Judges 12:5-6 5 The Gileadites captured the fords of the Jordan leading to Ephraim, and whenever a survivor of Ephraim said, “Let me cross over,” the men of Gilead asked him, “Are you an Ephraimite?” If he replied, “No,” 6 they said, “All right, say ‘Shibboleth.’” If he said, “Sibboleth,” because he could not pronounce the word correctly, they seized him and killed him at the fords of the Jordan. Forty-two thousand Ephraimites were killed at that time.
You say po-tae-to, I say po-tah-to. Potaeto, potahto, tomaeto, tomahto. You say soda and I say pop. It’s funny how in different parts of the world and even within a nation, there are diverse ways to say the same things. Whether it be a pronunciation or an expression, we all have a unique way of saying things. I love that God made us that way, to have a different form of expression. This isn’t anything new, either. This same thing occurred in Bible times. You say Sibboleth, I say Shibboleth. You get it wrong… I kill you. This is what I call: “Death by accent.”
It’s quite a creative way, really, to figure out who your opponents are. I wonder if word got back to the Ephraimites that this was going on? You know, there was probably that one guy who overheard all this and reported back to the people, “we’ve got to learn how to say Shibboleth.” I also wonder why they weren’t able to say it correctly. Did they have lisps? Was this a speech impediment or just a quirk? Either way, it set them apart somehow. And this setting apart was not a positive thing. Rather, it resulted in their impending death – all because they had an accent.
We tend to treat people differently as well. If someone acts, sounds, or looks different from the norm, we so often try to put them in a category. We may even exclude them due to their differences. It is “social” death by accent. But Jesus made it very clear who our neighbor is. It is more than just the person in the seat next to us at church. Our neighbor is the world around us. Our neighbors are the people who talk differently than us. They might even say curse words or live a lifestyle we don’t. So what do we do with that? Do we stay away from them because they aren’t like us? That’s not the calling of the believer. Rather, the calling is to be a neighbor. At the end of the day, God desires us all to be in the same family. So let’s focus less on our differences and strive toward loving one another. Let our focus be leading our neighbor to Jesus.