As you read Judges 12 today, you may wonder what is going on – what is happening in this chapter.
In verse 1 we read about a conflict between Jephthah and the Ephraimite people. Jephthah was a judge over Israel for a period of six years (Judges 12:7). According to Judges, he lived in Gilead and was a member either of the tribe of Manasseh or of the tribe of Gad.
The people of Ephraim were upset because Jephthah didn’t call on them help fight against the people of Ammon. They felt slighted because they were not afforded a prestigious role in the victorious battle over the Ammonites and didn’t receive any of the spoil. There is a tendency within all of us to not want to do a job unless we receive credit. It is evident that the people of the tribe of Ephraim were more concerned with getting the credit than with seeing a job done. Being a real servant of Jesus Christ means that we serve without concern for credit, knowing that it is up to Jesus to give any reward.
They got so upset with Jephthah, that they threatened to burn his house down! He responds to them in verses 2-3 and tells them that the Lord delivered the people of Ephraim into his hand. He points out how unjust their complaint was.
In verses 4-6 we learn that the Gileadites (led by Jephthah) overwhelm the people of the tribe of Ephraim. Apparently, the men of Ephraim were better at talking than fighting, because the men of Gilead seemed to conquer them easily. The men of Gilead defeated Ephraim and then they would say to them, ‘Shibboleth’. The word shibboleth means either “ear of grain” or “flowing stream.” With this word the people from the tribe of Ephraim were easily identified by their dialect. They had a hard time pronouncing the “h” in Shibboleth and said Sibboleth instead giving themselves away.
During World War II, the German soldiers sometimes identified Russian Jews by the way they pronounced the word for corn: “kookoorooza.” Their distinctive pronunciation revealed their ethnic background. So it was for these men of Ephraim. The term shibboleth came into the English language as something which determines which side you are one. In modern English usage a shibboleth is the same as an “acid test.”
Today, there are certain true shibboleths in a person’s vocabulary. In Judges 12, you could know something about a person by how they said Shibboleth. Today when someone talks about Jesus, you can listen to what they say and learn something about them. You can listen as they speak about the Bible, and you know something about them. It is also true that as much as our dialect gives us away, so does our everyday speech. Others should be able to tell that we are Christians by the way we talk.
▪ How does your talk give you away?
▪ What does it say?
▪ How could your use your “talk” to point people to Jesus today?
By: Tim Parsons — Lead Pastor