OT History Part 1 – Judges 7-8

Early in the morning, Jerub-Baal (that is, Gideon) and all his men camped at the spring of Harod. The camp of Midian was north of them in the valley near the hill of Moreh. The Lord said to Gideon, “You have too many men. I cannot deliver Midian into their hands, or Israel would boast against me, ‘My own strength has saved me.’ Now announce to the army, ‘Anyone who trembles with fear may turn back and leave Mount Gilead.’” So twenty-two thousand men left, while ten thousand remained.
But the Lord said to Gideon, “There are still too many men. Take them down to the water, and I will thin them out for you there. If I say, ‘This one shall go with you,’ he shall go; but if I say, ‘This one shall not go with you,’ he shall not go.”
So Gideon took the men down to the water. There the Lord told him, “Separate those who lap the water with their tongues as a dog laps from those who kneel down to drink.” Three hundred of them drank from cupped hands, lapping like dogs. All the rest got down on their knees to drink.
The Lord said to Gideon, “With the three hundred men that lapped I will save you and give the Midianites into your hands. Let all the others go home.” So Gideon sent the rest of the Israelites home but kept the three hundred, who took over the provisions and trumpets of the others.
Now the camp of Midian lay below him in the valley. During that night the Lord said to Gideon, “Get up, go down against the camp, because I am going to give it into your hands. If you are afraid to attack, go down to the camp with your servant Purah and listen to what they are saying. Afterward, you will be encouraged to attack the camp.” So he and Purah his servant went down to the outposts of the camp. The Midianites, the Amalekites and all the other eastern peoples had settled in the valley, thick as locusts. Their camels could no more be counted than the sand on the seashore.
Gideon arrived just as a man was telling a friend his dream. “I had a dream,” he was saying. “A round loaf of barley bread came tumbling into the Midianite camp. It struck the tent with such force that the tent overturned and collapsed.”
His friend responded, “This can be nothing other than the sword of Gideon son of Joash, the Israelite. God has given the Midianites and the whole camp into his hands.”
When Gideon heard the dream and its interpretation, he bowed down and worshiped. He returned to the camp of Israel and called out, “Get up! The Lord has given the Midianite camp into your hands.” Dividing the three hundred men into three companies, he placed trumpets and empty jars in the hands of all of them, with torches inside.
“Watch me,” he told them. “Follow my lead. When I get to the edge of the camp, do exactly as I do. When I and all who are with me blow our trumpets, then from all around the camp blow yours and shout, ‘For the Lord and for Gideon.’”
Gideon and the hundred men with him reached the edge of the camp at the beginning of the middle watch, just after they had changed the guard. They blew their trumpets and broke the jars that were in their hands. The three companies blew the trumpets and smashed the jars. Grasping the torches in their left hands and holding in their right hands the trumpets they were to blow, they shouted, “A sword for the Lord and for Gideon!” While each man held his position around the camp, all the Midianites ran, crying out as they fled.
When the three hundred trumpets sounded, the Lord caused the men throughout the camp to turn on each other with their swords. The army fled to Beth Shittah toward Zererah as far as the border of Abel Meholah near Tabbath. Israelites from Naphtali, Asher and all Manasseh were called out, and they pursued the Midianites. Gideon sent messengers throughout the hill country of Ephraim, saying, “Come down against the Midianites and seize the waters of the Jordan ahead of them as far as Beth Barah.”
So all the men of Ephraim were called out and they seized the waters of the Jordan as far as Beth Barah. They also captured two of the Midianite leaders, Oreb and Zeeb. They killed Oreb at the rock of Oreb, and Zeeb at the winepress of Zeeb. They pursued the Midianites and brought the heads of Oreb and Zeeb to Gideon, who was by the Jordan.

  • Judges 7:1-25

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.
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.
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.”
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?”
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.”
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.”
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. 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.
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. 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. He also pulled down the tower of Peniel and killed the men of the town.
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.”
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.” 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.
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.” 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. 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.
Thus Midian was subdued before the Israelites and did not raise its head again. During Gideon’s lifetime, the land had peace 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 Abimelek. 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.
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 8:1-35

Noted Biblical Scholars, Teachers, and Preachers Comments

Judges 7:2 ‘The people. . . are too many.’: “Those of faith, though inadequate by human weakness, gain victory only through God’s power (cf. 2 Cor. 3:5; 4:7; 12:7-9). Three hundred men win against an incredible Midianite host (Judg. 7:7, 16-25). God gains the glory by making the outcome conspicuously His act and, thus, no sinful pride is cultivated.”

  • John MacArthur, John MacArthur Commentary (quoted Scripture without bold/italics)

Judges 7:5 ‘Everyone who laps’: “Soldiers who lapped as a dog, scooping water with their hands as a dog uses its tongue, were chosen; in contrast, those who sank to their knees to drink were rejected. No reason for such distinction is given, so that it showed nothing about their ability as soldiers. It was merely a way to divide the crowd. Their abilities as soldiers had no bearing on the victory anyway, since the enemy soldiers killed themselves and fled without engaging Gideon’s men at all.”

  • John MacArthur, John MacArthur Commentary (quoted Scripture without bold/italics)

Judges 7:9 ‘A desire for signs’: “Gideon was a man of great faith; his name shines among the heroes of great faith in Hebrews 11. But people of strong faith are often people of strong conflicts, and so it was with Gideon. This man’s great faith and great weakness of faith both showed themselves in a desire for signs. Once assured that God is with him, Gideon has no fear but rushes to the battle, bravest of the brave. With a handful of men, he is prepared to go against a host of adversaries, but he longs for a sign. Again and again he asks for it. The anxious question seems to be constantly recurring: ‘ls the Lord with us? If the Lord is with us, where are all his miracles that our fathers told us about?’ I have known many persons like this son of Joash. They say, ‘Just let me know that God is with me, and my fear is gone.’ But their repeated question is, ‘Is the Lord with me? Is Jesus mine, and am I his? Do I have the marks and evidences of a child of God?’ Hence the habit of craving for tokens and feelings. How many are crying, ‘We do not see signs,’ when they ought to say, ‘But we see Jesus!”? So it happened to Gideon that the Lord, knowing his hunger for signs and yet knowing the sincerity of his faith, instructed him on the night of the great battle that was to rout Midian, to go down as a spy into the camp. There Gideon would receive a divine sign that would effectually quiet all his fears.”

  • Charles H. Spurgeon, from sermon notes

Judges 7:18 ‘The sword of the LORD and of Gideon!’: “Here was a demonstration of the power of God in harmony with the obedience of man. Such shouts reminded the enemies that the threat of the sword of Gideon and of God was for real. The impression was one of doom and terror, shock and awe.”

  • John MacArthur, John MacArthur Commentary (quoted Scripture without bold/italics)

Judges 7:24-8:3 ‘Ored and Zeeb fall’: “The Ephraimites join Gideon in the extended pursuit (7:24-8:3). Gideon asks them to seize the fords of the Jordan before the invaders are organized enough to cross the river in force. Once again the geography is obscure Beth Barah (v. 24) is otherwise unknown. The Ephraimites seize the fords of the upper Jordan and aid in the slaughter of the Bedouin.  Two princes of the Midianites, Oreb and Zeeb fall to the Ephraimites.
“Now the Ephraimites complain because they were not brought into the war from the beginning (8:1). From here on, Gideon’s stature as a leader becomes obvious. Gideon’s response to the Ephraimites—that they have achieved greater glory than his own clan, Abiezer—marks him as tactful and statesmanlike. The brave Ephraimites, appeased, return home rather than aiding in further pursuit.”

  • Walter A. Elwell, editor, Baker Commentary on the Bible

Judges 8:4 ‘fight with the last drop of strength’: “These men had exerted great strength. It was not merely mental wear and tear that they had to endure, but there was much actual conflict with the enemy. At first the Midianites killed one another, but after they took to flight, Gideon’s men pursued them up hill and down dale, slaying them wherever they could, for they would not leave one of these enemies of their country who had dared to invade the land of the holy. They resolved to cut them all off. It was a hard day’s work, and they had done many deeds of daring. Now they are faint, though they are still pursuing the flying foe. If we will give ourselves wholly to God’s work, although we will never get tired of it, we will often get tired in it. If a man has never tired himself with working for God, I should think he never has done any work that was worth doing. If a sister has never spent herself in trying to win souls, I should suppose that the number of souls she will win will be few. We can never expect God’s blessing on our work until every faculty of our being is awakened and the whole of our strength is exerted in the Lord’s service. If this is the case, it is no wonder if sometimes we get weary and feel ready to faint.”

  • Charles H. Spurgeon, from sermon notes

Judges 8:7 ‘thorns’: “Gideon’s threatened discipline of Succoth’s leaders for refusing to help their brothers came due. He had them dragged under heavy weights over thorns and briers, which painfully tore their bodies. This was a cruel torture to which ancient captives were often subjected. He did it on his return, not wanting to delay the pursuit (v. 16).”

  • John MacArthur, John MacArthur Commentary (quoted Scripture without bold/italics)

Judges 8:22-23 ‘Rule over us’: “Israelites sinned by the misguided motive and request that Gideon reign as king. To his credit, the leader declined, insisting that God alone rule (cf. Ex. 19:5, 6).”

  • John MacArthur, John MacArthur Commentary (quoted Scripture without bold/italics)

Judges 8:24-27 ‘Gideon made … an ephod’: “This was certainly a sad end to Gideon’s influence as he, perhaps in an expression of pride, sought to lift himself up in the eyes of the people. Gideon intended nothing more than to make a breastplate as David later did (1 Chr. 15:27) to indicate civil rule, not priestly rule. It was never intended to set up idolatrous worship, but to be a symbol of civil power. That no evil was intended can be noted from the subduing of Midian (v. 28), quietness from wars (v. 28), the fact that idolatry came only after Gideon’s death (v. 33), as well as the commendation of Gideon (v. 35).”

  • John MacArthur, John MacArthur Commentary (quoted Scripture without bold/italics)

Judges 8:27 ‘Gideon’s Ephod’: “He did not set up an idol, but he made an ephod—an imitation of that wonderful vestment worn by the high priest. Perhaps he made it of solid gold, not to be worn but to be looked at, simply to remind the people of the worship of God and not to be itself worshiped. But if we go half an inch beyond what God’s Word warrants, we always get into mischief. The tendency of the symbol is to act as a dam to the stream of devotion and to make it end there. God forbid that we should ever violate the rules Christ has laid down for us. The slightest deviation from the simplicity of the gospel may lead us away into sheer apostasy. Gideon probably meant well, and we may do wrong even though we mean well. May the Lord preserve us from the smallest departure from the way that he has marked out for us in his Holy Word.”

  • Charles H. Spurgeon, from sermon notes

 

My Thoughts

Gideon’s army was too big.  The first reduction in force (RIF) was to send all those who were frightened home.  That was a good tactical move, but God wanted those with great faith.  Gideon had sent over half home, but God wanted the army so small that no one would think the Israelite huge army defeated the enemy.  Thus, the second RIF (a US military abbreviation, often used as a verb, as in “He was Riffed just short of retirement.”) was drastic, from 10,000 to 300.  The decider was lapping water like a dog.  That has nothing to do with military prowess.  God was, in a way, being whimsical, just to have the army down to a small force for God’s power to be revealed.

There was once a movie called “300” (2006).  It was based on a comic book version of the Battle of Thermopylae in Greece during the Greco-Persian War.  Yes, there were 300 Spartans that went against the mighty Persian army, but there were a few hundred Thespians that helped them in the real battle.  The movie had many more historical inaccuracies, being based on a comic book that tended to focus on fantasy.  Gideon’s battle with the Midianites predated the Greco-Persian battle by nearly 700 years.

It was common practice to send spies into the camp.  This was done with Moses and ten of the twelve spies brought back bad reports, losing faith and leading to the wandering in the wilderness for 40 years.  Then Joshua sent spies to Jericho and other cities.  But in this case, Gideon and Purah spied on the camp.  They arrive just as two Midianites are talking.  One had a dream that a loaf of bread wrecked his tent and the other interpreted the dream as Gideon’s army defeating them.  Instead of immediately going back to their own camp, Gideon worshipped God there on the spot.

The three hundred had their swords, but Gideon gave them jars with a torch and trumpets.  In the initial instructions, he told them to follow his lead, blow their trumpets and shout, “For the Lord and for Gideon.”  When he took the lead however, he added a step.  After the blowing of the trumpet, he smashed the jars to reveal the torch before shouting.

With the noise on three sides, the Midianites and their allies, ran from their tents killing each other.  The modern term is death by friendly fire, but much friendly fire is by accident; this was from shear panic, panic induced by God’s Spirit.

In Vietnam, if a commander felt that the soldiers were getting nervous or agitated, he would call for a mad minute.  For one minute, the soldiers would fire their weapons into the surrounding trees.  Whether this scared, injured, or killed the enemy is beside the point, the commander was wanting the emotional state of his men to be less agitated so that a panic as Gideon caused with the Midianites would not happen.  I have heard that Vietnam veterans who suffer from PTSD will occasionally have a mad minute deep in the woods to calm their nerves.

But now, the Midianites and their allies were in full retreat.  The 300 men were in full pursuit.  Naphtali, Asher and Manasseh jump in to funnel the enemy into a trap.  Gideon calls for Ephraim to trap one group near Beth Barah.  They do so, killing Oreb at Oreb’s Rock and Zeeb at Zeeb’s winepress, two Midianite leaders, and obviously with the locations named after the fact.  They take offense that Gideon did not call them ahead of time, but Gideon used wise diplomacy, saying their glory was greater than his as they got to kill two of the commanders.

Then, Gideon reaches Sukkoth and asks for bread.  His 300 men are getting tired.  Sukkoth is afraid that Zebah and Zalmunna, the remaining Midianite leaders, will order a counterattack and when they find that Sukkoth helped Gideon, they could suffer.  Gideon swears a curse on Sukkoth that their leaders will be dragged through thorns, possibly a common curse of the day.  Note the similarity of this story and that of David, Nabal, and Abigail in 1 Samuel 25.

Zebah and Zalmunna are later captured.  These Midianite leaders had killed Gideon’s brothers and Gideon asked for his son to be the one to kill the Midianite leaders.  As a boy, Gideon’s son refused, and Zebah and Zalmunna taunted Gideon that Gideon was no leader unless he got his hands bloody.  So, Gideon killed them.

On his return, he did as he said he would do to the men of Sukkoth.  It reminds me of how the thistle became the flower of Scotland.  The heather is much showier of a flower.  It is told that Viking raiders were about to attack a village.  They stood on the high ground and planned their attack for dawn.  As they started to run down the hill, they were unaware that they were running through a thicket of thistle.  The spikes tore the flesh of their inner thighs, and the Vikings began to scream in pain.  This gave the townsmen warning.  The Viking advantage of surprise was lost, and they were already in pain.  The Scotsmen drove them back to their ships.  Thus, the thistle may be a weed, but it saved “Scotland” or at least a piece of it.  Having been stuck by thistle, it gets your attention quickly.  I am sure that desert thorns are no different.

Gideon then refuses to become the leader of Israel.  He refers to God as the leader.  But Gideon makes a replica of the Ephod.  While Gideon probably meant this as a symbol that God had defeated the enemy, the people quickly began to worship the ephod instead of God and as soon as Gideon had died, they went back to worshipping Baal.

Some Serendipitous Reflections

Gideon, Judges 7: 1. In what way is Gideon’s winnowing experience similar to Paul’s experience of God’s grace made perfect in human weakness (see 2Co. 12:7-10)?
“2. How do the object lessons of chapters 6 and 7 compare with the prevailing message from today’s success-oriented, ‘bigger-is-better’ culture?
“3. In your life, when has God used one of your weaknesses or failures to help someone else? Which weakness of yours does this story prompt you to see differently today?
“4. in the battle you are facing today, which of Gideon’s battle armaments do you need most: (a) Horn to blow? (b) Jar to shatter? (c) Torch to shine? or (d) Voice to shout?
“5. Where are you feeling out-numbered or needing immediate intervention from God?
“6. Where else in the Bible do you recall God speaking to someone in a dream? Does God still speak to us in dreams, or is this a thing of the past? Explain.
Gideon, Judges 8: 1. On a scale of 1-10, what marks would you give yourself in handling criticism? What marks would others give you? What would you like to do differently about this, if anything?
“2. Gideon hotly pursued Zebah and Zalmunna.  How about you? It someone were to write a story of your past month, what pursuit or pursuits would be recorded? How do you feel about those pursuits? What obstacles are in your way? What ‘bread’ do you need to succeed?
“3. What do you want to pursue this year, even next month? Where are you likely to face some detours or setbacks in your life’s pursuit? How can the small group help you with this?
“4. What tends to become an ‘ephod’ in your life: Family? Car? Work? Prized possession? A hobby? How will you submit that to God?
Gideon dies, Judges 8: 1. Gldeon’s people soon forgot God. What can you and your group do to help ensure that does not happen to you?
“2. To whom is God calling you to express kindness this week? How will you?”

  • Lyman Coleman, et al, The NIV Serendipity Bible for Study Groups

There is one set of questions for Judges 7 and two sets of questions for chapter 8.  Both chapters are about Gideon as judge.

Substitute whatever group for any reference to a small group or ask who could come to your aid.

If you like these Thursday morning Bible studies, but you think you missed a few, you can use this LINK. I have set up a page off the home page for links to these Thursday morning posts. I will continue to modify the page as I add more.

Soli Deo Gloria.  Only to God be the Glory.

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