Judges 12:1-15

Daybreak for Students

Judges 12:1-15

Judges 12
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. — Judges 12:1

During the summer of 1986, two ships collided in the Black Sea, off the coast of Russia. Hundreds of innocent passengers were drowned in the icy waters as the two vessels sank. Families mourned the loss of their fathers, children were instantaneously made orphans, and many young people died without their hopes and dreams ever being realized.

What a tragedy! And yet, when maritime authorities investigated the incident, it was discovered that the collision had been entirely preventable. The problem was not a faulty compass or malfunctioning equipment. The fault did not lie with idle sailors shirking their duty. Not even the dense fog that day was to blame. Rather, the cause of the collision was found to be personal attitude problems.

The investigation revealed that each captain knew about the other and was fully aware of the other ship’s presence and proximity. It was due to their personal animosity and pride that neither captain would give way to the other. Pride, jealousy, stubbornness, and anger were the attributes of these men. Furthermore, their animosity toward one another was not merely a personal matter, for their actions that day affected all those on board.

In our text today, the Ephraimites demonstrated serious attitude problems. In a spirit of pettiness and jealousy, they accused Jephthah of neglecting to invite them to join in the fight, which had ended in a resounding victory for Israel. The end result was warfare and loss of life.

We, too, must be mindful of our attitudes. At times we may be tempted to indulge in negative thoughts: feeling sorry for ourselves, nursing a grudge, or insisting on our own way. Yet, if we do, these attitudes affect not only ourselves, but also those around us. Negative and bitter thoughts are destructive attitudes, which, if allowed to rule in our hearts, will cause spiritual shipwreck just as certainly as the attitudes of those sea captains ultimately doomed their vessels.

What is your attitude today?


This was the second time the Ephraimites had quarreled with their leader (see Judges 8:1). Although the nation of Israel had been victorious over the Ammonites, who had oppressed them for eighteen years, the tribe of Ephraim was not satisfied. It seems that they were more interested in celebrating the victory than in going to battle when they were not sure who would win. Yet, in their self-centeredness and jealousy, they berated Jephthah for not inviting them to the battle.

Jephthah tried to deal with the Ephraimites logically when he reminded them that he had risked his life in the battle, and that he had called them to help (verse 2), but they had refused to come. The Ephraimites taunted Jephthah and the Gileadites, calling them “fugitives” (verse 4), implying the probable general attitude of much of Israel toward the tribes on the east side of Jordan.

Civil war ensued, and the Gileadites captured the control of the Jordan River fords. Anyone who tried to cross had to say the word “Shibboleth.” Those from Ephraim could not pronounce it correctly, saying an s sound rather than a sh sound, and thereby were identified. A total of 42,000 men of Ephraim were killed. (A similar test was used in the American civil war.)

Little is known about the three minor judges listed at the end of the chapter — Ibzan, Elon, and Abdon. Many children and animals indicate that Ibzan and Abdon were probably wealthy tribal chieftains. Each of these men ruled a comparatively short time, and they may even have been contemporaries of one another, each ruling in his own area.


(Hannah’s Bible Outlines - Used by permission per WORDsearch)
II.   Conditions during the period of the judges
     C.   Parenthesis: the tyranny of Abimelech
           5.   Jephthah
                 d.   Israel’s deliverance
                       (3)   The strife with Ephraim (12:1-6)
                              (a)   Ephraim’s jealousy (12:1-3)
                              (b)   Ephraim’s defeat (12:4-6)
                       (4)   The death of Jephthah (12:7)
           6.   Ibzan (12:8-10)
           7.   Elon (12:11-12)
           8.   Abdon (12:13-15)


  1. What was the attitude of the Ephraimites as they quarreled with Jephthah?

  2. What was the word used for the pronunciation test? How did the Ephraimites say it?

  3. How might negative attitudes in our lives or the lives of others cause us grief?


Examine your relationships with relatives, friends, and co-workers. Are there situations where you can improve your relationship by altering your attitude?