Pronounce Truth

by APC on July 15, 2015

Have you ever been conversing with someone who acted as if they knew what they were speaking about, but in reality you knew they really didn’t? A dead give-away is when s/he mispronounces a word that an expert—or at least a knowledgeable person—would properly articulate. Their mispronunciation isn’t just a slight difference between “potāto” vs. “potâto;” it’s so obvious a linguist would be rocked to their very core.

In a casual conversation, improperly speaking a word isn’t a life-and-death situation. But, in Biblical times it was:

And the Gileadites took the passages of Jordan before the Ephaimites: and it was so, that when those Ephraimites which were escaped said, Let me go over; that the men of Gilead said unto him, Art thou and Ephraimite? If he said, Nay; Then said they unto him, Say now Shibboleth: and he said Sibboleth: for he could not frame to pronounce it right. Then they took him, and slew him at the passages of Jordan: and there fell at that time of the Ephraimites forty and two thousand (Judges 12:6–7, KJV).

When this particular Ephraimite was asked to pronounce the word Shibboleth, he pronounced the letter “shin” as if it was “sin” or “samech.” Because he mispronounced this word, he was killed. (Are you now inclined, dear reader, to download a phonetic dictionary app?)

Let me put you at ease—not everyone who misspoke a word during Biblical times was killed. Today in casual conversation, a person won’t haul you off to your death for uttering a wrong syllable. This death instance occurred when Ephraimites were attempting to masquerade as people who “belonged.” But, the moment they were caught and determined to be fakes, they were eliminated.

We can learn a lot from this passage of Scripture as it relates to our relationship with God. We can profess our Christianity and vow that we have a true relationship with God, but do our actions and words pronounce a different truth?

We may be able to fool others in this life, but the moment we meet our Lord, and Savior, I pray He does not say, “…I never knew you; depart from me, ye that work iniquity” (Matthew 7:23, KJV). God knows who we are and if we are fakes. We need to get alone with God in prayer and read His Word—it is only then when we speak will it be truly evident that we know Him.

When this Ephraimite incorrectly stated Sibboleth, this didn’t only sound different than Shibboleth, but it actually meant something different entirely. Shibboleth means depth of waters, but to these particular people, it meant ear of grain.

If we’re not careful, and what we profess and what we say don’t “match up,” we can give a wrong impression to others about what it’s like to live for God, have a relationship with Him, and how to live in accordance with His Word. If we say we have a relationship with Jesus, but live in opposition to His Word, we will become the blind leading the blind. Eventually we’ll both fall into the pit of destruction and despair (Matthew 15:14).

A linguist will tell you that phonetics is the field of study which focuses on the sounds of human speech. Many people have devoted their entire life to this particular field of study as they are passionate about word origin and pronunciation. We too should “study to shew [ourselves] approved unto God…” (II Timothy 2:15, KJV). We must not only be knowledgeable about His Word, but when we are called to speak to His truth, we should able to pronounce it.