Judges 12

Judges 12,
Saturday, May 12, 2018

The big Ephraim army shows up late to the fight, and complains that Jephthah should not have picked a fight with Ammon before asking Ephraim first.  Presumably Ephraim would have taken the lead, and gained the glory.  They threaten to burn the bastard’s house down (using ‘bastard’ in its technical sence of illegitimacy, and as I read the character of Jephthah and his thugs.)

Jephthah retorts that Ephraim was no help when Ammon was oppressing Gilead, so he took matters into his own hands.  Why come to pick a civil war now? Do they accuse Gilead of being fugitive former Ephraimite subjects?  They fight.  Gilead wins, at least in their own side of the Jordan.

Gilead takes control of the fords across the Jordan.  The Ephraimite soldiers trapped on the east side of the Jordan really are fugitives now, trying to cross to the west side to run home.  The password is “shibboleth”.  I was taught that the Ephraimites had a lisp, and said “thibboleth”, revealing themselves, but in case that is now associated with homophobia, we can try their accent and speech impediment as saying ‘sibboleth’.  In either case, it sounds like ethnic cleansing.

Pause at the end of the Jephthah cycle, till he dies 6 years later.  What did you learn about personal role models?  I find only cautionary tales, warning to subsequent generations tempted to romanticize the ‘good old days’ of anarchic freedom and occasional inspired judges to rally the nation.  Here the judge really is a bastard, rejected by his people till they need a thug, then indulging in civil war and ethnic cleansing – not to mention killing his daughter, as we do.

My best parallel in my subculture is a guy who ambitiously craves success at all costs.  He may be a refugee sacrificing everything to get first residency, then citizenship, then more success than anybody else – but at what cost?  Who does he leave behind, or destroy on the way, justifying it by his own earlier oppression?  “I’d give my right arm for that”, or that familiar refrain “I guess I wasn’t much of a husband or father to my wives or their children” is a common plaint of the complacently affluent senior.

The next judge, Izban of Bethlehem, is given short shrift, except a crack about his return to intermarriage, accommodation and assimilation by marrying his kids off to non-Jews – 30 sons, 30 daughters, 6 years

The next judge, Elon, comes from further north, the fringe of Zebulun, and lasts a bit longer – 10 years.

Finally today, Abdon from the tribe of Ephraim.  The centre of power claimed by Jephthah in Gilead has shifted to the tribe he vanquished – like reporting a Tory regime replacing a Liberal run.  That does not include any evaluative words about either side, or even the hint of how long he lasted.  

Reasonable and faithful people may differ in our partisan assessments about judges – or about which parallel our own context and characters.  Judges doesn’t judge with one simple voice!


The men of Ephraim were called to arms, 
and they crossed to Zaphon
 and said to Jephthah, 
‘Why did you cross over
to fight against the Ammonites, 
and did not call us
 to go with you? 
We will burn your house down over you!’
 2Jephthah said to them, 
‘My people and I
were engaged in conflict
with the Ammonites
who oppressed us severely.
 But when I called you,
 you did not deliver me from their hand.
 3When I saw
 that you would not deliver me, 
I took my life in my hand,
 and crossed over
 against the Ammonites, 
and the Lord gave them
 into my hand.
 Why then have you come up to me this day, 
to fight against me?
’4Then Jephthah gathered all the men of Gilead
and fought with Ephraim; 
and the men of Gilead defeated Ephraim,
 because they said,
 ‘You are fugitives from Ephraim,
 you Gileadites—
in the heart of Ephraim
 and Manasseh.’
 5Then the Gileadites took the fords of the Jordan
against the Ephraimites. 
Whenever one of the fugitives of Ephraim said,
 ‘Let me go over’, 
the men of Gilead would say to him,
 ‘Are you an Ephraimite?’ 
When he said, ‘No’,
 6they said to him, 
‘Then say Shibboleth’, 
and he said, ‘Sibboleth’,
 for he could not pronounce it right.
 Then they seized him
and killed him
 at the fords of the Jordan. 
Forty-two thousand of the Ephraimites
fell at that time.
7 Jephthah judged Israel for six years.
 Then Jephthah the Gileadite died, 
and was buried in his town in Gilead.
8 After him Ibzan of Bethlehem judged Israel.
 9He had thirty sons.
 He gave his thirty daughters in marriage
 outside his clan
 and brought in thirty young women
 from outside
 for his sons.
 He judged Israel for seven years.
 10Then Ibzan died,
 and was buried at Bethlehem.
11 After him Elon the Zebulunite judged Israel; 
and he judged Israel for ten years. 
12Then Elon the Zebulunite died, 
and was buried at Aijalon
 in the land of Zebulun.
13 After him Abdon son of Hillel the Pirathonite judged Israel. 
14He had forty sons and thirty grandsons,
 who rode on seventy donkeys; 
he judged Israel for eight years.
 15Then Abdon son of Hillel the Pirathonite died,
 and was buried at Pirathon in the land of Ephraim,
 in the hill country of the Amalekites.