. It is a pity that the relative relationship, which should be an inducement to love and peace, would ever be an occasion (as it often proves to be) for strife and discord. A brother offended is harder to be won than a strong city, and contentions among brethren are as the bars of a castle. The anger of the Ephraimites at Jephthah was causeless and unjust. Why didst thou not call us to go with thee? For a good reason. Because it was the men of Gilead that had made him their captain, not the men of Ephraim, hence, he had no authority to call them. Had his attempt failed for lack of their help, they might justly have blamed him for not wanting it. But when the work was done, and done effectively, the Ammonites being subdued and Israel delivered, there was no harm done, though they did not have a part in it.

we will burn thine house upon thee with fire;
What a horrible price the Ephraimites were determined to exact as compensation for their injured pride! They threatened to burn him and his house, that is, burn his house with him in it; which shows that they were in a state of great wrath and fury. Their threat was evidence of the height of pride and envy, wretched ingratitude, and a cruel disposition; since, instead of congratulating him as Israel's deliverer, and consoling him with respect to the case of his only child, they threaten him in this brutish manner.

He replied (Judges 12:2, Judges 12:3), I and my people had a severe conflict with the Ammonites. "Then I called you, but ye did not deliver me out of their hand; and when I saw that thou (Ephraim) didst not help me, I put my life in my hand" (i.e., I risked my own life) "and I went against the Ammonites, and Jehovah gave them into my hand." Jephthah's appeal to the Ephraimites to fight against the Ammonites is not mentioned in Judges 11, probably for no other reason than because they did not figure in the fight. The Ephraimites, however, had very likely refused their co-operation simply because the Gileadites had appointed Jephthah as commander without consulting them. Consequently the Ephraimites had no ground whatsoever for rising up against Jephthah and the Gileadites in this haughty and hostile manner; and Jephthah had a perfect right not only to ask them, "Wherefore are ye come up against me now (lit. 'this day'), to fight against me?"; but to resist such conduct with the sword.

We will burn thine house upon thee with fire - Compare the fierce threat of the Philistines to Samson's wife [11](Judges 14:15), and the yet fiercer execution [12](Judges 15:6). Burning appears as a mode of capital punishment, [13](Joshua 7:25); and as a mode of desperate warfare [14](Judges 1:8).

_________________________________verse 1 notes______________________
[1](Judges 8:1; KJV) “And the men of Ephraim said unto him, Why hast thou served us thus, that thou calledst us not, when thou wentest to fight with the Midianites? And they did chide with him sharply.”

[2](Joshua 11:3; BBE) “And to the Canaanites on the east and on the west, and to the Amorites and the Hittites and the Perizzites, and the Jebusites in the hill-country, and the Hivites under Hermon in the land of Mizpah.” The land of Mizpeh—There were several cities with this name: one in the tribe of Judah, (Joshua 15:38); a second in the tribe of Benjamin, (Joshua 18:26); a third beyond Jordan, in the tribe of Gad; and a fourth beyond Jordan, in the tribe of Manasseh, which is that mentioned in the text. Calmet supposes this Mizpeh to be the place where Laban and Jacob made their covenant, and from which circumstance it took its name. See Genesis 31:48, 49.

[10]Judges 11:33 (KJV) “And he smote them from Aroer, even till thou come to Minnith, even twenty cities, and unto the plain of the vineyards, with a very great slaughter. Thus the children of Ammon were subdued before the children of Israel.” Twenty cities—that is, he either took or destroyed twenty cities of the Ammonites, and completely routed their whole army.—Adam Clarke's Commentary
[11](Judges 14:15; KJV) “And it came to pass on the seventh day, that they said unto Samson's wife, Entice thy husband, that he may declare unto us the riddle, lest we burn thee and thy father's house with fire: have ye called us to take that we have? is it not so?”
[12](Judges 15:6; NLT) “Then he lit the torches and let the foxes run through the grain fields of the Philistines. He burned all their grain to the ground, including the sheaves and the uncut grain. He also destroyed their vineyards and olive groves.”
[13](Joshua 7:25; NKJV) “And Joshua said, "Why have you troubled us? The LORD will trouble you this day." So all Israel stoned him with stones; and they burned them with fire after they had stoned them with stones.”
[14](Judges 1:8; KJV) “Now the children of Judah had fought against Jerusalem, and had taken it, and smitten it with the edge of the sword, and set the city on fire.”

2 And Jephthah said unto them, I and my people were at great strife with the children of Ammon; and when I called you, ye delivered me not out of their hands.—Judges 12.2(KJV)
2 And Jephthah said to them, I and my people were in danger, and the children of Ammon were very cruel to us, and when I sent for you, you gave me no help against them.—Judges 12.2 (BBE)

And Jephthah said unto them, I and my people were at a great strife with the children of Ammon…
Jephthah's temper was hot against them, as he sought to vindicate himself. He did not make an effort to pacify them, as Gideon had done in a similar situation. The Ephraimites were now more outrageous than they were then, and Jephthah did not possess as much of a meek and quiet spirit as Gideon had. Whether they would be pacified or not, Jephthah is determined to justify himself. He is adamant that they had no reason at all to quarrel with him, because, he had engaged in this war to defend his country, not to pursue personal glory; which was what the Ephraimites were seeking.

As to the cause of the war, or the reason he went to fight the children of Ammon, it was a strife or contention between the Gileadites and them, concerning their country; which the children of Ammon claimed as theirs, and the Gileadites insisted that they had a just right to it. It appeared that this was not a personal dispute between Jephthah and them; and therefore the Ephraimites had no reason to attack him so furiously. The strife chiefly concerned the two tribes and a half, and not the rest; and so they could not be blamed for defending themselves alone if they could, without involving others in the quarrel: but this is not all he has to say, he adds,

and when I called you, ye delivered me not out of their hands;
It seems he had asked them to assist in driving the enemy out of their boarders, and they refused to help him; though it is not mentioned any place in Scripture, it is not denied by them either. So, they made a false accusation, since they refuse to give him any assistance, when the children of Ammon were in his country, therefore, he could not expect they would join him in an expedition into Ammon’s country. The reason this was not mentioned in Judg. 11 was simply because it had no effect on the outcome of the battle.

Jephthah's main point is that the Lord delivered them into my hand and that the Ephraimites stood by when they had the opportunity to help; he points out the essentially unjust character of their complaint. The people of Ephraim come off here as chronic complainers; when they had a chance to do the Lord's work, they didn't do it (I called to you, you did not deliver me); yet when the work is done and God has been glorified, they complained that they didn't get to participate. The straightforward answer of Jephthah shows that their accusation was false; their complaint of not being treated as confederates and allies was entirely without foundation; and their boast of a willing contribution of their services came with an ill grace from people who had purposely delayed appearing till the crisis was past. The truth is that Jephthah didn’t need them; he won the war without them, because the Lord delivered them into my hand. He was not under any obligation to pay respect to them, since they had declined the service: I called you, and you delivered me not out of their hands.

Jephthah does not take the glory for their success upon himself (that would have been revolting), but gives it all to God: "The Lord delivered them into my hands. “If God was pleased to make use of me for his glory, why should you be offended at that? Have you any reason to fight against me? That would be in effect, fighting against God, in whose hand I have been only an unworthy instrument?" He had more reasons to quarrel with them for deserting the common interests of Israel in a time of need, than they could bring against him. It is not a new thing for those who are the most guilty to be the most boisterous in accusing the innocent. The enterprise was very hazardous, and they had more reason to pity him than to be angry with him: I put my life in my hands, that is, "I exposed myself to the utmost peril by what I did, since my army was so small.” The honor they envied was bought with great sacrifice; they should not grudge it to him; few of them would have ventured so far into danger for it.

3 And when I saw that ye delivered me not, I put my life in my hands, and passed over against the children of Ammon, and the LORD delivered them into my hand: wherefore then are ye come up unto me this day, to fight against me?—Judges 12.3 (KJV)
3 So when I saw that there was no help to be had from you, I put my life in my hand and went over against the children of Ammon, and the Lord gave them into my hands: why then have you come up to me this day to make war on me?—Judges 12.3(BBE)

And when I saw that ye delivered me not…
This is a common form of speech in the East when undertaking a duty that involves imminent peril. Jephthah placed himself in danger, when he encountered and routed the Ammonites with the aid of his small band of Gileadite volunteers; and since the Lord enabled him to conquer them without requiring assistance from any other tribe, why should the Ephraimites take offense? They should have been delighted and thankful that the war had ended without their experiencing any great effort and danger. The Ephraimites gave him no assistance against their common enemy; they did not attempt to assist him and his people against a larger force, but left them to defend themselves.

I put my life in my hands;
That is, I risked my life, and when man’s help failed, I put my trust only in God. I exposed myself to great difficulties and dangers. He was willing to deliver up his life in the defense of his country; the meaning is that he exposed himself to extreme danger by going with a few troops into an enemy's country to fight them, and so, on the surface you would think he is liable to lose his life.
But when did this form of speech come into common usage? It probably developed from a man laying hold of his sword, spear, or bow. "This is the defender of my life; on this, and my proper use of it, my life depends." When a man draws his sword against his foe, his enemy will naturally aim to take his life; and his sword in his hand is his sole defense. It then becomes, fight and conquer, or die. Thus Jephthah took his life in his hand. I put my life in my hands; the phrase expresses one knowingly incurring the utmost possible risk. It occurs in some other places of Scripture; see [3]1 Samuel 19:5;; [4]28:21. And the words of the Conqueror, seem to confirm the above view of the subject: “And I looked, and there was none to help; and I wondered that there was none to uphold: therefore mine own arm brought salvation unto me; and my fury, it upheld me” (Isaiah 63:5; KJV). That is, by mine own arm I saved my life, and brought destruction on mine enemies.

and passed over against the children of Ammon:
He took a long and tiring march through the land of Gilead and into the country of the children of Ammon, to fight with them.

and the Lord delivered them into my hand;
The Lord gave him victory over them, which confirms that his cause was just, and his call to engage in It, genuine.

wherefore then are ye come up unto me this day to fight against me?
The men of Ephraim should have come to thank him for the service he had done, not only for the Gileadites, but for all Israel; because, if he had not fought against the children of Ammon, and conquered them, they would have, sooner or later, not only overrun and oppressed Gilead, but would have crossed over the Jordan, and dispossessed the other tribes, and particularly Ephraim, as they had done previously, [5](Judges 10:9) so that it was vile ingratitude in these people to come to fight against Jephthah, who had fought for them, and won salvation for them.

________________________verse 3 notes_________________________

[3](1 Samuel 19:5 KJV) “For he did put his life in his hand, and slew the Philistine, and the LORD wrought a great salvation for all Israel: thou sawest it, and didst rejoice: wherefore then wilt thou sin against innocent blood, to slay David without a cause?”
[4](1 Samuel) 28:21; NKJV) “And the woman came to Saul and saw that he was severely troubled, and said to him, "Look, your maidservant has obeyed your voice, and I have put my life in my hands and heeded the words which you spoke to me.”
[5](Judges 10:9; KJV) “Moreover the children of Ammon passed over Jordan to fight also against Judah, and against Benjamin, and against the house of Ephraim; so that Israel was sore distressed.”

4 Then Jephthah gathered together all the men of Gilead, and fought with Ephraim: and the men of Gilead smote Ephraim, because they said, Ye Gileadites are fugitives of Ephraim among the Ephraimites, and among the Manassites.—Judges 12.4(KJV)
4 Then Jephthah got together all the men of Gilead and made war on Ephraim; and the men of Gilead overcame Ephraim—Judges 12.4(BBE)

Then Jephthah gathered together all the men of Gilead, and fought with Ephraim…
The Ephraimites were not pacified by the account Jephthah gave of the war between him and the children of Ammon, but instead, they continued their chaotic outrage at Jephthah for going to war without them. I guess Jephthah just simply had enough of their rude accusations an since he was a man of spirit and courage; he got as many of the Gileadites together as he could, and gave them battle. By Gileadites here they seem principally to mean the Manassites who lived on the other side of the Jordan River, who dwelt in Gilead. And although other Gileadites were united with them, yet they vented their passion against the men of Ephraim; principally, because they envied them the most; since they had a chief hand in the victory. They called them fugitives, because, some had deserted their brethren of Ephraim and Manasseh, and planted themselves beyond the Jordan, at a good distance from their brethren, and were alienated from them.

Some commentators suppose that there were two battles in which the Ephraimites were defeated: the first mentioned in the above clause; and the second coming after the taunting language mentioned in the conclusion of the verse, Ye Gileadites are fugitives of Ephraim. The point of this perception, or the reason behind it, cannot be easily ascertained.

Such criticism does not take into account the technique of retrogression when telling a narrative. There are thirty examples of this same phenomenon in Sir Walter Scott's "Ivanhoe." Here, the narrator, whom we believe to have been Samuel, merely went back to the time prior to the demobilization of Jephthah's army in order to relate this account of the civil war. If that is not exactly what happened, then the demobilization of Jephthah's army had not taken place until the events related to Jephthah's vow had been resolved. In my view, the fact of Jephthah's gathering together, "all the men of Gilead", does not refer to the recruitment of his army but to its deployment against Ephraim. In any case, there is absolutely nothing wrong with the sequence of events related in these chapters.

and the men of Gilead smote Ephraim;
The Gileadites (led by Jephthah) overwhelmed the people of the tribe of Ephraim; they bested them, killed many of them, and put the rest to flight:

because they said, ye Gileadites are fugitives of Ephraim among the Ephraimites, and among the Manassites;
What provoked them to attack the Ephraimites with such great fury, was their judgmental language, which was received as being insulting by the Gileadites, who perhaps were chiefly, if not all, of the half tribe of Manasseh from beyond the Jordan. It was Jephthah’s tribe; they were the scum of the house of Joseph, they had run away from their brethren and dwelt in a corner of the land by themselves; and were treated as “no account” by all the people of Ephraim and Manasseh. Both disowned them, and insulted them. The Targum is, “the fugitives of Ephraim said, what are ye Gileadites accounted of among the Ephraimites, and among the Manassites?” Kimchi remarks, that those Ephraimites that came in this riotous manner, and insulted Jephthah, were a very wretched company of men, the worst of the tribe of Ephraim. For the most part, they were shepherds who through necessity were obliged to take their flocks and herds across the Jordan for pasture. {"They said, Ye are fugitives of Ephraim, ye Gileadites"}. Strahan remarked that, "These words make no sense." On the other hand, it is comments like this which are without good sense that cause wars. Right here is the reason why Ephraim would not respond to Jephthah's plea. The Ephraimites considered Jephthah to be a nobody and his "men" a group of social outcasts, that is, fugitives from their respective tribes. It was their low opinion of Jephthah and his men that led to their refusal to supply the requested aid, and their anger overflowed when God gave Jephthah the victory without them.

I want to point out that the Gileadites were as true Israelites as any other tribe, and at this time had distinguished themselves above all the families of Israel, both in the choice of Jephthah as Israel's judge, and in the war with Ammon, and yet, here they are falsely and unjustly called fugitives. It is improper to attach unpleasant names or shameless characteristics to persons or countries, yet it is commonly done, especially to those that live under disadvantages: it often gives rise to quarrels that lead to an injurious consequence, as it did here. This may remind you of what a harmful thing an abusive tongue is; that is, a tongue that confers unpleasant names or shameless characteristics to persons or countries. It sets on fire the course of nature, and is set on fire of hell [6](James 3:6), and many a time cuts the throat of him that uses it, as it did here. If these Ephraimites could have denied themselves the poor satisfaction of calling the Gileadites fugitives, they might have prevented a great deal of bloodshed; for grievous words stir up anger, and who knows how great a matter a little of that fire may kindle?

_______________________verse 4 notes________________________
[6](James 3:6; NLT) “And the tongue is a flame of fire. It is a whole world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body. It can set your whole life on fire, for it is set on fire by hell itself.”
The tongue is a fire
—it is often the instrument of producing the most desperate contentions and insurrections.
A world of wickedness—this is an unusual form of speech, but the meaning is plain enough; WORLD signifies here a mass, a great collection, an abundance. We use the term in the same sense—a world of troubles, a world of toil, a world of anxiety; for great troubles, oppressive toil, most distressing anxiety. The Syriac gives a curious turn to the expression: And the tongue is a fire; and the world of iniquity is like a wood. A little fire burns great woods. So the world of iniquity is represented as inflamed by the wicked tongues of men; the world being fuel, and the tongue a fire.

5 And the Gileadites took the passages of Jordan before the Ephraimites: and it was so, that when those Ephraimites which were escaped said, Let me go over; that the men of Gilead said unto him, Art thou an Ephraimite? If he said, Nay;—Judges 12.5(KJV)
5 And the Gileadites took the crossing-places of Jordan against the Ephraimites; and when any of the men of Ephraim who had gone in flight said, let me go over; the men of Gilead said to him, Are you an Ephraimite? And if he said, No;—Judges 12.5(BBE)

And the Gileadites took the passages of Jordan before the Ephraimites…
The argument that Jephthah used with the Ephraimites, though reasonable and mild, was not only ineffectual, but it was followed by insulting sneers and accusations that the Gileadites were considered, both by the western Manassites and Ephraimites, to be outcasts--the scum and refuse of their common ancestry. This was the message addressed to a peculiarly sensitive people. A feud immediately ensued. The Gileadites, determined to punish Ephraim for this public insult, gave them battle; and having defeated the Ephraimites, they chased their foul-mouthed but cowardly assailants out of the territory. Then rushing to the fords of the Jordan, they got there first, either because they ran faster, or they took a short cut, since they were more familiar with their own country. And once there, they intercepted and slew every fugitive.

and it was so, that when those Ephraimites which were escaped said, let me go over;
The fugitives of Ephraim (the tables are turned—those who called the Gileadites fugitives are themselves fugitives ), who ran away from the battle, made their escape in the best way they could to the passages of Jordan, in order to cross the river and go into their own country.

that the men of Gilead said unto him;
Said to every one of them, as they came to where the ford was located.

art thou an Ephraimite?
Or an Ephrathite; it seems that those of the tribe of Ephraim were called Ephrathite by Jeroboam, [7](1 Kings 11:26).

if he said, nay; that he was not an Ephraimite
A great army from Ephraim had moved against Jephthah and the Gileadites, but God gave Jephthah a great victory over them. As the remnants of the defeated army attempted to flee back to Ephraim, the Gileadites took the fords (places that provided safe passage to cross the river.) of the Jordan, and by a clever linguistic test identified the Ephraimites and slaughtered a vast number of them. Keil stated that the number of Ephraimites slain was, "Forty and two thousand during the whole war;" and so they completed their revenge.

The Gileadites, who perhaps were better acquainted with the passages of Jordan than the Ephraimites were, secured them with strong guards, who were ordered to slay every Ephraimite that tried to cross the river. This was a severe case of cruelty. Surely, the punishment they received when they were routed in the field was severe enough; they didn’t need to cut off their escape and kill such a great number. Shall the sword devour forever? I don’t know whether Jephthah is to be praised for this; perhaps he saw it to be a piece of necessary justice.

Now let us observe the righteousness of God in the punishment of these proud and passionate Ephraimites, which in several instances came in answer to their sin.
1. They were proud that they were Ephraimites; but how soon were they brought to be ashamed or afraid to own their country! Art thou an Ephraimite? No, now I would rather be from any other tribe than that.
2. They had gone in a rage over the Jordan to burn Jephthah's house, but now they came back to the Jordan as sneakingly as they had crossed it furiously, and were cut off from ever returning to their own houses.
3. They had upbraided the Gileadites for the wretchedness of their country, and now they suffered due to an infirmity peculiar to their own country, in not being able to pronounce Shibboleth (see verse 6).
4. They had unjustly called the Gileadites fugitives, and now they have become fugitives themselves; and in the Hebrew the same word (fugitives) is used for the Ephraimites that escaped, or that fled, which the Ephraimites used in scorn of the Gileadites, calling them fugitives. He that rolls the stone of rebuke unjustly upon another, let him expect that it will justly return upon himself.

_____________________________verse 5 notes___________________________
[7](1 Kings 11:26; KJV) “And Jeroboam the son of Nebat, an Ephrathite of Zereda, Solomon's servant, whose mother's name was Zeruah, a widow woman, even he lifted up his hand against the king.”

6 Then said they unto him, Say now Shibboleth: and he said Sibboleth: for he could not frame to pronounce it right. Then they took him, and slew him at the passages of Jordan: and there fell at that time of the Ephraimites forty and two thousand.—Judges 12.6(KJV)
6 Then they said to him, Now say Shibboleth; and he said Sibboleth, and was not able to say it in the right way; then they took him and put him to death at the crossing-places of Jordan; and at that time forty-two thousand Ephraimites were put to death.—Judges 12.6(BBE)

Then said they unto him, say now "Shibboleth"…
After the Gileadites had beaten the Ephraimites, they took control of the fords of the Jordan, to cut off the Ephraimites retreat and prevent them returning to their homes. And "when the fugitives of Ephraim wanted to cross, the men of Gilead asked them, Art thou Ephrathi," i.e., an Ephraimite? And if he said no, they made him pronounce the word Shibboleth.

“Shibboleth” signifies a stream or flow of water, which is where they were now; so it was a proper word for the occasion, and gave them no reason to suspect it was done to test them, and by their pronunciation learn whether they were Ephraimites or not. They were required only to express their desire to go over the Shibboleth or river, and so it was as if they asked them to say, “May I, or let me, pass over the stream of this river.” They were not on their guard, but in a hurry, and without giving it any thought, pronounced the word as they commonly did.

This was a cunning method to discover whether they were Ephraimites. It seems the Ephraimites, though they spoke the same language as all the other Israelites, had developed a dialect that was distinctly their own. For instance, they pronounced the Hebrew letter Shin like Samech, and it was so much a part of everyday speech that they could not do otherwise; not even to save their lives. We learn to speak by imitation; those that first used s for sh, did it either because it was shorter or because it was an improvement, and their children learnt to speak like them, so that you might know an Ephraimite by their peculiar speech. In the United States you can tell what part of the country a person is from by their manner of speaking; those born in the Northeast and South have very recognizable speech patterns. Peter was discovered in the courtyard as he sought a glimpse of Jesus; Thou art a Galilean, and thy speech betrays thee. By their speech, the Ephraimites were discovered. If they took a man that they suspected to be an Ephraimite, but he denied it, they insisted he say Shibboleth; but either he refused or said Sibboleth, and so either way he was known to be an Ephraimite, and was slain immediately.

and he said, sibboleth;
Shibboleth; and he said Sibboleth
—this is a curious instance of dialectic difference of pronunciation between the East and West Jordanic tribes. It is an evidence of the sound "sh" having passed into the Hebrew from East of the Jordan River, possibly from the Arabians, with whom the sound is common. Pronouncing the letter "shin" as if it was "sin", or a "samech"; just as the French, as Kimchi observes, pronounce "s" like a "t"; and though the Gileadites and Ephraimites were of the same nation of Israel, and spoke the same language, yet their pronunciation differed, as did that of the Galilean Jews from others in the times of Christ, [8](Matthew 26:73), and so in all nations, among the Greeks, Romans, and among ourselves, people in different counties pronounce the same words in a different manner; For example: the French, he observes, pronounce "s" as a "t", with a soft and gentle sound. It is likely that the Ephraimites were, in reference to the pronunciation of sh, as different from the Gileadites as the people in some parts of the southern United States are, in the pronunciation of the letter r, from all the other inhabitants of the land. The sound of th cannot be pronounced by the Persians in general; and yet it is a common sound among the Arabians. To this day multitudes of the German Jews cannot pronounce th, but put ss instead of it: thus for beith (a house) they say bess.

For he could not frame to pronounce it right.
The Gileadites were successful in defeating the Ephraimites, and then they seized the Jordan fords so that the Ephraimites could not escape. Then they selected a password that would be difficult to pronounce because it contained a consonant which was not in the Ephraimite dialect. The word was Shibboleth. If a person’s accent was not just right when he pronounced this word, he was in trouble. It is difficult for us to say certain words. Shibboleth was a word that was difficult for the Ephraimites to say because they could not put the “h” in it.

This was an adequate test to find out if someone was an Ephraimite; and those who spoke the word incorrectly at the fords of Jordan, spoke against their own life.

The early versions or translations take great latitude with this verse. The Vulgate makes a paraphrase: Dic ergo Shibboleth, quod interpretatur spica: qui respondebat Sibboleth; eadem litera spicam exprimere non valens. "Say therefore, Shibboleth; which interpreted is an ear of corn: but he answered, Sibboleth; not being able to express an ear of corn by that letter." In one very ancient copy of the Vulgate, there is sebboleth in the first instance as the test word, and thebboleth as the Ephraimite pronunciation. But cebboleth is the reading of the Complutensian Polyglot, yet the former reading, thebboleth, is also found in some manuscripts. The Chaldee has shubbaltha for the Gileaditish pronunciation, and subbaltha for that of Ephraim. The Syriac has {Syriac} shelba and {Syriac} sebla. The Arabic has the same word, with [Arabic] sheen and [Arabic] seen; and adds, "He said Sebla, for the Ephraimites could not pronounce the letter sheen." These apparent differences, however trivial at first look, will not be thought unimportant by the Biblical critic.

{"Shibboleth ... Sibboleth"}. It is amazing that scholars have found no consensus whatsoever on the meaning of this word. F. F. Bruce gave the meaning as, "a stream in flood." Yates gave it as, "an ear of corn." Of course, it is not the meaning of this word that was important, but the pronunciation of it. The Ephraimites here, like Peter in the N.T. [8](Matthew 26:73), were betrayed by their speech. The Ephraimites were unable to pronounce the "sh," pronouncing it as "s" instead. Boling states that, "As late as World War II, the Dutch underground was able to screen out German spies by asking them to pronounce the name of the Dutch city Sheveningen, which only the Dutch can do properly." Dalglish mentioned that also, "There is a general inability among the Germans to pronounce the `th' in `thither'." Speaking of the tragic results of this bloody civil war, Campbell noted that, "Many times since that sad event, strife among the people of God has occurred because of the same sort of pride, jealousy and hurt feelings." As a result of this smashing defeat of Ephraim, that tribe's influence was definitely checkmated until the times of the death of Solomon and the division of the kingdom of Israel.

Some additional observations:
1. Apparently, the people of Ephraim were better at talking than at fighting, because the men of Gilead seem to conquer them easily
2. Shibboleth means either "ear of grain" or "flowing stream." I will go with the second meaning, since that fits better into the place where the Ephraimites were held and questioned.
3. The people from the tribe of Ephraim were easily identified by their dialect; they had a hard time pronouncing the "h" in Shibboleth, saying Sibboleth instead, and giving themselves away
4. During World War II, the Nazis identified Russian Jews by the way they pronounced the word for corn: "kookoorooza"
5. The term shibboleth came into the English language as something which determines which side you are on; in modern English usage, a shibboleth is the same as an "acid test"
6. He Could not frame - Or rather, he did not frame to speak right; as he was required to do. The Hebrew text does not say, that he could not do it, but that he did not say it right; because he didn’t suspect it was a trial he said it hurriedly according to his normal manner of expression.
7. There are certain true shibboleths in a person's vocabulary today. In Judges 12:6, you could know something about a person by how they said Shibboleth. Today, see how someone talks about Jesus, and you know something about them. See how they talk about the Bible, and you know something about them.
8. As much as your dialect gives you away, so does your everyday speech. Can people tell you are a Christian by the way that you talk?

then they took him and slew him at the passages of Jordan;
This passage is extremely difficult to understand. "The men of Gilead smote Ephraim, for they (the Gileadites) said, Ye are the fugitives of Ephraim. (Gilead lies between Ephraim and Manasseh; and Gilead took the fords of Jordan before Ephraim, and it came to pass, when the fugitives of Ephraim said Let me pass over, and the Gileadites asked him, art thou an Ephraimite, and he answered No, Then (the Gileadites) said to him say Shibboleth, etc. So they (the Gileadites) killed them at the fords of Jordan"). All that is included in the parenthesis is explanatory of the brief statement "They smote them, for they said, Ye are the fugitives of Ephraim;" i. e. in spite of denial they ascertained that they were the fugitives of Ephraim, and so pitilessly slaughtered them when they endeavored to return to their own country through Gilead. This part of Gilead, where the fords were, was clearly not in Manasseh, but in Gad. "Slew" implies "slaughtering" in cold blood, not killing in battle [9](see Jeremiah 39:6). The word in the original text is the proper word for slaying animals for sacrifice. They slew everyone who could not say "shibboleth."

and there fell at that time of the Ephraimites forty and two thousand;
It was not that so many were killed at the fords of the Jordan River only; but what fell there, along with those killed in the battle, and in the pursuit, amounted to this number; so that the Ephraimites paid dearly for their pride and insolence.
It is evident that the providence of God is visible in this humiliating defeat of Ephraim. Their conceited arrogance was a problem that threatened all of Israel, and, if their demand to be recognized as head of the tribes of Israel had not been frustrated, the apostasy of all Israel might indeed have occurred much earlier than it did, because, even this early in their history, the tendency of Ephraim and their followers was consistently antagonistic toward Jehovah and increasingly oriented toward idolatry. Such unhappy developments in Ephraim had originated with their ancestor Joseph's marriage to the daughter of a pagan priest. What a tragedy is evident in this paragraph that, instead of being happy and praising God for the victory Jehovah had given Jephthah over the enemies of Israel, these conceited, greedy Ephraimites came over, spoiling for a fight, no doubt expecting to be bought off by Jephthah's dividing the spoils of victory with them, in the same manner that Gideon had done on a similar occasion previously.
But here, the number 42,500 presents a potential problem, which may be due to a simple addition error or it was not translated correctly, but I will stand with this figure. Numbers 26.37 states “These are the families of Ephraim as they were numbered, thirty-two thousand, five hundred…” At the last census of the Israelites the whole tribe of Ephraim only amounted to 32,500. As to the size of the tribe of Ephraim at this time, your guess is as good as mine. Compared with this figure this last number appears far too great. Some Bible scholars say the total number slain may have been 2,040 and not 42,000. Between the census and the battle, there was time enough for the tribe to increase enough in number to support 42,000 killed.

_________________________verse 6 notes_______________________

[8](Matthew 26:73; KJV) “And after a while came unto him they that stood by, and said to Peter, Surely thou also art one of them; for thy speech bewrayeth thee.” Thy speech—Thy manner of speech, η λαλια σου, that dialect of thine—his accent being different from that of Jerusalem. From various examples given by Lightfoot and Schoettgen, we find that the Galileans had a very corrupt pronunciation, frequently interchanging ‏ת ה א‎ and ‏ע‎, and so blending or dividing words as to render them unintelligible, or cause them to convey a contrary sense.
Bewrayeth thee—Δηλου σε ποιει, maketh thee manifest, from the Anglo-saxon, to accuse, betray; a word long since lost from our language.—Adam Clarke's Commentary
[9](Jeremiah 39:6; KJV) “Then the king of Babylon slew the sons of Zedekiah in Riblah before his eyes: also the king of Babylon slew all the nobles of Judah.” slew . . . sons . . . before his eyes -- previous to his eyes being "put out" (Jer 39:7); literally, "dug out." The Assyrian sculptures depict the delight with which the kings struck out, often with their own hands, the eyes of captive princes. This passage reconciles Jer 32:4, "his eyes shall behold his eyes"; with Eze 12:13, "he shall not see Babylon, though he shall die there."—Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary

7 And Jephthah judged Israel six years. Then died Jephthah the Gileadite, and was buried in one of the cities of Gilead.—Judges 12.7(KJV)
7 Now Jephthah was judge of Israel for six years. And Jephthah the Gileadite came to his death, and his body was put to rest in his town, Mizpeh of Gilead.—Judges 11:40(BBE)

And Jephthah judged Israel six years…
After defeating the Ephraimites, he was acknowledged by all Israel as their judge and supreme governor, but he did not live long; perhaps he was depressed and worn out with grief, on account of his daughter, and other troubles that came with the job of leader.

then died Jephthah the Gileadite, and was buried in one of the cities of Gilead:
After governing Israel for six years, this mighty man of valor died; and however difficult it may be for us to understand some passages in his history, he has been ranked by apostolic authority among the worthies of the ancient church. He was followed by a succession of minor judges, of whom the only memorials preserved relate to the number in their families and their kingdom (see Judges 12:8-15).

It does not give the name of the city where he was buried, but very probably it was in his own city Mizpeh, where he lived. Josephus says it was in his own country, Sebee, a city of Gilead. But, it seems quite unlikely that a man of Jephthah's stature would have been buried in some unknown place, and therefore, we are inclined to accept as very probably true the interpretation of this phrase as it stands in the LXX, the Syriac, the Arabic and Vulgate versions of the Bible, "He was buried in his city Mizpeh."

Contact Us with your questions and comments