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(MT versing)
Jephthah and His Successors Jephthah's Conflict with Ephraim Intertribal Dissension Jephthah and the Ephraimites War Between Ephraim and Gilead
12:1-7 12:1-7 12:1-6 12:1 12:1-6a
Death of Jephthah
12:7 12:7 12:7
Ibzan, Elon and Abdon Ibzan, Elon and Abdon Ibzan, Elon and Abdon Ibzan
12:8-10 12:8-10 12:8-10 12:8-10 12:8-10
12:11-12 12:11-12 12:11-12 12:11-12 12:11-12
12:13-15 12:13-15 12:13-15 12:13-15 12:13-15

READING CYCLE THREE (see "Bible Interpretation Seminar")


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

  1. First paragraph
  2. Second paragraph
  3. Etc.


  1. Judges 12 concludes the story of Jephthah, cf. Jdgs. 10:17-12:7.

  2. There are several other "minor" Judges mentioned in chapter 12.
    1. Ibzan ‒ BDB 7, Jdgs. 12:8-10
    2. Elon ‒ BDB 19 II, Jdgs. 12:11-12
    3. Abdon ‒ BDB 715, Jdgs. 12:13-15


1Then 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." 2Jephthah 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. 3When 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 Lordv gave them into my hand. Why then have you come up to me this day to fight against me?" 4Then Jephthah gathered all the men of Gilead and fought Ephraim; 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." 5The 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," 6then 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. 7Jephthah judged Israel six years. Then Jephthah the Gileadite died and was buried in one of the cities of Gilead.

12:1 "men of Ephraim" This was the largest and strongest northern tribe. The foreshadowing pride on their part can be seen in Jdgs. 8:1.

▣ "Zaphon" This name (BDB 861 II) means "north." It was a city 5 miles north of Succoth (cf. Jos. 13:27).

▣ "We will burn your house down on you" There was serious tribal jealousy during this period (cf. Jdgs. 8:1-2). This may be an idiom threatening Jephthah's family/descendants.

12:2 "I and my people. . .when I called you" Jephthah was not as tactful as Gideon. He apparently had asked for help (not recorded in the OT) and they did not respond.

12:3 "I took my life in my hands" This is literally "I took my soul in my hand." This is an idiom for risking one's life. It is not meant to be in contrast with "the Lord gave them into my hand." Jephthah acts on his faith in YHWH's leadership and power (i.e., Jdgs. 11:29).

▣ "the Lord gave them into my hand" Jephthah's faith in YHWH's leadership is again obvious.

I have a theological question about texts like this one.

  1. Was it meant to show the sovereignty of Israel's God (i.e., one causality; cf. Isa. 45:7; Amos 3:6b)?
  2. Was it part of the ANE worldview that the gods of the nations fought on their behalf and the strongest won the battle?
  3. Is this only applicable to YHWH's covenant people (i.e., Israel) who bear His name and reputation (cf. Ezek. 36:22-36)?

Although I cannot answer these questions, I, as a NT believer, believe my life is in the hands of God, but I am not sure of a nation. There are no biblical promises to modern nations! I guess I feel most comfortable with a sovereign, loving, caring God who is with me and for me, but does not micro-manage every detail of my life. My life is not a prewritten script. My choices and motives do count and have effect in time and eternity. There is a God-given dignity to humans being made in the image and likeness of God (cf. Gen. 1:26-27). We are not robots but free, eternal, moral creatures.




12:4 "You are fugitives of Ephraim" This racial slur (omitted in the LXX) started the war. It accused the Gileadites of not being true sons of Israel, but foreigners (i.e., trans-Jordan tribes, cf. Joshua 22).

12:5 "the fords of Jordan" There were only certain crossing places (i.e., shallow places, cf. Jdgs. 3:28; 7:24-25) and no others. Control of them was militarily significant.

Jephthah defeating Ephraim was a miraculous, divine event.

12:6 "Shibboleth" The word meant "ear of corn" (BDB 987 II) or "stream" (BDB 987 I), according to which dialect (NIDOTTE, vol. 4, pp. 31-32), i.e., Gilead or Ephraim. A similar acknowledgment of dialect occurs in Matt. 26:73.

▣ "could not pronounce it correctly" The MT has a VERB (BDB 465, KB 464, Hiphil IMPERFECT) that means "to fix" or "to arrange."

  1. The UBS Text Project, p. 103, gives this a "B" rating (some doubt), but most English translations alter it ( יכין to יכל ) and translate it as "for he could not pronounce."
  2. The LXX has "keep straight."
  3. The Ginsburg Hebrew Notes has "distinguish," meaning the Ephraimites could not hear the difference between
    1. "ear of corn" ‒ BDB 987 II, cf. Gen. 41:5-7
    2. "flowing stream" ‒ BDB 987 I, cf. Ps. 69:2

▣ "42,000" There are some real number problems in the OT (see Edwin Thiele, The Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings and John J. Davis, Biblical Numerology). Part of the problem may be the proper translation of the Hebrew terms of "thousand" or "military unit."


12:7 "buried in one of the cities of Gilead" The LXX and Vulgate have "Mizpah" but Josephus (Antiq. 5.7.12) has "Sebee."

8Now Ibzan of Bethlehem judged Israel after him. 9He 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. 10Then Ibzan died and was buried in Bethlehem.

12:8 "Bethlehem" Josephus says in Judah, but context implies "Bethlehem" in Zebulun (cf. Jos. 19:15).

12:9 "thirty sons and thirty daughters" Once again, these numbers show the power and the wealth of Judges.

In the ANE alliances between nations, clans, families were sealed by the giving and taking of wives (i.e., David and Solomon).

12:10 Josephus (Antiq. 5.7.13) says Ibzan was a Judean because of the use of "Bethlehem," but Ibzan was from "Bethlehem" in Zebulun, not Judah.

It is surprising that Josephus adds (5.7.13) that "He did nothing in the seven years of his administration that was worth recording, or deserved a memorial." This is merely speculation. We do not know why some judges have more verses than others.

11Now Elon the Zebulunite judged Israel after him; and he judged Israel ten years. 12Then Elon the Zebulunite died and was buried at Aijalon in the land of Zebulun.

12:12 "Elon. . .Aijalon" These are spelled with similar Hebrew consonants but different vowels (BDB 19 and BDB 19). The LXX has "Elon" as a place name.

13Now Abdon the son of Hillel the Pirathonite judged Israel after him. 14He had forty sons and thirty grandsons who rode on seventy donkeys; and he judged Israel eight years. 15Then 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.

12:13 "the Pirathonite" This is probably the name of a city. Pirathon was one of David's Mighty Men (cf. 2 Sam. 23:30; 1 Chr. 11:31; 27:14). It also goes by the name Benaiah.


▣ "seventy donkeys" This was another sign of a wealthy clan (cf. Jdgs. 10:4)


This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought-provoking, not definitive.

  1. Why was Ephraim so upset?
  2. How could such a small army defeat the tribe of Ephraim?
  3. Explain how pronouncing "Shibboleth" revealed the Ephraimites.
  4. If 42,000 is too large of a number, how can it be reduced, yet the text of the Bible be true?
  5. Explain the number symbolism of
    1. "thirty"
    2. "forty"
    3. "seventy"
  6. Is Ibzan the only Judean judge?

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