The Foolishness of Pride

Posted: January 14, 2021 in Judges

Judges 11:12-12:15, “The Foolishness of Pride”

Proverbs 16:18, “Pride goes before destruction, And a haughty spirit before a fall.” Wise words from the pen of Solomon! It is too bad that Solomon himself did not pay attention. Although he began his life seeking the wisdom of God, he went awry getting caught up in the trappings of riches and women, with his rule and legacy ultimately suffering because of his pride.

How often we fight the same battle! It ranges from things as minor as boasting in our physical abilities, only to trip and fall on our faces in embarrassment, to far more important matters when we refuse to back down in an argument and things blow up with our family members. A refusal to humble ourselves when we are wrong can lead to dire consequences – not only in our relationship with each other, but also in our relationship with God. For those of us who know Jesus as Lord, it hinders our walks with Him as we kick against the proverbial “goads” and experience His discipline. For those who have not yet trusted Jesus, pride keeps them from surrendering to Him in faith which leads to judgment and eternal death. Pride is downright dangerous.

Pride was a problem for Israel, too. Israel was in a sad state of affairs and getting worse. Through their repeated cycles of apostasy, oppression, repentance, and deliverance, the nation kept degrading. Although they would enjoy their God-given deliverance for a time, they never would get back to the level of spiritual maturity from which they fell. Like a paper that has been copied too many times, each repetition was a little worse than the one before it.

This was seen in the failures of Gideon’s judgeship. Despite his initial exploits of faith, he enriched himself as a king would do, with his own riches and prizes becoming idolatrous traps for the people. Moreover, his illegitimate son Abimelech brutally murdered his 70 half-brothers, claiming for himself the royal title of “king,” (usurping what belonged solely to God). Abimelech oppressed his own people of Israel until he was killed by a woman in an act of divine retribution.

That left Israel without a ruler and again subject to foreign oppression, which came in the forms of Ammon on the east and the Philistines on the west. The eastern enemies are addressed first in the narrative, through the people of Gilead in Transjordan Manasseh as they called Jephthah to be their leader. Jephthah had previously been rejected by his brothers and countrymen (himself being an illegitimate son) and found his home among violent Gentiles where he became an accomplished warrior. Now that the Gileadites required a man of war, they tracked him down and made amends. Jephthah ensured that their commitment was witnessed by the Lord God Himself and he became the newest judge.

What he did with that role is seen in the remainder of Judges 11-12. Jephthah was a man of faith but also a man of pride, surrounded by people of pride. And pride is dangerous! Pride (as will be seen) leads to death, be it figuratively in our relationships, or literally (as with Jephthah) with true physical harm. When left unchecked, pride is one of the most dangerous things we deal with every day. What to do? We need to kill pride before it kills us! We need to humbly submit ourselves to Jesus and let Him deal with the pride in our lives.

This is illustrated in three different scenarios in Jephthah’s life, which can all be described as various wars. (1) The war against Ammon, where God delivered against the pride of an enemy, (2) Jephthah’s war against himself, where his own pride brought destruction in his family, and (3) the war against Ephraim, where unfounded envy and pride led to a civil war among God’s own people.

Beware pride! It always goes before a fall.

Judges 11:12–12:15

  • War with Ammon (11:12-33). False claims.

12 Now Jephthah sent messengers to the king of the people of Ammon, saying, “What do you have against me, that you have come to fight against me in my land?” 13 And the king of the people of Ammon answered the messengers of Jephthah, “Because Israel took away my land when they came up out of Egypt, from the Arnon as far as the Jabbok, and to the Jordan. Now therefore, restore those lands peaceably.”

  1. Remember that Jephthah had been chosen by the elders of Gilead specifically because of their problem with the Ammonites. Yet before Jephthah rushes off to war, he wisely engages in diplomacy. If the problem could be solved through words, it was far better than using weapons. Thus, Jephthah sent his first message to the king of Ammon. Notice the clear claim by Jephthah to the land that was in question. Although it is not mentioned until verse 13, it is evident that one of Ammon’s purported reasons for their oppression was that they believed that the land of Gilead was rightfully theirs. Jephthah’s message was likely very intentional in its wording, as he asks why they had “come to fight against me in my” From the beginning, Jephthah is unwilling to cede even the possibility that Ammon might have a claim to the land. This is not pride on Jephthah’s part; this is faith. God had given the land to Israel and it was not even Israel’s to give away. 
  2. That said, the claim was immediately contested by Ammon, saying, “Israel took away my” They said all the lands from the Arnon river (on the south) to the Jabbok river (on the north), all the way west to the Jordan river belonged to them. Basically, they claimed everything north of Moab as their own. At the time, they exercised control over Moab at this time, so they saw these lands as their right, taking on Moab’s own purported historical claims for their own. Of course, the problem was that Moab had no historical claim to these lands, nor had Israel ever taken anything that had rightly belonged to Ammon. Jephthah was about to give the king of Ammon a bit of history lesson along these lines.
    1. As an aside, this is still a summary of the conflict between the Palestinians and the modern Israeli government. The Palestinians claim a historical right to the land which they never had. Historically speaking, there are no Palestinian people. The term “Palestine” is a corruption of the word “Philistine,” which was the term the Roman empire imposed on the land of Judea to punish it for its repeated rebellion against the empire (naming them after their historical enemies). The Palestinians, as they are known today, are actually Jordanians, who only claimed the land of Israel after it was recognized by the United Nations as belonging to the Jews. Ultimately, the land was not given to the Jews by the United Nations; it was given them by God – just as He had given it to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joshua in centuries past.

14 So Jephthah again sent messengers to the king of the people of Ammon, 15 and said to him, “Thus says Jephthah: ‘Israel did not take away the land of Moab, nor the land of the people of Ammon;

  1. This was Jephthah’s 2nd attempt at diplomacy. The first had failed to impress the king of Ammon, so Jephthah gave a history lesson refuting Ammon’s claim, showing that Israel was innocent of the charge against them. They hadn’t taken away anything from Ammon and the record was clear on this point.

16 for when Israel came up from Egypt, they walked through the wilderness as far as the Red Sea and came to Kadesh. 17 Then Israel sent messengers to the king of Edom, saying, “Please let me pass through your land.” But the king of Edom would not heed. And in like manner they sent to the king of Moab, but he would not consent. So Israel remained in Kadesh. 18 And they went along through the wilderness and bypassed the land of Edom and the land of Moab, came to the east side of the land of Moab, and encamped on the other side of the Arnon. But they did not enter the border of Moab, for the Arnon was the border of Moab.

  1. Reminder of the exodus journey. After spending a year at Mt. Sinai when leaving Egypt, Israel came to Kadesh Barnea where they rebelled against the Lord and refused to enter the Promised Land. That set them on a 40 year death march in the desert as God punished the rebellious generation and allowed their children to take their place. Once the time was fulfilled, God moved the people away from the previous entry point of Kadesh Barnea, moving them to the north.
  2. Although it would have been far quicker for Israel to travel through Edom and Moab, each nation refused entry to Israel and the Hebrews had to go the long way around. They skirted Edom and Moab both, eventually camping in the plains north of Moab.
  3. Why didn’t Israel fight Edom and Moab? They were family. They each shared common ancestry through the patriarchs. Edom was descended from Esau, the twin brother of Jacob/Israel. Moab (as well as Ammon) had a line even further back, being descended through Lot, the nephew of Abraham. Because of their family ties, God did not permit Israel to fight against them during the Exodus. It was one thing for them to defend themselves if attacked; it was another for Israel to provoke war between them. (The implication being, if Israel hadn’t done it with one son of Lot, Moab, then they wouldn’t have done it with the other son of Lot, Ammon, either.)

19 Then Israel sent messengers to Sihon king of the Amorites, king of Heshbon; and Israel said to him, “Please let us pass through your land into our place.” 20 But Sihon did not trust Israel to pass through his territory. So Sihon gathered all his people together, encamped in Jahaz, and fought against Israel. 21 And the LORD God of Israel delivered Sihon and all his people into the hand of Israel, and they defeated them. Thus Israel gained possession of all the land of the Amorites, who inhabited that country. 22 They took possession of all the territory of the Amorites, from the Arnon to the Jabbok and from the wilderness to the Jordan.

  1. Israel was allowed to fight the Amorites. Only Sihon king of Heshbon is mentioned here (probably due to his specific claim over the disputed lands) but Israel also fought Og of Bashan further north. These were nations under the ban of God and God used Moses and Israel to bring judgment upon them. Thus He did, and thus Israel inherited the lands now belonging to Gad and Reuben.
  2. What was the point of reviewing all of this? Jephthah is demonstrating that Sihon of the Amorites was the previous king of the disputed lands; not the king of Ammon. Because Israel fought Sihon and won (by the miraculous work of YHWH God), the land became Israel’s through the right of conquest. This was the global standard of the day. This was just as certain a claim to land rights as was a deed of purchase. Ammon grew its own kingdom through conquest, so it ought to have been expected for Israel to do the same.
    1. The same logic ought to be applied to the disputed land of the Golan Heights and West Bank today. Israel won these lands in warfare (defensive warfare, at that) and they have the legal right to them.

23 ‘And now the LORD God of Israel has dispossessed the Amorites from before His people Israel; should you then possess it? 24 Will you not possess whatever Chemosh your god gives you to possess? So whatever the LORD our God takes possession of before us, we will possess.

  1. The gods were often thought of as dwelling in the lands they were worshipped. When nations fought, it was believed that the gods fought. In this case, the living God of Israel was victorious. This emphasizes two points. (1) The land was God’s gift to Israel. It was His alone and He distributes it as He sees fit with no earthly power having any say on the matter. (2) If the Ammonites’ god had any power at all, they ought to ask him for help. Historically, the Ammonites worshiped the false god of Milcom while the Moabites worshiped Chemosh, but considering Ammon’s appropriation of Moab it makes sense that they appropriated its god, too. In any case, if Chemosh really held any power over the land, why wouldn’t Ammon ask Chemosh to give it to them. Was he really that impotent? (Yes!)
  2. This shows the futility of idolatry and false worship. If you’re going to worship a god, why worship a god who can’t do anything? Why worship a god who fits in your back pocket as an idol but nothing more? Whether it looks like the ancient idol Chemosh or the modern US dollar, an idol that is made out of “stuff” is powerless in the things that really matter. A god who is made cannot give life. A god who is imagined has imaginary powers. Only the God who is real can really offer life. Beloved, our God is real. He testifies of Himself in creation and declares His revealed identity in Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. We have proof that we worship the Living God…who is the only God worthy of worship!

25 And now, are you any better than Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab? Did he ever strive against Israel? Did he ever fight against them?

  1. Interesting argument considering that Balak did strive against Israel, although he was unsuccessful. Granted, when Balak of Moab opposed Israel, he did not do so through outright war. First, he attempted theological sabotage; second, he attempted (and succeeded) with sexual sabotage.
  2. Jephthah’s point to the king of Ammon perhaps hearkens back to their ancestral family ties. If the old king of Moab did not raise arms against Israel in battle, why would Ammon do so? This was foolishness on their part, and it was something from which they could still back down if they were willing to admit their own wrong. (This was a warning that would go unheeded.)

26 While Israel dwelt in Heshbon and its villages, in Aroer and its villages, and in all the cities along the banks of the Arnon, for three hundred years, why did you not recover them within that time? 27 Therefore I have not sinned against you, but you wronged me by fighting against me. May the LORD, the Judge, render judgment this day between the children of Israel and the people of Ammon.’ ” 28 However, the king of the people of Ammon did not heed the words which Jephthah sent him.

  1. Jephthah’s final argument: too much time had elapsed. We might think of this today as a kind of statute of limitations. 300 years (roughly) had passed since Israel assumed the lands of Sihon of the Amorites. Why hadn’t Ammon said anything before? Why wait till now? The obvious answer: they didn’t have any historical claim; they were lying through their teeth, proudly boasting against Israel.
  2. To whom did Jephthah appeal? “The LORD, the Judge.” YHWH is the Judge, the righteous judge who will adjudicate rightly. He is the Judge of judges. He is the Supreme Judge shown in the entirety of the book, even over all the various human judges of Israel.
    1. Our God will always judge what is right. We might not see justice in this world but we can be assured that we will see justice in the next. In fact, we will see God’s righteous judgment in the next phase of human existence, after the coming Great Tribulation and the establishment of Jesus’ millennial kingdom on earth. At that time, the Son of God will rule the nations and all those who attempt injustice will answer directly to Him!
    2. As an aside, this should be our focus during these turbulent times in our nation. Political debates and battles will come and go as leaders rise and fall. Whatever happens with our country, we need to remember that our primary citizenship is in Jesus’ kingdom. We need to point people to Him, that they might see Him as their King, too.
  3. Sadly (but not unexpectedly), Ammon did not listen to diplomacy. At this point, the gears of war were set in motion and people would die. Keep in mind, this is all due to pride. The king of Ammon made a false claim to land, and when confronted with his falsity, refused to back down. He would rather go to war than to be proven wrong.

29 Then the Spirit of the LORD came upon Jephthah, and he passed through Gilead and Manasseh, and passed through Mizpah of Gilead; and from Mizpah of Gilead he advanced toward the people of Ammon.

  1. When the Bible says that “the Spirit of the LORD came upon Jephthah,” we need to be careful to understand this from the context of the Old Testament, rather than the New. This not the same as New Testament believers being indwelt by God the Spirit and empowered for ministry and evangelism. For Jephthah, this was a temporary empowerment, given for a specific purpose of military leadership. As will become clear, Jephthah’s life is wildly inconsistent. On one hand, he walks by faith while on the other, he is clearly in his flesh. As for us, although we still experience inconsistencies ourselves, we have the assurance that the indwelling and seal of the Spirit never leaves us. Although we do not always walk according to filling and empowerment of the Spirit, we do always walk as those sealed by the Spirit as belonging to God.
  2. Here, the overall point is that Jephthah was now divinely empowered to serve in his capacity as Israel’s military judge and leader. With God’s help, he engaged on his march to war, gathering the army of Gilead and Manasseh for battle.

30 And Jephthah made a vow to the LORD, and said, “If You will indeed deliver the people of Ammon into my hands, 31 then it will be that whatever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the people of Ammon, shall surely be the LORD’s, and I will offer it up as a burnt offering.”

  1. Vows were not uncommon but neither were they necessary. A Hebrew might make a vow to serve the Lord in a certain way, or to dedicate a particular few weeks to prayer and service. The apostle Paul even took a vow in Cenchrea, temporarily serving the Lord as a Nazirite (Acts 18:18). It was supposed be an act of devotion and worship. Not this time. In this case, Jephthah’s “vow” was more of an attempted bribe. Notice the conditional clause: “If You will indeed deliver…then it will be…” This is Jephthah saying, “If You scratch my back, I’ll scratch Yours. I’ll give you something extra special if You give me victory.” That isn’t worship; that’s bribery and it ought not to be done among believers. True worship is given in sincerity, as is true fasting and prayer. It isn’t performed as a way of getting your will done; it is performed that we might better know God’s (Be careful that your worship does not become all about you, when it needs to be all about God.)
  2. Question: This is often labeled as Jephthah’s “foolish” vow. Was it really foolish? Was there anything about his words that inherently invited trouble? (1) If Jephthah wanted only to offer a traditional animal sacrifice, he could have either done so without the vow or specified the kind of sacrifice he would give. I.e., he could have said, “I will give you the best of all my livestock.” (2) It was needless negotiation at best and attempted bribery at worst. If battle was what God had called Jephthah to do, Jephthah could be assured that God would give the victory without any “special” enticements. (3) To leave his vow open-ended truly invited trouble. Who/what else would come to “meet” him upon his return, other than a loved one? Families commonly scanned the horizon when they expected someone to return, especially from battle. Surely Jephthah could have put 2+2 together and realized that a person would likely meet him long before any animal would.

32 So Jephthah advanced toward the people of Ammon to fight against them, and the LORD delivered them into his hands. 33 And he defeated them from Aroer as far as Minnith—twenty cities—and to Abel Keramim, with a very great slaughter. Thus the people of Ammon were subdued before the children of Israel.

  1. God gave a massive victory. If there was any question about which God controlled which land, all those questions were silenced. The God of Israel had all the land and all the power…period.
  2. Notice the result of the foolish pride of Ammon: they lost cities and land instead of gaining them. The king of Ammon insisted that Israel had “stolen” land from them that had (in truth) been won in conquest. Now the Ammonites fell victim to the same conquest. 20 cities were lost and countless lives.

Ammon made a false claim and pridefully refused to back down. As a result, they suffered tremendous defeat (which was Israel’s gain). What do we lose when we do likewise? When we buck up, puffing out our chest for a fight – do we honestly expect the other to back away, or are we prepared to suffer the consequences?

Obviously, Ammon was the enemy of Israel, which is why we can cheer Jephthah’s victory. This ultimately led to Israel’s deliverance from their enemy to the east, which was good for the nation. Even so, we can see the danger of pride. Jephthah gave Ammon a way to back down safely; the king didn’t take it. When God gives us a chance to back off the edge of a cliff, we need to take it! Why go over the edge simply because we’re too proud to admit our fault?

This is exactly the reason so many people will face eternal destruction in hell. They were too proud to admit their faults and sin. They were too proud to admit that they had wronged God (the righteous Judge) and could not bear to humble themselves before Him. God graciously gave them the opportunity to be saved but they refused to take it. They could have humbly surrendered themselves to Jesus; instead, they chose to ‘go down with the ship.’

  • War with self (11:34-40). Foolish vow.

34 When Jephthah came to his house at Mizpah, there was his daughter, coming out to meet him with timbrels and dancing; and she was his only child. Besides her he had neither son nor daughter. 35 And it came to pass, when he saw her, that he tore his clothes, and said, “Alas, my daughter! You have brought me very low! You are among those who trouble me! For I have given my word to the LORD, and I cannot go back on it.”

  1. For all of Jephthah’s surprise at his daughter’s greeting, this was the most natural outcome. She gave her father returning from battle a victory greeting. Why wouldn’t she? She was overjoyed to see her father and praised God for a glorious victory. She rushed out to meet him with song and dance…only to find her father’s face fallen and grieving. His foolish rash vow had come back on his own head.
  2. Amazingly, Jephthah blamed her. Instead of taking any personal responsibility for making promises he couldn’t keep, he said it was all her fault. If only she hadn’t rejoiced to see her father, then all would be well. How ridiculous! How utterly cruel and unloving. This was insult on top of injury. Keep in mind that this whole event was unnecessary. God should have been worshipped because He is God and because God gave victory. Jephthah should have given sacrifices to God for all kinds of reasons. No extra vows were required. This was Jephthah’s own foolish pride and he should have been man enough to take the blame and correct what he did wrong.
  3. Question: Was Jephthah trapped by his own words? Was he correct in saying, “I have given my word to the LORD, and I cannot go back on it”? Although it is true that any vows made unto the Lord are to be honored, there was a bigger problem here than a broken promise: a grossly illegal and perverse human sacrifice. Would God be honored through Jephthah’s sacrifice of his daughter? Certainly not! If a Hebrew could rescue his livestock on the Sabbath day without breaking the law, certainly a father could recant a rash vow to save the life of his God-given daughter. Once more, we see the problem is Jephthah’s pride; not his devotion.
    1. Also, if Jephthah had bothered to look, the Scripture provided relief for his problem. Leviticus 5:4-6 specifically deals with a guilt offering to be brought when a person swore something thoughtlessly, and Leviticus 27:1-8 provides a way to redeem people who had been dedicated to the Lord. Jephthah could neither blame his daughter nor the Lord for this problem; the blame rested solely upon himself. He was just too stubborn to admit it.
  4. For all the responsibilities that Jephthah believed he had from the Lord, one of the most basic was being a father. As a father, he was supposed to protect his daughter from foolish, rash vows (Num 30:3-5). Yet here was Jephthah, allowing a foolish vow to bring literal death to his only child.

36 So she said to him, “My father, if you have given your word to the LORD, do to me according to what has gone out of your mouth, because the LORD has avenged you of your enemies, the people of Ammon.”

  1. She had more faith than her father! She was willing to submit herself to God, no matter what decision her father made. If only Jephthah had been as willing to submit himself to God’s righteous discipline for his sin!

37 Then she said to her father, “Let this thing be done for me: let me alone for two months, that I may go and wander on the mountains and bewail my virginity, my friends and I.” 38 So he said, “Go.” And he sent her away for two months; and she went with her friends, and bewailed her virginity on the mountains. 39 And it was so at the end of two months that she returned to her father, and he carried out his vow with her which he had vowed. She knew no man. …

  1. After mourning for two months (and likely waiting in futility for her father to come to his senses!), she faithfully returned to the needless tragedy that awaited her.
  2. Scholars debate the outcome, whether Jephthah’s daughter was offered as a human sacrifice, or if she was sworn to perpetual virginity. With respect to those who disagree, the most natural reading of the text is a real sacrifice. Yes, human sacrifices were illegal; yes, Jephthah would have known their illegality. But Jephthah was also bound up in his pride and surrounded by cultures that did practice human sacrifice. It seems far more likely (and tragic) that Jephthah proceeded with the deed exactly as the text says he did.

… And it became a custom in Israel 40 that the daughters of Israel went four days each year to lament the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite.

  1. A sad conclusion to a sad event. So well known was this tragedy that all young women in Israel commemorated the girl’s death with four days of annual mourning. (Can you imagine the terror that accompanied this, knowing that any one of them might fall to a similar fate if their own father was just as proud and foolish as Jephthah?)

What happened to Jephthah? On one day, he goes to battle empowered by the Holy Spirit and experiences divine blessing and supernatural military victory. God’s hand was plainly upon him as he walked by faith. On the other hand, he returns home from that very same battle to engage in terrible sin, all in the name of “worship.” All of it due to nothing but foolish, false pride!

The only good side to all of this is how the New Testament remembers Jephthah: not for his foolishness, but for his faith. Hebrews 11:32, “And what more shall I say? For the time would fail me to tell of Gideon and Barak and Samson and Jephthah, also of David and Samuel and the prophets:” How could this man be included in the hall of faith? In a word: grace. God gave Jephthah grace he did not deserve (which is what grace is, by definition: undeserved). This man who acted so foolishly was seen not in his foolishness, but as a child of God by the grace of God through the Messiah in which Jephthah surely believed would come in the future.

Who is it that redeems our foolish hearts? Christ! What hope do we have for rescue from ourselves? Jesus! He alone is able to transform us from what we were to men and women who can be used for His glory.

  • War with Ephraim (12:1-7). Foolish anger.

12:1 Then the men of Ephraim gathered together, crossed over toward Zaphon, and said to Jephthah, “Why did you cross over to fight against the people of Ammon, and did not call us to go with you? We will burn your house down on you with fire!”

  1. What is this? From across the Jordan river, the Ephraimites threw an absolute fit over Jephthah’s victory with the men of Gilead. They threatened to treat him as a violent rebel and criminal. Not only did they desire his punishment, but they wanted him and his whole family dead. What was his supposed crime? He allegedly didn’t call Ephraim to help him in battle. This is something Jephthah disputes…

2 And Jephthah said to them, “My people and I were in a great struggle with the people of Ammon; and when I called you, you did not deliver me out of their hands. 3 So when I saw that you would not deliver me, I took my life in my hands and crossed over against the people of Ammon; and the LORD delivered them into my hand. Why then have you come up to me this day to fight against me?”

  1. Jephthah’s defense against Ephraim was much like his defense against the king of Ammon. When accused of lies, he responded with the truth. Or at least he responded with part of the truth. The phrase “my people and I” included a lot more than Gilead and Manasseh. The Ammonites oppressed people on the western side of the Jordan river too, including the people of Ephraim. Ephraim had a claim to help fight for their freedom but they were not included in the battle.
  2. Although there is no mention of Jephthah sending a request for help from Ephraim, apparently one had been sent and Ephraim had not come. The problem for Ephraim was not that they had not been invited to the battle, it was that they refused to come but still wanted the glory of victory.
  3. Ultimately, it was not Jephthah’s victory anyway; it was the Lord’s. This was the work of God and all the glory belonged to Him. This was forgotten by Ephraim in their jealous rage and desire for revenge (for such a foolish reason, at that!).

4 Now Jephthah gathered together all the men of Gilead and fought against Ephraim. And the men of Gilead defeated Ephraim, because they said, “You Gileadites are fugitives of Ephraim among the Ephraimites and among the Manassites.”

  1. This was a civil war saturated with excesses of pride. Ephraim raised accusations against Jephthah because they got jealous of his battle victory. Jephthah & Gilead went to battle primarily because they had been mocked by the Ephraimites. If this had taken place on a schoolyard, everyone would have gotten sent to the principal’s office for foolish fighting. Sadly, when it took place between tribes, civil war was the result and people died.

5 The Gileadites seized the fords of the Jordan before the Ephraimites arrived. And when any Ephraimite who escaped said, “Let me cross over,” the men of Gilead would say to him, “Are you an Ephraimite?” If he said, “No,” 6 then they would say to him, “Then say, ‘Shibboleth’!” And he would say, “Sibboleth,” for he could not pronounce it right. Then they would take him and kill him at the fords of the Jordan. There fell at that time forty-two thousand Ephraimites.

  1. Not only did Gilead win the war but they also guarded against the escape of their Ephraimite enemies. They even had a test to determine who was/was not from Ephraim: their accent. When given a certain word, Ephraim could not pronounce it correctly. And it meant a death sentence. Sadly, not a small death sentence either. 42,000 Ephraimites died. Every bit of this was needless. This was a war begun in pride, executed in pride, and punished in pride. Instead of extending grace to their fellow Israelites, everyone bucked up and everyone suffered.

7 And Jephthah judged Israel six years. Then Jephthah the Gileadite died and was buried among the cities of Gilead.

  1. Jephthah did much good for Israel but the question needs to be asked if he did more harm than good over his brief six years of judgeship. Yes, God used him to defeat the Ammonites. But how many Israelites died under the Ammonite oppression versus the civil war between Gilead and Ephraim? Jephthah was responsible for 42,000 deaths of his own countrymen. This does not speak well of his legacy.
    1. Which again, makes us grateful for the grace of God through Jesus Christ! If it were not for Jesus, none of us would be remembered well!

Again, we see a problem with pride in the foolish anger of Ephraim. Because they got “less” glory than their brothers, their jealousy caused them to go to war. Beware pride and envy! Jealousy will lead you down dangerous roads. 

  • Appendix: minor judges (12:8-15)

8 After him, Ibzan of Bethlehem judged Israel. 9 He had thirty sons. And he gave away thirty daughters in marriage, and brought in thirty daughters from elsewhere for his sons. He judged Israel seven years. 10 Then Ibzan died and was buried at Bethlehem.

  1. This was another judge who lived as a king, amassing a large harem who gave him at least 60 children. He lived in opulence, attempting to expand his influence by giving his children in politically beneficial marriages. He did much for himself; it makes us wonder if he did anything for Israel at all.

11 After him, Elon the Zebulunite judged Israel. He judged Israel ten years. 12 And Elon the Zebulunite died and was buried at Aijalon in the country of Zebulun.

  1. Other than his name and tribe, nothing is known of him. This isn’t necessarily bad; he is just unknown.

13 After him, Abdon the son of Hillel the Pirathonite judged Israel. 14 He had forty sons and thirty grandsons, who rode on seventy young donkeys. He judged Israel eight years. 15 Then Abdon the son of Hillel the Pirathonite died and was buried in Pirathon in the land of Ephraim, in the mountains of the Amalekites.

  1. Like Gideon and Ibzan before him, Abdon was yet another judge who lived as if he was a king. His harem and family was not quite as large, but his royal trappings were. That all his sons and grandsons rode about the country on donkeys was to show them all in positions of leadership. (I.e. Jesus’ triumphal entry on a young donkey.) Did this man have any accomplishments? Scripture is silent, so we cannot know. Sadly, all we know of him is what he accomplished for himself. 


Pride is a dangerous thing! Ammon’s pride led it to a war with Gilead and Jephthah. If they had backed off their false claims to Israel’s land, they would have maintained their own land and they would have lived in relative peace.

Jephthah’s pride led not only to the horrible death of his daughter but also to the destruction of his family line (being that she was his only child and she had no children of her own). If he had only admitted his mistake and redeemed a foolish vow, her life and his lineage would have been saved.

Ephraim’s pride led to their humiliation as well as the death of 42,000 of their countrymen. If they had calmed themselves, civil war/insurrection could have been avoided.

How much do we lose due to foolish pride? What dies needlessly in our lives due to a refusal to submit ourselves in humility, or to admit our fault? Pride costs people jobs, relationships, opportunities, and ministry. Pride can mean the death of much that we hold dear. Moreover, pride can obstruct our relationship with God! Considering that the Scripture declares that God resists the proud, then we can be certain that when we buck up in our pride, God resists us. He does not work with proud people; He works with the humble, giving us grace and helping us in our utter dependence upon Jesus.

Beware of pride! Humble yourself before it is too late. When it comes to human relationships, a simple sincere apology can work wonders. It shows not only wisdom in choosing what is most valuable (love vs. self) but it is also a testimony to our submission to our Lord Jesus, whom we follow as our righteous Judge and King.

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