shibboleth

a word, phrase, pronunciation, or habit that distinguishes who is or isn’t part of a particular group; a common slogan or belief that many think is not valid
—My grandfather’s generation still believes the old shibboleth that “Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.”

Moses died before the Israelites entered the Promised Land, and Joshua took over as their leader. He then led the people into Canaan, where they fought with the residents of the area, taking control of the land. These battles lasted for many generations, and during this time, the Israelites even fought amongst themselves. When the Israelite were led by the judge Jephthah, he led the men of Gilaed in defeat of the Ammonite tribe. The Jews of Ephraim crossed the Jordan River and confronted Jephthah because they were angry with him for not asking for their help in the battle. They threatened the Gileadites, and Jephthah responded by gathering his men and fighting against the men of Ephraim. When the Ehpraimites tried to escape by crossing back over the Jordan, the Gileadites stopped them—but they could not identify them by sight. Instead they had to listen for their accents:

The Gileadites captured the fords of the Jordan River opposite Ephraim. Whenever an Ephraimite fugitive said, “Let me cross over,” the men of Gilead asked him, “Are you an Ephraimite?” If he said, “No,” then they said to him, “Say ‘Shibboleth!’” If he said, “Sibboleth” (and could not pronounce the word correctly), they grabbed him and executed him right there at the fords of the Jordan. On that day forty-two thousand Ephraimites fell dead. (Judges 12:5,6)

The meaning of the Hebrew word shibboleth is “a flowing stream, an ear or head of grain, or branches,” but the meaning was not important—only that the Ephraimites could not pronounce the sh sound.

Comments are closed.
  • All scripture quotations, unless otherwise noted, are from the NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://bible.org. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

    Scripture in brackets is from the King James Bible.

  • Creative Commons License
    This work is licensed by Craig Thompson under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

    Any reproduction of this content using passages from the NET Bible must follow NET Bible's copyright policy for use of those passages.

    For information on creating translations of Putting Words in Our Mouths, please go here.

  • Visit My Blog: Clearing Customs

    Take a Look Ahead (or Behind) through the Lens of Expectations

    I like making lists. I like asking questions. I like making lists of questions. And that’s what I’ve done here on the topic of expectations for working cross-culturally. We all set out on the journey abroad with high expectations. Of course we do. Without those expectations we wouldn’t begin. But based on the realities we encounter, or on […]

    Excess Baggage: The Weight of Unmet Expectations [—at A Life Overseas]

    In the five years since Andrea Sears conducted her survey on missionary attrition, she’s been steadily analyzing and releasing the results, topic by topic. Late last year at her Missions Experience blog, she posted the data on how “expectations factors” affect missionaries’ decisions to leave the field. Her findings show that at least half of the former […]