the Fifth Week of Lent
Verse-by-Verse Bible Commentary
New American Standard Version
Bible Study Resources
Nave's Topical Bible - Israel; Retaliation; Tabor; Zalmunna; Zebah; Thompson Chain Reference - Mountains; Tabor, Mount; Torrey's Topical Textbook - Ishmaelites, the;
Verse Judges 8:18. What manner of men were they whom ye slew at Tabor? — We have no antecedent to this question; and are obliged to conjecture one: it seems as if Zebah and Zalmunna had massacred the family of Gideon, while he was absent on this expedition. Gideon had heard some confused account of it, and now questions them concerning the fact. They boldly acknowledge it, and describe the persons whom they slew, by which he found they were his own brethren. This determines him to avenge their death by slaying the Midianitish kings, whom he otherwise was inclined to save. He might have heard that his brethren had been taken prisoners, and might have hoped to have exchanged them for the kings now in his hand; but when he found they had been all slain, he decrees the death of their murderers. There is something in this account similar to that in the 12th AEneis of Virgil: - When Turnus was overthrown, and supplicated for his life, and AEneas was inclined to spare him; he saw the belt of his friend Pallas, whom Turnus had slain, and which he now wore as a trophy: this immediately determined the Trojan to sacrifice the life of Turnus to the manes of his friend. The story is well told: -
Stetit acer in armis
AEneas, volvens oculos, dextramque repressit.
Et jam jamque magis cunctantem flectere sermo
Coeperat: infelix humero cum apparuit ingens
Balteus, et notis fulserunt cingula bullis
Pallantis pueri; victum quem vulnere Turnus
Straverat, atque humeris inimicum insigne gerebat.
Ille oculis postquam saevi monumenta doloris
Exuviasque hausit: furiis accensus et ira
Terribilis: Tune hinc spoliis indute meorum
Eripiare mihi?.-Pallas, te hoc vulnere Pallas
Immolat; et poenam scelerato ex sanguine sumit.
Hoc dicens furrum adverso sub pectore condit Fervidus.
VIRG. AEn. lib. xii., ver. 938.
"In deep suspense the Trojan seem'd to stand,
And, just prepared to strike, repress'd his hand.
He roll'd his eyes, and every moment felt
His manly soul with more compassion melt.
When, casting down a casual glance, he spied
The golden belt that glitter'd on his side;
The fatal spoils which haughty Turnus tore
From dying Pallas, and in triumph wore.
Then roused anew to wrath, he loudly cries,
(Flames, while he spoke, came flashing from his eyes,)
Traitor! dost thou! dost thou to grace pretend,
Clad, as thou art, in trophies of my friend? --
To his sad soul a grateful offering go;
'Tis Pallas, Pallas gives this deadly blow.
He rais'd his arm aloft; and at the word,
Deep in his bosom drove the shining sword."
The same principle impels Gideon to slay Zebah and Zalmunna which induced AEneas to kill Turnus: and perhaps the ornaments which he took from their camels' necks, Judges 8:21, were some of the spoils of his slaughtered brethren.
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Clarke, Adam. "Commentary on Judges 8:18". "The Adam Clarke Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/​commentaries/​acc/​judges-8.html. 1832.
Bridgeway Bible Commentary
Deliverance under Gideon (7:1-8:35)
God allowed Gideon only three hundred men to launch the attack against the Midianites, so that Israel might know that victory was not by military power but by God’s power (7:1-8). A Midianite soldier’s dream showed that an unnatural fear had come upon the Midianites. When he dreamt that a poor man’s loaf of barley overthrew a rich man’s tent, he thought that poverty-stricken Israel would overthrow Midian’s army. The Midianites could, in fact, have wiped out the Israelites with ease (9-14). Gideon knew that victory for Israel was now certain and he prepared his men for attack (15-18).
The Midianites were thrown into confusion when they were awakened in the middle of the night by the alarming sound of rams horns blasting, water jars breaking and Israelites yelling. When they saw lights all around the camp, they thought that Israel’s army was upon them. In their panic many began swinging their swords at anything they saw move in the darkness, not realizing that they were killing their own soldiers. Others tried to escape (19-22). The larger Israelite forces then joined in the battle (23).
Gideon gave to the men of Ephraim the task of cutting off the Midianites’ escape by seizing the Jordan River crossing. In doing so, the Ephraimites captured and killed two Midianite princes (24-25). However, the Ephraimites were offended because Gideon had not called them to join in the main battle. They calmed down when Gideon praised them by pointing out what a good job they had done. Whereas Gideon and his men had killed many of the ordinary Midianite soldiers, the Ephraimites had killed the two Midianite princes. The quality of Gideon’s ‘harvest’ could not compare with that of the Ephraimites’ ‘gleanings’ (8:1-3).
As for Gideon himself, he would not rest till he had killed the enemy kings. Not only were they the Midianite leaders, but they had also killed Gideon’s brothers (4-5; cf. v. 18-19). The leaders of certain cities east of Jordan doubted that Gideon would be successful, and refused to give him needed supplies for his army. They feared that if they helped Gideon, the Midianites would later return and punish them. Gideon promised that if they would not help him, he would punish them (6-9).
Though greatly outnumbered, Gideon pursued the two kings and captured them (10-12). As he returned from battle, he punished the leaders of the Israelite cities who had refused to help (13-17). He himself then killed the kings who had killed his brothers (18-21).
By now there was a widespread feeling among the Israelites that they should be like the nations round about and have a king whose rule would pass on to his descendants after him. Gideon refused their invitation, pointing out that Yahweh was their king (22-23). Although he continued to exercise some leadership in Israel, Gideon was not the great leader in peace that he had been in war. As Aaron had once done, he made a material symbol of the unseen God, and this soon led the people into idolatry (24-28).
In spite of his refusal to be Israel’s king, Gideon showed a tendency towards the sort of lifestyle that was typical of kings in neighbouring nations. Like them he built a large household of wives, concubines and children (29-32). When he died, the people easily slipped back into Baal worship. In their security and prosperity they forgot the God who had saved them (33-35).
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Flemming, Donald C. "Commentary on Judges 8:18". "Fleming's Bridgeway Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/​commentaries/​bbc/​judges-8.html. 2005.
Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible
THE EXECUTION OF THE TWO KINGS
"Then said he 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 the children of a king. And he said, They were my brethren, the sons of my mother: as Jehovah liveth, if ye had saved them alive, I would not slay you. And he said unto Jether his first-born, Up, and slay them. But the youth drew not his sword; for he feared, because he was yet a youth. Then Zebah and Zalmunna said, Rise thou, and fall upon us; for as the man is, so is his strength. And Gideon arose, and slew Zebah and Zalmunna, and took the crescents that were on their camels' necks."
There is hardly another passage in the Bible where our disagreement with some of the commentators is any more pronounced than it is in this. Robert Boling, writing in Anchor Bible (Judges) says of this passage:
"Thus Gideon rides roughshod over a basic covenant stipulation (Exodus 20:7; Deuteronomy 5:11, "Thou shalt not kill"), inasmuch as the vengeance being executed here is strictly personal. He has usurped Jehovah's executive prerogative (Romans 12:19, "Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord") ... an enormous act of private vengeance."
There is no greater error among present-day scholars than this outburst against Gideon's faithful obedience to the commandment of God who commanded, "Whosoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for God made man in his own image" (Genesis 9:6). "This is not merely a permission legalizing, but an imperative command enjoining capital punishment for murderers." "When God commands man to execute murderers, He delegates this task to him, and it becomes his God-given responsibility to do it."
In Gideon's case, God's Word specifically commanded him to execute vengeance upon the murderers of his brothers. The institution of the "cities of refuge" was not for the purpose of protecting willful murderers from their just punishment, but in order to protect the unintentional manslayer from the avenger of blood. "It was the duty of the nearest relative to execute vengeance upon the murderer of his kin; he became the [~go'el]." In this light, Gideon's execution of his brothers' murderer is exactly what God had commanded him to do.
The efforts of our current society to abolish capital punishment is not merely a mistake; it is a violation of the law of God! The shameful leniency of the judiciary in our own day is having exactly the same effect that God's leniency with Cain produced, filling the entire world with bloody violence. Any human society that wishes to bring about the universal bloodshed and violence which precipitated the Great Deluge could not possibly choose any quicker way to do so than to reject the commandment of God that orders human societies to execute murderers.
Gideon, as the "de facto" head of state, was the appropriate center of authority for the execution of all murderers. In this connection, it is of interest that some scholars apparently do not know the difference between "Thou shalt do no murder," which is the proper translation of Exodus 7 and, "The man shall surely be put to death" (Numbers 15:35), which was also the Word of God concerning certain violators of Divine law, including murderers. (For further comment on this, see Vol. 1 (Genesis) of the series on the Pentateuch, pp. 136,137.)
"What manner of men were they?" (Gideon's brothers) (Judges 8:18). The RSV renders this: "Where are the men whom ye slew at Tabor?" "Tabor here is a reference either to the mountain of that name, or to a village near it." We prefer the ASV, because it corresponds with the answer given by the two kings.
"They resembled the children of a king" (Judges 8:18). This reply was designed to provide a reason for their senseless murder of Gideon's brothers. The implied plea is that, "Their kingly appearance indicated their importance, and therefore we were afraid to spare them." Of course, Gideon did not allow such a ridiculous excuse.
"The sons of my mother" (Judges 8:19). Uterine brothers were supposed to be closer to each other than those who were the sons of a common father by different mothers. Jacob and Esau were glaring exceptions to that general rule.
"And he said to Jether his first-born, Up, and slay them" (Judges 8:20). "It is likely that Gideon led his prisoners home in triumph, and that they were put to death at Ophrah." This opinion seems justified because we could hardly suppose that Gideon's young son had been among the "three hundred" who went with Gideon beyond the Jordan.
"The youth drew not his sword, for he feared" (Judges 8:20). This is easily understood. This writer's nephew went on a deer hunt, and, as luck would have it, a large buck walked right in front of him only a few yards up wind away, but the young man froze with the gun in his hand; he simply could not pull the trigger! Slaying a fellow human being of course, would present an even greater shock to one who had never killed a man.
"And Gideon slew them, and took the crescents that were on their camels' necks" (Judges 8:21). Of course, Gideon took the camels also, which Zebah and Zalmunna had evidently been permitted to ride to Ophrah. The crescents are evidently mentioned here, because those gold ornaments became a snare and a temptation to Gideon.
Coffman's Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Judges 8:18". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/​commentaries/​bcc/​judges-8.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible
What manner of men - literally, “Where are the men?” The sense, “what manner of men”, is merely gathered from the tenor of the answer. Gideon doubtless knew that his brethren had been killed by Zebah and Zalmunna, and the desire of avenging their death was one motive for his impetuous pursuit and attack. His question was rather a taunt, a bitter reproach to his captives, preparing them for their fate. Zebah and Zalmunna, in their answer, did not give evidence against themselves. Their hope was by a flattering answer to soothe Gideon’s wrath.
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Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Judges 8:18". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/​commentaries/​bnb/​judges-8.html. 1870.
Smith's Bible Commentary
Shall we turn in our Bibles to the book of Judges, chapter eight?
The Ephraimites were troublemakers. And in chapter eight we find them giving Gideon a bad time. But we see with what splendid diplomacy Gideon deals with these Ephraimites. They came to Gideon and they began to chide him sharply because he had not called them to go with him against the Midianites. Now it is interesting to note that they came to him after Gideon had the victory and it was assured that Gideon had the enemy on the run. Then they came to him and said, "Why didn't you call us to come out and help you against these Midianites?" And they really began to give him a bad time, "chided him sharply." But Gideon said, "Well, what have I done compared with what you have? Actually you captured the two kings. And really, what have I done in comparison?"
Well, Gideon only wiped out a hundred and twenty thousand of them. And so, as yet, very diplomatically he handles the situation very well. These guys are hot-tempered. They come and they start making this ridiculous kind of an accusation. And Gideon, I feel, handles this situation very, very well. Perhaps a little bit too well as far as the Ephraimites themselves are concerned, because later on they tried the same trick with another fella Jephthah and he didn't handle it so well. But Gideon was very gracious in his dealing with them.
He said, What have I done in comparison with you? Is not the gleaning of the grapes of Ephraim better than the vintage of Abiezer? ( Judges 8:2 )
In other words, you guys came in and the gleanings that you got, the leftovers, are really better than the vintage that we took.
And have, God has delivered into your hands the princes of Midian, Oreb and Zeeb: what was I able to do in comparison to you? Then their anger was abated towards him, when he said that ( Judges 8:3 ).
So, it was just a very gracious thing on the part of Gideon. I look at Gideon and I must admire the man. There is, I feel, a true humility in this man, admirable quality. When the Lord actually called him to lead the Israelites against Midian you remember, he said, "Lord, I can't do that. My father's house you know is really nothing and I am the least of my father's house. Who am I to do this?" And yet, he was the kind of fellow, when convinced of the call of God, went at it in a very sincere way. Now he could really be glorying in the victory of the Midianites, take this as an opportunity to really, you know, pride himself. It wasn't so.
Now, perhaps he learned and learned well, the fact that God wanted the glory in the battle. You remember that's why God narrowed his army down. That's why God cut them down from twenty-two thousand to three hundred, in order that God would get the victory for whatever was accomplished.
So Gideon came to Jordan, he passed over, with three hundred men that were with him, who were faint, still they were pursing the enemy ( Judges 8:4 ).
For there was still some fifteen thousand of the enemy still alive. They've wiped out a hundred and twenty thousand, fifteen thousand were still alive and so he's pursuing. That's pretty brave thing, with three hundred guys you're chasing fifteen thousand, you know. That's all right as long as they're running but what if they turn around? And it's really a very commendable thing that he is still doing but his men are tired at this point.
Now an interesting thing to me is that there are still three hundred. Up to this point he hasn't lost a single man in this battle. God has done a pretty thorough job in wiping out the enemy, and no wonder Gideon was not about to take the credit and is willing to let other men glory but he wouldn't glory himself.
And so they came to the city of Succoth and they said to the men of Succoth, "Hey, give some bread to my men because they are faint and all." And they said, "Look fella, is the enemy in your hand? No way, just fifteen thousand of them go by, there's only three hundred of you guys and we don't want to be guilty of helping you because if we help you, then if you be defeated by them, they'll come back and get us. And so they refused to feed Gideon's men.
And Gideon said, "When I return with their heads, I'm gonna drag you guys through the cactus." And so he went on to the next city of Penuel, and he asked the men of Penuel, he said, "Give my men some food, they're fainting and we've still got the enemy to wipe out." And they said, "The enemy isn't yet delivered in your hand. We're not gonna help you."
Gideon says when I come back from the victory I'm gonna tear down your tower. And he with his three hundred men pursued them, the remainder of the Midianites, about fifteen thousand of them, and they wiped them out.
Verse ten, there is already fallen about a hundred and twenty thousand that drew their sword. There were about fifteen thousand that were now in Karkor where their leaders Zebah and Zalmunna.
So Gideon went up by the way of them that dwelt in the tents on the east of Nobah, and he smote the host: for the host was secure. And when Zebah and Zalmunna fled, he pursued after them, and took the two kings of Midian, Zebah and Zalmunna, and discomfited all the host. And Gideon the son Joash returned from battle before the sun was up, And they caught a young man from the city of Succoth, and he said: Describe to me the leaders of your city, [the mayor and the city council] ( Judges 8:11-14 ).
And so the young man described for them the elders, the leaders of the city and so he went into Succoth and he took these guys and drug them through the cactus, through the thorns and the briars to teach them a lesson for their failure to help them when they were in need. Then they came to Penuel, and they broke down the tower of the city and smote the men of Penuel for their failure also to help them in their time of need.
Then he said to these two Midianite kings, "Describe for me the men that you killed over near Mount Tabor."
And they said, "Well actually, they look sort of like you, good-looking, they sort of look like sons of God."
Gideon said, "They were my brothers. If you would have spared their lives I would now spare yours but you killed my brothers." And so he said to one of his young boys, he said, "Rise up and kill these fellows." Well, his boy was quite young, probably a teenager and he was, well you know here are kings and for me to just kill them and so his boy hesitated.
And so the two kings said, "Fall on us, you know. Go ahead" And yet he hesitated to do it. And so Gideon himself killed the two kings of the Midianites that he had taken captive.
So then the men of Israel [verse twenty-two] came to Gideon, and they said to Gideon, Rule over us, you, and your sons, and your son's sons ( Judges 8:22 ):
In other words, they wanted to set up now a dynasty and a monarchy. They wanted now the family of Gideon to become the king over Israel and his sons and his grandsons. But Gideon shows remarkable character. Here he is, you know, the popular movement. "Gideon, draft Gideon for the king."
And Gideon answered them, I will not rule over you, and neither shall my son rule over you: the LORD shall rule over you ( Judges 8:23 ).
So I see very much in the character of Gideon as a very commendable thing. He did absolutely the right thing. "The Lord rule over you. I'm not going to nor my son." And so Gideon then asked the men for his share of the victory in the loot. He said, "I'd just like the golden earrings."
Now these Midianites were Ishmaelites and they all of them had gold earrings, pierced ears with a gold ring in their ears. And so they dumped them all on Gideon. And man at the price of gold today he would have been a wealthy man because it was seventeen hundred shekels of gold that these earrings weighed when they tossed them all in. A hundred and twenty thousand earrings that would be a pretty good hit really on the gold market today.
So Gideon them made an ephod out of these ( Judges 8:27 ),
It's sort of a gold kind of a robe out of them. But this gold robe that he made became a snare. It became a tourist attraction. People used to travel down to Gideon's house to see this golden ephod that he had made out of the earrings of the Midianites. And the people began to worship it. They made it sort of an object of worship; thus, it became a snare unto Israel. Now I don't think that Gideon had that in mind at all, that the people would make sort of an idol out of this golden ephod that he made from these earrings but nonetheless the people did. Now at that point, I think, was where Gideon did make a mistake. When he saw how the people were, you know, sort of revering this gold ephod he should have just tossed the thing in the fire, melted it down and made a gold brick or something. And so if he was guilty of any mistakes it was this: his allowing the ephod to remain after the people had made an idolatrous kind of a symbol of this ephod.
And thus the children of Midian were subdued, and they did not lift their heads up against the Israelite. And there was quiet in the land for forty years during all of the days of Gideon. And Jerubbaal [who is Gideon and he received that name when he knocked down the altar of Baal that belonged to his dad] the son of Joash went and dwelt in his own house ( Judges 8:28-29 ).
Now he was a pretty prolific guy, he had seventy sons begotten for he had many wives.
And his concubine that was in Shechem, she also bare him a son, whose name was called Abimelech. And Gideon the son of Joash died in a good old age, was buried in the sepulchre of Joash his father, in Ophrah which is of the Abiezrites. So it came to pass, that soon after Gideon was dead, the children of Israel turned again, and went whoring after Baalim, made Baalberith their god. And the children of Israel remembered not the LORD their God, who had delivered them out of the hands of all of their enemies on every side: And neither shewed they kindness to the house of Jerubbaal, or Gideon [in namely in this], that according to all the goodness which he had showed in Israel ( Judges 8:31-35 ). "
Copyright © 2014, Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa, Ca.
Smith, Charles Ward. "Commentary on Judges 8:18". "Smith's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/​commentaries/​csc/​judges-8.html. 2014.
Dr. Constable's Expository Notes
The execution of the Midianite kings 8:18-21
Gideon took his prisoners back to Ophrah where the following events evidently took place. The Midianite kings had apparently executed Gideon’s brothers sometime before the recent battle, perhaps during one of the Midianites’ previous raids. It seems that Gideon was unable to avenge his brothers’ deaths then due, most likely, to the Midianites’ superiority. Now Gideon had the upper hand.
Gideon appears to have been an imposing person physically. The Midianite kings said his brothers resembled him and looked like the sons of a king, perhaps poised and aristocratic in bearing. Another explanation is that the enemy kings hoped to gain Gideon’s favor by flattery, but this seems unlikely since Gideon recognized his brothers by their description (Judges 8:19). Gideon probably would not have applied the lex talionis as he did here if his brothers had died in battle. The Midianite kings had evidently murdered them.
It was a great disgrace to die at the hand of a woman or a youth in the ancient Near East. This implied that the person killed could not overcome his slayer. Gideon’s intent was to punish the kings with humiliation as well as death for their treatment of his brothers (Judges 8:20). However, Gideon’s young son was not ready for this adult work, so Gideon killed them himself (Judges 8:21). The crescent-shaped ornaments that Gideon took from the kings’ camels (Judges 8:21) were presumably gold and silver. The Arabians commonly wore these around their necks and used them to decorate their camels. These particular ornaments would have been very valuable since they belonged to kings.
"Such crescents are mentioned in the Bible only in this chapter and Isaiah 3:18, but crescent-moon-shaped ornaments have been found at many excavated sites in Palestine. They are widely used by Arab peoples up to the present day." [Note: Cundall and Morris, p. 120.]
With the execution of Zebah and Zalmunna and the destruction of their army, Midian’s domination of Israel ended. Though the seven years of this oppression were not as long as some of Israel’s other periods of discipline, this appears to have been an unusually oppressive subjugation.
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Judges 8:18". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/​commentaries/​dcc/​judges-8.html. 2012.
Gill's Exposition of the Whole Bible
Then said he unto Zebah and Zalmunna,.... Not at Penuel or Succoth, but when he had brought them into the land of Canaan, and perhaps to his own city Ophrah:
what manner of men were they whom ye slew at Tabor? Mount Tabor, to which these men had betaken and hid themselves, in some caves and dens there: see Judges 6:2 and these kings some little time before the battle had taken them, and slew them, of which it seems Gideon had notice; and some of his brethren being not to be found, he suspected they were the persons, and therefore asked this question:
and they answered, as thou art, so were they; very much like him in countenance and stature, stout, able bodied men, of a graceful and majestic appearance. Abarbinel takes it to be a curse on Gideon, be thou, or thou shalt be, as they are; as they died by the hand of the Midianites, so shalt thou; but the former sense seems best, and agrees with what follows:
each one resembled the children of a king; being brought up in a delicate manner, as these persons seemed to have been: according to Jarchi and Kimchi, the sense is, they were like him, and had all one and the same form and lovely aspect, resembling kings' children; but according to Ben Gersom they were in general very much like Gideon, and one of them was like his children, who were then present, particularly his eldest son, as appears from Judges 8:20. It is said in the Misnah a all the Israelites are the children of kings.
a Sabbat, c. 14. sect. 4.
The New John Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible Modernised and adapted for the computer by Larry Pierce of Online Bible. All Rights Reserved, Larry Pierce, Winterbourne, Ontario.
A printed copy of this work can be ordered from: The Baptist Standard Bearer, 1 Iron Oaks Dr, Paris, AR, 72855
Gill, John. "Commentary on Judges 8:18". "Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible". https://www.studylight.org/​commentaries/​geb/​judges-8.html. 1999.
Henry's Complete Commentary on the Bible
|Zebah and Zalmunna Slain.||B. C. 1249.|
18 Then said he 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 the children of a king. 19 And he said, They were my brethren, even the sons of my mother: as the LORD liveth, if ye had saved them alive, I would not slay you. 20 And he said unto Jether his firstborn, Up, and slay them. But the youth drew not his sword: for he feared, because he was yet a youth. 21 Then Zebah and Zalmunna said, Rise thou, and fall upon us: for as the man is, so is his strength. And Gideon arose, and slew Zebah and Zalmunna, and took away the ornaments that were on their camels' necks.
Judgment began at the house of God, in the just correction of the men of Succoth and Penuel, who were Israelites, but it did not end there. The kings of Midian, when they had served to demonstrate Gideon's victories, and grace his triumphs, must now be reckoned with. 1. They are indicted for the murder of Gideon's brethren some time ago at Mount Tabor. When the children of Israel, for fear of the Midianites, made themselves dens in the mountains (Judges 6:2; Judges 6:2), those young men, it is likely, took shelter in that mountain, where they were found by these two kings, and most basely and barbarously slain in cold blood. When he asks them what manner of men they were (Judges 7:18; Judges 7:18), it is not because he was uncertain of the thing, or wanted proof of it; he was not so little concerned for his brethren's blood as not to enquire it out before now, nor were these proud tyrants solicitous to conceal it. But he puts that question to them that by their acknowledgment of the more than ordinary comeliness of the persons they slew their crime might appear the more heinous, and consequently their punishment the more righteous. They could not but own that, though they were found in a mean and abject condition, yet they had an unusual greatness and majesty in their countenances, not unlike Gideon himself at this time: they resembled the children of a king, born for something great. 2. Being found guilty of this murder by their own confession, Gideon, though he might have put them to death as Israel's judge for the injuries done to that people in general, as Oreb and Zeeb (Judges 7:25; Judges 7:25), yet chooses rather to put on the character of an avenger of blood, as next of kin to the persons slain: They were my brethren,Judges 7:19; Judges 7:19. Their other crimes might have been forgiven, at least Gideon would not have slain them himself, let them have answered it to the people; but the voice of his brethren's blood cries, cries to him, now it is in the power of his hand to avenge it, and therefore there is no remedy--by him must their blood be shed, though they were kings. Little did they think to hear of this so long after; but murder seldom goes unpunished even in this life. 3. The execution is done by Gideon himself with his own hand, because he was the avenger of blood; he bade his son slay them, for he was a near relation to the persons murdered, and fittest to be his father's substitute and representative, and he would thus train him up to the acts of justice and boldness, Judges 7:20; Judges 7:20. But, (1.) The young man himself desired to be excused; he feared, though they were bound and could make no resistance, because he was yet a youth, and not used to such work: courage does not always run in the blood. (2.) The prisoners themselves desired that Gideon would excuse it (Judges 7:21; Judges 7:21), begged that, if they must die, they might die by his own hand, which would be somewhat more honourable to them, and more easy; for by his great strength they would sooner be dispatched and rid out of their pain. As is the man, so is his strength. Either they mean it of themselves (they were men of such strength as called for a better hand than that young man's to overpower quickly) or of Gideon, "Thou art at thy full strength; he has not yet come to it; therefore be thou the executioner." From those that are grown up to maturity, it is expected that what they do in any service be done with so much the more strength. Gideon dispatched them quickly, and seized the ornaments that were on their camels' necks, ornaments like the moon, so it is in the margin, either badges of their royalty or perhaps of their idolatry, for Ashteroth was represented by the moon, as Baal by the sun. With there he took all their other ornaments, as appears Judges 7:26; Judges 7:26, where we find that he did not put them to so good a use as one would have wished. The destruction of these two kings, and that of the two princes (Judges 7:25; Judges 7:25) is long afterwards pleaded as a precedent in prayer for the ruin of others of the church's enemies, Psalms 83:11, Make their nobles like Oreb and Zeeb, and all their princes as Zebah and Zalmunna, let them all be but off in like manner.
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Henry, Matthew. "Complete Commentary on Judges 8:18". "Henry's Complete Commentary on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/​commentaries/​mhm/​judges-8.html. 1706.
Kelly Commentary on Books of the Bible
The book of Joshua has shown the power of Jehovah in the conquests of His people, and this too distinguished from the measure of their practical taking possession of what was conquered. For as these are not the same things, so the line drawn divides the book into its two portions: first, the actual blow that was struck at the enemy; and, secondly, the measure in which they took advantage of their successes in order to enter on the positive enjoyment of their own possessions.
The book of Judges stand in painful contrast the inevitable lesson of the first man. In it we are given to see the failure of the people of God to retain even what they had actually conquered; still more to press on in the acquisition of that which Jehovah designed for them. In both we have what clearly answers on the one hand to the blessing in which God has set Christians, and on the other to the ways in which the enemy has contrived to rob them of their just portion in the enjoyment of the Lord. This no doubt is a humbling lesson; but it is unspeakably gracious that God has given it to us in His word. It would have been overwhelming, if the New Testament had consisted of nothing but the inspired testimony of divine grace to that into which the Holy Ghost introduced the Christian in Christ. Yet not less humbling undoubtedly it is as God has given it to us. But otherwise there had also been utter depression; for it would be to leave us without divine solace: it would expose us to every kind of uncertainty, and to the utmost danger from the enemy, if God had not given us in the New Testament itself our book of Judges just as much as our book of Joshua. In short the Spirit of God has set out very clearly in the New Testament the departure from their own proper privileges of those that had been brought into blessing. It has even shown us, with the greatest fullness and care, the ways in which Satan gained the advantage over those that bore the name of Christ.
Who can fail to notice divine wisdom in the fact that the worst features that were afterwards to appear in Christendom should be then manifest before the eye not indeed of all saints but of the Spirit of God, that they should so far exist, at least in form, as to furnish the just and fitting occasion for the apostles to pronounce, more particularly in the general epistles or the later writings, whether of Paul or of Peter, of Jude or of John above all, in the book of Revelation? For this simple reason it is now only unbelief or negligence of Scripture that can be surprised. Let the shadows of coming evil be ever so filled out by developing facts, still they only verify the word of our God. Thus the confirmation of the word, being thus borne out not only in the good that God has imparted but in the havoc that the enemy has wrought among those that call on the name of the Lord, really turns when learned from God, into a very solemn warning, and the increasing vigilance of the saint, by making him feel the wisdom and the goodness of God in separating us a thing always in its own nature repulsive, and naturally so to one who loves the saints unless there were an absolute call for it and confidence in His grace, whose will it is when unity is perverted to His own dishonour.
Granted that there are those to whom separation is no trial. They are not to be envied. It ought to be a sore trial which nothing justifies but the stern and solemn sense that we owe it to Christ nay, further (as is always the case, what we owe to Christ being the best thing for the saints of God), not only a necessary course for our own souls in allegiance to the Lord, but a warning due to those ensnared by the enemy. Do we truly desire the blessing of all the children of God? Who does not that loves the Lord Jesus? Must we not pursue, if it were only for their sakes, that which is most according to Christ? That which will be most salutary for them under such circumstances will surely be to show them the danger of desiring paths which they might too lightly tread the paths of ease and yielding to the world, where Christ is unknown, forsaking what is true and holy to God's glory. "By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments."
Thus it is then that the discovery of the declension of the people of God is turned to serious but real profit, yet never unless our souls are kept simple and self-judging, grave yet happy, in the grace of God. Hence you will find, taking the epistle of Jude as an instance, the care with which the Holy Ghost exhorts them to "build themselves up on their most holy faith," to "keep themselves in the love of God looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life." It is not only brotherly affection, but higher up the stream, if from the same source. It is divine charity which is pressed. Never does the love of God lead to forgetfulness of His holiness, never in any way or measure to yield to the influences of evil that are flowing with a constantly increasing tide. This too we shall find in the Old Testament as in the New. In fact, if there be the same material looking at man, there is the same substantial truth if you look at God. Not of course that there was equal development then as now; for unquestionably the time was not yet come for the fullness of that which was from God to be manifested; nor consequently for man to display his enmity, and hatred, and incurable evil. How could either be till Jesus was known? Still there was from the earliest day a new nature in the saints, and the testimony of the word and Spirit of God, who was always looking on to Jesus. But now that grace and truth are fully before us in Jesus, His invariableness revealed cannot but invigorate the affections and brace the conscience, associating all with Him who came to do God's will in exercised hearts towards God. He therefore keeps back nothing that is profitable, but tells us of our danger. He shows us how the people of God have always slipped, and what is more, that they slipped from the first that departure from His will and ways was by no means a result of centuries. Neither of old nor after Christ did it require ages to betray, though of course it always went on growing. Contrariwise the common law of the first man is immediate and invariable departure from God. It is not meant by this that there may not be fidelity exceptionally by grace; but it is unspeakably solemn to find the fact always in scripture, that God no sooner gives a blessing than man misuses it, that the departure is immediate and that this is true of individuals as well as of communities. Both have their importance. It is true, as all know, from the first. We see it in Paradise; we see it after the world was renewed; we see it now in the chosen nation. The same thing reappears in the Christian profession, as the apostle warns the Roman saints from the example of Israel. And their failure too the book of Judges shows us to have been not merely among some here and there, but alas! everywhere. There might be great differences between one tribe and another morally, as for instance relaxation was unquestionably more complete in Dan than in Judah; but the failure of Judah to rise up to the just recognition of Jehovah's glory on their part is plain from the beginning of the history in the land.
All this appears to me to be of no inconsiderable importance as meeting a difficulty that perhaps all minds have felt who have been somewhat exercised about the church of God. In the New Testament the church we see set up in fullness of blessing by redemption, as associated with Christ. Not only did the Holy Ghost act in power for the soul, but He was ever the witness of superiority over all circumstances for body and mind, and these displays of energy not confined to apostles those chief envoys of the Lord and instruments of the work of God on earth, but diffusing the victory of Christ over the church as such. B ut it is not merely that in the history that man has made of the church we find departure. There indeed it is most manifest for those that have eyes to see and ears to hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches. But the salutary lesson is this, that the simple child of God had got it all in the word, so that he needs no ecclesiastical history to show the solemn fact. The New Testament itself is amply sufficient; and indeed for most readers the histories that even saints of God have made of the church would but mislead. They palliate, excuse, or even justify the general departure from the word of God. Where not? Who can tell me one history that vindicates adequately the word and Spirit of God? So widespread and deep became the departure, that the very worst can hardly defend Christendom in the face of scripture. The grossest adulators of priestly power, those that sold themselves to the purposes of ecclesiastical ambition, have not been able to veil the heinous iniquity into which what was called the church of God sank before long; but it is an immense mercy that the simplest child of God has got in his Bible, not only the moral profit of all the ways of God, and the analogies of every previous dispensation of God, but what concerns himself. His own place and privileges, his own duty on the one hand, he cannot find except in the Bible; but even also the history of his failure he can find nowhere so clear, nowhere so simple, nowhere so rightly shown and proved as in that perfect word of God. And further, the familiarity with evil everywhere out of scripture tends to blunt conscience, if not to make us content with it, and therefore to settle down as if it were hopeless to find a path according to God in the midst of abounding iniquity. Whether it be the Old Testament or the New, the word of God never forms such a path, nor ever excuses it even for the weakest; and it is important to see that it is not weakness that goes astray: it is the subtlety of unbelief that can pervert even scripture itself to justify its own will. Undoubtedly there is nothing that man's will may not find a reason for, perhaps too on the surface of scripture. There is no limit to its perverse ingenuity. But when the word of God is read with conscience, this is quite another thing. There the Shepherd's voice is heard and known. Not that He fails to tell the truth in any case, for indeed He does in every case; but He makes the truth felt wherever there is a conscience open to hear.
This no doubt is the great instruction of the book of Judges. It is not the only one, thank God. The same book shows us the slipping away, or defection, of the various tribes of Israel from the purpose of God in bringing them into the land a purpose which, you must remember, will surely be carried out yet. No purpose of God ever fails in the end, whilst every purpose in man's hand fails for the time. These are two of the most prominent lessons of the word of God; and the reason is just this all His purposes stand because there is a Second man: every purpose fails when entrusted to the first man.
It is of the first man we read here; but at the same time we have the testimony of the gracious power of God, not now in conquest, but in lifting up from time to time, and in partial deliverances. Your attention is called particularly to this. According to the analogy of God, it is not to produce anything but a partial interference after the first failure until Jesus comes. Then indeed deliverance will be complete; but God will have the evil felt, and, whatever may be His gracious intervention, He does not work in such a sort or after such a measure as would tend to enfeeble the sense and the confession of sin, the humiliation, the self-judgment, which become the saint in view of the present state of things. I have no doubt therefore that, for those that really take the word of God as He has given it, so great is His grace that a time of ruin may be made a season of special blessing. It is not a day of great prosperity that brings out the truth of things most before God.
Do you forget that He gives grace to the humble now? Do you suppose that there was not ignorance in the day of Pentecost? I am persuaded that you mistake the character of that wondrous day and of this if you doubt either. In presence of their then power the reality of the condition of individuals was not felt, as at Corinth, till gross evil came in, and party spirit began to divide the saints; and those who ran well grew less vivid in their sense of Christ, and the preciousness of His grace and truth was dimmed in their souls, so that some went to law, and others to idol temples. Then the real condition of souls became manifest. How fared it with those that clave to the Lord? Did they necessarily go down in such a day? Far from it. It made the fidelity of Chloe's household, or that of Stephanas, more distinct; and more prayer, more groaning, more crying to God, would be surely the result in those that had the sense of Christ's love and glory. How sad the state of those so near and precious in His eyes as are the saints of God?
I have no doubt accordingly that it is a total mistake to suppose if we take, for instance, the apostle Paul, or even persons far inferior to him, those labourers that were his companions, and who shared his sorrows as well as his joys a great mistake to suppose that Peter or the others had juster feelings, or were more truly in communion with the Lord than he; yet, as we know, it was not given to him to be found in that wondrous scene where the Holy Ghost was first poured down from heaven. But assuredly the apostle drank more deeply into the sense of what man was in presence not merely of law but of grace, as well as of what God is as now putting honour on Christ. No doubt this is deep work; for there is a breaking to pieces of every thought and feeling of the human heart; and there results such a depth of experience, both of anguish on the one hand and on the other hand of confidence in the grace of God, as must thoroughly repay and fit the individuals concerned for such service as is according to God's own mind for a day of grief and ruin. In short, it matters little what the time is on which one may be cast if there be faith in God, who is above all circumstances; for faith finds Him out and glorifies Him, whatever the circumstances may be.
This, it may be observed, is rather a general way of applying the book of Judges; but these remarks have been made for the very reason that we may read the word of God as a whole, allowing for differences (one need not say,) and, while we may seek to enter into and understand the just application of the Old Testament, that we. may also avail ourselves of what lies everywhere before us, those great and divine and ever precious principles of divine truth which we want, and which God has given us to meet us in the circumstances where we are now.
We need not therefore dwell on the minute particulars of the first few verses. I will only make a remark on one point; namely, the blessing which confidence in grace always receives from God. We know how Caleb was blessed; but we find also that God's grace developed in his daughter the same confidence in grace. She looked for good, and failed not to get it; and we do well to cherish the same spirit. It glorifies God to expect great and good things from Him. Why should we doubt Him? Would we abridge Him to the pettiness of our own thoughts? He had brought His people into a goodly land, and His honour was pledged to bless them there. And yet not many there looked for the blessing. They thought of the difficulties, and they were discouraged. Such discouragement constantly leads to the dishonour of God. For if to complain of what God gives grieves Him on the one hand, on the other hand the enemy is most sensitive, and gathers encouragement to oppose from the want of faith that is thus soon, too soon, manifested in our gracious God.
Nothing indeed so disturbs the world as to see a man thoroughly happy in the Lord. It is not finding fault with the world that rouses its feelings, but the certainty that you have got a blessing to which they do not even pretend. And this, my brethren, is not best attested by strong expressions about it. The most effective testimony on every subject may be indirect; nor is anything of greater power than the simple unaffected expression of our heart's satisfaction in a worthy object. Even the men of the world are sensible of this. There is nothing that so forcibly proves or disproves as that which does not lie on the surface, and is not said to serve a purpose. You are in trial, or difficulty, poor, persecuted, in prison, or dying; yet you are thoroughly happy. What can the world do with a man that nothing can conquer? It may oppose, insult, punish; but he only gives God thanks, and rejoices the more, and this without in the least making light of what is done. What can the world do with such a man? "This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith."
It is refreshing therefore to see that. when God must give us many a failure, it is not all failure. Nor should it be so with us. It is an unhappy spirit that always dwells upon the dark side; but at the same time it is never a truthful spirit that does not take full account of it. Has not grace brought us, beloved brethren, into such a place that we can fairly look at anything and any one in the face? We have no reason to fear, except that we should not confide in our God, and that we should not also dread the letting slip ourselves the letting in self to anything that concerns the Lord. Then I grant you there are weakness and failure at hand.
But Judges 2:1-23 shows us another thing, a strange and very striking change. "The angel of Jehovah," it is said, "came up from Gilgal to Bochim." There was a deep significance here. Why should the angel of Jehovah come up from Gilgal? We have seen already what Gilgal was. Oh that we knew it better for our own souls! But this at least we have learnt from the word of God, that it was the place where the reproach of Egypt was rolled away. It was the place where flesh came under the execution of the sentence of death. Nor was this all. For it was the place in which the host was regularly encamped; and thence it marched out to conquer at the bidding of Jehovah, and thither it returned again. Mortification of the flesh is the true place of power in the Spirit, and this is what Gilgal means. It was where Israel was reminded of the judgment of God on self, on man's nature, on that which is unclean, and only fit therefore to be cut off and cast away. There God led them back, and thence they came out in divine strength. But the angel of Jehovah now finds himself in a place as characteristic of the book of Judges as Gilgal was of Joshua. It is the place of tears. Not to know sorrow when the people of God have slighted Him and declined is not to know where His Spirit dwells. Hardness of feeling, never according to God, is most of all opposed to Him when the people have failed to meet His glory, when they have been unfaithful as a whole.
The angel comes then from Gilgal to Bochim, and said, "I have made you go up out of Egypt, and have brought you unto the land which I sware unto your fathers; and I said, I will never break my covenant with you. And ye shall make no league with the inhabitants of this land; ye shall throw down their altars: but ye have not obeyed my voice: why have ye done this? Wherefore I also said, I will not drive them out from before you; but they shall be as thorns in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare unto you. And it came to pass, when the angel of Jehovah spake these words unto all the children of Israel, that the people lifted up their voice, and wept. And they called the name of that place Bochim: and they sacrificed there unto Jehovah"; and then in the middle of this same chapter (11-13), after the people had thus humbled themselves before God, we find that they turned away again. "They forsook Jehovah," it is said, "and served Baal and Ashtaroth." Their grief was but passing. "And the anger of Jehovah was hot against Israel, and he delivered them into the hands of spoilers that spoiled them, and he sold them into the hands of their enemies round about, so that they could not any longer stand before their enemies." It was not merely now that there was a check. It was not that Israel had a passing humiliation. For Jehovah delivered them up expressly into the hands of their enemies; not that He did not love them, not that He would not work all for good, but that He must have the people in the truth of their state before He would prove Himself in the truth of His own grace. "Whithersoever they went out, the hand of Jehovah was against them for evil, as Jehovah had said, and as Jehovah had sworn unto them: and they were greatly distressed. Nevertheless Jehovah raised up judges, which delivered them out of the hand of those that spoiled them. And yet they would not hearken unto their judges, but they went a whoring after other gods, and bowed themselves unto them: they turned quickly out of the way which their fathers walked in, obeying the commandments of Jehovah; but they did not so. And when Jehovah raised them up judges" that is, when they were brought down to this great distress, Jehovah appeared for them in showing them suited mercy "Jehovah was with the judge, and delivered them out of the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge: for it repented Jehovah because of their groanings by reason of them that oppressed them and vexed them." But they would not hearken to their judges; "and it came to pass, when the judge was dead, that they returned, and corrupted themselves more than their fathers, in following other gods."
If the children of Israel would abandon Jehovah to serve idols, they are themselves given up by Jehovah to serve idolaters. It is so with us. If we sin, this measures and defines our chastisement; and so grace works repentance when we turn and cry to the Lord in our distress.
In Judges 3:1-31. we have the details of this. The first two chapters are general. The nations come before us that were left to prove Israel according to the word of Jehovah. The earliest deliverer is brought before us in verse 9: "When the children of Israel cried unto Jehovah, Jehovah raised up a deliverer to the children of Israel, who delivered them, even Othniel the son of Kenaz, Caleb's younger brother." So again we are told that afterwards "the children of Israel did evil again in the sight of Jehovah: and Jehovah strengthened Eglon [not the children of Israel, but their enemy] the king of Moab against Israel, because they had done evil in the sight of Jehovah. And he gathered unto him the children of Ammon and Amalek, and went and smote Israel, and possessed the city of palm trees. So the children of Israel served Eglon the king of Moab eighteen years. But when the children of Israel cried unto Jehovah, Jehovah raised them up a deliverer Ehud the son of Gera, a Benjamite, a man left-handed." Then we have details of the killing of the leader of their enemies, the king of Moab. Then again, in the end of the chapter, we are told of "Shamgar the son of Anath," who delivered Israel from the Philistines.
But there is one feature common to all these three deliverers which may be pointed out, and not, I think, without moral profit. There was in every one of them an apparent defect, and they were therefore men that no one but God would have put forward. One was a younger brother; another was a left-handed man; and the third slew the enemy with an ox-goad. Thus in each there was an element against the prospects of their success. There was awkwardness, seemingly, in the weapon employed, or in the left-handed man, or in the younger brother rather than in the eldest, the father's might and the beginning of his strength, as Jacob says. It was not the pride of the family, the first-born, but his junior, that went forth to victory. Not thus does man choose.
This feature, however, belongs characteristically to the ways of God in a broken state of things. The instrument that He employs when His people are fallen is not according to the same pattern as when all things are orderly in His sight. In short, when the people of God depart from Him, He marks it, not by withholding a deliverer, but by the kind of deliverance given them. I am persuaded that there is a fitness in His choice of instruments, and that the same men that He employed, say, to found and form the church, are not of the class which suits His thoughts when all things are fallen into confusion. When the church was brought into being, when the ecclesiastical air was clear and bright, then it was simply a question of God working by the Holy Spirit upon earth in answer to the glory of Christ in heaven; then He raised up witnesses in accordance with the glory of Christ and the reality of His victory as man over Satan, as well as of His love in caring for His body, the church. When on the contrary the Christian profession had quite failed as a witness to Him, there could not but be God's answer to the cries of distress that went up from His saints; but none the less has each instrument a marked weakness in some particular or other.
So I cannot but believe it will be found, without exception, in this respect throughout the history of Christendom. Thus, if we look three or four hundred years back, we can judge with considerably more calmness than in forming an estimate of our own day; we are free at least from much which is apt to warp. We see that in those whom God then employed there was no deficiency in a certain sort of power. There was a great energy, with a palpable, large, and speedy result; and we, of all men, ought to be the last to forget whatever form or measure of blessing God has been pleased to shower on souls. Can we not, beloved brethren, afford to recognize it where and whenever it may have been? Ought we not to give ungrudgingly the honour that is due to the work of the Spirit of God by anybody? The more you are blessed, the more free and generous should you be towards others; the more simply and fully you have received the truth, the larger should your heart be in rejoicing at the activities of divine grace. You are called on, by the very richness of God's grace, and by the comfort and certainty of the truth He has given your souls, to acknowledge whatever has been of God either in the past or in the present to His praise.
Looking back then, I say, according to the love and humility that can value whatever is from above, we can see no doubt the power that shook nations and gave them an open Bible in such a work as Luther's, or even in Calvin's; yea, in others inferior to these. But are we therefore to consecrate everything they said or did? Or are we to shut our eyes to that which manifestly showed the strange shape. of the earthen vessel? Certainly not. Far from complaining of such irregularities, I consider that they were in keeping with the state of things in God's sight, just as we see in Israel's case before us; just as the power of the Spirit which in general lifted above the manifestations of nature such as we see, for instance, in a Paul, or even in a Peter, or in a John (where it is hard to say what one could blame) suited the new-born church when the Holy Ghost was just given. It is not meant that there was nothing to judge, and that God did not see it; but still it would be hard for us to see it, judging fairly. Take the blessed apostles. It is in no way meant that they never slipped. Far from it; we know that they did; but what were slips of such as the apostles compared with the comparatively unjudged flesh of a Luther or a Calvin? In such as these, do we not come down to the left-handed men? or such as won victories with an ox-goad? That is, we see, in a day of utter weakness and declension, rather awkward witnesses, employed by God no doubt to accomplish His purpose, but with the significant mark that they were to the praise of His grace much more than to their own honour.
We have not done with the witnesses yet. There is another, perhaps more remarkable, and assuredly more singular in the form taken, in the next chapter (Judges 4:1-24); so that it seems evident that it is a principle here. I am not choosing out some particular cases; but taking all as they stand. Here then we find a deliverer unquestionably, and one much put forward by God, but who would not have been thought of in an orderly state of things. I need not tell you that I refer to Deborah now. Certainly she does not act according to natural order. But wherefore was this? It was according to grace, though a rebuke to the men of Israel. Further, it was the grace of God, who, in the form of the deliverer, contemplated the condition of His people; for He meant them to feel that things were out of course. So it was, and so only, that Deborah was employed.
Now this was a day of great trial: "And the children of Israel cried unto Jehovah: for he (Jabin) had nine hundred chariots of iron; and twenty years he mightily oppressed the children of Israel." It was a long-continued and grievous affliction: "And Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lapidoth, she judged Israel at that time. And she dwelt under the palm tree of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in mount Ephraim: and the children of Israel came up to her for judgment. And she sent and called Barak the son of Abinoam out of Kedesh-naphtali, and said unto him, Hath not Jehovah God of Israel commanded, saying, Go and draw toward mount Tabor, and take with thee ten thousand men of the children of Naphtali and of the children of Zebulun?" Here there is no doubt that God wrought sovereignly. She was a prophetess; she was the communicator of the mind of God at that time pre-eminently so. But there is more to note.
Was not this a rebuke to man for instance to Barak? Undoubtedly, but it was according to the wisdom of God, and was ordered of Him to take that shape. It was the more remarkable, because one would not think at first sight such a thing probable as that a woman should be not only called out to direct men, but to direct them in a campaign to direct the leader or general of the hosts of Jehovah. Surely therefore there was some marked and indispensable reason of God that should have so arranged it. "And Barak said unto her, If thou wilt go with me, then I will go." Can any one say that this was to the honour of Barak "If thou wilt go with me"? A woman's going down to a field of slaughter indispensable to the leader! The general could not go without Deborah to bear him company, share the danger and ensure the victory! So it was. "If thou wilt not go with me, then I will not go. And she said, I will surely go with thee." In her at least there was no want of confidence in God. But we shall see that we have God marking His sense of Barak's unbelief: "Notwithstanding the journey that thou takest shall not be for thine honour; for Jehovah shall sell Sisera into the hand of a woman." Another woman! Thus evidently on all sides of it the victory was altogether to the praise of God, and, as far as the form of it was concerned, man, Israel, general and all, ought to have received it as in this respect a humiliation. We need not dwell now on the particulars of this scene. These are more familiar, it may be, than the principle I have endeavoured thus to bring out plainly.
A song follows (Judges 5:1-31), as to which one need only make a general remark. It has often been a difficulty to many souls how the Spirit of God could indite such a song a song that triumphs more than usually in the carnage and ruin of the foe. But what is it that persons who cavil at it conceive of the Spirit of God? The root of the difficulty appears to be this, that men are apt constantly to judge from their own circumstances. Now if we think indeed that God's Spirit is bound to do or say nothing but what suits a Christian that He has never written anything but what is the expression of His power in magnifying Christ to our souls I grant you we could not have the song of Deborah. But then we could not have had the Old Testament as it is. The same principle that would supplant this song and deny its inspired character would, in my opinion, decapitate and destroy the Old Testament itself. It would leave us nothing at most but a few shreds of prophecy pointing to the Lord Jesus. It would dislocate, nay, blot out, the whole texture of the old oracles of God. The Spirit of God did work, but He wrought according to the state of the people of God then; and who but an infidel can deny the wisdom and the goodness of God in such a guidance?
The truth is that the only way to understand or to enjoy the Bible is the very same that we need to magnify God where we are now, and the same unbelief that sits criticising the Old Testament loses all power according to the New. The same men that find fault with the song of Deborah do not understand much better what the Spirit of God is in the Christian and in the church of God now. I am convinced that the darkness of unbelief which is allowed thus to dishonour the Old Testament meets its just retribution. What do such detractors really know of St. Paul or St. John? Nothing as they ought. When we approach the Bible as believers, when we draw near as those who owe everything to God's grace that reveals to us according to His own wisdom, when we bend down before God as those that are willing to learn and grateful to be taught of Him, what then? The beauty, the excellence, the salutary character of every part of scripture more and more dawn upon our souls, and the very portions that were once difficult because of our (perhaps unconsciously) setting up to judge, when we ought still and always to take the place of learners, turn then into streams of blessing and light and strength for our own souls. Is it not the fact that the texts or whole books of the word of God that, even as believers, we felt our total inability once to read with profit are now what we most of all delight and rejoice in? And can we not therefore draw the simple and just conclusion from this, that if anything else be dim to us and surely there is still much that is but little and very feebly entered into by our souls all we want is to be more lowly, to be more thoroughly dependent upon God, who will reveal even this unto us?
In Judges 6:1-40 opens the preparation for another and a greater deliverance. On this we must say a few words more before we close. Here undoubtedly the Spirit of God may well prepare us for a larger work and for fuller lessons. It is not a deliverer despatched in a verse, like Shamgar. Neither is it a man that was employed overshadowed by the superior light and even courage of a woman, Barak being small indeed in comparison with Deborah. Here we have the grace of God interfering to raise up a deliverer when the Midianites had reduced the people of God to slavery for seven years. "And the hand of Midian prevailed against Israel: and because of the Midianites the children of Israel made them the dens which are in the mountains, and caves, and strongholds." They had never been brought so low. To be like wanderers and fugitives in the land of God, in their own land, was a burning disgrace to Israel. But there was a deeper need. They had forgotten Jehovah, and gone over to Baal more than was ever known before: hence also the necessity for awakening to this him whom God would use. What was it before God? Gideon felt this, and he felt it all the more because he knew their servitude to Midian was Jehovah's doing, who was obliged, because of the moral condition of Israel, to reduce His people to so despicable a condition. What must God have felt so to deal with those He loved!
Midian then, "and the Amalekites, and the children of the east, even they came up against them; and they encamped against them, and destroyed the increase of the earth, till thou come unto Gaza, and left no sustenance for Israel, neither sheep, nor ox, nor ass. For they came up with their cattle and their tents, and they came as grasshoppers for multitude; for both they and their camels were without number: and they entered into the land to destroy it. And Israel was greatly impoverished because of the Midianites; and the children of Israel cried unto Jehovah."
How touching it is, my brethren, to find this so often repeated story! Any one but God would have refused to listen to such a cry, at least from such a people. For had they not over and over sinned, and been chastised, and cried? Had they not gone back, cried, and been delivered; then fallen into sin again, cried again, been delivered again always crying, always delivered, and always falling back again, into a lower depth than ever? Only God could feel patience and show tender mercy to such a people. For if they cried under the sore trouble which Jehovah brought on them for their sins, none the less did He answer, grieved for them and pitying them. "And it came to pass, when the children of Israel cried unto Jehovah because of the Midianites, that Jehovah sent a prophet unto the children of Israel, which said unto them, Thus saith Jehovah God of Israel, I brought you up from Egypt, and brought you forth out of the house of bondage; and I delivered you out of the hand of the Egyptians, and out of the hand of all that oppressed you, and drave them out from before you, and gave you their land; and I said unto you, I am Jehovah your God; fear not the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but ye have not obeyed my voice. And there came an angel of Jehovah, and sat under an oak which was in Ophrah, that pertained unto Joash the Abi-ezrite: and his son Gideon threshed wheat by the winepress, to hide it from the Midianites."
Mark the twofold process of the Lord. He sends first a prophet, then an angel; the one to bring their sin home to their conscience, the other to raise up a deliverer. He loves to extricate His people from the wretched consequences of their failure, but He will have the evil owned first.
Clearly therefore Gideon knew by experience what the state of the people was. His condition was in miniature what that of the people was in general. He was threshing wheat behind a winepress, no doubt for fear of the Midianites. The commonest duty of a man in Israel could not be done without the dread of those mighty and numerous foes; but "the angel of Jehovah appeared unto him, and said unto him Jehovah is with thee, thou mighty man of valour." Now there is power that goes forth with the word of Jehovah. What an encouragement to its object! What! the man that was cowering behind the winepress? This to be the choice of God to break the yoke of Midian! What grace on God's part! "And Gideon said unto him, Oh my Lord, if Jehovah be with us" for on that he takes his stand "if Jehovah be with us" not merely "with me." He binds the people with the name of Jehovah, not merely with himself the invariable mark of true faith and love. "If Jehovah be with us, why then is all this befallen us? and where be all his miracles which our fathers told us of, saying, Did not Jehovah bring us up from Egypt? but now Jehovah hath forsaken us, and delivered us into the hands of the Midianites." They were both true. It was Jehovah that had blessed, and it was Jehovah that had delivered into the hands of the Midianites; and that very fact, overwhelming as it was, is precisely what gives confidence. Had it been merely that the Midianites had got the better of Israel, this were nothing for faith, save indeed a denial of Him and of their relation to Him. But it was not so with Gideon. He sees that their affliction was the Lord's doing because of their sin. But the same Jehovah who delivered His people into the hands of the Midianites now said to the trembling son of Manasseh, "Jehovah is with thee, thou mighty man of valour."
A difficulty presented itself to his spirit. His heart was no doubt not without its exercises how all these things could be. It was not that he doubted; but he desired to have it explained. He was realizing the position of things before God; and Jehovah looked upon him, and said, "Go in this thy might." Was not this enough, that Jehovah was with him the same Jehovah that had delivered over Israel to their foes? The God of Israel declared Himself with him to deliver them now and to bring to nought the power of the Midianites. "Go in this thy might, and thou shalt save Israel from the hand of the Midianites: have not I sent thee? And he said unto him, Oh, my Lord, wherewith shall I save Israel? behold, my family is poor in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father's house. And Jehovah said unto him, Surely I will be with thee, and thou shalt smite the Midianites as one man." He asks a sign, it is true; and Jehovah answers. I am far from denying that there was weakness in the faith of Gideon; nor is it implied that there was not a drawback here as in all the others who have passed before us. But allowing all this, it must be allowed that, after the Lord graciously condescended to his weakness, we find the power of God at work in his heart and ways.
But it is a great lesson to which our attention may be drawn here, that the might by which God works for His glory is in no sense a consciousness of communicated power. Never before had Gideon so felt his own littleness, his family poor, himself the least. And now there is another and deeper feeling. "When Gideon perceived that he was an angel of Jehovah, Gideon said, Alas, O Lord Jehovah! for because I have seen an angel of Jehovah face to face. And Jehovah said unto him, Peace be unto thee, fear not: thou shalt not die." He was consciously withered up before the presence of God the habitual effect, as we find in the Old Testament continually, of meeting what is there called the angel of Jehovah. Gideon, strengthened by that which put the sentence of death on his nature, builds an altar in the confidence of the word given him, and calls it Jehovah-shalom. Thus he lays hold of the word of peace, and promptly acts on it; and when once he has done this alone as a question between him and God, another great moral principle is seen. There is no groundwork for any deliverance according to God, there is no proper basis for His intervention, but the removal of all barriers between God and our souls. This is the prime necessity peace, then work; but there is no service safe till the person is secured and in peace.
On the other hand, before God can according to His own mind use a servant with strangers or enemies, He will have him begin at home. This is the next thing traceable in Gideon's history. How act abroad if there is sin and dishonour of God in the family? "And it came to pass the same night, that Jehovah said unto him, Take thy father's young bullock, even the second bullock of seven years old, and throw down the altar of Baal that thy father hath, and cut down the grove that is by it: and build an altar unto Jehovah thy God upon the top of this rock, in the ordered place, and take the second bullock, and offer a burnt sacrifice with the wood of the grove which thou shalt cut down. Then Gideon took ten men of his servants, and did as Jehovah had said unto him: and so it was, because he feared his father's household and the men of the city, that he could not do it by day, that he did it by night." Still it was done. "And when the men of the city arose early in the morning, behold, the altar of Baal was cast down, and the grove was cut down that was by it, and the second bullock was offered upon the altar that was built. And they said one to another, Who hath done this thing? And when they enquired and asked, they said, Gideon the son of Joash hath done this thing. Then the men of the city said unto Joash, Bring out thy son, that he may die: because he hath cast down the altar of Baal, and because he hath cut down the grove that was by it. And Joash said unto all that stood against him, Will ye plead for Baal? will ye save him? he that will plead for him, let him be put to death whilst it is yet morning: if he be a god, let him plead for himself, because one hath cast down his altar. Therefore on that day he called him Jerubbaal, saying, Let Baal plead against him, because he hath thrown down his altar."
Thus does God honour the uncompromisingness of faith. The will of Jehovah was explicitly declared to Gideon. He had nothing but death to expect, had it not been the will of the Lord; but, come what will, "he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever;" and Gideon was content to abide all consequences. I do not of course say that he could definitely anticipate these blessed words of John to us; but he had the instinctive sense in his soul that there is nothing like obedience; and Jehovah had made His will plain about His own dishonour at home. Indeed the inconsistency would have been enormous of a man's going forth to deal with the heathen enemies of Israel, while Baal was worshipped in his own father's house. No doubt there was the difficulty for a son so boldly to deal with his father's idolatry; and the greater too for one who did not disguise from himself how little he was, as we find when the angel appeared just before, meddling with that which would shock the prejudices of the family and of all around. For nothing wounds more than that which treats their religion as nothing
Again, whatever appearances may say, there is nothing so truly humble as obedience; nor is anything so firm as faith. There are many persons who seem to think that man's will is the only thing that is strong. It is a great mistake. Self-will the action and energy of the flesh is merely spasmodic; it soon passes away, and this in the measure of its violence. But "he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever." There is never continuance except in obeying Him. Gideon then went forth in this his might. But his might was shown in his father's house at home before it could be displayed abroad, and he wins a new name over the false god before a blow is struck at the Midianites, though they are seen now gathered together in Jezreel, for Satan was roused; and the Lord meets again his difficulties, giving him external and repeated tokens, as we see at the end of Judges 6:1-40.
The next chapter (Judges 7:1-25) shows him in public. The children of Israel gathered round him whose bold stand for Jehovah would soon be spread abroad; for they well knew how sinful it was for any, and for Israel above all, to worship Baal. "And Jehovah said unto Gideon, The people that are with thee are too many." What a blessed thing it is to have One to guide us who is entirely independent of circumstances! "The people that are with thee are too many." Never before in going to war in this world was there heard such a plea. Though the principle might be seen perhaps in the selection from the twelve tribes under Phinehas to fight against the same Midianites before Moses was gathered to his people, they were, in God's estimate, too many to go to war with a host like grasshoppers for multitude (Numbers 31:1-54). It is good to have God to judge for us, whether in peace or war, service or suffering. "The people that are with thee are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hands, lest Israel vaunt themselves against me, saying, Mine own hand hath saved me. Now therefore go to, proclaim in the ears of the people, saying, Whosoever is fearful and afraid, let him return and depart early from mount Gilead." This was a distinct appeal to His own word inDeuteronomy 20:8; Deuteronomy 20:8: "And the officers shall speak further unto the people, and they shall say, What man is there that is fearful and fainthearted? let him go and return unto his house, lest his brethren's heart faint as well as his heart." How precious thus to find God recalling His word by Moses! "And there returned of the people twenty and two thousand; and there remained ten thousand."
But they are not few enough for the purpose of the Lord. "And Jehovah said unto Gideon, The people are yet too many; bring them down unto the water, and I will try them for thee there: and it shall be, that of whom I say unto thee, This shall go with thee, the same shall go with thee; and of whomsoever I say unto thee, This shall not go with thee, the same shall not go." The root of the mischief, which really had brought in declension, was that the people, ceasing to value what God had given, were not willing at first to contend for it, and that, having accustomed themselves to the presence of Jehovah's enemies, they had fallen into their evil ways against Himself. The great moral lesson they had then to learn was what Jehovah is for His people. For Israel it was no question of numbers, or munitions of war; but of Jehovah, who would use and bless those only who have confidence, whose heart is to Himself. So it was brought down to a strange but searching test. "Everyone that lappeth of the water with his tongue, as a dog lappeth" not those that took the water with ease as at ordinary times, and like men. From this very thing, from themselves and their comforts, they wanted to be delivered. It was not here only a question of faint-heartedness, but of entire devotedness to the Lord and the work before them. We may not walk as men, nor entangle ourselves with the affairs of life, to be good soldiers of Jesus Christ. The evil was in thinking that it was merely a question of man against man, whereas the faith that counts on God is willing even to be counted as a dog before Him. Those God would use must not seek their own ease or honour. They were men so hanging on the word and work of the Lord that to partake of the refreshing by the way, though it might be in the most hasty fashion, no better than a dog might, seemed intuitively good enough for them: their hearts were set on His task before them, and not on their own things.
This then at once severed those who cared not for themselves, but for what was given them by God to be done, from the men who, even upon such an occasion, could stay to consult their own habits, their own liking, their own ease. This I believe to be just the truth intended here for our instruction: with a little handful of that sort Gideon was to do his errand. "By the three hundred men that lapped will I save you, and deliver the Midianites into thine hand: and let all the other people go every man unto his place."
Then comes another remarkable dealing of God with other instruction for us. "Jehovah said unto Gideon, Get thee down unto the host; for I have delivered it into thine hand." He was encouraged, though it was a service of immense danger in appearance; but what is this to the Lord? Ours is only to obey. "But if thou fear to go down, go thou with Phurah thy servant down to the host: and thou shalt hear what they say; and afterward shall thine hands be strengthened to go down unto the host. Then went he down with Phurah his servant unto the outside of the armed men that were in the host."
There is no book in the world comparable to the Bible for transparency. The writer was inspired to tell as calmly of Gideon's fear as of his courage. "If thou art afraid, go down with Phurah." Who but God could speak out so simply? He was afraid, and takes with him the servant. Where is the honour of the successful warrior? It belongs to God alone. "And the Midianites and the Amalekites and all the children of the east lay along in the valley like grasshoppers for multitude; and their camels were without number, as the sand by the seaside for multitude. And when Gideon was come, behold, there was a man that told a dream unto his fellow, and said, Behold, I dreamed a dream, and, lo, a cake of barley bread tumbled into the host of Midian, and came unto a tent, and smote it that it fell, and overturned it, that the tent lay along. And his fellow answered and said, This is nothing else save the sword of Gideon the son of Joash, a man of Israel: for into his hand hath God delivered Midian, and all the host. And it was so, when Gideon heard the telling of the dream, and the interpretation thereof, that he worshipped, and returned into the host of Israel, and said, Arise; for Jehovah hath delivered into your hand the host of Midian. And he divided the three hundred men into three companies, and he put a trumpet into every man's hand, with empty pitchers, and lamps within the pitchers." The cake of barley bread was no great thing in itself or in men's eyes. But so it is that God delivers, not by wit, power, or wealth, but by His Spirit working through a despised instrument. And Gideon worships as he hears. His confidence is in the Lord. He was less then ever in his own eyes: God filled them, and His people too had therefore a great place: "Jehovah hath delivered into your (not my) hand the host of Midian." Yet we know that their actual state was as low as their number within was small. All turns on Jehovah; but these were His ways. And Gideon's faith saw it all done.
The two arrive about the beginning of the middle watch. "And they had but newly set the watch: and they blew the trumpets, and brake the pitchers that were in their hands." Strange mode of fighting this to us how full of suggestive instruction! We too have to bear testimony, not of ourselves, but of Christ, as they blew with trumpets; we too must have death working in us, if life in those we serve, and the earthen vessels breaking; and thus it is that the light can shine out brightly. For it is not only that we see the light of God's glory in Christ; our God would have it reflected more and more, as we are changed into Christ's image, beholding it, as by the Lord the Spirit. And the war-cry was heard, "The sword of Jehovah, and of Gideon." "And they stood every man in his place round about the camp: and all the host ran, and cried and fled. And the three hundred blew their trumpets." It was not their skill, nor their prowess, but their testimony, that was used, their loud testimony of Jehovah's mission, Jehovah's will, Jehovah's deliverance of the Midianites into their hands.
But if faith does not wait for numbers, nor rest on them in the battles of the Lord, others follow when the enemy has received a manifest defeat. "And the men of Israel gathered themselves together out of Naphtali, and out of Asher, and out of all Manasseh, and pursued after the Midianites. And Gideon sent messengers throughout all mount Ephraim," and accordingly victory was complete.
Many, however, who had no heart for the work when all was depression, are forward to complain of the conquerors. "And the men of Ephraim said unto him, Why hast thou served us thus, that thou calledst us not, when thou wentest to fight with the Midianites? And they did chide with him sharply. And he said unto them. What have I done now in comparison of you? Is not the gleaning of the grapes of Ephraim better than the vintage of Abi-ezer." (Judges 8:1-35) It is admirable to find one who knows how to meet the chafed spirits, even of those who have done little to secure the victory. These men of Ephraim no doubt helped, and Gideon only said what was quite true. Everybody knows, I presume, that the main destruction of an army is far more when the battle is turned than when it rages. Those who fall during the struggle are comparatively few, while those who are cut down when it has become a flight may be very many; and therefore one can see how the mild answer of Gideon might be strictly true; but we do well to weigh the lowliness of it, and the willingness of him who bore the brunt, exposed to all danger, to take the least and give the highest place now that God had wrought for His people. Alas! it is as sweet as it is rare.
"And Gideon came to Jordan, and passed over, he, and the three hundred men that were with him, faint, yet pursuing." Here we have another lesson, bright as to the conquerors, but a painful one as to others. The Christian has a divine spring of power against weariness; but are we always thus "pursuing"? Paul was. "This one thing I do." How little it was valued in Gideon! He asked for refreshment for the three hundred; but he meets with taunt and reviling, and this Gideon remembers to their cost another hour; for it was heartless. The victory once secured, that which was needed to vindicate the outrage on Jehovah's people in the execution of His work has its grave place; for Israel was called to be the theatre for the display of God's earthly righteousness, which is the true explanation of all these things that are sometimes difficult to the Christian mind, if uninstructed in the difference of dispensations.
The chapter does not conclude without another and a serious warning. The request of Gideon becomes a snare to himself and his house. How painful this is, my brethren! How often we see that the result of the victory of faith is too great for the faith that won it! Gideon refused for himself or for his son to reign. "Jehovah," as he said simply and strikingly, "shall rule over you." But he desired the earrings of the prey, and made an ephod of the gold, etc., "and put it in his city, even in Ophrah: and all Israel went thither a whoring after it: which thing became a snare unto Gideon, and to his house." Peace followed, and Gideon died in a good old age, leaving seventy sons, beside one born of a concubine. But "it came to pass as soon as Gideon was dead, that the children of Israel turned again, and went a whoring after Baalim, and made Baal-berith their god. And the children of Israel remembered not Jehovah their God, who had delivered them out of the hands of all their enemies on every side: neither showed they kindness to the house of Jerubbaal, namely Gideon, according to all the goodness which he had showed unto Israel." Thus manifest and lamentable was the breakdown in the faith that had done such things. For it was an effort to preserve by a form what can only be sustained by grace from the same source. How blessed for the Christian, for the church, is the presence of the Holy Spirit with us for ever! How inexcusable for Christendom the attempt to perpetrate some apostolic ephod, a snare to all that bear the name of the Lord! Nothing can stand but the Spirit of God, nothing take its place; for He alone secures the glory of Christ in the church. This consequently is the true article of the church that stands, however momentous justification by faith is to the individual believer. And a form, however well-intentioned even, is no preservation from the grossest idolatry, but rather paves the way for any or every idol, as we see here after Gideon's death among the children of Israel, quick to forget Jehovah and the vessel of His delivering grace. Alas! the beginning of the mischief was in Gideon's house, and even in himself. One is worthy, One alone.
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Kelly, William. "Commentary on Judges 8:18". Kelly Commentary on Books of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/​commentaries/​wkc/​judges-8.html. 1860-1890.