Home » Various Sermons » Battles and More Battles: Judges 7.16-8.9

Battles and More Battles: Judges 7.16-8.9

“And Gideon came to the Jordan and crossed over, he and the 300 men who were with him, exhausted yet pursuing. So he said to the men of Succoth, “Please give loaves of bread to the people who follow me, for they are exhausted, and I am pursuing after Zebah and Zalmunna, the kings of Midian.”  And the officials of Succoth said, “Are the hands of Zebah and Zalmunna already in your hand, that we should give bread to your army?” So Gideon said, “Well then, when the Lord has given Zebah and Zalmunna into my hand, I will flail your flesh with the thorns of the wilderness and with briers.” And from there he went up to Penuel, and spoke to them in the same way, and the men of Penuel answered him as the men of Succoth had answered.  And he said to the men of Penuel, “When I come again in peace, I will break down this tower.”” – Judges 8.4-9

In the last section of Gideon’s narrative we saw one of the more familiar scenes of his story, namely the shrinking of his army down to three hundred.   Moreover we saw that Gideon has at last placed his trust in Yahweh, (thanks in part to a dream) and now Gideon acknowledges that God can indeed provide the victory that the Israelites need.  At last we have entered in the battles concerning Gideon, at last we are getting to Gideon doing what he has been called to do, namely deliver the Israelites from the hand of the Midianites.  Something which Gideon seems to excel at, thanks to Yahweh’s continual hand upon the whole event.  But moreover Gideon does prove to be a somewhat capable leader as his encounter with the Ephraimites show.

“And he divided the 300 men into three companies and put trumpets into the hands of all of them and empty jars, with torches inside the jars.  And he said to them, “Look at me, and do likewise. When I come to the outskirts of the camp, do as I do.  When I blow the trumpet, I and all who are with me, then blow the trumpets also on every side of all the camp and shout,  ‘For the Lord and for Gideon.'”

So Gideon and the hundred men who were with him came to the outskirts of the camp at the beginning of the middle watch, when they had just set the watch. And they blew the trumpets and smashed the jars that were in their hands.  Then the three companies blew the trumpets and broke the jars. They held in their left hands the torches, and in their right hands the trumpets to blow.  And they cried out, “A sword for the Lord and for Gideon!”  Every man stood in his place around the camp, and all the army ran. They cried out and fled.   When they blew the 300 trumpets, the Lord set every man’s sword against his comrade and against all the army. And the army fled as far as Beth-shittah toward Zererah, as far as the border of Abel-meholah, by Tabbath. ” – Judges 7.16-22

Matthew’s describes this battle as “almost an afterthought,” of the preceding verses, God’s whittling down of Gideon’s troops being the more important aspect[1].  Gideon splits his troops up into traditional military style, i.e. the three companies[2].  This also appears in 1 Samuel 11.11[3]: “And the next day Saul put the people in three companies. And they came into the midst of the camp in the morning watch and struck down the Ammonites until the heat of the day. And those who survived were scattered, so that no two of them were left together.”  One has to wonder if Gideon’s men had any other weapons, more so since they don’t seem to do any actual fighting, as the Midianites take care of themselves[4].   Moreover Gideon’s men didn’t have to do any real fighting; instead, their focus was to be on the various actions concerning the jars and shofars[5].

At night, the watch is split into three separate parts, at least according to Jubilees 49.10, 12, also Exodus 14.24 and Samuel 11.11 mention a morning watch[6].  The watches though, if split into three parts consisted of four hours per watch, the four part watch being that of later development.[7] As Mark 13.35 mentions the watches as four parts, The Rabbis themselves were split over a watch of three or four parts[8].  In any case, Gideon and his men begin their commotion around midnight, which only made it the more effective[9].  Due in part to the guards likely being changed at this point, so that the next group coming on would not have been as prepared[10].

“A Sword for Yahweh and Gideon,” here Gideon almost seems to try and share the spotlight with Yahweh and in essence the soldiers are fighting for “God and general[11].”   If this is the case then we can see Yahweh’s fears realized as Gideon has just included himself[12]. Although it should also be said that this shouts, echoes the Midianites fear of Gideon, due to the dream[13].  Moreover there is an irony here in that neither Gideon’s sword nor Yahweh’s touch the Midianites, instead they were killed by their own weapons[14].

O’Conner sums up the events rather nicely as “The Israelites stand still and make enough noise to scare the Midianites into nearly random flailing[15].”   Yahweh intervenes here again as he forces the troops to turn against one another, again showing the deity’s part throughout this battle[16].  Concerning the various places, Beth-Shittah exact location is unknown, but seems to be around the Jordan Valley, Zererah or Zarethan is in the Jordan valley, and Tabbath seems to be located in eastern Gilead[17].  In any case, the enemy seems to flee toward the Jordan River, unknowingly where another detachment of troops is waiting[18].

When the battle happens at last we see that there is really isn’t any “contest,” Gideon doesn’t primarily fight, Yahweh does, and this victory is one which should remind the reader of the Red Sea, and Yaweh’s victory of the Egyptians, and his promise in Deuteronomy, 32.36[19]:  “For the Lord will vindicate his people and have compassion on his servants, when he sees that their power is gone and there is none remaining, bond or free.”

Yahweh is only one with the true power, the only reliable source to turn to in times of trouble.  Gideon and the Israelites had no real hope without Yahweh’s help and with his help everything seemed to fit nicely together.  In many ways, while we don’t and shouldn’t try physical warfare for Yahweh we do have a whole slew of spiritual battles which should remind us to put trust in God.  There is one thing which ought to avoid however, and that is when we know that God was the reason for our “victory,” over such and such and we place ourselves within the equation as Gideon sadly did.  Yahweh is aptly able to overcome anything and doesn’t need our help.

Sadly all too often however we try to show ourselves as better than we are.  Too often a testimony which should be about God’s help in our life becomes a testimony about ourselves.  These things ought not be, though sadly too often they are.  God doesn’t need and really shouldn’t share the spotlight with his creations and yet so often that is exactly what we try to do.  In the battle of the 300, Yahweh provided everything that was needed for the victory, it should have simply been Yahweh’s sword, as so often is the case in our life.  It shouldn’t be “A sword for Yahweh and your sword.”

“And the men of Israel were called out from Naphtali and from Asher and from all Manasseh, and they pursued after Midian.

Gideon sent messengers throughout all the hill country of Ephraim, saying, “Come down against the Midianites and capture the waters against them, as far as  Beth-barah, and also the Jordan.” So all the men of Ephraim were called out, and they captured the waters as far as Beth-barah, and also the Jordan. And they captured the two princes of Midian, Oreb and Zeeb. They killed Oreb  at the rock of Oreb, and Zeeb they killed at the winepress of Zeeb. Then they pursued Midian, and they brought the heads of Oreb and Zeeb to Gideon  across the Jordan.

Then the men of Ephraim said to him, “What is this that you have done to us, not to call us when you went to fight with Midian?” And they accused him fiercely.  And 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 grape harvest of Abiezer?  God has given into your hands the princes of Midian, Oreb and Zeeb. What have I been able to do in comparison with you?”  Then their anger against him subsided when he said this.” – Judges 7.23-8.3

This brings us back to previous verse in Gideon’s narrative namely which named these tribes also, the only one missing is Zebulun[20].  “And he sent messengers throughout all Manasseh, and they too were called out to follow him.  And he sent messengers to Asher, Zebulun, and Naphtali, and they went up to meet them.” – Judges 6.35.  The Midianites run straight into these tribes and thus are slaughtered when they meet these ready troops[21].  From 7.24 to 8.3 we see have a little bit of parenthesis that doesn’t return until 8.4, in which the story details what was going on with the tribe of Ephraim[22].

Ephraim is if anything, summoned as of late, but still they managed to accomplish a great deed, by taking the heads of the Midianite leaders[23].  Ephraim’s late participation in the battle is somewhat striking since they seemed to have control of the fords, and thus are key ally, moreover they quickly responded to Ehud’s battle cry (cf. Judg. 3.27-29).[24] The names of the princes are literally “Raven, and “Wolf[25].”  The text isn’t clear if the places where the generals died were named after them, or rather in an ironic turn of events they died places with the same name[26].  The princes’ defeat and deaths show the extent of their defeat, Yahweh had totally destroyed them[27].

Manasseh and Ephramites were considered to be the two leading tribes within this section of Israel, thus Gideon in not calling them, made them somewhat upset[28].  In Deborah’s and Barak’s narrative one could note the list of tribes which did not heed their call, now however we see two tribes openly arguing among one another[29].  Perhaps Ephraim wasn’t so accustomed to not being the leading roles in battle, (remember Joshua was an Ephraimite), and thus another reason for the strain[30].  It would seem that the Ephraimites wanted a bit of the loot which Gideon and his army undoubtedly had acquired as part of the battle[31].

Gideon’s courteous answer would have done much to pacify pride[32].  In a way Gideon is asking as Boling writes, “Is the mop-up work done by your tribe not more significant than the performance of my contingent[33]?” Gideon handles this situation rather well, especially in comparison to Jephthah’s encounter later on; we see here another link in the downward spiral that is book of Judges[34].

Sometimes the hardest thing to do is be tactful, or for the sake of peace let something be.  Gideon could have pointed out all the work that he and his tribe did to that of Ephraim, but instead backed out and even said kind words to them.  For it meant keeping peace instead of starting useless strive, especially since it would have been with his fellow Israelite.  Sometimes in the Church we allow useless fights to start, instead of allowing one the liberty they have we can claim a superior position and cause a needless friction between members.  So that while it would have indeed been better to have just ended the fight and let things be, we instead cause more fighting a bigger problems.  Perhaps we should take this lesson from Gideon of knowing when to be quiet, when to just keep our mouths shut.

“And Gideon came to the Jordan and crossed over, he and the 300 men who were with him, exhausted yet pursuing. So he said to the men of Succoth, “Please give loaves of bread to the people who follow me, for they are exhausted, and I am pursuing after Zebah and Zalmunna, the kings of Midian.”  And the officials of Succoth said, “Are the hands of Zebah and Zalmunna already in your hand, that we should give bread to your army?” So Gideon said, “Well then, when the Lord has given Zebah and Zalmunna into my hand, I will flail your flesh with the thorns of the wilderness and with briers.” And from there he went up to Penuel, and spoke to them in the same way, and the men of Penuel answered him as the men of Succoth had answered.  And he said to the men of Penuel, “When I come again in peace, I will break down this tower.”” – Judges 8.4-9

This second part of the war takes place east of the first, moreover Gideon seemed quite the different person, he has a goal and he pursues this goal in such a fashion that it even wearies his troops out[35].  Although its not mention specifically, by using the same number it is assumed that this was the same group which had first helped Gideon and also explains their hungry and exhaustion[36].  The round loaves of bread here are similar to the stale loaf of bread found in the Midianite dream and moreover the hunger reminds one of the extreme thirst, that both Sisera and Samson exhibit[37].  The names of the two generals here are literally “Victim,” and “Protection refused,” and perhaps show the author’s sympathies for these two character who Gideon chases[38].

The men of Succoth seem to think Gideon unable to get the final victory as their reply to him is filled with sarcasm[39].  Gideon’s threatens to beat them with thrones and briers as one does when grain is threshed[40]. The humiliaty and caution which Gideon had just shown has now disappeared and he now uses threats, one could note interestlying enough that in all of this Yahweh is nowhere to found, and Gideon is doing all of this on his own[41].  Yes Gideon mentions Yahweh here (and also verse seventeen), but it isn’t for the right reasons[42].  At this point moreover we have no indication of why Gideon is pursuing the enemy in such pace, it isn’t until later in the narrative that we find out.  At which point we find a sad event happening as the war is longer Yahweh’s war, but that of Gideon’s for personal vengeance[43].

Gideon also goes the town of Penuel and asks the same question he asked at Succoth.  Again they are unsure of Gideon’s ability to finish of the Midianites (and perhaps being afraid of “Midianite retaliation”) refuse to help[44].

There is a sad truth that power corrupts that it can change a person.  Gideon being the sort of man he has presented himself to be thus far, well show this now.  While at first this whole war was Yahweh’s Gideon has now taken it over and seems to have made it his war.  Moreover while at first the glory was to go to Yahweh, not Gideon, he shared it and now in his race to kill these other leaders, Gideon seems to desire to have all the glory to himself.  Again, God’s chosen deliverer seems to show how human he really is and we see once more how far the downward spiral has fallen.

There’s a wrong way to do things, Gideon showed himself as doing things in the right way, in the previous set of verses, but suddenly now has done things a wrong way.  When we follow God’s plan we are following the right path, the path of Wisdom, but too often we take a sideroad onto our own path and determine where we think we ought to go, the path of Folly.  Too often we can start on the right path, doing as God wants us to do, only to suddenly take the wrong step and start doing things our way and in the end, end up  with a harder way of doing things.  Its never good to do  things in our own strength or in our way, it never works out.


[1] Victor H. Matthews, The New Cambridge Bible Commentary: Judges & Ruth (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 93.

[2] Robert G. Boling, The Anchor Bible: Judges a New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, vol. 6a, ed. William Foxwell Albright and David Noel Freedman (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, 1985),  147.

[3] John J. Davis, Conquest and Crisis: Studies in Joshua, Judges, and Ruth, 3rd ed. (Winona Lake, Indiana: BMH Books, 2008), 143.

[4] Barry G. Webb, “Judges,” in New Biblical Commentary, ed. G. J. Wenham et al. 4th ed. (Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994), 273.

[5] Leslie Hoppe, Old Testament Message: Joshua, Judges, vol. 5, ed. Carroll Stuhlmueller and Martin McNamara (Wilmington: Michael Glaizer, 1982), 150.

[6] Boling, 147.

[7] J. Alberto Soggin, The Old Testament Library: Judges, tr. John Bowden (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1981), 143.

[8] Boling, 147.

[9] Davis, 144.

[10] Tammi J. Schneider, Berit Olam: Studies in Hebrew Narrative & Poetry: Judges, ed. David W. Cotter (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2000), 115.

[11] Matthews, 93.

[12] Schneider, 115.

[13] Webb, 273.

[14] Ibid.

[15] M. O’Connor, “Judges,” in The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, ed. Raymond E. Brown, Joseph A. Fitzmyer and Roland E. Murphy (Upper Saddle River: Prentice-Hall, 1990), 139.

[16] Schneider, 115.

[17] Boiling, 148.

[18] Webb, 273.

[19] Boling, 148-9.

[20] Soggin, 147.

[21] Matthews, 93.

[22] Davis, 144.

[23] Boling, 150-1.

[24] Mathews, 94.

[25] Boling, 151.

[26] Schneider, 118.

[27] Webb, 273.

[28] Webb, 273.

[29] Matthews, 94.

[30] Davis, 144.

[31] John Dominic Crossan, “Judges,” in The Jerome Biblical Commentary, ed. Raymond E. Brown, Joseph A. Fitzmyer and Roland E. Murphy (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1968), 156.

[32] Crossan, 156.

[33] Boling, 151.

[34] Matthews, 94.

[35] Webb, 273.

[36] Schneider, 119.

[37] O’Conner, 139.

[38] Boling, 155.

[39] Davis, 145.

[40] Crossan, 156.

[41] Webb, 273.

[42] Hoppe, 152.

[43] Hoppe, 153.

[44] Davis, 145.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Archives

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 160 other followers