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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible

Judges 8

 

 

Introduction

Chapter 8. Events To The Death of Gideon.

In this chapter we are told how Gideon pacified the Ephraimites, who complained because they were not sent for to fight the Midianites; how he pursued the Midianites until he took their two kings; and how on his return he chastised the men of Succoth and Penuel, because they had refused to relieve his men with food while they were pursuing the enemy; how he slew the two kings of Midian; and after this conquest was offered sole-rulership of Israel; how he requested of the Israelites the earrings which they had taken from the Midianites, with which he in weakness made an ephod which proved a snare to his household and his people; how the people were in peace for ‘forty years’ during his life;, and that he had a numerous issue, and died in a good old age, but that after his death the Israelites fell into idolatry, and were ungrateful to his family.


Verse 1

Chapter 8. Events To The Death of Gideon.

In this chapter we are told how Gideon pacified the Ephraimites, who complained because they were not sent for to fight the Midianites; how he pursued the Midianites until he took their two kings; and how on his return he chastised the men of Succoth and Penuel, because they had refused to relieve his men with food while they were pursuing the enemy; how he slew the two kings of Midian; and after this conquest was offered sole-rulership of Israel; how he requested of the Israelites the earrings which they had taken from the Midianites, with which he in weakness made an ephod which proved a snare to his household and his people; how the people were in peace for ‘forty years’ during his life;, and that he had a numerous issue, and died in a good old age, but that after his death the Israelites fell into idolatry, and were ungrateful to his family.

The Pursuit of the Kings of Midian (Judges 8:1-21).

Judges 8:1

‘And the men of Ephraim said to him, “Why have you served us like this, that you did not call us when you went to fight with Midian?” And they lambasted him sharply.’

The men of Ephraim were angry because they had not been called to the battle. No doubt they had had their share in the booty but they thought of the glory and prestige that might have been theirs. As a major tribe they treasured their position and did not want to lose it to others. It might have been a different story had the attempt been a failure. But it had been a great success. So their leaders came to him with a deputation to argue their position. They were bitter at Gideon’s failure to call them.


Verse 2

And he said to them, “What have I done in comparison with you? Is not the gleaning of the grapes of Ephraim better than the vintage of Abiezer?” ’

Gideon revealed that he had learned from his wise father. He did not try to argue the position, or point out that Yahweh alone had received any glory from the victory. Rather he pointed out to them how successful they had been. He and his men had not captured any Midianite royalty whereas Ephraim had captured two. He and his men had only picked up commoners whereas Ephraim had picked up and brought to him the heads of royalty.

The gleaning is the leftovers picked up from the fields when the reapers have gone by, an accurate picture of the work of Ephraim. But in that gleaning were the royal princes and a considerable number of the enemy. The victory as a whole had been Yahweh’s. The vintage of Abiezer were merely the lingerers from among the fleeing enemy.

On the other hand Ephraim had met them full on at the fords and had reaped amply, including the princes. The importance attached in those days to the killing of the chiefs is brought out in that Barak lost to a woman the right to kill Sisera and it was counted as a great loss (Judges 4).

“Abiezer” probably refers to Gideon himself rather than to the content of the three hundred, although it could be that the test had separated out the locals who knew about the leeches. Compared with Ephraim he had received little honour as yet.


Verse 3

God has delivered into your hands the princes of Midian, Oreb and Zeeb, and what was I able to do in comparison with you?” Then their anger was abated towards him when he said that.’

Note the double repetition of ‘in comparison with you’. Like his father he was a diplomat and by it he pacified the prickly Ephraimites. Contrast the way in which the more abrasive Jephthah dealt with them (Judges 12:2-3). But we can see from this why God had been afraid that Israel would vaunt themselves (Judges 7:2) if they won the battle in any other way. The use of ‘God’ rather than Yahweh draws attention to their wrong attitude. They were out for their own glory and not the glory of Yahweh.


Verse 4

And Gideon came to Jordan, and passed over, he and the three hundred men who were with him, faint, yet pursuing .’

Gideon came to the Jordan. The last part of Judges 7:25 and Judges 8:1-3 had been looking ahead, now in Judges 8:4 we return to Gideon’s pursuit of the enemy. He was not satisfied just with victory, he wanted the heads of the two kings of the Midianites. We learn later that his intense pursuit arose from the fact that these two kings had earlier mercilessly killed his brothers, probably on a previous raid (Judges 8:18). The Midianites were separated into several sub-tribes headed by a number of princes (compare the five princes in Joshua 13:21), over whom were these two great chieftains, here called ‘kings’.

“The three hundred.” This does not necessarily mean none had been killed. It is now a global term that covers that noble band of men. ‘Faint, yet pursuing.’ They were exhausted but ready to follow Gideon anywhere, and there was a job to be done. God’s test had produced the right kind of men.


Verse 5

‘And he said to the men of Succoth, “Give, I pray you, loaves of bread to the people who follow me, for they are faint and I am pursuing after Zebah and Zalmunna, the kings of Midian.” ’

Succoth was in the region of Gad in the Jordan rift valley not far from Zarethan (1 Kings 7:46). It is probably Tell Deir ‘Alla which was a sanctuary surrounded by dwellings and stores. It flourished during the late Bronze Age and its sanctuary was finally destroyed in the first decades of 12th century BC as indicated by a cartouche from the end of the nineteenth dynasty. It was not seemingly a fortified city, and was presumably at this time occupied by Israelites which explains why their refusal brought such condemnation on them. In refusing food they were breaching the tribal covenant. Gideon sought nothing for himself but he was concerned for his men. Note the further stress on them being faint. They had not eaten since the ‘battle’.

“The men of Succoth”, the city elders. They should have assisted in the pursuit of Israel’s enemy but they even refused food to their brothers. They had seen the passage of Zebah and Zalmunna with fifteen military units, which by now had presumably regained their composure and were feeling safe from the enemy. They were not sure that Gideon and his three hundred were a match for them. They would at this stage know nothing of Gideon’s great victory. They judged by appearances.


Verse 6

‘And the princes of Succoth said, Are the hands of Zebah and Zalmunna now in your hands that we should give bread to your army.’

These would be the chief men of the town, honoured among the elders. ‘Said’ is in the singular. One spoke for them all. They were frightened of the sword arms of the Midianite kings which were still free. The kings would not look kindly on those who offered hospitality to those who were their enemies. This counted to them more than the covenant. The reference to hands may reflect the custom of cutting off the hands of the slain in order to assess their numbers, although for leaders the head would appear to have been the norm, as recognisable (Judges 7:25; 1 Samuel 17:51; 1 Samuel 31:9; 2 Samuel 4:12; 2 Samuel 20:22).

However the Shechemites were being ironic. The reference to ‘your army’ may well have been derisory. They did not consider it much of an army. But they knew what their covenant responsibility was and deliberately rejected it for the sake of safety. In view of the contrast between the two armies they felt that they were quite safe. So they refused bread to their brothers.


Verse 7

And Gideon said, “Therefore when the Lord has delivered Zebah and Zalmunna into my hand, then I will thresh your flesh with the thorns of the wilderness, and with briers.” ’

Harsh though this may sound it was in fact comparatively merciful. Their breaking of the covenant with Yahweh strictly demanded death (compare Judges 21:10). It was like desertion in the face of the enemy. Gideon simply proposed severe chastisement to the leaders. Some have suggested that he proposed something more severe, their being trampled on thorns as the corn is trampled on the threshingfloor, indicating an unpleasant death. This would be supported by the fact of what he did to the leaders of Penuel.


Verse 8

‘And he went up thence to Penuel, and spoke to them in the same way, and the men of Penuel answered him as the men of Succoth had answered.’

He and his men received the same treatment at Penuel. Again the tribal covenant with Yahweh was ignored in the interests of safety. The only possible inference is that they too did not expect Gideon and his men to return alive. Both knew what they were doing and would not be surprised at Gideon’s threats. In theory they would have agreed the rightness of them. The covenant with Yahweh was binding and the penalty for failing to respond to it was death. They knew they were breaching the covenant. This demonstrates how lax the response to the covenant was becoming east of Jordan.


Verse 9

‘And he spoke also to the men of Penuel, saying, “When I come again in peace, I will break down this tower.” ’

His response to the elders of Penuel was similar. They had a tower which was the strongpoint of the town, in which they took great pride. This suggests that the town guarded an important pass, a fact supported by the fact that Jeroboam later fortified it (1 Kings 12:25). When he returned he would destroy this fortified tower along with these men who had refused sustenance to their covenant brothers. Penuel means ‘the face of God’ which makes this even more poignant (see Genesis 32:26). They had turned their backs on the face of God.


Verse 10

‘Now Zebah and Zalmunna were in Karkor, and their hosts with them, about fifteen eleph men, all that were left of the host of the children of the east, for there fell a hundred and twenty eleph men that drew sword.’

Here the term ‘children of the east’ includes the whole armies of Midian, Amalek and the children of the east. It is a term that can be applied generally to a type of semi-nomad (see Genesis 29:1; Job 1:3). Only fifteen units remained of the one hundred and thirty five units of armed men with which they had set out. Karkor is possibly Qarqar in the Wadi Sirhan.


Verse 11

‘And Gideon went up by the way of those who dwelt in tents on the east of Nobah and Jogbehah, and smote the host for they were off their guard.’

With his men hungry and fainting Gideon visited the semi-nomads who were keeping their flocks to the east of Nobah and Jogbehah, where it seems they found the hospitality which had been lacking from the cities of their own tribal federation. These people may well have hated the confederacy of the people of the east because they had suffered from their depredations. They would always be prey to them and would have nothing to lose by helping Gideon. Indeed they may well have provided Gideon with desert fighters, or at least guides. Jogbehah (modern Jubeihat) was a ‘fenced city with folds for the sheep’ in territory allotted to Gad (Numbers 32:35-36). Nobah was previously called Kenath (Numbers 32:42).

“And smote the host for they were off their guard.” It should be noted that at this stage there is no specific mention of the three hundred, although they would still be his main fighting force. He may well have been reinforced by the semi-nomad desert fighters, and even possibly by Ephraimites when they sought him out to complain (Judges 7:25 to Jdg_8:2), to say nothing of others involved in the pursuit. Thus Gideon may have had a reasonably large force with which to make his attack which was totally successful because he caught them off their guard, possibly with the guidance of the desert fighters. The sudden warcry of ‘the sword of Yahweh and of Gideon’ coming when they thought they were well out of range of his forces may well have struck further terror to their hearts. Here was that dreaded Gideon again, come no doubt by some supernatural means. They were no doubt still convinced that they had earlier been defeated by a huge force.


Verse 12

And Zebah and Zalmunna fled, and he pursued after them, and took the two kings of Midian, Zebah and Zalmunna, and discomfited with terror all the host.’

The name Zebah means ‘slaughter, sacrifice’. It was intended to indicate his fearsomeness as a warrior, but here indicates his destiny. Before the servant of Yahweh he could do nothing. He himself became the slaughter and sacrifice. Zalmunna probably means ‘shelter withheld’. The two kings fled the battlefield and were captured, and their terrified men scattered and fled. (As often with names they were possibly adapted when turned into Hebrew to convey a message).


Verse 13

And Gideon the son of Joash returned from battle, from the ascent of Heres.’

Gideon ‘returned from battle.’ That was the last thing that the leaders of Succoth or Penuel had expected. They had not realised that Yahweh was with him.

“From the ascent of Heres”. This means the ascent of ‘the sun’. Many mountains would be called this, compare a similarly named mountain in Aijalon (Judges 1:35), but the writer may have seen in it an indication of the power of Yahweh, remembering the incident when the sun stood still to ensure Joshua’s victory (Joshua 10:12-14). There may also be reference to Judges 5:31, ‘let those who love Him be as the sun when he goes forth in his might’.


Verse 14

And he caught a young man of the men of Succoth, and enquired of him. And he wrote down for him the names of the princes of Succoth, and its elders, even seventy seven men.’

Gideon would not kill haphazardly. The covenant had been broken and due punishment was required, but he would only exact it of those directly responsible. So he arranged for the detaining of a young man of Succoth in order to discover the names of the leading authorities, the princes and the elders. There were seventy seven of them which suggests a fairly large town. ‘Seventy and seven’ was in Genesis 4:24 the number of perfect revenge.

“He wrote down for him.” An interesting confirmation that writing was an art widely practised in Israel. Examples are known from mines in Sinai of an alphabetic script used by slaves from Canaan working in the mines there well before this time, and potsherds have been discovered in a number of Canaanite cities utilising the same script.


Verse 15

And he came to the men of Succoth, and said, “Behold, Zebah and Zalmunna, concerning whom you taunted me saying, Are the hands of Zebah and Zalmunna now in your hand, that we should give bread to your men who are weary?” ’

Their words had clearly hit Gideon hard. He could not forgive what they had done to his valiant men, instruments of Yahweh in the deliverance of Israel. Now they could see that Zebah and Zalmunna really were in his hand. The elders would be in no doubt of their fate. They knew the penalty for the breach of the tribal covenant.


Verse 16

And he took the elders of the city, and thorns of the wilderness, and briers, and with them he taught the men of Succoth .’

The words are expressive. They were taught what it meant to breach the covenant, with thorns and briers, probably by a severe beating. It may be that he spared their lives for he exacted the punishment that he had first promised and no more (verse 7).


Verse 17

And he broke down the tower of Penuel, and slew the men of the city.’

Penuel was a fortified city and thus had less excuse for their cowardice and breach of covenant, so he destroyed their fortifications and slew their chief men, ‘the men of the city’. This latter interpretation is probable because he was clearly carefully meting out blame to those who were blameworthy. However it may be that the city defended itself against him and he thus had to deal with all in fierce battle.


Verse 18

Then said he to Zebah and Zalmunna, “What manner of men were they whom you slew at Tabor?” And they answered, “As you are, so were they. Each one resembled the children of a king.” ’

“Then said he to Zebah and Zalmunna.” This was clearly later when he had returned home, for his son was now with him. These three incidents in Judges 8:15-18 are described together, not necessarily chronologically, as an indication of his threefold revenge on his enemies.

“What manner of men were they whom you slew at Tabor?” This would be Mount Tabor. Presumably in previous raids the Midianites had searched the mountain and found Gideon’s brothers there defending their hidden food supplies and their women and children. They had captured and mercilessly executed them as possible future threats. And Gideon knew of it. Probably the whole story, and especially the part played by Zebah and Zalmunna, had been described by a fugitive who escaped.

“And they answered, “As you are, so were they. Each one resembled the children of a king.” ” Like Gideon they had been upstanding, strong, unbending and men of obvious authority, which was probably why it was decided that they had to be executed to get rid of a possible future threat. The two kings must have known by this time that their fate was sealed. They remembered the incident, and the men, well.


Verse 19

And he said, “They were my brothers, even the sons of my mother. As Yahweh lives, if you had saved them alive, I would not kill you.” ’

They were guilty out of their own mouths and had determined their own punishment. They had by their actions forfeited mercy. As they had done, so would be done to them (compare Judges 1:7). This was the principle on which justice was determined. We learn also here why Gideon was such a good choice to lead against the Midianites. Not only was he a man faithful to Yahweh and a leader of men, but he fulfilled his family responsibility to bring to justice the men who had killed his brothers, not in battle but by execution. His deep personal grievance against them would have heightened his determination to bring them to justice.

“The sons of my mother.” His full brothers, sons of his mother. This is not denying that they had the same father.


Verse 20

And he said to Jether, his firstborn, “Up, and slay them”.’ But the youth drew not his sword, for he feared, because he was yet a youth.’

The men had slain members of his own family. It was therefore required that revenge be obtained through a blood relative, and he wanted his son to have the honour of slaying these great kings. If he did it himself it would be as Judge of Israel, but this was a personal family matter, and he wanted it to be carried out as such.

“But the youth drew not his sword, for he feared, because he was yet a youth.” His son had not experienced battle and killing. And like his father he was not a man of unnecessary cruelty. And he hesitated to draw his sword and act as executioner.


Verse 21

Judges 8:21 a

‘Then Zebah and Zalmunna said, “You rise and fall on us, for as the man is, so is his strength.” ’

The two kings, no doubt tightly bound, made no plea for mercy. Now that they knew that Gideon was brother to the men they had themselves executed they knew that they could expect none. Gideon would be betraying his own family if he failed to exact blood vengeance (Genesis 9:6). But they preferred to die at the hands of a worthy opponent rather than those of a callow youth, which in terms of those days would have been demeaning. And they even probably felt sorry for the boy.

Judges 8:21 b

‘And Gideon arose, and slew Zebah and Zalmunna, and he took the crescents which were on their camels' necks.’

Now that it was clear that he was acting on behalf of family vengeance Gideon carried out the execution himself. Gideon’s sense of justice and fair play comes out all through the account. He exacted only the punishments that justice and custom required, and never slew unnecessarily. To us he may appear merciless. In terms of his own day he was a model of reasonableness.

“And he took the crescents which were on their camels' necks.” Crescents are mentioned only here and in Isaiah 3:18, but crescent-shaped objects have been found in many excavations in Palestine. At some stage they were probably connected with the moon, but we must not necessarily connect them with moon worship wherever they are found. They had become delightful shapes for use in ornamental jewellery.


Verse 22

Gideon Is Made an Hereditary Prince and Makes An Ephod (Judges 8:22-28).

Judges 8:22

Then the men of Israel said to Gideon, “You 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.” ’

As a Judge of Israel Gideon did have authority over them, but this was basically an offer of hereditary rulership, as is evidenced by the fact that his sons and grandsons were to follow him as rulers. They saw in Gideon and his family leaders who could bring them peace and security, and leaders in whom justice was tempered with mercy. They could think of no better choice. Gideon was their deliverer who had made life bearable for them again. ‘The men of Israel.’ This was unlikely to mean the whole of Israel. As regularly ‘the men of Israel’ means a representative group of them, and it refers only to those in his area. Certainly Judah would not have participated in the request, nor probably Ephraim and the tribes Beyond Jordan.


Verse 23

And Gideon said to them, I will not rule over you, neither shall my son rule over you. Yahweh shall rule over you.’

There are good grounds for thinking that in fact this was a speech of acceptance couched in pious terms. He certainly proceeded to behave like a ruling prince (Judges 8:27; Judges 8:30) and the people expected his sons to succeed him (Judges 9:2). But his stress was on the fact that their real ruler was Yahweh Who ruled over the whole covenant people. (In Canaan the word ‘king’ (melech) denoted a petty king over a city. It was thus not suitable to describe Yahweh). He did not want to replace the tribal covenant, and wanted the people to recognise that Yahweh was their King. But he was prepared to rule as Yahweh’s hereditary prince over this particular area.


Verse 24

And Gideon said to them, “I would desire a request of you, that you would give me, every man, the earrings (or nose-rings) from his spoil.” (For they had golden earrings (or nose rings) because they were Ishmaelites).’

Ishmaelites were rated as Midianites, possibly as a sub-tribe (see also Genesis 37:28). Here Gideon wanted their earrings/noserings because they symbolised the enemy and he wanted to create a memorial to their destruction, no doubt also incorporating the crescents and golden camel chains he had taken from the dead kings (Judges 8:26). Earrings were widely worn by nomads. They were of no use to Israel who, at times when they were being faithful to Yahweh, abjured them. They symbolised unfaithfulness (Exodus 33:4-6).


Verse 25

And they answered, “We will willingly give (literally ‘giving we will give’) them,” and they spread a garment, and cast in it every man the earrings from his spoil.’

The people responded willingly, probably having been informed of his purpose. They spread a long robe and filled it with the earrings which were a part of their spoils.


Verse 26

And the weight of the golden earrings that he requested was one thousand and 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.’

A large amount of gold was thus gathered (about 19 kilograms or over forty pound weight if it was the ordinary shekel) as well as some purple cloth. Purple was a favourite colour for rulers, and especially among nomads.


Verse 27

Judges 8:27 a

‘And Gideon made an ephod of it, and put it in his city, even in Ophrah.’

We do not know for certain what an ephod (a metallic sacral robe) in this context was for. In Exodus 28:6-35 it was a garment worn by the priests, which contained the precious stones which represented the tribes of Israel. It may thus be that this was such a garment, made of the purple robes of the kings, ornamented heavily with the gold, to be kept as a memorial of Yahweh’s glorious victory over their enemy. There is no evidence for suggesting that it was an image, although it may have been placed over a stone pillar. Nor are there any grounds for thinking that Gideon initially encouraged its veneration. (If it was an image why did the writer not call it that?)

Judges 8:27 b

‘And all Israel went a-whoring after it there, and it became a snare to Gideon and his house.’

This probably indicates that the people saw it in terms of the priestly ephod and began to consult it like an oracle. The priestly ephod was connected with the breastplate which contained within it the Urim and the Thummim for the purpose of consulting Yahweh. It may then be that the household of Gideon encouraged this. It would bring them great prestige. This might have led on to veneration and worship of it by some of the people. Thus what was in the first place intended to be a memorial to the glory of Yahweh would become a snare to him and his house, and a stumblingblock to the people.

If it happened while Gideon himself was still alive it may well have been seen as a way of discovering Yahweh’s will. They did not go a-whoring after Baal until Gideon was dead (Judges 8:33). But this did not make it right, for it turned them away from the central sanctuary which was where Yahweh’s will could truly be found. Only the priest at the central sanctuary could consult Urim and Thummim before Yahweh. We can compare how the brazen serpent, later called Nechushtan, made by Moses at God’s command for a good purpose (Numbers 21:8-9) also became a snare to Israel (2 Kings 18:4). Any religious object is open to this danger which is why they are best avoided however ‘nice and helpful’ they seem at first.

But some suggest that we should translate ‘to Gideon, even to his house’ (see Judges 8:34), that is ‘Gideon’ as signifying his house (as ‘Israel’ signifies the children of Israel), suggesting that its main harm occurred after Gideon was dead. Then this could be seen as connected with Judges 8:33 and be referred to Baal worship. Note that there is no specific condemnation of Gideon for what he did, only indirect disapproval of the result. It is a warning to all how easy it is to lead others astray with what at first appears to be innocent.


Verse 28

So Midian 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.’

As a result of Gideon’s work under Yahweh’s hand Midian was removed as a problem for the next generation. The forty years also indicates a period of waiting before God. The land was at peace and the people were faithful to Yahweh and the central sanctuary -- apart possibly from the affair of the ephod.


Verse 29

The Final Days of Gideon (Judges 8:29-35).

Judges 8:29

And Jerubbaal the son of Joash went and dwelt in his own house.’

He was now accepted as a ruler in his own right and set up his own household, no longer subject directly to his father. He was of course already a married man of some years as witness his teenage son (Judges 8:20).

The judges had no palace, no royal court, they obtained no taxes (except for indirect maintenance of the system of tithes which were collected by the Levites), they ruled by divine favour and recognition by the people. But they had the right to call to arms the tribal confederacy when the need arose, and to seek God’s will through Urim and Thummim at the central sanctuary, (which may have been where the ephod came in, a convenient means of doing something similar without the hassle), and arbitrated on behalf of the people in accordance with custom and the law of God.

The switch to Jerubbaal rather than Gideon may be to remind us that he was the conqueror of Baal, a man once maligned, but now made a prince among his people.


Verse 30-31

And Gideon had seventy sons begotten from his own body (literally ‘going out of his thigh’), for he had many wives. And his concubine who was in Shechem she also bore him a son, and he called his name Abimelech.’

Having been made sole ruler of his territory he began to behave like it. He married many wives and had many children. ‘Seventy’ indicates divine perfection intensified. Polygamy was not frowned on in those days but was mainly the privilege of the rich. But excessive polygamy always led to trouble, especially in the matter of inheritance of a kingship. It was specifically forbidden to those who would rule Israel (Deuteronomy 17:17).

A concubine is a slave wife or a wife of lower class coming without dowry, not suited to full wife status (Judges 9:18), whose son would not be in line to inherit. Her son would grow up antagonistic to the ‘true’ sons. It appears she continued to live at Shechem, presumably with her father, probably so that she was available when Gideon spent time there judging the people. While she may not have been a worshipper of Baal she would undoubtedly have been heavily influenced in that direction and her religion was probably syncretistic, with ‘lord of the covenant’ (Baal-berith) being worshipped along with Yahweh, the true Lord of the Covenant, even possibly as Yahweh, but with ‘strange’ rites.

Abimelech’s name means ‘the king is my father’, probably given so that he had some prestige among his fellows especially in Shechem and to please his concubine. It proved to be a mistake for it gave him great ideas of his own importance. We should beware of giving ideas to people unless we intend them to be carried out. But originally such a name meant ‘Melech is my father’ (or Molech - with the vowels changed to those of ‘bosheth’ meaning shame) - possibly significant to the writer in the light of the fact that he slew his brothers as sacrifices in his father’s name - it was Melech who demanded human sacrifice. Thus his mother may have worshipped Melech.


Verse 32

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 Abiezrites.’

The reference to his ‘good old age’ demonstrates to the writer that his life had pleased God. He was gathered to his fathers in the family sepulchre. From now on ‘died and was buried’ becomes the final accolade to a good judge (deliberately omitted in the case of Abimelech).

To be fair to Gideon his new lifestyle was probably approved of by his contemporaries who overlooked the warnings of God. They probably felt that he was living in the style to which his position entitled him. So easily do we think we know better than God. But it would not be long after his death before the wisdom of God’s laws would become apparent.


Verse 33

‘And so it was that, as soon as Gideon was dead, the children of Israel turned again, and went a-whoring after the Baalim, and made Baalberith their god.’

This is illustrated further in Judges 9. It was partially the result of his many wives, as Judges 9 demonstrates. Baal-berith, ‘lord of the covenant’, was the Shechemite god. He is probably to be equated with El-berith, ‘god of the covenant’ (Judges 9:46). The Shechemites are later called ‘the sons of Hamor (the ass)’. At Mari the ass was associated with covenant making. Seemingly among the Amorites a covenant had to be sealed by the sacrifice of an ass. The same seems to have applied here with the Shechemites in their covenant with Baal-berith.

There is no record of Shechem ever being captured by Joshua and it may be that their worship of ‘the lord of the covenant’ had convinced Joshua that they were true worshippers of Yahweh so that they were welcomed to participate in the covenant ceremony at Shechem (Joshua 24). Indeed Yahweh and Baal-berith may well have been equated. But if so this had now degenerated back to worship with Baalistic tendencies under that name. The result was that the accession of Abimelech led to the children of Israel again turning to Baal worship.


Verse 34

And the children of Israel did not remember Yahweh their God, who had delivered them out of the hands of all their enemies on every side, nor did they show kindness to the house of Jerubbaal, namely Gideon, according to all the goodness which he had showed to Israel.’

Once again the children of Israel proved faithless, forgetting how God had delivered them from numerous enemies and forgetting all that Gideon had done for them. They ‘did not remember Yahweh’, that is they ceased worshipping Him except in a very perfunctory manner. ‘They did not show kindness to the household of -- Gideon’, that is they allowed his sons to be slaughtered and did nothing about it. Perhaps this was when they began to use the ephod as an oracle giver (Judges 8:27).

Note again the use of Jerubbaal, significant in a context where there was again hostility against Gideon in a Baal context, for Jerubbaal was the striver with Baal.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Judges 8:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/judges-8.html. 2013.

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