Judges 12:1
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.
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(1) Gathered themselves together.—Literally, were called. Hence the Vulg. renders it “a sedition arose in Ephraim.” No doubt the phrase arose from the circulation of some warlike summons—whether watchword or token—among the tribe (Judges 7:23-24; Judges 10:17).

Northward.—Mizpeh in Gilead lay to the northeast of the tribe of Ephraim. The Hebrew word is Tsaphonah, rendered Sephenia in some MSS. of the LXX. (Cod. A., Kephenia). Hence some suppose that it means “towards Tsaphon,” a town in the Jordan valley not far from Succoth, which the Jews identified with Amathus (Joshua 13:27).

And didst not call us.—The tribe of Ephraim throughout the Book of Judges is represented in a most unenviable light—slothful and acquiescent in time of oppression, and turbulently arrogant when others have taken the initiative and won the victory (Joshua 17:14-18; Judges 8:1). They brought on their own heads the terrible disgrace and humiliation which Jephthah inflicted on them. They resembled Sparta in dilatoriness, and perhaps in courage; but when Athens had won Marathon, Sparta had at least the generosity to congratulate her (Herod. v. 20).

We will burn thine house upon thee with firei.e., we will burn thee alive in thy house. They regarded it as an unpardonable offence that Jephthah should have delivered Israel without recognising their hegemony (see Judges 8:1). The horrible threat shows the wild manners of the times (Judges 14:15; Judges 15:6; Judges 20:48); and if a whole tribe could be guilty of such conduct, it shows how little cause we have for surprise at the much less heinous aberrations of individual men like Gideon and Jephthah and Samson.

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.

12:1-7 The Ephraimites had the same quarrel with Jephthah as with Gideon. Pride was at the bottom of the quarrel; only by that comes contention. It is ill to fasten names of reproach upon persons or countries, as is common, especially upon those under outward disadvantages. It often occasions quarrels that prove of ill consequence, as it did here. No contentions are so bitter as those between brethren or rivals for honour. What need we have to watch and pray against evil tempers! May the Lord incline all his people to follow after things which make for peace!Compare the similar complaint of the Ephraimites to Gideon Judges 8:1, when a civil war was only avoided by Gideon's wise and patriotic moderation. The overhearing pride of Ephraim comes out in both occurrences (see also Joshua 17:14-18).

We will burn thine house upon thee with fire - Compare the fierce threat of the Philistines to Samson's wife Judges 14:15, and the yet fiercer execution Judges 15:6. Burning appears as a mode of capital punishment Genesis 38:24; Joshua 7:25, and as a mode of desperate warfare (Judges 1:8; Judges 20:48; Joshua 8:8, Joshua 8:19, etc.).


Jud 12:1-3. The Ephraimites Quarrelling with Jephthah.

1. the men of Ephraim gathered themselves together—Hebrew, "were summoned."

and went northward—After crossing the Jordan, their route from Ephraim was, strictly speaking, in a northeasterly direction, toward Mizpeh.

the men of Ephraim … said unto Jephthah, Wherefore … didst [thou] not call us?—This is a fresh development of the jealous, rash, and irritable temper of the Ephraimites. The ground of their offense now was their desire of enjoying the credit of patriotism although they had not shared in the glory of victory.The Ephraimites wage war against Jephthah; are smitten by the Gileadites; and being discerned by Shibboleth, are slain to the number of two and forty thousand, Judges 12:1-6. Jephthah dies, Judges 12:7. After him Ibzan, Judges 12:8-10, Elon Judges 11:11,12, Abdon, Judges 12:13-15, were judges over Israel.

Northward; over Jordan, so northward towards Mizpeh, where Jephthah was, Judges 11:34, and which was in the northern part of the land beyond Jordan.

Said unto Jephthah, through pride and envy, contending with him as they did before with Gideon, Judges 8:1. Wherefore passedst thou over? not over Jordan, for there he was already; but over the borders of the Israelites’ land beyond Jordan, as appears by comparing this with Judges 11:29, where the same phrase is used.

And the men of Ephraim gathered themselves together,.... Or "cried" (r); got together by a cry or proclamation made: in the Hebrew text it is, "a man of Ephraim"; not a single man, but a body of men, who met together and joined as one man. It is highly probable that there were no less than 50,000 of them; for 42,000 of them were slain, Judges 12:6.

and went northward; or, "went over northward (s)"; that is, over the river Jordan, which lay between Gilead and Ephraim; and when they had crossed the river, they turned northward; for Mizpeh, where Jephthah lived, was in the north of the land, near Hermon and Lebanon, Joshua 11:3.

and said unto Jephthah, wherefore passedst thou over to fight against the children of Ammon? not over Jordan, but over that part of the land of Israel from the plain where Jephthah dwelt, to the country of the children of Ammon:

and didst not call us to go with thee? they quarrel with him just in the same manner as they did with Gideon: these Ephraimites were a proud and turbulent people, and especially were very jealous of the tribe of Manasseh, of which both Gideon and Jephthah were; the one of the half tribe on this side Jordan, and the other of the half that was on the other side; and they were jealous of both, lest any honour and glory should accrue thereunto, and they should get any superiority in any respect over them, since Jacob their father had given the preference to Ephraim; and this seems to lie at the bottom of all their proceedings:

we will burn thine house upon thee with fire; that is, burn him and his house, burn his house and him in it; which shows that they were in great wrath and fury, and argued not only the height of pride and envy, but wretched ingratitude, and a cruel disposition; who, instead of congratulating him as Israel's deliverer, and condoling him with respect to the case of his only child, threaten him in this brutish manner.

(r) Sept. "clamatus", i.e. "clamando convocatus", Piscator. "mnellius", Pimcator. (s) "transivit", Pagninus, Montanus; "transiverunt", Junius et Tremellius, Piscator.

And the men of Ephraim gathered themselves together, and went {a} northward, and said unto Jephthah, Wherefore passedst thou over to fight against the children of Ammon, and didst not call {b} us to go with thee? we will burn thine house upon thee with fire.

(a) After they had passed Jordan.

(b) Thus ambition envies God's work in others as they did against Gideon, Jud 8:1.

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.

Verse 1. - Northward, or, otherwise rendered, to Zaphon, a city of the Gadites mentioned in Joshua 13:27 together with Succoth, and thought to be the modern, Amateh on the Wady Rajlb (see Vanderveld's map). It is difficult to say with certainty which rendering is right, but on the whole the latter seems most probable. Although Gilead does lie north-east of Ephraim, it hardly seems a natural description of the Ephraimite movement to say they "went northwards;" whereas if they marched to Zaphon the phrase would be precise. The previous phrase, gathered themselves together, means mustered for battle, as in Judges 7:23, 24. We will burn thine house, etc. - the same savage threat as the Philistine youths made use of to induce Samson's wife to discover and reveal his riddle (Judges 14:15), and as the Philistines actually put in practice upon her and her father in revenge for the destruction of their corn (Judges 15:6). Passedst thou over, as in Judges 11:29, 32; Judges 12:3. Judges 12:1Jephthah's War with the Ephraimites, and Office of Judge. - Judges 12:1. The jealousy of the tribe of Ephraim, which was striving after the leadership, had already shown itself in the time of Gideon in such a way that nothing but the moderation of that judge averted open hostilities. And now that the tribes on the east of the Jordan had conquered the Ammonites under the command of Jephthah without the co-operation of the Ephraimites, Ephraim thought it necessary to assert its claim to take the lead in Israel in a very forcible manner. The Ephraimites gathered themselves together, and went over צפונה. This is generally regarded as an appellative noun (northward); but in all probability it is a proper name, "to Zaphon," the city of the Gadites in the Jordan valley, which is mentioned in Joshua 13:27 along with Succoth, that is to say, according to a statement of the Gemara, though of a very uncertain character no doubt, Ἀμαθοῦς (Joseph. Ant. xiii. 13, 5, xiv. 5, 4; Bell. Judg. i. 4, 2, Reland, Pal. pp. 308 and 559-60), the modern ruins of Amata on the Wady Rajb or Ajlun, the situation of which would suit this passage very well. They then threatened Jephthah, because he had made war upon the Ammonites without them, and said, "We will burn thy house over thee with fire." Their arrogance and threat Jephthah opposed most energetically. He replied (Judges 12:2, Judges 12:3), "A man of strife have I been, I and my people on the one hand, and the children of Ammon on the other, very greatly," i.e., I and my people had a severe conflict with the Ammonites. "Then I called you, but ye did not deliver me out of their hand; and when I saw that thou (Ephraim) didst not help me, I put my life in my hand" (i.e., I risked my own life: see 1 Samuel 19:5; 1 Samuel 28:21; Job 13:14. The Kethibh אישׂמה comes from ישׂם: cf. Genesis 24:33), "and I went against the Ammonites, and Jehovah gave them into my hand." Jephthah's appeal to the Ephraimites to fight against the Ammonites it not mentioned in Judges 11, probably for no other reason than because it was without effect. The Ephraimites, however, had very likely refused their co-operation simply because the Gileadites had appointed Jephthah as commander without consulting them. Consequently the Ephraimites had no ground whatever for rising up against Jephthah and the Gileadites in this haughty and hostile manner; and Jephthah had a perfect right not only to ask them, "Wherefore are ye come up against me now (lit. 'this day'), to fight against me?" but to resist such conduct with the sword.
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