Home » Various Sermons » Gideon’s Foolish Desire: Judges 8.22-35

Gideon’s Foolish Desire: Judges 8.22-35

“Then the men of Israel said to Gideon, “Rule over us, you and your son and your grandson also, for you have saved us from the hand of Midian.”  Gideon said to them, “I will not rule over you, and my son will not rule over you; the Lord will rule over you.”  And Gideon said to them, “Let me make a request of you: every one of you give me the earrings from his spoil.”  (For they had golden earrings, because they were Ishmaelites.)  And they answered, “We will willingly give them.”  And they spread a cloak, and every man threw in it the earrings of his spoil.  And the weight of the golden earrings that he requested was 1,700 shekels of gold, besides the crescent ornaments and the pendants and the purple garments worn by the kings of Midian, and besides the collars that were around the necks of their camels.  And Gideon made an ephod of it and put it in his city, in Ophrah.  And all Israel whored after it there, and it became a snare to Gideon and to his family.  So Midian was subdued before the people of Israel, and they raised their heads no more. And the land had rest forty years in the days of Gideon.

Jerubbaal the son of Joash went and lived in his own house.  Now Gideon had seventy sons, his own offspring, for he had many wives.  And his concubine who was in Shechem also bore him a son, and he called his name Abimelech.  And Gideon the son of Joash died in a good old age and was buried in the tomb of Joash his father, at Ophrah of the Abiezrites.

As soon as Gideon died, the people of Israel turned again and whored after the Baals and made Baal-berith their god.  And the people of Israel did not remember the Lord their God, who had delivered them from the hand of all their enemies on every side, and they did not show steadfast love to the family of Jerubbaal (that is, Gideon) in return for all the good that he had done to Israel. ” – Judges 8.22-35

Gideon is one of the more unique people which the Bible has to offer.  From Gideon we get some of the more, well known and well loved Bible stories.  Moreover we get to see man who has quite the unique character, from a humble man threshing wheat, to one a man taking charge as a ruler would over his enemies, and as this portion of the scriptures shows his fellow kinsmen.  As we move into this section of Gideon’s tale, we move into the last portion dealing specifically with Gideon.   For after this his son Abimelech becomes the major character.

“Then the men of Israel said to Gideon, “Rule over us, you and your son and your grandson also, for you have saved us from the hand of Midian.”  Gideon said to them, “I will not rule over you, and my son will not rule over you; the Lord will rule over you.”” – Judges 8.22-23

What God had feared would happen certainly does, for it seems here that the Israelites upon seeing Gideon’s various victories as his own and not Yahweh’s see it as signifying that he should rule over them[1].   Yet Gideon’s action since he had crossed the Jordon had become with each step more like ruler, so that it also only seems natural that the people would make such a request of him, all the more since Gideon’s behavior had helped to hid Yahweh’s part[2].  Besides all this, Gideon’s territory that of Manasseh would have been prefect had a king, since it was not only prosperous but was also remarkably unified[3].

This offer of Kingship was most likely made at a tribal meeting of sort, which is seen through the book[4].  At the very least the tribes who had come at Gideon’s request were likely at this meeting[5].  Specifically those of 6.35: “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.”  The people ask not only for Gideon to rule over them, but also Gideon and his son and his grandson, this becomes the first time within the book that the people ask for ruler, let alone a dynastic ruler[6].

The tribes interestingly enough use Māšal instead of Mālak, the usual verb here when asking Gideon to be their king[7].  One suggestion that is proposed sees the narrator used Māšal not Mālak for they weren’t asking for a King, but instead an “Imperator[8].”  Or perhaps instead the reason for noting using mālak was because the narrator knew that this whole request would only result in an “illegitimate attempt to establish the monarchy[9].”

Gideon refuses to rule over the people in repeating the verb Māšal three times, that is, 1) Gideon shall not rule, 2) nor shall his son rule, but 3) Yahweh shall rule over the people, this repeating verb shows how “solemn” his answer was[10].  Also of interest is the fact that Gideon doesn’t used the generic term Elohim here, instead he uses Yahweh, the specific god of Israel here[11].  This is the right answer.  Gideon is well within his character here, even after the events of final battle, as previously he has shown both meekness and an aversion to responsibility, still, his new found boldness appears in the next phrase[12].  Perhaps then, it would be evident that though Gideon has given the right answer, his new self is hasn’t disappeared entirely.

And while some speculate if indeed Gideon is returning to his former nature, others ponder if Gideon doesn’t trust the Israelites who have suggested it, wondering if they wanted to gleam more power by the suggestion[13].  As was once put “With these words Gideon worthily crowns his heroic deeds; and there he should have stopped[14].”  All the more striking is the fact that in Gideon’s refusal to be king he does not acknowledge that the people’s error in seeing him as the reason for their deliverance instead of Yahweh[15].

Gideon makes here the perfect statement.  From what seems to have been some serious wrong actions prior to this episode when asked a rather tempting question, he answers correctly.  However if one has learned anything from the Gideon episode, they’ve learned that when things can seem to be going quite all right, suddenly Gideon changes.  For now though, Gideon has answers correctly, Yahweh is King.  Just as it should be now when one thinks about this question.  Our lives should be driven and ruled by Yahweh and not ourselves.  Namely our behavior should be regulated by what God has laid out in the scriptures; we ought to live lives which are holy.

“And Gideon said to them, “Let me make a request of you: every one of you give me the earrings from his spoil.”  (For they had golden earrings, because they were Ishmaelites.)  And they answered, “We will willingly give them.”  And they spread a cloak, and every man threw in it the earrings of his spoil.  And the weight of the golden earrings that he requested was 1,700 shekels of gold, besides the crescent ornaments and the pendants and the purple garments worn by the kings of Midian, and besides the collars that were around the necks of their camels.  And Gideon made an ephod of it and put it in his city, in Ophrah.  And all Israel whored after it there, and it became a snare to Gideon and to his family.” – Judges 8.24-27

Gideon’s answer is immediately damaged when the Judge asks instead for an Ephod to be made for him[16].  Moreover while one might have been relieved to hear Gideon’s answer, his actions here at last prove Yahweh’s fears[17].

The Midianites seemed to have acquired quite the wealth during their reign as oppressors, the shekels of gold perhaps equaling out to around 56 pounds[18].  This gold is mentioned to have been taken from the Ishmaelites, instead of the Midianites, likely the narrator is simply using a common phrase for nomads when speaking of Israel’s foes[19].   Besides the amount of gold which Gideon aquires (certainly enough for the beginning of royal fortune), Gideon’s request in a sense is a symbolic gesture of submission[20].  Although Gideon refused the kingship, he isn’t above receiving payment and in essences “the trapping of kingship[21].”  Besides all this, he has even taken from the Midianite kings what had been icons of their royalty highlighting the trappings all the more[22].

This ephod is something which seems to be a priestly garment of some sort, perhaps as Boling puts it “the visible heavenly glory of the invisible God of Israel[23].”    (See Boling Comment 161?)  The way in which the narrator speaks of the ephod reflects the way in which he has opened up the story for each of the deliverers, specifically concerning Israel’s sin, as 2.17 notes[24].  “Yet they did not listen to their judges, for they whored after other gods and bowed down to them. They soon turned aside from the way in which their fathers had walked, who had obeyed the commandments of the Lord, and they did not do so.” Note that some commentaries see the ephod of Gideon’s as an action of pure piety, but an action which went terribly wrong[25].

If this Ephod had been meant for Yahweh, then it was placed in the beginning in the wrong area, for it was not near the tabernacle, nor does it seem to be around the priesthood[26].   Moreover this Ephod is placed within Gideon’s home and thus seems under his control.  Finally after the narrator speaks of Israel’s sin it mentions “his household,” it brings along with it another of hint of rulership[27].

One has to ask as they come to the end of this section, that despite Gideon answer, did he really not take on the rule of the King[28]?  Strikingly it should be noted that for all Gideon desires to be, and certainly he got for himself some titles, but the narrator in strikingly does not call him a Judge[29].

Gideon’s answer seems to have been the right answer, and yet his actions show difference from his answer and from what indeed happens.  Our words must accompany our actions; otherwise they become just hollow and useless words.  Gideon professed the correct phrase that Yahweh should rule over us, yet his actions brought about Israel seeking after another God.  It is all the more sad since Gideon was supposed to be a Leader to the people.  We cannot in our lives call be to follow Jesus and all that is entailed with that, but then add an extra clause of follow me as well.  Nor is it good for us to play the part of the Dame Folly, we cannot entice people into sin.

“So Midian was subdued before the people of Israel, and they raised their heads no more. And the land had rest forty years in the days of Gideon.

Jerubbaal the son of Joash went and lived in his own house.  Now Gideon had seventy sons, his own offspring, for he had many wives.  And his concubine who was in Shechem also bore him a son, and he called his name Abimelech.  And Gideon the son of Joash died in a good old age and was buried in the tomb of Joash his father, at Ophrah of the Abiezrites.” – Judges 8.28-32

As with the other deliverers in the book of Judges, their accounts ends with a sort of reflection of deliverer and the peace he brought[30].  However, the formula differs here from what is found elsewhere in the book of Judges, perhaps indicating Gideon’s unique character[31].  Block says of verse 28: “The silence of Yahweh in this chapter and the silence of human lips that should have praised him are profound[32].”

The narrator after noting the length of peace during Gideon’s rule gives us a brief account of the actions of the man during these years, noting that Gideon has developed something similar to kingship rules[33].  For as Boling notes the seventy sons a sort of clue to a political number noting the seventy kings with Bezeq in Judges 1.7[34].  The use of the 70 as a round figure is found not only elsewhere in the Old Testament, but also among Ancient Near Eastern finds, there is the inscription of Pammuwa, which also used the figure 70 in association with a king[35].

The word translated here often as “concubine” is in the Hebrew is pîlegeš is something of a complicated word in itself, but pîlegeš does differ from the usual word for wife, ’iššā[36]Pîlegeš seems to indicate at least in the Judges account something more akin to a legitimate wife, but one of inferior rank to the main wife[37].  Except for the pîlegeš at the end of Judges every other occurrence of the word is associated with a man who is known to have at least one other wife in his life[38].  More could be said of the word, but the time does not provide it, suffice to say his having pîlegeš is not common.  Since the fact that Gideon would have multiple women (or wives) helps to highlight another claim at kingship, for it was uncommon for mere commoners, it was instead common mainly for rulers to have multiple wives[39].

From the amount of sons, to wives, among other things one has to wonder if Gideon had retired when he returned to his own house, or if instead something more was going on[40].  Gideon has a son with his pîlegeš, who he names Abimelech, the name itself means, “My Father is King.”  Gideon himself seems to have renamed based on the way in which this reads, “he put the name on him…,”Abimelech from what his original name was, making this name all the more highlighted[41].   In the end Abimelech would show how Gideon seemed to have thought of himself[42].  Even in death, Gideon will be buried at what appears to be a family tomb and will highlight again the kingdom[43].

Gideon’s rule doesn’t bring about the sort peace it should have.  The answer which Gideon seems to have given has fallen away quickly into obscurity and instead when he see this portion of his life during the time of peace we see a man building what he denied.  While Gideon may have officially denied the kingship he evidently if he didn’t take it anyways rather desired it, both by the life style he showed and the by the name he gave his son.  By thinking long enough upon a sin which we desire to do, often before we know it we’ll have committed it, if not others surrounding it.  James did once warn, “Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” (1.15)

“As soon as Gideon died, the people of Israel turned again and whored after the Baals and made Baal-berith their god.  And the people of Israel did not remember the Lord their God, who had delivered them from the hand of all their enemies on every side, and they did not show steadfast love to the family of Jerubbaal (that is, Gideon) in return for all the good that he had done to Israel.” – Judges 8.33-35

The place of the ephod, at Baal-Berith will appear later on in Abimelech’s story, specifically 9.4ff[44].  Ba’al Berith, literally becomes, “Lord of the Covenant,” and name seems to strongly hint at cult which was part Israelite in worship, while also part Canannite[45].  We see at Gideon’s death a sort of irony in that while he started his career destroying Ba’al altar, he ends it with setting up a new altar for Ba’al Bertih[46].  At Gideon’s death the narrator does not use the usual phrase that the people “did evil in sight of Yahweh” instead we are told that they specifically went after other gods, in particular Ba’al Berith[47].

While things have not always looked the best when other the other deliverers have ended their terms, they’re the worst for Gideon for the people had gone to this evil during his life time[48]!  Gideon’s failure would in the end cause grief well beyond his life time.  Sin can at times exceed our person and affect those around us, and at times it can be in the most devastating of ways.  As one should strive to live a holy life, they should also strive to help others around them, not bring them down.

In Conclusion:

Gideon’s legacy is one which is filled with great things done indeed for Yahweh, but also one with great failure.  In the end, Gideon would show that though he was indeed used by Yahweh, he was just as fallible as any other human is.  His answer that Yahweh should rule over our lives was the correct answer, God should be our ruler.  Yet, he also showed that desire can give birth to sin, and can displace God’s rule over us.


[1] 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.

[2] Barry G. Webb, “Judges,” in New Biblical Commentary, ed. G. J. Wenham et al. 4th ed. (Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994), 274.

[3] Victor H. Matthews, The New Cambridge Bible Commentary: Judges & Ruth (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 97.

[4] 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), 159.

[5] J. Alberto Soggin, The Old Testament Library: Judges, tr. John Bowden (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1981), 158.

[6] Tammi J. Schneider, Berit Olam: Studies in Hebrew Narrative & Poetry: Judges, ed. David W. Cotter (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2000), 126.

[7] Soggin, 158.

[8] John Peter Lange, Philip Schaff, Paulus Cassel and P. H. Steenstra, A Commentary on the Holy Scriptures : Judges (Bellingham, WA, ), 138.

[9] Daniel Isaac Block, vol. 6, Judges, Ruth, : The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2001, c1999), 297.

[10] Boling, 159-60.

[11] Lange, Schaff, Cassel and Steenstra, 138.

[12] Matthews, 97.

[13] E. John Hamlin, At Risk in the Promised Land : A Commentary on the Book of Judges, Cover Title: Judges., International theological commentary (Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans, 1990), 99.

[14] Lange, Schaff, Cassel and Steenstra, 138.

[15] Block, 299.

[16] O’Conner, 139.

[17] Ibid.

[18] John J. Davis, Conquest and Crisis: Studies in Joshua, Judges, and Ruth, 3rd ed. (Winona Lake, Indiana: BMH Books, 2008), 146.

[19] Webb, 274.

[20] Block, 299

[21] Schneider, 127.

[22] Block, 300.

[23] Boling, 160.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Webb, 274.

[26] Lange, Schaff, Cassel and Steenstra, 139.

[27] Block, 301.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Schneider, 127.

[30] Block, 302.

[31] Matthews, 98.

[32] Block, 302.

[33] Ibid.

[34] Boling, 162.

[35] Soggin, 159.

[36] Schneider, 128.

[37] Soggin, 159.

[38] Schneider, 129.

[39] Soggin, 159.

[40] Webb, 274.

[41] Schneider, 130.

[42] Block, 304.

[43] Ibid.

[44] Soggin, 161.

[45] Webb, 274.

[46] Hamlin, 100.

[47] Schneider, 130.

[48] Schneider, 130.

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2 Comments

  1. […] For more on Judges 8 and the ephod, see here. […]

  2. […] victory over the enemy or to remind Israel that it was a nation of priests led directly by God? Some see Gideon’s ephod as an action of pure piety which went terribly wrong. After all, it does not seem as though Gideon would have any reason to turn against or be spiteful […]

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