The Word Made Fresh
1The Ephraimites confronted Gideon. “You didn’t call us when you first attacked the Midianites!” they complained. They were very angry with him.
2Gideon said, “I haven’t done anything compared to you. Aren’t Ephraim’s grapes better than Abiezer’s wine? 3God gave you Midian’s chiefs, Oreb and Zeeb. I haven’t done anything comparable to that.” And they were satisfied.
4Gideon crossed the Jordan with his three hundred men, and they were tired and hungry. 5He said to the people at Succoth, “Please give bread to my men. They are starving, and we’re chasing the Midianite kings, Zebah and Zalmunna.” 6But they said, “Do you already have Zebah and Zalmunna in your hands? Why should we give your men bread?” 7Gideon said, “Okay. When the LORD has given Zebah and Zalmunna to me I will shred you with the briars of the wilderness.”
8They went on from there to Penuel, and Gideon asked them also for bread, and the people there gave him the same answer as the people at Succoth. 9Gideon said, “Okay. When I return from defeating our enemies, I will demolish this tower.”
10Zebah and Zalmunna had retreated to Karkor with the fifteen thousand soldiers left in their army. They had lost one hundred twenty thousand men. 11Gideon approached by the caravan route east of Nobah and Jogbehah, and attacked them, catching them off guard. 12Zebah and Zalmonna ran, but Gideon pursued them and captured them, throwing the remainder of their army into a panic.
13Gideon, son of Joash, returned from the battle by the route through Heres. 14He captured a young man from Succoth and made him make a list of the officials and elders at Succoth, all seventy-seven of them. 15When he reached Succoth he called the people together and said, “Here are Zebah and Zalmunna. You belittled me when you said, ‘Have you already captured them? Why should we feed your men?'” 16Then he gathered wilderness thorns and briers and taught the people of Succoth a lesson. 17He then tore down the tower at Penuel and executed the men of that city.
18Then he said to Zebah and Zalmunna, “Tell me about the men you killed at Tabor.”
They answered, “They were like you. They looked like the sons of a king.”
19“They were my brothers,” Gideon said, “my mother’s sons. As the LORD lives, if you had not killed them, I would not kill you.” 20He turned to his oldest son, Jether, and said, “Go, kill them!” But he was afraid to draw his sword; he was still just a boy.
21Zebah and Zalmunna said, “You kill us. A man is no better than his strength.”
So, Gideon struck down Zebah and Zalmunnah, and as a trophy took the crescents from their camels.
22Then the Israelites said to Gideon, “We want you to be our ruler; you and your son and your grandson, because you saved us from the Midianites.”
23But Gideon refused. “I will not be your ruler and my sons will not be your rulers. The LORD is your ruler.” 24Then he said, “I will ask you this: let each of you give me an earring he has taken as spoils of war.” (The enemy, being Ishmaelites, had worn gold earrings.)
25They willingly agreed and spread a garment on the ground and threw the earrings onto it. 26The weight of the earrings was about forty-three pounds. In addition, they gave him the regalia from the kings of Midian and the purple robes and the collars from their camels’ necks.
27Gideon made a vest from some of the spoils and mounted it in his town, Ophrah. All the Israelites bowed down to it there, and it made Gideon and his family haughty.
28However, Midian had been beaten by the Israelites and never again lorded it over them. The land had peace for forty years during Gideon’s life.
29Jerubbaal (Gideon) son of Joash settled in his own house. 30He had seventy sons by numerous wives. 31In addition, his concubine in Shechem also bore him a son, whom he named Abimelech.
32Gideon son of Joash was a very old man when he died. He was buried in the tomb of his father Joash at Ophrah, of the Abiezrite clan.
33As soon as Gideon was dead and gone, the Israelites again began to worship the Baals, claiming Baal-Berith as their god. 34They forgot the LORD their God who had rescued them from their enemies all around. 35There was no loyalty to the house of Jerubbaal and Gideon, and forgotten was all the good he had done for Israel.
1-3: The Ephraimites scold Gideon for not calling them sooner, and he sooths their feelings by pointing out that they have captured two Midianite generals, but he has not captured anyone of any importance. Yet.
4-21: Now we learn that Gideon is indeed still in pursuit of the Midianite generals he has bested in battle — Zebah and Zalmunnah. As he pursues them, he asks for help in Succoth and at Penuel (where Jacob wrestled with God), but is refused. He captures Zeba and Zalmunnah, brings them back to Succoth, and puts to death the 77 leaders of the city. Then he himself kills the Midianite generals when his son Jether balks at the task.
22-27: Gideon, to his credit, refuses a public attempt to make him the King. He does, however, encourage them to reward him for his services and walks away filthy rich, then retires from public service to his house in Ophrah. There he makes a sacred object (an ephod, a kind of vest worn by priests) out of the jewelry they had given him and sets it up as a shrine which becomes a place of pagan worship. Gideon has thus gone from nobody to hero to villain.
28-35: The land has rest for forty years. Gideon settles down, a local hero with lots of benefits, including girls to bear his children — 70 sons at last count, including one named Abimelech, whose tale we’ll read in the next chapter. He is no longer a simple farmer from Ophrah, but is in all but title a king. He has many wives, like the future kings of Israel. His 70 sons echo the 70 sons of King Ahab of Israel (2 Kings 10:1). He names the son of a slave woman Abimelech, which literally means, “My father is king.”
Upon his death the people revert to their old ways, forsaking God. This time they seem to have officially named a particular pagan god, Baal-Berith, as their chosen deity.
Throughout the book of Judges, we will see Israel’s situation gradually declining.
Success often breeds pride. Before you ask God to help you become successful, make sure you have the character to maintain a proper humility. “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” — John Dalberg-Acton, aka Lord Acton.