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Bible Commentaries

Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible

Judges 8

 

 

Verses 1-3

GIDEON'S OTHER ACTIONS; HE REFUSED KINGSHIP

GIDEON APPEASED THE WRATH OF THE EPHRAIMITES (Judges 8:1-3)

"And the men of Ephraim said unto him, Why hast thou served us thus, that thou callest us not, when thou wentest to fight with Midian? And they did chide with him sharply. And he said unto them, What have I now done in comparison with you? Is not the gleaning of the grapes of Ephraim better than the vintage of Abiezer? God hath delivered into your hand the princes of Midian, Oreb and Zeeb: and what was I able to do in comparison with you? Then their anger was abated toward him, when he had said that."

The pride and conceit of Ephraim as the most powerful of the tribes of Israel is evident in this. Their inheritance in the mountains had preserved them from many of the marauding expeditions of Israel's enemies. Joshua had been of their tribe, and Bethel and Shiloh in their territory were the earliest locations of the Tabernacle, thus making Ephraim somewhat like the religious capital of the Twelve Tribes.

"Why hast thou dealt thus with us?" (Judges 8:1). "Gideon's success mortified the pride of Ephraim, seeing that they had played a subordinate part."[1] Also, "What was involved was more than glory, a share in the booty was at stake; and that meant a great deal to a people living in a mountainous country."[2]

"Is not the gleaning of the grapes of Ephraim better than the vintage of Abiezer" (Judges 8:2). "Here is an excellent illustration of the proverb that, `A soft answer turneth away wrath (Proverbs 15:1).'"[3] Dalglish identified this expression as, "An ancient Ephraimite proverb concerning the superiority of that tribe."[4] Keil explained the implied application of it in Gideon's usage of it: "The `gleaning of Ephraim' is their victory over the fleeing Midianites (and the capture of the princes Oreb and Zeeb); and the `vintage of Abiezer' was what Gideon accomplished with his three hundred men, because Ephraim had slain the princes."[5]

These verses indicate the diplomatic ability of Gideon as he made every effort to preserve the unity and coherence of the Twelve Tribes.


Verses 4-9

SUCCOTH AND PENUEL REFUSE TO HELP GIDEON (Judges 8:4-9)

"And Gideon came to the Jordan, and passed over, he, and the three hundred men that were with him, faint, yet pursuing. And he said unto the men of Succoth, Give, I pray you, loaves of bread unto the people that follow me; for they are faint, and I am pursuing after Zebah and Zalmunna, the kings of Midian. And the princes of Succoth said, Are the hands of Zebah and Zalmunna now in thy hand that we should give bread unto thine army? And Gideon said, Therefore when Jehovah hath delivered Zebah and Zalmunna into my hand, then will I tear your flesh with the thorns of the wilderness and with briers. And he went up thence to Penuel, and spake unto them in like manner; and the men of Penuel answered him as the men of Succoth had answered. And he spake also unto the men of Penuel, saying; When I come again in peace, I will break down this tower."

When the tribes of Reuben, Gad and part of Manasseh had been permitted by Moses to take their inheritance on the east side of Jordan, those tribes made a solemn vow that they WOULD support their brethren who went on into Canaan, but the leaders of Succoth and Penuel here shamefully betrayed their western brethren by refusing to give even a few loaves of bread to Gideon and his bone-weary soldiers who were near exhaustion from their pursuit of Israel's enemies.

How could they have done such an unpatriotic and shameful thing? Dalglish thought that, "The citizens of these two cities might have been Canaanites, or that they may have suffered much already from the Midianites and feared reprisals if they aided Gideon, or that they were Israelites who felt that Gideon's mission was unwarranted, and doomed to utter failure."[6] It appears to this writer that the middle one of these possibilities is correct.

Barnes also agreed that the leaders of these two Trans-Jordanic cities, "Did not wish to risk the vengeance of the Midianites by giving supplies to Gideon's men."[7]

"Are the hands of Zebah and Zalmunna in thy hand?" (Judges 8:6). Keil's rendition of this more clearly gives the meaning: "Is the fist of Zebah and Zalmunna in thy power that we should give thine army bread"? This plainly indicates that it was FEAR OF REPRISAL that motivated the shameful actions of Succoth and Penuel.

"The princes of Succoth" (Judges 8:6). "The word `princes' here is not quite accurate, the word means `officials.'"[8]

"Zebah and Zalmunna the kings of Midian" (Judges 8:6). The Anchor Bible and other liberal explanations question the authenticity of these names with many speculative references to redactors, editors, compilers, etc., but, by far, the most probable understanding is that the inspired Samuel whom we believe to be the author of Judges not only got the names down correctly, but that his simple narrative, as it stands, is worth a hundred scissors-and-paste jobs by critics, no two of whom can agree on anything!

Cundall admitted that the names Zebah and Zalmunna, "May be genuinely Midianite." As for the meaning of these names, David Frances Roberts gave it as, "`Victim' for Zebah and `protection refused' for Zalmunna."[9]

"I will tear your flesh with the thorns of the wilderness" (Judges 8:7). Many have spoken of the uncertainty regarding what this means, but we shall defer discussion of it until Judges 8:16.

Gideon also promised to destroy the tower of Penuel when that city also followed Succoth's example of refusing bread for their hungry and exhausted brethren.


Verses 10-12

ZEBAH AND ZALMUNNA WERE CAPTURED (Judges 8:10-12)

"Now Zebah and Zalmunna were in Karkor, and their hosts with them, about fifteen thousand men, all that were left of all the host of the children of the east; for there fell a hundred and twenty thousand men that drew the sword. And Gideon went up by the way of them that dwell in tents on the east of Nobah and Jogbehah, and smote the host; for the host was secure. And Zebah and Zalmunna fled; and he pursued after them; and he took the two kings of Midian, Zebah and Zalmunna, and discomfited all his host."

"For the host was secure" (Judges 8:10). The meaning of this is merely that, "The host thought that they were secure:" The RSV makes the meaning clear, "For the army was off its guard." The two kings with their fifteen thousand men had fled far enough east of the Jordan that they fancied themselves to be utterly beyond the reach of the Israelites, and had not even bothered to post a watch. The last five words of these three verses should actually be placed immediately after the words, "And the host was secure." Of course, the utter panic of the army preceded the flight and capture of the two kings. The marginal reference on, "discomfited all the host" gives `terrified' instead of `discomfited'; therefore, the RSV is better: "He threw all the army into a panic."

"Nobah and Jogbehah" (Judges 8:11). "Nobah belonged to the half-tribe of Manasseh in Gilead, and Jogbehah was in the tribe of Gad."[10] Barnes concluded from the supposed location of these places that Gideon was able to fall upon the Midianites at Karkor unexpectedly from the east. Such an attack was totally beyond any anticipation.


Verses 13-17

SUCCOTH AND PENUEL PUNISHED (Judges 8:13-17)

"And Gideon the son of Joash returned from the battle from the ascent of Heres. And he caught a young man of the men of Succoth, and inquired of him: and he described for him the princes of Succoth, and the elders thereof, seventy and seven men. And he came unto the men of Succoth, and said, Behold Zebah and Zalmunna, concerning whom ye did taunt me, saying are the hands of Zebah and Zalmunna in thy 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 brake down the tower of Penuel, and slew the men of the city."

"Gideon ... returned from the battle from the ascent of Heres" (Judges 8:13). We definitely prefer the KJV rendition here which reads: "Before the sun was up." As Hervey said, "This rendition may be well defended and gives excellent sense."[11] Without any doubt the word "Heres is an ancient word for "sun"; and the foolish excuse for making this a proper name of some place is based totally upon what some scholar imagines to be the customary use of "up" or "ascent." However, where is the scholar who knows ALL the uses of such words? Furthermore, when they have made a place-name out of it, WHERE is the place? Of course, there is no such place. Furthermore, the mention of sunrise here indicates, what is almost a certainty, namely, that Gideon attacked the kings at Karkor AT NIGHT. Is that not what he did previously? Why would he have changed his tactics?

"A young man of Succoth ... described for him the princes of Succoth" (Judges 8:14). This is a shameful mistranslation, which happily is corrected in the RSV, which has, "And he wrote down for him the officials and elders of Succoth." As Cundall noted, "This is a vital witness to the wide dissemination of the arts of writing and reading,"[12] which was known and employed by people of all ranks and conditions, not only in the times of Samuel, but also far earlier even in the times of Moses.

"And he took the elders of the city, and thorns of the wilderness and briers, and with them he taught the men of Succoth" (Judges 8:16). In view of what is stated in Judges 8:17, that he slew the men of Penuel, it is inconceivable that the punishment of death for the rulers of Succoth would not also have been executed. As Dalglish noted, "The language of the narrative forbids any other interpretation than that the elders were put to death by being threshed amid thorns and briers, or by having thorns and briers dragged over their prostrate bodies."[13] "The words "he taught" here, by the slight change of a single letter, can be read as "he threshed."[14] Certainly, such cruel punishments were known in those times, as indicated in Amos 1:3. However, George Moore stated, "... making the word `thistles' (briers) in this passage mean `threshing-sledges,' as in some dictionaries and commentaries is merely a figment of bad etymology."

"And he slew the men of the city" (Penuel) (Judges 8:17). This does not mean that he slaughtered the whole city, but only the rulers of it, as was the case in Succoth. "Gideon slew their great men and beat down their tower, but did not harm the inhabitants."[15]

"The punishment inflicted by Gideon upon Succoth and Penuel was well deserved in all respects, and was righteously executed. They had not only acted treacherously against Israel as far as they could, from the most selfish interests, but in their contemptuous treatment of Gideon and his men, they had poured contempt upon the Lord, who had demonstrated and shown before all Israel that Gideon and his men were God's own soldiers by the victory which was given to him against an innumerable army. Having been called by the Lord to be the deliverer and the judge of Israel, it was Gideon's duty to punish those faithless cities."[16]

Verses 18-21

THE EXECUTION OF THE TWO KINGS

"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, the sons of my mother: as Jehovah liveth, if ye had saved them alive, I would not slay you. And he said unto Jether his first-born, 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 the crescents that were on their camels' necks."

There is hardly another passage in the Bible where our disagreement with some of the commentators is any more pronounced than it is in this. Robert Boling, writing in Anchor Bible (Judges) says of this passage:

"Thus Gideon rides roughshod over a basic covenant stipulation (Exodus 20:7; Deuteronomy 5:11, "Thou shalt not kill"), inasmuch as the vengeance being executed here is strictly personal. He has usurped Jehovah's executive prerogative (Romans 12:19, "Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord") ... an enormous act of private vengeance."[17]

There is no greater error among present-day scholars than this outburst against Gideon's faithful obedience to the commandment of God who commanded, "Whosoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for God made man in his own image" (Genesis 9:6). "This is not merely a permission legalizing, but an imperative command enjoining capital punishment for murderers."[18] "When God commands man to execute murderers, He delegates this task to him, and it becomes his God-given responsibility to do it."[19]

In Gideon's case, God's Word specifically commanded him to execute vengeance upon the murderers of his brothers. The institution of the "cities of refuge" was not for the purpose of protecting willful murderers from their just punishment, but in order to protect the unintentional manslayer from the avenger of blood. "It was the duty of the nearest relative to execute vengeance upon the murderer of his kin; he became the [~go'el]."[20] In this light, Gideon's execution of his brothers' murderer is exactly what God had commanded him to do.

The efforts of our current society to abolish capital punishment is not merely a mistake; it is a violation of the law of God! The shameful leniency of the judiciary in our own day is having exactly the same effect that God's leniency with Cain produced, filling the entire world with bloody violence. Any human society that wishes to bring about the universal bloodshed and violence which precipitated the Great Deluge could not possibly choose any quicker way to do so than to reject the commandment of God that orders human societies to execute murderers.

Gideon, as the "de facto" head of state, was the appropriate center of authority for the execution of all murderers. In this connection, it is of interest that some scholars apparently do not know the difference between "Thou shalt do no murder," which is the proper translation of Exodus 7 and, "The man shall surely be put to death" (Numbers 15:35), which was also the Word of God concerning certain violators of Divine law, including murderers. (For further comment on this, see Vol. 1 (Genesis) of the series on the Pentateuch, pp. 136,137.)

"What manner of men were they?" (Gideon's brothers) (Judges 8:18). The RSV renders this: "Where are the men whom ye slew at Tabor?" "Tabor here is a reference either to the mountain of that name, or to a village near it."[21] We prefer the ASV, because it corresponds with the answer given by the two kings.

"They resembled the children of a king" (Judges 8:18). This reply was designed to provide a reason for their senseless murder of Gideon's brothers. The implied plea is that, "Their kingly appearance indicated their importance, and therefore we were afraid to spare them." Of course, Gideon did not allow such a ridiculous excuse.

"The sons of my mother" (Judges 8:19). Uterine brothers were supposed to be closer to each other than those who were the sons of a common father by different mothers. Jacob and Esau were glaring exceptions to that general rule.

"And he said to Jether his first-born, Up, and slay them" (Judges 8:20). "It is likely that Gideon led his prisoners home in triumph, and that they were put to death at Ophrah."[22] This opinion seems justified because we could hardly suppose that Gideon's young son had been among the "three hundred" who went with Gideon beyond the Jordan.

"The youth drew not his sword, for he feared" (Judges 8:20). This is easily understood. This writer's nephew went on a deer hunt, and, as luck would have it, a large buck walked right in front of him only a few yards up wind away, but the young man froze with the gun in his hand; he simply could not pull the trigger! Slaying a fellow human being of course, would present an even greater shock to one who had never killed a man.

"And Gideon slew them, and took the crescents that were on their camels' necks" (Judges 8:21). Of course, Gideon took the camels also, which Zebah and Zalmunna had evidently been permitted to ride to Ophrah. The crescents are evidently mentioned here, because those gold ornaments became a snare and a temptation to Gideon.


Verses 22-28

GIDEON DECLINED THE KINGSHIP; BUT ASKED FOR GOLD (Judges 8:22-28)

"And the men of Israel said unto Gideon, Rule thou over us, both thou, and thy son, and thy son's son; for thou hast saved us out of the hand of Midian. And Gideon said unto them, I will not rule over you, neither shall my son rule over you: Jehovah shall rule over you. And Gideon said unto them, I would make a request of you, that ye would give me every man the ear-rings of his spoil. (For they had golden ear-rings, because they were Ishmaelites.) And they answered, We will willingly give them. And they spread a garment, and did cast therein in every man the ear-rings of his spoil. And the weight of the golden ear-rings that he requested was a thousand seven hundred shekels of gold; besides the crescents and the pendants, and the purple raiment that was on the kings of Midian, and besides the chains that were on their camels' necks. And Gideon made an ephod thereof, and put it in his city, even in Ophrah: and all Israel played the harlot after it there; and it became a snare unto Gideon and to his house. So Israel was subdued before the children of Israel, and they lifted up their heads no more. And the land had rest forty years in the days of Gideon."

"Thou hast saved us out of the hand of Midian" (Judges 8:22). "The men of Israel" who made this the basis of their inviting Gideon to be king probably does not mean all of the tribes, but only those which had participated in the expulsion and defeat of the Midianites. Note that Israel, true to their rebellious character, gave the honor and glory which belonged to God to one of themselves, namely, Gideon.

"I will not rule ... neither shall my son rule over you" (Judges 8:23). In the same way that Caiaphas, although wicked himself, prophesied that, "It is expedient that one man should die for the people" (John 11:50). Gideon, the Divinely-appointed deliverer of Israel, also uttered a prophecy, despite the probability that he was unaware of it. The evil son of the concubine, Abimelech, would indeed not rule over Israel.

"They had golden ear-rings because they were Ishmaelites" (Judges 8:24). All of those who were defeated by Gideon were also called, "Midianites," and here it is clear that they were also identifiable as "Ishmaelites." This passage refutes the critical enemies of Genesis who allege "multiple sources," "contradictions," etc., in Genesis 37:27-28, where the company of people to whom Joseph's brothers sold him are referred to in those verses both as "Ishmaelites," and as "Midianites."

"They did cast therein (into the garment) the ear-rings of their spoil" (Judges 8:25). "Gideon's soldiers had made quite a haul";[23] and they gladly turned over to Gideon the ear-rings he requested, which no doubt amounted to only a small fraction of the booty taken from the slain Midianites.

"One thousand seven hundred shekels of gold" (Judges 8:26). Keil estimated this as, "About fifty pounds of gold."[24] This, of course, made Gideon a very wealthy man.

"And Gideon made an ephod thereof and put it in ... Ophrah" (Judges 8:27). This does not say that he used "ALL of that gold" in making the ephod, but that the material in the ephod came from it.

CONCERNING THAT EPHOD

In making this ephod, Gideon invaded the sacred precincts of that which belonged exclusively to the High Priest of Israel. In Exodus 28:4ff and 39:3ff, one may find the Divine directions for making the ephod. It was a vestment to be worn exclusively by the High Priest.

It was made of blue, gold, purple and scarlet, along with pure white linen. It was supported by two shoulder-pieces and held together with an elaborate girdle. On the shoulder-pieces were two onyx stones bearing the names of the twelve tribes of Israel engraved upon them. Attached to the ephod by chains of pure gold was the breastplate, which contained four rows of three precious stones each, standing for the tribes of Israel. Under the ephod, yet part of it, was a blue robe extending to the feet of the High Priest. In the breastplate, there was also the Urim and Thummin, by means of which the High Priest could submit questions to the Lord and receive heavenly direction on what should be done.

It is believed that Gideon's sin in making such an ephod might have been due, as Keil suggested, in part, "To the fact that the High Priesthood had probably lost its worth in the eyes of the people on account of the worthlessness of its representatives."[25]

Another contributing factor to this sin of Gideon might have been the latent hostility between him and the tribe of Ephraim mentioned in the first paragraph of this chapter. The Tabernacle with its High Priest, etc. was located in Ephraim's territory, and Gideon might have felt the desire to have closer access to God than that of going through the Tabernacle at Shiloh.

Nevertheless, what he did was sinful. "He usurped the prerogatives of the Aaronic Priesthood, drawing away the people of Israel from their one and only true sanctuary, thereby not only undermining the theocratic unity of God's people, but also giving a strong impetus to the relapse of the nation of Israel into the worship of Baal, following his death. This sin destroyed the house of Gideon."[26] Regarding the question of just what the ephod made by Gideon looked like, nothing is certainly known. "We know nothing of its shape, size, or use, although it may well have been a priestly garment."[27] A number of scholars suppose that this ephod was some kind of an image. Moore called it, "an idol,"[28] but that was merely his deduction based upon the fact that Israel worshipped it.

"This making of an ephod marks the tragic end of a truly great man."[29] With regard to the widespread opinion that some kind of an image was involved in this event, Yates wrote that: "It is possible that Gideon constructed an idol (an image), wearing his ephod which closely resembled the true ephod at Shiloh."[30]

"And the land had rest forty years in the days of Gideon" (Judges 8:28). This indicates a rather long life for Gideon, and it was quite logical to append at this point in the narrative a kind of summary of that long life.


Verses 29-32

GIDEON'S LONG LIFE; HIS DEATH AND BURIAL (Judges 8:29-32)

"And Jerubbaal the son of Joash went and dwelt in his own house. And Gideon had threescore and ten sons of his body begotten; for he had many wives. And his concubine that was in Shechem, she bare him a son, and he called his name Abimelech. And Gideon the son of Joash died in a good old age, and was buried in the sepulchre of Joash his father, in Ophrah of the Abiezerites."

The importance of Joash the father of Gideon is evident in a number of things: (1) "His proprietary rights in the cultic establishment at Ophrah; (2) his definitive word in the altercation; (3) the mention of his sepulchre (the only one mentioned in Judges); and (4) his undoubted wealth."[31] All of these things are a testimony of the wealth, power, and prestige of Gideon's family, despite Gideon's protest before the Angel of Jehovah in Judges 6:15.

Gideon certainly required a lot of wealth in order to take care of such an immense family, "many wives and 70 sons," to say nothing of his relation to that concubine in Shechem who became the mother of Abimelech. The next chapter reveals that there was a special reason for mentioning Abimelech and his mother, suggesting that there were also many concubines.

The large number of Gideon's sons is in keeping with the description of other judges: Jair (30 sons, Judges 10:4), Ibzan, (30 sons and 30 daughters. Judges 12:9), and Abdon (40 sons, Judges 12:14). "Polygamy and concubinage were institutions of the day, and their attendant evils are clearly seen in the family of Gideon (Judges 9)."[32]

The fact that Abimelech's mother was Gideon's concubine living in Shechem calls attention to a type of concubinage in which the concubine continued to live with her parents, to have custody of the children, and to permit her husband to visit her.

Hervey has this interesting summary of Gideon's life:

"He did not return to poverty and obscurity as did the early Roman Consuls. He was judge over Israel for forty years, with an immense household and a harem, living like a great prince in his paternal city, with himself and his ephod the center around which the affairs of church and state gathered. He directed the affairs of his country, both and ecclesiastical, so that Israel had peace for forty years. He suppressed Baal-worship, and having lived in peace and prosperity for a long life, he died in peace and was laid to rest in the sepulchre of his father."[33]

However, there were blemishes in the life of Gideon. The idolatry which he encouraged by setting up his ephod would return as soon as he died, overwhelming Israel in another episode of oppression and sorrow. His own sons would, all except one, be ruthlessly slain by the son of his concubine. God's severe judgment did indeed fall upon Gideon in the person of his posterity.


Verses 33-35

ISRAEL FELL AGAIN INTO APOSTASY (Judges 8:33-35)

"And it came to pass as soon as Gideon was dead, that the children of Israel turned again, and played the harlot after the Baalim, and made Baal-berith their god. And the children of Israel remembered not Jehovah their God, who had delivered them out of the hand of all their enemies on every side; neither showed they kindness to the house of Jerubbaal, who is Gideon, according to all the goodness which he had showed unto Israel."

"Israel ... made Baal-berith their god" (Judges 8:33). "The worship of Baal-berith, as performed at Shechem (Judges 9:46), was an imitation of the worship of Jehovah, an adulteration of that worship, in which Baal was put in the place of Jehovah."[34] Just as the true worshippers in Israel recognized Jehovah as their covenant God, the apostates mentioned here made what they called a "covenant" with their false god Baal. "`Baal-berith' means `the covenant Baal.'"[35]

"Neither showed they kindness to the house of Jerubbaal, who is Gideon" (Judges 8:35). This reveals a fact often overlooked in the evaluation of human behavior. Unfaithfulness to God is man's failure to honor his RELIGIOUS DUTY. And once infidelity, or unfaithfulness, has been established at this highest center of man's obligations, all other obligations are also immediately made vulnerable and secondary to the vagaries of human caprice. This writer has often noticed that men forsake their wives and children or betray and violate business and other obligations after they had denied and forsaken their sacred obligations to their God and the Lord Jesus Christ.

 


Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Judges 8:4". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/bcc/judges-8.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.

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