“… ‘Then say, ‘Shibboleth’!’ And he would say, ‘Sibboleth,’ for he could not pronounce it right. Then they would take him and kill him at the fords of the Jordan. There fell at that time forty-two thousand Ephraimites.” (Judges 12:6)
Although we Americans have a common language we all have accents that show our origins to a discerning ear. The above incident demonstrates how thousands of years ago different regional accents caused the death of 42,000 people.
There had been a civil war among people of the same ethnicity. As the victors captured survivors, the only way to tell if they were the enemy was to force them to say “Shiboleth.” When prisoners could not pronounce the “sh” sound because of their regional accents, 42,000 of them were executed.
What does all this have to do with us today? Metaphorically speaking, when we meet people we often have a hidden theological agenda. If they do not say that which agrees with our hidden agenda we hit the reject button. The sad thing is that they never even know why we have rejected them.
As a pastor since 1956, I have been greatly blessed by people who did not have the same precise theological agenda as mine. While meeting recently with two of the founders of the church where I am now Pastor Emeritus, we thanked God that we did not miss the blessings of our relationships over the past 35 years. Coming from diverse theological backgrounds, we could have hit the reject button when we met in 1979 if we each had tried to push our theological agendas.
As Christ prayed that we might be one as He is one with the Father, may we watch out for Shibboleths that divide us. Instead, let’s focus on Jesus Christ and the supernatural unity we have in Him.