New European Commentary

 

About | PDFs | Mobile formats | Word formats | Other languages | Contact Us | What is the Gospel? | Support the work | Carelinks Ministries | | The Real Christ | The Real Devil | "Bible Companion" Daily Bible reading plan


Deeper Commentary

 

Jdg 8:1 The men of Ephraim said to him, Why have you treated us this way, that you didn’t call us when you went to fight with Midian? They rebuked him sharply-
The Ephraimites came over as offended because they weren’t invited to fight in a battle, even though they had shown no inclination; and they did this with both Gideon and Jephthah  (Jud. 8:1; 12:1).

Jdg 8:2 He said to them, What have I now done in comparison with you? Isn’t the gleaning of the grapes of Ephraim better than the vintage of Abiezer?-
The Proverbs often comment upon historical situations in the Hebrew Bible, and "a soft answer turns away wrath" may well be based upon this incident (Prov. 15:1). We recall that Gideon was initially called by God whilst he was threshing wheat in the disused family winepress in Abiezer- disused because there was no vintage, as this was a curse for disobedience to the covenant. He is ever aware of how the victory began with the few men of Abiezer gathering around him, and only then did others come to his call to arms. He assumes Ephraim has a vintage, a wine harvest, which is incomparable to that of Abiezer. He treated even those apostates as more worthy of God's blessing than himself and his home village. We have a window here onto his deep and genuine humility, which is the more commendable as it seems he was a strong warrior in his own right (see on :18,21).   


Jdg 8:3 God has delivered into your hand the princes of Midian, Oreb and Zeeb! What was I able to do in comparison with you? Then their anger was abated toward him, when he had said that-
God had delivered the enemy into Gideon's personal hand (Jud. 7:9), but Gideon speaks of the enemies having been given into Israel's hand (Jud. 7:15). Gideon was not out for personal justification, but for the victory of Israel. And so he has the humility to placate the Ephraimites by saying that they had the honour of having Oreb and Zeeb in their hands.


Jdg 8:4 Gideon came to the Jordan and crossed over with the three hundred men, exhausted yet pursuing-
LXX "faint and hungry", hence their request for bread in :5. Saul tried to imitate this when he prohibited the men to eat anything while they were pursuing the Philistines (1 Sam. 11:11 = Jud. 7:16; 1 Sam. 13:5 = Jud. 7:12; 1 Sam. 14:24,28,31 = Jud. 8:4,5). But he was totally missing the point- he was trying to make a cardboard copy of another man's faith, following only the externalities, without Gideon's faith and humility.

The pursuit of the enemy east of Jordan repeats what Abraham did with his 318 servants, roughly the same number as Gideon had with him. He found himself, as we do, walking in the steps of his spiritual father Abraham; see on :32. David too was to pursue after his enemies exhausted, and so we see how circumstances repeat between the lives of God's people. This is how the Bible becomes a living word, the history is not dead but alive, because it has been carefully selected by God to show us that man is not alone, God is with us, no circumstance we face is in essence unique; others have trodden this path before.


Jdg 8:5 He said to the men of Succoth, Please give loaves of bread to the people who follow me, for they are exhausted and I am pursuing Zebah and Zalmunna, the kings of Midian-
To turn down a request for bread from travellers was a deep insult, according to the hospitality culture of the times. And it still is, in many such areas today. Zebah and Zalmunna had fled upon camels, and so it seemed they would not be caught by Gideon and his men. And the men of Succoth clearly feared they would survive and return to punish them if they supported Gideon. They failed to learn the lesson of Deborah's song, which castigated those Israelites who had failed to respond to her call to arms. 


Jdg 8:6 The princes of Succoth said, Are the hands of Zebah and Zalmunna already in your possession, that we should give bread to your army?-
Meroz was cursed bitterly by God in Jud. 5:23. It was a village through which Sisera or his men had fled, and they feared to join in the fight. The same situation was to recur when Succoth and Penuel refused to help Gideon. The history of Meroz and the Israelites who refused to help Deborah was a lesson not learnt by Succoth and Penuel.


Jdg 8:7 Gideon said Because of that, when Yahweh has delivered Zebah and Zalmunna into my hand, I will tear your flesh with the thorns of the wilderness and with briers-
Gideon's faith is now so strong that he can be sure that he will catch those whom he was pursuing, even though they had camels. "Tear" is AVmg. "thresh", with all its connotations of judgment. The area around Succoth is famed for its thorn bushes.

Just as all the animals and everything in the eretz promised to Abraham was 'delivered into the hands' of Noah (s.w. Gen. 9:2), so the nations of that eretz were delivered into the hands of Israel (s.w. Ex. 6:8; 23:31; Dt. 2:24; 3:2,3; 7:24; 21:10; Josh. 2:24; Jud. 1:2). Tragically, like Adam in Eden [perhaps the same eretz promised to Abraham] and Noah in the new, cleansed eretz, Israel didn't realize this potential. What was delivered into the hand of Joshua (Josh. 2:24) actually wasn't delivered into their hand, because they disbelieved (Jud. 2:23); and this looks ahead to the disbelief of so many in the work of the Lord Jesus, who has indeed conquered the Kingdom for us. They considered the promise of the nations being delivered into their hand as somehow open to question, and only a possibility and not at all certain (Jud. 8:7; Num. 21:2 cp. Num. 21:34). Some like Jephthah (s.w. Jud. 11:32; 12:3), Ehud (Jud. 3:10,28), Deborah (Jud. 4:14), Gideon (Jud. 7:15) did, for a brief historical moment; but as individuals, and their victories were not followed up on. Instead they were dominated by the territory. And so instead, they were delivered into the hands of their enemies within the eretz (s.w. Lev. 26:25; Jud. 13:1).   


Jdg 8:8 He went up from there to Penuel and spoke to them in the same way, and the men of Penuel answered him as the men of Succoth had answered-
Spiritual weakness is easily contagious. They replied just as the others had, assuming Gideon would not achieve his Divinely empowered mission.


Jdg 8:9 He said to the men of Penuel, When I come again in peace I will break down this tower-
Penuel was so named to celebrate how Jacob had seen the face of God and lived (Gen. 32:30). Gideon had earlier thought he would be slain as he had been so unworthy to see the face of the Angel (Jud. 6:22). As with our lives, God was leading him to perceive ever more His grace. Coming "in peace" reflected how he had learned the lesson from seeing the face of the Angel; for he had built an altar called 'Yahweh is peace', and now he was confident that indeed he was at peace with God despite all his weaknesses; see on Jud. 6:23,24.


Jdg 8:10 Now Zebah and Zalmunna were in Karkor and their armies with them, about fifteen thousand men, all who were left of all the army of the people of the east; one hundred and twenty thousand fighting men having been killed-
This means that initially, 135000 were facing Gideon's 300. That works out at precisely 450 of the enemy for every one of Gideon's men. And it cannot be coincidence that Elijah describes himself as facing off as one man of God against 450 prophets of Baal on Carmel (1 Kings 18:22). Despite his arrogance and spiritual weakness, Elijah learned the lesson from Gideon's courageous example. This is how the Bible becomes a living word, the history is not dead but alive, because it has been carefully selected by God to show us that man is not alone, God is with us, no circumstance we face is in essence unique; others have trodden this path before.  

Jdg 8:11 Gideon went up by the way of those who lived in tents on the east of Nobah and Jogbehah and attacked the army, which was unsuspecting-
'
The way of the tent-dwellers' means the Bedouin route, he took the rough short cut, because those he was pursuing had camels and he was presumably on foot. Hence he came upon them whilst they were "unsuspecting".


Jdg 8:12 Zebah and Zalmunna fled and he pursued after them, and took the two kings of Midian, Zebah and Zalmunna, and routed all the army-
"Zebah" is the word for sacrifice, and the execution of Zebah in :21 may therefore be understood as an offering of them to Yahweh. Perhaps this is what he was named after the event, seeing that personal names were often given in response to life experiences.

Jdg 8:13 Gideon the son of Joash returned from the battle from the ascent of Heres-
"Heres", the sun, probably refers to some place of idolatry. The whole record of the victories is to show the supremacy of Yahweh over the gods of the peoples, whom Israel were worshipping.


Jdg 8:14 He caught a young man of Succoth and asked of him, and he described for him the princes of Succoth and its elders, seventy-seven men-
This was presumably in the form of a list of names.


Jdg 8:15 He came to the men of Succoth and said, See Zebah and Zalmunna, concerning whom you taunted me saying, ‘Are the hands of Zebah and Zalmunna now in your possession, that we should give bread to your men who are weary?’-
Gideon preserved the kings alive in order to teach the men of Succoth. But we wonder, as always with Gideon, whether there was not an element of arrogance now creeping in to an otherwise humble man (see on :2) For surely there was no absolute need to humiliate his enemies and also go to such lengths to demonstrate the wrongness of the men of Succoth.


Jdg 8:16 He took the elders of the city and thorns of the wilderness and briers, and with them he taught the men of Succoth a lesson-
This kind of torture was perhaps not unto death. Perhaps it was all an unnecessary display of power and smacks of arrogance (see on :15). Or maybe he didn't slay them as he did the men of Penuel (:17) because he believed they could be "taught" from this. But "taught" is LXX "threshed"; see on :7.

Jdg 8:17 He broke down the tower of Penuel and killed the men of the city-
This is the language of Christ's return in judgment upon the people of Jerusalem, who are elsewhere likened to a tower in Zion (Mt. 22:7). In the latter day context, those Jews who survive the tribulation but still refuse to learn the lesson of total commitment to their Messiah / judge / saviour, will be destroyed at broadly the same time as their enemies.

We note that Gideon apparently "taught" the men of Succoth (:16), but slew those of Penuel. Perhaps they took refuge in their tower and refused to meet with Gideon nor repent, hence he slew them.

Jdg 8:18 Then he said to Zebah and Zalmunna, What kind of men were they whom you killed at Tabor? They answered, They were like you. Each one resembled the children of a king-
This massacre is not previously recorded. But clearly there had been the deaths of Gideon's relatives at Tabor. We note that Gideon had the air of a leader to him, resembling a king. His humility noted on :2 is therefore the more commendable. But we note what is so true to human experience and observation, that those who may exude authority and confident leadership skills are often terribly insecure, clinging on to God with a childlike faith and ever seeking His reassurance. See on :30.


Jdg 8:19 He said, They were my brothers, the sons of my mother. As Yahweh lives, if you had saved them alive, I would not kill you-
The implication of :18 is that those slain at Tabor were Gideon's own children. See on :20. But it seems his brothers were also slain. The Divine command was to slay the Canaanites, so Gideon's statement here that he was only going to kill them because they had slain his relatives is therefore somewhat spiritually lacking. As is his materialistic demand for the spoil and making an ephod. And yet he died in faith.


Jdg 8:20 He said to Jether his firstborn, Get up and kill them! But the youth didn’t draw his sword for he was afraid, because he was still a youth-
Although Gideon's brothers were slain (:19), it seems from :18 that his children were also killed. This is why he asks his firstborn son, who was with him and had survived, to act as the avenger of blood and slay those who had killed his brothers. This however was somewhat of a twist of the law of blood revenge, which surely didn't apply to deaths in battle. Although the children may have been too young to fight. "Jether" means "excellency" and this was the meaning of Jacob's firstborn Reuben, who was the "excellency" of his power (Gen. 49:3 s.w.). In this we see Gideon being guided by Biblical precedent, despite his weaknesses.


Jdg 8:21 Then Zebah and Zalmunna said, Get up and do it yourself, for as the man is, so is his strength. Gideon arose and killed Zebah and Zalmunna and took the crescents that were on their camels’ necks-
The implication could be that Gideon was indeed built as a strong and mighty warrior. His deep humility (see on :2) is therefore the more commendable. The crescents which he took remain the symbols of Israel's neighbouring enemies. But they had religious significance, and Gideon would have been better to destroy them. See on :12.

Jdg 8:22 Then the men of Israel said to Gideon, Rule over us, both you and your son and your son’s son also, for you have saved us out of the hand of Midian-
Gideon had the deportment of a king, and had acted like one (:18). But we see here Israel's lack of faith in Yahweh as their king, and their desperate desire for the immediate, the human and the visual rather than the invisible things of God's rulership and kingship over them.


Jdg 8:23 Gideon said to them, I will not rule over you, neither shall my son rule over you. Yahweh shall rule over you-
Time and again, the Bible is full of warnings against doing what seems right before God, when our motives are far from Him. Take the way that Gideon was invited to be king over Israel, but he refused, citing the fact that Yahweh is Israel's King. All well and good... but the record goes on to record how he made an idolatrous ephod in his home town, to which all Israel came (Jud. 8:22-24). And he had a son, Abimelech- which means 'my father is king'!. And indeed Abimelech did try to become King of all Israel (Jud. 9:2). Our behaviour smacks of this time and time again. We do what is externally right, but our inward motives are impure. There's an urgent need for self-examination at depth within each of us... and yet the busyness of our lives, our poor time management and lack of rigorous regime in spiritual life, so easily leads us not to seriously attempt this. And we end up doing things which are only externally right. See on Jud. 9:18.

And yet we could quite understandably read this as Gideon's commendable refusal to replace Yahweh as their king. He resisted the temptation to misinterpret Dt. 17:14,15 as meaning that indeed he was the man who would be desired as king by Israel. 

The parable of Jud. 9:8-11 implies that Israel repeated this request, but Gideon's sons refused, following their father's example. Only the illegitimate Abimelech accepted it.


Jdg 8:24 Gideon said to them, I would make a request of you, that every man would give me the earrings of his spoil. They had golden earrings because they were Ishmaelites-
Midianites were Ishmaelites (Gen. 37:25,28,36). It seems that having overcome the temptation to be king (:23), Gideon succumbed to another temptation- to become wealthy, to effectively act as king by demanding wealth from his followers. We catch ourselves doing this; just as the alcoholic quits alcohol and takes to drugs. See on :26. 


Jdg 8:25 They answered, We will willingly give them. They spread a garment and each man threw the earrings of his spoil into it-
When Gideon received the golden earrings of the Ishmaelites (Jud. 8:24-27), his mind should have flown back to how golden earrings were turned into the golden calf (Ex. 32:2). He was potentially given the strength to resist the temptation to turn them into an idol. But he must have blanked out that Biblical precedent in his heart; he ignored his spiritual potential.


Jdg 8:26 The weight of the golden earrings that he requested was one thousand seven hundred shekels of gold, besides the crescents, the pendants and the purple clothing that was on the kings of Midian, and besides the chains that were about their camels’ necks-
Purple clothing was the clothing of kings. As noted on :24, Gideon turned down being king- but he then as it were compensated for that by taking the clothing and wealth appropriate to a king. His victory over temptation in this area was therefore only external, and not from the heart. And we can do the same. 


Jdg 8:27 Gideon made an ephod of it and put it in his city, in Ophrah, and all Israel prostituted themselves by worshipping it there; and it became a snare to Gideon and to his house-
Twice in 1 Timothy, Paul speaks about a snare; the snare of the devil (1 Tim. 3:7), and the snare of wanting wealth (6:9). The desire for wealth in whatever form is the very epitome of the devil, our inherent sin which we must struggle against. The idea of a snare is that it results in a sudden and unexpected destruction. The unexpectedness of the destruction should set us thinking: surely the implication is that those who are materialistic don't realize that in fact this is their besetting sin, and therefore their rejection in the end because of it will be so tragically unexpected. It's rather like pride; if you're proud and you don't know it, then you really are proud. And if we're materialistic and don't know it, we likewise really have a problem. The idea of riches being a snare connects with copious OT references to idols as Israel's perpetual snare (Ex. 23:33; Dt. 7:16; Jud. 2:3; 8:27; Ps. 106:36; Hos. 5:1). Paul's point is surely that the desire of wealth is the equivalent of OT idolatry.

The ephod was likely comprised of precious stones which had also been in the earrings of the Midianites and around the necks of their camels. He had built an altar to Yahweh in his home, and it seems this was an imitation high priestly breastplate. He was effectively setting himself up as a priest. 

Jdg 8:28 So Midian was subdued before the Israelites, and they exalted their heads no more-
The nations in the land being "subdued" was the outcome of Israel being obedient to the covenant (s.w. Dt. 9:3). We read this word "subdued" used of how the land was at times subdued before Israel (Jud. 3:30; 4:23; 8:28; 11:33). But each time it is clear that the people generally were not obedient to the covenant. One faithful leader was, and the results of his faithfulness were counted to the people. This is what happened with the Lord's death leading to righteousness being imputed to us.

The land had rest forty years in the days of Gideon-
The forty years rest of Jud. 3:11; 5:31; 8:28 may not be a literal period. I have elsewhere noted that the forty year reigns of Saul, David and Solomon create chronological problems if read literally. The idea may be that forty years was a time of testing, as it was for Israel in the wilderness. We think of the Lord's 40 days of testing too. In this case, they were tested by peace. And they consistently failed, as God's people often do.


Jdg 8:29 Jerubbaal the son of Joash went and lived in his own house-
He commendably didn't try to establish himself with a palace, as he had rejected the possibility of becoming king. But he turned that house into a quasi sanctuary, having built an altar to Yahweh there, and now having made a breastplate. We see how his apparent resistance of the temptation to be king was not from the heart, because he acted like a king in other ways.


Jdg 8:30 Gideon had seventy sons conceived from his body, for he had many wives-
I suggested on :18,20 that some of Gideon's sons had been killed at Tabor, and this is why he asked his firstborn to act as the avenger of blood in slaying their killers. It is psychologically understandable that he sought to build up his family again, but his "many wives" hardly speak of spirituality, and having 70 sons looked ahead to the ungodly behaviour of Ahab (2 Kings 10:1).


Jdg 8:31 His concubine who was in Shechem also bore him a son and he named him Abimelech-
Abimelech means 'my father is king'. And indeed Abimelech did try to become King of all Israel (Jud. 9:2). As discussed on :23, Gideon overcame the temptation to become king, but only on an external level. In reality his behaviour was as if was a king in all but name.


Jdg 8:32 Gideon the son of Joash died in a good old age and was buried in the tomb of Joash his father in Ophrah of the Abiezrites-
This is the same description used for the death of Abraham (Gen. 15:15; 25:8) in whose faultering steps of faith Gideon had followed; see on :4. He is presented, for all his moral weakness and faultering faith, as a seed of Abraham. And he is listed amongst the faithful in Heb. 11. We are thereby comforted in our own self doubt, as we review the weak nature of our own faith and commitment. 

Jdg 8:33 As soon as Gideon was dead, the people of Israel turned again and played the prostitute after the Baals, and made Baal Berith their god-
Israel is so often set up as the bride of God (Is. 54:5; 61:10; 62:4,5; Jer. 2:2; 3:14; Hos. 2:19,20). This is why any infidelity to God is spoken of as adultery (Mal. 2:11; Lev. 17:7; 20:5,6; Dt. 31:16; Jud. 2:17; 8:27,33; Hos. 9:1). The very language of Israel 'selling themselves to do iniquity' uses the image of prostitution. This is how God feels our even temporary and fleeting acts and thoughts of unfaithfulness. This is why God is jealous for us (Ex. 20:15; 34:14; Dt. 4:24; 5:9; 6:15)- because His undivided love for us is so exclusive. He expects us to be totally His.

Baal Berith is literally the Baal of the covenant. Israel went wrong because they reasoned that serving Baal was a form of worshipping Yahweh and keeping covenant relationship with Him.


Jdg 8:34 The Israelites didn’t remember Yahweh their God Who had delivered them out of the hand of all their enemies on every side-
They never formally abrogated Yahweh nor their covenant with Him, and would never have considered themselves atheists. Just as many of us never would. But they didn't "remember" Him nor His great salvation of them by grace; this was not constantly in their minds. And so it can be with us. This is why the breaking of bread service plays an important role in helping us not to forget these things.


Jdg 8:35 neither did they show kindness to the house of Jerubbaal, that is, Gideon, according to all the kindness which he had showed to Israel-
Gideon loved Israel. We recall how he showed kindness to them by not becoming their king but leaving Yahweh as their king. God had delivered the enemy into Gideon's personal hand (Jud. 7:9), but Gideon speaks of the enemies having been given into Israel's hand (Jud. 7:15; 8:3). Gideon was not out for personal justification, but for the victory of Israel. But ingratitude and failure to lastingly perceive such love toward us is sadly a feature of human nature.