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E. The fifth apostasy 10:6-12:15
In view of Israel’s continuing and worsening apostasy, God turned His people over to the discipline of the Ammonites, whom Jephthah finally defeated, and the Philistines. He also used three other judges during this period: Ibzan, Elon, and Abdon.
3. Deliverance through Jephthah 11:1-12:7
To prepare for the recital of Israel’s victory over the Ammonites the writer provided the reader with some background information concerning the man God raised up to lead this deliverance. Like Gideon, Jephthah was an unlikely hero who got off to a good start but ended poorly.
Jephthah’s battle with the Ephraimites 12:1-7
The writer’s emphasis now shifts from Jephthah’s foolishness to Ephraim’s arrogance. Like Gideon, Jephthah had to deal with disgruntled Ephraimites, but in Jephthah’s case the result was a costly civil war.
The Ephraimites were the Gileadites’ neighbors to the west. They resented the fact that Jephthah had not requested their assistance in the war with the Ammonites. We noted earlier that the Ephraimites considered themselves superior to their brethren in some respects (cf. Judges 8:1). They foolishly threatened to punish Jephthah for this affront (Judges 12:1).
"Why should the Ephraimites complain about a victory accomplished through God’s intervention for the benefit of all the tribes? It was a strange jealousy that spurred on Ephraim." [Note: Wolf, p. 458.]
Jephthah opened his mouth wisely again and replied that he had indeed requested their help, but they had not responded (Judges 12:2). This did not satisfy the Ephraimites, however, who mobilized a large fighting force to teach the Gileadites a lesson. These proud Israelites wanted to dominate, to control, and to receive recognition among their brethren. They evidently regarded the Gileadites as "fugitives" (Judges 12:4) because they had settled east of the Jordan River.
"As is so often the case, internal disputes broke out after the common enemy was subdued. The main issue appears to be Jephthah’s unilateral action in Transjordan. However, a much more serious issue is apparent, a developing independence among the tribes east of the Jordan. The conflict between the Ephraimites and the Gileadites is a sad commentary on the lack of Israelite unity in this period." [Note: Monson, p. 187.]
When the Ephraimites had confronted Gideon, he responded with psychology (Judges 8:1-3). Jephthah was a different kind of person from Gideon, however. He responded with a sword. Jephthah was a nobody, and nobodies are often unimpressed with people who think they are somebodies, as the Ephraimites did.
In the battle that followed east of the Jordan, 42,000 Ephraimites (or 42 military units) suffered defeat, a high price for jealousy. The Gileadites stopped those who tried to flee back home at the fords of the Jordan. The Ephraimites’ accent did not permit them to say shibboleth (meaning "ear of corn" or "flowing stream") normally. Similarly during World War II, the Nazis identified Russian Jews by the way they pronounced "kookoorooza," the Russian word for corn. [Note: Wolf, p. 458.] In this way the Gileadite soldiers identified the fleeing Ephraimites.
"Here is graphic evidence that language distinctions had begun to mark the rapidly widening division of the nation." [Note: Merrill, Kingdom of . . ., pp. 172-73. Cf. Daniel I. Block, "The Role of Language in Ancient Israelite Perceptions of National Identity," Journal of Biblical Literature 103:3 (September 1984):339, n. 75.]
Unfortunately Jephthah treated his own brethren, the Ephraimites, as he had dealt with Israel’s enemy, the Ammonites. He unleashed his zeal and took vengeance far out of proportion to what might have been legitimate.
Jephthah served as a judge in Israel probably just over the transjordanian tribes. He did so for only six years after his victory over the Ammonites and his appointment by the elders of Gilead, and he apparently failed to achieve any rest for the land.
"Gideon was a weak man who was transformed into a fearless warrior. Jephthah was a valiant warrior. Because of his tragic family life, he had to become strong to survive. The story of his life is of God taking a strong man, and, by His Spirit, turning him into a usable man. Whatever our strengths and weaknesses, the secret of our usefulness is our availability to our God." [Note: Inrig, p. 189.]
Earlier we saw that Gideon’s failure had bad consequences for his nation (ch. 8) and for him personally (ch. 9). Likewise Jephthah’s failure had bad consequences for him personally (ch. 11) and for his nation (ch. 12). We shall see that Samson’s failure also had bad consequences for his nation and himself (ch. 16). The bad personal consequences Gideon experienced involved the premature death of his 70 sons. Jephthah’s personal tragedy involved the premature death of his only daughter. [Note: See Michael J. Smith, "The Failure of the Family in Judges, Part 1: Jephthah," Bibliotheca Sacra 162:647 (July-September 2005):279-98.] Samson himself died prematurely (cf. Romans 6:23).
Gideon’s failure was compromise with idolatry. The appeal of the world-Gideon’s cultural environment-brought him down. Jephthah’s failure was ignorance of, or inattention to, God’s Word. In the record of Satan’s temptations in Scripture, he sought to get people to doubt, deny, disobey, or disregard what God had said (cf. Genesis 3; Matthew 4). Jephthah fell before Satanic attack. Samson’s failure was indulging his fleshly appetites. These three major judges all experienced success, but they also failed. One of the three major sources of temptation was responsible for the failure of each of them. All three judges failed to follow God fully. Each one turned aside to self-will. All three represent Israel in the period of the judges, and all three are typical of all believers. They experienced a measure of spiritual success, but they also failed for the same reasons we fail.
Ibzan’s judgeship 12:8-10
Ibzan, whose name comes from a root meaning "swift," was notable for his 30 sons and 30 daughters, a sign of prestige and wealth in the ancient Near East (cf. Judges 8:30). He contrasts with Jephthah who had only one daughter. Whereas Jephthah slew his daughter, Ibzan obtained husbands for his 30 daughters. Apparently Ibzan was a polygamist, and Jephthah was not. His "marriages probably cemented clan alliances and extended the scope of his political influence." [Note: Block, Judges . . ., p. 389.] Ibzan lived in Bethlehem of Zebulun. The writer identified the other Bethlehem (in Judah) as "Bethlehem of Judah" elsewhere in the text of Judges.
4. The judgeships of Ibzan, Elon, and Abdon 12:8-15
These three men were quite clearly successors of Jephthah (Judges 12:8; Judges 12:11; Judges 12:13). Probably Ibzan followed Jephthah (Judges 12:8), and then Elon and Abdon succeeded Ibzan (Judges 12:11; Judges 12:13). The writer noted no special deeds of theirs, either because they performed none or because he chose not to feature them in his narrative.
Elon’s judgeship 12:11-12
Elon, meaning "oak, terebinth," also lived in Zebulun, though archaeologists have not yet discovered his town, Aijalon.
Abdon’s judgeship 12:13-15
Abdon (lit. service or servant) lived in the hill country of Ephraim. Pirathon was west and a little south of Shechem. He too had many sons and daughters who rode on donkeys, reflecting Abdon’s prestige and the peace that prevailed when he judged (cf. Judges 10:4).
The fact that several of the judges fathered extremely large families points to their living like the eastern potentates of their day. This is further evidence that Canaanite culture was influencing the Israelites adversely. The judges’ lives evidenced mixed success and failure. Children are a blessing from the Lord (cf. Judges 10:1-5), so even in spite of apostasy God continued to bestow grace on His people.
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Judges 12". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany