Judges 12:5-6 explains…
“The Gileadites captured the fords of the Jordan against the Ephraimites. And when any of the fugitives of Ephraim said, “Let me go over,” the men of Gilead said to him, “Are you an Ephraimite?”
When he said, “No,” they said to him, “Then say Shibboleth,” and he said, “Sibboleth,” for he could not pronounce it right.
Then they seized him and slaughtered him at the fords of the Jordan. At that time 42,000 of the Ephraimites fell.”
Based on this passage in Judges 12, the word “shibboleth” has been used to refer to any common password among adherents of a party, group, or belief and usually regarded by others as empty of real meaning.
Among Christ’s people, there are certain words that are unusually loaded with meaning. These words convey much more to the discerning listener than is apparent on the surface.
For example, these words or phrases might include “Doctrines of Grace,” the phrase, “sovereignty of God,” or even the word, “expositional.” These words or phrases seem to be loaded with rich meaning for the discerning listener among Christ’s people.
However, I’m also learning that a classic shibboleth in our day among Christ’s people is the word “Providence.” It’s the word referring to God’s over-ruling control in all things for the good of His people and the glory of His name.
Providence as a term has become a beautiful shibboleth among reformed Christians, and rightly so. This term is loaded with meaning in biblical theology. It conveys so much more content than is apparent on the surface.
I was reminded of this recently when I was visiting a doctor at a large medical center. He asked where I was employed and I told him the name of our church, Providence Baptist Church.
His next question was, “Are you all reformed?” To which I responded, “Yes” and then explained what I meant by reformed.
It turns out this doctor was reformed in the same way as I had described our church. He said, “I knew you all must be reformed because the name of your church is Providence.” And then he added, “That’s something of a ‘shibboleth’ among Christ’s people.”
And I immediately picked up his reference to Judges 12.
Yes, providence is a wonderful shibboleth and a wonderful name for a church. It conveys so much that is true about God and His purpose for the church revealed in Scripture.
When Christ’s people can speak to one another in the bibline language – the dialect of Bible-saturated theology – it draws like-minded believers closer together and makes the fellowship all the richer. It also spurs other Christians to a deeper study of the Bible.
In this way, Christians “address one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart” (Ephesians 5:19).
For deeper growth in Scripture,