“The Gileadites seized the fords of the Jordan before the Ephraimites arrived. And when any Ephraimite who escaped said, ‘Let me cross over,’ the men of Gilead would say to him, ‘Are you an Ephraimite?’ If he said, ‘No,’ then they would say to him, ‘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” (Judges 12:5-6 NKJV).

I often purchase clothing and equipment in South Asia as I have needs on my trips. I frequently see quality brand merchandise offered for sale, and in the early days of my work I was amazed at how inexpensive some of the items were. I soon learned however that most such goods are not legitimate, but are counterfeits produced to deceive the unwary.

The obvious question quickly became, “How can I tell the difference between the real and the imitation?” Inferior quality sometimes shows up clearly, but in other cases one must use the item for some time before its true nature is revealed. That does not help much at purchasing time.

One sign of the counterfeit that is very common is a small error in spelling, phraseology, or grammar. The brand may be correctly printed, but the logo may have a small error. These are easily overlooked unless one inspects carefully. But they are sure evidence of illegitimacy. The major companies of this world do not market merchandise with printed errors, especially regarding their names and company ID.

Sometimes I will knowingly purchase one of the fakes, if I only need a cheap lesser quality item. But when safety and health are at issue, I want the real thing. I don’t want to start on a two-week trek in the mountains with a hiking stick that may break at the first strain. I need something I can trust.

Most shoppers would agree with the above logic. But when it comes to religious doctrines and beliefs it is amazing how many people are willing to overlook discrepancies between what some authority says and what they can read in their own Bibles. “Those things don’t really matter” they say. Or, “It’s just a matter of one’s own opinion or interpretation.”

The story of Jepthah and Gilead’s battle with the tribe of Ephraim is instructive. The Ephraimites were angry because Gilead did not invite them to participate in the war with Ammon and decided to attack. They crossed the Jordon River to come into Gilead’s territory but were defeated. In their retreat they were forced to “say the password” to get back over the river. For some reason the Ephraimites were not able to pronounce the “sh” sound, and that lack betrayed them. Their mispronunciation cost them their lives.

Such a little thing, a matter of one letter, but it was used to determine their identity and therefore their guilt. With proof of guilt came punishment.

The Bible is clear that God expects total, complete obedience to His commands. Jesus said that man would live by EVERY word that came from God (Matthew 4:4). He commanded the apostles to teach disciples to “observe all things that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:20). Peter taught, “If any man speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God” (1 Peter 4:11).

God’s words are sacred and holy. When someone teaches that which is not identical to Scripture, he is teaching falsely – his doctrine is counterfeit. We cannot trust it. We must not accept it. Let us follow the counsel of James – “Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls” (James 1:21).

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