Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
When the Gileadites had beaten the Ephraimites, they took the fords of the Jordan before the Ephraimites (or towards Ephraim: see Jdg 3:28; Jdg 7:24), to cut off their retreat and prevent their return to their homes. And "when fugitives of Ephraim wanted to cross, the men of Gilead asked them, Art thou Ephrathi," i.e., an Ephraimite? And if he said no, they made him pronounce the word Shibboleth (a stream or flood, as in Psa 69:3, Psa 69:16; not an ear of corn, which is quite unsuitable here); "and if he said, Sibboleth, not taking care to pronounce it correctly, they laid hold of him and put him to death at the fords of the Jordan." In this manner there fell at that time, i.e., during the whole war, 42,000 Ephraimites. The "fugitives of Ephraim" were the Ephraimites who had escaped from the battle and wished to return home. The expression is used here in its ordinary sense, and not with the contemptuous sense in which the Ephraimites had used it in Jdg 12:4. From this history we learn quite casually that the Ephraimites generally pronounced sh (shin) like s (samech). הכין is used elliptically for לב הכין, to direct his heart to anything, pay heed (compare Sa1 23:22; Ch1 28:2, with Ch2 12:14; Ch2 30:19).
Jephthah judged Israel six years, though most probably only the tribes on the east of the Jordan. When he died, he was buried in one of the towns of Gilead. The plural גלעד בּערי is used quite indefinitely, as in Gen 13:12; Neh 6:2, etc. (see Ges. Lehrgeb. p. 665), simply because the historian did not know the exact town.
Of these three judges no particular deeds are related, just as in the case of Tola and Jair (see the remarks on Jdg 10:1). But it certainly follows from the expression אחריו ויּשׁפּט (Jdg 12:8, Jdg 12:11, Jdg 12:13) that they were one after another successors of Jephthah, and therefore that their office of judge also extended simply over the tribes on the east of the Jordan, and perhaps the northern tribes on this side.
Ibzan sprang from Bethlehem,-hardly, however, the town of that name in the tribe of Judah, as Josephus affirms (Ant. v. 7, 13), for that is generally distinguished either as Bethlehem "of Judah" (Jdg 17:7, Jdg 17:9; Rut 1:2; Sa1 17:12), or Bethlehem Ephratah (Mic 5:1), but probably Bethlehem in the tribe of Zebulun (Jos 9:15). He had thirty sons and thirty daughters, the latter of whom he sent away החוּצה (out of his house), i.e., gave them in marriage, and brought home thirty women in their places from abroad as wives for his sons. He judged Israel seven years, and was buried in Bethlehem.
His successor was Elon the Zebulunite, who died after filling the office of judge for ten years, and was buried at Aijalon, in the land of Zebulun. This Aijalon has probably been preserved in the ruins of Jaln, about four hours' journey to the east of Akka, and half an hour to the S.S.W. of Mejdel Kerun (see V. de Velde, Mem. p. 283).
He was followed by the judge Abdon, the son of Hillel of Pirathon. This place, where Abdon died and was buried after holding the office of judge for eight years, was in the land of Ephraim, on the mountains of the Amalekites (Jdg 12:15). It is mentioned in Sa2 23:30 and Ch1 11:31 as the home of Benaiah the hero; it is the same as Φαραθώ (read Φαραθόν) in 1 Macc. 9:50, and Joseph. Ant. xiii. 1, 3, and has been preserved in the village of Ferta, about two hours and a half to the S.S.W. of Nabulus (see Rob. Bibl. Res. p. 134, and V. de Velde, Mem. p. 340). On the riding of his sons and daughters upon asses, see at Jdg 10:4.
Jephthah's War with the Ephraimites, and Office of Judge. - Jdg 12:1. The jealousy of the tribe of Ephraim, which was striving after the leadership, had already shown itself in the time of Gideon in such a way that nothing but the moderation of that judge averted open hostilities. And now that the tribes on the east of the Jordan had conquered the Ammonites under the command of Jephthah without the co-operation of the Ephraimites, Ephraim thought it necessary to assert its claim to take the lead in Israel in a very forcible manner. The Ephraimites gathered themselves together, and went over צפונה. This is generally regarded as an appellative noun (northward); but in all probability it is a proper name, "to Zaphon," the city of the Gadites in the Jordan valley, which is mentioned in Jos 13:27 along with Succoth, that is to say, according to a statement of the Gemara, though of a very uncertain character no doubt, Ἀμαθοῦς (Joseph. Ant. xiii. 13, 5, xiv. 5, 4; Bell. Judg. i. 4, 2, Reland, Pal. pp. 308 and 559-60), the modern ruins of Amata on the Wady Rajb or Ajlun, the situation of which would suit this passage very well. They then threatened Jephthah, because he had made war upon the Ammonites without them, and said, "We will burn thy house over thee with fire." Their arrogance and threat Jephthah opposed most energetically. He replied (Jdg 12:2, Jdg 12:3), "A man of strife have I been, I and my people on the one hand, and the children of Ammon on the other, very greatly," i.e., I and my people had a severe conflict with the Ammonites. "Then I called you, but ye did not deliver me out of their hand; and when I saw that thou (Ephraim) didst not help me, I put my life in my hand" (i.e., I risked my own life: see Sa1 19:5; Sa1 28:21; Job 13:14. The Kethibh אישׂמה comes from ישׂם: cf. Gen 24:33), "and I went against the Ammonites, and Jehovah gave them into my hand." Jephthah's appeal to the Ephraimites to fight against the Ammonites it not mentioned in Judg 11, probably for no other reason than because it was without effect. The Ephraimites, however, had very likely refused their co-operation simply because the Gileadites had appointed Jephthah as commander without consulting them. Consequently the Ephraimites had no ground whatever for rising up against Jephthah and the Gileadites in this haughty and hostile manner; and Jephthah had a perfect right not only to ask them, "Wherefore are ye come up against me now (lit. 'this day'), to fight against me?" but to resist such conduct with the sword.
He therefore gathered together all the men (men of war) of Gilead and smote the Ephraimites, because they had said, "Ye Gileadites are fugitives of Ephraim in the midst of Ephraim and Manasseh." The meaning of these obscure words is probably the following: Ye Gileadites are a mob gathered together from Ephraimites that have run away; "ye are an obscure set of men, men of no name, dwelling in the midst of two most noble and illustrious tribes" (Rosenmller). This contemptuous speech did not apply to the tribes of Reuben and Gad as such, but simply to the warriors whom Jephthah had gathered together out of Gilead. For the words are not to be rendered erepti Ephraim, "the rescued of Ephraim," as they are by Seb. Schmidt and Stud., or to be understood as referring to the fact that the Gileadites had found refuge with the Ephraimites during the eighteen years of oppression on the part of the Ammonites, since such an explanation is at variance with the use of the word פּליט, which simply denotes a fugitive who has escaped from danger, and not one who has sought and found protection with another. The Ephraimites had to pay for this insult offered to their brethren by a terrible defeat.