JUDGES CHAPTER 8
1 Gideon pacifieth the Ephraimites. 4 Succoth and Penuel refuse to relieve Gideon’s army. 10 Zebah and Zalmunna are taken. 13 Succoth and Penuel are destroyed. 18 Gideon revengeth his brethren’s death on Zebah and Zalmunna. 22 He refuseth government. 24 His ephod cause of idolatry. 28 Midian subdued. 29 Gidoen’s children, and death. 33 The israelites’ idolatry and ingratitude.
1. They did chide. Ephraim was the most populous and most important tribe of northern Palestine and was jealous of its position of leadership. The Ephraimites had rallied immediately to Gideon’s call, and had proved their power and fidelity to the national cause. Yet when they met Gideon their injured ambitions and pride led them to reproach him for not calling them before the battle began, just as much as to say that no one had a right to make a move to repel the common enemy without asking them. Their arrogance was due partly to their strength and partly to an attitude formed when Joshua, who was an Ephraimite, was the acknowledged leader of Israel. Later the tribe again assumed a dictatorial tone (ch. 12:1–7), but this time the result was a humiliating defeat for Ephraim.
It is here that one of the most important lessons of this narrative may be found. In common with the other northern tribes, Ephraim had done nothing to oppose the depredations of the Midianites. In common with the others, they were brave enough to join in the fray only after the enemy was in flight. Similarly, there are many today who criticize the one who courageously launches a laudable project. They hold back any support until it is apparent that the venture will succeed. Then they attempt to take credit to themselves to edge in on the leadership of the enterprise. Such a spirit is reprehensible.
2. Gleaning. The leftovers.
Vintage of Abi-ezer. Gideon did not even mention himself, but modestly referred to the 300 men of the family of Abi-ezer who were with him. By his classic figure Gideon implied that Ephraim, by a subsequent and secondary effort, had achieved more than he and his group. However, there was no lack of truth in his remark, for Ephraim had wrought a significant victory (see Isa. 10:26), even though the account of their battle is extremely brief.
Gideon’s qualities of leadership and self-control enabled him to deal effectively with the envious Ephraimites. His courtesy and diplomacy enabled him to appease their wrath and extricate himself from a difficult situation.
4. Came to Jordan. The account of Gideon’s pursuit is resumed from ch. 7:24. As the Midianites fled, they split up into groups, one of which had been intercepted by the Ephraimites and destroyed; others succeeded in crossing the Jordan into the hills of Gilead.
Faint, yet pursuing. Even though Gideon and his men were tired and hungry from their exertions in fighting the rear guards of the Midianites, they did not pause at the Jordan but immediately crossed it and continued to follow the enemy. They had already done much, but they were willing to do more. Similarly, our spiritual warfare demands persistent effort. At no point in the struggle is it safe to relax our efforts through weariness. Many a victory has been won by Christians who were “faint, yet pursuing.”
5. Succoth. Literally, “booths.” This city of the tribe of Gad was situated along the Jabbok River, where the hills begin to rise not far from the place where the Jabbok flows into the Jordan. The city received its name from the booths Jacob erected there at the end of his long journey homeward from Padan-aram (Gen. 33:17).
Loaves. Literally, “rounds,” or “circles,” of bread. These were the round, flat cakes frequently mentioned in the Bible. Gideon’s request was just and reasonable. He was performing a service for all Israel, and in an hour of need he could legitimately expect his brethren to supply food for his hungry men.
In like manner those who fight the spiritual battles of the church are deserving of the support of their brethren, and it is shameless unthankfulness to deny it. God’s instruction to ancient Israel was, “Thou shalt not muzzle the ox when he treadeth out the corn” (Deut. 25:4). Paul, in his spiritual application of this statement, applies the injunction to the obligation to support those who labor in the gospel ministry (1 Cor. 9:9).
Zebah and Zalmunna. There is probably an intended pun in these names. Zebah means “sacrifice” or “sacrificial victim.” Zalmunna may mean “[the god] Zelem rules,” or “protection is withheld.”
6. Princes of Succoth. For the office and function of these princes see on v. 14. In refusing to supply food for Gideon’s men, these leaders were guilty of both cowardice and of taunting brethren. They had seen the 15,000 Midianites pass by, and they probably reasoned, “How can so few men avail against so large a number? We will incur only disgrace and punishment at the hands of the Midianites for aiding their pursuers.” So instead of exhibiting compassion and patriotic sympathy, they displayed extreme selfishness in consulting only their own petty interests. They exemplified a materialism that serves a foreign tyrant rather than risk a loss. Besides, their miserly spirit may have begrudged the cost of feeding these 300 men.
7. Tear your flesh. Gideon answered the jeers of the princes with a threat. He had known how to appease the Ephraimites, but they had done something to help the cause. He regarded the leaders of Succoth as traitors, and threatened a fitting recompense.
8. Penuel. Literally, “face of God.” The place where Jacob wrestled with the angel (Gen 32:22, 30). It was near a ford of the Jabbok River,probably several miles upstream from Succoth.
9. In peace. That is, unharmed, having achieved success and victory.
This tower. Probably a tower used as a fortification and a place of refuge in times of danger. Within its walls, likely constructed of stone, the leaders of Penuel felt secure from the Midianites and Gideon alike, so they contemptuously refused to give aid to the Israelite band. Because of their refusal to aid his men, Gideon threatened to return and tear down the tower from which they now so confidently and so churlishly rejected his appeal.
10. Karkor. The location of this place is not known. It was probably in the somewhat inaccessible region of the volcanic rock on the edge of the Syrian Desert.
11. By the way of them. Instead of following the route the Midianites had gone, Gideon and his group approached their camp by a circuitous route through a region settled sparsely with nomadic Bedouins. By this wide circuit he was enabled to fall upon them unawares from a direction from which they did not expect attack.
Nobah. The exact location of this town is unknown. Some identify this Nobah with the town of the same name mentioned in Num. 32:42 as a city of Manasseh.
Jogbehah. A city of Gad (Num. 32:35) regarded as the ruin now called Jubeihât, 6 1/2 mi. (10.4 km.) northwest of Amman, and about 18 1/2 mi. (29.6 km.) southeast of Succoth.
12. Discomfited all the host. The Midianites probably thought that they had come far enough from the scene of their rout to be secure from further attack and may have been trying to regroup after their disastrous panic. They had probably posted sentries along the way they had come to sound warning of the approaching Hebrews. But Gideon and his men outwitted the device by making a wide circuit so as to fall upon the Midianites from the eastern side of the camp. Being surprised, the Midianites attempted to flee again, but the hardy Hebrews slew many of them and captured the two kings Zebah and Zalmunna. The rest of the Midianites probably escaped in small groups into the desert.
13. Before the sun was up. This passage may also be translated “by the ascent of Heres.” The latter rendering is probably correct inasmuch as the Hebrew word used here, cheres, is not the ordinary word for “sun.” It is used in the Bible in place names. The significance seems to be that Gideon returned to Succoth purposely by a different way from the way he had left in order to surprise the princes lest they flee.
14. Described. Heb. kathab. Literally, “he wrote down.” A youth from the town of Succoth whom they had captured by chance wrote down for Gideon the names of the princes and elders of the city. Inasmuch as it was the rulers of Succoth that had haughtily refused him aid, Gideon doubtless desired to discriminate between them and the inhabitants of the city, lest he punish those who were not responsible.
The fact that a youth captured at random was able to write indicates that even at this early period the knowledge of writing was general.
Princes. Heb. śarim. The word is translated “rule,” “captain,” “chief,” almost as frequently as it is “prince.” In this passage it probably refers to the officials who stood at the head of the council of elders, the leaders in charge of military and civic duties.
Elders. Heads of the resident families of a city, forming a council or governing body.
16. Took the elders. Gideon now began to carry out the threat he made in v. 7. Precisely how he captured the elders the record does not state. They probably capitulated to save their city, for Gideon’s victory over the Midianites must have broken their will to resist.
Taught the men. It seems that this was done by beating them with thorny rods. The punishment administered to the elders was to serve as an effective lesson to these princes, lest they again show arrogant unconcern for their fellow Israelites.
17. Beat down the tower. It seems that the men of Penuel resisted, so that to tear down the tower as Gideon had threatened, he found it necessary to slay them. Gideon had threatened only to destroy the tower. It was thus probably their own folly that led these men to choose to defend the tower and thus to lose their lives.
These strong measures on the part of the new judge of Israel may have been necessary to warn other Israelite towns of the probable consequences of a lack of patriotism. The punishment meted out to Succoth and Penuel may have served as an effective barrier, at least in part, to independent action on the part of isolated Israelite towns, permitting the Israelites to present a more united front in the event of a future invasion.
18. Then said he. Gideon did not begin to settle accounts with the two captured kings until he had exhibited these men before the people of Succoth and Penuel who had mocked at Gideon’s ability to overcome the large Midianite forces. The scene here described probably did not take place immediately upon the fall of Penuel, but several days later after Gideon had returned to his home in Ophrah. This is suggested by the presence of Gideon’s young son, Jether (v. 20). Being but a timid boy, the lad could hardly have shared in the heroic expedition.
What manner? Heb. ’ephoh. Probably better translated “where” as in Ruth 2:19 and Isa. 49:21. The LXX also has “where.” Gideon knew perfectly well that his brothers had been put to death by these kings. His question was an intimation to the kings that they must now pay for their evil deeds.
Whom ye slew. We are left completely in the dark as to the circumstances of this battle or massacre. It seems that several of Gideon’s brothers had been captured near Mt. Tabor and slain by these two kings during one of their earlier forays into the land. This is the first intimation that Gideon was redressing a personal injury.
19. Sons of my mother. This was Gideon’s way of saying that these men were his full brothers. In days when men frequently had several wives, it often became necessary to distinguish between brothers and half brothers. Naturally Gideon’s full brothers would be dearer to him than the sons of his father by another wife.
If ye had saved them. The law of blood revenge demanded that Gideon put the two kings to death (Num. 35:17–19). A less severe fate might have been their lot for their other crimes.
20. Slay them. Anciently, to perish at the hand of a youth or a woman was considered to be a disgraceful humiliation (see ch. 9:54).
21. Rise thou. The pronoun is emphatic. If they must die, they would rather die at the hand of a hero than of a mere boy.
As the man is. That is, a man has a man’s strength. A child cannot be expected to do that which requires the strength of a man. Naturally the kings would rather be dispatched at one stroke than to be hacked and mangled by a child, which would result in a more painful, lingering death.
Ornaments. Heb. śaharonim, “little moons,” or “crescents.” In Isa. 3:18 this word is translated “round tires like the moon.” Crescent ornaments are still hung on the necks of camels by Bedouins. In the case of kings, like Zebah and Zalmunna, these ornaments were probably of gold.
22. Rule thou over us. Because of the magnitude of the victory won by Gideon’s courage and untiring perseverance, the men from the various tribes that composed his army proposed to Gideon that he should become their king, with the succession passing from father to son. The move was an expression of the growing desire of the Israelitish tribes to unite under a monarchy, so that they could more easily and effectively give mutual support against the enemy. From their neighbors round about they could see the value of the united effort that an efficient kingship produces. This desire continued to grow stronger until the tribes succeeded in forming a monarchy in the time of Saul.
23. The Lord shall rule. Gideon refused the offer of hereditary kingship. He recognized that his accomplishments were due solely to the power of God working in his behalf. He had been called of God to perform a special service for the nation, and he had accomplished it. God had not called him to become a monarch. He knew that his children would not be able to lead the nation unless God individually called them. But God’s call is not extended by virtue of family relationship. The weakness of hereditary rulership lies in this fact. Often the lineal descendant is a person wholly unsuited for the work.
The nobility of Gideon was shown in his rejection of the kingship. This offer must have presented a temptation to him. It often requires more strength to resist the allurements of proffered power than to defeat an enemy. But Gideon at that moment stood true to God, and his words worthily crowned his heroic deeds.
24. Ishmaelites. Ishmael and Midian were half brothers (Gen. 25:2). The names are frequently interchanged in Scripture because of their close kinship and because they both inhabited the same region, where they intermarried and coalesced (see Gen. 37:25, 27, 28).
25. Willingly give them. So great was the relief of being free from Midianite oppression after seven years of despoliation, and so strong was popular feeling in Gideon’s favor, that the Israelites gladly granted the request of their deliverer and surrendered to him the most valuable part of the booty they had taken.
26. The weight. The weight of the golden earrings came to about 42 lb. 10 oz. (19.3 kg.) Gen. 24:22 records that a single earring may weigh as much as half a shekel.
Ornaments. Heb. śaharonim (see on v. 21).
Collars. Heb. neṭiphot. That is, “drops.” They were a type of pendant for the ears.
27. Ephod. The ephod was the sleeveless shoulder dress of the high priest to which were attached the 2 onyx stones bearing the names of the 12 tribes of Israel (Ex. 28:6–35; PP 351). The word was also used for a simple garment such as Samuel wore when he ministered as a temple servant (1 Sam. 2:18) and for David’s clothing when he danced before the ark (2 Sam. 6:14). It was apparently a garment worn by many priests (1 Sam. 22:18). The one in the possession of Abiathar, David’s priest, was used in consulting the Lord (1 Sam. 23:6, 9–12). Gideon’s ephod and breastplate were constructed in imitation of those worn by the high priest (PP 556).
A whoring. The Israelites apparently came to regard this ephod as an object of worship.
A snare unto Gideon. The author seems to suggest that the misfortunes that befell Gideon’s family after his death were attributable to the incidents connected with this ephod. One wonders at the motives that prompted Gideon to set up this rival worship at Ophrah. The religious center of the Israelites was at Shiloh, in the tribe of Ephraim, where the tabernacle was situated. It may have been the arrogant attitude of the Ephraimites (see ch. 8:1) that made Gideon resentful toward them to the extent that he did not care to go into their territory to worship. The miracle performed by the angel near his own home before his call to judgeship may have led him to conclude that God was intimating that a new seat of worship be established and that he should function there as a priest. He had asked for miraculous signs, and they had been granted. In his later functions as judge he may have felt the frequent need of inquiring of the Lord, and so, in view of these considerations, constructed an ephod in imitation of the one in the tabernacle. His sin consisted in taking over the prerogatives of the Aaronic priesthood without divine sanction. This deviation from the right prepared the way for wider apostasy both in his immediate family and among the tribesmen. The people were thus led astray by the very one who had formerly overthrown their idolatry. Gideon doubtless did not intend to turn from the worship of God, and his intentions may have been good. However, his subjective evaluation without divine guidance regarding the need for a new religious center opened the way for disaster. There was no excuse for Gideon to abandon the program that God had marked out regarding divine worship and service. If Gideon had continued to seek divine guidance as he had done formerly, he would have spared his family and his people much sorrow.
Gideon’s history is a warning that more than good intentions are required to make an act commendable and right. Furthermore, the greater a man’s position of prominence, the more far-reaching will be the influence of his evil example; hence the greater will be his need of regulating every act of his life by the divine pattern. The only right rule of life is the law of God. Despite his failure, Gideon is commended in the epistle to the Hebrews (ch. 11:32) for his earlier acts of faith.
30. Many wives. This harem is an evidence of Gideon’s wealth and power. Polygamy on a large scale was adopted only by rulers or the extremely wealthy. The description of Gideon’s family as related here (vs. 30, 31) is given to provide the background for the series of events that follow (ch. 9).
31. Concubine. The sequel indicates that she may have been a Canaanite. The fact that this woman remained with her relatives in Shechem instead of coming to Gideon’s home in Ophrah shows that the case was one which the early Arabs called a “sadika [female friend]” marriage. Under such a marriage arrangement the woman lived with her own people, and was visited by the husband from time to time. The children born to such a marriage were counted as members of the wife’s clan, and always lived with the mother.
Whose name he called. Literally, “he put his name.” The Hebrew construction here used is frequently employed when additional names, or surnames are given later in life (2 Kings 17:34; Neh. 9:7; Dan. 1:7; Dan. 5:12). Because of this some have thought that the name Abimelech, which means “father of a king,” was given when Gideon observed the ambitious and boastful character of the child. The name may also mean “my father is king.” Therefore it may have been given by the mother, out of vanity, so that all would remember that the lad’s father was the powerful judge Gideon. Abimelech proved to be an unworthy son of Gideon, for he had the courage and energy of his father but not his virtues.
32. Died. Gideon died in peace and prosperity, but the evil seed he had sown bore bitter fruit in the next generation. Few realize how far-reaching is the influence of their words and acts.
Ophrah. See on ch. 6:11.
33. Baalim. See on ch. 2:13, 17. Unsanctioned ways of worship soon led to the worship of false deities.
Baal-berith. Literally, “lord of the covenant.” The same deity is called “the god Berith,” literally, “god of the covenant” (ch. 9:46). Shechem had a temple dedicated to this deity (ch. 9:4). It is not clear whether the name “lord of the covenant” refers to a deity that was thought to rule over a league of Canaanite cities, or to a covenant between the Baal and his worshipers, or to the league between the Canaanite inhabitants of Shechem and the Israelite newcomers. An alliance between the two peoples would frequently be cemented by a common worship. In later times politico-religious alliances like this often led the Israelites into idolatry. The Israelites had been forbidden (ch. 2:2) to form alliances with pagan peoples. One of the first symptoms of apostasy among them was the inclination to remove the barriers between themselves and their heathen neighbors. It seems that the concessions required to make the establishment of covenant relations possible were often one-sided; it was Israel that all too frequently surrendered her faith.
34. Remembered not. Forgetfulness has been a common fault with the followers of God. Safety lies in remembering the way God has led and worked in the past, and in continued dependence upon that leadership. Thankfulness springs from remembrance and reflection, and when men do not think on God’s blessings to them, they forget Him and become unthankful. Thus ingratitude becomes the parent of unbelief (see on Rom. 1:20–28).
It takes positive effort to remember God. The human mind is so constituted that it does not retain in memory those things that are not frequently recalled. Hence the need of a constant refreshing in sacred history through the daily study of the Bible and attendance at divine worship where these matters are rehearsed. Hence also the need of the review of current church history, and the frequent recalling of outstanding divine interventions in personal experience.
As is common with many Hebrew words, “remember” not only refers to the act of retaining in the conscious mind but also includes the doing of that which a knowledge of the facts would require. Thus to “remember” God means to give to Him the worship which He demands. To “remember” Gideon would mean to show honor to his posterity, as well as to give heed to his counsel and seek to follow out the pattern he had laid out for the future jurisdiction of the domain of Israel.
The error of Gideon in supposing that by setting up his ephod he could preserve the fidelity of the people to Jehovah now revealed itself in all its folly. After he was dead, the Israelites gave no more thought either to him or to the God who had delivered them.
35. Neither shewed they kindness. This clause is a brief summary of the events to be narrated in the next chapter. Those who once offered Gideon kingship over them failed to deal gratefully with his descendants. How fleeting is this world’s popularity. Today’s hero is forgotten tomorrow.
ELLEN G. WHITE COMMENTS
1–35 PP 553-556
1–3 PP 555
4, 12 PP 553
18 PP 546
22, 23 PP 555
24–27, 31, 33 PP 556
34, 35 PP 556