Judges 12

CHAPTER XII

The Ephraimites are incensed against Jephthah, because he did

not call them to war against the Ammonites; and threaten his

destruction, 1.

He vindicates himself, 2, 3;

and arms the Gileadites against the men of Ephraim; they fight

against them, and kill forty-two thousand Ephraimites at the

passages of Jordan, 4-6.

Jephthah dies, having judged Israel six years, 7.

Ibzan judge seven years, 8.

His posterity and death, 9,10.

Elon judge ten years, and dies, 11, 12.

Abdon judge eight years, 13.

His posterity and death, 14, 15.

NOTES ON CHAP. XII

Verse 1. The men of Ephraim gathered themselves together]

vaiyitstsaek, they called each other to arms; summoning all

their tribe and friends to arm themselves to destroy Jephthah and

the Gileadites, being jealous lest they should acquire too much

power.

Verse 3. I put my life in my hands] I exposed myself to the

greatest difficulties and dangers. But whence did this form of

speech arise? Probably from a man's laying hold of his sword,

spear, or bow. "This is the defender of my life; on this, and my

proper use of it, my life depends." When a man draws his sword

against his foe, his enemy will naturally aim at his life; and his

sword in his hand is his sole defense. It is then, Fight and

conquer, or die. Thus Jephthah took his life in his hand. This

phrase occurs in some other places of Scripture; see

1Sa 19:5; 28:21. And the words of the Conqueror, Isa 63:5,

seem to confirm the above view of the subject: I looked, and there

was none to help; and I wondered there was none to uphold;

therefore mine own arm brought salvation unto me; i.e., by mine

own arm I saved my life, and brought destruction on mine enemies.

Verse 4. And fought with Ephraim] Some commentators suppose that

there were two battles in which the Ephraimites were defeated: the

first mentioned in the above clause; and the second occasioned by

the taunting language mentioned in the conclusion of the verse, Ye

Gileadites are fugitives of Ephraim. Where the point of this

reproach lies, or what is the reason of it, cannot be easily

ascertained.

Verse 6. Say now Shibboleth; and he said Sibboleth] The original

differs only in the first letter samech, instead of sheen;

emar na Shibboleth, vaiyomer Sibboleth. The

difference between seen, without a point, which when pointed is

pronounced sheen, and samech, is supposed by many to be

imperceptible. But there can be no doubt there was, to the ears of

a Hebrew, a most sensible distinction. Most Europeans, and,

indeed, most who have written grammars of the language, perceive

scarcely any difference between the Arabic [Arabic] seen and

[Arabic] saad; but as both those letters are radical not only in

Arabic but in Hebrew, the difference of enunciation must be such

as to be plainly perceivable by the ear; else it would be

impossible to determine the root of a word into which either of

these letters entered, except by guessing, unless by pronunciation

the sounds were distinct. One to whom the Arabic is vernacular,

hearing a native speak, discerns it in a moment; but the delicate

enunciation of the characteristic difference between those letters

seen and samech, and [Arabic] seen and [Arabic]

saad, is seldom caught by a European. Had there been no

distinction between the seen and samech but what the Masoretic

point gives now, then samech would not have been used in the

word sibboleth, but seen, thus : but there

must have been a very remarkable difference in the pronunciation

of the Ephraimites, when instead of shibboleth, an ear of

corn, (see Job 24:24,) they said

sibboleth, which signifies a burden, Ex 6:6; and a

heavy burden were they obliged to bear who could not pronounce

this test letter. It is likely that the Ephraimites were, in

reference to the pronunciation of sh, as different from the

Gileadites as the people in some parts of the north of England

are, in the pronunciation of the letter r, from all the other

inhabitants of the land. The sound of th cannot be pronounced by

the Persians in general; and yet it is a common sound among the

Arabians. To this day multitudes of the German Jews cannot

pronounce th, but put ss in the stead of it: thus for

beith (a house) they say bess.

Mr. Richardson, in his "Dissertation on the Languages,

Literature, and Manners of the Eastern Nations," prefixed to his

Persian and Arabic Dictionary, p. ii., 4to. edition, makes some

observations on the different dialects which prevailed in Arabia

Felix, the chief of which were the Hemyaret and Koreish; and to

illustrate the point in hand, he produces the following story from

the Mohammedan writers: "An envoy from one of the feudatory

states, having been sent to the tobba, (the sovereign,) that

prince, when he was introduced, pronounced the word T'heb, which

in the Hemyaret implied, Be seated: unhappily it signified, in the

native dialect of the ambassador, Precipitate thyself; and he,

with a singular deference for the orders of his sovereign, threw

himself instantly from the castle wall and perished." Though the

Ephraimites had not a different dialect, they had, it appears, a

different pronunciation, which confounded, to others, letters of

the same organ, and thus produced, not only a different sound, but

even an opposite meaning. This was a sufficient test to find out

an Ephraimite; and he who spake not as he was commanded, at the

fords of Jordan, spoke against his own life.

For he could not frame to pronounce it right.] This is not a bad

rendering of the original velo yachin ledabber

ken; "and they did not direct to speak it thus." But instead of

yachin, to direct, thirteen of Kennicott's and De

Rossi's MSS., with two ancient editions, read yabin; "they

did not understand to speak it thus."

The versions take great latitude in this verse. The Vulgate

makes a paraphrase: Dic ergo Shibboleth, quod interpretatur spica:

qui respondebat Sibboleth; eadem litera spicam exprimere non

valens. "Say therefore, Shibboleth; which interpreted is an ear of

corn: but he answered, Sibboleth; not being able to express an ear

of corn by that letter." In my very ancient copy of the Vulgate,

probably the editio princeps, there is sebboleth in the first

instance as the test word, and thebboleth as the Ephraimite

pronunciation. But cebboleth is the reading of the Complutensian

Polyglot, and is supported by one of my own MSS., yet the former

reading, thebboleth, is found in two of my MSS. The Chaldee has

shubbaltha for the Gileaditish pronunciation, and

subbaltha for that of Ephraim. The Syriac has [Syriac] shelba

and [Syriac] sebla. The Arabic has the same word, with [Arabic]

sheen and [Arabic] seen; and adds, "He said Sebla, for the

Ephraimites could not pronounce the letter sheen." These notices,

however trivial at first view, will not be thought unimportant by

the Biblical critic.

Verse 8. And after him Ibzan] It appears that during the

administration of Jephthah, six years-Ibzan, seven years-Elon,

ten years-and Abdon, eight years, (in the whole thirty-one years,)

the Israelites had peace in all their borders; and we shall find

by the following chapter that in this time of rest they corrupted

themselves, and were afterwards delivered into the power of the

Philistines.

1. WE find that Ibzan had a numerous family, sixty children; and

Abdon had forty sons and thirty grandsons; and that they lived

splendidly, which is here expressed by their riding on seventy

young asses; what we would express by they all kept their

carriages; for the riding on fine asses in those days was not less

dignified than riding in coaches in ours.

2. It does not appear that any thing particular took place in

the civil state of the Israelites during the time of these latter

judges; nothing is said concerning their administration, whether

it was good or bad; nor is any thing mentioned of the state of

religion. It is likely that they enjoyed peace without, and their

judges were capable of preventing discord and sedition within.

Yet, doubtless, God was at work among them, though there were none

to record the operations either of his hand or his Spirit; but the

people who feared him no doubt bore testimony to the word of his

grace.

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