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Bible Commentaries
Judges 8

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Verse 1


This chapter is also about battle. The battle in the previous chapter goes against an enemy from outside who has gained a foothold in the promised land. The main force has been defeated. The victory has been achieved, but cannot yet be celebrated. There are other types of battle in this chapter. They are the result of jealousy (Judges 8:1-Leviticus :), of refusal to cooperate (Judges 8:4-Esther :) and of flattery (Judges 8:18-Obadiah :). How Gideon deals with this, again contains important teaching material for our spiritual warfare. The chapter ends with Gideon’s death.


Ephraim is a jealous tribe. In Isaiah 11 jealousy is given as a special feature of this tribe (Isaiah 11:13). Their own ‘I’ is aroused because they are not known in battle. Their self-esteem is affected. In Joshua 17 we already see what is wrong with the Ephraimites: they are not satisfied with their allotted land (Joshua 17:14). After all, they are a large tribe and are therefore entitled to a larger piece, they think. They feel themselves the main tribe.

When God is working to keep the believers together, there will always be someone who causes new difficulties. For jealousy it is intolerable that God uses others and passes us by. If someone does something that the Lord blesses, instead of a ‘praise the Lord’, something will come like ‘why didn’t you call me?’ It comes down to: ‘It can’t be good because it went without me.’ The ‘Ephraimites’ are still not extinct.

The spirit of jealousy that characterizes the Ephraimites is certainly not found in Paul. He rejoices in it when Christ is preached, even at his expense (Philippians 1:15-Job :).

Verses 2-3

Gideon’s Gentle Answer

The mind of the Ephraimites is revealed precisely by the victory of Gideon. Through the reaction of the Ephraimites, Gideon’s mind also becomes public. There is an interaction. When we have gained a victory for and by the Lord, others are put to the test, but so are we ourselves. Did that victory make us important? Gideon does what is written in Philippians 2: “With humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3). This is the means to prevent discord and to maintain unity among the people.

He appeases their anger by praising them. He does not go hard against it, but with gentleness, for “a gentle answer turns away wrath” (Proverbs 15:1). Although the Ephraimites were not involved in the real battle, Gideon gives them more honor than himself. They killed more enemies than he did. He brings that forward. More enemies are killed when the enemy flees than when the battle rages in all its intensity. Gideon makes their share large and important and presents his own share as smaller.

With this attitude and mind he wins his wronged brothers and thus indicates that he is stronger than a strong city. “A brother offended [is harder to be won] than a strong city” (Proverbs 18:19). We sometimes disparage the service of another person. Jephthah takes a very different approach to this matter and the result is civil war. We get that history in Judges 12.

The Ephraimites leave with the idea that by their efforts the war has been won. It can be a means of preserving peace in the local church by emphasizing certain good qualities or activities of a ‘troublesome’ brother in the community, without falling into flattery.

It demands of us the mind of humility that is perfectly present in the Lord Jesus. He is our example (Philippians 2:1-1 Samuel :). His humiliation was voluntary and total. He always looked for the other person’s interest. His example is the most far-reaching of what someone has ever done for another. He came from heaven to earth, became Man, became Slave, and died the death on the cross. Greater humiliation is inconceivable. And we often have the greatest difficulty with the slightest indulgence to another. This is not about justifying a sin. It’s about our attitude towards someone who’s is difficult to deal with, by which our mind is tested, whether we think we’re important.

Verse 4

Weary Yet Pursuing

The 300 men who have hardly taken the time to drink water (Judges 7:6-:) understand that the time to rest has not yet come. The dedication to the cause of the LORD continues to inspire them. They experience what is written: “He gives strength to the weary, And to [him who] lacks might He increases power” (Isaiah 40:29). Often the enemy still achieves a partial victory because we stop the battle prematurely because of fatigue. Of course, our powers are limited, but it is important that we have an eye for the ultimate goal of a particular battle. We must not rest until that goal has been achieved.

In 2 Corinthians 11 Paul lists all that he has gone through in his service for the Lord (2 Corinthians 11:16-Micah :). He says of someone else: “Because he came close to death for the work of Christ, risking his life” (Philippians 2:30). These are people who “did not love their life even when faced with death” (Revelation 12:11). People with such an attitude continue, despite their fatigue. Unfortunately they are scarce.

Verses 5-9

Refusal to Cooperate

After the dispute with Ephraim had been settled by Gideon’s meek conduct, he is faced with a new dispute. The dispute with Ephraim was still about the share in the battle. The dispute that is now arising concerns those who do not want to participate in the fight. It is not even about active participation, but only about supporting those who are active in the deliverance of the people. Gideon is entitled to their sympathy and support.

The inhabitants of Succoth, which lies on the territory of the tribe of Gad, calculate that 300 tired men will never be able to win over 15,000 experienced fighters. These will of course regroup after Israel’s first surprise attack. Gideon must first prove that he can really take the kings of the enemy. In that half-hearted, hesitant and finally rejecting attitude they stand. They first want to see the results.

What they overlook, is the only thing that matters: Is the LORD with the 300 weary men or not? They characterize the people who first have to see and only then believe. They first want a tangible result and only then intend to share. It is about the things one sees. This is the spirit of the world and unbelief. Here is a whole city that refuses any fellowship with the fighters for God. Such a thing can have a very discouraging effect on anyone who wants to work for the Lord. These people still think too much of the power of the enemy and obstruct all kinds of things for those who devote themselves to the cause of God.

Paul has also had the experience that all leave him, but he reacts differently from Gideon. He says: “May it not be counted against them” (2 Timothy 4:16). That does not mean that Gideon is reacting wrongly. Having bread and not giving it, while it is necessary because of the progress of the testimony, asks for retribution. Those who take a stand against the work of God will not escape their just punishment, even if it is not yet time for it, because the battle demands all the attention.

Penuel adopts the same attitude as Succoth and will therefore share in the same fate. Penuel means ‘face of God’. This city recalls Jacob’s struggle with God that took place there some 500 years earlier – in Genesis 32 this place is called Peniel, with the same meaning (Genesis 32:22-Jonah :). There Jacob was touched at the socket of his thigh, constantly realizing that his weakness gave God the opportunity to show His strength. The inhabitants have forgotten that lesson. Just like Succoth, they look at what is in front of them and calculate with human factors. The punishments announced by Gideon come to our attention in Judges 8:16 and Judges 8:17.

Verses 10-12

The Remainder Is Beaten

The main goal Gideon wants to achieve by chasing the remainder of the Midianites is to capture and eliminate both kings. Without the authority and strategy of these kings, the army of the Midianites is rudderless. These kings did not get involved in the battle themselves, but were in the background. From this position they passed on their orders to the fighters. These kings represent evil powers in the heavenly places, which also operate in the background and pass on their orders to the visible world and exert their influence on it. The princes we met in Judges 7 (Judges 7:25) represent persons by whom the evil powers exercise their authority.

In the meaning of the names of these kings their character is clearly expressed. Zebah means ‘a religious sacrifice’ or ‘a victim to sacrifice’. Zalmunna means ‘a forbidden shadow’ or ‘a spiritual shadow of death’. That there are two kings says something of the diversity of evil within the sphere of authority of Satan who is called “the prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2:2). Zebah does not represent a sacrifice to God, but the massacre that Satan without mercy wants to inflict upon God’s people. Zalmunna characterizes the atmosphere in which this takes place.

If we want to be free or unbound, we must not allow these enemies to influence our lives. Strife – this is as we have seen the meaning of the name Midian – is an enemy that is also today making countless victims among God’s people. The terrain and the atmosphere in which strife takes place is the death shadow. Strife brings no life, but sows death and destruction. It is not for nothing that these two kings are located in the city of Karkor, which means as much as ‘city of destruction’. Isn’t that an appropriate name?

There is another aspect to this victory that is important to point out. The victory over Midian is a foreshadowing of the final victory Israel will achieve over its enemies in the future (Psalms 83:4-2 Kings :; Isaiah 9:3-Numbers :).

Verses 13-17

The Repayment

Before he deals with the captured kings, Gideon will first redeem his vows to Succoth and Penuel. These two cities have not only taken a neutral stance in the struggle, but they have also refused to unite with the fighters for God and have withheld the necessary support. This means that in a practical sense they have chosen the side of the enemy. Whoever withhold from God’s people the means by which they would receive strength for battle, while those means are available, is playing into the hands of the enemy. The latter then has to deal with a weakened opponent.

Gideon’s indignation is therefore justified. In order to be able to express it in a good way, he uses a young man from Succoth whom he has captured. He lets him write down the names of the people he considers responsible for the attitude of the city. When he arrives at the city, he reminds them of their attitude and scornful remarks, pointing to the captured kings. They must have been ashamed. Now they have to bow down on the announced discipline.

Gideon chastises them because they behaved kindly towards the enemy at a time when the servants of God are tired and yet continued the pursuit. Thorns and thistles will make their sharp stimuli feel and remind them for a long time how half-hearted they behaved in the day of decision. It is a sensitive lesson. The thorns and thistles as means of discipline represent the distress, disappointments and sufferings necessary to repent those who have been half-hearted in their confession before the Lord Jesus and to make them realize that they have gone astray in connection with the cause of God.

In Penuel, the city with the tower that probably gives the city an important appearance, he demolishes the tower and kills the men. As with Succoth, the judgement is carried out here about those who could have participated in the fight against the enemy by at least encouraging the men of Gideon in their pursuit. Their arrangement is the result of purely human calculation. Such forms are strongholds that rise up against the knowledge of God and that must be broken down.

The tower of Penuel seems to represent human thought and judgment, of having trust in themselves. There should be no room for this (2 Corinthians 10:4-Deuteronomy :). The first tower mentioned in the Bible is mentioned in Genesis 11. Why this tower is being built, is told: “Let us make for ourselves a name” (Genesis 11:4). The tower serves to glorify man. Whoever owns and honors such a tower will always keep his distance from the battle in which faith is involved. But he who contends for the faith (Jude 1:3), breaks down that tower.

Verses 18-21

Zebah and Zalmuna Are Killed

The victory has been achieved, but it still has to be completed. The dangers have not yet definitively disappeared. The danger lies in the tail. After the victory, a subtle danger comes to light. That danger is the use of flattery. The first time it comes out of the mouth of the enemy. After the sword of the enemy Gideon now has to deal with his mouth. The victory may have made Gideon a little self-confident. At least he seems to lose some of his dependence on the LORD.

Why does he start a conversation with his enemies? After all, it is clear that they have to be killed, isn’t it? He wants to call them to account for the murder of his brothers. But by talking to them, he opens up to their influence. It is exactly the same as with Eve, who also enters into conversation with the serpent, the devil, so that she comes under his influence. It has become fatal to her and the whole human family.

Now that their power has been broken, the two kings are trying to take in Gideon with flattery. Although he is not impressed by their flattery, he does not seem to be able to escape its influence completely. He loses the real understanding of the enemy’s power and tells his son to kill them. That is different from what we read in Joshua 10, where Joshua captured five kings. The order to put their feet on the necks of these kings Joshua does not give to young people, but to “the chiefs of the men of war who had gone with him”. Then Joshua kills them himself (Joshua 10:22-Daniel :).

It is unlikely that the boy belonged to the 300 men. The young boy is afraid, and all those who had shown fear had already left before the battle began. Gideon overestimates the power of his son. This is a lesson for all parents – and leaders – who note with a certain satisfaction, that their natural or spiritual children participate in the spiritual warfare. They must not allow themselves to be led astray to ask of them things that exceed their spiritual strength. Often these are situations in which the power of the enemy is underestimated.

After this ‘defeat’ of Gideon, the enemy once again flatters, this time with challenging words. Their expression has to do with the honor they want to keep to themselves. They would rather die by the hand of the captain than by the hand of a boy. This time Gideon takes full responsibility and kills both kings.

However, he takes something of them with him as a kind of spoils of war, a trophy, as a memory of the victory. It is possible that the crescent ornaments he takes from the camels of the kings indicate that these Midianites were worshippers of the moon-god. What Gideon does is a symptom that indicates that he does not give all honor to God. He wants to keep a memory of the victory he has won.

We do not read from any of the other God-given judges that they have done anything like this. Only Samson goes one step further. With him we don’t see that he takes something from the enemy, but someone. That person makes sure that he fails in his service and eventually falls down. With Gideon it doesn’t go that far, but it seems the germ has been laid here for his coming failure.

Verses 22-23

Escaping a Snare

The next flattery that Gideon has to face doesn’t come from the side of the world, but from the side of God’s people. The people want a visible leader, as do the nations. What God warns about in Judges 7 (Judges 7:2) is going to happen here. They attribute victory to a man. They give Gideon the honor only due to God. They also want to secure the kingship through succession. After all, you never know who and how the next judge will be. Successive kingship offers certainty. It all seems so plausible, but it indicates that the people have lost their real dependence on God.

In Christianity there is a lot of talk about leadership. Its importance is always stressed. Without clear leadership, it is said that God’s people are not doing well. Much of such talk in reality indicates that one does not know how to deal with the leadership of the Lord Jesus that He exercises through the Holy Spirit. This does not mean that there are no brothers with the gift of government or who function as pastors, or overseers, or elders. But in God’s people there is often no longer the spiritual condition to recognize such people and also to recognize them according to the spiritual characteristics indicated in Scripture. What happens then is that such people are appointed or openly indicated, or whatever one wants to call it. In any case, they want to be able to hear and see clearly who the leaders are.

In many cases the seed is sown for the difference between the clergy and the laity. What Israel is asking for is comparable to the introduction of a clergy. The servant is made great and God is forgotten. Later Israel will repeat this question (1 Samuel 8:1-Joshua :). Then it will get a king in Saul (1 Samuel 10:17-Jeremiah :), after which God comes with the man to His heart: David (1 Samuel 16:1-1 Chronicles :).

Fortunately, Gideon sees through the danger of the request. He refuses to become king and reminds the people of God as their King. That should also be our answer when there are remarks to confirm someone or a few in the position of leader. A leader to God’s mind will reject any confirmation by people.

Paul gives a good description of his apostleship. As an apostle he is a great leader, but his whole apostleship is separate from man, so he can say that he is an apostle “not [sent] from men nor through the agency of man, but through Jesus Christ” (Galatians 1:1). This means that the origin, the source of his apostleship, is not in man and that he has not been appointed by a man in this apostleship.

Verses 24-27

The Ephod

What Gideon asks now does not come from others, but this desire springs from his own heart. He had hardly spoken the words by which he refused the kingship, or he stretched out his hand to the priesthood. He asked the whole people for a contribution for the production of an ephod. The ephod is a clothing piece that is only worn by the high priest or priests. Therefore it is not for Gideon to make this ephod.

He could have defended his request by referring to the sacrifice he made and the altar he erected in Ophrah (Judges 6:19; Judges 6:24). There he did something like a priestly service, didn’t he? But the altar he built there did not have a mediating character. It did not serve to approach God on behalf of the people.

The ephod he wants to make must become a memorial of his victory. That is why he asks the whole people to give something for this. Aren’t we doing it all sometimes: making a souvenir or hanging up the victory the Lord has given us? It may be that we like to tell about our victories, the blessing the Lord has wanted to give through our service, of course everything under the covering that it is to the Lord’s honor. But isn’t it true, that they are essentially trophies that we ‘hang up’ for ourselves? Aren’t we the celebrated instruments? Something like that becomes a snare.

The people are immediately ready to make this contribution. If a person is allowed to contribute something to make a memorial for a victory, he likes to participate. For example, at the place where there was first a statue for the Baal that was overthrown by Gideon, now a statue for God is placed by Gideon.

But the effect is the same: idolatry or playing the harlot. It is considered to be a means of approaching God through it. Because the ephod is not in connection with the high priest who has to carry it, and it is therefore only a form, it becomes a means of idolatry. At the same time idolatry is harlotry, because it denies the connection with God and establishes a connection with the idols, that is to say, the demons.

Everything that is loosened from Christ in Christianity becomes a means of idolatry. The form replaces the being. We see it when it is said that someone receives new life through baptism. The same is said of the Supper of the Lord. There is also kneeling for a crucifix. Such results can be expected in a religion when one acts on the basis of religious feelings rather than being guided by what God has said in His Word about serving and worshipping Him “in the Spirit of God” (Philippians 3:3).

It is not only a snare to Gideon, but also to his home. He drags his whole house into this idolatry. That shows the seriousness of the words that have once been spoken: “The way away from God you never go alone.”

Verses 28-31

Gideons Further Life

After we have heard all about the battle and the events that resulted directly from it, we come to the final conclusion in Judges 8:28. Midian has been defeated and the land has 40 years of rest under the leadership of Gideon.

But that is not the end of Gideon’s history. It seems that when the days of his fighting for God are over, he has made himself easy and has begun to give in to the lusts of the flesh. Not for nothing does the Christian hear the warning that after a victory he should not rest on his laurels. He must take up the full armor of God, not only during the day of the struggle, but also “having done everything, to stand firm” (Ephesians 6:13).

Unfortunately, the rest of Gideon's life is a telling example that he has not taken this into account. He quietly retreats into his home, takes many wives and therefore has numerous offspring. On the one hand, this is a proof of prosperity. As one’s prosperity and influence grew at that time, so did one’s harem. King Ahab had seventy sons (2 Kings 10:1) and some of Gideon’s successors also had many sons (Judges 10:4; Judges 12:9Judges 12:14). On the other hand, the hatred and murder entering Gideon’s family are precisely characteristics for these Old Testament situations of polygamy. Having more than one wife goes against God’s order of creation and gives a lot of misery.

In that period Gideon also gets a son with his concubine from Shechem whom he names Abimelech. Of all Gideon’s sons this is the only one whose name is mentioned here. That is not for nothing. The next chapter, a long chapter, will show the character of this man and what a source of misery he is. We will see in his history that the laziness and pleasure in Gideon’s life gives life to a source from which evil originates.

It is telling that Abimelech’s mother does not live in Ophra, but somewhere else. Gideon wants, so to speak, the lusts, but not the burdens. Even more significant is the meaning of the name he gives to this child. Abimelech literally means ‘my father is king’. This is a name that also Philistine princes have (Genesis 20:2; Genesis 21:22Genesis 26:1). That Gideon gives this name to his son shows something of what may have been hidden in his heart. It is not inconceivable that the flattery of Judges 8:18 and Judges 8:22 has had an influence.

Those who know something of their own heart know how easily certain flattery can take root in their thinking. It can stay with you and ‘underground’ the idea that you are someone of significance, someone against whom others are noticing, can continue to play a role. On certain occasions, this thought can no longer be suppressed and comes to the fore. Then the own importance will assert itself and the Lord will no longer be number One.

Only by radically condemning such thoughts and keeping them in ‘death’ is it possible to preserve their playing an active role. Whoever radically condemns such thoughts puts into practice what Colossians 3 calls for: “Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry” (Colossians 3:5). Is the desire to be important not an evil desire? Is it not a form of greed to want to take a position that only God is entitled to? It is nothing but idolatry. That is why we have to deal with such things. This can be replaced by “a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” (Colossians 3:12).

The thought of being important not only must be judged, but must be considered to be dead. This can be done by putting into practice what Romans 6 says: “Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:11) Here we have the key in our hands to kill arrogant thoughts, for that is what they are, and not allow them to rise again.

The basis for such an attitude towards pride lies in what the Lord Jesus did on the cross. This is the subject of the verses preceding Romans 6:11 (Romans 6:1-2 Samuel :). That is why it is so important to make a fundamental study of the letter to the Romans in particular. We then gain insight into who we ourselves are by nature, into what God in Christ has done to us, and how as a result we may see ourselves before God. This gives us the right weapons to deprive sin of any authority over us.

Verses 32-35

Gideons End and Thereafter

The end of Gideon is a testimony of the Spirit about who he has been before God. Of him, and further only of Samson, is said in this book that he “was buried in the tomb of his father”. He is also mentioned to have died “at a ripe old age”. This is also said in the Old Testament of Abraham (Genesis 15:15; Genesis 25:8) and of David (1 Chronicles 29:28).

Unfortunately, the Israelites do not follow the good that has been seen in Gideon’s life, but the bad that has also been present in his life. By making the ephod he has brought the people back to the path of idolatry. By this he has ruined his own work (Judges 6:25-Daniel :) and has laid the seed for a renewed deviation of the people from the LORD.

The Israelites “again played the harlot with the Baals”. More than forty years after Gideon demolished the altar of the Baal, the Israelites choose Baal-berith as their god. Baal-berith means ‘lord of the covenant’. The worship of the Baal is a sign of a covenant with the Canaanites, something that God has explicitly forbidden. God is forgotten and no thought is given to the good that Gideon has done for the people.

Despite the fact that Gideon participated in this development, God holds the people responsible for their own behavior. He reproaches them for being ungrateful for what Gideon did.

Ungratefulness is also a characteristic of our days. How do we deal with brothers who have served us and who, by preaching God’s Word, have made the Lord Jesus greater for us, so that we worship Him more? In addition, their service has increased our desire to obey God’s Word, so that we have begun to serve Him with greater dedication. We must be thankful to those who, through their preaching and life, have brought Christ closer to us and brought us closer to Christ. About such people we read for example in Romans 16 and in Hebrews 13 (Romans 16:3-Numbers :; Hebrews 13:7; Hebrews 13:17).

Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Judges 8". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kng/judges-8.html. 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.
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