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Bible Commentaries

Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible

Judges 8

 

 

Introduction

Judges 6-8. Gideon Delivers Israel from the Midianites.—The next war was waged, not against disciplined soldiers, but against a horde of nomads from the eastern desert. The Midianites are represented in the OT sometimes as peaceful shepherds (Exodus 2:15 f.*), sometimes as caravan traders (Genesis 37:28; Genesis 37:36), and sometimes as Bedouin marauders. It was in the last of these rôles that they became a plague to the Israelites, especially to the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh. The hero chosen to deliver the nation from them was the Manassite Gideon, who was impelled by various motives—patriotism, for he identified himself with his oppressed people (Judges 6:13); personal revenge, for some of his own brothers had been murdered by the raiders (Judges 8:19); and, above all, the consciousness of a Divine vocation and inspiration (Judges 6:14; Judges 6:34). The memory of his victory became a proudly cherished tradition, and centuries afterwards a reference to "the Day of Midian" still reminded Israel how "the yoke of his (Israel's) burden, and the staff of his shoulder, and the rod of his oppressor" had been broken (Isaiah 9:4; cf. Isaiah 10:26, Psalms 83:9). Time added picturesque details to the original story, and editors attempted, without complete success, to fuse the various elements into a literary whole.


Verses 1-3

Judges 8:1-3. The Ephraimites Appeased.—After defeating the mighty foreign foe, Gideon had to settle a domestic dispute which might easily have become serious, and he again proved himself equal to the occasion. He is a man of wit and humour as well as of military prowess. He knows that a soft answer turns away wrath, and he can make the tongue as effective a weapon as the sword. He stoops to conquer. When the jealous Ephraimites complain that he has not given them the first place in his army (which would have entitled them to the best of the spoils), he returns a humble answer, in which they do not perceive any flavour of delicate irony. How should he ever compare his little clan with a mighty tribe? The mere gleanings of Ephraim are more than the vintage—the whole harvest—of Abiezer. We shall find later that while such treatment appeased the Ephraimites it did not cure them. Jephthah had experience of the same jealous temper, and was not so patient with it (Judges 12:1-6).


Verses 4-21

Judges 8:4-21. The Pursuit on the East of Jordan.—This section is not continuous with the preceding one. The men of Israel, who were gathered together after the battle (Judges 7:23), and the Ephraimites, who were so eager to prove what they could do, are heard of no more. Gideon is again alone with his 300 (Judges 8:4); the men of Succoth and Penuel, ignorant of any battle or rout, think his campaign against the Midianites a hopeless affair; and when he at length reaches the enemy he finds them "secure," apparently having neither been, nor expecting to be, disturbed (11). Plainly we have here a different tradition.

Judges 8:4. For "faint and (not ‘yet') pursuing" the LXX has "faint and hungry," which suits the next verse, where there is a request for bread. Succoth (Genesis 33:17) and Penuel (Genesis 32:30 f.) have not been identified; they must have been near the Jabbok.

Judges 8:7. For "tear" read "thresh." Provoked by the inhospitality of the princes of Succoth, Gideon threatens to throw them naked into a bed of thorns and trample them down.

Judges 8:10. The site of Karkor is also unknown. The enormous figures, as in Judges 8:19-21, were probably due to R.—[Judges 8:14. This lad could write (mg.) an interesting and rather suggestive fact, but it would be extravagant to infer that writing was a universal accomplishment.—A. S. P.]

Judges 8:16. For "taught" read with LXX, "threshed." The savage threat is carried out. It is difficult to believe that the Gideon of this tradition is the man whom we know and love in the other stories. But compare what even David is said to have done (2 Samuel 12:31), and contrast Luke 9:56.

Judges 8:18-21. The two nomad chieftains faced death with the stoical fortitude of American Indians.


Verses 22-35

Judges 8:22-27. Gideon Refuses a Kingdom, and Erects an Ephod.—Long before the Israelites had any human kings. Yahweh was regarded as their Divine King, and Gideon, like Samuel (1 Samuel 8:7; 1 Samuel 10:19; 1 Samuel 12:12; 1 Samuel 12:17; 1 Samuel 12:19), expresses the view that the Divine kingship leaves no room for a human sovereignty. This view became prevalent in the eighth century B.C., when a succession of wicked kings was ruining the northern kingdom (Hosea 8:4; Hosea 13:11).

Judges 8:24-27. In gratitude to Yahweh, who had stood by him and given him victory, Gideon uses the spoils of war to make a golden ephod, which he sets up to Yahweh's glory at Ophrah. This act is spoken of without disapproval, except in Judges 8:27 b, which many scholars regard as an editorial addition. "A later age, trained in more spiritual conceptions, took offence at Gideon's action, and saw in it the cause of the disaster which befell his house" (G. A. Cooke). The nature and purpose of an ephod in the time of the Judges are not explicitly stated. It certainly was not a sacred vest, such as was worn by the High Priest in the second Temple. It was clearly an image of some kind, and it was used in the service of Yahweh (p. 100).

Judges 8:33-35 contains the familiar phrases of D, who is grieved at Israel's ingratitude, first to Yahweh their deliverer, and then to Gideon their earthly benefactor. [Observe also the characteristic generalisation of the purely local and Canaanite cult of Baal-berith (Judges 9:4; Judges 9:46) into a cult adopted by Israel as a whole.—A. S. P.]

 


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Bibliography Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on Judges 8:4". "Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/pfc/judges-8.html. 1919.

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