by: Rev. James Chinery, St. Martin's Church
The Hebrew word shibboleth has an interesting story behind it, as recorded in the book of Judges. The word shibboleth in ancient Hebrew meant 'ear of grain.’ Some groups pronounced it with a sh sound, but speakers of related dialects pronounced it with an s.
In the story, two Semitic tribes, the Ephraimites and the Gileadites, have a great battle. The Gileadites defeat the Ephraimites, and set up a blockade across the Jordan River to catch the fleeing Ephraimites who were trying to get back to their territory. The sentries asked each person who wanted to cross the river to say the word shibboleth. The Ephraimites, who had no sh sound in their language, pronounced the word with an s and were thereby unmasked as the enemy and slaughtered. In modern times shibboleth has come to mean something that identifies someone as a member, or a non-member of a group. It is a means of excluding or including someone into your group.
Mephibosheth’s story is buried deep within the Old Testament. He was the son of Jonathon...David’s dear friend, and grandson to Saul, the first king of Israel. He lost both his father and his grandfather at the Battle of Mount Gilboa (1 Samuel 31). When Mephibosheth’s nurse heard the news, she fled and dropped the boy, rendering him permanently crippled.
Despite everything this poor child endured, his story has a happy ending. Happy because the king showed him mercy, where we read, nd Mephibosheth lived in Jerusalem, because he always ate at the king’s table; he was lame in both feet (2 Samuel 9:13).”
Humanities shibboleth is our sin, that separates us from God. Sin has been genetically deposited into our being…that is our nature. It is not however the end of our story, because the king has shown mercy on his children. The king stands at the table and declares, “Whoever believes in me shall not die but have everlasting life.” That’s grace, that’s mercy. So we join Mephibosheth. Our sin has crippled us, but in Christ we have a permanent place at the kings table.