1 The Ephraimites said to him, “Why have you done such a thing to us? You did not summon us when you went to fight the Midianites!” They argued vehemently with him. 2 He said to them, “Now what have I accomplished compared to you? Even Ephraim’s leftover grapes are better quality than Abiezer’s harvest! 3 It was to you that God handed over the Midianite generals, Oreb and Zeeb! What did I accomplish to rival that?” When he said this, they calmed down.
Gideon Tracks Down the Midianite Kings
4 Now Gideon and his three hundred men had crossed over the Jordan River, and even though they were exhausted, they were still chasing the Midianites. 5 He said to the men of Succoth, “Give some loaves of bread to the men who are following me, because they are exhausted. I am chasing Zebah and Zalmunna, the kings of Midian.” 6 The officials of Succoth said, “You have not yet overpowered Zebah and Zalmunna. So why should we give bread to your army?” 7 Gideon said, “Since you will not help, after the Lord hands Zebah and Zalmunna over to me, I will thresh your skin with desert thorns and briers.” 8 He went up from there to Penuel and made the same request. The men of Penuel responded the same way the men of Succoth had. 9 He also threatened the men of Penuel, warning, “When I return victoriously, I will tear down this tower.”
10 Now Zebah and Zalmunna were in Karkor with their armies. There were about fifteen thousand survivors from the army of the eastern peoples; a hundred and twenty thousand sword-wielding soldiers had been killed. 11 Gideon went up the road of the nomads east of Nobah and Jogbehah and ambushed the surprised army. 12 When Zebah and Zalmunna ran away, Gideon chased them and captured the two Midianite kings, Zebah and Zalmunna. He had surprised their entire army.
13 Gideon son of Joash returned from the battle by the pass of Heres. 14 He captured a young man from Succoth and interrogated him. The young man wrote down for him the names of Succoth’s officials and city leaders – seventy-seven men in all. 15 He approached the men of Succoth and said, “Look what I have! Zebah and Zalmunna! You insulted me, saying, ‘You have not yet overpowered Zebah and Zalmunna. So why should we give bread to your exhausted men?’” 16 He seized the leaders of the city, along with some desert thorns and briers; he then “threshed” the men of Succoth with them. 17 He also tore down the tower of Penuel and executed the city’s men.
18 He said to Zebah and Zalmunna, “Describe for me the men you killed at Tabor.” They said, “They were like you. Each one looked like a king’s son.” 19 He said, “They were my brothers, the sons of my mother. I swear, as surely as the Lord is alive, if you had let them live, I would not kill you.” 20 He ordered Jether his firstborn son, “Come on! Kill them!” But Jether was too afraid to draw his sword, because he was still young. 21 Zebah and Zalmunna said to Gideon, “Come on, you strike us, for a man is judged by his strength.” So Gideon killed Zebah and Zalmunna, and he took the crescent-shaped ornaments which were on the necks of their camels.
Gideon Rejects a Crown but Makes an Ephod
22 The men of Israel said to Gideon, “Rule over us – you, your son, and your grandson. For you have delivered us from Midian’s power.” 23 Gideon said to them, “I will not rule over you, nor will my son rule over you. The Lord will rule over you.” 24 Gideon continued, “I would like to make one request. Each of you give me an earring from the plunder you have taken.” (The Midianites had gold earrings because they were Ishmaelites.) 25 They said, “We are happy to give you earrings.” So they spread out a garment, and each one threw an earring from his plunder onto it. 26 The total weight of the gold earrings he requested came to seventeen hundred gold shekels. This was in addition to the crescent-shaped ornaments, jewellery, purple clothing worn by the Midianite kings, and the necklaces on the camels. 27 Gideon used all this to make an ephod, which he put in his home-town of Ophrah. All the Israelites prostituted themselves to it by worshipping it there. It became a snare to Gideon and his family.
Gideon’s Story Ends
28 The Israelites humiliated Midian; the Midianites’ fighting spirit was broken. The land had rest for forty years during Gideon’s time. 29 Then Jerub-Baal son of Joash went home and settled down. 30 Gideon fathered seventy sons through his many wives. 31 His concubine, who lived in Shechem, also gave him a son, whom he named Abimelech. 32 Gideon son of Joash died at a very old age and was buried in the tomb of his father Joash located in Ophrah of the Abiezrites.
Israel Returns to Baal-Worship
33 After Gideon died, the Israelites again prostituted themselves to the Baals. They made Baal-Berith their god. 34 The Israelites did not remain true to the Lord their God, who had delivered them from all the enemies who lived around them. 35 They did not treat the family of Jerub-Baal (that is, Gideon) fairly in return for all the good he had done for Israel.
C H Spurgeon
Judges 8:1. And the men of Ephraim said unto him, Why hast thou served us thus, that thou calledst us not, when thou wentest to fight with the Midianites? And they did chide with him sharply.
We have some friends, like these men of Ephraim, who do not like being left out of the battle for the Lord. They say, “Why are we not asked for our help? Why are we not allowed to take our share?” These are very good people; but we have known some of them who have made these enquiries rather late in the day. These Ephraimites knew all about the war, and they might have volunteered to help Gideon, and we should have been glad of the earlier help of some who tarried till the victory was won.
Judges 8:2. And he said unto them, What have I done now in comparison of you?
Gideon answered them very kindly and very wisely. He flattered them he attached great importance to what they had done, and took little credit to himself for his valiant service. In this he showed his self-command and his discretion. When persons chide sharply, it is a pity to chide back again; the best way of dealing with them is with a soft answer to turn away their wrath.
Judges 8:2-5. Is not the gleaning of the grapes of Ephraim better than the vintage of Abiezer? God hath delivered into your hands the princes of Midian, Oreb and Zeeb: and what was I able to do in comparison of you? Then their anger was abated toward him, when he had said that. And Gideon came to Jordan, and passed over, he, and the three hundred men that were with him, faint, yet pursuing them. And he said unto the men of Succoth, Give, I pray you, loaves of bread unto the people that follow me; for they be faint, and I am pursuing after Zebah and Zalmunna, kings of Midian.
This was a very natural and a very reasonable request. Gideon did not ask the men of Succoth to come with him, nor even to give a lodging to his soldiers. The fear of Midian was upon Israel, and the people were afraid to do anything against their oppressor, but surely they might have relieved the hunger of their fellow countrymen. Instead of doing so, they answered Gideon with arrogant and cruel words.
Judges 8:6. And the princes of Succoth said, Are the hands of Zebah and Zalmunna now in thine hand, that we should give bread unto thine army?
As much as to say, “What have you done, after all? There are fifteen thousand men with Zebah and Zalmunna, and there are only three hundred of you. You have not even captured the leaders yet.” They forgot that Gideon’s band had slain a hundred and twenty thousand already; they underrated and mocked him, and would not give him the help he asked.
Judges 8:7. And Gideon said, Therefore when the LORD hath delivered Zebah and Zalmunna into mine hand, then I will tear your flesh with the thorns of the wilderness and with briers.
Some have said that this showed resentment and harshness, but when a man is at war, he is not in the habit of sprinkling his adversaries with rosewater. War is in itself so great an evil that there are many other evils necessarily connected with it. It seems to me that if, when Gideon was trying to deliver his own countrymen, they scoffed at him, and refused him bread for his soldiers in the day of their hunger, they deserved to be punished with great severity.
Judges 8:8-9. And he went up thence to Penuel, and spake unto them likewise: and the men of Penuel answered him as the men of Succoth had answered him. And he spake also unto the men of Penuel, saying, When I come again in peace, I will break down this tower.
They took liberty to speak rudely because theirs was a fortified city, guarded by a strong tower, and Gideon, nothing doubting that he would come back that way, God having given him the victory, said, “When I come again in peace, I will break down this tower.”
Judges 8:10-11. Now Zebah and Zalmunna were in Karkor, and their hosts with them, about fifteen thousand men, all that were left of all the hosts of the children of the east: for there fell an hundred and twenty thousand men that drew sword. And Gideon went up by the way of them that dwelt in tents on the east of Nobah and Jogbehah, and smote the host: for the host was secure.
He went by an unusual route, and took them at night again unawares when they felt perfectly safe, and were sound asleep: “for the host was secure.” As I read these words, I think, what a pity it is ever to fancy ourselves secure while we are really in peril! Carnal security is a great danger. To be “safe in the arms of Jesus,” is a most blessed condition; but to be secure in self-confidence, is a thing that hath a curse upon it.
Judges 8:12. And when Zebah and Zalmunna fled, he pursued after them, and took the two kings of Midian, Zebah and Zalmunna, and discomfited all the host.
There was an end of the tyranny of the Midianites. Gideon slew great numbers of them, and drove away such as yet remained alive.
Judges 8:13-17. And Gideon the son of Joash returned from battle before the sun was up, and caught a young man of the men of Succoth, and enquired of him: and he described unto him the princes of Succoth, and the elders thereof even threescore and seventeen men. And he came unto the men of Succoth, and said, Behold Zebah and Zalmunna, with whom ye did upbraid me, saying, Are the hands of Zebah and Zalmunna now in thine hand, that we should give bread unto thy men that are weary? And he took the elders of the city, and thorns of the wilderness and briers, and with them he taught the men of Succoth. And he beat down the tower of Penuel, and slew the men of the city.
He probably slew the most public revilers, the leading men of Penuel, even as he had chastised the princes and elders of Succoth with thorns and briers. I have often observed that you and I have been taught a great many things “with the thorns of the wilderness and with briers.” If we refuse to help God’s weary and tried people, it is highly probable that, one of these days, we may have to learn a great deal from the thorns of the wilderness and from the briers. Do we ever learn much apart from the thorns of the wilderness? Surely, trials and troubles have been our great instructors from the first day even until now.
Judges 8:18-19. Then said he unto Zebah and Zalmunna, What manner of men were they whom ye slew at Tabor? And they answered, As thou art, so were they; each one resembled the children of a king. And he said, they were my brethren, even the sons of my mother:
In the East, there is much greater affection between those who are the sons of one mother than between those who are only sons of one father.
Judges 8:19. As the Lord liveth, if ye had saved them alive, I would not slay you.
But now it devolved upon him to be an avenger of blood according to Oriental law, and to put to death those who had slain his brothers.
Judges 8:20-22. And he said unto Jether his firstborn, Up, and slay them. But the youth drew not his sword: for he feared, because he was yet a youth. Then Zebah and Zalmunna said, Rise thou, and fall upon us: for as the man is, so is his strength. And Gideon arose, and slew Zebah and Zalmunna, and took away the ornaments that were on their camels’ necks. Then the men of Israel said unto Gideon, Rule thou over us, both thou, and thy son, and thy son’s son also: for thou hast delivered us from the hand of Midian.
There was always an itching among the Israelites to have a king, an earthly monarch to rule over them; but God did not so design it. It was want of loyalty and love to God that led them to make this request.
Judges 8:23-27. And Gideon said unto them, I will not rule over you, neither shall my son rule over you: the LORD shall rule over you. And Gideon said unto them, I would desire a request of you, that ye would give me every man the earrings of his prey. (For they had golden earrings, because they were Ishmaelites.) And they answered, We will willingly give them. And they spread a garment, and did cast therein every man the earrings of his prey. And the weight of the golden earrings that he requested was a thousand and seven hundred shekels of gold; beside ornaments, and collars, and purple raiment that was on the kings of Midian, and beside the chains that were about their camels’ necks. And Gideon made an ephod thereof, and put it in his city, even in Ophrah: and all Israel went thither a whoring after it: which thing became a snare unto Gideon, and to his house.
He did not set up an idol, but he made an ephod, an imitation of that wonderful vestment worn by the high priest. Perhaps he made it of solid gold, not to be worn, but to he looked at, simply to remind the people of the worship of God, and not to be itself worshipped. But ah, dear friends, you see here that, if we go half an inch beyond what God’s Word warrants we always get into mischief! You hear people say, “We have such and such symbols, not to worship, but to help us in worship.” Ah, yes; but the tendency of the symbol is to act as a dam to the stream of devotion, and to make it end there! God forbid that we should ever violate the rules that Christ has laid down for us! The slightest deviation from the simplicity of the gospel may lead us away into sheer apostasy? Whence have come all the errors of Rome but from little accretions and alterations? A little ornament here, a little symbol there, and a little variation of truth yonder and the gigantic system of Romanism has thus been created. Gideon probably meant well, and we may do wrong even though we mean well. May the Lord preserve us from the smallest departure from the way that he has marked out for us in his Holy Word! Amen.