The Book of JUDGES
James J. Barker

Lesson 12

Text: JUDGES 12:1-7


  1. We are not sure what the word “shibboleth” (12:6) means.  The original 1828 Noah Webster Dictionary says, “Hebrew word meaning ear of corn or a stream of water.”
  2. Well, which is it – an ear of corn or a stream of water?
  3. It is not that important, for ever since this interesting story was recorded in Judges 12, the word “shibboleth” has taken on a new meaning.  The original 1828 Webster’s Dictionary says,
  1. “A word which was made the criterion by which to distinguish the Ephraimites from the Gileadites. The Ephraimites not being able to pronounce the (Hebrew letter) sh (sound), pronounced the word sibboleth.  See Judges 12.  Hence,
  2. The criterion of a party; or that which distinguishes one party from another; and usually, some peculiarity in things of little importance.”
  1. I have entitled tonight’s message, “Forty Two Thousand Men Died Because of a Lisp” (Judges 12:6).
  2. The men of Ephraim could not “frame the sh sound and so “shibboleth” came out sounding like “sibboleth.” 
  3. I read of a similar situation in WWII.  Instead of using “shibboleth” as their password, American soldiers in the South Seas chose “lollapalooza” (slang word meaning something extraordinary or unusual). The Americans knew that the Japanese had great difficulty pronouncing the l and it often came out sounding like an r.
  4. So when the Japanese said, “rara-parooza” the American soldiers knew immediately that they were Japanese, and not Americans.
  5. This story can be divided into three parts.

  1. THE ACCUSATION (12:1)
  2. THE EXPLANATION (12:2, 3)



  1. The leaders of Ephraim were proud and quarrelsome.  They provoked Jephthah the same way they provoked Gideon (12:1; cf. 8:1).
  2. Just as it was in the days of Gideon, the men of Ephraim wanted to share the glory of the victory, but they did not deserve to do so.
  3. They wanted to enjoy the victory celebration but they were not willing to fight when Jephthah needed them.
  4. They were not only contentious and proud but they were jealous too.  Unfortunately there are folks like this in our churches today.  “Give us what we want or we will burn this place down!” (cf. Judges 12:1b).
  5. Philippians 2:3 says, “Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.”
  6. “Strife and vainglory” means pride and envy.   When strife and vainglory, and pride and envy get into a church there is going to be trouble.
  7. Another application: This was a lingering problem in Israel.  The Ephraimites gave Gideon a hard time and now 100 years later they are giving Jephthah a hard time.  And years later we see the tribe of Ephraim was still stirring up trouble.
  8. When Jeroboam broke away from King Rehoboam and started his own religion as well as his own kingdom, the Bible says he “built Shechem in Mount Ephraim, and dwelt therein” (I Kings 12:25).
  9. And so it is in churches.  People stir up strife and this contentious spirit often lingers on for years until the church is eventually destroyed.   May God help us to be careful.



  1. Back in Judges 8, Gideon had appeased the Ephraimites with gentle words, but Jephthah was more blunt with them (12:2, 3).
  2. Jephthah reminded them that when he was at war with the Ammonites the Ephraimites offered him no help (12:2, 3).
  3. The LORD gave Israel the victory without any help from Ephraim so now the Ephraimites had nothing now to complain about.



  1. When people are wrong and they refuse to admit that they are wrong they often resort to name-calling (12:4).
  2. The Ephraimites called the Gileadites “fugitives” (12:4), and this taunting and name-calling led to a civil war between Gilead and Ephraim.
  3. Ephraim’s insults were wrong because the LORD gave the Gileadites their land (cf. Joshua 22:9).  They were not fugitives or renegades from Ephraim.  But when men are proud and contentious they often hurl insults around, even if the insults are unjustified.
  4. But Jephthah and his men got the best of the scornful Ephraimites.  They cut off their way of escape at the “passages (fords) of the Jordan River” (12:5).
  5. Whenever an Ephraimite tried to escape and cross the Jordan to head back home, he was forced to pronounce “shibboleth” (12:5, 6).
  6. If he could not pronounce it he was killed right there and the Bible says 42,000 Ephraimites were slain at that time (12:6).



  1. After the defeat of the Ammonites, and the slaughter of the Ephraimites, the Israelites had peace for 31 years under the leadership of Jephthah and his three successors (12:7-15).
  2. Jephthah’s three successors are not that well known but the last judge is probably the most famous of them all – Samson (Judges 13-16).

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