In this chapter we have,
I. Jephthah's rencounter with the Ephraimites, and the blood shed on
that unhappy occasion
and the conclusion of Jephthah's life and government,
II. A short account of three other of the judges of Israel: Ibzan
|Displeasure of the Ephraimites; Punishment of the Ephraimites.
||B. C. 1143.|
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.
2 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.
3 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?
4 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.
5 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;
6 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.
7 And Jephthah judged Israel six years. Then died Jephthah the
Gileadite, and was buried in one of the cities of Gilead.
I. The unreasonable displeasure of the men of Ephraim against Jephthah,
because he had not called them in to his assistance against the
Ammonites, that they might share in the triumphs and spoils,
Pride was at the bottom of the quarrel. Only by that comes contention.
Proud men think all the honours lost that go beside themselves, and
then who can stand before envy? The Ephraimites had the same
quarrel with Gideon
who was of Manasseh on their side Jordan, as Jephthah was of Manasseh
on the other side Jordan. Ephraim and Manasseh were hearer akin than
any other of the tribes, being both the sons of Joseph, and yet they
were more jealous one of another than any other of the tribes. Jacob
having crossed hands, and given Ephraim the preference, looking as far
forward as the kingdom of the ten tribes, which Ephraim was the head
of, after the revolt from the house of David, that tribe, not content
with that honour in the promise, was displeased if Manasseh had any
honour done it in the mean time. It is a pity that kindred or
relationship, which should be an inducement to love and peace, should
be ever an occasion (as it often proves) of strife and discord. A
brother offended is harder to be won than a strong city, and
contentions among brethren are as the bars of a castle. The anger
of the Ephraimites at Jephthah was,
1. Causeless and unjust. Why didst thou not call us to go with
thee? For a good reason. Because it was the men of Gilead that had
made him their captain, not the men of Ephraim, so that he had no
authority to call them. Had his attempt miscarried for want of their
help, they might justly have blamed him for not desiring it. But when
the work was done, and done effectually, the Ammonites being subdued
and Israel delivered, there was no harm done, though their hands were
not employed in it.
2. It was cruel and outrageous. They get together in a tumultuous
manner, pass over Jordan as far as Mizpeh in Gilead, where Jephthah
lived, and no less will satisfy their fury but they will burn his house
and him in it. Cursed be their anger, for it was fierce. Those
resentments that have the least reason for them have commonly the most
rage in them. Jephthah was now a conqueror over the common enemies of
Israel, and they should have come to congratulate him, and return him
the thanks of their tribe for the good services he had done; but we
must not think it strange if we receive ill from those from whom we
deserve well. Jephthah was now a mourner for the calamity of his family
upon his daughter's account, and they should have come to condole with
him and comfort him; but barbarous men take a pleasure in adding
affliction to the afflicted. In this world, the end of one trouble
often proves the beginning of another; nor must we ever boast as
though we had put off the harness.
II. Jephthah's warm vindication of himself. He did not endeavour to
pacify them, as Gideon had done in the like case; the Ephraimites were
now more outrageous than they were them, and Jephthah had not so much
of a meek and quiet spirit as Gideon had. Whether they would be
pacified or no, Jephthah takes care,
1. To justify himself,
He makes it out that they had no cause at all to quarrel with him, for,
(1.) It was not in pursuit of glory that he had engaged in this war,
but for the necessary defence of his country, with which the children
of Ammon greatly strove.
(2.) He had invited the Ephraimites to come and join with him, though
he neither needed them nor was under any obligation to pay that respect
to them, but they had declined the service: I called you, and you
delivered me not out of their hands. Had that been true which they
charged him with, yet it would not have been a just ground of quarrel;
but it seems it was false, and, as the matter of fact now appears, he
had more cause to quarrel with them for deserting the common interests
of Israel in a time of need. It is no new thing for those who are
themselves most culpable to be most clamorous in accusing the innocent.
(3.) The enterprise was very hazardous, and they had more reason to
pity him than to be angry with him: I put my life in my hands,
that is, "exposed myself to the utmost peril in what I did, having so
small an army," The honour they envied was bought dearly enough; they
needed not to grudge it to him; few of them would have ventured so far
(4.) He does not take the glory of the success to himself (that would
have been invidious), but gives it all to God: "The Lord delivered
them into my hands. If God was pleased so far to make use of me for
his glory, why should you be offended at that? Have you any reason to
fight against me? Is not that in effect to fight against God, in
whose hand I have been only an unworthy instrument?"
2. When this just answer (though not so soft an answer as Gideon's) did
not prevail to turn away their wrath, he took care both to defend
himself from their fury and to chastise their insolence with the sword,
by virtue of his authority as Israel's judge.
(1.) The Ephraimites had not only quarrelled with Jephthah, but, when
his neighbours and friends appeared to take his part, they had abused
them, and given them foul language; for I adhere to our translation,
and so take it,
They said in scorn, "You Gileadites that dwell here on the other side
Jordan are but fugitives of Ephraim, the scum and dregs of the tribes
of Joseph, of which Ephraim is the chief, the refuse of the family, and
are so accounted among the Ephraimites and among the Manassites. Who
cares for you? All your neighbours know what you are, no better than
fugitives and vagabonds, separated from your brethren, and driven
hither into a corner." The Gileadites were as true Israelites as any
other, and at this time had signalized themselves, both in the choice
of Jephthah and in the war with Ammon, above all the families of
Israel, and yet are most basely and unjustly called fugitives.
It is an ill thing to fasten names or characters of reproach upon
persons or countries, as is common, especially upon those that lie
under outward disadvantages: it often occasions quarrels that prove of
ill consequence, as it did here. See likewise what a mischievous thing
an abusive tongue is, that calls ill names, and gives scurrilous
language: it sets on fire the course of nature, and is set on fire
and many a time cuts the throat of him that uses it, as it did here,
If these Ephraimites could have denied themselves the poor satisfaction
of calling the Gileadites fugitives, they might have prevented a
great deal of bloodshed; for grievous words stir up anger, and
who knows how great a matter a little of that fire may kindle?
(2.) This affront raises the Gileadites' blood, and the indignity done
to themselves, as well as to their captain, must be revenged.
[1.] They routed them in the field,
They fought with Ephraim, and, Ephraim being but a rude unheaded
rabble, smote Ephraim, and put them to flight.
[2.] They cut off their retreat, and so completed their revenge,
The Gileadites, who perhaps were better acquainted with the passages of
Jordan than the Ephraimites were, secured them with strong guards, who
were ordered to slay every Ephraimite that offered to pass the river.
Here was, First, Cruelty enough in the destruction of them.
Sufficient surely was the punishment which was inflicted by
many; when they were routed in the field, there needed not this
severity to cut off all that escaped. Shall the sword devour for ever?
Whether Jephthah is to be praised for this I know not; perhaps he saw
it to be a piece of necessary justice. Secondly, Cunning enough
in the discovery of them. It seems the Ephraimites, though they spoke
the same language with other Israelites, yet had got a custom in the
dialect of their country to pronounce the Hebrew letter Shin
like Samech, and they had so strangely used themselves to it
that they could not do otherwise, no, not to save their lives. We learn
to speak by imitation; those that first used s for sh,
did it either because it was shorter or because it was finer, and their
children learnt to speak like them, so that you might know an
Ephraimite by it; as in England we know a west-country man or a
north-country man, nay, perhaps a Shropshire man, and a Cheshire man,
by his pronunciation. Thou art a Galilean, and thy speech betrays
thee. By this the Ephraimites were discovered. If they took a man
that they suspected to be an Ephraimite, but he denied it, they bade
him say Shibboleth; but either he could not, as our
translation reads it, or he did not heed, or frame, or direct himself,
as some read, to pronounce it aright, but said Sibboleth, and so
was known to be an Ephraimite, and was slain immediately.
Shibboleth signifies a river or stream: "Ask leave to go
over Shibboleth, the river." Those that were thus cut off made up the
whole number of slaughtered Ephraimites forty-two thousand,
Thus another mutiny of that angry tribe was prevented.
3. Now let us observe the righteousness of God in the punishment of
these proud and passionate Ephraimites, which in several instances
answered to their sin.
(1.) They were proud of the honour of their tribe, gloried in this,
that they were Ephraimites; but how soon were they brought to be
ashamed or afraid to own their country! Art thou an Ephraimite?
No, now rather of any tribe than that.
(2.) They had gone in a rage over Jordan to burn Jephthah's house with
fire, but now they came back to Jordan as sneakingly as they had passed
it furiously, and were cut off from ever returning to their own houses.
(3.) They had upbraided the Gileadites with the infelicity of their
country, lying at such a distance, and now they suffered by an
infirmity peculiar to their own country, in not being able to pronounce
(4.) They had called the Gileadites, unjustly, fugitives, and now they
really and in good earnest became fugitives themselves; and in the
Hebrew the same word
is used of the Ephraimites that escaped, or that fled, which they had
used in scorn of the Gileadites, calling them fugitives. He that
rolls the stone of reproach unjustly upon another, let him expect that
it will justly return upon himself.
III. Here is the end of Jephthah's government. He judged Israel but six
years, and then died,
Perhaps the death of his daughter sunk him so that he never looked up
afterwards, but it shortened his days, and he went to his grave
||B. C. 1112.|
8 And after him Ibzan of Bethlehem judged Israel.
9 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.
10 Then died Ibzan, and was buried at Bethlehem.
11 And after him Elon, a Zebulonite, judged Israel; and he
judged Israel ten years.
12 And Elon the Zebulonite died, and was buried in Aijalon in
the country of Zebulun.
13 And after him Abdon the son of Hillel, a Pirathonite, judged
14 And he had forty sons and thirty nephews, that rode on
threescore and ten ass colts: and he judged Israel eight years.
15 And Abdon the son of Hillel the Pirathonite died, and was
buried in Pirathon in the land of Ephraim, in the mount of the
We have here a short account of the short reigns of three more of the
judges of Israel, the first of whom governed but seven years, the
second ten, and the third eight. For the transgression of a land,
many are the princes thereof, many in a short time, successively
good men being removed in the beginning of their usefulness and by the
time that they have applied themselves to their business.
I. Ibzan of Bethlehem, most probably Bethlehem of Judah, David's city,
not that in Zebulun, which is only mentioned once,
He ruled but seven years, but by the number of his children, and his
disposing of them all in marriage himself, it appears that he lived
long; and probably the great increase of his family, and the numerous
alliances he made, added to his personal merits, made him the more fit
to be either chosen by the people as Jephthah was, or called of God
immediately, as Gideon was, to be Israel's judge, to keep up and carry
on the work of God among them. That which is remarkable concerning him
1. That he had many children, sixty in all, a quiver full of these
arrows. Thus was Bethlehem of old famous for increase, the very city
where he was to be born whose spiritual seed should be as the
stars of heaven.
2. That he had an equal number of each sex, thirty sons and thirty
daughters, a thing which does not often happen in the same family, yet,
in the great family of mankind, he that at first made two, male and
female, by his wise providence preserves a succession of both in some
sort of equality as far as is requisite to the keeping up of the
generations of men upon earth.
3. That he took care to marry them all. His daughters he sent abroad,
et maritis dedit, so the vulgar Latin adds--he provided
husbands for them; and, as it were in exchange, and both ways,
strengthening his interest, he took in thirty daughters from abroad
for his sons. The Jews say, Every father owes three things to his
son: to teach him to read the law, give him a trade, and get him a
wife. What a difference was there between Ibzan's family and that of
his immediate predecessor Jephthah! Ibzan has sixty children and all
married, Jephthah but one, a daughter, that dies or lives unmarried.
Some are increased, others are diminished: both are the Lord's
II. Elon of Zebulun, in the north of Canaan, was next raised up to
preside in public affairs, to administer justice, and to reform abuses.
Ten years he continued a blessing to Israel, and then died,
Dr. Lightfoot computes that in the beginning of his time the forty
years' oppression by the Philistines began (spoken of
and about that time Samson was born. Probably, his residence being in
the north, the Philistines who bordered upon the southern parts of
Canaan took the opportunity of making incursions upon them.
III. Abdon, of the tribe of Ephraim, succeeded, and in him that
illustrious tribe begins to recover its reputation, having not afforded
any person of note since Joshua; for Abimelech the Shechemite was
rather a scandal to it. This Abdon was famous for the multitude of his
he had forty sons and thirty grandsons, all of whom he lived to see
grown up, and they rode on seventy ass-colts either as judges and
officers or as gentlemen and persons of distinction. It was a
satisfaction to him thus to see his children's children, but it is
feared he did not see peace upon Israel, for by this time the
Philistines had begun to break in upon them. Concerning this, and the
rest of these judges that have ever so short an account given of them,
yet notice is taken where they were buried
perhaps because the inscriptions upon their monuments (for such were
2 Kings 23:17)
would serve for the confirmation and enlargement of their story, and
might be consulted by such as desired further information concerning
them. Peter, having occasion to speak of David, says, His sepulchre
is with us unto this day,
Or it is intended for the honour of the places where they laid their
bones, but may be improved for the lessening of our esteem of all
worldly glory, of which death and the grave will stain the pride. These
judges, that were as gods to Israel, died like men, and all their
honour was laid in the dust.
It is very strange that in the history of all these judges, some of
whose actions are very particularly related, there is not so much as
once mention made of the high priest, or any other priest or Levite,
appearing either for counsel or action in any public affair, from
to Eli, which may well be computed 250 years; only the names of the
high priests at that time are preserved,
1 Chronicles 6:4-7,Ezr+7:35.
How can this strange obscurity of that priesthood for so long a time,
now in the beginning of its days, agree with that mighty splendour with
which it was introduced and the figure which the institution of it
makes in the law of Moses? Surely it intimates that the institution was
chiefly intended to be typical, and that the great benefits that seemed
to be promised by it were to be chiefly looked for in its antitype, the
everlasting priesthood of our Lord Jesus, in comparison of the superior
glory of which that priesthood had no glory,
2 Corinthians 3:10.