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Last week we saw the tragic consequences of the rash vow made by Jephthah. After he enjoyed a great victory over the Ammonites, he paid the unnecessary price of sacrificing his only child. God wanted to give him the victory by grace through faith; but in his insecurity and his desire to look the part of the macho leader, he stepped over the line of faith into presumption. We saw lessons of commitment – Jephthah was certainly a man of his word; and even more laudatory lessons of submission on the part of his unnamed daughter and her remarkable response; but we also saw a harsh side of a leader who in no way models the grace of that great Savior to come – the Lord Jesus, full of grace and truth.

As the narrator wraps up for us the aftermath of Jephthah’s great victory, he recounts another sad chapter in the history of God’s people. As we see 42,000 Ephraimites slain, we are reminded that the destruction from internal conflict within the people of God can often be greater than that inflicted by our enemies. This should not surprise us because we have all of church history to shock us with the type of suffering and anguish caused by God’s children fighting amongst themselves.

What can we learn from this OT account to help us avoid some of the strife that arises not so much from doctrinal differences but from pride and selfish ambition and general politicking for positions of power and influence?



A. (:1) Internal Insurrection – the Men of Ephraim Assert Their Importance

“Then the men of Ephraim were summoned, and they crossed to Zaphon and said to Jephthah, ‘Why did you cross over to fight against the sons of Ammon without calling us to go with you? We will burn your house down on you.’”

Passive – “were summoned” – as if to do battle with the forces of Jephthah; does not indicate who did the summoning; very aggressive and threatening as they instigated this internal conflict; there will always be troublemakers who go around stirring up opposition and making some type of argument of how they have been wronged or mistreated

Block: their wounded sense of self-importance

Brensinger: Zaphon apparently lies in the Jordan Valley, about five miles northwest of Succoth (cf. 8:4-9) . . . Once again, Ephraim clearly relishes the type of influential position allotted to it during the judgeship of Ehud (3:27).

Look at the type of extreme threat they make against Jephthah – he has no family left now that he has sacrificed his only daughter; now they are threatening some type of mob vengeance in the form of burning down his house and killing him

cf. territorial strife in the realm of government: different intelligence agencies not being able to cooperate and wanting to each take the glory for any successes; turf battles are commonplace; political jockeying for supremacy;

all about wanting to get credit – even when credit is undeserved

cf. territorial strife in the business world – sales reps are great for this – claiming an account to be their customer when they have never bothered to call on it or develop it; all of a sudden they start to do business because of a connection they have with some other sales rep and the arguing and posturing begins

cf. territorial strife in the church –

B. (:2-3) Inexcusable Indifference – Jephthah Tries to Set the Record Straight

“And Jephthah said to them, ‘I and my people were at great strife with the sons of Ammon; when I called you, you did not deliver me from their hand. And when I saw that you would not deliver me, I took my life in my hands and crossed over against the sons of Ammon, and the LORD gave them into my hand. Why then have you come up to me this day, to fight against me?’”

Block: literally: “I was a man of contention” – first against his own people and then against the Ammonites; life of strife

You had your opportunity – not recorded in Scripture whether Jephthah really reached out to them in this way or not;

Look at the difference in how Jephthah responds to how Gideon responded earlier –

Rather than speaking in self deprecating terms, he emphasizes his own courage and initiative and effective leadership – although he still gives God the ultimate credit for the surprising victory against troops with such superior numbers and weaponry

Your complaint at this point in time makes no sense – you don’t have any justification or a leg to stand on

By fighting against the Lord’s servant (whom He blessed with victory) you are essentially fighting against the Lord Himself

Illustration (Inrig): I am reminded of the story of the man who came up to D. L. Moody and said,

“Mr. Moody, I don’t like the way you preach the gospel.”

“You know,” Mr. Moody said, “I’m always willing to learn. Tell me about the method you use.”

“I guess I don’t really have one,” the man said.

“I’ll tell you what,” Moody said, “I like the way I do it better than the way you don’t do it.”

There are a large number of Christians that like to sit on the sidelines and just critique what is being done in different circles. They are not aggressive in living by faith and ministering to others out of a compassionate heart. They are just judgmental because they have certain personal convictions about things should have been done differently. They are a great source of discouragement to those who are faithfully loving others and carrying out the exercise of their spiritual gifts. But they want to claim credit at the end for any success and are jealous if the Lord doesn’t seem to need them to carry out His work.

Inrig: It is hard to imagine a more obnoxious attitude. They had reacted to Gideon in a similar way in the middle of this battle with Midian. Ephraim was always brave after the battle. Obviously, the Ephraimites were an arrogant, critical, envious group. Although a small tribe, they were very sure of their own rights, but totally unwilling to accept their responsibilities. They were always ready to fight with their brothers, but never against the enemy. . .

The Ephraimite attitude is destructive and divisive. The church of Jesus Christ does not need grandstand quarterbacks or armchair generals. It needs believers who are willing to take their God-given responsibility to serve God and other believers. It is contemptible to have the heart of an Ephraimite. Do not complain and criticize. Instead, lead by example, encouragement, and edification!


Romans 12:3ff “For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith. For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.”

Phil. 2:3-5 “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus . . .”


Difficulty here: what part is legitimate judgment against sin of which the Lord approved … and where did Jephthah maybe go too far??

A. (:4a) Fighting Should Have Been a Last Resort but Judgment was Necessary

“Then Jephthah gathered all the men of Gilead and fought Ephraim;”

It does not seem like Jephthah had much of an appetite for diplomacy in this case; but maybe he had no other choice in the face of the unreasonable fighting attitude of the Ephraimites; they had come to pick a fight

B. (:4b) Name Calling Never Helps Matters

“and the men of Gilead defeated Ephraim, because they said, ‘You are fugitives of Ephraim, O Gileadites, in the midst of Ephraim and in the midst of Manasseh.’”

Prov. 15:1 “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”

Note the play on this word “fugitives” throughout the story

Block: the use of the phrase “fugitives” is surely intended to touch a sore spot in Jephthah’s own experience, generalizing his own painful personal experience as an outcast from his Gileadite countrymen

C. (:5-6) Brethren Should Allow Mercy to Triumph Over Judgment

“And the Gileadites captured the fords of the Jordan opposite Ephraim. And it happened when any of the fugitives of Ephraim said, ‘Let me cross over,’ the men of Gilead would say to him, ‘Are you an Ephraimite?’ If he said, ‘No,’ then they would say to him, ‘Say now, Shibboleth.’ But he said, ‘Sibboleth,’ for he could not pronounce it correctly. Then they seized him and slew him at the fords of the Jordan. Thus there fell at that time 42,000 of Ephraim.”

Think of all of the heartache associated with the Civil War in our country – forget about which side was right or the issues involved; just think of all the bloodshed and the hard feelings the broken relationships; disputes should not come to blows among brethren

Inrig: Jephthah treated fellow Israelites as if they were Ammonites. It is one thing to be provoked to battle, but it is quite another thing to stand at the fords of the Jordan and cold-bloodedly execute Ephraimites. Jephthah was a hardheaded legalist. He had experienced God’s grace in his own life, but he did not practice it in his relations with others. He knew nothing of the tenderness and love and grace of God.

Do these fleeing brethren deserve to be executed? In a civil sense, probably Yes … but it also seems like there could have been a place here for extending mercy; 42,000 is a large number to kill; Jephthah is not included in the Hall of Fame Faith annals of Hebrews 11 because of this exercise of military might

Ask a person from New England to say the expression: “I went to the party in my car.”

During World War II, the Nazis identified Russian Jews by the way they pronounced the word for corn: “kookoorooza.”

Wiersbe: Because of this story, the word shibboleth has become a part of our English vocabulary and is now found in our dictionaries. It stands for any kind of test that a group gives to outsiders to see whether they really belong. This intertribal war spelled disaster for the tribe of Ephraim, which did not fully recover and achieve recognition and leadership until after the downfall of Solomon. . . For the third time in Judges, the capture of the fords of the Jordan was crucial (v. 5; 3:28; 7:24-25).


James 2:13 “For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.”

Eph. 4:1-6 “walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling.”

Col. 3:12-15 “So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful.”


(:7) Jephthah – 6 Years

“And Jephthah judged Israel six years. Then Jephthah the Gileadite died and was buried in one of the cities of Gilead.”

Davis: the writer wants us to see Yahweh’s deliverance tinctured by human foolishness and human arrogance. It is as if even the winners can’t have a clean win. We have salvation here but a marred salvation. The writer is suggesting that if we seek a perfect salvation we will have to look to One greater than Jephthah.

These minor judges are contrasted with Jephthah in four ways:

– longer reign

– greater number of offspring

– greater stability and unity among the neighboring tribes

– specified city of burial

Brensinger: Once the energy of Israel’s judges was directed solely at removing foreign oppressors; now Jephthah’s activities conclude with the mass destruction of Israelites themselves. As a result, no reference appears concerning the land experiencing peace (cf. 3:11, 30:5-31; 8:28). Instead, Jephthah’s judgeship, which for the first time in the book is shorter than the period of oppression that induced it, simply ends in the shadow of Israel’s ever-worsening internal fortunes

A. (:8-10) Ibzan – 7 Years

“Now Ibzan of Bethlehem judged Israel after him. And he had thirty sons, and thirty daughters whom he gave in marriage outside the family, and he brought in thirty daughters from outside for his sons. And he judged Israel seven years. Then Ibzan died and was buried in Bethlehem.”

Probably the lesser known town of Bethlehem in Zebulun’s territory up north

[Block concludes instead that it is Bethlehem of Judah since no tribal identification is furnished]

B. (:11-12) Elon – 10 Years

“Now Elon the Zebulunite judged Israel after him; and he judged Israel ten years. Then Elon the Zebulunite died and was buried at Aijalon in the land of Zebulun.”

Brensinger: the names Elon and Aijalon are, apart from differing vocalizations, exactly the same in Hebrew. The town, therefore, bears the name of the clan that has settled there.

C. (:13-15) Abdon – 8 Years

“Now Abdon the son of Hillel the Pirathonite judged Israel after him. And he had forty sons and thirty grandsons who rode on seventy donkeys; and he judged Israel eight years. Then Abdon the son of Hillel the Pirathonite died and was buried at Pirathon in the land of Ephraim, in the hill country of the Amalekites.”

Brensinger: each of these three judges serves for a noticeably short period of time, as do Jephthah and Samson (cf. 10:2-3). By implication, Israel seemingly experiences little stability and has frequent administrative changes.

Motyer: And in the continuing goodness of God, the brief notices of Jephthah’s successors focus on the holding together, not the flying apart, of God’s people. For three decades Israel will enjoy peace and unity. After Jephthah’s six-year judgeship, Ibzan “judged Israel seven years”, then Elon “judged Israel ten years”, then Abdon “judged Israel eight years”. These men are distinguished by the same marks of prosperity that we saw in the case of Jair, and in addition Ibzan arranges marriages for his children which will help to bind Israelite clans together.


Psalm 133 “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity! It is like the precious oil upon the head, coming down upon the beard, coming down upon the edge of his robes. It is like the dew of Hermon coming down upon the mountains of Zion; for there the Lord commanded the blessing – life forever.”

Desire of the Lord Jesus expressed in his final priestly prayer:

John 17:21-23 “that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me. The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me; that they may be perfected in unity so that the world may know that You sent Me, and love them, even as You have loved Me.”

Reality of still living in a sinful world with our own pride and selfishness and ambition – we have to endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit and to maintain the peace as much as we are able



– For Inflated Egos = a right view of yourself from God’s perspective — Humility

– For a Harsh Spirit = the Graciousness displayed by our Lord Jesus towards each of us