Two items from Chapter 7 carry over into this one. Of course, the background is that Gideon, aka Jerubbaal, had just routed the enemy, the Midianites and the Amalekites, and was now pursuing them towards the Jordan. Remember that Gideon called for help from the surrounding tribes, including Ephraim (7:24). The other item was that Gideon had the head of Oreb and Zeeb with him and carried them over the Jordan, which you would think would convince anyone of his capabilities.
However, we see right away that problems begin to occur.
1 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.
~ Jdg 8:1
Of course, he is calling them now, which makes the whole accusation rather silly. In fact, it seems that Ephraim has a tendency to desire to be in the middle of a good fight, as we will see later on.
However, Gideon does not return harsh words for harsh words, but rather asks what has he done in comparison to their great exploits (vv 2 – 3). His soft answer seems to satisfy them.
1 A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger.
~ Pr 15:1
This time, we see an example of the former part of that proverb, but in a later story we see the other half.
Gideon crosses over the Jordan in order to pursue the princes of Midian, Zebah and Zalmunna. Most likely that wasn’t their real names. Zeba = “victim” such as animals slain to be eaten, and Zalmunna = “his shadow (protection) is gone”.
4 And Gideon came to Jordan, and passed over, he, and the three hundred men that were with him, faint, yet pursuing them.
5 And he said unto the men of Succoth, Give, I pray you, loaves of bread unto the people that follow me; for they be faint, and I am pursuing after Zebah and Zalmunna, kings of Midian.
6 And the princes of Succoth said, Are the hands of Zebah and Zalmunna now in thine hand, that we should give bread unto thine army?
7 And Gideon said, Therefore when the LORD hath delivered Zebah and Zalmunna into mine hand, then I will tear your flesh with the thorns of the wilderness and with briers.
Anyone who has been to the Middle East can tell you that hospitality is highly esteemed there. To not be a hospitable host is considered to be shameful. The story of Abraham’s hospitality towards three men who suddenly appeared to him may have been the result of recognition of who they were, but it may also have been the custom and the recognition might have come later.
4 Because they met you not with bread and with water in the way, when ye came forth out of Egypt; and because they hired against thee Balaam the son of Beor of Pethor of Mesopotamia, to curse thee.
~ Dt 23:4
Hospitality is also seen as a virtue in the NT.
35 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:
~ Mt 25:35
Succoth answers Gideon unwisely in asking of the princes were already in his hand. He just told them he was pursuing them, so they already knew the answer. It wasn’t an honest question, but an excuse to cover their fear. Mind you, if Gideon does not succeed, then Zebah and Zalmunna would have motives for razing their city to the ground. Their fear was probably real. However, they ignored that God was with Gideon, that Zebah and Zalmunna were retreating rather than winning, and Gideon had the heads of Oreb and Zeeb with him as proof of his conquest.
Thorns hearken back to the curse of the ground in Genesis 3. Thorns also are quite painful, and Jesus had a crown of thorns fashioned for Him by the Roman soldiers who pounded them against His head.
Penuel answers Gideon’s request in much the same way. This time, Gideon warns them he will come and tear down their tower.
Interesting how people feel safe in towers, as though they can rebel against whomever. The Tower of Babel was intended to make people feel safe against a God Who sends floods (even though He’d promised that would not recur).
The army of the Midianites was severely depleted of manpower by this time. Gideon went around them up the caravan routes. So, he met them on the east even though they were travelling east. He then captured the princes and engaged the army.
So, now he marches Zebah and Zalmunna back to Succoth and Penuel and carried out his threats against those cities. Furthermore, he slew the men of Penuel.
18 And he said to Zebah and Zalmunna, “What kind of men were they whom you killed at Tabor?”
So they answered, “As you are, so were they; each one resembled the son of a king.”
~ Jdg 8:18 (NKJV)
This is another way of saying that they were his relatives. They were also saying he was acting like a king.
19 Then he said, “They were my brothers, the sons of my mother. As the LORD lives, if you had let them live, I would not kill you.”
~ Jdg 8:19 (NKJV)
The above is the beginning of what appears to be questionable judgment. In Dt 20:10-14, God lays out some rules of war. Either Gideon was to spare those who sue for peace, or he was to destroy every male within it. Here, Gideon seems to condition their lives upon whether or not it was his relatives that were killed.
Perhaps that is part of the reason they surmise he is acting like royalty. However, Gideon’s next action is certainly an attempt to establish a line of succession.
20 And he said to Jether his firstborn, “Rise, kill them!” But the youth would not draw his sword; for he was afraid, because he was still a youth.
~ Jdg 8:20 (NKJV)
How young he was is difficult to ascertain, but theoretically he should’ve been at least 20 (cf. Nu 1:3). The purpose of having his son to kill them rather than Gideon himself was so the son would establish credibility and assure that he could take over from his father.
Zebah and Zalmunna take the opportunity to get in one last insult.
21 So Zebah and Zalmunna said, “Rise yourself, and kill us; for as a man is, so is his strength.” So Gideon arose and killed Zebah and Zalmunna, and took the crescent ornaments that were on their camels’ necks.
~ Jdg 8:21 (NKJV)
Unfortunately, none of the translations seem to really get the gist of the insult across. The NCV comes the closest that I can see:
21 Then Zebah and Zalmunna said to Gideon, “Come on. Kill us yourself. As the saying goes, ‘It takes a man to do a man’s job.’ ” So Gideon got up and killed Zebah and Zalmunna and took the decorations off their camels’ necks.
~ Jdg 8:21 (NCV)
Even that is lame. “For as a man is, so is his strength” is actually a reference to Gideon’s son. “Like father, like son” is a similar saying. More direct would have been, “Your son is a coward, just like his father.”
22 Then the men of Israel said unto Gideon, Rule thou over us, both thou, and thy son, and thy son’s son also: for thou hast delivered us from the hand of Midian.
23 And Gideon said unto them, I will not rule over you, neither shall my son rule over you: the LORD shall rule over you.
Gideon at least had the sense to not allow them to make him king. However, as we see later, his actions were still very much like royalty as time went on.
24 He said, “I want you to do this one thing for me. I want each of you to give me a gold earring from the things you took in the fighting.” (The Ishmaelites wore gold earrings.)
25 They said, “We will gladly give you what you want.” So they spread out a coat, and everyone threw down an earring from what he had taken.26 The gold earrings weighed about forty-three pounds. This did not count the decorations, necklaces, and purple robes worn by the kings of Midian, nor the chains from the camels’ necks.27 Gideon used the gold to make a holy vest, which he put in his hometown of Ophrah. But all the Israelites were unfaithful to God and worshiped it, so it became a trap for Gideon and his family.
~ Jdg 8:24-27 (NCV)
This is somewhat of an odd and sad way to end this story. It may be due to this that such unrest occurs soon after his death within his family.
Israel now gets 40 years of rest.
Meanwhile, Gideon gathers many wives and has 70 sons. He also has a concubine in Shechem, who bares Abimelech, who will be quite a troublemaker in the next two chapters.
As sad as the end of Gideon’s life apparently was, the commentary that follows his death is sadder still.
33 And 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 Baalberith their god.
34 And the children of Israel remembered not the LORD their God, who had delivered them out of the hands of all their enemies on every side:
35 Neither shewed they kindness to the house of Jerubbaal, namely, Gideon, according to all the goodness which he had shewed unto Israel.
“Baalberith” means “lord of the covenant”. It becomes more obvious now that the ancient Israelites are engaging in syncretism – that is, the mixing of religions. They are mixing the customs of the people of the land with their own religion.
Yet, in spite of the example of ancient Israel and the obvious anger that God displayed because of this syncretism, people today will justify all sorts of pagan ideas being used to worship God. If it made God that angry in ancient Israel, how do they expect it will please Him today?
6 For I am the LORD, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed.
~ Mal 3:6
29 When the LORD thy God shall cut off the nations from before thee, whither thou goest to possess them, and thou succeedest them, and dwellest in their land;
30 Take heed to thyself that thou be not snared by following them, after that they be destroyed from before thee; and that thou enquire not after their gods, saying, How did these nations serve their gods? even so will I do likewise.
31 Thou shalt not do so unto the LORD thy God: for every abomination to the LORD, which he hateth, have they done unto their gods; for even their sons and their daughters they have burnt in the fire to their gods.
32 What thing soever I command you, observe to do it: thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it.
That is one lesson that people have refused to learn down through time, and it is one of the main lessons to glean from the Book of Judges. It is not good to do what is right in our own eyes. We must do what is right in God’s eyes.
You can go on to Chapter 9 here.