Then said they unto him, say now "Shibboleth"
Which signifies a stream or course of water, at which they now were; and so it was as if they had bid them say,
``may I, or let me, pass over the stream of this river;''so Jarchi; and this being the case, though it was done to try them, and by their pronunciation learn whether they were Ephraimites or not, they were not upon their guard, but in an hurry, and at once expressed the word as they commonly did:
and he said, sibboleth;
pronouncing the letter "shin" as if it was "sin", or a "samech"; just as the French, as Kimchi observes, pronounce "s" like a "t"; and though the Gileadites and Ephraimites were of the same nation of Israel, and spoke the same language, yet their pronunciation differed, as did that of the Galilean Jews from others in the times of Christ, ( Matthew 26:73 ) , and so in all nations, among the Greeks, Romans, and among ourselves, people in different counties pronounce in a different manner; which Kimchi thinks was in the Ephraimites owing to the air or climate, as the French, he observes, pronounce "s" as a "t", with a soft and gentle sound:
for he could not frame to pronounce it right;
or "thus" F20, as he was bid to do; being used to pronounce otherwise, he could not frame the organs of speech, or so dispose and order them as to say "shibboleth"; or he did not frame, order, and dispose F21; he was not careful to do it, though with some care he could, being not aware of the design of the Gileadites in it:
then they took him and slew him at the passages of Jordan;
everyone as they came thither, who could not say "shibboleth"; these they suffered not to pass over, but slew them:
and there fell at that time of the Ephraimites forty and two thousand;
not at the passages of Jordan only; but what fell there, with those at the battle, and in the pursuit, amounted to this number; so that the Ephraimites paid dearly for their pride and insolence.