5 And the Gileadites captured the 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 the fords of the Jordan. At that time 42,000 of the Ephraimites fell. – Judges 12:5-6
These short two verses have created a byword in English for referring to a test of inclusion or exclusion, i.e. a shibboleth. Considering the original story, I find it a little odd. It isn’t like these tribes were total strangers. These are two tribse of Israel involved in a seemingly petty dispute. In fact, the Ephraimites had gotten upset like this before with Gideon and he managed to smooth the situation over. Here it instead turns into a sad and tragic demonstration of exploiting another person’s differences. How often do we judge another based on some perceived shortcoming though and try to make them jump through an impossible hoop (or two or three) before we will reconcile or let it go? I know it happens. We must drop the shibboleth, that impossible test they can never pass, and find a way to reconcile with our brother or sister instead. Forgiveness is the way of our Master.