Juges 12



1 Or les hommes d'Ephraïm s'étant assemblés, passèrent vers le Septentrion, et dirent à Jephthé : Pourquoi es-tu passé pour combattre contre les enfants de Hammon, et que tu ne nous as point appelés pour aller avec toi? nous brûlerons au feu ta maison, et te [brûlerons] aussi.

2 Et Jephthé leur dit : J'ai eu un grand différend avec les enfants de Hammon, moi et mon peuple, et quand je vous ai appelés, vous ne m'avez point délivré de leurs mains.

3 Et voyant que vous ne me délivriez pas, j'ai exposé ma vie, et je suis passé jusqu'où étaient les enfants de Hammon, et l'Eternel les a livrés en ma main; pourquoi donc êtes-vous montés aujourd'hui vers moi pour me faire la guerre?

4 Puis Jephthé ayant assemblé tous les gens de Galaad, combattit contre Ephraïm; et ceux de Galaad battirent Ephraïm, parce qu'ils avaient dit : Vous [êtes] des échappés d'Ephraïm, Galaad [est] au milieu d'Ephraïm, au milieu de Manassé.

5 Et les Galaadites se saisirent des passages du Jourdain avant que ceux d'Ephraïm y arrivassent; et quand quelqu'un de ceux d'Ephraïm qui étaient échappés, disait : Que je passe; les gens de Galaad lui disaient : Es-tu Ephratien? et il répondait : Non.

6 Alors ils lui disaient : Dis un peu Schibboleth, et il disait Sibboleth, et ne pouvait point prononcer [Schibboleth]; sur quoi se saisissant de lui ils le mettaient à mort au passage du Jourdain. Et en ce temps-là il y eut quarante-deux mille hommes d'Ephraïm qui furent tués.

7 Et Jephthé jugea Israël six ans; puis Jephthé Galaadite mourut, et fut enseveli en [une] des villes de Galaad.

8 Après lui Ibtsan de Bethléhem jugea Israël.

9 Et il eut trente fils et trente filles, lesquelles il mit hors [de sa maison, en les mariant], et il prit de dehors trente filles pour ses fils; et il jugea Israël sept ans.

10 Puis Ibtsan mourut, et fut enseveli à Bethléhem.

11 Après lui Elon Zabulonite jugea Israël, dix ans.

12 Puis Elon Zabulonite mourut et fut enseveli à Ajalon, dans la terre de Zabulon.

13 Après lui Habdon, fils d'Hillel, Pirhathonite jugea Israël.

14 Il eut quarante fils, et trente petits-fils, qui montaient sur soixante-dix ânons; et il jugea Israël huit ans.

15 Puis Habdon, fils d'Hillel, Pirhathonite mourut, et fut enseveli à Pirhathon, en la terre d'Ephraïm, sur la montagne de l'Hamalécite.

Exploring the Meaning of Juges 12      

Napsal(a) Rev. Julian Duckworth

Judges 12: Jephthah’s conflict with Ephraim; Ibzan, Elon and Abdon.

After Jephthah’s victory over the Ammonites, the men of Ephraim came to Jephthah, demanding to know why he hadn’t asked them to join the battle. Jephthah answered that when his people had struggled against Ammon in the past, Ephraim had not answered their calls for help.

Jephthah and Ephraim went to war over this dispute, and Ephraim was defeated. Jephthah’s men, the men of Gilead, stood by the fords of the Jordan to catch fleeing Ephraimites. When a man asked to cross, they would tell him to say “Shibboleth”. The men who pronounced the word as “Sibboleth” were from Ephraim, and were put to death. In total, forty-two thousand Ephraimites were killed in the war.

Jephthah died after judging Israel for six years, and was buried in Gilead.


The spiritual meaning of Ephraim is to understand the truths of the Word. Wherever Ephraim is referenced in a negative sense, as in this chapter, the spiritual meaning becomes an understanding of the Word which has been destroyed. The Word commands us to live by what we understand and believe; in this story, Ephraim did not heed Jephthah’s words (see Swedenborg’s work, Doctrine of Sacred Scripture 79[3]).

The escaping Ephraimites were exposed by their accent, as they could not pronounce the ‘sh’ sound of “Shibboleth”. The letter ‘h’ stands for the genuine truth of the Word, which is the love of the Lord and for the neighbour. A purely intellectual understanding of the Word fails to comprehend this living heart that makes the Word what it is, and consequently, can only say “Sibboleth” (see Swdenborg’s work, Arcana Caelestia 4280).

The Word tells us that forty-two thousand Ephraimites were killed - that seems an colossal number of casualties! But the Word does not report facts from a historical standpoint; it presents living truths, even in numbers. Forty-two is six multiplied by seven, so its spiritual meaning can be understood as a combination of both numbers. In the creation story, the Lord worked for six days and rested on the seventh. This idea relates to our regeneration, which involves our struggles during temptation, as well as the peace that comes from spiritual growth. The fact that the number of casualties was in the thousands emphasizes the significance of the spiritual meaning (Arcana Caelestia 8539[2]).

Jephthah judged Israel six years. The number six here carries the same meaning of conflict and work during temptation. The temptation in this chapter would be to understand the Word purely in an intellectual or dead way (Ephraim in a bad sense), rather than living by the truths it teaches.


After Jephthah, there were three minor judges of Israel. The first was Ibzan, who gave away thirty daughters to marry abroad, and brought in thirty foreign daughters for his thirty sons. The Bible does not tell us any more about Ibzan, except the curious fact that he came from Bethlehem. It’s uncertain whether this is the same town where the Lord would be born, or another town of the same name.

Ibzan, whose name means ‘illustrious’, stands for a generous and willing spirit, able to take in new perspectives and to share his blessings with others. This concept is called mutual love, which is a key quality of heaven (Arcana Caelestia 2738).

The next judge, Elon, came from Zebulun, and led Israel for ten years. Even these few details that we learn about him present a sense of integrity in their spiritual meanings: his name means an ‘oak’, a tree which is associated with nobility, strength, and longevity, each of which are fitting qualities of a leader; he came from Zebulun, which represents the unity of good and truth (Arcana Caelestia 4592[13]); and the number ten (the number of years that he judged Israel) symbolizes completeness, and also our spiritual ‘remains’ (see Sweenborg’s work, Doctrine of Life 56).

The third and final judge, Abdon, had forty sons and thirty grandsons who rode on seventy young donkeys. Abdon’s name means “to serve”, which is the third spiritual principle after love and truth. To serve is to offer our life to God through charity toward others. A young donkey represents the untamed level of our lives before regeneration, which needs spiritual care (Arcana Caelestia 5084[8]).

These last three ‘minor’ judges remind us of the qualities which guard against the next major opponent of Israel: the Philistines, who represent faith without regard to charity or good works.

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