Bible Readings for July 29th
At this point, it is already obvious that the book of Judges is an extremely low point in the Bible. Because there is no king in Israel, every man does what is right in his own eyes. Here in Judges 12, we see another step down the long, deep stairway into the dungeon of Israel’s apostasy. This time, Israel destroys itself not with idolatry but with petty, deadly bickering among themselves.
Immediately on the heels of a great victory against the Ammonites, men of the tribe of Ephraim pick a fight with the Gileadites, insisting that they should have been involved in the war, challenging Jephthah and threatening to burn his house down (Judg. 12:1). Now, we read back in Judges 10:9 that the Ammonites had fought against Ephraim as a part of Yahweh’s handing his people over to their enemies; however, we do not read anything in Judges 11 to corroborate Jephthah’s claim that he had asked the Ephraimites for assistance (Judg. 12:2–3). Perhaps he is telling the truth, and perhaps not.
Regardless, Jephthah takes the same approach that he had with the king of the Ammonites, attempting to seek peace by asking, “Why then have you come up to me this day to fight against me?” (Judge. 12:3). The Ephraimites do not relent, however, so Jephthah gathers his army from Gilead to fight against the Ephraimites. Then, once they defeat the Ephraimites, Jephthah guards the return back to the land of Ephraim by asking each person attempting to cross the fords of the Jordan whether he is an Ephraimite. If the person is not able to pronounce “Shibboleth” correctly (instead saying “Sibboleth”), Jephthah and his men slaughter that fugitive. In all, the Gileadites slay 42,000 of their fellow Israelites from Ephraim.
First, Israel’s sins are interconnected. It is not as though Israel could have enjoyed peace and prosperity while they still served idols. Rather, when human beings do not rightly worship the living God, they cannot rightly relate to one another.
Second, Israel’s in-fighting is an even greater crime than normal human squabbling. These are the chosen people of God, whom Yahweh redeemed out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm! How could they possibly slaughter one another in a petty territorial dispute?
There is a warning here for those of us who live in Christian communities, since Satan tries to attack us from many angles. Sometimes—even when we focus vigilantly on guarding our own personal piety—Satan attacks us by trying to divide us against our fellow believers. He is a cunning, deceitful liar, and he will divide us however he can.
For this reason, David exclaims in Psalm 133:1, “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!” Brothers and sisters, let us seek peace and unity with our fellow believers for whom Jesus Christ died.
Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.