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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

Judges 8

 

 

Verse 1

ANGER OF THE EPHRAIMITES, Judges 8:1-3.

1. The men of Ephraim — Those who had captured and slain Oreb and Zeeb.

Said — This conversation occurred when the Ephraimites brought the heads of these princes to Gideon, and after the latter had crossed the Jordan. Note, Judges 7:25.

Chide with him sharply — Fiercely and violently rebuked and blamed him. Theirs were the words of injured pride and jealousy. They felt that their tribe had been ignored and neglected in this war.


Verse 2

2. Is not the gleaning — Is not the slaughter of these two chieftains a greater glory than all that I have done? The gleaning of the grapes of Ephraim, here, means the victory which these Ephraimites had gained by destroying Oreb and Zeeb. So memorable was this victory that Isaiah alludes to it as an instance of utter defeat and ruin. Isaiah 10:26. The vintage of Abi-ezer refers particularly to what Gideon and his three hundred had done. Gideon was an Abi-ezrite, and perhaps the three hundred were largely of the same family, who were the first to rally around him at the trumpet call. Judges 6:34. This attributing to the Ephraimites greater honour than he claimed for himself settled the quarrel at once. His soft answer turned away their wrath, and became a proverb.


Verse 4

PURSUIT AND DEFEAT OF ZEBAH AND ZALMUNNA, Judges 8:4-12.

4. Gideon came to Jordan — This in point of time, was before the heads of the captured princes had been brought to him. Note, Judges 7:25.

Faint, yet pursuing — “An expressive description of the union of exhaustion and energy, which has given the words a place in the religious feelings of mankind.” — Stanley.


Verse 5

5. Succoth — A town of considerable size, as appears from its having seventy-seven princes and elders. Judges 8:14. It took its name from Jacob’s having there put up booths (Hebrews, succoth) for himself and his cattle.

Genesis 33:17. It was on the east of the Jordan, but its site has not been certainly identified with any modern town.

I am pursuing — He was engaged in the Lord’s work, and had reason to expect assistance from the towns through which he passed.


Verse 7

7. I will tear your flesh — I will thresh your flesh, that is, beat and lacerate, even unto death.

Thorns — Which grew strong in the desert, and afforded a whip with which the keenest torment could be inflicted.

Briers — The original word occurs here only, but without much doubt denotes some kind of prickly plant or shrub. Gesenius gives the meaning threshing sledges, but is followed by few scholars. Wilkinson relates that among the ancient Egyptians the parricide was sentenced to be lacerated with sharpened reeds, and, after being thrown on thorns, was burned to death.


Verse 8

8. Penuel — The place at the fords of the Jabbok (Zurka) where Jacob wrestled with the angel. Genesis 32:30. Its site has not been identified.


Verse 10

10. Karkor — A city or district some distance east of the Jordan, but now unknown.

Fifteen thousand — The remnant of the one hundred and thirty-five thousand that had spread themselves like locusts in the plains of Israel.

A hundred and twenty thousand had either killed themselves in the suicidal night encounter, (Judges 8:22,) or had fallen before the victorious Israelites. No wonder this defeat of Midian was remembered long in Israel. Compare Psalms 83:11; Isaiah 9:4, 10, 26.


Verse 11

11. Way of them that dwelt in tents — A section of that eastern desert thickly dotted with the tents of resident shepherds.

Nobah — The more ancient name was Kenath, but, having been captured by the Mannasite Nobah, it was afterwards called by his name. See at Numbers 32:42. It has been identified with the modern Kunnawat, far to the east of the Sea of Galilee.

Jogbehah — No trace of this place has been found.

The host was secure — Supposed themselves beyond pursuit, and out of the way of danger.


Verse 13

PUNISHMENT OF SUCCOTH AND PENUEL, Judges 8:13-17.

13. Before the sun was up — Thus the Vulgate, Luther, and others. But most modern scholars take חרס, here rendered sun, as a proper name, Cheres, and translate: Gideon returned from the battle by the ascent of Cheres. The ascent of Cheres was probably some mountain road, or pass, now unknown.


Verse 14

14. Described unto him the princes — Literally, wrote for him the princes. The young man probably gave him the names of the chiefs and elders in writing, and all other necessary information.

Threescore and seventeen men — Succoth must have been an important city to have so many princes and elders.


Verse 16

16. Taught the men — Made them know his power, and their own guilt, in refusing him supplies. He gave them such a severe scourging, by means of the whips of thorns and briers, that the lesson of respect for God’s chosen conqueror could thenceforth neither be misunderstood nor forgotten.


Verse 17

17. Tower of Penuel — Penuel seems to have been an important stronghold commanding the ordinary route of travel to the far East; hence this tower, which may have served the double purpose of a watchtower and a fortress.

Slew the men — The men of Penuel seem to have heard of Gideon’s dealing with the elders of Succoth, and had the folly to resist him. Hence their punishment with death, while the men of Succoth were only scourged. Some have thought the punishment of the men of Penuel and Succoth was much greater than the offence. But, according to the theocratic spirit of that age, their offence could only be construed as treachery of heart and open contempt towards a divinely chosen judge and conqueror, and, by consequence, contempt of Jehovah himself, who was leading Israel on to victory; and in the Hebrew mind no punishment was too severe for such a crime against Jehovah and his people.


Verse 18

EXECUTION OF ZEBAH AND ZALMUNNA, Judges 8:18-21.

18. What manner of men — What was their appearance and general bearing?

Whom ye slew at Tabor — Here comes out a fact of which we have no other account — that these Midianitish kings had actually killed several of Gideon’s own brothers.

Resembled the children of a king — Stately and lordly in their movements and manner.


Verse 20

20. Said unto Jether — He would add to their disgrace by making them perish by the hand of a boy. They had dared to lift their hands against his kingly brethren, and now, as blood-avenger, he would have them perish with all possible ignominy and reproach.

He feared — The youth was not used to such bloody work, and perhaps the threatening looks of the two captive kings terrified him.


Verse 21

21. As the man… his strength — As the boy is not a man, so he has not the strength to execute this order.

Ornaments — Or, little moons; crescent-shaped ornaments, hung often, as here, upon the necks of camels, and also (compare Judges 8:26; Isaiah 3:18) upon the necks of men and women.


Verse 22

CONCLUSION OF GIDEON’S HISTORY, Judges 8:22-35.

22. Rule thou over us — Here we meet with the earliest indication of a general desire in Israel to have a king. The expression rule thou, not reign thou, might mean only the people’s desire to have Gideon execute the office of judge among them; but the additional words, thy son, and thy son’s son, clearly involve the idea of a hereditary monarchy. But, as Gideon rejected their proposal, there is no occasion to discuss what all the people may have meant by their request. This much is clear, that in that day of victory and deliverance Gideon’s popularity was unbounded, and the enthusiasm and gratitude of the people towards him were shown by this proposal to settle the government of the nation on him and his family.


Verse 23

23. The Lord shall rule over you — Your king shall still be Jehovah, not Gideon. By choosing a Gideon or a Saul the nation would be choosing a human instead of a divine sovereign. The people were ever in danger of forgetting the Divine Author of all civil government, and especially so in times of popular excitement and enthusiasm, when the masses either seem, or assume to be, sovereign. At such times all should be reminded that there is a power higher than the civil ruler. It does not appear that Gideon, during the forty years of peace (Judges 8:28) that followed this victory over Midian, performed any of the ordinary duties of a civil ruler. It is not said that he judged Israel at all, though the silence of the history must not be construed into evidence that he never did. He was raised up to deliver the nation from the yoke of Midian, and, having nobly accomplished that work, he retired to his native city and dwelt there till his death.

But whatever the form of a government — whether it be a nation miraculously led and instructed, like Israel under Moses, Joshua, or the Judges, or a monarchy like that erected in the days of Saul, or modern empires or republics — the Lord is still the Ruler. All civil governments must have their officers, and these may differ widely in their character and powers; but “the powers that be are ordained of God,” and the civil ruler is “the minister of God.” Romans 13:1-6. This is a doctrine of the Old Testament as well as of the New, and it is therefore the duty of all civil governments to know and acknowledge their dependence on the Supreme Ruler.


Verse 24

24. The earrings of his prey — Rings worn either in the ears or nose. Large quantifies of these and other ornaments were taken from the one hundred and twenty thousand (Judges 8:10) who were left dead on the field of battle.

Because they were Ishmaelites — Hence it appears that the Ishmaelites were noted for wearing ornaments of gold. And, according to Thomson, it is “still the custom for men among these Bedouin Ishmaelites to wear gold earrings. I have often seen them, and among certain of the tribes it is quite the fashion; but these gold earrings belonged in part, no doubt, to the women. Bedouin women not only have them in their ears, but also large rings are suspended from the nose.” Ishmaelites was a name commonly given to the children of the East, (Judges 7:12,) and included Midianites. See Genesis 37:25; Genesis 37:28. Ishmael was the great tribe-father of many of those sons of the desert; and the great territorial extent of his descendants (compare Genesis 25:18) seems to have given the name Ishmaelites so extensive a usage.


Verse 26

26. A thousand and seven hundred shekels of gold — About seventy pounds, Troy weight.

Ornaments — Note, Judges 8:21.

Collars — Rather, pendants; probably some sort of drops suspended from the earrings.

Purple raiment — A costly article among the Orientals, and such as only the rich and great might wear.

Chains — Neck ornaments or collars. “Even at the present day the Arabs are accustomed to ornament the necks of their camels with a band of cloth or leather, upon which small shells are strung in the form of a crescent. The sheiks add silver ornaments to these, which make a rich booty in time of war. The women in Oman spend considerable amounts in the purchase of silver ornaments, and their children are literally laden with them. I have sometimes counted fifteen earrings upon each side; and the head, breast, arms, and ankles are adorned with the same profusion.” — Wellsted in Keil.


Verse 27

27. Made an ephod thereof — The ephod was a sacred garment to be worn by the High Priest. Its form is described in Exodus 28:6-12, where see notes, and also note and cut at Matthew 26:3. There is no sufficient reason to suppose that ephod may here mean an image or statue of an idol, (as Gesenius,) nor that Gideon established a new sanctuary at Ophrah, and made, besides the ephod, a graven image and teraphim, as did Micah, Judges 17:4-5. Gideon made out of the Midianite spoils a splendid ephod, every way, probably, resembling the high priest’s ephod as described in Exodus 28:6-12. It was probably worked or woven throughout with golden threads, and adorned with precious stones, and perhaps had also a breastplate attached to it with chains and rings, as had the high priest’s ephod. See Exodus 28:15-29. It is not necessary to suppose that the whole of the gold was used in making the ephod; for, besides the amount necessary for the garment itself, a sum sufficient for the payment of the labour and the purchase of the precious stones had also to be provided.

But what was Gideon’s object in making this costly ephod? First of all, we think, he wished to distinguish his native city with the possession of this splendid garment, which would naturally be a wonder to the people, and draw admiring crowds to see it. He would thus, also, ostensibly consecrate the spoils of his great national victory to a religious object. Next to the ark of the covenant, the chief vestment of the high priest was ranked among the most sacred things connected with the worship of Israel. But we are not to suppose that Gideon meant to introduce idolatry into Israel, or set up this ephod as an object of worship. Keil’s supposition has much to support it, “that Gideon himself put on the ephod, and wore it as a priest, when he wished to inquire and learn the will of the Lord. It is also possible that he sacrificed to the Lord upon the altar that was built at Ophrah.

Judges 6:24. The germ of his error lay in the fact that the high-priesthood had probably lost its worth in the eyes of the people on account of the worthlessness of its representatives, so that they no longer regarded the high priest as the sole or principal medium of divine revelation; and therefore Gideon, to whom the Lord had manifested himself directly, as he had not to any judge or leader of the people since the time of Joshua, might suppose that he was not acting in violation of the law when he had an ephod made as a means for inquiring the will of the Lord. His sin, therefore, consisted chiefly in his invading the prerogatives of the Aaronic priesthood, drawing away the people from the one legitimate sanctuary, and thereby not only undermining the theocratic unity of Israel, but also giving an impetus to the relapse of the nation into the worship of Baal after his death.” So, again, at a later period, the calf-worship established by Jeroboam was not designed to introduce idolatry, but for all that proved a snare to Israel. Note, 1 Kings 12:26.

Put it in his city — Kept it there as a trophy of his victory, and as a medium through which he vainly imagined he might inquire of the Lord.

All Israel went thither — They were seduced by the evil example of the great deliverer. He who had grace and modesty to decline a crown and a throne corrupts a people by his foul private example. He will not rule the nation, but he invades the sacred prerogative of the priesthood.

A whoring — A metaphor referring to the vile conduct of a faithless wife, who, having plighted her love and devotion to her husband, forgets or breaks her vows, and holds unlawful intercourse with other men. By this figure the sacred writers often depict the idolatries of Israel.

Became a snare — A trap to take them unawares. They did not intend evil, but by wilful and open neglect of the law they fell into idolatry, as into a snare.


Verse 30

30. Many wives — So to the crime of sacrilege he added that of polygamy.


Verse 31

31. Whose name he called Abimelech — Literally, as margin, he set his name, from which expression Keil understands that Gideon gave his son this name, not at the time of his birth, but after he had grown up and shown such qualities as led to the expectation that he would be a king’s father.

The name and maternity of this son prepare us for the history contained in the next chapter.


Verse 33

33. As soon as Gideon was dead — Compare Judges 2:19, note. Gideon’s own example had been a snare to Israel; but in spite of all that, there was so much of uprightness and goodness in his character that he restrained the people from idolatry all his days. Here mark the downward tendency of a questionable example. False, and even evil, opinions and practices may be held by some great minds with apparent innocence and harmlessness, but prove the ruin of others who presume to follow in their steps.

Baal-berith — The covenant Baal. The name indicates that these Israelites entered into covenant with Baal, just as Israel, under Moses, had entered into covenant with Jehovah. From Judges 9:4; Judges 9:46, we learn that there was at Shechem a temple or house for his worship. He thus became to them the most sacred of deities, the god in whose name they might solemnize their oaths, thus corresponding with the ζευς ορκιος of the Greeks, and the Deus Fidius of the Romans.


Verse 35

35. Neither showed they kindness — They proved ungrateful as well as idolatrous. Instead of making one of Gideon’s legitimate sons ruler, (Judges 8:22,) they saw all these cruelly slaughtered, and chose their murderer, an illegitimate son, to reign over them for three years. Judges 9:22.

Jerubbaal, namely, Gideon — The names should be written Jerubbaal-Gideon. The double name is here apparently used as a reflection on Israel’s baseness in neglecting the memory of the distinguished Baal-fighter, to whom they owed so much. Note, Judges 6:32.

Thus closes the history of Gideon, another of the mixed and mysterious characters of the age of the Judges. He is the first of the deliverers of Israel whose history is given as a detailed narrative. He possessed gentleness and grace of heart and manner, with a lofty heroism and nobleness of character. This was enhanced by his commanding and kingly form.

As the deliverer of Israel, following out the instructions of Jehovah, we see in him every thing to praise: as the retired warrior, peacefully living at his native city, and apparently refusing to exercise the ordinary office of judge, there is something about him that is at least strangely unambitious; and in his setting up the costly ephod in Ophrah, and allowing all Israel to go whoring after it, we discover that which resembles a Jeroboam-like attempt to establish a new and unauthorized form and place of worship in Israel, and in this he bears the censure of the sacred historian himself. Gideon was manifestly a great character, but not well balanced. “There is a sweetness and nobleness blended with his courage, such as lifts us into a higher region — something of the past greatness of Joshua, something of the future grace of David. But he was, as we should say, before his age. The attempt to establish a more settled form of government ended in disaster and crime. He himself remains as a character apart, faintly understood by others, imperfectly fulfilling his own ideas, staggering under a burden to which he was not equal.” — Stanley.

The attempt of some expositors, ancient and modern, to make Gideon a type of Christ, is justly condemned by Dr. Clarke. It is farfetched and useless, and does more to confuse the sacred history than to explain it. The history of the Judges is manifestly designed, not to give us types of the Messiah, but rather to show up the lower and higher aspects of human character in the development of history. We see in this book the natural workings of humanity when confronted on the one side by the world, the flesh, and the devil, and on the other by the law and revelations of God.

The conflict too often results in the victory of the flesh over the Spirit.

 


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Judges 8:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/judges-8.html. 1874-1909.

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