Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
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.1. northward] The wrong direction; so follow marg. to Zaphon, a place on the E. of Jordan near Succoth, Joshua 13:27, and not far from the river; Jos., Ant. xiii. 12, 5 (Asophon).
and didst not call us] Untrue, see Jdg 12:2. The western Ephraimites had no concern of their own with an Ammonite invasion on the E. of Jordan; their alleged grievance was a piece of pretension. For the threat cf. Jdg 9:49; Jdg 9:52, Jdg 14:15, Jdg 15:6.
Ch. Jdg 12:1-7. Jephthah’s conflict with the men of Ephraim
A sequel of the Ammonite war. Jephthah had returned to his house (Jdg 11:34), two months at least had passed (Jdg 11:39), the Gileadite forces had dispersed (implied by Jdg 12:4), when the arrogant and jealous temper of the Ephraimites broke out, as formerly after Gideon’s victory (Jdg 8:1-3), but this time without a shadow of pretext. The narrative Jdg 11:1-6 has been regarded as a mere replica of Jdg 8:1-3, which it certainly resembles; but the situation here is different, and the marked originality of the incident in Jdg 11:5-6 forbids us to question the historical character of the present section.
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.2. were at great strife with the children of Ammon] lit. ‘I was at strife, I and my people, and the children of A. exceedingly.’ Supply afflicted me in the last clause, with LXX. cod. A, Luc. etc., Syro-Hex. The verb (‘innûni) was accidentally omitted, probably owing to its resemblance to ‘Ammon. Jephthah identifies himself with his people, as in Jdg 11:12.
when I called you] The summons is not mentioned in ch. 11, but it may be implied in Jdg 11:29; see note.
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?3. that thou wast not going to save me] Or omit thou, and render that there was none to save, LXX. cod. A, Luc. Cf. Isaiah 63:5.
I put my life in my hand] Cf. 1 Samuel 19:5; 1 Samuel 28:21, Job 13:14, Psalm 119:109.
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.4. because they said … Manasseh] These words, which make no sense where they stand, and are omitted by some mss. of the LXX and marked with an asterisk in Syro-Hex., probably belonged in part to Jdg 12:6 ‘… and slew him at the fords of Jordan, for they said, Ye are fugitives of Ephraim.’ The words in italics may have been left out by a copyist, and then written on the margin, whence they were restored to the text, but in the wrong place. Afterwards Gilead is in the midst of E., in the midst of M. (so the text runs) was added as a gloss on the previous sentence which became unintelligible in its new position.
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;5. took the fords] Cf. Jdg 3:28, Jdg 7:24. Render against (dat. incommodi) rather than toward (marg.) in these passages.
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.6. Shibboleth … Sibboleth] An interesting proof of the difference in dialect between the eastern and western tribes. By confusion of sounds shibbôleth (שׁבלת) would become sibbôleth (שׂבלת), and then sibbôleth (סבלת the form here); though liable to confusion in pronunciation, the letters shin (ש) and sâmekh (ס) are etymologically quite distinct. The word means ‘ear of grain’ (Genesis 41:5 ff., Isaiah 17:5 etc., Assyr. šubultu) or ‘flood,’ ‘stream’ (Isaiah 27:12; Psalm 69:2; Psalm 69:15), in the latter sense only in late writings; in this early narrative it would probably have been understood to mean ‘ear1.’ A modern parallel is to be found in Doughty, Arabia Deserta i. p. 155: “A battalion of Ibrahîm Pasha’s troops had been closed in and disarmed by the redoubtable Druses in the Léja. The Druses coming on to cut them in pieces, a certain Damascene soldier among them cried out, ‘Aha! neighbours, grant protection at least to the Shwâm (Syrians), which are children of the same soil as you.’ It was answered, They would spare them if they could discern them. ‘Let me alone for that,’ said the Damascene;—and if they caused the soldiers to pass one by one he would discern them. It was granted, and he challenged them thus, ‘Ragal, O man, say Gamel!’ Every Syrian answered Jemel; and in this manner he saved his countrymen and the Damascenes.”
 The ‘ear of wheat’ was an ancient symbol of Ishtar, the goddess of heaven; and in later astronomy the Aramaic shebelta was the name of the Virgo Spicifera in the Zodiac: possibly, therefore, popular religious associations may have had something to do with the choice of the test word, as well as its tell-tale sibilant, See Winckler, Gesch. Isr. ii. 277 f.; KAT.3, 428; A. Jeremias, Das A.T. im Lichte des Alt. Or.2, 109.
could not frame] A doubtful rendering. For yâkîn (impf.) read yâkôl (perf.) was not able; so Syr., cf. Vulgate non valens.
forty and two thousand] Obviously an exaggeration. Cf. Jdg 8:10 n.
And Jephthah judged Israel six years. Then died Jephthah the Gileadite, and was buried in one of the cities of Gilead.7. The story of Jephthah is brought to a close with the formula which is used of the Minor Judges, Jdg 12:8-15, Jdg 10:2-5.
was buried in one of the cities of Gilead] The text has in the cities of G.! Can this mean that Jephthah was buried somewhere or other in Gilead? The vagueness of the expression is supposed to be an indication of the vaguely historical character of the whole story (Meyer, Die Israeliten, p. 535). Probably, however, the text is incorrect. The LXX. cod. B reads ‘in his city in G.’, cod. A ‘in his city G.’; Vulgate in civitate sua Galaad. Some cursive mss. of LXX read ‘in his city in Sephe Gilead,’ cf. Jos., Ant. Jdg 12:7; Jdg 12:12 ‘in Sebee of G.’; this suggests that the text originally ran in his city, in Mizpeh of G., cf. Jdg 8:27, Jdg 11:29. The rabbis are driven to explain ‘limb after limb fell off his body and was buried each in a different place,’ Midrash Rabba Levit. § 37, Bereshith § 60.
And after him Ibzan of Bethlehem judged Israel.8. Ibzan] His tribe or family is not mentioned. His city was probably not the Beth-lehem in Judah, because the Bk of Judges is not concerned with Judah; but the Beth-lehem in Zebulun (Joshua 19:15), now Bçt-laḥm, 7 m. N.W. of Nazareth.
8–15. The three last Minor Judges
See introduction to ch. 10
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.
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.12. Elon … Aijalon] Nothing here but a name and a burying-place. Both probably should be pronounced alike, as in the LXX, for the consonants are practically identical; and the form should be Elon, this being the name of one of the ‘sons,’ i.e. families, of Zebulun, Genesis 46:14, Numbers 26:26. The home of the clan was called by the name of the clan; and there the grave was shewn. See on Jdg 10:2. In these notices of the Minor Judges have we traditions of individuals or of clans? Partly, perhaps, of the one and partly of the other. The names are clan-names; the ‘sons’ and ‘daughters’ (Jdg 10:4, Jdg 12:9; Jdg 12:14) may represent clan developments and alliances; on the other hand the judgeship and the burying-place seem to preserve the memory of an individual.
And after him Abdon the son of Hillel, a Pirathonite, judged Israel.13. Abdon … the Pirathonite] Pir‘athon (2 Samuel 23:30 etc.) prob. = Far‘atâ, situated on a high rock a little to the S.W. of Nâblus; if this is correct, Abdon belonged to an Ephraimite family. In 1 Chronicles 8:23 Abdon is a Benjamite; but the name was a common one.
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.15. in the land of Ephraim, in the hill country of the Amalekites] The Amalekites, however, were settled not in Ephraim, but in the Negeb, S. of Judah. It is true that ch. Jdg 5:14 brings Ephraim into connexion with Amalek, but the text is too uncertain (see note in loc.) to be used in support of the present passage. Moore (Polychr. Bible) notices that a group of mss. of LXX read ‘in the hill country of Ephraim, in the land of Sellçm,’ cf. 1 Samuel 9:4, where the Saaleim of LXX. cod. A. = the Hebr. Shaâlim. Since there is no way of accounting for the reading of these mss. by any confusion of letters, it may well be that they have preserved the true text here: in the hill country of E., in the land of Shaâlim.