Now the Ephraimites asked Gideon, “Why have you treated us like this? Why didn’t you call us when you went to fight Midian?” And they challenged him vigorously. Judges 8:1
Gideon had mustered his troops from his own clan and tribe of Manasseh. He also called for fighting men from the tribes of Asher, Zebulun and Naphtali which were located directly north of his tribe. The Ephraimites, who dwelled to the south of the tribe of Manasseh, were infuriated that Gideon did not include them in the battle against the Midianites.
The haughtiness of the Ephraimites may have been derived partly from their strength, and partly from the transfer of the birthright from Manasseh to Ephraim.
Joseph was the long awaited son of Rachel, the wife that Jacob loved. Joseph was the son born to Jacob in his old age. Israel loved Jacob more than any of his other sons. For this reason, Jacob adopted Joseph’s sons Manasseh and Ephraim as his own and Jacob gave Joseph the double blessing as if he was the firstborn son.
When Joseph saw his father placing his right hand on Ephraim’s head he was displeased; so he took hold of his father’s hand to move it from Ephraim’s head to Manasseh’s head. Joseph said to him, “No, my father, this one is the firstborn; put your right hand on his head.”
But his father refused and said, “I know, my son, I know. He too will become a people, and he too will become great. Nevertheless, his younger brother will be greater than he, and his descendants will become a group of nations.” Genesis 48:17-19
Israel crossed his arms so that Ephraim would receive the right hand of blessing as if he were the firstborn son of Joseph.
Ephraim had been exalted over his brother Manasseh. In addition, the great military leader and successor to Moses, Joshua the son of Nun was from the tribe of Ephraim. These factors may have contributed to the pride and arrogance of the Ephraimites who were slighted by not being included in Gideon’s call to arms.
But he answered them, “What have I accomplished compared to you? Aren’t the gleanings of Ephraim’s grapes better than the full grape harvest of Abiezer? God gave Oreb and Zeeb, the Midianite leaders, into your hands. What was I able to do compared to you?” At this, their resentment against him subsided. Judges 8:2-3
Gideon demonstrates his humble and unassuming character by giving the Ephraimites full credit for their share in the great victory over the Midianites.
Gideon states that his accomplishment of striking down common soldiers is not to be compared to Ephraim’s capture of the leaders of the Midianite army, Oreb and Zeeb. He began the war, but the Ephraimites have finished it. Ephraim indeed arrived late upon the scene, but they had the glory of capturing the chiefs.
A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. Proverbs 15:1
Gideon is not provoked by Ephraim’s taunts. Instead, in response to his gentle and prudent answer, the Ephraimites’ resentment subsided.
Gideon and his three hundred men, exhausted yet keeping up the pursuit, came to the Jordan and crossed it. He said to the men of Sukkoth, “Give my troops some bread; they are worn out, and I am still pursuing Zebah and Zalmunna, the kings of Midian.” Judges 8:4-5
Gideon’s men were faint, yet pursuing; fatigued with what they had done, yet eager to do more against their enemies.
But the officials of Sukkoth said, “Do you already have the hands of Zebah and Zalmunna in your possession? Why should we give bread to your troops?” Judges 8:6
The name Sukkoth means “booths.” This location was named “Sukkoth” because of the “booths” which had been erected there by Jacob on his return from Laban’s home in Padan Aram. Sukkoth was east of the Jordan, in the territory of Gad near Peniel.
The reply from the officials of Sukkoth was both insolent and self-serving:“Do you already have the hands of Zebah and Zalmunna in your possession?” Since we do not see these two kings of Midian with their hands bound behind their backs in defeat, why should we risk angering them by providing you and your men with food? They ridiculed Gideon because they did not believe that he and the small number of his weary troops would be capable of defeating the remaining Midianite warriors.
Then Gideon replied, “Just for that, when the Lord has given Zebah and Zalmunna into my hand, I will tear your flesh with desert thorns and briers.” Judges 8:7
The officials of Sukkoth thought it would be impossible for Gideon and his tired men to defeat such a much larger force.
Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Matthew 19:26
Gideon did not reply to them, “If the LORD gives Zebah and Zalmunna into my hand…” He retorted, “…when the LORD has given Zebah and Zalmunna into my hand.” Gideon believed that God would fulfill His promise and knew that the victory would be total and complete.
From there he went up to Peniel and made the same request of them, but they answered as the men of Sukkoth had. So he said to the men of Peniel, “When I return in triumph, I will tear down this tower.” Judges 8:8-9
Intent on the pursuit, and afraid of losing time, Gideon postponed his vengeance upon the men of Peniel until his return. His confident anticipation of a triumphant return evidenced the strength of his faith.
Now Zebah and Zalmunna were in Karkor with a force of about fifteen thousand men, all that were left of the armies of the eastern peoples; a hundred and twenty thousand swordsmen had fallen. Judges 8:10
Originally 32,000 men of Israel came to Gideon to fight against the eastern armies. The LORD did not want the Israelites to think that it was their strength or numbers that would secure the victory. Therefore, only 300 men were chosen for the task so Yehovah alone would receive the glory. The only plausible explanation for Gideon’s meager band of men triumphing over an army of 135,000 swordsmen is supernatural intervention.
Although outnumbered 50 to 1, Gideon and his 300 men were zealous to complete the task and capture the kings of Midian.
Gideon went up by the route of the nomads east of Nobah and Jogbehah and attacked the unsuspecting army. Zebah and Zalmunna, the two kings of Midian, fled, but he pursued them and captured them, routing their entire army. Judges 8:11-12
In the initial battle, the men of the eastern armies had been surprised and confused and turned their swords upon one another. In this final battle, the enemy was again caught unaware, but this time they were slaughtered in a direct attack by Gideon and his men.
In addition to Samson, the Bible records several accounts of miraculous victories by mighty men of God who were vastly out-numbered. The following account is found in 2 Samuel 23:8-12:
These are the names of David’s mighty warriors:
Josheb-Basshebeth, a Tahkemonite, was chief of the Three; he raised his spear against eight hundred men, whom he killed in one encounter.
Next to him was Eleazar son of Dodai the Ahohite. As one of the three mighty warriors, he was with David when they taunted the Philistines gathered at Pas Dammim for battle. Then the Israelites retreated, but Eleazar stood his ground and struck down the Philistines till his hand grew tired and froze to the sword. The LORD brought about a great victory that day. The troops returned to Eleazar, but only to strip the dead.
Next to him was Shammah son of Agee the Hararite. When the Philistines banded together at a place where there was a field full of lentils, Israel’s troops fled from them. But Shammah took his stand in the middle of the field. He defended it and struck the Philistines down, and the LORD brought about a great victory.
In all these cases, it was Yehovah who brought about the great victories through obedient men He anointed for the task.
Gideon son of Joash then returned from the battle by the Pass of Heres. He caught a young man of Sukkoth and questioned him, and the young man wrote down for him the names of the seventy-seven officials of Sukkoth, the elders of the town. Judges 8:13-14
Gideon wanted to know the names of the elders of Sukkoth who dared to mock a warrior judge of Israel and deny food to the men chosen by Yehovah to free Israel from her enemies.
Then Gideon came and said to the men of Sukkoth, “Here are Zebah and Zalmunna, about whom you taunted me by saying, ‘Do you already have the hands of Zebah and Zalmunna in your possession? Why should we give bread to your exhausted men?’” He took the elders of the town and taught the men of Sukkoth a lesson by punishing them with desert thorns and briers. Judges 8:15-16
Gideon was not only a righteous man of faith and a noble warrior, but he was also a man of his word. The officials of Sukkoth learned a lesson that would not soon forget.
He also pulled down the tower of Peniel and killed the men of the town. Judges 8:17
It is likely that when Gideon’s warriors went to pull down the tower of Peniel, the men of the town offered an armed resistance and were subsequently killed in the battle.
Then he asked Zebah and Zalmunna, “What kind of men did you kill at Tabor?”
“Men like you,” they answered, “each one with the bearing of a prince.” Judges 8:18
Zebah and Zalmunna had been kept alive in order to answer the cowardly taunt of the elders of Sukkoth. Gideon probably asked them to describe the men that they killed to confirm his suspicions.
Gideon replied, “Those were my brothers, the sons of my own mother. As surely as the Lord lives, if you had spared their lives, I would not kill you.” Judges 8:19
Had the kings of Midian shown mercy towards his family, so would Gideon now be merciful to Zebah and Zalmunna. Instead, by their actions and their own words they condemned themselves.
Turning to Jether, his oldest son, he said, “Kill them!” But Jether did not draw his sword, because he was only a boy and was afraid.
Zebah and Zalmunna said, “Come, do it yourself. ‘As is the man, so is his strength.’” So Gideon stepped forward and killed them, and took the ornaments off their camels’ necks. Judges 8:20-21
Since the kings of Midian were not Canaanites, Gideon was not obliged by the law of God to put them to death. According to the law of nations, they had surrendered themselves and were made prisoners of war. Ordinarily, their lives should have been spared and they would be enslaved or imprisoned. But by their own admission, they killed the Israelites at Tabor in cold blood and deserved to die.
Gideon, as the last survivor of all his kingly brothers, would hold himself justified in putting his captives to death. The next of kin to a person or persons who have been slain acts as a “goel.” A goel is the avenger of blood according to the Torah.
Since Gideon’s son Jether would inherit the duties of goel and Gideon desired both to train the boy to be fearless against the enemies of Israel and to give him prestige, he asked his oldest son to kill the Midianite kings. Being killed by a boy would also add to the disgrace of the Midianite kings.
But since his son was afraid to kill the kings and did not draw his sword, as next of kin Gideon fulfilled his duty as the avenger of blood and put them to death.
Gideon took the ornaments [crescents] that were on their camels’ necks. The camel’s ornaments of that day were the same as used by the Arabs of today.
Ishmael was the son of Abraham and Hagar, Sarah’s handmaid and the Ishmaelites were his descendants.
Midian was the fourth of the six sons of Abraham and his wife, Keturah and the Midianites descended from him.
Ishmael was not the father of the Midianite nation, but the Ishmaelites and Midianites are so closely associated that it is hard to distinguish between them. When Joseph was sold by his brothers to the traders heading for Egypt, the traders are referred to as Ishmaelites and Midianites, interchangeably.
The Ishmaelites and the Midianites of old, as well as the Arabs today, adorn their camels with crescent shaped ornaments which represent their moon god.
The Israelites said to Gideon, “Rule over us—you, your son and your grandson—because you have saved us from the hand of Midian.”
But Gideon told them, “I will not rule over you, nor will my son rule over you. The Lord will rule over you.” Judges 8:22-23
Gideon understood that it was Yehovah who had won the great victory and delivered Israel from the hands of the Midianites. He also understood that he had been called by God to be a judge over his people and not a king. The LORD God was, is, and will always be the king over Israel.
And he said, “I do have one request, that each of you give me an earring from your share of the plunder.” (It was the custom of the Ishmaelites to wear gold earrings.)
They answered, “We’ll be glad to give them.” So they spread out a garment, and each of them threw a ring from his plunder onto it. The weight of the gold rings he asked for came to seventeen hundred shekels, not counting the ornaments, the pendants and the purple garments worn by the kings of Midian or the chains that were on their camels’ necks. Judges 8:24-26
Seventeen thousand shekels of gold weighs about 800 ounces or 50 pounds. In today’s market, gold is $1320.00 per ounce. Seventeen thousand shekels or 50 pounds of gold would be worth over one million dollars by today’s standards.
In addition to the gold earrings or nose-rings, the plunder included garments that were dyed purple (a very expensive dye obtained from a species of sea snail), jewelry, and the gold chains that held the crescents around the necks of the Midianites’ camels.
Gideon made the gold into an ephod, which he placed in Ophrah, his town. All Israel prostituted themselves by worshiping it there, and it became a snare to Gideon and his family. Judges 8:27
The High Priest’s ephod is described in Exodus 28:6-14. It was a sleeveless coat of gold, blue, purple, scarlet, and fine twined linen, with a brooch of onyx on each of the shoulders, bound by a rich girdle. In a modified form the “linen ephod” was worn by all priests. Over the ephod that was worn by the High Priest was fastened the jeweled pouch or breastplate containing the Urim and Thummim. On occasion, the High Priest used the Urim and Thummim to discern the LORD’s will.
The gold collected by Gideon was used to fashion the breastplate, for the gold threads used in the ephod and to pay for the precious stones set in gold braid upon the shoulder-pieces of the ephod.
The terms “Urim” and “Thummim” have traditionally been understood as “light(s)” and “perfection(s)” or as “perfect light.” The Urim and Thummim were a means of revelation entrusted to the High Priest. No description of them is given. This oracular means apparently consisted of a material object or objects since it was physically stored in the breastplate of the High Priest. Most scholars today believe that the Urim and Thummim were a “lot oracle” meaning by casting lots they could determine the will of God.
Gideon placed the ephod he made in his hometown where he had been called to lead Israel in battle against the Midianites. Ophrah is where Gideon had erected an altar to Yehovah after the angel of the LORD performed a miraculous sign causing fire from a rock to consume Gideon’s offering.
Gideon may have had good intentions in setting up a religious center in his own town where he could inquire the LORD’s will through the use of the Urim and Thummim. But the LORD had commanded that only the High Priest was to wear the breastplate and Israel’s corporate sacrifice and offerings were to take place where the God of Israel designated.
Then it shall come about that the place in which the LORD your God will choose for His name to dwell, there you shall bring all that I command you: your burnt offerings and your sacrifices, your tithes and the contribution of your hand, and all your choice votive offerings which you will vow to the LORD. “And you shall rejoice before the LORD your God, you and your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, and the Levite who is within your gates, since he has no portion or inheritance with you.
“Be careful that you do not offer your burnt offerings in every cultic place you see, but in the place which the LORD chooses in one of your tribes, there you shall offer your burnt offerings, and there you shall do all that I command you. Deuteronomy 12:1-14
The Tabernacle of the Testimony containing the Ark of the Covenant was located in Shiloh where the Levites ministered and the High Priest performed his sacred duties. Gideon’s actions caused Israel to fall into the sin of idolatry by their worship of the ephod Gideon made out of the Midianites gold earrings and nose-rings.
Thus Midian was subdued before the Israelites and did not raise its head again. During Gideon’s lifetime, the land had peace forty years. Judges 8:28
The Israelites’ apostasy of turning from Yehovah and worshipping the Baals resulted in punishment by Midian which led to their repentance and deliverance through Gideon and the land had peace for forty years.
Jerub-Baal son of Joash went back home to live. He had seventy sons of his own, for he had many wives. His concubine, who lived in Shechem, also bore him a son, whom he named Abimelech. Gideon son of Joash died at a good old age and was buried in the tomb of his father Joash in Ophrah of the Abiezrites. Judges 8:29-32
Gideon had been obedient to Yehovah by destroying his father’s altar to Baal and cutting down the Asherah pole beside it. The townspeople were so furious at what Gideon had done that they wanted to kill him. Joash, his father, defended his son actions and proclaimed, “If Baal really is a god, he can defend himself when someone breaks down his altar” (Judges 6:31b). Therefore the townspeople gave Gideon the name, Jerub-Baal which means, “Let Baal contend with him.”
Gideon had many wives who bore him seventy sons and a concubine who gave birth to his son named Abimelech. Abimelech means “my father is king.” It is certainly curious why Gideon who refused to become Israel’s king would give the son begotten through his concubine the name, “my father is king.”
In the next chapter of Judges we will see why his name is significant and why Abimelech is the only son whose name is recorded in the text.
No sooner had Gideon died than the Israelites again prostituted themselves to the Baals. They set up Baal-Berith as their god and did not remember the Lord their God, who had rescued them from the hands of all their enemies on every side. They also failed to show any loyalty to the family of Jerub-Baal (that is, Gideon) in spite of all the good things he had done for them. Judges 8:33-35
Yehovah who had delivered the children of Israel out of the bondage of Egypt, who entered into covenant relationship with His Chosen People, who gave them the Torah, and brought them into the Promised Land was abandoned for lifeless idols. The Israelites not only forgot their God but were disloyal to the family of Gideon after he died.