Judges – Lesson 16


Judges Chapter 12:1-15




For background, you remember that in chapter 11, God raised up a most unlikely judge in Jephthah.  Here was a man who was an illegitimate child, expelled from Gilead by his brothers, but brought back to lead the people to victory over the Ammonites.   At the close of the chapter, Jephthah made a vow to God that he would sacrifice the first living thing that came from his house after he returned from the victory of the battle.  Unfortunately, that turned out to be his only daughter.  While it was unclear whether the girl was sacrificed or just given to serve in the Tabernacle all her life, the one thing we learned is that we should never make vows to God that we might not want to keep.  Make care to only vow to do things that would honor and glorify our Savior, and then be sure to stand by your word. 


I.                   The Second Jealousy of Ephraim


Judg 12:1  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 fire.


The tribe of Ephraim complains a second time against a judge of Israel.  Remember back in Chapter 8 when they came complaining to Gideon about not being called to battle against the Midianites. 


Judg 8:1  And the men of Ephraim said unto him, Why hast thou served us thus, that thou calledst us not, when thou wentest to fight with the Midianites? And they did chide with him sharply.


If you remember, Gideon was able to appease the people by answering them discretely.  He pointed out how important their part was in cutting off the Midianites in their attempted escape.   We know that God had not needed the tribe of Ephraim, as matter of fact, he had sent back over 32,000 troops of the original group leaving only 300 men to face over 100,000 of the enemy.  And God gave them the victory.  All of us need to only worry about being in the specific place God want us to be.  To be a doorman in the house of the Lord is a wonderful job if that is God’s Will in your life.  But if called to the mission field of Egypt, we should be just as willing to be used.


The Ephraimites are so upset, they threaten to burn down Jephthah’s house.  You know, being in charge sometimes is not fun.   There are times when not being in the forefront has its advantages.


After Jephthah had won the victory over the Ammonites, the tribe of Ephraim crossed over Jordan and came to Jephthah to complain about not getting to be involved in the battle.


Judg 12:2  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.


He tells them that he had called them to help prior to the battle, but they had not responded.


Nothing had been said about this call earlier, but that was most likely due to the people not responding.  God blesses those and makes note of those who respond, not those he refuse the call.   Many are called, but few are chosen.


Judg 11:29  Then the spirit of the LORD came upon Jephthah, and he passed over Gilead, and Manasseh, and passed over Mizpeh of Gilead, and from Mizpeh of Gilead he passed over unto the children of Ammon.


No matter the time when called, the reality was that they had not responded to the call.  We know from this verse in chapter 11 that he went through these areas mentioned in Gilead and Manasseh apparently looking for additional troops.  Perhaps, they did not respond since they had not been consulted by the “elders of Gilead” regarding their choice of Jephthah as their leader.  We can only conclude that either they had not been summoned or a misunderstanding on their part.   One way or the other, they were very upset about not being part of this major victory over the Ammonites to the point that they were ready to do something about it.


Judg 12:3  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?


Jephthah declares that the Lord delivered the enemy into his hands.  He then asks why they have come up now against him.   This should not be a time of anger or war but a time of rejoicing.  For 18 long years the Ammonites had oppressed Israel.  But pride can play havoc to people.   God warns us against pride.


Prov 11:2  When pride cometh, then cometh shame: but with the lowly is wisdom.


Prov 13:10  Only by pride cometh contention: but with the well advised is wisdom.


Prov 16:18  Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.

Prov 16:19  Better it is to be of an humble spirit with the lowly, than to divide the spoil with the proud.

Prov 16:20  He that handleth a matter wisely shall find good: and whoso trusteth in the LORD, happy is he. 


Judg 12:4  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.

Judg 12:5  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;


It is sad, but Jephthah prepares to go to war against Ephraim.  It appears that they are better at complaining than fighting,  for Jephthah moved with his well-trained troops and Ephraim was no match for him.  They did this due to their comment about being fugitives of Ephraim among the Ephraimites and among the Manassites.  With the battle won, some of the men go quickly to the Jordan to control the place where they forded the river.  They had to pronounce the name “Siboleth” before they could ford the river to the west. 

Judg 12:6  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.


Those pronouncing the word Sibboleth with the “S” sound in place of the “sh”, were known to be Ephraimites and killed.  In all, 42,000 Ephraimites lost their lives, either in battle or at the fords.  With this large number being killed, we know that when they came up to complain, they came prepared for battle.


Judg 12:7  And Jephthah judged Israel six years. Then died Jephthah the Gileadite, and was buried in one of the cities of Gilead.


Jephthah continued in a position of leadership east of the Jordan and served as a judge for 6 additional years until his apparent death.  We know that he had gained the recognition as the head of the people prior to the Ammonite battle, and he kept that honor.


Matthew Henry said this about Jephthah.


Now let us observe the righteousness of God in the punishment of these proud and passionate Ephraimites, which in several instances answered to their sin. (1.) They were proud of the honour of their tribe, gloried in this, that they were Ephraimites; but how soon were they brought to be ashamed or afraid to own their country! Art thou an Ephraimite? No, now rather of any tribe than that. (2.) They had gone in a rage over Jordan to burn Jephthah’s house with fire, but now they came back to Jordan as sneakingly as they had passed it furiously, and were cut off from ever returning to their own houses. (3.) They had upbraided the Gileadites with the infelicity of their country, lying at such a distance, and now they suffered by an infirmity peculiar to their own country, in not being able to pronounce Shibboleth. (4.) They had called the Gileadites, unjustly, fugitives, and now they really and in good earnest became fugitives themselves; and in the Hebrew the same word (v. 5) is used of the Ephraimites that escaped, or that fled, which they had used in scorn of the Gileadites, calling them fugitives. He that rolls the stone of reproach unjustly upon another, let him expect that it will justly return upon himself.


Here is the end of Jephthah’s government. He judged Israel but six years, and then died, v. 7. Perhaps the death of his daughter sunk him so that he never looked up afterwards, but it shortened his days, and he went to his grave mourning.[1]


II.  Ibzan, the 10th Judge


Judg 12:8  And after him Ibzan of Bethlehem judged Israel.

Judg 12:9  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.

Judg 12:10  Then died Ibzan, and was buried at Bethlehem.


No information is given regarding Ibzan’s parentage, but he must have been of the tribe of Judah, for he served and was buried in Bethlehem.


From verse 9 we gather that he served Israel seven years..   He had a large family with 30 sons and 30 daughters.  Ibzan sent his sons abroad to marry the daughters of other people and this added to his family 30 more daughters.


The word “broad” need not be taken in the sense of a locality far from home.  It is translated from the Hebrew word (huts), usually meaning “outside” of a house.  It is possible that Ibzan married his own daughters into families that lived at some distance from his own but probably still within Southern Palestine, and then took daughters from similar families for his sons.


Sixty speaks of several wives for this judge.  The fact of the fine marriages shows his own thinking in respect to family prominence.  It is great when people put the proper importance upon the marriage.  It was the first institution that God created, even before

He created the Church.      The families are very important, and at the same time one can place too high a priority on them.   The place of one’s family, just as any earthly possession or achievement, must be evaluated in the light of one’s total relation to God.  God is to be number 1, not our home, not our family, not some possession.  And as I have mentioned before, Corrie Ten Boom, one of the ladies who helped the Jews in Germany, said we should never hold onto anything God gives us in this life too tight.  That way, if

God takes it from us, it doesn’t hurt so much when it gets pulled away from us.  We need to have that attitude like Abraham had.  He knew he was a pilgrim and stranger passing through this land.


Heb 11:10  For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.


Ibzan was the first judge in Judah since Othniel and possibly Shamgar many years before.  Three centuries had elapsed since Othniel and half of that time since Shamgar. 


Judg 3:31  And after him was Shamgar the son of Anath, which slew of the Philistines six hundred men with an ox goad: and he also delivered Israel.


Perhaps this means that the defection in Judah had not been as great as in the north, where Judges were more numerous.  For some reason, at this time, God saw the need for a judge in this part of Israel.  When we see God as He truly is, the Sovereign Ruler of the Universe, we will acknowledge when He chooses something for us, it is always for our best interest.


III.                Elon, the 11th Judge


Judg 12:11  And after him Elon, a Zebulonite, judged Israel; and he judged Israel ten years.

Judg 12:12  And Elon the Zebulonite died, and was buried in Aijalon in the country of Zebulun.


Facts given on Elon are the fewest of any of the last minor judges.  He served in Zebulun, in the Galilee region.  His rulership was for 10 years, the longest of the last 3 minor judges.  He was buried in Aijalon in Zebulun, which is believed to be the center of where he served.


With the southern portion of Zebulun lying in the Jezreel valley, it had been directly involved in the Deborah-Barak judgeship, and had contributed many troops to their army.


Judg 4:6  And she sent and called Barak the son of Abinoam out of Kedeshnaphtali, and said unto him, Hath not the LORD God of Israel commanded, saying, Go and draw toward mount Tabor, and take with thee ten thousand men of the children of Naphtali and of the children of Zebulun?


Judg 4:10  And Barak called Zebulun and Naphtali to Kedesh; and he went up with ten thousand men at his feet: and Deborah went up with him.


Judg 5:18  Zebulun and Naphtali were a people that jeoparded their lives unto the death in the high places of the field.


IV.                Abdon, the 12th Judge


Judg 12:13  And after him Abdon the son of Hillel, a Pirathonite, judged Israel.

Judg 12:14  And he had forty sons and thirty nephews, that rode on threescore and ten ass colts: and he judged Israel eight years.

Judg 12:15  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.


Abdon was the son of Hillel, and he lived and died in Pirathon of Ephraim.  He are told that he had a large family and ruled the nation of Israel for 8 years.  He had 40 sons and 30 nephews who rode on 70 ass colts.  We mentioned a few weeks ago that this was a mark of wealth, particularly the white ass colts.  Tola, Jair, Ibzan, and Abdon were just as important in the Lord’s program as were many of the earlier judges like Ehud, Gideon, and Samson.


J. Vernon McGee had this to say about these last 3 judges.


Abdon did nothing except “out-Jair” Jair. Talk about keeping up with the Jones family! As we have seen in chapter 10, Jair had thirty sons—but Abdon had forty sons and thirty nephews besides. It must have been quite a sight to see that man ride out of town with his sons and nephews. You would have seen a parade of Jaguars, Mustangs, Pintos, and Cougars like you had never seen before. They call the little donkey the “mockingbird” or “lark” of the desert because he can really bray. Just think of all of those braying donkeys! That is all Abdon contributed. That isn’t much, friend.

We have quickly passed over the last three judges, Ibzan, Elon, and Abdon, because apparently they did little constructive as judges.  2



2  J. Vernon McGee, Thru the Bible commentary [computer file], electronic ed., Logos Library System, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson) 1997, c1981 by J. Vernon McGee.


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[1]Henry, Matthew, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Bible, (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers) 1997.