We have a national crisis confronted by Jephthah, a crisis that ended in civil war. The crisis and civil war were caused by the pride and jealousy of the tribe of Ephraim. Remember, Ephraim had confronted Gideon in the same spirit of pride and jealousy, they wanted to share in the glory, but were not willing to undertake the task. The confrontation was serious, a critical situation. Ephraim mobilized their forces and actually marched against Jephthah. They were set on challenging this new commander, accusing him of ignoring them and of not sharing the glory of the fight against the Ammonites with them. They complained that Jephthah had not called them to join in the struggle. They threatened him, suggesting that they were going to burn down his house upon his very head. They demonstrated utter disrespect for Jephthah, and by doing this, they were sealing their own fate before this commander who had been anointed by God. The explanation given by Jephthah shows that he remained calm and cool under the verbal attacks, despite the fact of having just been threatened. But he was not going to back down, he was straightforward and direct, laying out the facts as they really were.
The Ephraimites had not helped during the long eighteen years of oppression. When the time to throw off the oppression had come, he had summoned them and they had refused to help. He was forced to fight the enemy alone a perilous, dangerous fight. The credit for victory belonged to the Lord, not to him or to anyone else, the Ephraimites had no reason to complain. The situation was hopeless, for the negotiations slipped into insults, name-calling, and slurs. The result was tragic, civil war broke out. The leaders of Ephraim cast the ultimate insult against Jephthah and the men of Gilead by calling them fugitives, renegades of Israel . They were denouncing the tribes of East Jordan because they lived on the other side of the Jordan River and not in the main territory of the promised land.
Jephthah mobilized his army and routed the Ephraimites. As the soldiers fled, Jephthah came up with a clever strategy to identify the fleeing Ephraimites . He posted soldiers at the fords of the Jordan River and forced every soldier who crossed the river to say “shibboleth.” The soldiers were able to identify the Ephraimites because they could not pronounce the word correctly. Instead of saying “shibboleth,” they said “sibboleth.” In trying to pronounce the “h” in shibboleth, they were tongue-tied because of their dialect. They were easily identified and slain at the fords of the Jordan . The results of the civil war were devastating. Forty-two thousand Ephraimite soldiers were killed. It is interesting to note that the word shibboleth has become a part of the English language. It means a catch-word or slogan; a language that is distinctive of a particular group of people; the use of some test that is given to make sure that a person or persons belong to a particular body of people.
Pride caused the civil war within Israel . Pride almost always causes division, contention, and strife. An evil pride exalts a person above others as though he were better than others. This attitude causes division between that person and those he considers to be underneath him. If the prideful person is out to subject others or to take something of value away from them, then strife and struggle take place. Pride or self-exaltation is forbidden by God.
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