Judges 8 COMMENTARY (Pulpit)

Judges 8
Pulpit Commentary
And the men of Ephraim said unto him, Why hast thou served us thus, that thou calledst us not, when thou wentest to fight with the Midianites? And they did chide with him sharply.
Verse 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.
And he said unto them, What have I done now in comparison of you? Is not the gleaning of the grapes of Ephraim better than the vintage of Abiezer?
Verse 2. - What have I done, etc. Gideon's character comes out splendidly in this answer. Humble and unassuming (Judges 6:15, 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.

CHAPTER 8:4-12
God hath delivered into your hands the princes of Midian, Oreb and Zeeb: and what was I able to do in comparison of you? Then their anger was abated toward him, when he had said that.
And Gideon came to Jordan, and passed over, he, and the three hundred men that were with him, faint, yet pursuing them.
Verse 4. - Came to Jordan. The narrative goes back to Judges 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 vers. 24 and 25, and Judges 8:1-3 (see Judges 7:25, note; Judges 2:1-6, note).
And he said unto the men of Succoth, Give, I pray you, loaves of bread unto the people that follow me; for they be faint, and I am pursuing after Zebah and Zalmunna, kings of Midian.
Verse 5. - Succoth. On the east side of Jordan, as appears plainly from the narrative in Genesis 33:17, 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 (vers. 26, 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 Soc-hoth, 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 east 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 (ver. 8), and which, as above noticed, is shown to be the same as the Succoth of Joshua 13. by its proximity to Mahanaim. We must await some further light before we can decide the exact position of Succoth.
And the princes of Succoth said, Are the hands of Zebah and Zalmunna now in thine hand, that we should give bread unto thine army?
Verse 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 Judges 5:16, 17).
And Gideon said, Therefore when the LORD hath delivered Zebah and Zalmunna into mine hand, then I will tear your flesh with the thorns of the wilderness and with briers.
Verse 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. vers. 9 and 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 ver. 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.
And he went up thence to Penuel, and spake unto them likewise: and the men of Penuel answered him as the men of Succoth had answered him.
Verse 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.
And he spake also unto the men of Penuel, saying, When I come again in peace, I will break down this tower.
Now Zebah and Zalmunna were in Karkor, and their hosts with them, about fifteen thousand men, all that were left of all the hosts of the children of the east: for there fell an hundred and twenty thousand men that drew sword.
Verse 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.
And Gideon went up by the way of them that dwelt in tents on the east of Nobah and Jogbehah, and smote the host: for the host was secure.
Verse 11. - Gideon went up. See ver. 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 Psalm 83:11).
And when Zebah and Zalmunna fled, he pursued after them, and took the two kings of Midian, Zebah and Zalmunna, and discomfited all the host.
Verse 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. CHAPTER 8:13-21
And Gideon the son of Joash returned from battle before the sun was up,
Verse 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" (Judges 1:36), of an ascent up a hill. They therefore take heres as a proper name, and translate "from the going up of Hems." 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 Judges 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.
And caught a young man of the men of Succoth, and inquired of him: and he described unto him the princes of Succoth, and the elders thereof, even threescore and seventeen men.
Verse 14. - He described. Rather, he wrote down, i.e. gave him a list of the princes and elders.
And he came unto the men of Succoth, and said, Behold Zebah and Zalmunna, with whom ye did upbraid me, saying, Are the hands of Zebah and Zalmunna now in thine hand, that we should give bread unto thy men that are weary?
Verse 15. - The men of Succoth. Meaning the princes and elders.
And he took the elders of the city, and thorns of the wilderness and briers, and with them he taught the men of Succoth.
Verse 16. - He taught, i.e. corrected, punished. It is, however, very probable that the true reading is he threshed or tore (yadash for yadah, the final letters שand ע being very similar). We have then the fulfilment of Gideon's threat in ver. 7 recorded in the same words with regard to Succoth, just as the breaking down of the tower of Penuel in ver. 17 is in verbal agreement with ver. 9. The Septuagint and Vulgate both seem to have found he threshed in their copies.
And he beat down the tower of Penuel, and slew the men of the city.
Verse 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.
Then said he unto Zebah and Zalmunna, What manner of men were they whom ye slew at Tabor? And they answered, As thou art, so were they; each one resembled the children of a king.
Verse 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 Judges 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 Judges 10:11, 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. Psalm 50:0).
And he said, They were my brethren, even the sons of my mother: as the LORD liveth, if ye had saved them alive, I would not slay you.
And he said unto Jether his firstborn, Up, and slay them. But the youth drew not his sword: for he feared, because he was yet a youth.
Verse 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.
Then Zebah and Zalmunna said, Rise thou, and fall upon us: for as the man is, so is his strength. And Gideon arose, and slew Zebah and Zalmunna, and took away the ornaments that were on their camels' necks.
Verse 21. - The ornaments. Literally, little moons, crescent-shaped ornaments of gold and silver, which as well as "chains" (ver. 26) were hung as ornaments on their camels' necks (cf. Judges 5:30). It would seem from ver. 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.

CHAPTER 8:22-35
Then the men of Israel said unto Gideon, Rule thou over us, both thou, and thy son, and thy son's son also: for thou hast delivered us from the hand of Midian.
Verses 22, 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, 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).
And Gideon said unto them, I will not rule over you, neither shall my son rule over you: the LORD shall rule over you.
And Gideon said unto them, I would desire a request of you, that ye would give me every man the earrings of his prey. (For they had golden earrings, because they were Ishmaelites.)
Verse 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 ver. 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, 30, 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.
And they answered, We will willingly give them. And they spread a garment, and did cast therein every man the earrings of his prey.
Verse 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).
And the weight of the golden earrings that he requested was a thousand and seven hundred shekels of gold; beside ornaments, and collars, and purple raiment that was on the kings of Midian, and beside the chains that were about their camels' necks.
Verse 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 ver. 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 ver. 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 ver. 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.
And Gideon made an ephod thereof, and put it in his city, even in Ophrah: and all Israel went thither a whoring after it: which thing became a snare unto Gideon, and to his house.
Verse 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, 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 ch. Judges 17:5, and Hosea 3:4, 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, 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, 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 (ch. Judges 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 (ver. 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 case. A snare, i.e. as in Judges 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 ver. 28 (see note to Judges 2:1-6; Judges 7:25; Judges 8:4).
Thus was Midian subdued before the children of Israel, so that they lifted up their heads no more. And the country was in quietness forty years in the days of Gideon.
Verse 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 Judges 8:4-12). The narrative goes back to ver. 26, or perhaps rather to ver. 21.
And Jerubbaal the son of Joash went and dwelt in his own house.
And Gideon had threescore and ten sons of his body begotten: for he had many wives.
Verses 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 (a peace as long as that which followed the battle of Water-leo], and the detestable Baal-worship was effectually suppressed. And having lived in wealth and honour, he died in peace, and was buried in the sepulchre of his father at Ophrah in a good old age. He remains to us as one of the most remarkable characters of the Old Testament, not indeed without faults and blemishes, and not wholly unspoiled by prosperity, but still a great man, and an eminent servant of God.
And his concubine that was in Shechem, she also bare him a son, whose name he called Abimelech.
Verse 31. - Whose name he called. This is badly translated; it should he, he gave him the name of Abimelech - literally, he set his name Abimelech. There are two phrases in Hebrew. The one, he called his name Seth, Noah, Ishmael, Isaac, Esau, Jacob, etc., as the case may be. And this is the phrase always, though not exclusively (see, e.g., Genesis 35:10; Judges 6:32), 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 Judges 13:31; 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.
And Gideon the son of Joash died in a good old age, and was buried in the sepulchre of Joash his father, in Ophrah of the Abiezrites.
And it came to pass, as soon as Gideon was dead, that the children of Israel turned again, and went a whoring after Baalim, and made Baalberith their god.
Verse 33. - And it came to pass, etc. Cf. Judges 2:11, 12, 19; Judges 3:7; Judges 4:1; Judges 5:1; Judges 10:6; Judges 13:1. Baal-berith. See Judges 2:13, note. He was like the Ζευς Ορκιος of the Greeks, the god of covenants.
And the children of Israel remembered not the LORD their God, who had delivered them out of the hands of all their enemies on every side:
Neither shewed they kindness to the house of Jerubbaal, namely, Gideon, according to all the goodness which he had shewed unto Israel.
Verse 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.

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