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Judges chapter 12

New International Version

1 The Ephraimite forces were called out, and they crossed over to Zaphon. They said to Jephthah, 'Why did you go to fight the Ammonites without calling us to go with you? We're going to burn down your house over your head.'
2 Jephthah answered, 'I and my people were engaged in a great struggle with the Ammonites, and although I called, you didn't save me out of their hands. 3 When I saw that you wouldn't help, I took my life in my hands and crossed over to fight the Ammonites, and the LORD gave me the victory over them. Now why have you come up today to fight me?'
4 Jephthah then called together the men of Gilead and fought against Ephraim. The Gileadites struck them down because the Ephraimites had said, 'You Gileadites are renegades from Ephraim and Manasseh.' 5 The Gileadites captured the fords of the Jordan leading to Ephraim, and whenever a survivor of Ephraim said, 'Let me cross over,' the men of Gilead asked him, 'Are you an Ephraimite?' If he replied, 'No,' 6 they said, 'All right, say 'Shibboleth.'' If he said, 'Sibboleth,' because he could not pronounce the word correctly, they seized him and killed him at the fords of the Jordan. Forty-two thousand Ephraimites were killed at that time.
7 Jephthah led Israel six years. Then Jephthah the Gileadite died and was buried in a town in Gilead.
8 After him, Ibzan of Bethlehem led Israel. 9 He had thirty sons and thirty daughters. He gave his daughters away in marriage to those outside his clan, and for his sons he brought in thirty young women as wives from outside his clan. Ibzan led Israel seven years. 10 Then Ibzan died and was buried in Bethlehem.
11 After him, Elon the Zebulunite led Israel ten years. 12 Then Elon died and was buried in Aijalon in the land of Zebulun.
13 After him, Abdon son of Hillel, from Pirathon, led Israel. 14 He had forty sons and thirty grandsons, who rode on seventy donkeys. He led Israel eight years. 15 Then Abdon son of Hillel died and was buried at Pirathon in Ephraim, in the hill country of the Amalekites.
English Standard Version

1 The men of Ephraim were called to arms, and they crossed to Zaphon and said to Jephthah, “Why did you cross over to fight against the Ammonites and did not call us to go with you? We will burn your house over you with fire.” 2 And Jephthah said to them, “I and my people had a great dispute with the Ammonites, and when I called you, you did not save me from their hand. 3 And when I saw that you would not save me, I took my life in my hand and crossed over against the Ammonites, and the LORD gave them into my hand. Why then have you come up to me this day to fight against me?” 4 Then Jephthah gathered all the men of Gilead and fought with Ephraim. And the men of Gilead struck Ephraim, because they said, “You are fugitives of Ephraim, you Gileadites, in the midst of Ephraim and Manasseh.” 5 And the Gileadites captured the fords of the Jordan against the Ephraimites. And when any of the fugitives of Ephraim said, “Let me go over,” the men of Gilead said to him, “Are you an Ephraimite?” When he said, “No,” 6 they said to him, “Then say Shibboleth,” and he said, “Sibboleth,” for he could not pronounce it right. Then they seized him and slaughtered him at the fords of the Jordan. At that time 42,000 of the Ephraimites fell.
7 Jephthah judged Israel six years. Then Jephthah the Gileadite died and was buried in his city in Gilead.
8 After him Ibzan of Bethlehem judged Israel. 9 He had thirty sons, and thirty daughters he gave in marriage outside his clan, and thirty daughters he brought in from outside for his sons. And he judged Israel seven years. 10 Then Ibzan died and was buried at Bethlehem.
11 After him Elon the Zebulunite judged Israel, and he judged Israel ten years. 12 Then Elon the Zebulunite died and was buried at Aijalon in the land of Zebulun.
13 After him Abdon the son of Hillel the Pirathonite judged Israel. 14 He had forty sons and thirty grandsons, who rode on seventy donkeys, and he judged Israel eight years. 15 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.
King James Version

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. 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. 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? 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. 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; 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. 7 And Jephthah judged Israel six years. Then died Jephthah the Gileadite, and was buried in one of the cities of Gilead.
8 And after him Ibzan of Bethlehem judged Israel. 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. 10 Then died Ibzan, and was buried at Bethlehem. 11 And after him Elon, a Zebulonite, judged Israel; and he judged Israel ten years. 12 And Elon the Zebulonite died, and was buried in Aijalon in the country of Zebulun. 13 And after him Abdon the son of Hillel, a Pirathonite, judged Israel. 14 And he had forty sons and thirty nephews, that rode on threescore and ten ass colts: and he judged Israel eight years. 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.
New American Standard Bible

1 Now the men of Ephraim were summoned, and they crossed to Zaphon; and they 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!' 2 So Jephthah said to them, 'I and my people were in a major dispute with the sons of Ammon; and I did call you, but you did not save me from their hand. 3 When I saw that you were no deliverer, I took my life in my hands and crossed over against the sons of Ammon, and the LORD handed them over to me. Why then have you come up to me this day to fight against me?' 4 Then Jephthah gathered all the men of Gilead and fought Ephraim; and the men of Gilead defeated Ephraim, because they said, 'You are survivors of Ephraim, you Gileadites, in the midst of Ephraim and in the midst of Manasseh.' 5 And the Gileadites took control of the crossing places of the Jordan opposite Ephraim. And it happened whenever any of the survivors of Ephraim said, 'Let me cross over,' that the men of Gilead would say to him, 'Are you an Ephraimite?' If he said, 'No,' 6 then they would say to him, 'Just say, ‘Shibboleth.’?' But he said, 'Sibboleth,' for he was not prepared to pronounce it correctly. Then they seized him and slaughtered him at the crossing places of the Jordan. So at that time forty-two thousand from Ephraim fell.
7 Jephthah judged Israel for six years. Then Jephthah the Gileadite died and was buried in one of the cities of Gilead.
8 Now Ibzan of Bethlehem judged Israel after him. 9 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 for seven years. 10 Then Ibzan died and was buried in Bethlehem.
11 Now Elon the Zebulunite judged Israel after him; he judged Israel for ten years. 12 Then Elon the Zebulunite died and was buried at Aijalon in the land of Zebulun.
13 Now Abdon the son of Hillel the Pirathonite judged Israel after him. 14 He had forty sons and thirty grandsons who rode on seventy donkeys; and he judged Israel for eight years. 15 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.
New Living Translation

1 Then the people of Ephraim mobilized an army and crossed over the Jordan River to Zaphon. They sent this message to Jephthah: 'Why didn't you call for us to help you fight against the Ammonites? We are going to burn down your house with you in it!'
2 Jephthah replied, 'I summoned you at the beginning of the dispute, but you refused to come! You failed to help us in our struggle against Ammon. 3 So when I realized you weren't coming, I risked my life and went to battle without you, and the LORD gave me victory over the Ammonites. So why have you now come to fight me?'
4 The people of Ephraim responded, 'You men of Gilead are nothing more than fugitives from Ephraim and Manasseh.' So Jephthah gathered all the men of Gilead and attacked the men of Ephraim and defeated them.
5 Jephthah captured the shallow crossings of the Jordan River, and whenever a fugitive from Ephraim tried to go back across, the men of Gilead would challenge him. 'Are you a member of the tribe of Ephraim?' they would ask. If the man said, 'No, I'm not,' 6 they would tell him to say 'Shibboleth.' If he was from Ephraim, he would say 'Sibboleth,' because people from Ephraim cannot pronounce the word correctly. Then they would take him and kill him at the shallow crossings of the Jordan. In all, 42,000 Ephraimites were killed at that time.
7 Jephthah judged Israel for six years. When he died, he was buried in one of the towns of Gilead.
8 After Jephthah died, Ibzan from Bethlehem judged Israel. 9 He had thirty sons and thirty daughters. He sent his daughters to marry men outside his clan, and he brought in thirty young women from outside his clan to marry his sons. Ibzan judged Israel for seven years. 10 When he died, he was buried at Bethlehem.
11 After Ibzan died, Elon from the tribe of Zebulun judged Israel for ten years. 12 When he died, he was buried at Aijalon in Zebulun.
13 After Elon died, Abdon son of Hillel, from Pirathon, judged Israel. 14 He had forty sons and thirty grandsons, who rode on seventy donkeys. He judged Israel for eight years. 15 When he died, he was buried at Pirathon in Ephraim, in the hill country of the Amalekites.
Christian Standard Bible

1 The men of Ephraim were called together and crossed the Jordan to Zaphon. They said to Jephthah, "Why have you crossed over to fight against the Ammonites but didn't call us to go with you? We will burn your house with you in it! "
2 Then Jephthah said to them, "My people and I had a bitter conflict with the Ammonites. So I called for you, but you didn't deliver me from their power. 3 When I saw that you weren't going to deliver me, I took my life in my own hands and crossed over to the Ammonites, and the Lord handed them over to me. Why then have you come today to fight against me? "
4 Then Jephthah gathered all of the men of Gilead. They fought and defeated Ephraim, because Ephraim had said, "You Gileadites are Ephraimite fugitives in the territories of Ephraim and Manasseh." 5 The Gileadites captured the fords of the Jordan leading to Ephraim. Whenever a fugitive from Ephraim said, "Let me cross over," the Gileadites asked him, "Are you an Ephraimite? " If he answered, "No," 6 they told him, "Please say Shibboleth." If he said, "Sibboleth," because he could not pronounce it correctly, they seized him and executed him at the fords of the Jordan. At that time forty-two thousand from Ephraim died.
7 Jephthah judged Israel six years, and when he died, he was buried in one of the cities of Gilead.
8 Ibzan, who was from Bethlehem, judged Israel after Jephthah 9 and had thirty sons. He gave his thirty daughters in marriage to men outside the tribe and brought back thirty wives for his sons from outside the tribe. Ibzan judged Israel seven years, 10 and when he died, he was buried in Bethlehem.
11 Elon, who was from Zebulun, judged Israel after Ibzan. He judged Israel ten years, 12 and when he died, he was buried in Aijalon in the land of Zebulun.
13 After Elon, Abdon son of Hillel, who was from Pirathon, judged Israel. 14 He had forty sons and thirty grandsons, who rode on seventy donkeys. Abdon judged Israel eight years, 15 and when he died, he was buried in Pirathon in the land of Ephraim, in the hill country of the Amalekites.

What does Judges chapter 12 mean?

Jephthah is judge over Israel (Judges 11:11). His life is marked by misery and violent success in battle. With the Lord's help, Jephthah and the people of Gilead and Manasseh have thoroughly defeated the Ammonites who were oppressing them from the east (Judges 11:32–33). However, Jephthah foolishly bound himself to a vow to the Lord that required him to offer his daughter, his only child, as an offering (Judges 11:30–31; 34–35).

Now Jephthah and Gilead are confronted by a surprising enemy with unclear motives. The men of Ephraim, who live to the west of the Jordan River, cross over, armed for battle. They demand to know why they were not asked to be included in the fight against the Ammonites. Before even hearing a response, they threaten to burn Jephthah's house down with him in it (Judges 12:1).

Jephthah's response is simple: The Ammonites had oppressed the people of Gilead for years (Judges 10:7–8, 17–18; 11:4). Clearly, the Ephraimites weren't eager to fight until now. Jephthah claims he had called on Ephraim, but this might be a reference to their earlier indifference. Left with no other options, Jephthah says he risked his own life, attacked the Ammonites with his own people, and the Lord gave victory (Judges 12:2–3).

Were the men of Ephraim truly angry they had not been given the chance to participate in the war? Were they expressing wounded pride and honor? Or were they using this as an excuse for aggression and expansion? Not only did they cross the Jordan armed for battle, and threaten to kill Gilead's leader, but they also taunt the people of Gilead. Calling them "fugitives of Ephraim" implies the people have no right to this territory. In any case, Jephthah takes the threat seriously. He gathers his fighting forces and successfully attacks the invading Ephraimites army (Judges 12:4).

The survivors of Ephraim's army scatter and attempt to run for home. Unfortunately, for them, the men of Gilead have captured the crossing points of the Jordan River (Judges 3:28). They capture soldiers of Ephraim, one by one, as they attempt to cross over. Those they can identify are immediately killed. Those who claim not to be from Ephraim are subjected to a language test. Gilead's men force the fleeing soldiers to pronounce the Hebrew word "shibboleth." Those from Ephraim are betrayed by their regional accent, and the Gilead soldiers slaughter them (Judges 12:5–6).

After Jephthah's death, three more judges are established in Israel. Along with Shamgar (Judges 3:31), Tola (Judges 10:1), and Jair (Judges 10:3), these are sometimes called "minor" or "secondary" judges since so little is known about them. Ibzan judges for seven years, from Bethlehem, and has thirty sons and thirty daughters. He expands his influence and power by marrying all his children to spouses outside his own clan. The most obscure judge of the Bible is Elon the Zebulunite, who judges Israel for ten years before dying and being buried in Zebulun. Abdon, the son of Hillel is from the town of Pirathon in the Ephraim hills, also described as the hill country of the Amalekites for unknown reasons. Abdon's wealth and far-reaching influence are signaled by the fact that he has forty sons and thirty grandsons, each with his own donkey. Abdon serves as judge for eight years (Judges 12:7–15).

Next, Israel will begin another cycle of sin, oppression, calls for mercy, and rescue (Judges 2:16–19).

The upcoming chapters contain the story of perhaps the most famous of all the judges: Samson.