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1. The men of Ephraim The warriors of that tribe.
Gathered themselves together Were summoned by their leaders to muster for battle. The warriors gathered from this single tribe were more than forty-two thousand. Judges 12:6. They meant to make a great demonstration in Israel, and show Jephthah and the eastern tribes how powerful they were. It was passionate ambition and jealousy taking up arms for self-gratification.
Went northward So the ancient versions; but the better rendering is, went over to Zaphon. Zaphon was a city in the tribe of Gad. See at Joshua 13:27.
EPHRAIM’S JEALOUSY AND DEFEAT, Judges 12:1-7.12.6.
Ephraim’s ambition and jealousy towards other tribes had burst out once before, in the days of Gideon, (Judges 8:1-7.8.3,) but the soft answer of that heroic judge prevented then a rupture between the men of that tribe and the divinely chosen judge. But in Jephthah the men of Ephraim find a man of different mettle, and a character less placable than Gideon. His stern and resolute spirit smites the head of Ephraim’s jealousy, and thus for a long time silences that factious element in Israel. At a later period, however, Ephraim’s irrepressible pride and ambition broke out again, and led to the secession of the ten tribes and the Assyrian exile.
2. When I called you Jephthah speaks in the name and as representative of the eastern tribes. These tribes were the ones specially afflicted by Ammon, and when they could no longer endure the oppression they resolved on fight. See Judges 10:17-7.10.18. Then they looked for a leader; and then it doubtless was they appealed to the western tribes, and especially to Ephraim, to come and save them from their bitter foes. Jephthah himself, too, when collecting his forces to go against the Ammonites, probably called on them to come and help in the war. Keil thinks the Ephraimites probably refused their co-operation because the eastern tribes had appointed Jephthah as commander without consulting them. The designed brevity of the history led to the necessary omission of many minor facts and details.
4. The men of Gilead smote Ephraim This was the first actual tribal war, and was brought about by a rash tribal jealousy. Ephraim wasin every sense to blame.
Because they said That is, the men of Ephraim said.
Fugitives of Ephraim This taunting charge from the men of Ephraim is given as a further reason why the victorious Gileadites dealt so severely with the Ephraimites who fell into their hands. To the rash arrogance of their language, as given in Judges 12:1, they also added this insult to those who rallied to the support of Jephthah.
Among the Ephraimites, and among the Manassites The meaning of Ephraim’s insulting charge will be seen by regarding it as an allusion to Jephthah’s early history. He was an outlaw and fugitive from the tribe of Manasseh, (Judges 11:1-7.11.3,) and for most of his life had been the leader of a band of border ruffians, who resorted to him from various tribes. The men of Ephraim would insinuate that all who followed Jephthah were of this class, and now, by making him judge in Israel, they meant to settle down among the ancient and honoured tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh, and thus monopolize the dominion of all Israel. Thus the words Ye Gileadites are equivalent to Jephthah’s clique of ruffians. Another rendering of this passage is, Fugitives of Ephraim are ye; Gilead is in the midst of Ephraim and in the midst of Manasseh. The meaning then would be, that Jephthah’s warriors were fugitives from the Ephraimites, and a set of rebels wishing to form a rival government on the east of Jordan, and pretending to be Gileadites. But Gilead, the true descendants of Manasseh’s grandson, (Numbers 26:29,) Ephraim urges, is altogether swallowed up in the great tribes of Manasseh and Ephraim, which join each other in the centre of Israel on the west of the Jordan.
5. Took the passages of Jordan Compare marginal reference.
Before the Ephraimites Or, towards Ephraim, that is, towards the territory of that tribe. Across these fords would the defeated and retreating Ephraimites seek to make their escape from the land of Gilead.
6. Shibboleth… sibboleth The word means a stream, and the slight difference of pronunciation between Ephraimites and Gileadites here casually mentioned, shows that dialectic modifications of the Hebrew language had begun to manifest themselves between the tribes that were separated by the Jordan. It is impossible to decide which is the earlier or more correct pronunciation. The word has become the symbol of needless religious strifes, for “many a party watchword, many a theological test,” says Stanley, “has had no better origin than this difference of pronunciation between the two rough tribes.”
There fell… forty and two thousand A bloody raid! Thus pride went before destruction.
JEPHTHAH’S DEATH, Judges 12:7.
7. Judged Israel six years His dominion, probably, never extended to the west of the Jordan. The elders of Gilead had made him their “head and captain,” (Judges 11:11,) and after his victory over the Ammonites, and his defeat of the Ephraimite invasion, he seems to have been content to rule over the inhabitants of Gilead.
Buried in one of the cities of Gilead From this indefiniteness about the place of his burial, compared with the fact that the burial of Abimelech is not mentioned at all, Wordsworth infers that a dark shadow hung over the name and memory of Jephthah. But he seems to have been honoured and respected among the eastern tribes, though we have no record of his making any efforts to lead back his people to the first principles of the theocracy, from which they had greatly departed. The eastern tribes still felt themselves to be of Israel, and never lost that feeling; but their isolation from the western tribes, causing the dialectic variation noticed Judges 12:6, and their remoteness from the tabernacle, whereby they were cut off in a great measure from the practice of the divine worship, greatly weakened the ties of nationality. Jephthah’s offering, too, of a human sacrifice, taken in connexion with the fact that it seems not to have occasioned any feelings of horror among the people, creates the belief that they had become generally ignorant of the requirements of their own law, and estranged from the principles of Moses.
Our impression of Jephthah’s character is reverent. Driven by wrong from home and country, he wrought for himself a heroic name that made the chiefs of eastern Israel realize him to be their only hope. Recalled by their repentance, he, like Camillus, forgave all, and returned to his native home and altars. The dark vow that shades his character was an act of mistaken piety; yet his very fidelity to his vow shows it to have been a profoundly conscientious piety. At the same time it furnishes, in the self-devoting response of the daughter, one of the most touching strokes of pathos in all history. His diplomacy was as honest as his chivalry was brave. No shadow but his mistaken vow rests upon this heroic chief.
IBZAN, ELON, AND ABDON, Judges 12:8-7.12.15.
8. Ibzan of Beth-lehem Nothing is said by which we can certainly know whether the Beth-lehem of Judah or that of Zebulun (Joshua 19:15) is meant. From the absence of the addition Judah, (compare Judges 17:7,) and the fact that the next judge was also a Zebulonite, most commentators suppose that the Beth-lehem of Zebulun is meant. The notion that Ibzan was identical with Boaz, the second husband of Ruth and father of Obed, has nothing but a distant resemblance in the names to support it, and has very much against it.
9. Thirty sons, and thirty daughters This fact alone would make him great in Israel, and might have been one reason of his being elected judge. Notice that the daughters were sent abroad to find homes in Israel, but the sons remained at home to inherit the paternal estate. Notice, also, how complete a contrast between Ibzan’s family fortunes and those of Jephthah.
11. Elon… judged Israel ten years But we have no record of his particular acts. See note on Judges 10:1.
12. Aijalon Supposed by Van de Velde to have been at the modern Jalun, about fifteen miles east of Akka. This was really in the territory of Naphtali, but so near the border as to be popularly called in the country of Zebulun.
13. A Pirathonite A native and resident of Pirathon, a. city in the tribe of Ephraim, the modern Ferata, about six miles southwest of Shechem. In Judges 12:15 it is described as being in the mount of the Amalekites, from which we infer that a colony of this people had early settled on this hill, and given it its most common name. Hence Ephraim’s root was in Amalek. See note on Judges 5:14.
14. Thirty nephews Rather, grandsons. His family greatness was much like that of Ibzan and of Jair. Forty sons and thirty grandsons, seventy in all, made up a perfect number, and was of itself a fact worth recording.
Threescore and ten ass colts One for each child. Compare notes on Judges 5:10; Judges 10:4.
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Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Judges 12". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
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