1The men of Ephraim were called to arms, and they crossed to Zaphon and said to Jephthah, “Why did you cross over to fight against the Ammonites and did not call us to go with you? We will burn your house over you with fire.” 2 And Jephthah said to them, “I and my people had a great dispute with the Ammonites, and when I called you, you did not save me from their hand. 3 And when I saw that you would not save me, pI took my life in my hand and crossed over against the Ammonites, and theLord gave them into my hand. Why then have you come up to me this day to fight against me?” 4 Then Jephthah gathered all the men of Gilead and fought with Ephraim. And the men of Gilead struck Ephraim, because they said, q“You are fugitives of Ephraim, you Gileadites, in the midst of Ephraim and Manasseh.” 5 And the Gileadites captured rthe fords of the Jordan against the Ephraimites. And when any of the fugitives of Ephraim said, “Let me go over,” the men of Gilead said to him, “Are you an Ephraimite?” When he said, “No,” 6 they said to him, “Then say Shibboleth,” and he said, “Sibboleth,” for he could not pronounce it right. Then they seized him and slaughtered him at rthe fords of the Jordan. At that time 42,000 of the Ephraimites fell.
Judges 12 will provide a couple of interesting studies- the main one will be about Jephthah who is mentioned in the 'wall of faith' in Hebrews 11.
But today, I wanted to focus on the Men of Ephraim and a particular kind of evil that is prevalent in our culture today- alas, even in the Church of Jesus Christ!
To characterize this group, I need to go back a few chapters in Judges. In chapter 7, we get an account of Gideon defeating the Midianites and find a similar problem in Chapter 8 as we find here in Chapter 12:
Then the men of Ephraim said to him (Gideon), “What is this that you have done to us, not to call us when you went to fight against Midian?” And they accused him fiercely.2 And he said to them, “What have I done now in comparison with you? Is not athe gleaning of the grapes of Ephraim better than the grape harvest of Abiezer? 3 bGod has given into your hands the princes of Midian, Oreb and Zeeb. What have I been able to do in comparison with you?” cThen their anger1 against him subsided when he said this.Do you see a parallel pattern? Yes, the Men of Ephraim are professional complainers- the kind that stir up dissension and spread negativity, rumors, lies, and instability.
Is this a serious sin or just a personality profile? Let's see what God's Word says:
Proverbs 6:Here is a similar statement in Galatians 5:
16 There are dsix things that the Lord hates,
dseven that are an abomination to him:17 ehaughty eyes, fa lying tongue,
and ghands that shed innocent blood,18 ha heart that devises wicked plans,
ifeet that make haste to run to evil,19 ja false witness who kbreathes out lies,
and one who asows discord among brothers.
19 Now bthe works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality,20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions,cdivisions, 21 envy,4 drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that dthose who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
My fear is that there a certain sins that we tolerate in our lives and in our churches that are as destructive, maybe even more destructive, that the so called 'vices' that we rail against. Stirring up negative attacks is one of these issues. Sadly, some of my observations in 30 years of Christian service is that we usually give in to the attacks- sometimes allowing good people to be railroaded in the process.
Let's look at some of the issues surrounding the Men of Ephraim:
I EVIL EPHRAIM: CHARACTERISTICS OF REBEL ROUSERS AND TROUBLE MAKERS
There is a steady stereotype found in these type of people
- THEY WORK IN GROUPS- NEVER ALONE
Most of the time, these types of men will not tell you these things in person. One on one, these men are pretenders and appeasers. They will hint to the crisis, but never own up to its authorship. They will say things like "I have heard" or "they say" without specifying individuals. These people are usually weak in person and are fearful of the crowd they run in. It is a pack mentality. They feel emboldened in numbers and depend on emotional responses. They need the targets of their attack to be afraid of them.
- THEY HAVE GENERAL COMPLAINTS WITHOUT SPECIFIC FACTS
Notice in both accounts that the criticism is of the same substance. Dissenters spin worn out critiques and a one size fits all complaint. Because it is a group think operation- they repeat the issues among themselves so much that the complaint is accepted as truth without substance.
- THEY FUEL THE INTENSITY OF COMPLAINTS WITH HALF TRUTHS AND FALSEHOOD
This is one of the saddest results of such an environment. There are individuals within the pack who twist details and mis-represent statements and question motives. Because they act without nobility, they are always skeptical of everyone. Their default mode is suspicion and are quick to believe outright lies without substantiation. The Men of Ephraim told lies about Jephthah as well: “You are fugitives of Ephraim, you Gileadites, in the midst of Ephraim and Manasseh.”
- THEY ARE NOT APPEASED WITH REASON AND NEGOTIATION IS FUTILE
A peacemaker will try to diffuse situations that they have spun up only to find it as disconcerting as the proverbial tar-baby. I have always been amazed how ineffective an appeal to logic is with them. Often, I try a technique where I get them to at least admit there is another way of looking at a situation, but it has always been futile to a determined dissenter. My experience is that these are issues of the heart... not the head. We will look at two responses later and we should always try to find a peaceful solution- but most of the time the end result is unavoidable.
- THEY DO NOT ACT WITH CHARACTER OR COURAGE
Notice Jephthah has to put in his 'test' for the Ephraimites, because he counts on them not telling the truth. Some of the biggest mistakes we make in life is when when count on men without character - and a lack of character goes hand-in-hand with men without courage.
II STUDYING TWO RESPONSES TO DEFIANT DISSENTERS
In Judges 8, the Ephraimites challenge Gideon with great vigor. And Gideon appeals to their pride in his response. He basically praises them to appease the attack. Some may call this a wise response- He knows them and has more important things to do so he uses guile in the political solution.
The problem with this response is that it only encourages the behavior. The more we yield to the mob mentality only poisons the situation and creates the potential for someone else getting waylaid in the process.
Here in Judges 12- Jephthah doesn't play that way. He is a warrior. He explains in futility that he did ask for help, couldn't wait around on them, risked great sacrifice in his actions, and, with God's help, prevailed.
When the troublemakers don't get what they want, he knows what he has to do.
III THE FINAL RESULTS OF THE ONES WHO SOW DISCORD
At some point, it is going to happen. Rebel rousers leave a great path of destruction. But the Scripture always proves true:
zDo not be deceived: God is not mocked, for awhatever one sows, that will he also reap. For bthe one who sows to his own flesh cwill from the flesh reap corruption, butdthe one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. (Galatians 6:7,8)42,000 Ephraimites were killed as a result of their own making. And it sounds harsh to say it this way- Israel was in a better off without them. Because these people create constant instability.
IV FINAL APPLICATIONS FROM JUDGES 12
I will study Jephthah, the leader, later- but there are important applications of this part of the passage.
1) We have to diligently search our hearts and get rid of any root of bitterness that may exist.
Strive for peace with everyone, and for the tholiness uwithout which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one vfails to obtain the grace of God; that no w“root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; (Hebrews 12:14,15)Is there some issue that you constantly gripe about? Is there a person that you consistently tear down? Do you ever find yourself pulling others into your attack of others? In the long run, you are only hurting yourself.
2) Is there a group of dissenters that need confronting? It is important that you implement Matthew 18 and begin the process of winning brothers or cutting out problems. These are very sensitive issues, but no family or organization can sustain itself with groups who constantly poison the water and pollute the air.
3) I guess I need to finish this hard post by mentioning what I think is a sin of anonymous e-mails, internet postings, or other faceless, nameless attacks. I am a huge fan of freedom of speech and freedom of dissent- but I do not believe in anonymous speech. If you say it- you need to put your name on it.
4) We all get better with healthy critique and dissent. The key to this is personal one on one communication and upfront dialogue. But the secret shadows of whisper campaigns have hurt good men and women of God throughout the history of the church. Little ones have stumbled in the dark attacks and terrible judgement awaits those who have participated in these types of actions.
It takes a strong leader to take on the Men of Ephraim.