Monday, October 12, 2015

The Ephraimite Shibboleth

“And the Gileadites [those who have “heaps of testimony”] took the fords [shallow places in the river] of the Jordan [descending] before the Ephraimites [“two-fold increase,” or “very fruitful,” or “fruitful through affliction (perhaps by pruning)”]; and when any of those Ephraimites who had escaped said, ‘Let me go over,’ the men of Gilead said to him, ‘Are you an Ephraimite?’ If he said, ‘No,’ they said to him, ‘Then say Shibboleth’ [a stream (as flowing) or like an ear of corn or a branch (as growing out)]; and he said, ‘Sibboleth,’ for he could not pronounce it right. Then they seized him and slew him at the fords of the Jordan. And there fell at that time 42,000 [the number of Israel’s oppression and the Lord’s advent times divine completion/God’s glory] of the Ephraimites” (Judges 12:5-6 Amp. [With my insertions in brackets]).

In the time of the Judges—in a time very much like our time—when everyone did what was right in their own eyes, 42,000 well-trained and highly skilled men of war perished because of a pronunciation problem.  Easton’s Bible dictionary had this to say about the incident: “The tribes living on the east of Jordan, separated from their brethren on the west by the deep ravines and the rapid river, gradually came to adopt peculiar customs, and from mixing largely with the Moabites, Ishmaelites, and Ammonites to pronounce certain letters in such a manner as to distinguish them from the other tribes. Thus when the Ephraimites from the west invaded Gilead, and were defeated by the Gileadites under the leadership of Jephthah, and tried to escape by the ‘passages of the Jordan,’ the Gileadites seized the fords and would allow none to pass who could not pronounce ‘shibboleth’ with a strong aspirate. This the fugitives were unable to do. They said ‘sibboleth,’ as the word was pronounced by the tribes on the west, and thus they were detected (Judg. 12:1-6). Forty-two thousand were thus detected, and without reprieve, adjudged to death, for want of well-pronouncing shibboleth.”

Now according to Wikipedia, “a ‘shibboleth,’ in its original signification and in a meaning it still bears today, is a word or custom whose variations in pronunciation or style can be used to differentiate members of ingroups from those of outgroups.  In contemporary usage the word has acquired an extended meaning which is often cited first (and sometimes even exclusively) in shorter dictionaries, namely, an old belief or saying which is cited repetitively or unreflectively but which is, or may be, fallacious or untrue.”  Using this contemporary “extended meaning,” THE EPHRAIMITE SHIBBOLETH, or rather—ironically speaking—the Ephraimite sibboleth, is about duplicity, a duplicity of both nature and speech.    

I believe a day like what the Ephraimites’ encountered is here, a day when even “fruitful” or “elect” ones are deceived, a day wherein, in the heat of battle, in the final killing field of testing, many are failing, even those whom we’d never expect to fail.  The question asked by the apostle needs to be asked today: “Does a fountain send out from the same opening both fresh and bitter water?  Can a fig tree, my brethren, produce olives, or a vine produce figs? Nor can salt water produce fresh” (James 5:11-12).  By “mixing largely with the Moabites, Ishmaelites, and Ammonites” we have birthed mixed seed, we have made our fountains flow both fresh and bitter.  We are snake bitten; we say sibboleth with duplicity, with a lisp, instead of shibboleth in singularity of heart and purity of pronouncement.  

The Gileadites are those who walk by faith, those who have heaps of testimony or mounds of evidence that God will do what He said He’d do.  They are also the ones who test those who say they are Christian, and are not (those that are supposedly doubly blessed).  But doubly blessed might suggest being blessed both carnally and spiritually, a mixed and duplicitous stream.  It is a mimicking spirit, a spirit of mockery.  It feigns to have secured Job’s double portion, but without the intervening suffering experience.  It is the faith movement without the still small voice, prosperity without the cross.  All of us begin our journey as mixed seed; the cross, however, separates us unto Him, removing presumption (Ishmaelite influence) and incestuous self-love (Moabite/Ammonite influence).  Unfortunately, many are enemies of the cross of Jesus Christ, and therefore they are unable to live and speak right.  The Ephraimites are those described in scripture as a cake not turned.  They are those who refuse to suffer loss, enemies of the cross of Christ, those who mistake godliness for gain.  To be doubly blessed is not to be two times as rich, but to be dead to flesh (one blessing) and alive in spirit (second blessing).  The killing off of 42,000 of their number is about God cutting away the whole to save a remnant.  Indeed, “Isaiah calls out (solemnly cries aloud) over Israel: Though the number of the sons of Israel be like the sand of the sea, only the remnant (a small part of them) will be saved [from perdition, condemnation, judgment]!  For the Lord will execute His sentence upon the earth [He will conclude and close His account with men completely and without delay], rigorously cutting it short in His justice” (Romans 9:27-28 Amp.).

There are 42 generations from Abraham, the father of faith, to Jesus Christ (inclusive of His body), and His body is fast approaching the final population of its members.  Also, there were 42 stops along the way to the Promised Land.  Forty-two completes the wilderness experience, and 1,000 is the number associated with God’s glory.  One thousand also is used most often with angels, and furthermore suggests them wrapping up everything at the end of the age.  Thus, 42,000 is symbolic of the consummation (implicit of the restoration) of all things.  The removal of mixture is the final cleansing, the purification and purging prophesied by Daniel concerning the end times.  Indeed, “‘go your way, Daniel, for these words are concealed and sealed up until the end time.’  Many will be purged, purified and refined, but the wicked will act wickedly; and none of the wicked will understand, but those who have insight will understand” (Daniel 12:9-10).