Chapter 8

JUDGES CHAPTER 8

Gideon Defeats Zebah and Zalmunna

        • Then the men of Ephraim asked Gideon, “Why have you treated us this way? Why didn’t you call on us when you went to fight the Midianites?” They argued with him severely. Gideon replied, “What have I done compared to you? Aren’t the grapes gleaned by Ephraim better than the grape harvest of Abiezer? God handed the two princes of Midian, Oreb and Zeeb, over to you. What have I done compared to that?” When the men of Ephraim heard his response, their anger subsided.

        • Guzik writes, “The men of Ephraim joined in the fight against Midian when Gideon called out to them (Judges 7:24-25). Yet they were upset that Gideon did not call them before the battle started. Gideon’s initial call for help went out to the tribes of Manasseh (his own tribe), Asher, Zebulun, and Naphtali (Judges 6:35).”

        • Then Gideon and his 300 men, exhausted but still in pursuit of the enemy, came to the Jordan River and crossed it. Gideon said to the men of Succoth, “Please give loaves of bread to the people following me because they are very tired, and I am chasing the kings of Midian, Zebah and Zalmunna.” But, the officials of Succoth replied, “Do you already have the hands of Zebah and Zalmunna in your possession so that we should give bread to your army?” Gideon said, “Very well then, when Yahweh has handed Zebah and Zalmunna over to me, I will thrash your flesh with thorns and briers from the wilderness.”

          • NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible says, “Whereas in 7:25 Oreb and Zeeb had been identified as ‘leaders,’ these men are identified as ‘kings.’”

          • On the phrase “do you already have the hands of Zebah and Zalmunna in your possession…” the same source explains, “Lit. ‘are the palms of Zebah and Zalmunna now in your hand?’…alludes to the ancient Near Eastern military practice of cutting off the hands of captives, taking these back to the base, and using them to tally the number of casualties in battle.”

          • Guzik adds, “Through Gideon, the call came to the people of the city of Succoth to support those who fought the battle. They were not asked to engage in the actual battle, but simply to support those on the front lines.”

        • From there, Gideon went up to Penuel and asked the same thing from them, but they answered just as the men of Succoth had answered. So, he told the men of Penuel, “When I come back safely, I will tear down this tower!”

          • NLT Illustrated Study Bible notes, “Succoth and Peniel were Israelite cities, but their loyalty to Gideon, an upstart general, was thin. The tribes east of the Jordan were continually exposed to the Midianite’s pressure and apparently feared the Midianites.”

        • Now Zebah and Zalmunna were in Karkor with about 15,000 men, which was all that remained of the armies of the east, because 120,000 had been killed. Gideon traveled up by the route of the tent-dwellers east of Nobah and Jogbehah, and attacked the army- taking them by surprise. Zebah and Zalmunna, the two Midianite kings, ran away. But he chased them and captured them, routing the whole army.

          • NLT Illustrated Study Bible writes, “Apparently the Midianite remnant with its two kings felt reasonably secure, having reached the Transjordan plateau en route to their traditional desert haunts. This put them well beyond typically Israelite territory. As he had done before, (7:19-22), Gideon took the Midianite army by surprise. He captured the two kings and routed the army, thus eliminating the threat of Midianite retribution feared by the leaders of Succoth and Penuel.”

        • Then Gideon, Joash’s son, returned from battle by way of the ascent of Heres. He captured a young man from Succoth and questioned him. The young man wrote a list of the commanders and elders of Succoth for him, seventy-seven men.

          • ESV Archaeology Study Bible writes, “The term for young man is na’ar, which refers to one being trained for service as an elder…Archaeologists and historians have debated the level of literacy among the ancient Israelites. At this time, the alphabet was replacing older scripts. The development of the alphabet, which averaged 20 to 25 symbols and was this easier to teach and disseminate, allowed a wider spread of literacy.”

        • Then Gideon went to the men of Succoth and said, “Here are Zebah and Zalmunna. You taunted me about them saying, “ Do you already have the hands of Zebah and Zalmunna in your possession so that we should give bread to your exhausted army?” He took the elders of the city and taught them a lesson with the thorns and briars from the wilderness. He also tore down the tower of Penuel and killed the men in the city.

        • Then Gideon asked Zebah and Zalmunna, “What kind of men did you kill at Tabor?” And they said, “They were like you. Each one looked like the son of a king.” Gideon replied, “They were my brothers, the sons of my own mother. As surely as Yahweh lives, if you had spared their lives, I wouldn’t kill you.”

          • Guzik writes, “Apparently these two Midianite kings were responsible for the death of Gideon’s brothers. Gideon wanted this known and confessed before he executed these kings.”

        • Then he said to Jether, his oldest son, “Kill them.” But Jether didn’t draw his sword because he was still a young boy and was afraid. Then Zebah and Zalmunna said, “Rise up and kill us yourself, for a man is judged by his strength.” So, Gideon arose and killed them, and took the crescent ornaments that were on their camels’ necks.

          • The NLT Illustrated Study Bible explains, “Matters of honor dominated this interaction. Death at the hand of a woman or child was considered dishonorable (5:24-27; 9:54).”

Gideon’s Ephod

        • Then the Israelites said to Gideon, “Rule over us- you, your son, and your grandson- because you have saved us from Midian.” Gideon replied, “I will not rule over you and neither will my son. Yahweh will rule over you! However, I will make one request of you: each of you give me an earring from the plunder you collected from your fallen enemies.” (They had gold earrings because they were Ishmaelites.)

          • NLT Illustrated Study Bible reminds us, “Ishmaelites and Midianites were both descendants of Abraham (Genesis 16:15; 25:2).”

        • NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible explains the significance of the earrings:

          • In the ancient Near East both men and women wore earrings. The earrings involved in the accounts of Jacob’s family gods (Gen 35:1-7), the golden calf (Ex 32:1-6) and the present story are not simply arbitrary items of jewelry. Rather, the earrings symbolize the relationship between the deity and the worshiper at several levels: (1) Since deities are often portrayed with holes in their ears or as wearing earrings, the represent precious gifts from devotee to deity. (2) Analogous to piercing the ear of a slave who chose not to leave his master (Ex 21:5-6; Dt.15:16-17), the pierced ear symbolized the worshiper’s devotion to the deity. (3) Attached to the organ of listening, the earrings reminded the devotee to be ever attentive to the voice of the deity. Like Aaron in Ex 32, Gideon melted down the gold and used this ‘sacred’ metal to create a new religious symbol (v. 27).”

        • The Israelites said, “We will give them willingly.” So, they spread out a cloak and everyone threw an earring from his plunder on it. The weight of the gold earrings was about forty-three pounds, not including the crescent ornaments and pendants, the Midianite kings’ purple garments, or the chains on their camels’ necks. Gideon made this into an ephod and put it in his hometown- Ophrah. All of Israel prostituted themselves by worshiping it and it became a trap for Gideon and his family.

        • The NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible also puts Gideon’s apparent rejection of ruler-ship in proper perspective, “Although Gideon appears to reject the Israelites’ invitation to rule over them and found a hereditary dynasty, by ancient Near Eastern standards all his actions hereafter are typical of kings: (1) he claims the lion’s share of the plunder from battle for himself (vv. 24-26); (2) he claims the purple garments of the Midianite kings (v. 26); (3) he establishes a national cult center complete with divine image (v. 27); (4) he is identified by patronymic (‘Jerub-Baal son of Joash,’ v. 29) and lives in his house; (5) he establishes a large harem and fathers 70 sons (vv. 30-31); (6) he names his son Abimelek, which means ‘my father is king’ (v. 31).”

          • ESV Archaeology Study Bible adds some additional context regarding this ephod Gideon made, “The term ephod refers to the priests’ vestments, particularly the breastplate. Gideon did not become a priest but rather used this ephod as an object of worship. A similar practice in Assyria involved draping garments over images of the gods. Perhaps this was a clothed sacred image placed in the city.”

        • On the textual reference to Israel’s prostitution with this ephod, HCSB writes, “…when Scripture declares that the people of Israel ‘prostituted themselves,’ the reference is to forsaking its loyalty to the one true God. Veneration of religious objects such as this ‘ephod,’ worship of false gods…occult practices, or spiritism (Lv 20:1-6) are forms of spiritual adultery. Within the framework of His covenant with Israel, the Lord places Himself, in effect, in the position of a husband (Jr 31:32).”

Gideon’s Death

        • So, Midian was subdued before the Istaelites and didn’t raise its head again. Throughout the rest of Gideon’s lifetime, 40 years, there was peace in the land.

        • Jerub-baal, the son of Joash, returned to live at home. He had seventy sons of his own, for he had many wives. His concubine living in Shechem bore him a son, whom he named Abimelech.

          • NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible adds, “…Gideon’s marriage to this woman reinforces the impression that he is behaving like a typical Near Eastern king on two counts: (1) she represents an addition to an already large harem, and (2) she is a Canaanite. By marrying a Shechemite, Gideon seems either to have been establishing a claim to this town or to have entered into a marriage alliance with the rulers of the town.”

        • Gideon, Joash’s son, died at a good old age and was buried in the tomb of his father, Joash, at Ophrah of the Abiezerites.

        • As soon as Gideon died, the Israelites prostituted themselves with the Baals and made Baal-berith their god. They didn’t remember Yahweh their God, who had rescued them from enemies all around them. Nor did they show favor to Jerub-baal’s (Gideon’s) family, despite all the good things he had done for Israel.

        • NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible elaborates, “…In view of the prominence of Baal in the book and especially in the Judges narratives, one’s immediate response is to equate this Baal with the Canaanite storm and warrior deity. However, the issue is complicated by the reference to the Shechemite ‘temple of El-Berith’ in 9:46. It is possible that Baal-Berith and El-Berith represent two separate deities, both of whom were worshiped in Shechem, but it is more likely that Baal and El were interchangeable designations for the same god.”

        • Guzik writes, “Through his career, we see Gideon as a man who slipped from great heights of faith to a place of outright apostasy and rebellion against God. We could say that Gideon handled adversity better than success. Success, riches, and prominence brought him down…It isn’t enough for us to begin well with God. We must continue on throughout our whole Christian life. Gideon, in his later years, had to look back to see anything done for God. All those works were in the past.”

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