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Bible Commentaries
Judges 8

Garner-Howes Baptist CommentaryGarner-Howes

Verses 1-3

Judges - Chapter 8

Gideon’s Diplomacy, vs. 1-3,

The reaction of the tribe of Ephraim at not having been invited to join Gideon in his campaign against Midian should have been anticipated. The jealous nature of this tribe had appeared long before. Perhaps it stemmed from the prediction of Jacob that he would be greater than his brother, Manasseh (Genesis 48:19; cf. Genesis 50:26). Moses, in blessing the tribes, also seemed to give him pre-eminence (De 33:13-17). In the division of the land under Joshua, Ephraim had displayed his jealousy in his dissatisfaction with his allotment (Joshua 17:14-18). This trait would mark the tribe of Ephraim throughout Israel’s history.

The Ephraimites bickered sharply with Gideon for his seeming slight of them. However, Gideon was a Manassite, also a descendant of Joseph, and he answered with shrewd diplomacy which saved the situation for the good, (Proverbs 15:1). He compared the gleanings of Ephraim favorably with the vintage of Abi-ezer (the family to which Gideon belonged in Manasseh). The vintage of Abi-ezer, it was true, was the routing of the Midianite hordes, but the gleanings of Ephraim was the heads of Oreb and Zeeb, the Midianite princes. The ultimate satisfaction in the victory was the death of the enemy princes, and Ephraim was responsible. Put in this light the Ephraimites were satisfied, and their pride did not suffer. How often petty jealousy rears its ugly head to disrupt the service of God’s children!

Verses 4-9

Succoth and Penuel Refuse to Help, vs. 4-9

Gideon persevered in pursuit of the Midianite kings who had escaped, Zebah and Zalmunna. It was probably early in the morning when he reached the Jordan and confronted the Ephraimites, mollifying their hurt pride by his diplomacy. He soon pressed on, with his brave three hundred, across the Jordan into that part of Gilead apportioned to the tribe of Gad. The men were faint and hungry from their all-night exercise. When they approached the city of Succoth they hoped to find food. But when Gideon asked the people for bread to continue the pursuit of their mutual foes they refused it.

From a natural stand point this refusal might have been understood, for the tribe of Gad lay much closer, with little natural barrier, between them and the people Gideon was out to destroy. If he should fail to take the Midianite kings after Succoth and Penuel had helped his army, might not the enemy retaliate by wreaking vengeance on the Gadites? They lacked the deep faith of Gideon and his men. Gideon was confident of victory though denied food by his own countrymen and vowed to punish them severely when he returned victorious. He would whip the cowardly men of Succoth with thorns and briars of the wilderness and break down the defenses of the town of Penuel.

Verses 10-21

Zebah and Zalmunna Taken, vs. 10-21

The vast slaughter which the Lord had effected in delivering Israel from the Midianites, through Gideon’s leadership, is now stated. The kings, Zebah and Zalmunna had got across the Jordan with fifteen thousand men, but they had left 120,000 dead in the fields, chiefly by their own swords. They had reached Karkor, a wilderness area, believed to have been far to the southeast.

The statement that Gideon approached "by the way of them that dwelt in tents" indicates that he traversed the desert abode of the nomads in reaching Karkor. The route is said to have passed east of Nobah and Jogbehah, eastern towns of Gad, east of which would have placed Gideon and his men in the territory of the Ammonites. Zebah and Zalmunna thought themselves secure here, but Gideon and his men fell on them and smote them there.

The Midianite kings fled, but Gideon pursued and took them alive. Now he returned with his prisoners to confront the men of Succoth and Penuel. Verse 13 says that Gideon returned from battle before the sun was up, but this obviously does not mean the same day after the rout in the valley of Jezreel. The distance form Jezreel to Karkor was no less than sixty miles in a straight line and possibly more than twice that far. What seems to be implied is that he arrived back from the battle at the Gadite towns shortly before sunrise of a later day.

They found a young man of Succoth and made him reveal the identity of the princes of Succoth. Gideon took the princes and elders, presented the captive kings to them, and reminded them of their refusal to help his weary men. He then kept his promise to beat them with thorns and briars and to teach them a hard lesson about coming to the aid of the Lord’s army. Gideon went on then to Penuel, where he had also been rebuffed, and tore down the defensive tower of the city. The men of Penuel were slain, possibly in a futile attempt to defend their tower.

In verses 18-19 is revealed one of the cruel acts which the Midianites had wrought on the land of Israel when they held it in subjection. It seems Gideon had heard of it, but had not had opportunity to investigate it earlier. Upon his questioning of the kings he learned that they had killed his brothers. This may have occurred after Gideon answered the Lord’s call and began to gather his army. For this act he sentenced Zebah and Zalmunna to death.

To further humiliate them he was going to have them executed by a young boy, Jether, Gideon’s oldest son. But he was too young and afraid. The kings chided Gideon as not being man enough for the job, whereupon he arose and slew them and took their jewelry.

Verses 22-27

Gideon Honored, vs. 22-27

These verses reveal a right and a wrong in Gideon’s conduct after his great God-given victory. The utter defeat of the Midianites raised Gideon to great popularity in Israel. The men wanted to establish him as their king and a dynasty to his family to succeed him. This is the first reference in Scriptures to the stirring of kingly desires in Israel. Had Gideon been an Ephraimite rather than a Manassite he might have succumbed, but he steadfastly refused to be their king, or to have his sons become kings after him. He knew that the Lord was to be Israel’s king, and he told them so.

The wrong thing came about through Gideon’s possible desire to honor the Lord and commemorate the victory. He asked the men for the Midianites’ gold earrings which they had taken from the bodies of the slain. (The reference in verse 24 where the Midianites are called Ishmaelites, is parallel to Genesis 37:27-28 where they are also called Ishmaelites. This was because they were caravan traders like the Ishmaelites.) The men gladly gave Gideon the gold earrings, the weight of which was seventeen hundred shekels, which today would be worth in excess of $9,350, and was a great fortune at the time of Gideon.

Gideon constructed a golden ephod, evidently patterned after that worn by the high priest in the tabernacle. It does not seem probable that Gideon intended for the thing to become an object of worship. But its fame spread and the Israelites came to Ophrah, Gideon’s town to adore it. Eventually it was enshrined as an object of worship, and it snared Gideon and his house in false worship. His good intentions were not according to the Lord’s will, and soon went awry, (1 Corinthians 8:13)

Verses 28-35

Gideon’s Family, vs. 28-35

Verse 28-29 are a summary statement of Gideon’s victory. So complete was the defeat of Midian that they never lifted themselves up again to threaten Israel. The land had peace for forty years. The number forty becomes significant in the Lord’s dealing with Israel, as a period of trial and proving. (Note Judges 3:11; Judges 5:31, and Ehud’s judgeship, which is forty doubled, Judges 3:30.)

The prominence of Gideon, who now began to be called Jerubbaal, is seen in verse 30-32. He established his own house in Ophrah, exhibited moral weakness in his polygamy and concubinage, producing seventy sons by polygamy and one by his concubine. This last would be a great catastrophe for Israel after his father’s death. Finally, the great judge of Israel died and was buried with great honors in the possessions of his family, the Abi-ezrites.

After the death of Gideon the Israelites went right back to their old way of forsaking the Lord and worshipping Baal. This time they took a flagrant step farther in defying the Lord. They set up Baal­berithas their own particular god. His name meant "lord of the covenant", thus honoring this false god as the one with whom they had made their covenant and who did all the wonderful things which God had done, (2 Peter 1:9). They also forgot the good leadership of Gideon and the kind and good things he had done for them. How they abused his house will appear in the next chapter. ,

Lessons from chapter 8: 1) Differences between brethren can usually be settled peaceably if either party is willing to do so; 2) weakness of faith will bring chastisement; 3) perseverance for the Lord will pay off, even though others refuse to come to our aid; 4) the Lord should always be our Ruler, and the honor of men must be received with humility; 5) though the worldly-minded do not long remember the Lord’s great men, His record will always bear their names.

Bibliographical Information
Garner, Albert & Howes, J.C. "Commentary on Judges 8". Garner-Howes Baptist Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ghb/judges-8.html. 1985.
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