JUDGES - CHAPTER 12
Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough
2000 James Melough
“And the men of Ephraim gathered themselves together, and went northward,
and said unto Jephthah, Wherefore passedst thou over to fight against the children of
Ammon, and didst not call us to go with thee? we will burn thine house upon thee with
spirit of jealousy and contention marked the tribe of Ephraim. Their conduct here is a virtual repetition of their reaction to
Gideon’s victory against Midian, but Jephthah’s response is very different from
that of Gideon, for as already discussed, this appears to foreshadow Christ’s
return in power and glory to end the Tribulation. He will return as the Lion of Judah to execute judgment, not as
the Lamb to bear away the sin of the world. Gideon
had gone out of his way to placate the Ephraimites, but as often happens, placation
appears to have encouraged their petulant attitude, and Jephath, recognizing this
perhaps, refused to appease them any further.
is significant that they went northward, for that is the direction that speaks of
mere natural intelligence, and almost invariably, of intelligence in opposition to
God. They were impelled, not by the
Spirit of God, but by natural intelligence, never a trustworthy guide, and their
vindictiveness is disclosed in their threat, “We will burn thine house upon thee
is a sentiment that has done irreparable harm amongst God’s people, and is one in
regard to which constant vigilance must be exercised.
“And Jephthah said unto them, I and my people were at great strife with the
children of Ammon; and when I called you, ye delivered me not out of their hands.”
Jephthah was speaking the truth, for there is nothing to indicate that Ephraim
attempted to deny the charge, and it may well be that they were impelled as much by
their own secret awareness of cowardice, as by jealousy of Jephthah’s victory.
Bluster, when there seems to be no danger, is frequently the disguise of
“And when I saw that ye delivered me not, I put my life in my hands, and
passed over against the children of Ammon, and the Lord delivered them into my hand:
wherefore then are ye come up unto me this day, to fight against me?”
obviously had little patience with the cowardice that refused to fight beside him
when there was danger, but that would now find fault with him after the enemy had
been vanquished. That same cowardice is
still to be seen amongst many who profess faith in Christ.
When there is an enemy to be opposed, a battle to be fought, they are nowhere
to be seen, but as soon as the victory is won, they are the first to find fault with
the victor. Their cowardice merits the
same contempt as that with which Jephthah met Ephraim’s hostility and false charge.
“Then Jephthah gathered together all the men of Gilead, and fought with
Ephraim: and the men of Gilead smote Ephraim, because they said, Ye Gileadites are
fugitives of Ephraim among the Ephraimites, and among the Manassites.”
note that Ephraim’s approach was bolder than when they had confronted Gideon.
Now they added the threat that they would kill him, for that is the essence of
“we will burn thine house upon thee.” Repeated
appeasement rarely produces any other result than to embolden the appeased.
Sooner or later the choice narrows down to whether to confront him, or submit
to his tyranny. For Jephthah that moment
had come, and he courageously chose to fight.
“And the Gileadites took the passages of Jordan before the Ephraimites: and
it was so, that when those Ephraimites which were escaped said, Let me go over; that
the men of Gilead said unto him, Art thou an Ephraimite?
If he said, Nay;
“Then said they unto him, Say now Shibboleth: and he said Sibboleth: for he
could not frame to pronounce it right. Then
they took him, and slew him at the passages of Jordan: and there fell at that time of
the Ephraimites forty and two thousand.”
Ephraim had exhausted God’s patience. He
had been willing to bear with their jealousy and arrogance in the past, so that
Gideon was led to return them a soft answer. But
they hadn’t profited by the experience, and that day they were to learn what many
another since then has also learned with sorrow: God’s patience is great, but it
isn’t inexhaustible. It is He Himself
Who warns, “My spirit shall not always strive with man” (Ge 6:3), and Who warns
again, “He that being often reproved hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be
destroyed, and that without remedy” (Pr 29:1).
Ephraim’s arrogance brought a terrible recompense!
the prophetic viewpoint this slaughter of the Ephraimites may picture the judgment
which Christ will execute against unbelievers at the end of the Tribulation prior to
the inauguration of His millennial kingdom.
the practical lesson that would teach us not to try God’s patience, however, is
another of the same nature, but directing our attention to the time when we too
“must cross Jordan.”
from this perspective, Jordan, as always, is the symbol of death; and in the coming
of the Ephraimites to its banks, we have a picture of the unbeliever coming to the
end of life’s journey. For the fleeing
Ephraimites the ability to pronounce Shibboleth correctly, meant life or death, and
it is significant that the meaning of the word is an ear of corn: a branch: a
flood, and certainly no spiritual mind will fail to see in the ear of corn, and
the branch, figures of Christ, for He is the true Ear of Corn which fell into the
ground and died (Jn 12:24), while He is presented six times in the OT under the
figure of a branch, Isa 4:2; 11:1; Jer 23:5: 33:15; Zech 3:8 and 6:12, apart from the
cutting off of Which there would be no redemption for men.
And while less obvious in its significance, the flood must certainly remind us
that He procured salvation for men by entering Himself into the flood of divine wrath
against sin, (see, for example, Ps 69:1,2,14,15), so that the mighty river of the
Gospel might be made available to dying men and women.
is highly unlikely that any of the 42,000 who died had ever given a thought to how
Shibboleth should be pronounced. After
all, what difference did it make? Didn’t
everyone in Ephraim pronounce it Sibboleth? And
they would probably have laughed at anyone who tried to tell them that it was
important, that one day their very lives would depend on it
day, sooner than we think perhaps, we too must “cross Jordan,” we must go from
time out into eternity, from earth to heaven - or hell.
Our conduct may be blameless, our church attendance better than that of many
who call themselves Christians, we may be devoted Bible students, generous in our
giving, tireless in doing good... but none of these things provides safe passage
across the river of death. None of them
will take a soul into heaven, or keep it out of hell.
The only thing that matters when it comes to the last moment of life on earth
is the answer we give to the question, Have you been born again?
Yes, is the passport to heaven; No, the passport to hell.
Jesus Christ warned, “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom
of God,” adding emphatically, “Ye must be born again” (Jn 3:3,7).
Ehpraimite would have laughed had he been warned that his life would one day depend
on his ability to pronounce Shibboleth. None
laughed that day at Jordan. “Have you
been born again?” is a question that evokes the laughter of many today.
There will be no laughter in that awful instant following death, when it is
discovered, too late for remedy, that the eternal fate of the soul depends on being
able to answer, YES!
is instructive to note that the meaning of Sibboleth is a burden.
The man who goes out into eternity able to say only the spiritual equivalent
of Sibboleth rather than Shibboleth, will find that the religion and good works on
which he depended for admission to heaven, are instead a “burden” that sinks his
soul into hell and the lake of fire.
“And Jephthah judged Israel six years.
Then died Jephthah the Gileadite, and was buried in one of the cities of
is undoubtedly a reason why the specific city isn’t named, but I regret being
unable to discover what that reason is. Since,
however, Gilead is a figure or type of Calvary, his being buried in a Gileadite city
(one associated with Calvary) assures us that in spite of his error in making a
foolish vow, he was a man of faith, a deduction confirmed by his being included in
the list of the faithful given in Heb 11:32.
is instructive that in connection with the next three judges there is no mention of
Israel’s having sinned, or of the activity of any oppressor, the implied peace of
that period indicating that it portrays the millennial age, and tending to confirm
that we have been right in viewing the judgeship of Jephthah as being symbolic of the
“And after him Ibzan of Bethlehem judged Israel.”
means their whiteness, the color of purity,
and without question righteousness will characterize Christ’s millennial
reign, for concerning that coming glorious age it is written, “Behold, a king shall
reign in righteousness, and princes shall rule in judgment” Isa 32:1.
See also Isa 11:4-5.
being “of Bethlehem” adds further confirmation to the accuracy of the symbolic
picture, for Bethlehem house of bread will be for ever associated with Him Who
came to earth as the “true bread from heaven.”
That same holiness must mark our lives if we would walk in the enjoyment of
blessing, and be instruments suitable for the Holy Spirit’s use.
however, is one of the Biblical symbols of the Word as the spiritual food given to
sustain the new life obtained by faith. Holiness
will mark the life only as the believer dwells in “Bethlehem,” i.e., feeds
continually on the “bread” of the written Word.
Neglect of the Word is quickly followed by backsliding.
“And he had thirty sons, and thirty daughters, whom he sent abroad, and took
in thirty daughters from abroad for his sons. And he judged Israel seven years.”
is simply a multiple of, and has the same meaning as three, the number of
manifestation and resurrection, so that Ibzan’s thirty sons and thirty daughters,
and thirty daughters-in-law, speak of the abundant spiritual life which is
resurrection life, for believers are they who, once dead in trespasses and sins, have
been raised up out of that state to stand before God as a new creation.
The near perfect state of the millennial earth will be the witness to the fact
that Christ’s redemptive work embraces not just man, but the whole creation, as it
is written, “Because the creature (creation) itself also shall be delivered from
the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.
For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together
until now” (Ro 8:21-22). (It is
emphasized, however, that those who will inhabit the millennial earth will not be
resurrected individuals, but those who will have physically survived the terrible
Tribulation judgments. During that
glorious era the resurrected believers of all the ages will be reigning with Christ
from the heavenly Jerusalem, over, but not on the millennial earth.
The resurrection of the OT and Tribulation age saints at the end of the
Tribulation will complete the resurrection of life, for believers will not die in the
also already noted, sons represent activity of the will, and daughters, passivity.
Perfect balance in these two spheres is indicated in there being the same
number of each. This perfect balance marked the Lord’s life, for no will was
ever more perfectly subject to the Father’s will, yet there was also never a life
in which the activity of His will was more devoted to the carrying out of that same
will. That same balance ought to mark
our lives, but unfortunately all too often they are marked by imbalance - there is
either the submission that refrains from doing wrong, but that fails to engage in any
activity for God (typically portrayed by Jephthah’s daughter), or there is an
activity divorced from a quiet waiting upon God in order to learn His will.
connection with service, there is ever present the danger that activity may outrun
submission, so that we run unsent, having “a zeal of God, but not according to
knowledge” (Ro 10:2). It is
significant that in the case of Ibzan’s family this danger was prevented, the
balance being symbolically preserved by his taking in thirty daughters-in-law when
his own daughters went abroad as wives. We
would do well to exercise the same care to preserve the balance in our own lives.
seven is the Biblical number of perfection or completeness, his judging Israel for
seven years speaks of the perfection of his judgeship, and makes it the foreshadowing
of the perfection of Christ’s care for the Church, and His coming rule over the
earth. He is a wise believer who strives
for the same perfection in connection with all that God entrusts to his stewardship.
“Then died Ibzan, and was buried at Bethlehem.”
Bethlehem was associated with this man’s birth, so was it also with his death.
This speaks of consistency. There
was no fluctuation in the faithfulness of his life, and the application, of course,
is first to the life of Christ. The
lesson God would teach us in this is that as our new life began with the spiritual
bread of which Bethlehem speaks, so should it continue, and so should it end.
Sadly, the story of many a Christian life is far otherwise.
May the grace be given each one of us to “continue steadfastly in the
Apostles’ doctrine” to the end of the journey, so that the eternal record of our
lives may be like that of Ibzan, it being true of us, as of him, that the life which
began spiritually at “Bethlehem,” continued there, and ended also at
is generally understood that his judgeship and that of his two immediate successors
was confined to the North-east of Israel, a fact which reminds us that God would have
us see in the judges that which would encourage us to faithfulness, not in the broad
sphere of the Church worldwide, but in the place where it has pleased Him to set us,
in our own families, our neighborhoods, our own local assembly, for in these closing
days of the age it is folly to be looking for recovery worldwide.
Scripture makes it clear that the age will end with the professing church
having become largely apostate as portrayed in the deplorable state of Laodicea.
“And after him Elon, a Zebulonite, judged Israel; and he judged Israel ten
meaning might, is connected also with an oak, so that the combined
thought is of might in relation to a tree, and no spiritual mind will have difficulty
in seeing the application to Christ, for He is the true “Elon,” His mighty power
to save and judge His people, being directly related to the tree upon which He was
hanged at Calvary.
us too, all spiritual power is linked with Calvary’s cross, the tree where we first
saw ourselves crucified with Christ Who was delivered for our offenses, but where
also we were raised up as new creatures to walk in newness of life in association
with Him “raised again for our justification.”
in the days of Joshua’s victorious campaign against the Canaanites, Israel’s
strength lay in their returning continually to Gilgal (itself the figure of Calvary),
so is it with us. Only as we return in
spirit to Calvary on the first day of each week, when we eat the Lord’s supper and
remember His death, will our strength be renewed, and our spiritual vigor maintained.
impotence of the professing church today is in no small measure directly attributable
to her having abandoned the weekly remembrance of the Lord’s death in favor of an
empty annual ritual, but it is sad to relate that in many assemblies where the weekly
order is still preserved, the Lord’s supper has become also a mere empty ritual in
which the emblems have become simply a fetish. The
power of God will be seen in our midst again only when we abandon our love of the
world, and seek with a whole heart the things that belong to the kingdom of heaven,
meeting on the first day of the week to eat the Lord’s supper, sincerely desiring
to remember His death, and to worship God in Spirit and in truth.
is declared to have been a Zebulonite, which means dwelling.
This speaks of constancy, of dwelling close to God, His interests being ours,
our greatest concern being that we be preserved from disobedience.
ten is the governmental number which speaks of God as the Governor (as twelve is the
number related to the governed), Elon’s judging Israel for ten years indicates that
his term of office was one in which the divine will was carried out in that part of
Israel over which God had appointed him as judge.
The lesson for us is that we too are to ensure that His will is done in all
over which we have control, it being scarcely necessary to say that that government
begins with His control of our own personal lives.
“And Elon the Zebulonite died, and was buried in Aijalon in the country of
with Ibzan, everything here also points to constancy: Zebulun is associated with his
death as it was with his birth. His
burial place, however, is specifically Aijalon, meaning deer field: a large stag;
and as noted in other studies, the deer is one of the Biblical symbols both of Christ
and of believers, see for example Ps 42:1 and Ca 2:9,17: 8:14.
Elon’s being buried in Aijalon therefore, speaks of his being buried in the
domain of faith. It should be the desire of every believer that his life also
should end in happy fellowship with God and His people.
ten (number of Divine government) years of Elon’s judgeship confirms that the
Millennium will be a period in which the government of God will be exercised with an
iron rod which will brook no disobedience, that very factor contributing to the
blessedness of those thousand years.
“And after him Abdon the son of Hillel, a Pirathonite, judged Israel.”
means servitude; Hillel, to be praised; and Pirathon, chieftaincy.
The spiritual significance of the judgeship of Abdon is less easily discerned
than the preceding two, but when viewed as a type of Christ, we see in him a figure
of the One Whose servitude was unto death, eternal praise to the Father being the
result of that willing sacrifice offered at Calvary, The idea of chieftaincy or
leadership, however, reminds us that He Who stooped so low to redeem our souls, has
been exalted to transcendent glory, and will return to the scene of His degradation
and death, as King of kings, and Lord of lords.
“And he had forty sons and thirty nephews (or grandsons), that rode on
threescore and ten ass colts: and he judged Israel eight years.”
sons remind us that the One he typifies has also begotten many “sons,” men and
women who have trusted Him as Savior, see Heb 2:10,13, “For it became him, for whom
are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make
the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings .... Behold I and the
children which God hath given me.”
being forty (number of testing) of Abdon’s sons, reminds us that Christ’s many
“sons” are the result of the testing which manifested His perfection.
should remind us that we too are subjected to testing, and the extent to which that
testing reveals our failure, ought to impel the cry for grace to walk worthy of the
vocation wherewith we have been called.
thirty (number of resurrection) grandsons point to the fact that those who are
Christ’s will participate in the resurrection of life, and will dwell for ever with
Him in heaven.
has been noted also in previous studies, the ass represents the body as the servant
of the old nature, but the ass’s colt (second generation, and speaking
therefore of the new birth), represents the body under the control of the new nature.
And since Abdon’s sons and grandsons rode on seventy (number of perfection
or completeness) ass colts, we learn that the degree to which we keep the body under
the control of the new nature is the measure in which we will reflect the perfections
fact that he judged Israel for eight (number of a new beginning) years points
symbolically to the truth that we who are the spiritual sons of the true Abdon, have
not only had a new beginning here on earth (we have had a new birth), but we will
have another new beginning: following the Rapture we will receive new ageless bodies
“fashioned like unto his glorious body” (Php 3:21).
“And Abdon the son of Hillel the Pirathonite died, and was buried in
Pirathon in the land of Ephraim, in the mount of the Amalekites.”
and unbeliever alike comes to the end of his earthly course.
Except for those who will be raptured, the bodies of all others must die;
those of believers to be raised at the resurrection of life; those of unbelievers, at
the resurrection of damnation.
speaks of double fruitfulness, so that Abdon’s being buried in the land of Ephraim,
tells us of the more abundant life possessed by those who belong to Christ.
Death simply liberates the redeemed soul from its earthly house of clay, to
enter heaven, where following the Rapture, it will live more abundantly in its new
Amalekites represent the lusts of the flesh, and Abdon’s being buried in “the
mount of the Amalekites” declares symbolically that this world is the place where
the flesh reigns, but only for a little while. Its
reign is almost ended, and an earth that has groaned under the misrule of the flesh,
the beneficent reign of the Prince of peace.
practical lesson for us is of the need to be on constant guard against the tendency
to indulge the lusts of the flesh, for such indulgence can never bring anything but
loss of peace here on earth, and eternal loss of reward in heaven.
Our prayer should be that we be kept from the folly of devoting to the service
of fleshly lusts, time and energy that should be used to produce fruit for God’s
glory, and our own eternal enrichment.
the perspective of its application to the reign of Christ in the Millennium,
Abdon’s eight (number of a new beginning) year reign may be an oblique reminder
that following the Millennium the earth will have a new beginning: there will be a
new heavens and a new earth in which perfect righteousness will dwell (2 Pe 3:13; Re
21:1), unlike the millennial earth in which, though very much restrained, there will
nevertheless be sin. Further evidence of
the millennial earth’s imperfect state is presented in its being recorded that
Abdon’s burial place was “in the mount of the Amalekites,” the representatives
of the bitter antagonism of the flesh against the spirit.