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Bible Commentaries
Judges 8

Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal and HomileticalLange's Commentary

Verses 1-3

Ephraim’s proud complaint and Gideon’s wise forbearance

Judges 8:1-3

1And the men of Ephraim said unto him, Why hast thou served us thus, that thou calledst us not when [didst not call out1 to us that] thou wentest [wast going] to fight with [against] the Midianites? and they did chide [quarrel] with him sharply 2[vehemently]. And he said unto them, What have I done now in comparison of you? Is not the gleaning of the grapes [omit: of the grapes] of Ephraim better than the vintage of Abi-ezer? 3God hath delivered into your hands2 the princes of Midian, Oreb and Zeeb: and what was I able to do in comparison of you? Then their anger [excitement]3 was [omit: was] abated toward [against] him, when he had [omit: had] said that.


[1 Judges 8:6.—Dr. Cassel: “Hast thou the fist of Zebah and Zalmunna already in thy hand,” etc. Bertheau and Keil, in their commentaries, have the same rendering, merely changing Luther’s plural, Sind die Faüste, to the singular. כַּף is properly the hollow hand, the palm; accordingly the Dutch Version renders, rather awkwardly to be sure, “Is dan the handpalm tan Zebah en Tsalmuna alreede in uwe hand,” etc. The word “fist,” even if it did not somewhat alter the metaphor involved, lacks dignity in modern English, although it avoids the tameness of using “hand” twice. For an independent version, De Wette’s would be better: “Hast thou then Zebah and Zalmunna already in thy hand,” etc.—Tr.]

[2 Judges 8:10.—מַחֲנֵיהֶם: singular, with plural suffix. Cf. Ges. Gram. Sect. 93, 9.—Tr.]

[3 Judges 8:13.—מִלְמַעֲלֵה הֶחָרֶס. The above rendering takes no account of the לְ. “At” would be better than “from.” It is literally, “from at” the ascent of the sun. It indicates the point to which Gideon came, and at which he turned back.—Tr.]


In his dealing with puffed-up Ephraim, even more than by his victories, Gideon approves himself as a true warrior of God, wiser in his humility than his dazzled countrymen in their pride. The service rendered by Ephraim in slaying Oreb and Zeeb, was after all of but secondary merit. They had only smitten an already shattered and terrified enemy: had only captured the game which another had chased into their hands. Where was Ephraim when Midian in full force encamped himself in the country? But inferior merit is the more arrogant. The tribe is so intoxicated by the easy victory over the two princes, that it presumes to reprimand Gideon for beginning a war without them, and thus undertaking to deprive them of the laurels which they would certainly have won. So little does Ephraim understand the true strength with which Israel has conquered, that he accounts it an insult to himself on the part of the smaller tribe to have conquered without him. The pride of the mighty men of the world could not be more clearly depicted. They contend with him vehemently (בְּחָזְקָה), just as the men of Nineveh, repenting, “cry vehemently” (בְּחָזְקָה, Jonah 3:8) unto God. They address the great hero fiercely and vociferously. His answer is admirable. He might have humbled them by a few words about his deed; but he will have no strife where Israel needs unity. He says nothing of his own great victory. He does not irritate them by referring to their previous inactivity, although their tribe was so great; or by reminding them that after all he had sent them the word which enabled them to capture an enemy whom he was pursuing. On the contrary, he quiets them by extolling their great merits. He may not conceal that the victory was gained without them; but, his vintage, is it not less than their gleaning? What comparison is there between his spoils and theirs? He, still on this side the Jordan; they, already adorned with the trophies of the “Raven and Wolf!” He lets them know, however, who it is that really gives victory, namely Elohim. But here also the nice discrimination shows itself, with which the terms Jehovah, ha-Elohim, and Elohim alternate, according to the spiritual position of the persons addressed or spoken of. To Ephraim, Gideon says that Elohim gave them victory—as he sometimes gives it even to heathen. He uses this term be cause they lacked humility and faith to know that Jehovah, ha-Elohim, the true God of Israel, gives strength to his people, and that, thus endowed, it is of no consequence whether the militant tribe be great or small (cf. Judges 8:6, etc.).

What have I done now in comparison with you? The vain tribe, which only smarted at the thought that an insignificant member of Manasseh should reap greater glory than Ephraim, is quieted when this person himself disclaims the glory. Vanity that prides itself on seeming merits, is always contracted. The Ephraimites do not understand the modesty of Gideon, which, in denying, as it were, his own real merits, necessarily pours the contempt of irony on their pretended deserts. But Gideon’s object is gained. They allow themselves to be pacified, and go home to bask themselves in the sunshine of their achievements. Gideon, for his part, teaches that victory alone does not suffice to save a people; but that he is the real hero who is truly humble, and for the sake of peace overcomes himself. To conquer, he must know how to bend.

The narrative stands here in its proper place. It does not presuppose anything that happened later; but connects, historically and morally, what goes before and what follows after. Gideon is still in the midst of his campaign, when Ephraim attacks him with its pride. But his subsequent career of victory, speaks louder than envy. The statement of Josephus (Ant. v. 6, 6), that Ephraim was afterwards punished for its pride, rests on no Scriptural authority; but the confusion to which they are put by the subsequent deeds of Gideon, to whom after all they were indebted for their own achievement also, is a discipline of the sharpest kind.


Ephraim is jealous of Gideon. Jealousy is a quality which only seeks its own. It is a characteristic of unbelief, which envies God his power and love.

Starke: He acts wisely, who prefers to forego somewhat of his own rights, rather than by a contrary course to invite the opposition of others, and so debar himself from attaining a greater good.—Gerlach: Gideon’s answer, as modest as it was prudent, quiets the Ephraimites. He appears here, as afterwards, as a high-minded man, free from low ambition and domineering tendencies.

[Bp. Hall: I did not hear the Ephraimites offering themselves into the front of the army before the fight, and now they are ready to fight with Gideon because they were not called to fight with Midian: I hear them expostulating after it. After the exploit done, cowards are valiant. Their quarrel was, that they were not called. It had been a greater praise of their valor to have gone unbidden..… None speak so big in the end of the fray as the fearfullest.—The same: Ephraim flies upon Gideon, whilst the Midianites fly from him; when Gideon should be pursuing his enemies, he is pursued by brethren, and now is glad to spend that wind in pacifying of his own, which should have been bestowed in the slaughter of a common adversary. It is a wonder if Satan suffer us to be quiet at home, whilst we are exercised with wars abroad. Had not Gideon learned to speak fair, as well as to smite, he had found work enough from the swords of Joseph’s sons; his good words are as victorious as his sword; his pacification of friends, better than his execution of enemies.—Scott: In those things which pertain to the truth, authority, and glory of God, Christians should be unmoved as the sturdy oak; but in the little concerns of their own interest or reputation, they should resemble the pliant willow, that yields to every gust.—Henry: Very great and good men must expect to have their patience tried, by the unkindnesses and follies even of those they serve, and must not think it strange.—Bush: The incidents mentioned afford a striking illustration of two emphatic declarations of Scripture: 1. That “only by pride cometh contention;” and, 2. That “for every right work a man is envied of his neighbor.”—Tr.]


Judges 8:1; Judges 8:1.—לְבִלְתִּי קְרֹאות לָנוּ כִּי הָלַכְתָּ. It is not necessary to take כִּי in a temporal sense, which at all events it has very seldom. The קְרֹאות is followed by the objective clause of that which the persons addressed are notified of.

[2][Judges 8:3.—“Into your hands,” with emphasis. Hence the Hebrew puts it first: “Into your hands (lit. hand) God gave the princes of Midian,” etc.—Tr.]

Judges 8:3; Judges 8:3.—רָפְתָה רוּחָם, like חֶרֶף מֵאַף, Psalms 37:8. רוּחַ denotes violent, panting excitement

Verses 4-21

Succoth and Penuel refuse supplies to Gideon while in pursuit of the Midianitish kings. The kings surprised and captured. The punishment of the traitorous cities and the captured kings

Judges 8:4-21.

4And Gideon came to [the] Jordan, and passed over, he, and the three hundred men that were with him, faint [hungry], yet pursuing them [omit: them]. 5And he said unto the men of Succoth, Give, I pray you, loaves of bread unto the people that follow me: for they be faint [hungry], and I am pursuing after Zebah and Zalmunna, kings of Midian. 6And the princes of Succoth said, Are the hands of Zebah and Zalmunna now [already] in thine hand,4 that we should give bread unto thine army? 7And Gideon said, Therefore when the Lord [Jehovah] hath delivered Zebah and Zalmunna into mine hand, then I will tear [thresh] your flesh with the 8[omit: the] thorns of the wilderness and with briers. And he went up thence to Penuel, and spake unto them likewise: and the men of Penuel answered him as the men of Succoth had answered him. 9And he spake also unto the men of Penuel, saying, When I come again [return] in peace, I will break [tear] down this tower. 10Now Zebah and Zalmunna were in Karkor, and their hosts [host]5 with them, about fifteen thousand men, all that were left of all the hosts [host] of the children [sons] of the east: for [and] there fell [had fallen] an hundred and twenty thousand men that drew sword. 11And Gideon went up by the way of them that dwelt [dwell] in tents on the east of Nobah and Jogbehah, and smote the host: 12for [while] the host was [thought itself] secure. And when [omit: when] Zebah and Zalmunna fled, [and] he pursued after them, and took the two kings of Midian, Zebah and Zalmunna, and discomfited [terrified] all the host. 13And Gideon the son of Joash returned from [the] battle [war] before the sun was up [from the Ascent 14of the Sun].6 And [he] caught a young man [a boy] of the men of Succoth, and inquired of him: and he described unto [wrote down for] him the princes of Succoth, and the elders thereof, even threescore and seventeen men. 15And he came unto the men of Succoth, and said, Behold Zebah and Zalmunna, with [as to] whom ye did upbraid [mock] me, saying, Are the hands of Zebah and Zalmunna now [already] in thine hand, that we should give bread unto thy men that areweary [hungry]? 16And he took the elders of the city, and thorns of the wilderness, 17and briers, and with them he taught [gave a lesson to] the men of Succoth. And he beat [tore] down the tower of Penuel, and slew the men of the city. 18Then said he [And he said] unto Zebah and Zalmunna, What manner of men were they whom ye slew at Tabor? And they answered, As thou art, so were they; each one resembled [looked like] the children [sons] of a king. 19And he said, They were my brethren, even the sons of my mother: as the Lord [Jehovah] liveth, if ye had saved them alive, I would not slay you. 20And he said unto Jether his first-born, Up, and slay them. But the youth [boy] drew not his sword: for he feared, because [for] he was yet a youth [boy]. 21Then Zebah and Zalmunna said, Rise thou, and fall upon [strike] us: for as the man is, so is his strength. And Gideon arose, and slew Zebah and Zalmunna, and took away the ornaments [moons] that were on their camels’ necks.


[1 Judges 8:6.—Dr. Cassel: “Hast thou the fist of Zebah and Zalmunna already in thy hand,” etc. Bertheau and Keil, in their commentaries, have the same rendering, merely changing Luther’s plural, Sind die Faüste, to the singular. כַּף is properly the hollow hand, the palm; accordingly the Dutch Version renders, rather awkwardly to be sure, “Is dan the handpalm tan Zebah en Tsalmuna alreede in uwe hand,” etc. The word “fist,” even if it did not somewhat alter the metaphor involved, lacks dignity in modern English, although it avoids the tameness of using “hand” twice. For an independent version, De Wette’s would be better: “Hast thou then Zebah and Zalmunna already in thy hand,” etc.—Tr.]

[2 Judges 8:10.—מַחֲנֵיהֶם: singular, with plural suffix. Cf. Ges. Gram. Sect. 93, 9.—Tr.]

[3 Judges 8:13.—מִלְמַעֲלֵה הֶחָרֶס. The above rendering takes no account of the לְ. “At” would be better than “from.” It is literally, “from at” the ascent of the sun. It indicates the point to which Gideon came, and at which he turned back.—Tr.]


Judges 8:4-9. And Gideon came to the Jordan. The pride of Ephraim was not the only incident by which Gideon was taught that the liberation of his people required more than victory over its enemies: that its servitude consisted not merely in external subjection, but much more in the internal bondage of sin and unbelief. Gideon also experiences the truth, which the political history of all ages demonstrates, that the friends of the people and its true interests, do not always find their natural supporters in the people itself. Instead of confederates, they find obstructors and opponents. Was not Gideon’s a national achievement, for the freedom and happiness of all? Is it not for all that he risks his life? For whom does he wage war even to extermination with Midian, but for all Israel? Was it anything unreasonable, that he asked Succoth, a considerable city, for some bread for the men who, notwithstanding the many hardships endured, had not ceased to follow their enthusiastic leader?—The Septuagint justly puts πεινῶντες, hungry, for עֲיֵפִים. The same word (עָיֵף) is used by Esau, when he returns from the chase, and sees the dish of lentiles (Genesis 25:30). Had the men been wearied, they could not have prosecuted the pursuit. But nutritious food would strengthen them. For that they longed. The term is not specific, like רָעֵב, but signifies need of physical nourishment. It includes thirst as well as hunger (cf. Job 22:7).—But what did Succoth? Instead of compassion and patriotic sympathy, it consulted its own petty interests. Succoth believed not; nor, consequently, saw God’s hand in Gideon’s victories. Materialism, which rather than risk a loss, will serve a foreign tyrant, is here depicted to the life. The magistracy of Succoth consider, not the duty to assist, but the danger which may result from such a siding with Gideon as would be implied in rendering him aid. For, not to mention that a quantity of bread costs something—and it is noticeable that while Gideon modestly intercedes for his “followers” (בְּרַנְלָי) they talk of his band as a host (לִצְבָאֲךָ),—there is a chance that Gideon may fail in his expedition. Zebah and Zalmunna may possibly conquer and take vengeance. So do slaves speculate. Not so thought the German cities in 1813, when, driven by the hand of God, Napoleon fled from Russia; a, disposition which, in spite of Davoust and Van-damme; brought victory to those cities. “Hast; thou,” they ask mockingly, “the fist of the kings already in thy hand?” The full hand, כַּף, must be seized, in order to apply the fetters to captives.

This is the second time that Gideon encounters such folly among his people. But he instantly perceives that humility and gentleness like those shown towards Ephraim, would here be out of place. Ephraim had at all events done something, and had not refused assistance. Here were cowardice and treason combined. He does not, however, chastise them at once. Therein also he shows a soul penetrated by spiritual strength. He will not manifest personal resentment; he will show them that they have offended against the cause of God. He is sure of victory; but before he punishes them, they shall see that finished, the accomplishment of which they now doubt. When he shall appear before Succoth with Zebah and Zalmunna in fetters, they will no doubt be glad to give him bread; but then he will give them that to which now on his king-chase through the desert they refer him—he will thresh them with “thorns of the desert and with barkanim”. Owing to the brevity of the narrative, which only gives the leading speeches, while it omits all transitions, it is not altogether clear why Gideon’s threat against the inhabitants of Succoth takes the precise form of “thorns.” The ingenious Kimchi thought that it was a play on the name of the city, since שֻׂכָּה (by the constant Chaldee substitution of ס for שׂ, סֻכָּה, plur. סֻכּוֹת) means a thorn (Job 31:40; cf. שֵׂדְ, plural שִׂכִּים). He even thinks that the name of the city may perhaps have been derived from this word. But, though such a word-play might not have been altogether at variance with the spirit of antiquity, it can scarcely be supposed to have such controlling influence in our passage. For then why is not the word שֻׂכָּה used by Gideon? But instead of it, other and rather remote terms are chosen. The choice of the punishment denounced seems to have a deeper reason. The magistracy of Succoth refuses bread: is not that of itself a mocking reference to the food which the desert affords? But what does Gideon find there? That which can nourish, not men, but at best only the camel, that marvel of the desert—acaciathorns, thistles, tarfa-needles, springing up amid sand and rock. Shall he thresh these like grain, in order to bake bread? He requites their mockery, by promising with such thorns to belabor their flesh. Hence, the most probable explanation of בַּרְקָנִים will continue to be that, which, after the constant exegetical tradition of the Jews, makes it thistles or thorns (Raschi explains it by the French ronces, briers), and the same as those already indicated by “thorns of the desert.” The idea suggests itself that kotse hamidbar may only precede barkanim by way of explanation; in which case וִאֵת would have the sense of “namely:” “thorns of the desert, namely barkanim.”7 For that Barka (Barca) designates stony syrtes, may be considered as made out (see on Judges 1:4). The thorns meant are probably those of the acacia, called talh by the Arabs, which cover the ground to such an extent, that many Arabs are accustomed to carry thorn-extractors about them (cf. Ritter, xiv. 207, 336).

That the threatened chastisement corresponds to the expressions made use of by the ungrateful citizens in reply to Gideon’s request, is evident from the fact that, though he receives the same treatment from the inhabitants of Penuel, he does not threaten them with the same punishment. These, who deemed themselves secure in their tower, he promises to tear down that bulwark of their pride. בְּשׁוּבִי בְשָׁלוֹם: not exactly, when I return in peace; but, when I return prosperously, with success and victory.

Judges 8:10-12. And Zebah and Zalmunna were in Karkor. We are yet to trace the course of Gideon’s pursuit. Succoth lay beyond the Jordan, for he came to it after crossing the river (Judges 8:4; cf. Joshua 13:27). It was, moreover, south of the Jabbok (Zerka), for the scene of Jacob’s wrestling was north of that stream, he alone having remained behind, while his people had crossed over (Genesis 32:23-24). The place of the wrestling was afterwards occupied by Penuel. When morning had come, Jacob passed over the stream at Penuel (Genesis 32:31), joined his family, met Esau, and afterwards came to Succoth, which was therefore south of the Jabbok. This position of Succoth agrees with that in which we left Gideon at his meeting with Ephraim. That tribe had guarded the Wady el Faria and the fords in its neighborhood. It was in the vicinity of this Wady that they met with Gideon, prosecuting the pursuit, and brought him the heads of the captured princes. Now, if he passed over at this point, he would land south of the Jabbok, and reach Succoth first. He then crossed the Jabbok, and came to Penuel: The hiding-place of the terrified enemy was no secret to him. There is in Haurân an almost unassailable place of refuge for the robber tribes—the volcanic rock-desert of Sâfa (both in the wider and narrower sense), concerning which some very valuable information is given by Wetzstein. It embraces a fertile district, “a Ruhbeh, Paradise,” for some months of the year, which is almost as inaccessible as Paradise. Says Wetzstein (Hauran, p. 15, etc.): “Here is the stronghold of the Gêjât, and Stâye, and all the tribes of the eastern slope of the Haurân mountains.” The people of Syria have a proverbial expression which says, “he fled into the Wa’r of the Sâfa,” i. e., into an unassailable refuge. The Ruhbeh can only be reached by two roads, from the north and the south. The northern is especially dangerous; even in our own days hostile tribes have made inroads at Rigin el Mara. The Sâfa, and the whole of this terrible, rock-walled asylum, is what we are here to understand by the term קַרְקֹר, Karkor For this word signifies ruins, destruction: cf. Numbers 24:17 : “he destroys—וְקַרְקַר—all the sons of Sheth.” The same verb is used, Isaiah 22:5, of the destruction of walls; and in Talmudic as well as modern Hebrew קַרְקוּרָא means destruction.8Such being the situation and topography of the place, the significance of the brief statement that the kings were in Karkor, becomes manifest. It not only explains the sense of security felt by the enemy, but also and especially displays the boldness, endurance, wisdom, and energy, with which Gideon followed them into their hiding-place. We can still trace his route; for it passed to the east of Nobah and Jogbehah. Nobah is the same as Kenath (Numbers 32:42), which again is the Kanatha of Roman times, and the Kanvât of the present. He who is north of the Jabbok, and passes east of Kanvât, if he be in search of an enemy retired to his hiding-place, must be bound for the Sâfa. But Jogbehah also can be identified. Since Gideon’s way is said to have gone to the east of “Nobah and Jogbehah,”9 the latter must have lain farther north than the other, and there is thus the more reason for regarding it as the same with Johbah, the Shôbah of Seetzen, Shuhubah of Buckingham (cf. Ritter, xv. 881), and Shubbah of Wetzstein.

Gideon’s attack was so unexpected and sudden, that a renewed attempt at flight fails (Judges 8:12). The host, it is said, הֶחֶרִיד: terror seized it, so that no resistance was offered, and the army surrendered. The celerity of this victorious career, and its results, finds many parallels in the history of the desert tribes. When Mehemet Ali, in 1815, fought against Asyr in Arabia, he pursued the defeated enemy with such haste, that all his stores of subsistence had to be left behind, and he himself was at last reduced to a diet of dates. But he was rewarded for this by the capture of the chiefs of his adversaries, and many others went over to him (cf. Ritter, xii. 932). But that for which no parallels can be adduced, is Gideon’s aim, his cause for war, and the fewness of his enthusiastic warriors compared with the overwhelming numbers arrayed against him to the last. Even if the 120,000, lost by Midian in the course of their defeat, from the Hill of Moreh to Karkor, were a round number, a stream of blood nevertheless marked the track of the smitten tyrants, as it marked that of Napoleon’s retreat from Russia. It was probably from prisoners and wounded left behind, at Stations of Death, that Gideon learned the secret way into the rocky asylum, called “hell” by Arabic poets, on account of its volcanic formations, and now become a place of judgment for a seven years’ oppression (Judges 6:1; compare the period of 1806–1813 in German history).

Judges 8:13-17. And Gideon, the son of Joash, returned from the war from the Ascent of the Sun. The addition Son of Joash, is here put to Gideon’s name for the first time since his rising against idolatry. The glory of having finished the conflict, accrues to the family and name of Joash, because in the hour of danger he had sided with his son. For that the conflict is ended, was already Indicated by Judges 8:10, which said that “all that were left” of the “whole host” were in Karkor. The victory over this remnant ended, not merely a battle, but הַמִּלְחָמה, the war. The hero can now turn back, but not yet to his own house. He must first settle accounts with Succoth and Penuel. He comes to Succoth first. Had he returned the way he went, he must have reached Penuel first. His design was evidently to surprise both places, but chiefly Succoth, so that when he came to punish, the scourge might fall only on the persons who had deserved it. Bearing this in mind, the connection makes it clear that מִלְמַעְלֵה הֶחָרֶכ is not to be taken as a note of time,10 sunrise, but of locality. It is designed to explain how Gideon comes to reach Succoth first, and from a direction from which the inhabitants did not expect him. Gideon everywhere displays that great quality of a general, the skill to baffle the calculations of his adversary. What sort of a locality “Maaleh Hacheres” was, the following hypothesis may perhaps indicate with some degree of probability. Succoth lay in the valley of the Jordan, the Ghor, בָּעֵמֶק (Joshua 13:27). The expression מַעֲלֶה can only be used in connection with mountains (cf. “Maaleh Akrabbim,” Judges 1:36). The heights from which Gideon descended in order to reach Succoth, were the mountains east of the Jordan, which unfortunately are yet too little known. About the names, also, which in earlier and later periods they bore, we are very much in the dark. Now, in the territory of Reuben, we find (Joshua 13:19) a “Tsereth Hashachar on the Mountain of the Valley.” The name חֶרֶס signifies the sun. “Sunrise” (מִזְרָח) always indicates the east side. Accordingly, in the passage just cited, we have a Tsereth Hashachar, i. e., “Splendor of the Dawn,” on the mountains of the Ghor, in the east. It may therefore be assumed with great probability that the name “Ascent of the Sun” also was borne by the heights of the mountains east of the Jordan, whether those mountains were named “Sun” or “Sunrise” on local, or what is more probable on religious grounds.

As Gideon appeared quite unexpectedly, he succeeded in laying hold, unnoticed, of a boy, who wrote down for him the names of those who composed the magistracy of the city. It is not without interest to observe that the boy (נַעַר) could write, that he knew the names of the authorities, and that these numbered seven and seventy, of whom seven or five may be regarded as שָׂרִים, princes, and seventy or seventy-two as elders. if the government of the city was in the hands of certain families, the boy would not find it difficult to give their names. The astonishment and terror of the inhabitants were doubtless great. The more haughty they had formerly been, the more terrified were they now. It is to be carefully noted that Gideon’s purpose is to punish only the rulers of Succoth, and that after he has done it, the remark is made: 11וַיֹּדַע אֵת אַנְשֵׁי סֻכּוֹת—“he taught the men of Succoth a lesson.” This alone shows that the reading וַיָּדָשׁ “he threshed,” already proposed by Serarius, and again by Bertheau, is not to be approved. For the fact that “he took the elders of the city and the thorns,” makes it clear that he cannot have chastised the people of Succoth. But he “made them—the whole people,—to know;” gave them a lesson which showed how badly their rulers had acted, and what penalties such distrust and selfishness entail (which has been well apprehended by the Jewish expositors). At Penuel, however, which, having heard of the visitation of Succoth, had the folly to defend itself, the traitors lost their lives. It is truly admirable, how finely the narrative, with all its plainness, brings out the specially decisive points of view. Gideon went first to Succoth, because he did not wish to punish all the inhabitants, and it became necessary therefore to surprise the city, lest the guilty should escape, and to “catch a boy,” who unreservedly gives him their names. His purpose as to Penuel requires no surprise—the tower cannot run away; and it is the folly of the inhabitants, that in defending it, they lose their lives as well as their tower.

Judges 8:18-21. And he said to Zebah and Zalmunna. This took place on his arrival at home, i. e. in Israel, for his son Jether was present, who, being but a boy, cannot have shared in the heroic expedition. The place cannot, however, be definitely determined; perhaps it was his old battlefield, the plain of Jezreel, where the people came flocking together, in order to behold the terrible kings in fetters.

The closing scene of Gideon’s dealings with these robber-kings, like every other in his history, is worthy of a hero who has been raised up to battle with the sword and mete out punishment. To spare the lives of enemies, especially of enemies so barbarous and cruel as these, was not the custom of antiquity, least of all in the east. Pyrrhus (in Seneca) says:12Lex nulla capto parcit aut pœnam impedit; and even Josephus (Ant. ix. 4, 3) makes Elisha say—what, however, he never did say—that it is right to kill captives taken in a just war. But Gideon, who respects the royalty of his captives, enemies though they be, would gladly spare them, and believes himself obliged at least to show them why he cannot do it. Through this circumstance, we hear of an occurrence otherwise unknown—a fact which may suggest and cause us to regret how much other information has perhaps failed to reach us. The kings, it seems, had caught and slain on Mount Tabor the brothers of Gideon, sons of the same mother13 as well as father with himself. If is probable that this took place after some earlier battle, engaged in by Manasseh—but without God’s help—against the invaders. They were put to death, though only engaged in defending their native land, and though—as Zebah and Zalmunna flatteringly say—they looked like Gideon, like men of royal blood. In their persons, therefore, “kingly bearing,” stately presence and chivalrous valor, had not been respected; and shall Gideon spare those who were robbers and murderers of seven years’ standing? Impossible! Gideon’s sword has been whetted for the very purpose of administering righteous judgment. When Turnus entreated Æneas for his life, the latter, remembering that the former had slain Pallas, the son of Evander, and “furiis accensus et ira terribilis,” exclaimed, “Pallas te immolat,” etc., and thrust the spear into his heart (Æneid, xii. 949). And yet Turnus was a native of the country, and fought against aliens, and Pallas was neither son nor brother of Æneas. The intimation that the family of Joash had previously already bled for Israel, throws a new light on the question why of all men Gideon was selected to be the conqueror. However, notwithstanding their ill deserts, he does not treat his captives cruelly. He neither makes them objects of taunt or insult, nor uses them for purposes of ostentation and self-glorification. He does not load them with ignominy, as Sapor is said to have done to the Roman Emperor Valerian, and, according to the legend in Eutychius, Galerius to a Sapor, and Tamerlane to Bajazet.14 The honor of the captives was sufficiently consulted, even when Gideon wished to make his eldest son the executor of his sentence. But he, a boy, and apparently of timid bearing, shrinks from drawing his sword against the mighty foemen, still distinguished by royal state and show. And truly, they must have been terrible warriors; they ask not for life, as Turnus and Homeric warriors do, but desire to be slain by the hand of an equal, and not to be hacked and hewn by the sword of a boy; for, say they, “as the man, so is his strength.” They have no other request to make than that Gideon will kill them himself; and he complies with it—they fall by his sword. The “moons” which have hitherto ornamented their camels’ necks, he now takes off; an evidence that even in captivity they have experienced kingly treatment. That he does not take them off until after the kings are dead, indicates that they are the special insignia of royalty, and crescent-shaped. Thus, according to Philostratus (lib. ii. cap. 1), Apollonius of Tyana received the convoy of a camel from the Persian king, which headed the train, and by a golden ornament on its face indicated its royal ownership. In the poem of Statius (cf. Bochart, Hierozoicon, i. 17) the horse of Parthenopæus, the fabled assailant of Thebes, wears crescent-shaped ornaments (lunata monilia). Mention is made of an Arabic expression, which speaks of “moon-shaped camel ornaments” (Ritter, xii. 486). The ornament, in its peculiar shape, was evidently an escutcheon of the ancient Ishmaelites, who were worshippers of the moon (Herod. iii. 8), as Scripture also speaks of a son of Joktan, the progenitor of many Arab tribes, whose name was Jerah, moon (Genesis 10:26). The crescent of the Arabizing Ottomans of modern times may be referred to it as to its original For the lunulœ also, which adorned the shoes of ancient Roman senators and nobles, and whose significance was obscure even to antiquity (Plut. Quest. Rom., 73), had only the shape of the half-moon.


[Henry: “Faint and yet pursuing;” much fatigued with what they had done, yet eager to do more. Our spiritual warfare must thus be prosecuted with what strength we have, though but little; it is many a time the true Christian’s case, fainting, yet pursuing.—Bp. Hall: It is hard if those who fight the wars of God may not have necessary relief; that whilst the enemy dies by them, they should die by famine. If they had labored for God at home in peace, they had been worthy of maintenance; how much more now that danger is added to their toil?—The same: Those that fight for our souls against spiritual powers, may challenge bread from us; and it is shameless unthankfulness to deny it.

The same (on the punishment of Succoth): I know not whether more to commend Gideon’s wisdom and moderation in the proceedings, than his resolution and justice in the execution of this business. I do not see him run furiously into the city, and kill the next; his sword has not been so drunken with blood, that it should know no difference; but he writes down the names of the princes, and singles them forth for revenge.—The same: It is like, the citizens of Succoth would have been glad to succor Gideon, if their rulers had not forbidden. They must therefore escape, while their princes perish.—The same (on Penuel): The place where Jacob wrestled with God and prevailed, now hath wrestled against God and takes a fall; they see God avenged, which would not believe Him delivering.—Wordsworth: They who now despise the mercy of Christ as the Lamb, will hereafter feel the wrath of Christ as the Lion (Revelation 5:5).—Bush: The whole of this remarkable transaction tends to inspire us with confidence in God, and to encourage our exertions in his cause; but there are two lessons especially which we shall do well to learn from it: 1. To prosecute our spiritual warfare under all discouragements ourselves; and 2. To be careful to put no discouragements in the way of others. God is indignant with those who would weaken the hands of his people.

Bp. Hall: The slaughter of Gideon’s brethren was not the greatest sin of the Midianitish kings; [yet] this alone shall kill them, when the rest [of their sins] expected an unjust remission. How many lewd men hath God paid with some one sin for all the rest!—Scott: Sins long forgotten must be accounted for to God.—Tr.]


[4][Judges 8:6.—Dr. Cassel: “Hast thou the fist of Zebah and Zalmunna already in thy hand,” etc. Bertheau and Keil, in their commentaries, have the same rendering, merely changing Luther’s plural, Sind die Faüste, to the singular. כַּף is properly the hollow hand, the palm; accordingly the Dutch Version renders, rather awkwardly to be sure, “Is dan the handpalm tan Zebah en Tsalmuna alreede in uwe hand,” etc. The word “fist,” even if it did not somewhat alter the metaphor involved, lacks dignity in modern English, although it avoids the tameness of using “hand” twice. For an independent version, De Wette’s would be better: “Hast thou then Zebah and Zalmunna already in thy hand,” etc.—Tr.]

[5][Judges 8:10.—מַחֲנֵיהֶם: singular, with plural suffix. Cf. Ges. Gram. Sect. 93, 9.—Tr.]

[6][Judges 8:13.—מִלְמַעֲלֵה הֶחָרֶס. The above rendering takes no account of the לְ. “At” would be better than “from.” It is literally, “from at” the ascent of the sun. It indicates the point to which Gideon came, and at which he turned back.—Tr.]

[7]Analogies to this word, such as ῥάχος, thorn = βράχος (cf. ῥαδινός and βραδινός, ῥῖγος, and frigus), cannot here be further investigated. In Scandinavian dialects, rhamnus, thornbush, is called getbark or geitbark.

[8]Eusebius (Onomast., Perthey, p. 252) does not say that this Karkor and Carcaria near Petra are one and the same place. Nor can they be the same. although the names may be similarly explained.

[9]Greek texts have a corrupt form ̓Ιεγεβάλ. The Syrian version of Paul of Tela does not have the name at all (Rördam, p. 169).

[10]For which the Jewish expositors decide, because they assign the previous expedition to the night-time.

[11]That ויֹּדַע need not necessarily be written וַיּוֹדַע (Bertheau), and is found elsewhere, has already been justly remarked by Keil, who refers to Numbers 16:5, and Job 32:7.

[12]Cf. Grotius, De Jure Pacis et Belli, lib. iii. 4, 10.

[13][Bush: “In countries where polygamy is tolerated, the ties of brotherhood are, as might be expected, much more close and tender between those who are born of the same mother, than those who are connected only as the children of the same father. This explains why ‘son of my mother’ was among the Hebrews, as now among the Arabs and others, a far more endearing expression than that of ‘my brother,’ in the general sense” The same remarks hold also of the tribes of Western Africa. Speaking of polygamy and family life among them, the Rev. J. G. Auer observes (Spirit of Missions for 1867, p. 729): “Children cleave to their mother more than to their father, and a full brother or sister is called ‘my mother’s child.’ ”—Tr.]

[14][On the first of these stories, see Gibbon’s Decline, etc., Milman’s ed., Boston, i. 319; on the second, vol. vi. 271 note 58; on the third, vi. 267–71, with Milman’s note on p. 271.—Tr.]

Verses 22-32

Gideon refuses to be king. Prepares an ephod, which is followed by evil consequences. Gideon’s death and burial

Judges 8:22-32.

22Then [And] the men of Israel said unto Gideon, Rule thou over us, both thou, and thy son, and thy son’s son also: for thou hast delivered us from the hand of Midian. 23And Gideon said unto them, I will not rule over you, neither shall my son rule over you: the Lord [Jehovah] shall rule over you. 24And Gideon said unto them, I would desire a request of you, that you would give me every man the ear-rings [the ring]15 of his prey. (For they had golden ear-rings [rings], because 25[for] they were Ishmaelites.) And they answered, We will willingly give them. And they spread a garment,16 and did cast therein every man the ear-rings [ring] of his prey. 26And the weight of the golden ear-rings [rings] that he requested, was a thousand and seven hundred shekels of gold; beside [apart from the] ornaments [moons], and [the] collars [ear-drops], and [the] purple raiment [garments] that was [were] on the kings of Midian, and beside [apart from] the chains [collars] that were about their camels’ necks. 27And Gideon made an ephod thereof, and put it in his city, even in Ophrah: and all Israel went thither [omit: thither] a whoring after it [there]: which thing, [and it i. e. the ephod] became a snare unto Gideon, and to his house. 28Thus was Midian subdued [But Midian was humbled] before the children [sons] of Israel, so that they lifted up their heads no more. 29And the country was in quietness17 forty years in the days of Gideon. And Jerubbaal the son of Joash went and dwelt in his own house. 30And Gideon had three score and ten sons of his body begotten: for he had many wives. 31And his concubine that was in Shechem, she also bare him a son, whose name he [they]18 called Abimelech. 32And Gideon the son of Joash died in a good old age, and was buried in the sepulchre of Joash his father, in Ophrah of the Abi-ezrites.


[1 Judges 8:24.—נֶזֶם, ring; whether ear-ring or nose-ring, the word itself does not declare. Cassel and De Wette both render it by the singular (De Wette, Ohrring). It is used as a collective, and simply indicates the class of ornaments desired, without any reference to the number which each man was supposed to have, or was expected to give. This indefinite singular is best rendered in English by the plural, as in E. V.—Tr.]

[2 Judges 8:25.—חַשִּׂמְלַה: Dr. Cassel, ein Gewand, “a garment.” The definite article simply indicates the garment used on the occasion. The term שִׂמְלָה, though also used in the general sense of garment and raiment, is specially applied to the outer garment, the mantle or cloak, cf. Bib. Dict., s. v. “Dress.” Being a four-cornered piece of cloth, it was quite suitable for the present purpose.—Tr.]

[3 Judges 8:28.—וַתִּשְׁקֹט הָאָרֶץ, “and the land rested.” The E. V. departs here from its own previous renderings, see Judges 3:11; Judges 3:30; Judges 5:31, where the Hebrew has the same words.—Tr.]

[4 Judges 8:31.—וַיָּשֶׂם אֶת־שְׁמוֹ Dr. Cassel: man nannte seinen Namen. Bertheau also takes ויָּשֶׂם as the indeterminate 3d pers. (see ties. Or. 137, 3), and says: “the name sounds like a nickname, given him because his lordship was of such brief duration, and he so very far from being Father of a King.” The difficulty is that the text gives no hint of a change of subject. But cf. the commentary below, and Keil’s view in note on p. 140.—Tr.]


An extraordinary victory had been gained—a triumph without a parallel. A glory surrounds Gideon in the eyes of Israel, such as had distinguished no one else within the memory of men. Who can stand beside him? How has the arrogance and vain-glory of Ephraim been put to shame! Having caught a couple of princes, already fleeing for their lives, they ceased from the conflict, though still far from finished. Gideon, whose courage began, and whose untiring energy prosecuted the war, has also finished it. He has captured and destroyed, not princes (שָׂרֵי) merely, but—as the narrative emphatically intimates—the kings (מַלֵכֵי) themselves. And what kings! The chiefs of all Midian. Kings, therefore, whose defeat and capture was of the greatest consequence, as the narrative sufficiently indicates by the constant repetition of their names. Their names, also, like those of the “princes,” are peculiar; those were borrowed from animals, these from “sacrifice” and “carved work.” The latter therefore indicate perhaps the conjunction of priestly with royal authority. Nor did Gideon smite the hostile armies in his own country merely, but he ventured far into a strange land. To pursue a great army into the rock desert, and as it were drag the enemy out of his hiding-place, was an exploit of the most astounding character. Who but Gideon would have dared to enter the terrible Harra, there to seize his royal prey? Apart from this, how imposing his assurance, his wisdom, his moderation and strength! If men admired the discreetness of his answer to Ephraim, they were startled by the punishment of Succoth and Penuel, and the terrible recompense meted out to the rings. Success carries the day with the people: now surprising, grand, and dazzling was its form on this occasion! The people feel that now they have a man among them, who towers, not physically, but in soul and spirit, far above them all. No wonder that Israel, gathered from all quarters to see the hero and his captures, urgently presses him, and says:—

Judges 8:22. Rule over us, thou, thy son, and thy son’s son. This is the language of gratitude and admiration. Excited, and, like all multitudes, easily carried away by momentary impulses of joy and approval, they offer him the supreme authority, and even propose to make it hereditary. It is only done, however, in a storm of excitement. Nor do they propose that he shall be their מֶלֶךְ, but their משֵׁל—not their King, but their Imperator. What they desire is to be not only for his honor, but also for their welfare. His family is to continue forever the champion of Israel. But in this vehement urgency of the moment, the people show how little they comprehend, notwithstanding this and many other great events of their history, to whom they are really indebted for victory. They show that they regard the strength by which Gideon has conquered to be physical, rather than moral. Thou shalt rule, for thou hast delivered us from Midian. They fail to perceive the contradiction to which they give utterance when they talk of an hereditary “Judge,” or as they word it, “ruler.” It belongs to the essence of a Judge, that he be raised up by the Spirit, and filled with the strength of God. He is God’s military ambassador to a people that has no king. Not the people, but God, had made Gideon what he was—their military leader and commander. His children will not be able to lead the nation, unless they also are called by God. The kingship is hereditary, because it rests on the broad basis of established order, and not merely on the endowments of extraordinary persons. The divinely inspired imperator can at most transmit only his treasures. It was not without a purpose that the narrative told of the timid boy, Jether, Gideon’s first-born. Will he—if God do not call him—be able to smite the Midianites? and if he be not able, will the men of Israel obey him? None the less great, however, was the temptation for Gideon. He on whom but recently Ephraim looked superciliously down, has now the offer of dominion over Israel laid at his feet. It requires more strength to resist the allurements of proffered power, than to defeat an enemy. But Gideon is a great man, greater than Washington, to whom absolute dominion was not offered, and who accepted the Presidency because he would obey “the voice of the people,” saying as he did so, that “no people could be more bound to acknowledge and adore the invisible hand which conducts the affairs of men, than the people of the United States” (cf. Marshall’s Life of Washington, ii. 146).

Judges 8:23. And Gideon said unto them, I will not rule over you, neither shall my son rule over you: Jehovah shall rule over you. God—not “Elohim,” but “Jehovah,” the God of Israel—is your only Imperator. With this he repels the idea that he was the sole and real conqueror, as also the supposition that any others than those whom God calls can be of service. He declares, moreover, that God must be obeyed, because He is the Ruler; and that as in this war against Midian victory was gained only because his (Gideon’s) orders were followed, so victory will always be contingent on obedience to God.

With these words Gideon worthily crowns his heroic deeds; and there he should have stopped. But the moment that he connects the cause of God with a measure of his own, albeit with the best intentions, he falls into error, and without designing it leads the people astray.

Judges 8:24-26. Give me, every man, the ring of his booty. Since the rings were taken from men, they must be understood to be ear-rings, the use of which, especially among the ancients, was to a great extent common to both men and women. In Ceylon and among the Burmese, the perforation of the ears is to this day, for both sexes, a religious ceremony; just as the habit of wearing rings! did not have its origin solely in desire for finery. The observations of modern travellers among the Arabs, are confined to female ornaments, but “sons” also wore such rings as are here mentioned, even among the Israelites (Exodus 32:2). Plautus (Pœnulus, v. 2, 32) says jeeringly of the Carthaginians: “Digitos in manibus non habent, quia incedunt cum annulatis auribus” (cf. Serarius). The explanation, “they had golden rings, for they were Ishmaelites,”19 is to be referred, not to the rings, but to the material of which they were made. It calls attention to the love of finery and splendor which then as now characterized the Arab tribes,20 and at the same time accounts for the wealth of gold implied in the possession of so many rings of that metal by the Midianitish army. Gold is still extensively used by the Arabs for the same purposes (cf. Ritter, xiv. 415, etc.; xv. 828, etc.).

The army must have been pervaded by thorough, even though temporary, enthusiasm for their heroic leader, since they willingly gave up the most valuable part of the booty, without knowing but that he wanted it for personal use. Accordingly, an abundance of gold rings were brought together. Now, for the first time, was Israel astounded at the magnitude of the spoil; now was it seen that the man who formerly ranked his harvest second to the gleaning of Ephraim, had obtained glory and wealth beyond comparison. For not only were 1,700 shekels of gold handed over to him at this time, but to him also belonged (for Judges 8:26 speaks only of his possessions) the moons (Judges 8:21), the נְטִיפוֹת, and the purple garments of the kings, and the decorations of their camels. The נְטִיפוֹת are ear-pendants, made of pearls and precious stones,21 peculiar to their kings, in distinction from the simple rings worn by all other Midianites. The name signifies a “drop,” which the pearl resembled. The Greek σταλάγμιον, with which Gesenius compares it, I have met with only in Plautus (Menechmei, iii. 3) as stalagmia. The monument of Cyrus was adorned with ear-pendants of precious stones (Arrian, vi. 29). Procopius represents the Persian king Pherozes with a costly pearl hanging from his right ear (Brisson, De Regno Pers., p. 83). Among the Indians, persons of distinction wore precious stones in their ears (Curtius, viii. 9, 21). In the Ramayana it is stated, that in Ayodhya no one was without ear-pendants (akundali) and other ornaments (Bohlen, Altes Indien, ii. 170).—Great wealth stood now at Gideon’s command; but he had no thought of appropriating the gifts of the men of Israel to himself. All that he retained was the booty which had fallen to him from the Midianitish kings. Hannibal also, caused the rings of the Roman knights who fell at Cannæ to be collected by the peck (Liv. xxiii. 12),—but Gideon has no Punic ends in view.

Judges 8:27-28. And Gideon made an ephod thereof.22 The high-priestly significance of the ephod is clearly explained in Exodus 28:0. It is the special sacred garment, by which Aaron and his sons are distinguished as priests. With the ephod, the breastplate is connected, fastened to it by strings, and not to be displaced (Exodus 28:28). This garment, with the breastplate, the high priest wears in the sanctuary. With it therefore are connected the Urim and Thummim, through which divine instructions are imparted, and to which, after the death of Moses and Joshua, Israel applies for directions. It is this high-priestly character of the ephod, and the gift of prophetic communication through the Urim and Thummim of its breastplate (cf. 1 Samuel 30:7), that explains the consecration of such a garment by Gideon. Its procurement is closely connected with the words: “Jehovah shall rule over you.” The people has been saved by God’s revelation of Himself to Gideon. To his service, therefore, the choicest of the spoil must be devoted. Not on man, but on Him, is hope to be built. He will say what the people are to do. Through the priestly ephod, the heavenly King will speak, and rule his obedient people. The consecration of the ephod, therefore, as that with which the Urim and Thummim are connected, expresses the truth that God governs; and is Gideon’s declaration that He, and not any human Imperator, is to be honored.

Thus far, Gideon’s action was blameless, and worthy of his faith. But he “deposited23 the ephod in his city, in Ophrah.” Now, Ophrah was not the seat of the common sanctuary, the tabernacle, nor of the national priesthood. And though the priestly family of that day may have been in a decline, though the tribe of Ephraim, among whom it had at that time its principal seat, gave unequivocal evidence of unbelieving pride, on which account alone Gideon might hesitate to commit the oracle to their keeping; yet, all these reasons, however indicative of spiritual wisdom, were not sufficient to authorize the consecration of an ephod, and the establishment of a priesthood, in Ophrah. It was the inauguration of a separate sanctuary, the establishment, so to speak, of an opposition ephod, under the controlling influence of Gideon. The ecclesiastical centre of Israel was thus severed from the tabernacle. The hero, notwithstanding his personal fidelity to God, evinces herein conceptions of Israel’s calling too subjective to be secure against disastrous error. The result soon makes this apparent.

And all Israel went a whoring after it. The expositions of recent interpreters, who ascribe to Gideon the erection of a golden calf, are founded in utter misapprehension. The use of rings by Aaron in casting his idol, was simply the result of his having no other gold, and has surely no tendency to establish a necessary connection between the collection of rings and the casting of golden calves. The establishment by the recreant Micah, in the closing part of our Book, of “an ephod and a graven image,” is itself evidence that he who only consecrated an ephod, did not erect an image. Gideon, with the words “Jehovah shall rule!” on his lips, cannot intend to give up that for which he has risked his life—fidelity towards the God who will have no graven images. The erection of an idol image is the worst of sins. It was from that very sin that Gideon had delivered his people; he was the Contender against Baal, the destroyer of idol altars,—the man who would not even suffer himself to be made Imperator, an idol of the people. Gideon continues faithful to the moment of his death, which he reaches in a good old age. If, nevertheless, Israel goes a whoring after the ephod, this was no part of Gideon’s wish; still, the snare was of his laying, because he placed the ephod “in his own house.” He thought that by that means the people would better remember from what distress they had been delivered; but it is the nature of the multitude to pervert even faith into superstition. They come to Ophrah with worship and prayer for direction, because this particular ephod is there—not because they seek to honor God, but because this is Gideon’s ephod. They regard not the word which issues from the breastplate to him who believes in God, but only the fact that the ephod. is made of the spoils of Midian. Thus they turn Gideon’s faith into superstition; and Israel’s moral strength, instead of being increased, is weakened. The unwholesome desire has been excited to present worship, not in the customary place, but wherever the subjective sense of novelty allures the worshipper. If Gideon had not consecrated the ephod in his house, it had not become a snare for Israel. It helped him indeed to retain the leadership of Israel, under the supremacy of Jehovah; but by it, discarding as it did the lawful priesthood, he led the people astray into an historical subjectivism instead of establishing them in their objective faith, and thus prepared the way for apostasy. For what but apostasy could follow at his death, when the popular faith became thus connected with his person, his government, and the ephod in his house? The hero erred, when he also made himself a priest. His house fell, because he undertook to make it a temple for the people. The ephod with the breastplate became a snare, because the God of Israel is not to be led by Gideon, but Gideon by Him—even though there be no ephod in his house.24

The renewed apostasy, however, for which the way was thus prepared, manifested itself only in the sequel. As long as Gideon lived, his powerful Spirit kept the enemy in fear, and the people at rest. The effects of his achievement lasted forty years, although the hero, refusing dominion, had retired as a private person to his house and stayed there,—unlike Washington, who, though at the end of the war he returned with “inexpressible delight” to his country-seat at Mount Vernon on the Potomac, yet soon left it again, to become President of the new republic.

Judges 8:29-32. And Jerubbaal, the son of Joash, went and dwelt in his own house The surname Jerubbaal has not again called for attention, since the events which gave rise to it. But now, that Gideon’s work is finished, the narrative, with a subtilty of thought that is surprising, speaks of him under this name. It was given him because he had overthrown the altar of Baal, for which the superstitious populace expected to see the vengeance of Baal overtake him (Judges 6:32). The result shows that Baal is nothing. Gideon has smitten him and his servants, and is covered with success and glory. “There goes”—so speak the people among themselves—“Jerubbaal into his house; the greatest man in Israel, because he smote Baal.” Baal is impotent against the faithful and valiant. Victory constantly attends his enemies, for God is with them. May this truth never be forgotten by our own people and princes! As long as he continued to live, Gideon had every thing that ministered to fame and happiness m Israel—many sons, peace; riches, and a “good old age.” The last expression is used of no one else but Abraham (Genesis 25:8); for of David it is employed not by the Book of Kings, but only by the late Chronicles (1 Chronicles 29:28). The “goodness” of his old age consisted in his seeing the blessed results of his great deed of faith, continuing unbroken and unchanged as long as he lived. Nevertheless, the narrative already. hints at the shadow which after his death darkened his house. In Shechem, a concubine bore him a son, whom they called Abimelech. וַיָּשֶׂם, I think, refers not to Gideon, but indefinitely to those about the concubine; for it was in Shechem that the name originated. Gideon, who would not “rule,” much less be king, would not have named his son, “My Father is King.” On the other hand, it was but natural that the vanity of the concubine, when she bore a son to the great Gideon, the man of royal reputation and distinction, would gladly consent to have him named Abimelech.25 This vanity of Shechem is the foundation of the coming tragedy.

Of no previous hero has the account been so extended. It is even mentioned that he was buried in his father’s sepulchre, in the family vault. That also is a sign of his happy and peaceful end. Here also, as always at the close, the name of the hero’s father is associated with his own, as a tribute of honor for the support he once afforded his son (Judges 6:31); beyond this, however, nothing is recorded of him. Gideon, as conqueror, dwelt no longer in his father’s house, but in his own (Judges 8:29); but at death he is buried in his father’s tomb. In that tomb, the glory of Manasseh sleeps; he in whom, tradition declares, the blessing of Jacob on this grandson was fulfilled, and of whom the Midrash says, that what Moses was at an earlier time, that Gideon was in his.


Gideon puts kings to flight, pursues them like wild beasts to their dens, slays them with his own hand—an honor not allowed to Barak,—but himself will be no king. Dominion belongs to God, he says; for the victory was of God. It is not majorities that make a king in Israel, but the call of God by the mouth of his prophets. What Gideon had won, was not his. How should he take God’s title, to whom everything in Israel belongs? So long as we render God what belongs to Him, we shall also have what properly falls to us. When Gideon inaugurated his ephod, he desired an honor for his house; and this only honor which he sought for himself, beyond that which he already had, proved the downfall of his house after him. Let us therefore seek first the kingdom of God: all other things will come of themselves. So soon as we seek to honor and immortalize ourselves beside God, our labor proves vain, and our glory falls into the dust.

Lisco: Gideon refuses to accede to the proposal of the people, because he is conscious that everything is to be ascribed only to the Lord, and that it would be nothing else than arbitrariness and self-seeking to accept the royal dignity without special direction from above.—Gerlach: He rejects the offered crown from genuine fidelity to the Lord whom alone he serves; but another temptation he fails to withstand.

[Henry: They honestly thought it very reasonable, that he who had gone through the toils and perils of their deliverance, should enjoy the honor and power of commanding them ever after; and very desirable, that he who in this great and critical juncture had had such manifest tokens of God’s presence with him, should ever after preside in their affairs. Let us apply it to the Lord Jesus; He hath delivered us out of the hand of our enemies, our spiritual enemies, the worst and most dangerous, therefore it is fit He should rule over us; for how can we be better ruled, than by One that appears to have so great an interest in heaven, and so great a kindness for this earth?—Bp. Hall: That which others plot and sue, and swear and bribe for (dignity and superiority), he seriously rejects, whether it were for that he knew God had not yet called them to a monarchy, or rather for that he saw the crown among thorns. Why do we ambitiously affect the command of these mole-hills of earth, when wise men have refused the proffers of kingdoms? Why do we not rather labor for that kingdom which is free from all cares, from all uncertainty?

Wordsworth: Gideon’s history is a warning that it requires more than a good intention to make a good act; and that the examples of the best of men are not a safe guide of conduct; and the better the man is, the more will be the consequences of bad acts done by him. The only right rule of life is the Law of God.—The same: Gideon is numbered among the saints of God in the epistle to the Hebrews (Judges 11:32); but the saints of God were men, and no man is free from some blemish of human infirmity.—Tr.]


[15][Judges 8:24.—נֶזֶם, ring; whether ear-ring or nose-ring, the word itself does not declare. Cassel and De Wette both render it by the singular (De Wette, Ohrring). It is used as a collective, and simply indicates the class of ornaments desired, without any reference to the number which each man was supposed to have, or was expected to give. This indefinite singular is best rendered in English by the plural, as in E. V.—Tr.]

[16][Judges 8:25.—חַשִּׂמְלַה: Dr. Cassel, ein Gewand, “a garment.” The definite article simply indicates the garment used on the occasion. The term שִׂמְלָה, though also used in the general sense of garment and raiment, is specially applied to the outer garment, the mantle or cloak, cf. Bib. Dict., s. v. “Dress.” Being a four-cornered piece of cloth, it was quite suitable for the present purpose.—Tr.]

[17][Judges 8:28.—וַתִּשְׁקֹט הָאָרֶץ, “and the land rested.” The E. V. departs here from its own previous renderings, see Judges 3:11; Judges 3:30; Judges 5:31, where the Hebrew has the same words.—Tr.]

[18][Judges 8:31.—וַיָּשֶׂם אֶת־שְׁמוֹ Dr. Cassel: man nannte seinen Namen. Bertheau also takes ויָּשֶׂם as the indeterminate 3d pers. (see ties. Or. 137, 3), and says: “the name sounds like a nickname, given him because his lordship was of such brief duration, and he so very far from being Father of a King.” The difficulty is that the text gives no hint of a change of subject. But cf. the commentary below, and Keil’s view in note on p. 140.—Tr.]

[19][Bertheau: “Ishmaelites is the general name of a number of tribes, among whom the Midianites, though according to Genesis 25:2, not descended from Ishmael, but from Keturah, were also reckoned, cf. Genesis 37:25; Genesis 37:28; Genesis 39:1.”—See also above, on Judges 6:1.—Tr.]

[20][Wellsted (“Reisen in Arabien,” i. 224, quoted by Keil):—“The women in Omân squander considerable sums in the purchase of silver ornaments, and their children are literally laden with them. I have sometimes counted fifteen earrings on each side, and head, breast, arms, and ankles, were adorned with equal profusion.”—Tr.]

[21]In Silius Italicus also (Punica, xii. 231), we find, “In zure lapis, rubris advectus ab oris.”

[22][Keil: “It is not necessary so to understand this, as if the 1,700 shekels (fifty lbs.) of gold were worked up into the ephod, but only that the expense of making it was defrayed with this money.”—Wordsworth: “The immense quantity of gold was probably bestowed not only on the robe itself, but on the chains and ouches, and settings of the stones on the shoulders, and on the breastplate, and on the setting of the stones therein; and perhaps also in the purchase of the precious stones for the shoulders, and for the workmanship of the whole.”—Tr.]

[23] וַיַּצֵּג. On this word compare Keil on this passage. [Keil remarks: “וַיַּצֵּג אֹרוֹ does not say, he set it up; but may as well mean, he preserved it, in his city Ophrah, הִעִּיג is nowhere used of the erection of an image ox statue; and signifies, not only to place, but also to lay down (e. g. Judges 6:37), and to let stand, leave behind, Genesis 33:15.”—Tr.]

[24]With this explanation of the ephod and its consequences, the old Jewish expositors agree. The Midrash (Jalkut, ii. n. 64) gives a profound hint, when it opposes the tribe-feeling of Gideon, as a member of Manasseh, to that of Ephraim. However, even that was already regarded as a species of “unclean service.”

[25][Keil interprets the name as meaning “Father of a King” (Königsvater), and says: “וַיָּשֶׂם אֶת־שִׁמוֹ is not the same as קָרָא אֶת־שְׁמוֹ, to give one a name, to name him, but signifies to give one a by-name, to surname him, cf. Nehemiah 9:7; Daniel 5:12 (Chald.). It follows from this, that Gideon gave Abimelech this name as a surname suitable to his character; consequently, not at his birth, but afterwards, as he grew up and developed characteristics which suggested it.”—Tr.]

Verses 33-35

Apostasy from God, and ingratitude to man

Judges 8:33-35

33And it came to pass as soon as Gideon was dead, that the children [sons] of Israel turned again, and went a whoring after [the] Baalim, and made Baal-berith their god. 34And the children [sons] of Israel remembered not the Lord [Jehovah] their God, who had delivered them out of the hands of all their enemies on every 35side: Neither showed they kindness to the house of Jerubbaal, namely, Gideon [Jerubbaal Gideon],26 according to all the goodness27 which he had showed unto Israel.


[1 Judges 8:35.—The word namely is added by the translators, who supposed, as Bertheau does, that the writer designed once more to point out the identity of Gideon with Jerubbaal. Cf. the Com.—Tr.]

[2 Judges 8:35.—כְּכָל־הַטּוֹבָה: Dr. Cassel: trotz aller Wohlthat, “notwithstanding all the good.” The “notwithstanding” lies perhaps in the thought, but not in the language.—Tr.]


Judges 8:33-34. And it came to pass as soon as Gideon was dead. The fact soon became manifest that the people had been raised only by the personal character of Gideon; he is scarcely dead, before they fall back again. The narrator says sharply וַיָּשׁוּבוּ, “they returned.” The same word which elsewhere describes the turning of the people towards God, is here used to indicate their passion for sin. Ad vomitum redierunt, as Serarius well remarks.

And went a whoring after the Baalim, and made Baal-berith their god. Nothing could put the stupid thoughtlessness of the people in a stronger light. They have become great and free through victory over Baal; and now they again run after him. Jerubbaal—the contender with Baal—has just died, and they enter into covenant with Baal (see on Judges 9:4). That the nations in the Baal-covenant (Baal-berith) kept the peace towards them, was because Jehovah had given them victory,—and lo! they make idols their god! The error of Gideon, in supposing that by setting up his ephod he could preserve the people, now shows itself Since he is dead, in whom they conceived their salvation to be personified, they think neither of the spoils out of which the ephod was made, nor of him who procured them. Ingratitude is the parent of all unbelief. Thankfulness comes from thought.28 Israel thinks not on the God who has delivered it from all its enemies; how then should it think on the human hero when he has passed away. They withhold obedience from the God of their fathers; what recognition can they have for the house of their benefactor. The ephod, to be sure, was still in Ophrah; but who that despises the sanctuary of Moses and Joshua, will respect this private institute of Gideon, when his voice has ceased to be heard.

Judges 8:35. Neither showed they kindness to the house of Jerubbaal Gideon. In the name Jerubbaal, all the hero’s meritorious service, and its great results, are enunciated. For that reason the narrator mentions it here. It serves to aggravate the sinfulness of Israel’s ingratitude, and to show that he who enters the service of Baal, will also ignore his obligations towards those who contend with Baal. The people are unwilling to be reminded that to fight against Baal brings prosperity. They seek to forget everything that admonishes to repentance. It has always been the case, that those who apostatize from God, do not do well by the “house” of God.—Notwithstanding all the benefits which he had shown unto Israel. The narrator intimates that the endeavor of Gideon to perpetuate, by means of the ephod, the religious and godly memory of his deeds, was altogether vain. For let no one imagine that where God’s own deeds fail to command remembrance and gratitude, those of men, however deserving, can maintain themselves against the sinful sophistry of unbelief.


[Henry: Gideon being dead, the Israelites found themselves under no restraint, and went after Baalim. They went first after another ephod (Judges 8:27), for which Gideon had himself given them too much occasion, and now they went after another god. False worships made way for false deities.—Scott: As we all need so much mercy from our God, we should learn the more patiently to bear the ingratitude of our fellow-sinners, and the unsuitable returns we meet with for our poor services, and to resolve, after the divine example, “not to be overcome of evil, but to overcome evil with good.”—Tr.]


[26][Judges 8:35.—The word namely is added by the translators, who supposed, as Bertheau does, that the writer designed once more to point out the identity of Gideon with Jerubbaal. Cf. the Com.—Tr.]

[27][Judges 8:35.—כְּכָל־הַטּוֹבָה: Dr. Cassel: trotz aller Wohlthat, “notwithstanding all the good.” The “notwithstanding” lies perhaps in the thought, but not in the language.—Tr.]

[28][The German is, “Dank kommt vom Denken.” It is interesting to observe, whether the author meant to suggest it or not, that the remark is sound etymology as well as psychology. Grimm (Wörterb. ii. pp. 727, 927) derives both dank and denken from “the lost root dinke, danc, dünken,” expressive “of an action of the mind, a movement and up-lifting of the soul.” Thank and think belong, of course, to the same root.—Tr.]

Bibliographical Information
Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on Judges 8". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lcc/judges-8.html. 1857-84.
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