Feb 10, 2015
In many conflicts, it becomes necessary to be able to determine friend from foe concerning someone not personally known. One practice is to employ a phrase or manner of speaking that is different between the opposing groups.

In Judges, the men of Gilead, who were fighting with the tribe of Ephraim would require those fleeing over the Jordan to speak the word “Shibboleth”. People who grew up in the tribe of Ephraim pronounced it markedly differently (if they could pronounce it at all). In this way the Gileadites identified and killed 42000.

Judges 12:5,6 (NASB)

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," 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.

For this reason, this and similar means of determining who is to be trusted has been called by the word “shibboleth”.

In early Christianity, there was a ‘secret sign’ where one believer would draw an arc in the dirt with his foot, and another would draw another arc with his foot, the two arcs would form the fish symbol. This was the shibboleth of the early church, and in recent years has become a general symbol of our faith and brotherhood.

Let us not use this method to divide ourselves, church from church, and brother from brother. Let us not let the differences between us define us.

Let our shibboleth be that we love one another in the self sacrificial way that our Lord teaches each of us.