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Read Judges 12

Jephthah and Ephraim

12 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.

Ibzan, Elon and Abdon

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. 10 Then Ibzan died and was buried in Bethlehem.

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

13 After him, Abdon son of Hillel, from Pirathon, led Israel. 14 He had forty sons and thirty grandsons, who rode on seventy donkeys. He led Israel eight years. 15 Then Abdon son of Hillel died and was buried at Pirathon in Ephraim, in the hill country of the Amalekites.

Go Deeper

After defeating the Ammonites, Jephthah is confronted by the people of the tribe of Ephraim, acting incredulous that Jephthah would shame them by going to fight without them (even though he had called on them to fight before and they had not answered). Jephthah attacks the Ephraimites, and finds a clever means of identifying his enemies in the Hebrew word shibboleth. It seems that the Ephraimites spoke Hebrew in a different accent than the people of Gilead did (think Spaniard Spanish and Latin Spanish). When asked to say the word “shibboleth”, they pronounced it differently, and it became clear that they were of Ephraim.

What this passage is not trying to do is make any sort of ethical commentary on Jephthah’s actions against the Ephraimites—it is more a history than an endorsement. That said, there is something to learn from the way that Jephthah uses the shibboleth as a litmus test to identify the Ephraimites. 

If we claim to hold to an identity of any kind, there are going to be clear tells that indicate that identity to the rest of the world. In the ancient world, circumcision functioned in this way—a clear, undeniable sign that a Hebrew male was part of the family of God. Here the word “shibboleth” functions much the same, distinguishing who is a part of Ephraim and who is not. 

It is often hard to tell who is or is not a Christian—there are a great many people who claim the name of Jesus with their mouth, but with their hearts and their lives they forsake him. So, what are the shibboleths that give us away as followers of a generation that only does what is right in their own eyes? Jesus says this in John 14:23-24:

23 Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. 24 Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching.

Jesus is clear—the shibboleths of his followers are their very lives. Can the people around you clearly see that you follow Jesus? Can God? Do you live in a way that exemplifies the Gospel, or is it hard to pick you out from among the crowd? Jephthah makes it clear for us: If one looks like an Ephraimite, and talks like an Ephraimite, it’s probably an Ephraimite. Let’s pray that people look at us, hear us, and find Jesus.


  1. Is it easy or difficult for you to distinguish who among you is a follower of Jesus? Why or why not?
  2. What are some clear, specific shibboleths that should set followers of Jesus apart from the rest of the world?
  3. If you gave someone a list of those things, would they be able to look at your life and pick you out as a follower of Jesus?

Pray This


Align my heart with Your heart, my words with Your words, and my ways with Your ways. Would the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, and would they be clear indicators to the world around me of who I follow. Help me to live, eat, and bleed the Gospel in all that I do. Amen.

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8 thoughts on “Judges 12”

  1. I’m wondering what drove the Ephraimites to challenge Jephthah. Israel had just won a great battle, but instead of celebrating the victory, Ephraim responds with pettiness and quarreling. Do they feel left out and entitled? Remember they had previously caused trouble in Gideon, maybe jealousy and pride took over. What’s truly sad is that they were fighting and destroying fellow Israelites, not an outside enemy. What kind of a response do we give when insulted or wronged? Do we think and measure our words carefully before we speak, prayerfully submitting the circumstance to God, or irrationally jump right in to defend ourselves? Praying we will feel the gentle nudges of the Holy Spirit today when our feathers get ruffled. Isaiah 30:21 says “And whenever you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear this command behind you—this is the way, walk in it.”

    1. This is good. I meditated on their pride and selfishness, too, then looked inwardly to remind myself to not be offended when conflicts occur.

  2. Is it not amazing how passages of scriptures are spoken differently to others? I think that is why it’s good that we can each share our thoughts if you’re being led.
    Yesterday, Amy brought up how Jephthah was able to return to “his” land. I, personally, didn’t pick up on that viewpoint, but found it interesting and was able to go back and see another perspective. Which the writer of today’s commentary brought up another good point of view that tied them together in my opinion, geographically speaking.
    You can say I’m a foreigner to your land—your HC tribe. I live roughly over 200 miles southeast. I was not raised in your community, nor can I speak your language of Waco. If I were to walk into HC, how would you know if I was a follower of Jesus? Would it make a difference? Would it be the goal of someone in your church body to seek me out and to ask if I know the gospel? (These are just rhetorical questions) I appreciate the opportunity BRP gives to open the floor to anyone with thoughts -whether your a HC member, or like me who has listened to JP since his Porch days with David Marvin. (Thanks again to Toby for the sermon shared yesterday.)
    When I read today’s scripture, three things stuck out at me.
    —the pride of Ephraim. So much so they were willing to kill over it.
    —how Jephthah was very knowledgeable (smart) about the genealogy of his people, and could account for every detail pertaining to the conflicts with the Ammonites and Ephraimites.
    —how scripture can numerically account for lineages even up to how many donkeys they rode.

    Thank you, Heavenly Father for seeking people out to speak truth to us with the mission to help spread the gospel. Continue to equip them with knowledge and boldness to speak what you’ve laid on their hearts for us to study and apply to our lives. Bless them Lord for their service to lead us through this reading community. In Jesus name.

    1. I enjoyed your comments, which were very thought provoking. We would love to have you join us at HC anytime you are in Waco.

  3. What would a person see if the looked into your life when you thought no one was looking? God sees us always, so He knows already. So now it is time to fix those wrongs. Do EVERYTHING and I mean E V E R Y L I T T L E T H I N G!!!! As if God is with you, because He is if you are a believer. Colossians 3: 15 (Amp) let the peace of peace of Christ [the inner calm of one who walks daily with Him] be the controlling factor in your hearts[ deciding and setttling questions that arise]. To this peace indeed you were called as members in one body [of believers]. And be thankful [to God always]. 16 Let the [spoken] word of Christ have its home within you [dwelling in your heart and mind—permeating every aspect of your being] as you teach [spiritual things] and admonish and train one another with all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17 Whatever you do [no matter what it is] in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus [and in dependence on Him], giving thanks to God the Father through Him giving thanks to God the Father through Him.

    God thank you for your inner peace, thank you when trouble comes or something happens I turn to You for guidance and answers. You are my sufficiency and You have me. Let me truly truly trust and rely on You fully. Thank God for your goodness. God I stand before You humbly asking for Your power to help me as I want to change so that whomever looked in my windows would ALWAYS see You exemplified through and in me , in Jesus name amen

  4. Our church is currently reading together “God’s Big Picture,” a book by Vaughan Roberts that seeks to trace the arc of the Bible’s message across its 66 books. Today I am reading in the chapter titled “The Prophesied Kingdom,” which notes how the prophets of the Old Testament pointed to the New Covenant, in which the Holy Spirit changes hearts from within (“I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts,” Jeremiah 31:33). Thanks to the power of the Holy Spirit, we receive the grace that reminds us of God’s law and leads us to obedience as Christ’s followers (John 14:23). Thanks be to God, who makes His home with us.

    1. I will have to check out that book! Our women’s ministry class is finishing up “The Bible for Grown-ups” by Andy Stanley on YouTube. It’s been very insightful in learning how the Bible was put together/formed.

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