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Judges Chapter 12

Jephthah defeats the Ephraimites and judged Israel for six years. Ibzan, Elon and Abdon judged next.

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?” Judges 12:1-3

With the same prideful arrogance that the Ephraimites had confronted Gideon who was from the tribe of Manasseh after his defeat of the Midianites, the Ephraimites now confront Jephthah who was from Gilead located within the half tribe of Manasseh which resided on this eastside of the Jordan.

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 fugitives in Ephraim, living in the territories of Ephraim and Manasseh.” Judges 12:4

The Ephraimites disparaged the Gileadites, who resided in the eastern half of the tribe of Manasseh, as a mere race of runaway slaves, who belonged to neither to Ephraim nor to 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. Judges 12:5-6

Only through these fords could the Ephraimites escape back to their own tribe on the western side of the Jordan. In was ironic that the Ephraimites had taunted the Eastern Manassites with being fugitives of Ephraim, and in the next verse they themselves appear to be in another, but fatal sense, “fugitives of Ephraim.”

The word Shibboleth means “ford” which is a shallow place in a river or stream allowing one to walk across.

John Milton, the English epic poet wrote. “And he said Sibboleth”:

“And how ingrateful Ephraim had dealt with Jephthah–who by argument not worse than by his shield and spear defended Israel from the Ammonite.

Had not his prowess quelled their pride in that sore battle where so many died, without reprieve, adjudged to death for want of well pronouncing Shibboleth.

 Jephthah led Israel six years. Then Jephthah the Gileadite died and was buried in a town in Gilead. Judges 12:7

After Jephthah died the LORD raised up three more judges and Israel was living in peace during that time.

After him, Ibzan of Bethlehem led Israel. He had thirty sons and thirty daughters. He gave his daughters away in marriage to those outside his clan, and for his sons he brought in thirty young women as wives from outside his clan. Ibzan led Israel seven years. Then Ibzan died and was buried in Bethlehem. Judges 12:8-10

There were two Bethlehems, one in the tribe of Zebulun, (Joshua 9:15) and another in the tribe of Judah.  It is most probable that the northern Bethlehem is meant because it is in the territory of Zebulun and the next judge was a Zebulunite.

Ibzan gave his daughters in marriage to men not of another nation, nor of another tribe, but of another family (clan) of his tribe, and they went to live with their husbands. He took in daughters of families in the same tribe to be wives to his sons and who they dwelt together. It was the custom in those days for sons and their wives to abide with their father.

After him, Elon the Zebulunite led Israel ten years. Then Elon died and was buried in Aijalon in the land of Zebulun. Judges 12:11-12

Elon led Israel for ten years. In peacetime, a judge would administer justice to the people.

After him, Abdon son of Hillel, from Pirathon, led Israel. He had forty sons and thirty grandsons, who rode on seventy donkeys. He led Israel eight years. Then Abdon son of Hillel died and was buried at Pirathon in Ephraim, in the hill country of the Amalekites. Judges 12:13-15

During the administration of Jephthah, six years – Ibzan, seven years – Elon, ten years – and Abdon, eight years, (a total of thirty-one years), the Israelites had peace in all their borders. We will discover in the next chapter of Judges that in this time of rest they corrupted themselves once again, and then were delivered into the power of the Philistines.