Judges 8 is an action packed chapter. It follows the victory of Gideon that is so well known in which with trumpets, pitchers, and torches and only 300 men (and YHWH of course) Israel routes Midian. The action does not stop, much like what we experience in life in general. There are some periods where things move quickly and can get complicated. We need to deal with them as they come and in some cases follow up later to get proper closure. We see also the importance of Gideon following through on the initial wins to complete the full victory. He does not leave loose ends that may come back to unravel the victory later. Sometimes finishing is very challenging and we are tempted to stop and call it “good enough”. We should take care to follow through to the end.
Gideon has just routed the Midianites and of course everyone cheers him, right? Nope. The men of Ephraim are angry with him. He must deal with them. No worries, right? Now they will get lots of support to finish the battle against Midian? Nope. The men of Succoth and Penuel refuse to help for fear Gideon does not complete the victory and they suffer at the hands of Midian again.
Even those who suffer at the hands of the wicked will not always rise up to help you defeat it. We must rely on YHWH rather than men. I suppose there is room for robust discussion on Gideon’s response to the people of Succoth and Penuel. Whether or not you agree with his approach, there is not rebuke in scripture for what actions he took, as there is clearly called out not very long after in verse 27. It is reasonable to conclude that if his treatment of the people was wrong here in the same chapter it might likewise be called out. This is likely a difficult chain of thought for most of us given the mindset of our vastly different culture some thousands of years later.
Gideon experiences a high point in refusing to become ruler over Israel like a king. He insists that YHWH remain ruler over them. This is awesome. Then, just as he wraps up all this difficulty and is about to enter into peace for 40 years, he stumbles. He takes gold and makes it into an ephod which then becomes a snare to Israel, Gideon, and his household. It is almost as if he let his guard down. We do not learn his motives in doing so. Perhaps he intended it for good. None the less, perhaps we need learn to be vigilant even as YHWH delivers victory that we not step into or create snares for ourselves and our families or people. Sometimes it is in the embracing of victory in which we fall into sin.
1Then the men of Ephraim said to him, “What is this thing you have done to us, not calling us when you went to fight against Midian?” And they contended with him vigorously. 2But he said to them, “What have I done now in comparison with you? Is not the gleaning of the grapes of Ephraim better than the vintage of Abiezer? 3“God has given the leaders of Midian, Oreb and Zeeb into your hands; and what was I able to do in comparison with you?” Then their anger toward him subsided when he said that.
4Then Gideon and the 300 men who were with him came to the Jordan and crossed over, weary yet pursuing. 5He said to the men of Succoth, “Please give loaves of bread to the people who are following me, for they are weary, and I am pursuing Zebah and Zalmunna, the kings of Midian.” 6The leaders of Succoth said, “Are the hands of Zebah and Zalmunna already in your hands, that we should give bread to your army?” 7Gideon said, “All right, when the LORD has given Zebah and Zalmunna into my hand, then I will thrash your bodies with the thorns of the wilderness and with briers.” 8He went up from there to Penuel and spoke similarly to them; and the men of Penuel answered him just as the men of Succoth had answered. 9So he spoke also to the men of Penuel, saying, “When I return safely, I will tear down this tower.”
10Now Zebah and Zalmunna were in Karkor, and their armies with them, about 15,000 men, all who were left of the entire army of the sons of the east; for the fallen were 120,000 swordsmen. 11Gideon went up by the way of those who lived in tents on the east of Nobah and Jogbehah, and attacked the camp when the camp was unsuspecting. 12When Zebah and Zalmunna fled, he pursued them and captured the two kings of Midian, Zebah and Zalmunna, and routed the whole army.
13Then Gideon the son of Joash returned from the battle by the ascent of Heres. 14And he captured a youth from Succoth and questioned him. Then the youth wrote down for him the princes of Succoth and its elders, seventy-seven men. 15He 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 already in your hand, that we should give bread to your men who are weary?’” 16He took the elders of the city, and thorns of the wilderness and briers, and he disciplined the men of Succoth with them. 17He tore down the tower of Penuel and killed the men of the city.
18Then he said to Zebah and Zalmunna, “What kind of men were they whom you killed at Tabor?” And they said, “They were like you, each one resembling the son of a king.” 19He said, “They were my brothers, the sons of my mother. As the LORD lives, if only you had let them live, I would not kill you.” 20So he said to Jether his firstborn, “Rise, kill them.” But the youth did not draw his sword, for he was afraid, because he was still a youth. 21Then Zebah and Zalmunna said, “Rise up yourself, and fall on us; for as the man, so is his strength.” So Gideon arose and killed Zebah and Zalmunna, and took the crescent ornaments which were on their camels’ necks.
22Then the men of Israel said to Gideon, “Rule over us, both you and your son, also your son’s son, for you have delivered us from the hand of Midian.” 23But Gideon said to them, “I will not rule over you, nor shall my son rule over you; the LORD shall rule over you.” 24Yet Gideon said to them, “I would request of you, that each of you give me an earring from his spoil.” (For they had gold earrings, because they were Ishmaelites.) 25They said, “We will surely give them.” So they spread out a garment, and every one of them threw an earring there from his spoil. 26The weight of the gold earrings that he requested was 1,700 shekels of gold, besides the crescent ornaments and the pendants and the purple robes which were on the kings of Midian, and besides the neck bands that were on their camels’ necks. 27Gideon made it into an ephod, and placed it in his city, Ophrah, and all Israel played the harlot with it there, so that it became a snare to Gideon and his household.
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