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Bible Commentaries
Judges 12

Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New TestamentsSutcliffe's Commentary

Verses 1-15

Judges 12:3 . I put my life in my hands; a Hebraism of forcible import. David twice uses the same phrase. Now, to take the life of a man who had thus devoted himself, and whom God had honoured, was the extreme of wickedness.

Judges 12:6 . Shibboleth. Vox Hebraica, juxta interpretationem Hebræam, significet impetum currentis aquæ. This Hebrew word, according to the interpretation of the rabbins, designates impetuous currents of waters. Our travellers state that the Jordan is, in many places, not more than twenty yards across, but that the stream is generally very rapid.

In the north of Europe, our fathers varied in the enunciation of several letters from the south. The th is not sounded by the southern inhabitants; as for example, in the name of their god, Thor, thur, and in thundr; that is, Jupiter, or high thundering Jove. So with regard to s. Toroth Adonai, the law of the Lord, the Persic and German Jews say, Toross Adonai. The radical letter s is wanting in the dialects and language of the south sea, which make them call the English, the goose language, because of its hissing sibilancy. It is wanting also in the Somerset dialect; they say, zaviour, zoul, zin, zupper. Hence our present mode of writing, “If he misses his mark,” instead of the subjunctive, “If he miss,” greatly disfigures our language by sibilancy, and violates all our rules of grammar. See my Grammar. Rule 18.

Judges 12:9 . Ibzan judged Israel seven years. See the chronology, 1 Kings 6:1.

Judges 12:14 . Forty sons. The dignity of those judges was supported by presents, and booty in conquests. They aimed at the dignity of gentile kings. We have no record of those judges but one; they kept their country in peace.


Jephthah, having returned to his house in all the glory of victory, but inconsolably afflicted because of his vow, found one calamity added to another. Ephraim, one of the strongest tribes, and elevated with the pride of Jacob’s blessing, found his honour tarnished in not being called to the war against the Ammonites. He could not bear to see Gilead enjoy, almost alone, the glory of the conquest, and the riches of the spoil. Therefore, assembling the whole tribe, he crossed the Jordan, menacing Jephthah with fire and sword, and reproaching all Gilead as fugitives and exiles. Let this sad portrait of the human heart teach us to moderate impetuous passions by reason, and they will gradually subside. The more sober operations of wisdom afford the safest counsel, and lead the mind to take the ground of permanent and honourable conduct.

But how did Jephthah reply? Did he make apologies, and sue for peace?

Did he humble himself as the wary Gideon, on the like occasion; and say, Is not the gleaning of the grapes of Ephraim better than the vintage of Abiezer? Being a soldier by profession, he boldly spake the truth; that as they had not acted a brotherly part, and come when first called, during the long strife with Ammon, he did not think proper to lose an opportunity by awaiting their doubtful aid; for he knew that God would help him. And while the elders carried back this bold reply he blew a trumpet, reassembled his valiant army, and gave his insolent brother a tremendous defeat. The quarrels of brethren, and brethren connected by every religious tie, are much to be lamented. If we are wronged, let us urge our complaints with modesty and love; the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God. But if the wrong be, as in this case, a mere retaliation, then we ought to bear it with patience. We cannot but regard this defeat as a visitation on Ephraim; because with all his strength and pride, he had suffered his brethren to be so long invaded both by Ammon and Philistia.

Guilt, in long disputes, is not confined, to one party. Gilead, and the rest of his brethren on the east of Jordan, were cruel and bloody in return. Taking advantage of the ford they murdered all the fugitives of Ephraim, whom they ought generously to have pardoned and suffered to go home, that brotherly kindness might once more have been revived in an age which called for unanimity and concord. How lamentable to see the quarrels of the tribes enfeeble their hands, and render the nation a prey to every invader.

The manner in which they detected the Ephraimites was extremely cruel, because it tempted a brother to tell a lie the moment before his death. Pointing to the Shibboleth, that is the stream, they bade him pronounce it: and he said Sibboleth; and the stroke of death immediately followed. How dreadful that one man can divert himself with the miseries of another! If the healing of grace do not go deeper into the heart of man than his sins he is utterly lost, for this dreadful spirit can never enter heaven.

While Israel was very much divided by jealousies and pride, we next see the gracious care of heaven over them, in raising up judges out of different tribes, that all these jealousies might subside. Let us learn of God to conquer an angry brother by that kind of firmness and love which gains his approbation, that we may be brothers for ever in the best of bonds.

Bibliographical Information
Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on Judges 12". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jsc/judges-12.html. 1835.
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