And the men of Ephraim gathered themselves together, and went northward, and said to Jephthah…
Though these Ephraimites are long since dead and gone, there are many Ephraimites alive. They are men who will not share the conflict themselves, but are angry when others succeed.
I. THERE ARE PEOPLE STILL WHO THINK NOTHING CAN BE DONE WITHOUT THEM. We find these people everywhere — not a few of them at home. Ask that busy, bustling housewife to take her children out into the country for a day; or ask her to attend church on a Sunday morning; or ask her to give a few hours to visiting among the sick and the poor and the sorrowful, what will she say? "How can I leave my house? Who will attend to my affairs? If I were out of that house a few days it would all go to ruin." That woman has grown daughters who could and would gladly see to things if she would only let them. But she goes on in her foolish whim that nothing can be done without her. And I verily believe that not a few would rather have nothing done at all if they could not do it. In business, too, the same thing occurs. There are men who are slaves to their business. Neither their sons nor their confidential men, who would suffer any loss rather than neglect the governor's interest, can be trusted. They must see to it, or it won't be done. Some day God puts such a man on his back. He is away six months with a serious illness. His sons, who have not been thought capable hitherto, have responsibility thrown upon them, and rise to the position. The man is humbled, shamed, or it may be, delighted to find that the business has done better with the infusion of the new blood than it did with the old. The Church of Christ, unfortunately, is afflicted with a large number of men who think nothing can be done without them. There are men who would rather the battle should be lost than others win it — who would almost wish that evil should remain rather than others have the honour of removing it. But what does it matter who gains the victory if it be gained? God can accomplish His purposes without any of us. Look over the pages of history, and you will find that workers fall, but the work goes on.
II. THERE ARE SOME WHO, THOUGH THEY CAN'T STOP THE WORK, TRY TO PREJUDICE THE WORKERS. The men of the text said in effect, "And who are you? You are fugitives, mongrels, not of pure blood. What business have the likes of you to think you can fight the foes of Israel? It is monstrous, and we won't have it." The same thing goes on to-day. There are men who seem to think they have said something clever and settling when they say that the popular useful man was not born in a palace. "Who's he?" is their cry. "Why, don't you know that he was a collier, and worked in a coal pit? His father died in a cottage. His mother was the daughter of a man who drove a horse and cart, and never had five pounds in his life." And what of that? Is it not honest to get coal? Better be a collier and dig coal in the service of man, and thus the service of God, than be a loafer, an idler, a consumer, a drone. Some of the noblest of God's servants have come from among the poor, and the obscure, and the unknown. Our Lord Himself was a toiler, and the Son of toilers, and has for ever consecrated and blessed all honest necessary human labour. So I say to you all, toil on, pray on, fight on, win victories for God. Beat back the enemies of Israel; and if the Ephraimites, lacking courage and genius themselves, despise you, let them.
III. THERE ARE SOME WHO CAN'T OR WON'T DO MUCH THEMSELVES, BUT HATE, AND SCORN, AND TRY TO PERSECUTE THOSE WHO DO. "We will burn thine house upon thee." Alas! This has often found expression in the bitterness of party strife and religious bigotry. Unable to silence men whose lips God had touched as with live coals from His own altar, and whose hearts had felt the power of the living God, they have erected their stakes, piled their faggots, and lit their fires, in which the saints of God, the excellent of the earth, have stood till their flesh was shrivelled and their bones cindered. "We will burn thine house upon thee with fire," said these men; but they found themselves unable to do it. Some men are hard to kill, and some houses bad to burn. Many a tyrant has found this out. "We will burn thine house upon thee." It does not seem to have occurred to these cowardly Ephraimites that men who burn other people's houses sometimes burn themselves. It is dangerous to play with edged tools. It is not safe to toy with fire. It may become the instrument of your own torture, the weapon of your own destruction. "They that take the sword shall perish with the sword," said Jesus Christ; and there is for us no higher authority. Some men who are fond of using fire do no harm except to themselves. Whilst it is in some sense only right and just that this should be so, there are cases in which we are sorry for the opposers. Well had it been for these Ephraimites had they shared in the universal rejoicing. Well had it been for them if they had learned wisdom, and ceased from opposition. Their wicked and senseless opposition brought ruin upon themselves. In sheer self-defence the victor turned the sword upon them. Alas for them! Forty and two thousand of them that day left their dead bodies upon the plains as victims of their folly, and in illustration of our saying that the wicked often injure themselves. And this is true with the Lord Jesus and His gospel. Some men oppose it, reject it, mutilate it, burn it. All such injure themselves. They can never hurt the truth. It will live. They cannot stop the power of Jesus Christ to save men. The waves of the ocean dash against the granite rock, but the rock does not move. But what of the waves? Broken, they roll back in spray to the ocean out of which they came. "Whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder."
(C. Leach, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And the men of Ephraim gathered themselves together, and went northward, and said unto Jephthah, Wherefore passedst thou over to fight against the children of Ammon, and didst not call us to go with thee? we will burn thine house upon thee with fire.
WEB: The men of Ephraim were gathered together, and passed northward; and they said to Jephthah, "Why did you pass over to fight against the children of Ammon, and didn't call us to go with you? We will burn your house around you with fire!"