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.
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.
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.
Verse 2. - When I called you. This incident is not mentioned in the previous narrative. Probably Jephthah asked the help of Ephraim when he was first made chief of the Gileadites, and they refused partly because they thought the attempt desperate, and partly because they were offended at Jephthah's leadership.
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.
Verses 4, 5. - The English version of these somewhat obscure verses is obviously wrong, and devoid of sense. The obscurity arises partly from verses 5 and 6 being merely an amplification, i.e. a narrative in detail of what is more briefly related in ver. 4; and from the insertion of the explanatory words, "Gilead lies in the midst of Ephraim and in the midst of Manasseh," in ver. 4. The literal translation of the two verses is as follows: - And the men of Gilead smote Ephraim (at the fords of Jordan), for, said they, ye are fugitives of Ephraim. (Gilead lies in the midst of Ephraim and in the midst of Manasseh, i.e. between Manasseh and Ephraim, so that in coming from Manasseh, where they had taken refuge, to return to Ephraim they were obliged to pass through Gilead, and the Gileadites had taken the passages of Jordan before the Ephraimites; and it was so, that when the fugitives of Ephraim said, Let me pass over, that the men of Gilead said, Art thou an Ephraimite? If he said, Nay, then said they unto him, Say now Shibboleth, etc., i.e. they put him to the test of pronunciation; and if they found by his pronunciation of the word Shibboleth, viz., Sibboleth, that he was an Ephraimite, in spite of his denial, then they took him and slew him (killed him in cold blood) at the passages of Jordan. ) And there fell at that time, etc. The direct narrative goes on here from ver. 4. Omitting the long explanatory parenthesis from the latter part of ver. 4 to the latter part of ver. 6, the narrative runs (ver. 4), And the men of Gilead smote Ephraim, for, said they, ye are fugitives of Ephraim; and there fell at that time of the Ephraimites forty and two thousand. The parenthesis explains why the Ephraimites had to pass through Gilead, and how the Gileadites ascertained in each case whether a man was an Ephraimite or not.
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;
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.
Verse 6. - Say now Shibboleth, etc. We have thus, as it were, accidentally preserved to us a curious dialectical difference between the Ephraimites and the inhabitants of Gilead. A similar difference exists at the present day between the pronunciation of the inhabitants of different parts of Germany. What the Hanoverians call stein, a stone, the other Germans call shtein. Shibboleth means both an ear of corn and a stream. Forty and two thousand. It is possible that the war between Jephthah and the Ephraimites may have lasted a considerable time, though only the single incident of the slaughter at the fords of Jordan is mentioned, so that the large number of 42,000 men may be less improbable than it seems at first sight. There is, however, always some doubt as to the correctness of numbers (see 1 Samuel 6:19).
And Jephthah judged Israel six years. Then died Jephthah the Gileadite, and was buried in one of the cities of Gilead.
Verse 7. - Six years. Perhaps his sorrow for his daughter shortened his life. Then died Jephthah the Gileadite. Better, And Jephthah the Gileadite died. In one of the cities. His exact burial-place was perhaps unknown, and therefore the general phrase in the cities of Judah was used, as in Genesis 13:12. Lot is said to have dwelt in the cities of the plain, and in Nehemiah 6:2 San-ballat asked Nehemiah to meet him in the villages of the plain. Still the phrase is not what you would expect here, and it seems unlikely that Jephthah's burial-place should be unknown. The Septuagint, Vulgate, Syriac, and Arabic versions read, "in his city Gilead," as if Gilead had been the name of Jephthah's paternal city. Another conjecture is that there might have been an Ar of Gilead as well as the well-known Ar of Moab, or there might have been a collection of towns called Arey- Gilead (the towns of Gilead), after the analogy of Havoth-jair (Judges 10:4), but there is no evidence in support of these conjectures.
And after him Ibzan of Bethlehem judged Israel.
Verse 8. - Ibzan of Bethlehem. It is uncertain whether Bethlehem of Judah is meant, or Bethlehem in the tribe of Zebu-lun, mentioned in Joshua 19:15. Josephus says that Ibzan was of the tribe of Judah, and of the city of Bethlehem, and some have supposed a connection between the names of Boaz and Ibzan. ' But as Bethlehem of the tribe of Judah is generally called Bethlehem of Judah, or Bethlehem-Ephratah, and as Elon and Abdon were judges in North-East Israel, it is perhaps more probable that Bethlehem of Zebulun is meant. Dr. Robinson has identified it with a village - a "very miserable one" - called Beit Lahm, six miles west of Nazareth.
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.
Verse 9. - He had thirty sons, etc. From no record of Ibzan's judgeship being preserved, except this domestic incident, we may infer, as in the case of Jair, that no important events took place in his time.
Then died Ibzan, and was buried at Bethlehem.
Verse 10. - Then died, etc. Render, And Ibzan died.
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.
Verse 12. - In Aijalon. Not Aijalon in the tribe of Dan, mentioned Joshua 10:12; Joshua 19:42, but another city, only spoken of here, whose name is probably preserved in the ruins of Jalun, four hours east of Akka. It is remarkable that the two names Elon and Aijalon are identical in Hebrew as far as the consonants are concerned. It looks as if Aijalon, which is not mentioned among the Zebulonite cities in Joshua 19:10-16, was named from Elon, its possessor.
And after him Abdon the son of Hillel, a Pirathonite, judged Israel.
Verse 13. - A Pirathonite, i.e. an inhabitant of Pirathon in the tribe of Ephraim, in the mount of the Amalekites (ver. 15), afterwards famous as the birthplace of Benaiah, one of David's mighty men (2 Samuel 23:30). The Pharathon which is mentioned in 1 Macc. 9:50, and by Josephus, following its authority, as fortified by Jonathan the brother of Judas may have been the same, though its collocation between Titans and Tekoah rather suggests a more southern position; and the Ferata found by Robinson between two and three hours from Samaria, south-south-west, on the way to Jerusalem, seems certainly to represent Pirathon.
And he had forty sons and thirty nephews, that rode on threescore and ten ass colts: and he judged Israel eight years.
Verse 14. - Nephews. Rather, grandsons. Hebrew, son's son. The number of his family, and their being all mounted on asses, are indications of his wealth and state (see above, Judges 8:30; Judges 10:4), and perhaps also of peaceful and prosperous times.
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.
Verse 15. - The mount of the Amalekites. This name points to some incident of which the memory is lost, though, with the usual tenacity of names, the name which once recorded it survives. It may have been some ancient settlement of the Amalekites, who were a very wandering, wide-spread race, which gave the name; or it may have been some great defeat and slaughter which they suffered from the Israelites, whose land they invaded (Judges 6:3, 33), just as the rock Oreb and the wine-press of Zeeb (Judges 7:25) commemorated the victory over those princes.