Judges 12:4: Jephthah's Answer with His Sword

Verse 4:[1] Then Jephthah gathered together all the men of Gilead, and fought with Ephraim: and the men of Gilead smote Ephraim, because they said, Ye Gileadites (see 1 Sam. 25:10; Ps. 78:9) are fugitives of Ephraim among the Ephraimites, and among the Manassites.


[Because he had said, A fugitive is Gilead from Ephraim, and he dwells in the midst of Ephraim and Manasseh] He dwells, added by Jerome, entangles the sense (Bonfrerius). Thus the Hebrew words: כִּ֤י אָמְרוּ֙ פְּלִיטֵ֤י אֶפְרַ֙יִם֙ אַתֶּ֔ם גִּלְעָ֕ד בְּת֥וֹךְ אֶפְרַ֖יִם בְּת֥וֹךְ מְנַשֶּֽׁה׃. [They render it variously.] For they were saying, ye Gileadites in the midst of the Ephraimites and Manassites (that is, Jephthah’s soldiers, who in the midst of their region and that of the Ephraimites gathered themselves to keep watch over the passages [Junius]) are Fugitives of the Ephraimites (Junius and Tremellius, Piscator). In the Hebrew the words are transposed in this manner, because they were saying, Fugitives of the Ephraimites are ye, Gileadites in the midst, etc. They were saying, that is, after they had identified them from their pronunciation, as it is declared in what follows (Piscator). For here the verse is proleptical, and it sums up the history that is described more plainly in verses 5 and 6 (Junius). To others it appears to be a jeer, in which the provoked Gileadites have given them to death (thus Drusius). Because the cast-offs of Ephraim had said, Ye are in Gilead in the midst of Ephraim, and in the midst of Manasseh (Pagnine), that is, Because all the most abject and worst of Ephraim were formerly wont to say, Ye are those that dwell in Gilead: that is to say, Ye are nothing other than Gileadites dwelling between Manasseh and Ephraim. Ye are men obscure and ignoble, dwelling between two most illustrious Tribes (Vatablus). Because those that had escaped (namely, from this slaughter) of Ephraim had said, Ye Gilead, that is, Gileadites, are in the midst, etc. They were saying this ironically (Drusius). Because they had said (because reproachfully they had said [Munster]), Fugitives of Ephraim are ye Gildeadites in the midst of Ephraim and Manasseh (Munster, Tigurinus, Osiander). Ye are the basest, etc. (Tigurinus Notes). Ye Gileadites are to be compared with the most faint-hearted and inclined to flight that are able to be found in the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh; for which reason it was not suitable for you to assail the enemy alone without our army: because, if ye had been defeated, all Israelites would have been drawn into the greatest crisis (Osiander). Ye are mere and miserable Gileadites, the offscourings of Israel, the dregs of Ephraim and Manasseh, who appear to have been expelled and driven away unto that corner on the other side of Jordan, as fugitives, and unworthy to dwell with the remaining tribes in the Promised Land (Lapide). From whom the half Tribe of Manasseh was banished across the Jordan, and just about no commerce remained with those remaining Ephraimites and Manassites; and so their love towards them grew cold, and they began to despise them as fugitives from the others (Bonfrerius). The sense: Gildead is a fugitive, that is, an apostate and deserter, who abandoned us long ago, remaining beyond Jordan: or thus; Ye are vile with respect to Ephraim, as those that flee are wont to be (Menochius): or thus; A fugitive is Gilead from Ephraim, that is to say, With us Ephraimites suddenly invading Gildead, the Gileadites fled from their villages to their cities, and they were not able to resist us (Lapide, Tirinus). What then will these poor wretches do, shut up on every side by the two noblest and most powerful tribes, Ephraim and Manasseh (Tirinus)? Because with kind words (as formely in Judges 8:2) they did not allow themselves to be satisfied, Jephthah was compelled to make use of the right of a Prince against them (Grotius). The cause of this sedition was the pride innate in the Ephraimites, and envy of another’s glory and happiness (Tirinus out of Bonfrerius).


Ye Gileadites are fugitives of Ephraim, etc.: According to this translation, these words are a scoffing and contemptuous expression of the Ephraimites concerning the Gileadites, whom they call fugitives of Ephraim; the word Ephraim being here taken largely, as it is elsewhere as Isaiah 7:2, 5, so as it comprehends the other neighbouring tribes, of which Ephraim was in some sort the head or chief; and especially their brethren of Manasseh, who lived next to them, and were descended from the same father, Joseph; by reason whereof both these tribes are sometimes reckoned for one, and called by the name of the tribe of Joseph. And this large signification of Ephraim may seem probable from the following words, where, instead of Ephraim, is put the Ephraimites and the Manassites. By Gileadites here they seem principally to mean the Manassites beyond Jordan, who dwelt in Gilead, as appears from Deuteronomy 3:13; Joshua 17:1, 5, 6. And although other Gileadites were joined with them, yet they vent their passion against these; principally, because they envied them most; partly, because they seemed to have had a chief hand in the victory, Judges 11:29; and partly, because they were more nearly related to them, and therefore more obliged to desire their conjunction with them in the war. These they here opprobriously call fugitives, that is, such as had deserted their brethren of Ephraim and Manasseh, and for some worldly advantage planted themselves beyond Jordan, at a distance from their brethren, and were alienated in affection from them, and carried on a distinct and separate interest of their own, as appears by their monopolizing the glory of this success to themselves, and excluding their brethren from it. According to the Hebrew, the words lie and may be rendered thus, Therefore (so כִּי/ chi is oft rendered) they said, Fugitives of Ephraim are ye, (that is, Ye Ephraimites are mere runaways; for the words next foregoing are, the men of Gilead smote Ephraim. And having told you what they said, because the pronoun they was ambiguous, he adds by way of explication,) who said it, even the Gileadites, (and they said it when they had got the advantage over them, and got between them and home, as the next verse shows,) being between Ephraim, and Manasseh; that is, having taken the passages of Jordan, as it follows, which lay between Ephraim and that part of Manasseh which was beyond Jordan. Or these latter words may be rendered thus, And the Gileadites were between Ephraim and Manasseh. So there is only an ellipsis of two small words, which are oft defective, and to be understood in Scripture. Or thus, And the Gileadites were in the midst of the Ephraimites, and in the midst of the Manassites, to wit, those Manassites who ordinarily lived within Jordan, who possibly were confederate with the Ephraimites in this quarrel. And so the meaning is, they followed close after them, and overtook them, and fell upon the midst of them, and smote them; and they sent a party to intercept them at the passages of Jordan, as it here follows.

[1] Hebrew: וַיִּקְבֹּ֤ץ יִפְתָּח֙ אֶת־כָּל־אַנְשֵׁ֣י גִלְעָ֔ד וַיִּלָּ֖חֶם אֶת־אֶפְרָ֑יִם וַיַּכּוּ֩ אַנְשֵׁ֙י גִלְעָ֜ד אֶת־אֶפְרַ֗יִם כִּ֤י אָמְרוּ֙ פְּלִיטֵ֤י אֶפְרַ֙יִם֙ אַתֶּ֔ם גִּלְעָ֕ד בְּת֥וֹךְ אֶפְרַ֖יִם בְּת֥וֹךְ מְנַשֶּֽׁה׃

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Dr. Steven Dilday holds a BA in Religion and Philosophy from Campbell University, a Master of Arts in Religion from Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia), and both a Master of Divinity and a  Ph.D. in Puritan History and Literature from Whitefield Theological Seminary.  He is also the translator of Matthew Poole's Synopsis of Biblical Interpreters and Bernardinus De Moor’s Didactico-Elenctic Theology.

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