Home » Various Sermons » Changed Nature? : Judges 8.10-21

Changed Nature? : Judges 8.10-21

Judges 8.10-21 (Ack Forgot to post this several weeks ago)

“Now Zebah and Zalmunna were in Karkor with their army, about 15,000 men, all who were left of all the army of the people of the East, for there had fallen 120,000 men who drew the sword.  And Gideon went up by the way of the tent dwellers east of Nobah and Jogbehah and attacked the army, for the army felt secure.  And Zebah and Zalmunna fled, and he pursued them and captured the two kings of Midian, Zebah and Zalmunna, and he threw all the army into a panic.

Then Gideon the son of Joash returned from the battle by the ascent of Heres.  And he captured a young man of Succoth and questioned him. And he wrote down for him the officials and elders of Succoth, seventy-seven men.  And he came to the men of Succoth and said, “Behold Zebah and Zalmunna, about 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 exhausted?’” And he took the elders of the city, and he took thorns of the wilderness and briers and with them taught the men of Succoth a lesson.  And he broke down the tower of Penuel and killed the men of the city.

Then he said to Zebah and Zalmunna, “Where are the men whom you killed at Tabor?” They answered, “As you are, so were they. Every one of them resembled the son of a king.”  And he said, “They were my brothers, the sons of my mother. As the Lord lives, if you had saved them alive, I would not kill you.” So he said to Jether his firstborn, “Rise and kill them!” But the young man did not draw his sword, for he was afraid, because he was still a young man.  Then Zebah and Zalmunna said, “Rise yourself and fall upon us, for as the man is, so is his strength.”  And Gideon arose and killed Zebah and Zalmunna, and he took the crescent ornaments that were on the necks of their camels.”” – Judges 8.10-21

In the last section of the narrative we saw the famous exploit of Gideon and his 300 men, of their victory over Midianites and all thanks to Yahweh.  Gideon began as man who shied away from everything it seemed, we saw him hiding in the winepress and we saw him question and question Yahweh.  Yet, in the last section at last Gideon trusted Yahweh, and at last so many delays Gideon did his job as a deliverer.  Moreover Gideon showed great leadership qualities in how he handled the men of Ephraim, and if only the narrative ended there.  In the last section which we talked about however, we also saw Gideon’s initial reaction to the men of Succoth and Penuel.  We saw a stark difference between how he handled the tribe of Ephraim and how he handled these two cities.

Now we move into a more difficult section then that and we begin to see Gideon not as the man as he was when Yahweh first called him.  Instead Gideon has in a way grown from the weak sort of man he was, to now a man who is yes a Good military leader, but at the same time a man who is also driven by the wrong reasons as we shall see.  Gideon does if anything proves that the scriptures show man as he, the heroes are some idealized figures, but are flawed.  And in some ways they are flaw crucially.  And as mentioned before Gideon shows how the time of the Judges were, with a downward spiral, and sadly that spiral wasn’t just the people, but also the deliverers themselves.  But as flawed as Gideon is, Yahweh uses him for His purposes.

“Now Zebah and Zalmunna were in Karkor with their army, about 15,000 men, all who were left of all the army of the people of the East, for there had fallen 120,000 men who drew the sword.  And Gideon went up by the way of the tent dwellers east of Nobah and Jogbehah and attacked the army, for the army felt secure.  And Zebah and Zalmunna fled, and he pursued them and captured the two kings of Midian, Zebah and Zalmunna, and he threw all the army into a panic.” – Judges 8.10-12

Earlier the narrator had described the size of Israel’s army as numerous as locust (cf. 6.5; 7.12), he describes what would seem to be an undefeatable number, yet now the unknown sized army has a number, and however one takes the thousand, the point is how much Yahweh has shrunk the army’s size[1].  Within the eleventh verse we begin to see the route which Gideon took to get to the two kings.  The people of the east are said to be at Karkor the identification of which is somewhat problematic, and there are a variety of different suggestions, but one that stands out is that they are at the Great Caravan route, the “royal road” so to speak[2].  Likely Gideon came upon them while they beginning to rest, while they were on a road they would have thought they be safe on[3].

The ESV records the end of the twelfth verse as “And he threw all the army into a panic,” while the NASB has this translated as “he routed the whole host.”  The Hebrew word here translated as “panic,” in the ESV or “routed,” in the NASB is ḥārād which is literally to be “frighten” or to “tremble” and in essence “rout[4].”  So it seems that Gideon uses tactics in this situation and lands a surprise attack upon these two Midianite kings, throwing the whole army into yet another panic[5].

In this brief section we see nothing wrong, Gideon uses sound tactics and Gideon is doing what God would want him to do, but again this isn’t the end of the story and this is just a step in what goes further on.  At this point Gideon is doing for the most part what Yahweh wanted, there seems to have been a further reasoning for why he was pursuing the enemy so hard, but we don’t know that quite yet.  Again if only the narrative would have ended here, Gideon would have come out on top as great general and as a great servant to Yahweh, but he promised retribution to two cities.

“Then Gideon the son of Joash returned from the battle by the ascent of Heres.  And he captured a young man of Succoth and questioned him. And he wrote down for him the officials and elders of Succoth, seventy-seven men.  And he came to the men of Succoth and said, “Behold Zebah and Zalmunna, about whom you taunted me, saying, and ‘Are the hands of Zebah and Zalmunna already in your hand, that we should give bread to your men who are exhausted?’” And he took the elders of the city, and he took thorns of the wilderness and briers and with them taught the men of Succoth a lesson.  And he broke down the tower of Penuel and killed the men of the city.” – Judges 8.13-17

In this section from verses 13 to 17 we see that once Gideon has made up his mind it becomes unchangeable[6]. For instead of finishing off the kings right away Gideon goes on instead back to the two cities which had refused him help, even capturing a young man before getting to them[7].  This section seems to indicate a point where as Schneider writes “the story shifts to Gideon in action without any participation by the deity nor reference to the deity except in Gideon’s words[8].”  Moreover some wonder whether this is an indication of Gideon’s first actions of trying to be like a ruler[9].

The “young man,” which Gideon picked up is said to have written down the names, and suggest something more than a common villager, perhaps an official of some sort; but in truth it may have been a scribe, unmentioned who actually wrote down the names[10].  But all that matters, is that now Gideon thanks to this man has the list of those who opposed him.  Interestingly enough however here we hear of Elders for the first time in this book, and it gives us a sort of clue to how the tribes governed themselves prior to the kingdom that is by heads of clans, doing the community business at the city’s gate[11].

So Gideon comes back to the cities that refused his troops aid.  One should remember that though Gideon demanded food from these cities, we are never really given a real reason why they should give it to him; Gideon implies that it would be best for them to do so, tribal obligation seems a part of it, but still they had refused to help him, and we are left wonder if they were perhaps justified[12].  In both of the cities cases, the threats which he had made, he now acts upon.  Gideon goes to the cities in a different order then one would have expected, he’s not backtracking and it would seem to be, because of the route which Gideon has taken[13].

In Succoth Gideon takes the leaders of the city and indeed punishes them harshly.  The “thorns of the wilderness,” which Gideon uses, if they were buckthorns could be as long as an inch or two[14].  And thus the whip that he had made would have indeed done some damage.   But though Gideon does indeed in a way cripples and shows his superiority to Succoth’s leaders, it isn’t as bad as the next town.  When he moves to Penuel he accomplishes his threat of destroying their defensive tower, which was perhaps something of a city’s pride to them, but then he goes further.  While Succoth’s men lived, he kills the men of Penuel and crosses a boundary he should not have, for this wasn’t a Canaanite city, a city which God order to be purged from the land, but that of his own kinsmen, Israelites[15]!  It is here as Daniel notes that “His character has been transformed again—he acted like a general out of control, no longer bound by rules of civility, let alone national loyalty[16].”

Gideon is now radically different from the man he was, and one has to wonder where is God in all of this?  Nowhere has Yahweh said to Gideon do thus and thus, and while it was justifiable for Gideon to take out the Midianites, and perhaps his anger was justifiable in the two cities actions, were his actions against them right?  Gideon moved from attacking the enemy to attacking his own people, yes they didn’t aid him as perhaps they ought to of, but that doesn’t justify his actions.  When our actions don’t align with God there is certainly something amiss.

“Then he said to Zebah and Zalmunna, “Where are the men whom you killed at Tabor?” They answered, “As you are, so were they. Every one of them resembled the son of a king.”  And he said, “They were my brothers, the sons of my mother. As the Lord lives, if you had saved them alive, I would not kill you.” So he said to Jether his firstborn, “Rise and kill them!” But the young man did not draw his sword, for he was afraid, because he was still a young man.  Then Zebah and Zalmunna said, “Rise yourself and fall upon us, for as the man is, so is his strength.”  And Gideon arose and killed Zebah and Zalmunna, and he took the crescent ornaments that were on the necks of their camels.”” – Judges 8.18-21

In this section, we find ourselves again confused over the hero of the story, for narrator goes on, we go from being wary of Gideon to suddenly having respect for the two capture princes, and then also his son, moving far away from Gideon[17]. In all of the following discussion between Gideon and the two princes, we see noting but “epic chivalry” in the dialogue, and though captured the two princes show themselves to be respectable people[18].

In the beginning of the narrative Gideon claimed his family was low, just some humble clan, yet here we begin to see, yet again that Gideon was either being humble or lying, for his brothers are mentioned to look as kings[19].

Moreover in verse 19 we find out here Gideon’s reason for pursuing his foe so closely, it’s to avenge his brothers.  But he calls them the “sons of my mother,” instead of the usual father and so indicates that these were not half brothers, but full brothers and thus closer[20].  The revenge which Gideon now seeks is one which will be sharply contrasted with Jotham, his own son’s desire for revenge when Abimelech kills his family[21].  As Gideon reveals his reasons for chasing the princes so far, and for the first time we have a deliverer who does his job for personal reasons, he has something to gain[22].

“As the Lord Lives,” or “By the life of Yahweh,” Gideon here uses the word of an oath, and tries to make his personal vendetta one with Yahweh’s will[23].  Within this portion this is only the second time God is referred to, but he is involved in anything directly[24].  Gideon seems to make this oath, to try and impress his prisoners of war, yet all he does is make an empty oath and even violates the Third Commandment of Yahweh (cf. Exod. 20.7; Deut. 5.11), he uses Yahweh as he wills it seems[25].

That Gideon’s son Jether was here is nothing something usually, since during this time period a this is how a boy would learn how to fight in war[26].  Gideon in ordering his son to kill the two kings could be seen as a sign of Gideon showing dishonor to these two men, or perhaps his son is his heir apparent[27].   The narrator looks upon Jether with sympathy, and does not see this act as one sought by Yahweh[28].  The two princes almost seem to both give a validation and also a taunt to Gideon (i.e. that his son was not “man enough”) when they reply to him concerning his son’s refusal to execute them.[29]

Nowhere does the Narrator see this act of Gideon as one sought out by Yahweh, it is one fully of Gideon’s own vengeance.  Whereas Bezeq an enemy earlier in Judges recognizes Yahweh as the reason for his end which is not seen here[30].  “They found Adoni-bezek at Bezek and fought against him and defeated the Canaanites and the Perizzites.  Adoni-bezek fled, but they pursued him and caught him and cut off his thumbs and his big toes.  And Adoni-bezek said, “Seventy kings with their thumbs and their big toes cut off used to pick up scraps under my table. As I have done, so God has repaid me.” And they brought him to Jerusalem, and he died there.” (1.5-7)

Gideon was called by God to do a task which was namely to deliver his oppressed people and in the beginning this was something which he should have done.  Yet by the time that Gideon gets to last blow against the Midianites everything seems to have changed.  His reasoning has changed, it went from a command to God to one of personal vengeance.  And while the Old Testament does have rules for blood feuds it seems that he narrator doesn’t legitimize Gideon’s here.  Moreover we that Gideon who claimed that he just a weak member of his family is actually much more then what he appear to be.  His family anything but lowly.

Yet it was Yahweh who called him and God was certainly not fooled by Gideon claims.  Even so Gideon highlights here that the quality of men at this time.  Gideon did however do what Yahweh wanted him to do and Gideon therefore

In Conclusion

When we come to the end of this section of Gideon’s narrative, we’re not particularly pleased with our hero.  Yet as easily as it might be to critique him and say “we wouldn’t be like that, we wouldn’t do those thing.”  We need to remember that we do have our own problems.  And instead of looking at the faults of others even biblical characters we need to realize our own faults and seek God and grow through him.  Not calling his name only we think it makes us look good, but calling upon and leaning on his direction.  When look at this portion of Gideon we can easily see what we ought not be, but we should also take note that some of his actions are something that even have problems with.

We’ll most not likely worry about avenging a brother, but we should worry about forgetting what God has called us to do as we go to do our own task.  Moreover when God has called us to a task it would do us well to remember what it was, and not forget.  God uses us still, Gideon shows that even though we faulty humans God can and will use us for his purpose.


[1] Daniel Isaac Block, The New American Commentary: Judges, Ruth (Nashville; Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2001), 291.

[2] J. Alberto Soggin, The Old Testament Library: Judges, tr. John Bowden (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1981), 150-1.

[3] Daniel, 291.

[4] Soggin, 151.

[5] 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),  156.

[6] Boling, 156.

[7] Tammi J. Schneider, Berit Olam: Studies in Hebrew Narrative & Poetry: Judges, ed. David W. Cotter (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2000),  123

[8] Schneider, 121.

[9] Schneider, 121.

[10] Soggin, 154.

[11] Daniel, 292.

[12] Schneider, 121.

[13] Soggin, 155.

[14] John J. Davis, Conquest and Crisis: Studies in Joshua, Judges, and Ruth, 3rd ed. (Winona Lake, Indiana: BMH Books, 2008), 145.

[15] Daniel, 293.

[16] Daniel, 293.

[17] Daniel, 293.

[18] Daniel, 293.

[19] Soggin, 156.

[20] Soggin, 155.

[21] Boling, 157.

[22] Schneider, 124.

[23] Boling, 157.

[24] Boling, 158.

[25] Daniel, 295.

[26] Schneider, 125.

[27] Victor H. Matthews, The New Cambridge Bible Commentary: Judges & Ruth (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 96.

[28] Boling, 157.

[29] Schneider, 126.

[30] Boling, 158.

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