26 May. Judges 12:1-6

26 May. War breaks out between the Israelite tribes

“The men of Ephraim called all their soldiers together and crossed the river to the town of Zaphon. They said to Jephthah, “Why didn’t you call us to help you fight the Ammonites [and share the booty]? We will burn your house down with you in it.”

“Jephthah answered them, ‘My people and I fought a great battle against the Ammonites. I called you, but you didn’t come to help me. When I saw that you would not help me, I risked my own life and went against the Ammonites. The LORD handed them over to me. So why have you come to fight against me today?’”

“Then Jephthah called the men of Gilead together and fought the men of Ephraim. The men of Gilead struck them down because the Ephraites had said, ‘You men of Gilead are nothing but deserters from Ephraim – living between Ephraim and Manasseh.’”

“The men of Gilead captured the crossings of the Jordan River that led to the country of Ephraim. A person trying to escape [from Gilead] would say, ‘Let me cross the river.’ Then the men from Gilead would ask him, ‘Are you from Ephraim?’ If they replied ‘No’, they would say to him, ‘Say the word “Shibboleth”.’ The men from Ephraim could not say that word correctly.”

“So if the person from Ephraim said, ‘Sibboleth’ [indicating he was from Ephraim], the men of Gilead would kill him at the crossing. So 42,000 people from Ephraim were killed at that time.”

          (Judges 12:1-6)



Just when you thought things couldn’t get worse amongst the ‘chosen people’ of God, Israel erupted in civil war. Not content with slaughtering the Ammonites, the Gileadites returned from their military victories in Ammon intent on teaching their neighbouring tribe of Ephraimites a lesson as they had refused to join them in their warmongering.

The Ephaimites felt equally peeved. They had missed out on a huge reward of booty that the Gileadites had won from the Ammonites, and they reckoned that they deserved some of the spoils for themselves.

So the two neighbouring tribes came to blows, and the resulting massacre at the fords of the River Jordan left 42,000 Ephraimites dead.

As the retreating Ephraimites trickled back from Gilead to cross to the western side of the river, to the east of Jericho, all the Gileadites had to do was ask the Ephraimites to say a particular word that the Ephramites pronounced differently, and they could instantly identify any Ephraimite soldier and kill him.

The word used, “shibboleth”, has come down the centuries to signify a word or phrase that can indicate a difference between people’s place of birth, race or social class. For instance, local residents (and students) in Cambridge (UK) pronounce Magdalene College as ‘MAWD-lin’ College, while visitors often betray their ‘foreign’ origins by referring to it as ‘MAG-del-in’ College.

The photo (by Beivushtang) shows a ford across the River Jordan at Kfar Hanasi.

You can read more about Jephthah and the Gileadites @ https://www.thebiblejourney.org/biblejourney2/28-the-israelites-face-continuing-opposition/jephthah-defeats-the-ammonites-/

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