I. IF A MAN'S PROFESSION IS FALSE TO HIS CHARACTER, THIS WILL BE MADE MANIFEST BY THE HABITS OF HIS LIFE. The Ephraimite who denied his tribal relation was betrayed by his dialectic pronunciation. Thus Peter was convicted of falsehood (Matthew 26:73). It matters little what we say if our conduct belies our words. No man can ultimately conceal his character; it will come out in his countenance, it will colour his speech, it will shape his action. If a man would completely suppress his character, he must destroy it, because while it exists it must obey its nature, which is to be the source of all conduct. You cannot quench a volcano by building over its crater, nor stay the flow of a stream by walling it in. Our true nature, whether it be good or bad, must reveal itself
(1) in great critical epochs, when it can endure no restraint; or
(2) in casual accidents, when we are off our guard and do not consider the occasion sufficiently important to demand much concern; or
(3) in the general course and colour of our life (Matthew 7:16).
II. SHALL SUPERFICIAL SIGNS MAY INDICATE GREAT FUNDAMENTAL DISTINCTIONS. The test of the "Shibboleth" has been much misunderstood, as though it were an instance of the importance which is sometimes unduly given to mere trivial distinctions. The test was simply a means of discovering the tribal relations of men. The Gileadites cared nothing for the difference of pronunciation in itself. They simply used it as a means for determining a really important point - the truth or falsehood of the profession of those who said they were not men of Ephraim. The same mistake was involved in Gibbon's famous sneer about the great division of Christendom on the question of a diphthong. It was not a diphthong, but the fundamental truth of the perfect Divinity of Christ that Athanasius and his friends were contending with the Arians about, and the use of the diphthong was simply a convenient form in which to bring the question to a definite point. So the recent controversies about vestments have been ridiculed as though they were questions of "ecclesiastical millinery," while both parties know quite well that these outside and apparently trivial differences are the signs of fundamental questions concerning priestly authority and sacramental grace.
1. We must beware of judging of the magnitude of a question by the comparative insignificance of its external indications.
2. We must, nevertheless, be careful not to assume that trivial external distinctions are signs of deep and important differences until we have proved the fact. We may erect the test of a "Shibboleth" to separate people who have no such fundamental distinctions as those of the men who had been true to Jephthah and the men who had enviously opposed him. The danger is that we should thus magnify the importance of the "Shibboleth" itself, and so become narrow and sectarian. - A.
Wherefore passedst thou over to fight against the children of Ammon, and didst not call us to go with thee?
I. THERE ARE PEOPLE STILL WHO THINK NOTHING CAN BE DONE WITHOUT THEM. We find these people everywhere — not a few of them at home. Ask that busy, bustling housewife to take her children out into the country for a day; or ask her to attend church on a Sunday morning; or ask her to give a few hours to visiting among the sick and the poor and the sorrowful, what will she say? "How can I leave my house? Who will attend to my affairs? If I were out of that house a few days it would all go to ruin." That woman has grown daughters who could and would gladly see to things if she would only let them. But she goes on in her foolish whim that nothing can be done without her. And I verily believe that not a few would rather have nothing done at all if they could not do it. In business, too, the same thing occurs. There are men who are slaves to their business. Neither their sons nor their confidential men, who would suffer any loss rather than neglect the governor's interest, can be trusted. They must see to it, or it won't be done. Some day God puts such a man on his back. He is away six months with a serious illness. His sons, who have not been thought capable hitherto, have responsibility thrown upon them, and rise to the position. The man is humbled, shamed, or it may be, delighted to find that the business has done better with the infusion of the new blood than it did with the old. The Church of Christ, unfortunately, is afflicted with a large number of men who think nothing can be done without them. There are men who would rather the battle should be lost than others win it — who would almost wish that evil should remain rather than others have the honour of removing it. But what does it matter who gains the victory if it be gained? God can accomplish His purposes without any of us. Look over the pages of history, and you will find that workers fall, but the work goes on.
II. THERE ARE SOME WHO, THOUGH THEY CAN'T STOP THE WORK, TRY TO PREJUDICE THE WORKERS. The men of the text said in effect, "And who are you? You are fugitives, mongrels, not of pure blood. What business have the likes of you to think you can fight the foes of Israel? It is monstrous, and we won't have it." The same thing goes on to-day. There are men who seem to think they have said something clever and settling when they say that the popular useful man was not born in a palace. "Who's he?" is their cry. "Why, don't you know that he was a collier, and worked in a coal pit? His father died in a cottage. His mother was the daughter of a man who drove a horse and cart, and never had five pounds in his life." And what of that? Is it not honest to get coal? Better be a collier and dig coal in the service of man, and thus the service of God, than be a loafer, an idler, a consumer, a drone. Some of the noblest of God's servants have come from among the poor, and the obscure, and the unknown. Our Lord Himself was a toiler, and the Son of toilers, and has for ever consecrated and blessed all honest necessary human labour. So I say to you all, toil on, pray on, fight on, win victories for God. Beat back the enemies of Israel; and if the Ephraimites, lacking courage and genius themselves, despise you, let them.
III. THERE ARE SOME WHO CAN'T OR WON'T DO MUCH THEMSELVES, BUT HATE, AND SCORN, AND TRY TO PERSECUTE THOSE WHO DO. "We will burn thine house upon thee." Alas! This has often found expression in the bitterness of party strife and religious bigotry. Unable to silence men whose lips God had touched as with live coals from His own altar, and whose hearts had felt the power of the living God, they have erected their stakes, piled their faggots, and lit their fires, in which the saints of God, the excellent of the earth, have stood till their flesh was shrivelled and their bones cindered. "We will burn thine house upon thee with fire," said these men; but they found themselves unable to do it. Some men are hard to kill, and some houses bad to burn. Many a tyrant has found this out. "We will burn thine house upon thee." It does not seem to have occurred to these cowardly Ephraimites that men who burn other people's houses sometimes burn themselves. It is dangerous to play with edged tools. It is not safe to toy with fire. It may become the instrument of your own torture, the weapon of your own destruction. "They that take the sword shall perish with the sword," said Jesus Christ; and there is for us no higher authority. Some men who are fond of using fire do no harm except to themselves. Whilst it is in some sense only right and just that this should be so, there are cases in which we are sorry for the opposers. Well had it been for these Ephraimites had they shared in the universal rejoicing. Well had it been for them if they had learned wisdom, and ceased from opposition. Their wicked and senseless opposition brought ruin upon themselves. In sheer self-defence the victor turned the sword upon them. Alas for them! Forty and two thousand of them that day left their dead bodies upon the plains as victims of their folly, and in illustration of our saying that the wicked often injure themselves. And this is true with the Lord Jesus and His gospel. Some men oppose it, reject it, mutilate it, burn it. All such injure themselves. They can never hurt the truth. It will live. They cannot stop the power of Jesus Christ to save men. The waves of the ocean dash against the granite rock, but the rock does not move. But what of the waves? Broken, they roll back in spray to the ocean out of which they came. "Whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder."
(C. Leach, D. D.)
PeopleAbdon, Amalekites, Ammonites, Elon, Ephraimites, Gileadites, Hillel, Ibzan, Jephthah, Manasseh, Manassites, Zebulun
PlacesAijalon, Bethlehem, Gilead, Jordan River, Pirathon, Zaphon
TopicsElon, Judge, Judged, Judgeth, Led, Ten, Zebulonite, Zebulunite, Zeb'ulunite
Outline1. The Ephraimites, quarrelling with Jephthah, are slain by the Gileadites
7. Jephthah dies
8. Ibzan, who had thirty sons, and thirty daughters
11. and Elon
13. and Abdon, who had forty sons, and thirty nephews, judge Israel
Dictionary of Bible ThemesJudges 12:11-12
LibraryJesus Calls Four Fishermen to Follow Him.
(Sea of Galilee, Near Capernaum.) ^A Matt. IV. 18-22; ^B Mark I. 16-20; ^C Luke V. 1-11. ^a 18 And walking ^b 16 And passing along by the sea of Galilee [This lake is a pear-shaped body of water, about twelve and a half miles long and about seven miles across at its widest place. It is 682 feet below sea level; its waters are fresh, clear and abounding in fish, and it is surrounded by hills and mountains, which rise from 600 to 1,000 feet above it. Its greatest depth is about 165 feet], he [Jesus] …
J. W. McGarvey—The Four-Fold Gospel
The Essential Unity of the Kingdom.
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