Notes on the Bible, by Albert Barnes, , at sacred-texts.com
Compare the similar complaint of the Ephraimites to Gideon Jdg 8:1, when a civil war was only avoided by Gideon's wise and patriotic moderation. The overhearing pride of Ephraim comes out in both occurrences (see also Jos 17:14-18).
We will burn thine house upon thee with fire - Compare the fierce threat of the Philistines to Samson's wife Jdg 14:15, and the yet fiercer execution Jdg 15:6. Burning appears as a mode of capital punishment Gen 38:24; Jos 7:25, and as a mode of desperate warfare (Jdg 1:8; Jdg 20:48; Jos 8:8, Jos 8:19, etc.).
When I called you ... - This circumstance is not related in the main narrative. It is likely to have occurred when Jephthah was first chosen leader by the Gileadites, and when Ephraim would probably ignore his pretensions.
I put my life in my hands - Compare Sa1 19:5; Sa1 28:21. The phrase expresses the utmost possible risk, knowingly incurred.
Because they said ... - This passage is extremely obscure. Render: - "The men of Gilead smote Ephraim, for they (the Gileadites) said, Ye are. the fugitives of Ephraim. (Gilead lies between Ephraim and Manasseh; and Gilead took the fords of Jordan before Ephraim, and it came to pass, when the fugitives of Ephraim said Let me pass over, and the Gileadites asked him, art thou an Ephraimite, and he answered No, Then (the Gileadites) said to him say Shibboleth, etc. So they (the Gileadites) killed them at the fords of Jordan"). All that is included in the parenthesis is explanatory of the brief statement "They smote them, for they said, Ye are the fugitives of Ephraim;" i. e. in spite of denial they ascertained that they were the fugitives of Ephraim, and so pitilessly slaughtered them when they endeavored to return to their own country through Gilead. This part of Gilead, where the fords were, was clearly not in Manasseh, but in Gad. "Slew" Jdg 12:6 implies "slaughtering" in cold blood, not killing in battle (see Jer 39:6). The word in the original text is the proper word for slaying animals for sacrifice.
Shibboleth; and he said Sibboleth - This is a curious instance of dialectic difference of pronunciation between the East and West Jordanic tribes. It is an evidence of the sound "sh" having passed into the Hebrew from the East of Jordan, possibly from the Arabians, with whom the sound is common.
Forty-two thousand - The number includes the slain in battle and those killed at the fords.
Ibzan of Bethlehem - Some have fancied him the same as Boaz Rut 2:1 of Bethlehem-Judah. Others, from the juxtaposition of Elon the Zebulonite Jdg 12:11, understand Bethlehem in the tribe of Zebulon Jos 19:15.
A Zebulonite - The tribe of Zebulon had shown its bravery, patriotism, and prowess in the time of Barak Jdg 4:10; Jdg 5:18.
A Pirathonite - He was, therefore, an Ephraimite Ch1 27:14. Its name still lingers in "Feratah," 6 miles west of Shechem. The 25 years, apparently consecutive, occupied by the judgeship of Ibzan, Elon, and Abdon, seem to have been very uneventful and prosperous, since the only record of them, preserved in the annals of their country, relates to the flourishing families and peaceful magnificence of two of the number.