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Bible Commentaries

The Pulpit Commentaries

Judges 8

 

 

Verses 1-3

EXPOSITION

8:1

The men of Ephraim. It is possible that the transfer of the birthright from Manasseh to Ephraim (Genesis 48:13-19) may have produced some estrangement between the tribes. It is also possible that Ephraim, in view of their great tribal power, and the distinction conferred upon them by the judgeship of Joshua the son of Nun (Numbers 13:8), and the possession of his grave (Joshua 24:30), may have grown haughty and domineering, and perhaps more disposed to rest upon their former glories than to embark in fresh undertakings. Anyhow Gideon did not consult them, nor ask their aid, in the first instance. Now that the war had been so successful, the men of Ephraim were much displeased at not having been consulted.

8:2

What have I done, etc. Gideon's character comes out splendidly in this answer. Humble and unassuming ( 6:15, 6:36, note), and indisposed to glory, he was willing to give the Ephraimites full credit for their share in the great victory; prudent, and a lover of his country, he saw the immense importance of union among themselves, and the danger of intestine divisions and discord, and so at once met Ephraim's taunts by the soft answer which turneth away wrath (Proverbs 15:1). The grapes. The insertion of the word grapes, which is not in the Hebrew, rather spoils the proverb. It would run better, The gleaning of Ephraim is better than the vintage of Abi-ezer. The word vintage sufficiently shows that the gleaning meant was a gleaning of grapes. Ephraim, who came in at the end of the fight, like the gleaner when the vintage is finished, had got more glory by the capture of Oreb and Zeeb than the Manassites, who had gone through the whole campaign. The passage above referred to in Isaiah (Isaiah 10:25) implies that a great slaughter of the Midianites took place at the rock of Oreb.

HOMILETICS

8:1-3

The blindness of self-love.

Nobody admires pride, envy, jealousy, and petulance, when they see them pictured in the character and conduct of other men. Everybody, on the contrary, recognises the beauty of humility, gentleness, and forbearance, and admires self-control and patience under provocation, and the postponement of private feelings to the public good. How is it that we so often yield to the passions which we condemn in others, and so seldom and so imperfectly practise those graces of which we see the beauty and excellence? Lord, help us to put off the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and to put on the new man, which after thee is created in righteousness and true holiness. Help us to be what we approve, and to leave off in ourselves what we disapprove in others.

HOMILIES BY A.F. MUIR

8:1-9, 8:13-17

Dealing with obstructives.

Ephraim, Succoth, and Penuel.

I. THEY OUGHT NOT TO BE SUFFERED TO INTERFERE WITH THE CHIEF ENDS AND PRESSING CLAIMS OF DIVINE SERVICE. Gideon hastens after the routed and retreating foe. The sullen apathy of Ephraim, the refusal of Succoth and Penuel to meet the demands of patriotism and humanity, do not turn him aside. When the last blow has been struck and the power of Midian is laid low he will return and mete out to each according to their deserts. This is an illustration of how side issues may often arise, and of the manner in which they are to be dealt with. It is seldom that the difficulties and oppositions of life, however annoying and restraining they may be, can utterly prevent the graver duties or excuse dilatoriness. Frequently the petty nature of the opposition is revealed by steadfast continuance in the path of duty, and solitary resolution. We must do what we can, leaving with others the responsibility for their own conduct. The greatest workers in Christ's vineyard have had to labour and live on amidst misunderstanding, obloquy, and hindrance; but their work has been achieved nevertheless, and its moral effect has been all the greater.

II. WHEN THE PROPER TIME ARRIVES THEY MUST BE DEALT WITH ACCORDING TO THE NATURE AND DEGREE OF THE OPPOSITION. A wise discrimination is needed. Where gentleness will avail, harsh measures are to be avoided. Gideon knew the haughty character of Ephraim, the wound their ambitious spirit had sustained when the leadership was wrested from their hands, and so he exercised forbearance, and was gentle and pacific. Civil war was averted when it might have involved national ruin, and the generous side of Ephraim was appealed to. "A soft answer turneth away wrath." After all, Ephraim had atoned for past misbehaviour by the timely and effective service rendered even in the face of an unexplained misunderstanding. It is wise to credit our opponents with the best motives, and to speak gently and reasonably, abstaining from self-glorification. But where the hindrance had been a national crime and a violation of the first principles of humanity a different course was pursued. Here the functions of the judge were called into exercise. The punishment was stern and exemplary, but carefully meted out. Succoth and Penuel are visited with prompt and terrible recompense. But the princes and elders are punished, as being the chief culprits; the common people, who were helpless, were spared. All heresy and schism, unholiness of life, spiritual opposition, etc; is not to be regarded in the same light. Gentleness may win a brother. A little blame may rest with ourselves. Allowance is to be made for the failings of human nature. But we are to have no fellowship with the profane, the blasphemer, the unbeliever, etc. Difference of opinion may co-exist with real co-operation and fellowship.—M.


Verses 4-12

EXPOSITION

8:4

Came to Jordan. The narrative goes back to 7:24, to follow up the personal history of Gideon, from which the writer had been diverted to relate the result of Gideon's message to the Ephraimites, which is told in 7:24 and 7:25, and 8:1-3 (see 7:25, note; 2:1-6, note).

8:5

Succoth. On the east side of Jordan, as appears plainly from the narrative in Genesis 33:17, Genesis 33:18; for we read there that Jacob journeyed from Mount Gilead to Mahanaim, thence to Penuel, and from Pe-nuel to Succoth, so called from the booths or tabernacles which he made for his cattle; and that after leaving Succoth he came to the city of Shechem (called Shalem)," in the land of Canaan," showing that Succoth was not in the land of Canaan. In Joshua 13:27 we are also distinctly told that Succoth was in the trans-Jordanic tribe of Gad (which lay south of the Jabbok), in the valley of the Jordan, where its proximity to Mahanaim (Joshua 13:26, Joshua 13:30) shows it to be the same place as Jacob's Succoth, which was also near the Jabbok (Genesis 32:22). The identification of Succoth with any modern representative is very uncertain. Jerome mentions a trans-Jordanic place named Sochoth, in the region of Beth-shan, or Scythe-polls; and Burkhardt also mentions a place described by him as "the ruins of Sukkot," two hours from Bysan (Beth-shan), and on the cast of Jordan. But this, as well as the Sakut of Robinson and Van de Velde, on the west of Jordan, about ten miles south of Beth-shan, is too far north for the Suceoth of Jacob, which is shown to be the same as the Succoth of Gideon by the connection of the latter with Penuel (Joshua 13:8), and which, as above noticed, is shown to be the same as the Succoth of Joshua 13:1-33. by its proximity to Mahanaim. We must await some further light before we can decide the exact position of Succoth.

8:6

And the princes of Succoth, etc. Nothing could be more selfish, cowardly, and unpatriotic, than the conduct of the chief men of Succoth. Instead of aiding Gideon in his gallant enterprise for the deliverance of his country, they refused even food to his weary followers, for fear of the possibility of incurring the anger of the Midianites in ease Gideon should fail. Their conduct and that of the men of Penuel is perhaps one among many indications how little real union there was between the tribes on the opposite sides of the Jordan (see 5:16, 5:17).

8:7

I will tear your flesh, etc. These words breathe a fierce and vindictive spirit; such, however, as cannot surprise us m the age and country of which we arc reading (cf. 8:9 and 8:21). The provocation, it must be allowed, was very great, but still the spirit was very different from that which dictated the prayer under far greater provocation, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." Thorns of the wilderness. The nature of the punishment here threatened, and the execution of which is related in 8:16, is uncertain. The word here rendered tear means literally to thresh,. Hence some suppose that the punishment here spoken of was a severe kind of capital punishment inflicted by threshing instruments with sharp iron points, called here "thorns of the wilderness," and "briers (though some again understand literally thorns and briers); and they compare 2 Samuel 12:31, where the word rendered harrows means threshing instruments, as also Isaiah 28:27; Isaiah 41:15. But others, as Bertheau, Keil, and Delitzsch, do not think it was a capital punishment at all, and take the word thresh figuratively in the sense of punishing severely, and think that literal thorns and thistles were the implements of punishment.

8:8

He went up thence to Penuel. When Jacob was returning from Padan-aram to Canaan he reached Penuel first, and Succoth afterwards (Genesis 32:30; Genesis 33:17). Gideon, travelling in the opposite direction from Canaan, naturally reaches Succoth first, and Penuel afterwards. Going from Succoth to Penuel too, he went up out of the Jordan valley towards the mountains on the east. Penuel appears to have been a place of importance, since Jeroboam repaired its fortifications with a view of retaining his hold on trans-Jordanic Israel (1 Kings 12:25). The tower here mentioned shows it was a strong place, but its exact situation is unknown.

8:10

Karkor. Or, rather, the Karkor. We are still on unknown ground. The situation assigned to it by Eusebius and Jerome, as being the same as a castle called Carcaria, near Petra, is quite out of the question, as being greatly too far south. As an appellative it suggests the idea of a walled-in space (kir = a wall; kir-kir = a space walled all round; cf. the Latin carcer, a prison); possibly an enclosed sheep or cattle fold on a large scale (see Numbers 32:36 : "built .. folds for sheep"), affording some protection to the Midianite soldiers.

8:11

Gideon went up. See 8:8, note. Implying that his direction was eastward away from the Jordan valley. Nobah was in the half-tribe of Manasseh. Nobah, who gave his name to the city, which was before called Kenath, seems to have been of the family of Machir (Numbers 32:42). Jogbehah was in the tribe of Gad (Numbers 32:35). These two cities appear to have been on the eastern frontier of their respective tribes, but the exact site of them is utterly unknown. It is a conjecture that possibly Kunawat may be Nobah, retaining its ancient name of Kenath. East of these cities was the desert, inhabited by nomads dwelling in tents, where Karkor was, and where Zebah and Zalmunna had encamped out of reach, as they thought, of their pursuers. But Gideon, falling suddenly upon them, routed the host, and took the two kings prisoners (see Psalms 83:11).

8:12

He discomfited. Rather, as in the margin, he terrified. Those who were not killed in the first onslaught, when "he smote the host," were so terrified that they fled without further resistance, and many probably escaped, as all Gideon's efforts were directed to the capture of the two kings.

HOMILETICS

8:4-12

Faint, yet pursuing.

We do wrong in looking to the Scriptures only for spiritual lessons; they teach us also lessons of conduct in the affairs of this life. And it is a matter of great moment that we should conduct ourselves well and wisely in all the business of life. That lessons of worldly wisdom are not beneath the scope of Holy Scripture the whole Book of Proverbs teaches us, as does Solomon's prayer (2 Chronicles 1:10) for wisdom to rule well and judge right!y, and the whole body of the law of Moses. The biographies of remarkable men given in the historical books teach us the same thing if we would use them rightly. But the exaggerated habit of allegorising and spiritualising the Old Testament has somewhat interfered with their usefulness in this respect.

I. The lesson which this portion of Gideon's history seems to teach us is THE VALUE OF PERSEVERANCE; of doing thoroughly whatever we take in hand, of going through with it to the end, and not leaving off till it is completed. Joash king of Israel was rebuked by Elisha the prophet on his death-bed because he only smote upon the ground thrice, and then stayed, satisfied with an imperfect result. The example of Gideon shows us one who was not satisfied with imperfect results, who had formed a complete conception of what he had to do, and did it. He was not stopped in his career by either successes or difficulties. True, he had driven the children of the east across the Jordan. There had been a great slaughter at the rock Oreb, the kings were fugitives; the power of Midian was broken. Some might think enough had been done. But Gideon no doubt had the future as well as the present moment in view. The wrongs and misery of his country during the Midianite oppression, seven long years of grinding, cruel servitude, were fresh in his memory. He would not have the plain of Jezreel again the prey to those locusts from the east. And so Midian must be crushed. But could his strength and the strength of his 300 hold out any longer? The long and hurried march, the hand-to-hand fights, the heat, their hunger and thirst, the weight of their arms, which they had doubtless taken in lieu of the pitchers and trumpets, had nearly exhausted their powers; even their own countrymen would not help them; they were weary and faint; might they not now stop and rest? No, their work was not complete; so, though faint, they must still pursue. Methinks that as we read this stirring tale of energy and perseverance we must feel ashamed of our own faint-heartedness; we must feel rebuked at our own readiness to succumb to hindrances, or to be content with half successes; we must resolve that we will put a little more energy into our own daily work, or extraordinary tasks, and that, in spite of weariness and discouragement, in the face of hindrances and opposition, we will persevere and carry through to the end whatever work we have in hand, of which we are convinced that it is right to do it. This is the first lesson given to us by Gideon—faint, yet pursuing.

II. But we may no doubt also spiritualise the lesson, AND APPLY IT TO OUR SPIRITUAL WARFARE, AND TO THE STRUGGLES OF THE SOUL FOR THE MASTERY OVER SIN. Here the importance of doing our work thoroughly, and persevering, in spite of successes and hindrances alike, till our task is complete, is certainly not less than in the affairs of this life. In resisting temptations, in resolutely subduing fleshly lusts and unruly appetites which war against the soul, in determined self-conquests, in perfecting holiness in the fear of God, in encountering the opposition of the world, and the contradictions of sinners, and the wiles and assaults of the devil, we must expect to be often faint. It is so easy to give up the struggle, to be content with imperfect results, to seek for rest and ease in giving up the close pursuit which we had begun. But this is not the spirit of Gideon. If we would be in our spiritual warfare such as he was in his conflict against his earthly foes, even when we are faint and weary we must be still pursuing; we must persevere to the end, and never slack our hands nor rest our feet till we have gained a complete and final victory through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. To him be glory for ever.

HOMILIES BY A.F. MUIR

8:4

Faint, yet pursuing.

A splendid and really forced march. Humanly speaking, it was the real battle. The grandest qualities were called forth, and the greatest results secured. A picture of the Christian life.

I. GOD OFTEN SUFFERS HIS SERVANTS TO ENDURE HARDSHIP IN DOING HIS WILL.

II. THOSE WHO ARE DOING IMPORTANT SERVICE UNDER CIRCUMSTANCES OF HARDSHIP OUGHT TO BE ENCOURAGED AND SUPPORTED.

III. DUTY AND THE HIGH CALLING OF CHRISTIANS OUGHT TO TRIUMPH OVER WEAKNESS, HARDSHIP, AND OPPOSITION.

IV. THE GREATEST RESULTS OFTEN DEPEND UPON PERSISTENCY EVEN AMIDST DISADVANTAGES.—M.

HOMILIES BY W.F. ADENEY

8:4

Faint, yet pursuing.

The faintness, of Gideon's troops may illustrate the spiritual faintness of Christians, and the influence of this on their conduct in life.

I. FAINTNESS MAY OVERTAKE US WHILE PURSUING THE CHRISTIAN COURSE.

1. Note the characteristics of this faintness. It is

2. Note the existence of this faintness in the pursuit of the Christian course. Though still pursuing the right way, we may experience faintness. It is not the deviation to bye-path meadow alone which brings distress. We may grow weary in well doing (Galatians 6:9). Therefore

(1) let us not be over confident because we are in the right, and

3. Note the causes of this faintness.

II. FAINTNESS NEED NOT STAY US IN THE PURSUIT OF THE CHRISTIAN COURSE. Though the troops of Gideon were faint, they still pursued.

1. Faintness is not death. If our strength is slight, this is a good reason for making the best use of it. If faintness reduce our talents to one, we have no excuse to bury that one.

2. God expects our attainments to be no more than proportionate to our strength. He knows our weakness (Psalms 103:14). He is no hard task-master, expecting us to make bricks without straw; so we need not despair of pleasing God because our faintness permits of but slight service.

3. The real source of victory is not our strength, but God's might. When we are most faint, God's strength made perfect in our weakness may be most effective (2 Corinthians 12:9). The little one may chase a thousand, because God is with him. When we are most faint we are least self-confident, and in our humility and helplessness driven to the mighty for strength, so that our faintness may be the means of leading us to the real strength which alone can accomplish great things.

4. Faintness can be overcome. Faintness is not necessarily the precursor of death. It may be but temporary. We may find in God a sure remedy for spiritual faintness, because "they that wait on the Lord shall renew their strength" (Isaiah 40:31).

5. If we are faithfully pressing on in spite of present faintness, we shall be rewarded with future rest and triumph. Gideon's troops were well recompensed for their brave pursuit. The short race of life will end in a haven of rest, in a home of honour. Let us then be brave and true, remembering that in proportion to the weariness of present toil will be the sweetness of future rest (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).—A.


Verses 13-21

EXPOSITION

8:13

Before the sun was up. There is a wonderful diversity in the renderings of this verse. Some of the old versions and Jewish Rabbis interpret it before sunset. Many of the best Jewish commentators, however, understand the phrase as the A.V. does—"Before the going up of the sun," i.e. before sunrise; supposing Gideon's attack on the Midianitish camp to have been a night attack, and Succoth to have been so near to Karkor that he was able to reach it by sunrise. But others say that the word here rendered sun (heres) is only used in poetry, and that the word rendered up is never used of sunrise, but, as, in the phrase "the going up of Akrabbim" ( 1:36), of an ascent up a hill. They therefore take heres as a proper name, and translate "from the going up of Heres." Others again, by an almost imperceptible change in the last letter, read "the mountains" instead of Heres. But the A.V. may be well defended, and gives an excellent sense. In 14:18 the same word for the sun is used in the very similar phrase, "before the sun went down." In Genesis 19:15 the phrase, "the morning arose," has the verb from which the word here rendered up is derived; and a note of time here exactly suits the context. It marks the celerity of Gideon's move. ments that he was actually on his way back to Succoth at sunrise, after having routed the Midianites and taken their two kings prisoners.

8:14

He described. Rather, he wrote down, i.e. gave him a list of the princes and elders.

8:15

The men of Succoth. Meaning the princes and elders.

8:16

He taught, i.e. corrected, punished. It is, however, very probable that the true leading is Ire threshed or tore (yadash for yadah, the final letters ש and ע being very similar). We have then the fulfilment of Gideon's threat in 8:7 recorded in the same words with regard to Succoth, just as the breaking down of the tower of Penuel in 8:17 is in verbal agreement with 8:9. The Septuagint and Vulgate both seem to have found he threshed in their copies.

8:17

He slew the men of the city. This makes it probable that the threshing of the men of Succoth was a capital punishment, as there is no reason why the men of Penuel should be more severely punished than the men of Succoth.

8:18

What manner of men, etc. An incident not before related is here brought to light, viz; that on some unknown occasion, possibly as soon as the rising of the Israelites under Gideon became known, or when, as related in 6:2, they had sought to hide themselves in Mount Tabor, but had been caught, Zebah and Zalmunna had put to death Gideon's brothers. We may observe in passing how characteristic this is of a true narrative in which every. thing that happened cannot possibly be related (see 10:11, 10:12, note). The word here rendered what manner of, i.e. of what sort, means, in every other place in which it occurs, where? and the sense of what sort is only inferred from the answer, As thou art, so were they. But it is not safe thus to change the universal meaning of a common word. It is better to take the words of Gideon, Where are the men whom ye slew at Tabor? as an upbraiding of them for the murder of his brethren, and a threat that where they were their murderers would soon be. The answer of Zebah and Zalmunna, which is not given in its entirety, was no doubt intended to be soothing and deprecatory of Gideon's wrath. They pleaded the necessity they were under in self-defence to slay them; they were men of such royal stature and prowess that their own lives would have been in danger had they spared them. But Gideon turned a deaf ear to their plea. He must avenge the death of his own brothers, his own mother's sons. He would have spared them as prisoners of war (2 Kings 6:22), but he must do his part as goel or avenger (Numbers 35:12). Observe the stress laid on their being not merely his father's sons by another wife, but his own mother's sons, a much more tender relation (cf. Psalms 50:1-10).

8:20

He said unto Jether, etc. These marks of savage life are painful to contemplate in such a man as Gideon. But it is well for us to be made aware how the best and greatest men cannot rise above the manners and received maxims of their age; and it teaches us to make due allowance for the faults of uncivilised men with whom we have to do, whether Afghans, or Zulus, or others.

8:21

The ornaments. Literally, little moons, crescent-shaped ornaments of gold and silver, which as well as "chains" ( 8:26) were hung as ornaments on their camels' necks (cf. 5:30). It would seem from 8:26 that the kings themselves also wore these ornaments; and in Isaiah 3:18 they are enumerated among the articles of female attire—round tires like the moon, A.V.

HOMILETICS

8:13-21

The complete revenge.

If any man ever stood on the very apex of success and triumph, it was Gideon on his return from the pursuit of the Midianites. He had saved his country; he had set a whole people free from a foreign yoke; he had restored the worship of the true and living God in his native land, and uprooted a vile and debasing idolatry; he was the conqueror of a vast host with most inadequate means; he had subdued and taken prisoners two powerful kings; he had avenged the death of his own brothers upon those who, in pride and wantonness, had slain them; and he had chastised the insolent, cowardly, and unpatriotic conduct of his own countrymen who, at his time of greatest need, had insulted instead of helping him; and he stood in the proud position of having undertaken an almost impossible task, and having succeeded beyond his utmost expectation. But in the very height of this success we seem to see an overbalancing towards a fall. It is very slight; there was still a wonderful moderation of mind (as seen in 8:22, 8:23); but the weak human heart had a stronger draught of success than it could bear. As long, indeed, as his eye was quite single, and it was only the glory of God that he sought, and the welfare of his country, all went well (see 8:2). But Gideon was not perfect. Had he been without the pride of fallen humanity, he would not have slain the captive kings, he would not have put to death the insolent men of Succoth and Penuel, richly as they deserved punishment. But it is here that we seem to see the first clouding of the singular brightness of Gideon's disinterested zeal. When we have made every allowance for the customs and opinions of the age, we cannot help feeling that something different from zeal and love for God was at work within him when he took away those lives. Zebah and Zahnunna had slain his brothers, and so had done an injury to him, and put a slight upon him; the men of Succoth and Penuel had taunted and affronted him, they had undervalued his power, they had taken advantage of his momentary weakness to put him to shame. He must have his revenge. In his hour of more than human greatness the littleness of humanity started into birth. It was no doubt true that the law of the avenger of blood justified the slaughter of the kings, and the base conduct of the Succothites and Penuelites would secure a universal acquiescence in the justice of their punishment. But still we cannot help seeing that the pride of self, albeit unperceived by Gideon, had a hand in these actions, which cast a distinct shade upon Gideon's shining path, and which we cannot read of even at this distance of time without a pang of regret. How glad we should be if that noble spirit, in the very flush of victory, had risen sufficiently above the spirit of his age and above his own anger to spare his prostrate foes; and if in the height of his glory he had despised the meanness of the men of Succoth, and left them to the punishment of their own shame, and the contempt of their fellow-men! (see 2 Samuel 19:23). But it could not be. And perhaps the lesson of human weakness is more valuable to us as it is; for it leaves us a warning not to seek a complete revenge for ourselves under any circumstances, but to be content to commit our cause to God: and that it is better for man to be thwarted and humiliated than to have everything his own way. He cannot bear it.


Verses 22-35

EXPOSITION

8:22, 8:23

Rule thou, etc. The gratitude of Israel to their great deliverer, added to a sense that it would be for their own security, and to a desire, already perhaps beginning to he felt, to be like the nations around them (1 Samuel 8:5), naturally led to the offer, "Rule thou over us." But the time predicted by Moses (Deuteronomy 17:14, Deuteronomy 17:15) was not yet come. And so Gideon returned an answer replete with moderation and piety: "I will not rule over you, neither shall my son rule over you: the Lord shall rule over you" (cf. 1 Samuel 8:7; 1 Samuel 10:19; 1 Samuel 12:12).

8:24

I would desire a request of you. Again human weakness breaks out in this great man, and we seem to see the effect of great prosperity in stirring up selfish desires in his heart. It was perhaps not without significance that mention was made in 8:21 of his taking the ornaments that were on the camels' necks in connection with the slaughter of the kings. Anyhow we have now a second instance of a love of spoil. It seems to have been a national custom with the Ishmaelites, among whom the Midianites are reckoned (see Genesis 37:25-28), to wear golden rings; hence when they came to strip the slain there was a vast booty of gold rings. These Gideon asked for as his share, and the people readily agreed to the request. Ear-rings. The word is singular in Hebrew, which agrees with its more proper signification of nose-ring, an ornament often worn by both men and women in the East. Gesenius mentions having seen at Leipsic some Indian dancing women with nose-rings. It is distinctly marked as a nose-ring in Genesis 24:22, Genesis 24:30, Genesis 24:47, because in the last verse Abraham's servant says that he "put the ring (han-nezem) upon her nose" (face, A.V.). Again, in Ezekiel 16:12 the Hebrew is, "I placed a ring upon thy nose" (I put a jewel upon thy forehead, A.V.). So also Job 42:11, "one ring of gold," implies that it was a nose-ring, and not an ear-ring. In other passages, however, as Genesis 35:4; Exodus 32:2, it is expressly said that these rings were worn in the ears; while in others, again, there is nothing to mark whether they were worn in the ears or in the nose, as Proverbs 25:12; Hosea 2:13, except that in the latter passage the singular number in the Hebrew is more favourable to the nose-ring than to the ear-rings, as the A.V. translates it. It is thought by many, with some probability, that the nose-ring did not pierce the gristle of the nose, but hung down upon the nose from a fillet round the forehead. In every case they were of gold.

8:25

A garment. Rather, the cloak. Probably Gideon's military cloak (see Isaiah 9:5), which lay in his tent ready for use as a cloak by day or a coverlet by night (Deuteronomy 22:17).

8:26

A thousand and seven hundred shekels—equal to about fifty pounds weight, and probably to above £3000 worth of our money, reckoning a shekel of gold at £1 16s. 6d. If the rings, like that given to Rebekah (Genesis 24:22), weighed each half a shekel, they would be the spoil of 3400 dead bodies. If they each weighed less it would of course imply a larger number of slain. The ornaments, as in 8:21, the collars. The word so rendered seems rather to mean drops or pendants. When worn by women (Isaiah 3:19, chains, A.V.) they were often of single pearls. The purple raiment, the famous Tyrian purple, made from the juice of a shellfish which is found in the Mediterranean, which was the distinctive colour of royal and imperial raiment. Chains. Perhaps the ornaments mentioned in 8:21 as on the camels' necks were suspended to these chains. In Song of Solomon 4:9 the chain is mentioned as an ornament of a woman's neck; in Proverbs 1:9 of a man's neck. Many interpreters understand these last-mentioned articles as not being part of Gideon's spoil, but being the people's portion. But it seems much more probable that the spoil of the kings should be Gideon's portion, as indeed Proverbs 1:21 implies. It is best, therefore, to take all these articles as being the property of the kings, and to understand the writer to tell us that Gideon had the rings, which were the people's spoil, in addition to all the spoil which naturally fell to his own share.

8:27

Gideon made an ephod thereof. There is great difference of opinion among commentators as to the significance of this statement. The ephod (Exodus 28:4, Exodus 28:6-30) was that part of the high priest's dress (1 Samuel 14:3; 1 Samuel 21:9) which covered the breast in front, and the upper part of the back behind, the two parts being clasped together by two large onyx stones, one on each shoulder, and kept together by the curious girdle, just above which was fastened the breastplate of judgment. In a modified form the "linen ephod" was worn by all priests; but it was especially worn by the high priest when he inquired of God by Urim and Thummim (1 Samuel 23:9; 1 Samuel 30:7). Hence it was also connected with idolatrous worship, as we see by 17:5, and Hosea 3:1-5 : 4, being probably used for purposes of divination, as we know that idolatrous kings of Israel, instead of inquiring of the Lord, inquired of the false gods (2 Kings 1:2, 2 Kings 1:3). What, then, was Gideon's purpose in making this costly ephod? We may infer from his proved piety that at all events his intention was to do honour to the Lord, who had given him the victory. Then, as he was now at the head of the State, though he had declined the regal office, and as it was the special prerogative of the head of the State to "inquire of the Lord" (Numbers 27:21; 1 Samuel 22:13; 1 Samuel 23:2,1 Samuel 23:4, etc.; 1 Samuel 28:6, etc.), he may have thought it his right, as well as a matter of great importance to the people, that he should have the means ready at hand of inquiring of God. His relations with the great tribe of Ephraim may have made it inconvenient to go to Shiloh to consult the high priest there, and therefore he would have the ephod at his own city of Ophrah, just as Jephthah made Mizpeh his religious centre (Hosea 11:11). Whether he sent for the high priest to come to Ophrah, or whether he made use of the ministry of some other priest, we have no means of deciding. The people, however, always prone to idolatry, made an idol of the ephod, and Gideon, either because it was a source of gain or of dignity to his house, or thinking it was a means of keeping the people from Baal-worship (verse 33), seems to have connived at it. This seems to be the explanation best supported by the little we know of the circumstances of the ease. A snare, i.e. as in 2:3, that which leads a person to eventual destruction. See Exodus 10:7, where Pharaoh's servants say of Moses, How long shall this man be a snare unto us? See also Exodus 23:33; Exodus 34:12; Deuteronomy 7:16; 1 Samuel 18:21, etc. Observe in this verse how the narrative runs on far beyond the present time, to return again at 1 Samuel 18:28 (see note to 2:1-6; 7:25; 8:4).

8:28

Lifted up their heads no more. Thus showing the wisdom of Gideon's perseverance in pushing on his victory to completeness (see Homiletics on 8:4-12). The narrative goes back to 8:26, or perhaps rather to 8:21.

8:30-32

Gideon had threescore and ten sons, etc. This notice helps us to fill up the picture of Gideon's state after the Midianitish victory, lie had indeed nobly refused the kingdom, as a Pericles would have refused to be tyrant of Athena But he did not return to poverty and obscurity, as L. Q. Cincinnatus, in the Roman legend, returned to his plough after his victory over the Volsciana He was judge over Israel for forty years, with a household and a harem like a great prince, living in his paternal city, with the ephod set up there, himself the centre round which the powers of Church and State gathered; directing the affairs of his country, both civil and ecclesiastical, with eminent success, so that the country was at peace for forty years

, used of the name given to a child at its birth or circumcision. The other is, he gave or set him the name, or, he gave or set his name so-and-so, and this phrase is only used of additional names, or surnames given later in life. The examples are 13:1-25 :31; 2 Kings 17:34; Nehemiah 9:7; Daniel 2:7; Daniel 5:12. The inference is that the name of Abimelech, which means father of a king, and was the name of the royal family of Gerar, was given to Abimelech as a significant surname, and was perhaps one of the causes which induced him to seize the kingdom. A third phrase is found in 2 Kings 23:34; 2 Kings 24:17; 2 Chronicles 36:4 : he turned his name to Jehoiakim; changed his name to Zedekiah. The Hebrew is the same in all these passages.

8:33

And it came to pass, etc. Cf. 2:11, 2:12, 2:19; 3:7; 4:1; 5:1; 10:6; 13:1. Baal-berith. See 2:13, note. He was like the ζευς ορκιος of the Greeks, the god of covenants.

8:35

Neither showed they kindness, etc. Forgetfulness of God is often the parent of ingratitude to men. The heart of stone which is not touched by the love of Christ is also insensible to the kindness of man.

HOMILETICS

8:22-35

Prosperity.

God has two ways of trying men: one in the furnace of affliction, that the trial of their faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, may be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ; the other in the fining-pot of prosperity, and this is much the harder trial of the two. Affliction tends to humble and soften and subdue; but in prosperity, self-esteem, self-reliance, self-satisfaction, self-will, pride, and security, are prone to spring up with a rank luxuriance. Disregard for the rights and feelings of others strengthens with the inordinate estimate of the regard due to a man's self. The Scripture lessons as to the dangers of prosperity, and the snare which the possession of unbounded power is to men in general, are very many and very striking, culminating in our Saviour's saying, "A rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 19:23). The latter part of David's reign compared with the first part of his life, the latter part of Solomon's contrasted with the beginning, Uzziah (2 Chronicles 26:16), Joash king of Judah (2 Chronicles 24:22), Amaziah after his successful campaign in Edom (2 Chronicles 25:14-16), even good Hezekiah (2 Chronicles 32:27-31), all teach us the danger of prosperity, and the inability of the human heart to drink a full cup of success without intoxication. If we turn to secular history it is still the same story. Men of diverse characters and temperaments have all alike deteriorated under the influence of too much success in life, and shown themselves unfit to be trusted with unlimited power. Nebuchadnezzar, Alexander the Great, Nero, Constantine, Charlemagne, Louis Quatorze, Napoleon Buonaparte, men of the most different characters, may all be cited as having shown in different ways and degrees how hard it is for man to pass through the fining-pot of prosperity without bringing to light more or less the dross of a corrupt heart. It is an interesting and instructive inquiry how far Gideon passed through this fining-pot uninjured, and with his religious character undimmed. We have already glanced (Homiletics, 8:13-21) at the brilliancy of Gideon's success, and at the great qualities by which, under God, he obtained it. We had occasion too (Homiletics, 7:9-25) to notice the singular strength and perfectness of Gideon's faith, and the excellent fruits which it bore in practice. The humility and simplicity of purpose displayed by him, the docility and trustful obedience, the entire surrender of himself into the hands of God, without a thought for himself or a fear of the result, which marked his course, were of the highest calibre of human excellence guided and informed by the Holy Spirit of God. It is not, as we have already seen (Homiletics, 8:13-21), till his wonderful victory was consummated by the capture of the two kings that we can see any flaw in his character at all. The fining-pot had not yet begun to do its work. But when we come to the incident of the severe punishment of the men of Succoth and Penuel, to the slaughter in cold blood of the captive kings, and the plunder of their spoils, even when we have made every allowance for the manners and opinions of the times, and given due weight to the circumstances of the case, it is impossible not to feel that certain dormant passions of pride, and resentment of injuries, and "insolent joy," born of overmuch prosperity, had been aroused by his successes. His request for the gold rings which formed a portion of the people's prey, and the making therewith a costly ephod, without any direction from God or knowledge that he was doing what would be acceptable to him, showed a presumption far removed from the trustful docility which had been so beautiful a feature in his previous conduct; and we see a departure from the simplicity of his early life in his many wives and concubines, and in his connivance at the irregular concourse of the Israelites to Ophrah for a semi-idolatrous worship before the ephod, which conduced to his own worldly dignity, and was perhaps a source of emolument to him. These things are undoubtedly blots in Gideon's fame. On the other hand, his pious moderation in refusing the hereditary kingdom offered to him, the persistent "goodness which he showed to Israel" to his life's end, as we may safely conclude from the last verse of the chapter, the good government by which he gave rest to the land for forty years, and the continued repression of Baal-worship as long as he lived, are all evidences that he maintained his integrity before God, and never forfeited his claim to be a servant of God; and it is in entire agreement with this view that we read that he "died in a good old age, and was buried in the sepulchre of Joash his father," words by which the sacred historian evidently means to set before us the picture of one who, under God's favour, was happy in his death, as he had been in his life. Nor can we doubt for a moment what it was which held him up in the slippery path of worldly greatness. If God left him, as he did Hezekiah, "to try him, that he might know all that was in his heart," he did not leave or forsake him wholly. The faith in God which had carried him down to the Midianite camp, though it may have been dimmed, was never extinct. The communion with God, if less fresh and less constant, was never wholly interrupted. Ills belief that God is, and that he is a rewarder of them that seek him, once so deeply graven upon his heart and confirmed by his experience, never, we may be sure, departed from him. "Faint, yet pursuing," may probably describe the warfare of his soul at the most unfavourable times of his life. For ourselves, let us rise from the contemplation of Gideon's career with the firm determination to shake off those things which may be a snare to us, and not to slacken our pace in the pursuit of those things which are above. It is by constant prayer that our faith must be kept alive; it is by resolute resistance to those manifold lusts which war against the soul that our spirit must be kept free for holy obedience, and the eye of our mind kept clear to discern between the precious and the vile. We must keep a close watch against the first buds of those sinful dispositions in our hearts which are stimulated into growth by objects of carnal desire, or by wrongs or insults or taunting words, and we must nip them in the bud by crucifying the flesh with its affections and lusts. And if we find ourselves prosperous in this world, if riches increase, if friends multiply, if all goes well with us, if the world smiles upon us, if we are rising in consequence, in power, in the estimation of men, if new sources of gratification are opened to us, and life puts on its gayest, gaudiest co]ours for us, then above all it behoves us to be on our guard, and to maintain the supremacy of the love of God within us. Then let us humble ourselves before the cross of Christ; then let us bring the glories of the kingdom in full view, till the glories of earth pale before them; then let us strive more earnestly than ever to feel how immeasurably the pleasure of doing the will of God rises above the pleasure of pleasing ourselves, and how far the happiness of obedience to God's law transcends the happiness of yielding to our own desires. Such a victory over ourselves will be far more glorious than the conquest of ten thousand Midianites, and ours will be a richer booty than the richest spoils of kings.

HOMILIES BY A.F. MUIR

8:22-27

Noble self-abnegation.

The whole situation naturally described. In the flush of victory the impulse is to honour Gideon, and secure a permanent connection with the glory of his name by establishing a hereditary monarchy in his family. This honour he refuses. We have here—

I. GENEROUS BUT MISTAKEN GRATITUDE. It was a natural impulse in the soldiers. But their mistake was twofold—

The natural mind acts always thus, in the face of the plainest signs of Divine intervention and authority; building itself out from the Unseen by human authorities and institutions. The chain of connection with God is weakened by lengthening it. The plainest commands of God are disobeyed in mistaken self-interest. The human agent is depended upon because the perception of the Divine is weak. Exalting one of themselves was but a species of self-glorification. The motive of Gideon too is misunderstood.

II. DISINTERESTED SERVICE. The honour is refused. If prudence aided the decision, it was chiefly due to unaffected faith and reverence for Jehovah. He may have felt that his "might" and success were solely individual, and due to direct inspiration; and the incapacity and disagreements of his children may have already betrayed themselves. He thereby vindicates his own patriotism and disinterestedness. His humility and magnanimous loyalty to God as only Sovereign for Israel outshine all his exploits.

1. How hard it is for men to believe in the disinterestedness of benefactors!

2. God, who imparts might and inspiration, can also purify the heart from worldly ambitions and weaknesses.

III. DEVOUT RECOGNITION OF DIVINE AID AND AUTHORITY. The ephod is explained and described in Exodus 28:1-43. It is the priestly garment, with breastplate attached to it, worn in the sanctuary. The Urim and Thummim were also used in connection with it for oracular consultation. It meant, therefore, a tabernacle and its service wherever it was placed.

1. So far as this was to the honour of God and commemoration of his mercy, it was a pious act.

2. By using the spoils of the people for its construction, a national sacrifice was effected.

3. But by placing it in Ophrah he encouraged schism, gave his own family undue importance, and tempted his countrymen to superstitious practices.—M.

8:24-27

The mistake of a good man.

I. ORIGINATING IN MOTIVES FOR THE MOST PART NOBLE AND HONOURABLE.

II. REFLECTING THE DEFECTS OF HIS CHARACTER AND BETRAYING ITS LATENT VICE. In his zeal for the religious reformation of Israel he did not sufficiently consider the bearings of the step he had taken. It was a hasty and crude expedient, from which greater experience or sage advice, or, above all, God's Spirit, would have saved him. And therein lay the root of the mischief. He relied on his own wisdom, and forgot to ask God's guidance. In getting to look upon himself as in a special sense the re-introducer of the Jehovah-worship, and the exponent of the mind of Jehovah, he forgot that it was only as he was taught of God that he could be preserved from error. Of all inventions, religious ones are to be most carefully scrutinised. And in the background of this assumption there lay a secret tendency to self-esteem because of his spiritual endowments and character, and the great achievements of the past. Pride because of his own humility—is it not a failing that many have shared? By this mistake he sowed the seeds of grave evils: schism, superstition, hero-worship. But—

III. THE SUBSTANTIAL GOOD DONE WAS NOT WHOLLY DESTROYED, Whilst he lived—a quiet, steadfast, righteous life—the people observed the true worship of Jehovah. His own example was a guide and a deterrent. And when at his death superstition ran riot, and the old licentious idolatry flowed back in an obliterating wave over the land and the institutions of Jehovah's worship, there were some things that could not be destroyed, remaining as germ ideas in the spiritual consciousness of Israel—the immediate obligation of the moral law upon every one, the direct responsibility of every one to God, and faith in the personal help of Jehovah.

8:29-32

The after life.

It is interesting to watch the after life of great men. In some it is a continual progress, in others a growing weakness of character and faculty. Gideon's was—

I. A REWARD AND CONSEQUENCE OF FAITHFUL SERVICE TO JEHOVAH. Long life, quietness, prosperity, honour.

II. KEPT ON THE WHOLE RIGHT, AND MADE A BLESSING BY THE GRACE OF GOD. He had begun well. His youth was a consecrated one; his old age was its true outcome. And yet not by natural virtue, but by the blessing of God.

III. CONTAINING THE GERMS OF NATIONAL EVILS. He was not ever on the heights of spiritual excitement. Perhaps his was a nature that required great difficulties to be surmounted in order to keep it right. At any rate he fails to rise above the laxities of his age, and he enters into connection with the Canaanites. How much too of his after-life could be explained as a living on the memory of a glorious past, and a growing estimation of the part he himself had played. The ephod, the natural son by the Canaanitish woman, the conflicting interests of the many heirs to his influence and renown—these were the occasions of untold evil.—M.

8:33-35

The consequence of the imperfect recognition of Jehovah.

I. AN IMPURE, DEFECTIVE WORSHIP OF THE TRUE GOD PREPARED FOR THE WORSHIP OF FALSE GODS. "False worships make way for false deities."

II. UNDUE MAGNIFYING OF HUMAN IMPORTANCE AT THE EXPENSE OF THE HONOUR DUE TO GOD ALONE, DIVERTED FROM THE WORSHIP OF JEHOVAH, AND SO CUT THE ROOTS OF THE PERSONAL RESPECT IN WHICH HIS SERVANT WAS HELD. True religion is the foundation and safeguard of all the esteem and respect due from one to another. The heavenly Father is the key-stone of the whole house of life.—M.

HOMILIES BY W.F. ADENEY

8:22, 8:23

Gideon and the theocracy.

This incident may be regarded in relation to the conduct of the men of Israel, to that of Gideon, and to the historical fact of the theocracy.

I. THE INCIDENT REGARDED IN RELATION TO THE CONDUCT OF THE MEN OF ISRAEL.

1. These men assumed a power which they did not rightfully possess. They had no authority to revise the constitution, no right to elect a king. The election of Gideon was an act of rebellion against "the Eternal."

2. These men were so dazzled by the splendour of human achievements that they ignored the Divine influence which was the source of them. Gideon's campaign was especially designed to avoid the danger of the people attributing to men what was really the work of God ( 7:4). Yet they regarded Gideon as the sole hero, and forgot to glorify God. We are all too ready to recognise the human instrument only, and ignore the Divine power which is the source of all that is good and great. The very richness with which God has endowed a man of genius may tempt us to make this mistake. Yet the more gifted a man is, the more reason have we to attribute his greatness to the Giver of every good and perfect gift.

3. These men were drawn aside from trust in the Unseen to a desire for earthly greatness. The glory of Israel was its government by the unseen King. This implied faith. But the temptation often was to lose this faith and the holy life and simple state it required, and desire a human kingship and the pomp of an earthly court, such as that of the heathen nations. There is always great difficulty in living in the power of the spiritual. Tangible force and visible display tend to allure us from the serene spirituality of life in the unseen.

II. THE INCIDENT REGARDED IN RELATION TO THE CONDUCT OF GIDEON.

1. Gideon proved himself to be an unselfish patriot. True patriotism is incompatible with personal ambition. A nation has no greater enemies than its ambitious men of genius. The worthy statesman is he who aims at his country's good to the neglect of his own aggrandisement.

2. Gideon showed himself strong in resisting the popular wish when he knew this was unwise. We must not mould our character simply in obedience to the dictates of public opinion. The wish of the people is no excuse for doing wrong. There is no more difficult feat than to resist successfully the tHis-taken kindness of those who are seeking to promote a man's own honour and greatness, though in a way which he believes to be wrong.

3. Gideon proved himself firm in fidelity to God. Here lay the secret of his resistance. He had been called from the threshing-floor by God. He held himself throughout to be the servant of God. It is better to be a servant and faithful to God than a king and in rebellion against him.

4. Gideon showed his discernment at once

III. THE INCIDENT REGARDED IN RELATION TO THE THEOCRACY.

1. It is not wise to propose a revolution of government except for great and necessary ends. It is easy to overthrow the present order; it is not so easy to be sure that what we substitute will be better. We cannot calculate on the possible uses to which the new power we create may be appropriated.

2. The best method of government is that which is best suited to the condition of a nation. There Came a time when a human kingship was necessary for Israel. The attempt to force this on before the country was ripe for it only ended in disaster ( 9:5).

3. No government can be better than a true theocracy. This must be distinguished from the rule of priests and prophets which is sometimes falsely named a theocracy, although it is as much a human government as the rule of kings and soldiers. Nothing can be better that for a people to be guided by the thought of God to do the will of God. The government of the Church is a theocracy. The Papal assumption is therefore treason to Christ. "One is our Master" (Matthew 23:8). To substitute any human authority for the direct guidance of Christ is to fall back to a lower state, like the conduct of Israel when the people were willing to abandon their Divine King for a human monarch.—A.

8:34, 8:35

Forgetfulness and ingratitude.

As we pass through the historical records of the Bible we must often be struck with the stern faithfulness with which Jewish chroniclers describe the wicked and shameful deeds of their own nation. This fact is not only valuable as a proof of the unvarnished truthfulness of the narratives; it gives to the history of the Bible a universal character by making it a mirror of human nature. Thus the forgetfulness and ingratitude here recorded are unhappily typical of the too common conduct of mankind generally.

I. THE PREVALENCE OF THIS CONDUCT. Unnatural and monstrous as it appears in the narrative, it is so common in experience as to be scarcely noticed. It was constantly repeated in the history of Israel (Psalms 78:11, Psalms 78:42). It is prevalent in Christian communities.

1. It is not limited to atheism. The atheist denies the existence of God. The godless man believes that God exists, yet ignores his existence. The atheist is rare. But is there not something pharisaical and hypocritical in the horror with which he is regarded, as though the great multitude of men were far better than he, though so many of them forget the God of whose existence they are champions, and never render him worship or obedience.

2. It is not limited to open irreligion. We must not suppose that all people who do not go to church are utterly godless; but neither can we believe that all who do engage in public acts of worship really acknowledge God in their hearts. It is possible to forget God in the house of God, and to be guilty of base ingratitude while singing his praises.

3. It is not limited to total godlessness. There are those who, like the Jews, have known God, but have since forgotten and neglected him, and those who live nearer to him for a season, but are tempted at times to forsake him.

II. THE CAUSES OF THIS CONDUCT.

1. Sin. The people of Israel went after Baalim, and the result was that they forgat the Lord. We cannot have two supreme gods. Immorality is fatal to religion.

2. Worldly distraction. When no special fall into great sin has been experienced the mind may be drawn aside from Divine things, and so engrossed in business, politics, or the cares and pleasures of life, that no time or energy is left for spiritual thoughts (Matthew 13:22).

3. Unspirituality. Even when there is no great worldly distraction we may sink into a low, unspiritual habit of life, in which the thought of God becomes faint and feeble. It does require some spiritual effort to preserve the memory of God fresh and bright, because

4. Loss of love to God. We remember what we love. Indifference of heart creates negligence of thought.

5. Selfishness. Israel remembered God in the time of need and forgot him in the season of prosperity. Selfishness inclines us to remember God only when we want his aid.

III. THE GUILT OF THIS CONDUCT.

1. It implies disloyalty to the rightful authority of God. If we forget God we forget his will and neglect his service. We are not free to do this, for we are naturally subjects of his supreme sovereignty.

2. It implies indifference to his Fatherly nature. He is our Father, and we are bound to him by ties of nature (Deuteronomy 32:18).

3. It implies an unworthy return for his goodness. Thankfulness is closely associated with thoughtfulness. The unthankful forget; those who do not take the trouble to think fall into gross ingratitude. Ingratitude to God is joined to ingratitude to his servants. The same spirit is seen in both sins. We are not likely to be true to man until we are first true to God.—A.

 


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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Judges 8:4". The Pulpit Commentary. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/tpc/judges-8.html. 1897.

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