Can You Say Shibboleth?

Judges 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.

Judges 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;

Judges 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.

Hello readers, another blog today. Can you say Shibboleth? This is quite an amazing and vital truth being taught here in Judges. It’s not optional, it’s vital. Anyone who is saved and wants to follow Jesus Christ needs to learn from here. Maybe you’ve read this story before and thought… what on earth can the significance of Shibboleth be? How on earth does this story relate to me? Well, saying Shibboleth was the test that the men of Gilead put in place to determine if someone was of Ephraim or of Gilead. Ephraimites, that is, men of the tribe of Ephraim, they couldn’t say Shibboleth. They said Sibboleth. Similar right? But not the same. Shibboleth divided between who was fake and who wasn’t. Between who was pretending and who was real. See, there are things that a fake can’t say. If you were born of Gilead, you could say it, if you were born of Ephraim, you couldn’t. Your own version of Shibboleth could be very similar to the real thing, but it wasn’t quite the same. And things that are different are not the same. And what a crucial difference it was. We need to watch the people and things and teachings we are around, and let through and get involved with, because many are similar, but not the same. Many are goodly like Saul, but few are godly like David. Goodly isn’t godly, and goodly isn’t saved.

But talk about high stakes! Forty two thousand Ephraimites got killed because they couldn’t pronounce a word right. They were just missing a single letter! The stakes are high in life people. Salvation is serious business. Matters of forgiveness, eternal life and how we live our life, what we believe, what we do… they all hinge on Shibboleth. Being able to delineate between fakes and not is vital. To serve God, to serve Jesus Christ, to serve in Jephthah’s army… you have to be able to tell who’s of Ephraim and who isn’t. The enemy is often in disguise. Being able to divide between truth and lie, light and darkness, who to have fellowship and who not to… it’s both necessary and vital, and it comes with serious consequences one way or another. Fake Christians may be similar to truly saved and born again Christians. But they’re not the real deal. And really they’re rotten eggs.

It’s amazing the performance that the flesh can put on. But make no mistake, these men of Ephraim were a truly rotten bunch, and there are a lot of rotten eggs, there are a lot of bad fish caught in the net that are going to be tossed away at the end of the world (Matthew 13). There’s a few things in our nets we’re putting out that need chucking away rather than taking on board in our vessel, ain’t that the truth. We’ve got to be on guard in our lives against Ephraimites posing as Gileadites in our passageways of life. So often we leave our passages, our passageways, unguarded, so often we let the enemy into our life, and they escape to fight another day. So often sin is not dealt with, so often we are not decisive and clear and act in accordance with God’s word as we really need to to lead a victorious and God honoring life.

The background is that Jephthah was the judge of Israel at this point in time, and he had wanted Ephraim to help Gilead against the Ammonites. The Ammonites were the enemies of Israel. They were descended from Lot. It really doesn’t pay to disobey God and pitch your tent toward Sodom does it? Lot didn’t think when he was making some of his decisions, this Lot that was the nephew of Abraham no less… he surely didn’t consider that he’d have a posterity that hated and warred against God and the people of God perpetually. Lot’s descendants were the nations of Moab and Ammon, and they fought against Israel. They opposed God and embraced sin. Watch what you’re doing in your life today, as it will affect those that issue forth from you. Our decisions have consequences, and they can be so very far reaching. Do you really want to build a life that produces Moab and Ammon?

Anyway, on we go… and the Gileadites got into a war with Ephraim. They’d just beaten Ammon and returned from victory. And lo and behold, out came Ephraim, the guys they’d asked for help… and these Ephraimites say why didn’t you ask us to help you? That’s so typical right. The true Christians are made out to be the bad guys by the fakes… by the ones who aren’t lifting a finger in the cause of the kingdom of God. It’s pretty typical of where this world and sinners are at today. To cover their own sin and wickedness and departure from God, they make you the bad guy. They’ll fight you, but they won’t fight Ammon. Terrible.

Jephthah had indeed asked them to help Gilead fight against Ammon, but they refused. Now the victory was done, when it was all clear to come out here they are twisting the narrative to really just cover their own actions. They didn’t stand up for what was right, they didn’t help their brother, but now that Jepthah had won… out the woodwork they come. We can be a bit like that, missing in action because we are scared and fearful and don’t want to stick our neck out to fight in a just cause, but we pop up after talking a big game. People won’t fight for what’s right, they won’t stand for truth… but they’ll sure fight a Christian who’s standing on God’s word. It’s amazing how the guys that are actually obeying God and winning battles, they end up having to fight against so called Christians who aren’t doing anything.

Anyway this whole thing developed into a full blown war between Gilead and Ephraim. But there was no battle really, Gilead beat them up. You’re on the winning side when you’re following Jesus Christ. So in order to make their victory complete, and make sure they nailed the escapees, Gilead took the passageways of the Jordan river so that anyone trying to get away and escape would be caught. There were many Ephraimites who escaped the battle, and they wanted to get across. Big problem for them when Gileads got all the escape routes cut off! So they would try and pretend they were someone else. They’d try and pretend they were from Gilead or some other tribe.

You know, Jesus said the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light. Most Christians would get fooled, Christians seem to be dumber than this world. When it should be the other way around, we have the book of life and the Holy Spirit, we should be the ones with wisdom. When we will learn that many times not everything that says it is, actually is. These men of Ephraim were saying they weren’t of Ephraim trying to pass as being from another tribe. Would you let them through without even having the discernment, prudence and wisdom to see them for who and what they truly are? Often we are so dumb and gullible. We need to really smarten up, learn that obeying God pays, and that we can’t let the enemies of God in the passageways of our lives. We’re not smarter than God, we can’t do what other people better than us haven’t done and manage to negotiate a life of serving myself and God. We need to smarten up to who’s who and what’s what in our lives. There are real, true saved Christians, but there are many people pretending to be. There are many fake Christians out there. So how do you tell? We shouldn’t want Ephraimites to be in our passageways of our life. So many true Christians get involved with fakes, and they mess them up.

So the Gileadites devised a test to simply determine between who was of Ephraim and who wasn’t. Truth divides between two categories of people, those who believe and those who don’t. It divides between saved and lost, light and darkness, day and night, wheat and tares, sheep and goats. We are judged not because we don’t know the truth, but because of what we’ve done with it when the light came to us, when we heard and knew God’s word, and then chose to humble ourselves and believe and obey it… or go our own way… you know… because we know better than God and all that.

Well, Gilead had a word that they could say, and that Ephraim couldn’t. You know how different nations and groups of people have different dialects? Well, I speak English with a bit of an Australian twang to it, and people from across the country and the world also speak English, but they say the same word quite differently. An Indian, a Spaniard or American or whoever often speaks English very differently. When you were born and grew up in a different country, when you learnt English, you didn’t speak it like someone born in another country did. When you think about it, an absolutely amazing truth is in here. There are many people claiming to be Christians, who name the name of Christ. But they don’t have the birth! Jesus said ye must be born again. Someone who is born again is not just different from someone who isn’t, they are in fact a kingdom apart. They’re as far apart as that gulf that was separating between the rich man in hell and the beggar in Lazarus’ bosom.

The word was Shibboleth. Ephraimites just couldn’t say the word. They’d say Sibboleth. Pretty similar! A good attempt. They sure had their own version of the word. Doesn’t that sound like Christians today. They’ve got their own version of the Bible, their own version of Jesus Christ, their own version of how to live, what to believe, how to act and what to do in their life. We’re like Micah just a bit later on in Judges with our own neat little religious set up, a house of gods. If you look at the context of Judges, that was what was going on in the land, everyone did that which was right in his own eyes. Oh yeah we worship the Lord we say. A bit like the golden calf… they did it in the name of worshiping God. Dummy up. Just because you tack the right words on to it, and put a Jesus wallpaper on your sin and your life… the only person that’s fooling is yourself. People sure did try to say that word right. Forty two thousand. Hey, there’s a lot of people attempting to pass for a Christian today.

The Ephraimites were only missing one letter! So close right. Surely enough to pass. We’d let them pass, because that’s near enough. But no, that little difference is a lot bigger than you think. It was the difference between births, between kingdoms, between sides. The devil is in the detail they say. You see, what will get you will be something very small. Something as small as Saul sparing a few Amalekites when he had a big victory but God had told him to kill them all. The area where we don’t surrender to God, the area where there isn’t complete obedience, even at cost to our own selfish ambitions and interests and furtherment… that’s the very thing that will get us. Saul ended up a trophy in the temple of Dagon. Will your life end up being the devil’s trophy… or God’s glory?

If you can say it right, it proves who you are. Often we wonder why people don’t sound and act like they’re saved, although claiming to be. We wonder why just a little something is off. Why it doesn’t sound quite right. Well it’s because they aren’t, that’s why. People don’t say it right because they’re from Ephraim. If you are not born again, there’s no way you can educate yourself to say it right. You can’t fool God. So often we make the mistake of trying to Christianize people, we try to produce a Shibboleth but all we make is a Sibboleth… we can’t make someone what they quite simply aren’t… for all their effort to be like a Gileadite… they were Ephraimites through and through. If you don’t have the birth, you’re not saved, you’re not right, you’re not it, you’re not the real deal, and you can’t say Shibboleth. There are many Sibboleth Christians out there today, forty two thousand was a lot to process… and there are many with no spiritual reality to their profession, which no substance of faith to their claims, who don’t have the new birth, they don’t have repentance, they aren’t saved, they’re not right with God. Someone that doesn’t have the birth can’t speak like someone that does. At the passage of Jordan with a drawn sword, the Shibboleths and the Sibboleths are divided between. God’s word draws a line down the middle, there is no middle ground. You’re for him or against him, you’re in or you’re out, you’re on the Lord’s side or you’re just not. You’re one or the other friend. You’re either saved or not, being a church person isn’t good enough, being moral and being good and being nice whatever… it all ain’t enough. You’re a Sibboleth and you’re lost in your sins, and you won’t escape the judgment of God.

Is Ephraim in your passageways? Our passageways of life need to be guarded. The passages of our heart. The passages of our mind and spirit. The passages of our life. What we do and don’t do, who we spend time with, what we are doing in work, in romance, in serving God. Who do our passages belong to? The enemy needs to be cut off from access to and activity in our life. From getting away from the sword of the Spirit that needs to be swung when sin, and wrong, and error, and rebellion needs to be exposed and dealt with. See, to deal with the Ephraimites, they needed first to be exposed for who they were. And that’s confronting. Some truths are not so easy for us to face up to. And you might think it was a little rough. They were related after all, but you can’t afford to put brother or sister or mother or father before God. So often because of our family, or because of our friends or our connections, or whatever it is, we put God second. Just a little bit. We change our beliefs to accommodate our emotional attachments, because of our feelings. So often we won’t swing that sword because, you know, we’re more righteous than what God’s word says to do. We’ll love them and spare them. Sounds like Christianity today. We’ve spared so many Ephraimites, and they come back and run over us. We threw away God’s victory and his promises and purpose for our life all because we put our sword back in our sheath and said, hey you look right and sound right, go right along through my friend.

Can you say Shibboleth? Or is your life saying Sibboleth. You’re a fake. You’re a phony. You’re pretending, and maybe even convinced yourself, that you’re for God… but you’re not. You don’t have the birth. And the truth of God’s word is going to expose you. There are things you can’t fake, your flesh and your best efforts cannot replicate what only the Holy Spirit can do in your life. We have to recognize that we are liars like these men of Ephraim were. They said nay, but they were of Ephraim. Let God be true and every man a liar. You’re a liar, I’m a liar, let’s go to God’s word and that’ll straighten us right up. That’ll enable us to tell between what lives and what dies, what needs to go and what is to be let through.

Don’t compromise on truth at the Jordan river. Hey you’re my brother, hey don’t do that again and go right on through. The area we compromise in is the area that will get us. The area where we say, hey I know better than God, the area where we go by our feelings and emotions, that’s what will get us. Sure it’d have been uncomfortable having to kill someone who couldn’t say it, but you spare that little bit of leaven, that little bit of sin, that little error and departure from God’s word in your life… it’s going to plead for it’s life in your life. It’s going to make it’s case when you have your sword in your hand. What are you going to do? Will you obey God? Or will the most High no longer be highest in your life? It’s not worth it to go against God’s word, it surely is not.

Are you saved today? You’re trying to say Shibboleth, but your best can only muster Sibboleth. You don’t have the birth friend. You’re not born again. You’re not right with God. Jesus said he came to divide… don’t believe it? Luke 12:51 – Suppose ye that I am come to give peace on earth? I tell you, Nay; but rather division. God’s word is going to divide between who’s who and what’s what. And it’s not going to… it already has. You’re not going to decide, you’ve already decided. If you died right now, where would you be? And if you are saved, what are you doing with the truth? Who and what is in your passageways. Are you compromising? Are you going to deal with Ephraim? Forty two thousand… that’s a lot. You better believe Satan, this world and your flesh is going to bombard you trying to get through. Each time you have to give it the Shibboleth test.

People can’t say Shibboleth because they’re fakes, they may look right, they may sound nearly right, but they’re not right. We need to wake up. God has to be the most High, and living for truth will have cost, you’ll have to swing that sword, you’ll have to know what Shibboleth is in order to recognize what Shibboleth isn’t. See, if you didn’t know how to say Shibboleth yourself and what it sounded like, you wouldn’t know what a fake, a pretender sounded like. Jesus said his sheep know his voice and they follow him. Maybe you don’t hear his voice because you’re not of his flock. Maybe you’re a Christian who can’t say Shibboleth, your life is Sibboleth… but near enough is not enough. Your life is an imitation of the real thing. It’s not genuine, it’s not real, it’s not true. And you are in trouble with God. The way back is repentance to God and faith in Jesus Christ, not just in word, but in your heart. Don’t fail the Shibboleth test.


Joseph View All →

Hi, my name is Joseph Zadow. I am a 30 y/o Bible Blogger. I was new to blogging once! God’s word is the best thing that we can be given, and once we have it and know it for ourselves it is both a privilege and responsibility to bring it to others! We are blessed to be a blessing! I am a sinner (for sure!) saved by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ and I am a Lord Jesus Christ follower. He is faithful even though I rarely am to him. I believe the Bible is the word of God, and stake my life on it. My destination is heaven. As they say, I’m just a passin’ through this world… although most of the time it’s more like hangin’ by a thread in Jericho! I love playing sports – particularly cricket… I currently work on an orchard and a side hobby business of mine is growing vegetables etc – they are good for you! I love writing. Always happy to talk, so feel free to leave a comment. You can read more about me and my blog here – :)

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