Tuesday, January 11, 2022

The Judges. Day 44, Ephraim's Conflict With Jephthah

Just as they did after Gideon won a great battle, the men of Ephraim find fault with Jephthah after he and his men have won a great battle.

"The Ephraimite forces were called out, and they crossed over to Zaphon. They said to Jephthah, 'Why did you go to fight the Ammonites without calling us to go with you? We're going to burn your house down over your head.'" (Judges 12:1) We saw a similar scene in Judges 8:1: "Now the Ephraimites asked Gideon, 'Why have you treated us like this? Why didn't you call us when you went to fight Midian?' And they challenged him vigorously."

Some scholars believe the Ephraimites felt cheated in not being able to divide the spoils of war with those who had gone out to fight. Others believe it hurt these men's pride that they did not get to share in the glory---or take the chief portion of the recognition---for victory in battle against the Ammonites. Whatever their motivation, they are so angry that they threaten to burn down Jephthah's house with him in inside it.

Unlike Gideon, Jephthah doesn't try to pacify their anger. It appears that at one time he did call for and hope for help from the Ephraimites and they did not come to help. "Jephthah answered, 'I and my people were engaged in a great struggle with the Ammonites, and although I called, you didn't save me out of their hands. When I saw that you wouldn't help, I took my life in my hands and crossed over to fight the Ammonites, and the Lord gave me victory over them. Now why have you come up today to fight me?'" (Judges 12:2-3)

The Bible doesn't record the occasion on which Jephthah sent a message to the Ephraimites asking for their help but I have no doubt it happened. This is evidenced by the willingness of Jephthah and his men to defend his statement and it's evidenced by the fact that the Ephraimites don't deny Jephthah's statement. 

At some point Jephthah called for help from the Ephraimites, perhaps during the time when the Ammonites were only attacking the people of the region of Gilead---Jephthah's hometown. Later the Ammonites crossed the Jordan and began attacking the people of Benjamin, Judah, and Ephraim. So we see that if the Ephraimites had anything to say to Jephthah, it should have been to thank him for his service. is bravery and the bravery of his men saved not only the people of Gilead from the Ammonites but it saved the people of Benjamin, Judah, and Ephraim from them as well. 

But now the battle has been won and Jephthah and his men are being talked about far and wide for their faith and courage. The men of Ephraim did not take up arms and participate in the war but now that it's over they wish they were receiving the kind of recognition Jephthah and his men are receiving. They've taken up arms now but not against an enemy nation---against people of their own nation. Jephthah responds in like manner by bringing his men out in battle array against the Ephraimites. He responds differently to their anger than Gideon did, perhaps because his personality is very unlike Gideon's or perhaps because when they came out in anger against Gideon we didn't find the Bible recording threats on his life. The anger of the Ephraimites in Jephthah's day may have been beyond pacifying with words and he doesn't waste any time trying to pacify them with words. "Jephthah then called together the men of Gilead and fought against Ephraim." (Judges 12:4a) 

I'll tell you something that's illogical: envying something that someone else worked hard to achieve. It makes no sense to covet something into which another person put a great deal of effort---something into which we did not put a great deal of effort. An example would be if I fooled around in school and barely passed my classes but envied a friend who studied hard and won a big scholarship. Another example would be if I missed a lot of work and did a lot of sloppy work but envied a dedicated co-worker who got a nice promotion. In our passage today it looks like the Ephraimites may be envying the recognition and the spoils of war won by their fellow Israelites, yet if Jephthah called upon them for help and they refused to participate in Israel's victory over the Ammonites, then it's their own fault that they're missing out. 

We are given a clue in a moment as to why the Ephraimites didn't come to the aid of Jephthah and his Gileadite kinsmen: the Ephraimites looked down on them. They thought the Gileadites were beneath them because although the Gileadites were descended from Jacob's son Joseph as were the Ephraimites, they were living on the opposite side of the Jordan River from the Ephraimites and from half the Manassites. It appears the men of Ephraim believed that anybody who was anybody would be living on their side of the river, on which side was the promised land. So the men of Ephraim didn't come to Jephthah's aid, not thinking his military campaign would amount to anything because they felt the Gileadites hadn't amounted to anything. But now that fame and fortune have come the way of Jephthah and his men, some of the men of Ephraim have come to insult them and fight them. As a result, Jephthah and his men have no choice but to fight back. "The Gileadites struck them down because the Ephraimites had said, 'You Gileadites are renegades from Ephraim and Manasseh.'" (Judges 12:4b)

This fight was so fierce that even the Ephraimites who fled the battle were seized and killed by applying a test to them. Since all the men involved in the battle were dressed similarly (they did not have army uniforms of a differing style and color from each other) it was difficult to determine whether a man was an Ephraimite or a Gileadite based on his appearance. So they were given a test that involved the ability to properly pronounce a "sh" sound. "The Gileadites captured the fords of the Jordan leading to Ephraim, and whenever a survivor of Ephraim said, 'Let me cross over,' the men of Gilead asked him, 'Are you an Ephraimite?' If he replied, 'No,' they said 'All right, say 'Shibboleth.' If he said, 'Sibboleth,' because he could not pronounce the word correctly, they siezed him and killed him at the fords of the Jordan. Forty-two thousand Ephraimites were killed at that time." (Judges 12:5-6)

All the men involved in this conflict were Israelites but they had developed differences in dialects over the centuries since they came out of Egypt. An example of this would be the way my Tennessee accent differs from the accent of someone from Maine. Both Tennessee and Maine are part of the United States of America but the people dwelling in these states pronounce words with a different accent. If you're a native of Maine you're going to notice that I'm not a native of Maine when you hear me talk. And that is how the Gileadites were able to determine that the men trying to escape from them were Ephraimites.

After being judge of Israel for only a few years, Jephthah dies. "Jephthah led Israel six years. Then Jephthah the Gileadite died and was buried in the town of Gilead." (Judges 12:7) 

In today's study we've seen how deadly a spirit of envy can be. Jesus' brother James said, "Where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice." (James 3:16) Because of selfish ambition, the men who came out to fight Jephthah envied his fame and renown throughout Israel. They were bitter because men they considered beneath them (the Gileadites) had accomplished a feat that we're still talking about today. As a result, forty0two thousand men lost their lives. Many Ephraimite women were widowed on that day and many Ephraimite children were rendered fatherless. Envy never leads to anything good. 

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