Gideon: A Character Study | Part 11: Back to Square One

Photo Cred: (1) | Updated: 5/21/2019

As this is our final segment within the book of Judges regarding the life of Gideon and his rise to the status of a military legend, we finally come to the wrap up of Gideon’s story. The beginning of things always has an end and thus we have come to Gideon’s end. How does his story of fear to faith and farm-boy to warlord conclude? Let’s find out! We’ll be in Judges 8:18-35 this week and that’s where we will pick up starting at verse 18.

“Then he said to Zebah and Zalmunna, “What kind of men were they whom you killed at Tabor?” And they said, “They were like you, each one resembling the son of a king.” He said, “They were my brothers, the sons of my mother. As the LORD lives, if only you had let them live, I would not kill you.” So he said to Jether his firstborn, “Rise, kill them.” But the youth did not draw his sword, for he was afraid, because he was still a youth. Then Zebah and Zalmunna said, “Rise up yourself, and fall on us; for as the man, so is his strength.” So Gideon arose and killed Zebah and Zalmunna, and took the crescent ornaments which were on their camels’ necks. Then the men of Israel said to Gideon, “Rule over us, both you and your son, also your son’s son, for you have delivered us from the hand of Midian.” But Gideon said to them, “I will not rule over you, nor shall my son rule over you; the LORD shall rule over you.” Yet Gideon said to them, “I would request of you, that each of you give me an earring from his spoil.” (For they had gold earrings, because they were Ishmaelites.) They said, “We will surely give them.” So they spread out a garment, and every one of them threw an earring there from his spoil. The weight of the gold earrings that he requested was 1,700 shekels of gold, besides the crescent ornaments and the pendants and the purple robes which were on the kings of Midian, and besides the neck bands that were on their camels’ necks. Gideon made it into an ephod, and placed it in his city, Ophrah, and all Israel played the harlot with it there, so that it became a snare to Gideon and his household. So Midian was subdued before the sons of Israel, and they did not lift up their heads anymore. And the land was undisturbed for forty years in the days of Gideon. Then Jerubbaal the son of Joash went and lived in his own house. Now Gideon had seventy sons who were his direct descendants, for he had many wives. His concubine who was in Shechem also bore him a son, and he named him Abimelech. And Gideon the son of Joash died at a ripe old age and was buried in the tomb of his father Joash, in Ophrah of the Abiezrites. Then it came about, as soon as Gideon was dead, that the sons of Israel again played the harlot with the Baals, and made Baal-berith their god. Thus the sons of Israel did not remember the LORD their God, who had delivered them from the hands of all their enemies on every side; nor did they show kindness to the household of Jerubbaal (that is, Gideon) in accord with all the good that he had done to Israel.” (NASB Judges 8:18-35)

Sad isn’t? In fact, it’s a bitter-sweet ending. That the thing Gideon was trying to destroy ended up destroying him. Just as Two-Face said in the The Dark Knight, “You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.” As we can observe here, in Gideon’s early years he rose from a nobody to a somebody, but then took a turn for the worse as he transformed into something ugly by the end of his life. Succumbing to his inward sinful desires as he fell victim to adultery (v30), which tarnished his reputation as a man of God. Instead, he ends up as a man of man and based off of the text before us, it would seem that his poor example in his latter years was the fuel for a future rebellion against God. A rebellion that would draw the people of Israel back to idolatry (v33) and who were cruel towards the house of Jerubbaal (v35).

Now let’s reign back a bit and look at how the initial war ends against the Midianites. At the beginning of this passage we see Gideon is speaking to the two kings of Midian, Zebah and Zalmunna, and this happens directly after he punished the men of both Penuel and Succoth (v16-17). He reminds them of a previous battle where the two kings barbarously slaughtered Gideon’s extended family at Mt. Tabor, which geographically is a mountain near modern-day Nazareth. A sin not soon to be forgiven on Gideon’s part. But before Gideon goes off on these two kings, he allows his son, Jether, to strike them down (v20).

What is interesting about this certain part of the passage this week is that this is the first mention of one of Gideon’s children by name, that is Jether. What this passage reveals is that Jether was alongside Gideon during the war or Gideon was reunited with his family including Jether when he and the kosher 300 returned home. Either way, Jether is shown here in a rock and a hard place. His father has just told him to slay the two kings, but he hesitates out of fear.

It is hard to blame Jether for his actions. I mean, was Gideon asking too much from this young man? Based off the text and basic logic, I concur that Jether was anywhere in between 13 to 18 years old. This is based off of how Joseph, David, and other notable Biblical, figures are described when they are in their youth. Also, he bears a sword which begs the question: why would a child have a sword? Not likely. He had to have been in his teens.

Gideon thus commands his son to kill these two kings, so the kings taunt Gideon to kill them (v21a). Well Gideon does just that and kills them, then takes the crescent ornaments from their camel’s necks. Crescent moons are a very prevalent symbol in the Middle East even to this day and are mostly associated with Islam, so for Gideon to take those was a statement that his Triune God was greater than their gods.

Once the final sword is swung of this long war, the people of Israel ask Gideon to be their king and for Jether to rule over Israel alongside his father (v22). Surprisingly, yet wisely Gideon declines their offer and states that God is their king, not him or his son. In fact, he says that God will rule over them. Gideon is humbly letting God lead and giving Him all the glory.

What fathoms me about this whole situation is that Gideon could potentially have become the first king of Israel, but says no to the offer. Just imagine how much history would change if Gideon was king of Israel. Would Saul become king? Would David? The timeline of history would have looked far more different from today’s present timeline.

Instead of becoming king, Gideon takes a percentage of the spoils of the war and constructs an ephod (a portable idol that was clothed usually) in the city of Ophrah (v27). This is the mistake that will tarnish Gideon’s life and reputation as it would become a “snare to Gideon” and those of his family lineage. Sad to think that after his entire arc is completed, his hero’s journey, he falls into such an idolatrous lifestyle. After this whole span of time he gives into a stupid, sinful desire: misguided worship.

Although God kept His Word and spared the Israelites from any trouble for the next 40 years as the Midianites were subdued. But that does not mean all was well for Gideon. In fact, far from it for he falls into another sin: adultery.

Another stab at Gideon’s reputation as a man of God. If that was not enough, after Gideon passes away after living a long life that the people of Israel turned back to the gods of Baal, turning their backs on God (v33). Hence, the cycle of dependency and independence in relation to God continues to spin over and over again. A cycle many of us find ourselves in a lot of the time. The cycle of sin continues to spin.

Gideon’s story is over, yet is legacy will always live on in a positive light despite the sour note that it ended on. Next week we will examine just what exactly Gideon’s legacy is and how he is known today in further detail. With that, Godspeed and Jesus bless!

Footnotes

  1. http://theupwardway.org/tag/book-of-judges/
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Gideon: A Character Study | Part 10: A Man of His Word

Photo Cred: (1) | Updated: 5/21/2019

In last week’s study, we went over the post-war ramifications of Gideon’s actions as well as those jealous of the grace bestowed upon him by God during this time of his life. As Winston Churchill once said, You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.” This statement by Churchill is definitely a truth that was apparent in Gideon’s life as he continues his mission to cut off the Midianites for good by hunting their two kings: Zebah and Zalmunna. This week we will be in Judges 8:10-17 and verse 10 is where we will pick up.

“Now Zebah and Zalmunna were in Karkor, and their armies with them, about 15,000 men, all who were left of the entire army of the sons of the east; for the fallen were 120,000 swordsmen. Gideon went up by the way of those who lived in tents on the east of Nobah and Jogbehah, and attacked the camp when the camp was unsuspecting. When Zebah and Zalmunna fled, he pursued them and captured the two kings of Midian, Zebah and Zalmunna, and routed the whole army. Then Gideon the son of Joash returned from the battle by the ascent of Heres. And he captured a youth from Succoth and questioned him. Then the youth wrote down for him the princes of Succoth and its elders, seventy-seven men. He came to the men of Succoth and said, “Behold Zebah and Zalmunna, concerning whom you taunted me, saying, ‘Are the hands of Zebah and Zalmunna already in your hand, that we should give bread to your men who are weary?’ ” He took the elders of the city, and thorns of the wilderness and briers, and he disciplined the men of Succoth with them. He tore down the tower of Penuel and killed the men of the city (2).”

So the two kings of Midian, Zebah and Zalmunna, escape to a place called Karkor. Some speculate that this place of Karkor may have been another name for a place called Qarqor, which is a place East of the Jordan River. Karkor may have been a type of enclosure that the Gadites built to protect their cattle and livestock. If this is true, then the Midianites were smart in seeking such a place for refuge because it would be seriously fortified with walls encompassing the area to keep the large animals enclosed.

I find it ironic that an army that began with 135,000 soldiers that waged war with Gideon’s mighty men would in a twist of fate dwindle down to 15,000 men because they lost 120,000 soldiers to Gideon’s kosher 300. When we first started, Gideon had an army of 32,000 men going against an army of 135,000 soldiers of Midian. Whittle those numbers down and we get a ratio of 8:34. Those were the odds at first.

Then God made Gideon send away thousands of soldiers that amounted in the kosher 300, while the Midianites still had 135,000 soldiers. A new ratio of 1:450, but after Gideon’s back-to-back victories over Midian and a series of battles shrunk that massive number all the way down to the current 15,000. The current odds of Gideon winning in spite of all of this success is even still tremendously low as the ratio is 1:50 and at this rate some could have said that Gideon was pushing his luck. I mean, how does one even fathom that comparison and those odds? If I was in that batch of 300 guys, I would at this point have serious doubts.

Yet God is faithful and once again lets Gideon accompanied by his dope band of misfits have another critical victory. We are only 3 verses into this study and Gideon already won. He has captured both Midianite kings, has had another victory, and caused the army to be routed (to retreat or flee) back to their lands. Some translations say the Midianite army left in confusion and fear from the surprise attack that squashed their forces.

It is quite impressive when put into proper perspective. The war is over. Gideon has won and peace is just around the corner to being restored in the nation of Israel.

What’s next for the mighty Gideon? Being a man of his word. This story takes a new turn when on the march back home, Gideon captures a youth from Succoth (v14). Once the youngin’ is captured, he is questioned.

Next, there is the way of travel that Gideon took which has multiple interpretations concerning what exactly it means. In the translation we are using (the NASB), it says “by (from) the ascent of Heres.” Now is this a time of day like before the sun comes up? Is it a city? Is it a mountain? Hard to say, but biblehub.com takes good time clearing the confusion by providing multiple responses here. As for the youth of Succoth? He spills the beans and writes down the names of every prince and elder of Succoth, which amounts to a grand total of seventy-seven men (v14).

Based off of its uses within Scripture (Genesis 5:31, Judges 8:14, Ezra 8:35), the number 77 represents closure as the number is used to amount to a satisfactory sacrifice to the LORD (see: Ezra 8:35-36), as well as here where it symbolizes Gideon’s fulfillment of his own promise that he would execute after God had given him victory in battle. The men of Succoth mocked the things of God, so God sends Gideon to judge them on His behalf for taunting Gideon who was an ambassador for God.

Word of advice: don’t mock God. It never ends well. Just look at 2 Kings 2:23-24 where some dumb lads mock God’s prophet, Elisha, so two female bears kill 42 of them. Yeah, the things of God and those who do the things of God are not something worth mocking. The consequences are severe.

Speaking of severe consequences, Gideon now knows who the men of Succoth are that taunted him, thus justice is about to be served to these pansies. Gideon brings his undeniable proof to the 77 elders with the 2 captured kings in his possession and then commences to do exactly as he warned he would do. What fascinates me about this whole subplot of the men of Succoth and Penuel is how there were all of these men mocking Gideon for trying to stop the Midianites from terrorizing the surrounding lands, yet they stayed home and remained on the sidelines of the whole war. Neither would they support Gideon’s men or the Midian men. They were lukewarm and that is the exact reason that they were punished so severely because they remained apathetic during the whole war as thousands of men died. They were cowards, plain and simple.

As promised, Gideon takes the elders and beats them with briers and thorns (v16). Then he goes onto the next city and tears down the great tower of Penuel before slaying every man in the city (v17). Jesus spoke of this lukewarm nature in Revelation 3:14-22 where he rebukes the church of Laodicea for their lukewarm ways. They neither loved nor hated God. They were indifferent and apathetic to it all.

In life, God desires for us to give our all to Him or to keep our all to ourselves. In this situation, the middle ground is the worst possible place to be because it shows how much you really do not care. Lesson of the week: either give God everything or give God nothing. Both are better options than giving God only a portion of what is yours and lying by saying you gave it your all or vice versa. I mean look at what happened to Ananias and Sapphira in Acts chapter 5. They died for making this crucial mistake.

Learn from history and live wholeheartedly either for Jesus or for the world. There cannot be a middle ground when it comes to this issue. It’s all or nothing. With that, Godspeed and Jesus bless!

Footnotes

  1. https://www.pexels.com/
  2. NASB Judges 8:10-17
  3. http://biblehub.com/topical/h/heres.htm

Gideon: A Character Study | Part 9: A Farewell to Kings

Photo Cred: (1) | Updated: 5/21/2019

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!

Footnotes

  1. https://www.pexels.com/