In the eclectic world of people, dialects are a beautiful outcropping of distinction, but they do come with some complications at times. Different languages, and even pronunciations were introduced from the times of Babylon. These distinctive dialects and pronunciations, flavors of words represent people of various tribal affiliations, geographic locales, and particular ethnicities. But again, by them, some challenges are presented in the world of communication.
Many tribes and peoples have developed unique words, pronunciations and styles which are very difficult for other people groups to successfully master–beautiful accents and flavors just the same. And these special idiosyncrasies of speech circle the globe; do they not?
We identify people and their tribes by how they speak. We are drawn to their accents, although some would insist that we are the ones who hold the unorthodox pronunciations. So, dialects are international, and right in our backyards as well. My friend just over the other side of the mountain speaks of a nut I enjoy often, though he refers to them as “amunds.” “Amund?” I say, “what is that?” Of course, he is referring to the almond (though he insists that the “l” is silent). I told him my name is spelled K-e-l-l-y, but the second “l” is silent… but I digress.
Sometimes a person may intentially use a word, or a pronunciation of a word in order to falsely “identify” with people; in order to gain entry our camp; this is no less the case than in the Church. Some seek to parody fellowship by using “Christianese,” words familiar to us like: “blessed” “Faith” “Bible” “God” “Christian” even “Christ”! But, these words do not mean the same thing across every theological system. We need to ask what people mean by these words, especially when we suspect that such are being hijacked for ulterior purposes. We need to test those who would seek to wrest entry as a true member of the body of Christ.
An interesting story is found in the pages of the Old Testament, in Judges chapter 12, wherein an enemy to the Giledites is seeking to hoodwink them. The Ephraimites crossed over from the West side of the Jordan River to the East side, they have challenged the Gileadites in battle, and subsequently been defeated. As they are fleeing to make their way to safety, back to the West side of the Jordan once again, they are put to their penultimate test.
The Gileadites were one step ahead of them, and captured the fords of the river, thus, impairing the clear passage to a successful escape. Still, the Ephraimites were compelled to try. Again, we find the account in Judges 12:1-6:
“Then the men of Ephraim were summoned, and they crossed to Zaphon and said to Jephthah, “Why did you cross over to fight against the sons of Ammon without calling us to go with you? We will burn your house down on you.” 2 Jephthah said to them, “I and my people were at great strife with the sons of Ammon; when I called you, you did not deliver me from their hand. 3 “When I saw that you would not deliver me, I took my life in my hands and crossed over against the sons of Ammon, and the LORD 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 Ephraim; and the men of Gilead defeated Ephraim, because they said, “You are fugitives of Ephraim, O Gileadites, in the midst of Ephraim and in the midst of Manasseh.” 5 The Gileadites captured the fords of the Jordan opposite Ephraim. And it happened when any of the fugitives of Ephraim said, “Let me cross over,” the men of Gilead would say to him, “Are you an Ephraimite?” If he said, “No,” 6 then they would say to him, “Say now, ‘Shibboleth.’” But he said, “Sibboleth,” for he could not pronounce it correctly. Then they seized him and slew him at the fords of the Jordan. Thus there fell at that time 42,000 of Ephraim.”
As the remaining Ephraimites neared closer their home turf, with only the river between them, they would ask for permission to pass through the military blockade. To which the Gileadites would interrogate with the question, “Are you an Ephraimite?”
One would think that given the consequences of answering such a question in the affirmative that most Ephraimites would have replied, “No.” But still ,there was a second test in store; it was a simple, and brilliant test of pronunciation–to say the Hebrew word for stream, or river–shibboleth.
Having lived and grown up on the Eastern side of the Jordan, living among more foreign people groups, the Giliadties were accustomed to pronouncing “Shibboleth,” the test word, with an “SH” sound. The Ephraimites had no such ability to contort their lips and tongues in such a way, and thus failed the test. Those who could not execute such a demand faithfully were indeed themselves… executed.
The ingenuity of the test was brilliant, and yet so simple that the Gileadites proved successful across many fronts of the battlefield. I wonder how successful we as Christians are in discerning who is really in the camp… our camp.
It seems as though everybody and their cousin is a believer in Christ… when it is convenient to be so.
We are cautioned many places in Scripture to be shrewd, to have discernment not to be fooled, to be wise as to who we let into the camp.
In 1 John 4:1, 5 we are reminded, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world… They are from the world; therefore they speak as from the world, and the world listens to them.”
Our discernment is of the utmost importance. If the Church is not guarded from such as would deceive to gain entry, then the health of the Church is at risk; the culture observes a distorted Bride of Christ; and above all, God is not honored.
To let someone into our midst who causes trouble among the sheep… is truly unspeakable.
A Special Note:
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