We’re nine installments into this commentary series and are now approaching the final few parts of this blog series. So far we have journeyed with our protagonist, Gideon (also known as Jerubbaal), as he went from zero to hero. This week will focus on the afterward, post-war ramifications of Gideon fighting for God. As Billy Graham once famously said, “Courage is courageous. When a brave man takes a stand, the spines of others are often stiffened.” And that type of stiff-necked, opposition will be observed today in Judges chapter 7, picking up in verse 23:
“The men of Israel were summoned from Naphtali and Asher and all Manasseh, and they pursued Midian. Gideon sent messengers throughout all the hill country of Ephraim, saying, “Come down against Midian and take the waters before them, as far as Beth-barah and the Jordan.” So all the men of Ephraim were summoned and they took the waters as far as Beth-barah and the Jordan. They captured the two leaders of Midian, Oreb and Zeeb, and they killed Oreb at the rock of Oreb, and they killed Zeeb at the wine press of Zeeb, while they pursued Midian; and they brought the heads of Oreb and Zeeb to Gideon from across the Jordan. Then the men of Ephraim said to him, “What is this thing you have done to us, not calling us when you went to fight against Midian?” And they contended with him vigorously. But he said to them, “What have I done now in comparison with you? Is not the gleaning of the grapes of Ephraim better than the vintage of Abiezer? God has given the leaders of Midian, Oreb and Zeeb into your hands; and what was I able to do in comparison with you?” Then their anger toward him subsided when he said that. Then Gideon and the 300 men who were with him came to the Jordan and crossed over, weary yet pursuing. He said to the men of Succoth, “Please give loaves of bread to the people who are following me, for they are weary, and I am pursuing Zebah and Zalmunna, the kings of Midian.”The leaders of Succoth said, “Are the hands of Zebah and Zalmunna already in your hands, that we should give bread to your army?” Gideon said, “All right, when the Lord has given Zebah and Zalmunna into my hand, then I will thrash your bodies with the thorns of the wilderness and with briers.”He went up from there to Penuel and spoke similarly to them; and the men of Penuel answered him just as the men of Succoth had answered. So he spoke also to the men of Penuel, saying, “When I return safely, I will tear down this tower.” (NASB Judges 7:23-8:9)
Within the first three verses (7:23-25) we see Gideon strategically split his forces into two groups, in order to annihilate the enemies of Israel. At first he summons Israelites from all sorts of places. Then they all go after the Midianites. Knowing he cannot do it alone, Gideon asks the men of Ephraim to aid in stopping Oreb and Zeeb by hunting them in Beth-barah and the Jordan river. So two groups of soldiers are pursuing two different armies for one ultimate aim: decimation of the enemies of God.
So why were the men of Ephraim so mad after having killed their enemies? The short answer is that they were not called upon sooner to help. You see, Gideon went first with his men before calling for help after having already started chasing the Midianites down. It was a matter of wanting a part of Gideon’s glory given to him by God on the men of Ephraim’s part. They wanted to be apart of the action.
Gideon basically compares what each party has done and shows how the men of Ephraim did far more in the grand scheme of the war versus a single victory Gideon and his kosher 300 did against the Midianites. So all of the men of Ephraim take a chill-pill and calm down, instead of fuming with rage against Gideon.
Once this debacle is settled, Gideon and the kosher 300 get back to their unexpected journey in hunting down the kings of Midian, Zebah and Zalmunna. As they journey, they eventually come to a point of pure exhaustion, but they endure through their weariness. Eventually, they come to the men of Succoth and ask for resources to fuel the soldiers for war. This was not an uncommon practice either.
Over the centuries, it was very common during times of war that armies would ask the locales for supplies in exchange for protection like building a wall around the city or fighting off bands of thieves. Back in these days everything revolved around trade. In fact, the majority of the world still lives with that bargaining mentality.
What happens here is a bit alarming as the people of Succoth do not cooperate with Gideon and his army. They say no because Gideon and his army have come empty handed. Gideon has not taken care of Zebah and Zalmunna, thus the men of Succoth will not help Gideon or his forces during their time of need. So Gideon responds with,
“All right, when the LORD has given Zebah and Zalmunna into my hand, then I will thrash your bodies with the thorns of the wilderness and with briers.” (v7)
In other words, Gideon’s a savage with no chill. That sounds awful. Again, showing how much of a character arc he has had throughout his hero’s journey so far. From being a weakling afraid to fight to now being a warlord who is relentless in his God-driven pursuit of the Midianites. What is of note here is that Gideon answers with the assumption that God will deliver the Midianite kings into his hands and was promised beforehand by God. It’s a sign of Gideon’s faithfulness to the promises of God and how he acts accordingly throughout his campaign.
Interesting enough, the name Zebah means victim or sacrifice, while Zalmunna’s meaning is split into two parts. “The first part is probably the noun צל (sel) meaning shade or shadow, from the verb צלל (salal III), meaning to be or grow dark” (http://www.abarim-publications.com/Meaning/Zalmunna.html#.VzvOrxMrLnB). What’s interesting is that names of individuals usually reflect a major aspect to those mentioned in the Bible. Gideon means to hew down or cut off, Jesus is a combination of the Tetragrammaton (YHWH) and the root verb yashu which means to deliver, and the list goes on. In the instances just mentioned, this seems to be the case here as well since the Midianites are like a shadow that grows constantly as Gideon continues to cut them off.
Next, Gideon moves onward to his next pit-stop which was Penuel (Peniel in Genesis 32:30-31) and sought the same supply of resources. Like last time, they say the same thing and Gideon has a similar response:
“When I return safely, I will tear down this tower.” (v9)
What strikes me with this response is two-fold: (1) how Gideon mentioned that when he returns “safely” and (2) that he will tear down “this tower.” Statements worthy of further examination. Let’s break these down. The first statement that he will return safely goes back to what was mentioned a bit earlier when he assumes God will bring about victory. It once more is a testament to the faithfulness Gideon has had with God thus far. One that continues on this second encounter.
The second statement about tearing down this tower is significant because in these days towers represented power or dominance, so to threaten to take out their tower was to basically say that Gideon was going to end them. Actually, this idea of man-made symbols of power (castles, high places, pyramids, towers, etc.) versus God-made symbols of power (mountains, etc.) has always fascinated me. Next week we’ll examine the expansion of Gideon’s campaign and how power corrupts. Until next time, Godspeed and Jesus bless!