Judges 12
Benson Commentary
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.
Jdg 12:1. The men of Ephraim went northward — Over Jordan, where Jephthah was, in the northern part of the land beyond Jordan. And said — Through pride and envy, contending with him as they did before with Gideon; over to fight — Not over Jordan, for there he was already; but over the borders of the Israelites’ land beyond Jordan.

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.
Jdg 12:2-3. When I called you, ye delivered me not — He answers them with great mildness, but denies their charge. He affirms that he had begged their assistance, but they had refused to grant it. When I saw that ye delivered me not — When I became sensible that there was no hope of your assistance to preserve us from ruin; I put my life in my hand — That is, I exposed myself to the utmost danger; as a man that carries a brittle and precious thing in his hand, which may easily either fall to the ground or be snatched from him. He had but a small part of the people of Israel with him, to encounter their powerful oppressors. And passed over against the children of Ammon — With such forces only as I could raise on the east of Jordan, Jdg 11:29-30. Wherefore are ye come up? — Why do ye thus requite my kindness in running such hazards to defend and preserve you and yours? Jephthah here manifests an excellent spirit and great wisdom. He would have prevented the civil war had it been possible.

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?
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.
Jdg 12:4. The men of Gilead smote Ephraim, because they said, &c. — That which provoked the army of Jephthah to kill so many of them was their insulting language, added to their threats, whereby they reproached the men of Gilead, (who were the chief managers of the late war,) as if they were but the scum and dregs of the tribe of Ephraim. Ye Gileadites are fugitives of Ephraim — A contemptuous expression, designed to provoke and kindle wrath. The word Ephraim is here taken largely, as comprehending the other neighbouring tribes, of which Ephraim was the chief, and especially their brethren of Manasseh, who lived next to them, and were descended from the same father, Joseph. By Gileadites, they seem here principally to mean, those Manassites who inhabited Gilead, beyond Jordan. And although other Gileadites were joined with them, yet they vent their passion principally against these, because they envied them most, as having had a chief hand in the victory. These they opprobriously call fugitives, that is, such as had deserted their brethren of Ephraim and Manasseh, planted themselves beyond Jordan, at a distance from their brethren, and were alienated in affection from them.

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;
Jdg 12:5-6. If he said, Nay — To avoid the present danger. Then said they unto him, Say now Shibboleth — To find out the truth, they put him to this test; whether his pronunciation of some words was like that of the Gileadites; for people of the same nation, who speak the same language, generally differ very much in the pronunciation of it, according as they live in different parts of the country. As the word signifies a stream or river, and they desired to pass over one, it was a word proper for the occasion, and gave them no cause to suspect the design, because they were only desired to say, “Let me go over the Shibboleth or river.” And he said, Sibboleth — If he was an Ephraimite, he presently discovered himself, for he could not pronounce the Hebrew letter שׁ, shin; which probably proceeded from the long habit of that people, to express themselves in a different manner; so that they could not readily frame the organs of speech to pronounce as the Gileadites did. The Hebrew text, however, does not say that he could not, but that he did not frame to pronounce it right; because, not suspecting the design, he uttered hastily, according to his usual manner of expression. There fell forty and two thousand — Not in that place, but in that expedition, being slain either in the battle, or in the pursuit, or at Jordan. See the justice of God! They had gloried that they were Ephraimites; but how soon are they afraid to own their country! They had called the Gileadites fugitives; and now they are in good earnest become fugitives themselves. It is the same word (Jdg 12:5) used of the Ephraimites that fled, which they had used in scorn of the Gileadites. He that rolls the stone of reproach unjustly on another, it may justly return upon himself.

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.
And Jephthah judged Israel six years. Then died Jephthah the Gileadite, and was buried in one of the cities of Gilead.
And after him Ibzan of Bethlehem judged Israel.
And he had thirty sons, and thirty daughters, whom he sent abroad, and took in thirty daughters from abroad for his sons. And he judged Israel seven years.
Jdg 12:9. Took in thirty daughters — That is, took them home for wives to his sons. What a difference between his and his predecessor’s family! Ibzan had sixty children, and all married; Jephthah but one, and she dies unmarried. Some are increased, others diminished; all is the Lord’s doing.

Then died Ibzan, and was buried at Bethlehem.
And after him Elon, a Zebulonite, judged Israel; and he judged Israel ten years.
And Elon the Zebulonite died, and was buried in Aijalon in the country of Zebulun.
And after him Abdon the son of Hillel, a Pirathonite, judged Israel.
And he had forty sons and thirty nephews, that rode on threescore and ten ass colts: and he judged Israel eight years.
And Abdon the son of Hillel the Pirathonite died, and was buried in Pirathon in the land of Ephraim, in the mount of the Amalekites.
Jdg 12:15. Mount of the Amalekites — So called from some remarkable exploit, done by or upon the Amalekites in that place. It is strange, that in the history of all these judges, there is not so much as once mention of the high-priest, or of any other priest or Levite, appearing either for counsel or action in any public affair, from Phinehas to Eli, which may well be computed two hundred and fifty years! Surely this intimates that the institution was chiefly intended to be typical, and that the benefits which were promised by it were to be chiefly looked for in its antitype, the everlasting priesthood of Christ, in comparison of which that priesthood had no glory.

Benson Commentary on the Old and New Testaments

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