Judges 8

Judges 8,
Tuesday, May 8, 2018

The Ephraimites scold Gideon for not consulting with them before picking a fight with the Midianites.  Presumably they were not part of the 30,000 who had been sent home.  I imagine them sneering at little Gideon, since they carry the enemies’ heads from ‘mopping up’.  Gideon accepts the insults, minimizing his role, compared to theirs.  The leftover grapes after harvest from Ephraim’s vineyard for the poor to scavenge are clearly superior to his own clan Abiezer’s best wine selected from their best stock and year.  Right? (Wrong, eh?)

Gideon picks up the chase, crossing the Jordan, asking for hospitality for his few troops from Succoth and Penuel.  Since he has not already won and claimed trophies from his enemies, they deny help.  Gideon threatens retributive consequences, but his 300 don’t look like a good bet against the remaining 15,000 of the original 120,000  troops of Midian.  The Midianites were complacent, too, and thus easily panicked and vanquished – not be strength of arms, but by successful psychological warfare led by Yahweh.

Gideon’s retributive vengeance is targeted to the 77 leaders of Succoth, though the phrase ‘the people of Succoth’ in v16 might mean a wider genocide.  The next retributive act is destroying the tower at Penuel, and again killing ‘the men’, whom I read as the leaders, but others will read as implicitly ‘all the men’.  The third retributive act is against the Midianite leaders, a brief war crimes tribunal on the issue of killing anybody who looked like a ‘son of a king’ or likely leader of resistance.  Gideon sentences them to death.

Gideon’s son refuses to execute the death sentence, the kings taunt Gideon, and he dispatches them and takes trophies from their camels’ ornamental gear.  The people offer to make Gideon king, a hereditary monarch to be succeeded by his son.  Gideon declines, but accepts payment from the booty in gold ear-rings from Midianite corpses.  He makes a fancy ephod for his luxury home in retirement. The text deems this idolatry shared by Israel, but 40 years of peace is granted, and 70 legitimate sons, plus Abimelech, son of Gideon’s concubine in Shechem, star of the next chapter.

The received text of Judges, part of the set of Latter Prophets (Joshua and Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings), leaves the reading and hearing community to argue about the merits of monarchy, a theme that will be revisited repeatedly in accounts of 500 years of Israel’s history, from 1100BCE to 600BCE.  In our language, what drives nations and people?  Money, sex, power?  What’s the difference between tyranny and just rule?  What does God model, and how do successions of leaders fail?

The closing is familiar by now, in the formulaic edited version of the story:  Gideon gets to live long, but the people forget what God had done, or even Gideon.  They pursue Baal-berith.
Then the Ephraimites said to him,
 ‘What have you done to us,
 not to call us
when you went to fight
against the Midianites?’ 
And they upbraided him violently.
 2So 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?
 3God has given into your hands
 the captains of Midian, Oreb and Zeeb; 
what have I been able to do
in comparison with you?’
 When he said this, 
their anger against him subsided.
4 Then Gideon came to the Jordan
 and crossed over,
 he and the three hundred
who were with him,
 exhausted and famished.
 5So he said to the people of Succoth,
 ‘Please give some loaves of bread to my followers,
 for they are exhausted, 
and I am pursuing Zebah and Zalmunna,
 the kings of Midian.’
 6But the officials of Succoth said,
 ‘Do you already have in your possession
 the hands of Zebah and Zalmunna,
 that we should give bread to your army?’
 7Gideon replied, ‘Well then,
 when the Lord has given Zebah and Zalmunna into my hand,
 I will trample your flesh on the thorns of the wilderness
and on briers.’
 8From there he went up to Penuel, 
and made the same request of them;
 and the people of Penuel answered him
as the people of Succoth had answered.
 9So he said to the people of Penuel,
 ‘When I come back victorious,
 I will break down this tower.’
10 Now Zebah and Zalmunna were in Karkor
with their army, about fifteen thousand men,
 all who were left of all the army of the people of the east;
 for one hundred and twenty thousand men bearing arms
had fallen.
 11So Gideon went up by the caravan route
east of Nobah and Jogbehah,
 and attacked the army;
 for the army was off its guard.
12Zebah and Zalmunna fled; 
and he pursued them
 and took the two kings of Midian,
 Zebah and Zalmunna, 
and threw all the army into a panic.
13 When Gideon son of Joash returned from the battle
 by the ascent of Heres,
 14he caught a young man, 
one of the people of Succoth,
 and questioned him;
 and he listed for him
 the officials and elders of Succoth,
 seventy-seven people.
 15Then he came to the people of Succoth, 
and said, ‘Here are Zebah and Zalmunna, 
about whom you taunted me, 
“Do you already have in your possession
 the hands of Zebah and Zalmunna,
 that we should give bread to your troops
 who are exhausted?”’ 
16So he took the elders of the city
and he took thorns of the wilderness
 and briers
and with them he trampled the people of Succoth.
 17He also broke down the tower of Penuel, 
and killed the men of the city.
18 Then he said to Zebah and Zalmunna, 
‘What about the men whom you killed at Tabor?’ 
They answered,
 ‘As you are, so were they, every one of them; 
they resembled the sons of a king.’
 19And he replied,
 ‘They were my brothers,
 the sons of my mother;
 as the Lord lives,
 if you had saved them alive,
 I would not kill you.’
 20So he said to Jether his firstborn,
 ‘Go, kill them!’ 
But the boy did not draw his sword,
 for he was afraid,
 because he was still a boy.
 21Then Zebah and Zalmunna said, 
‘You come and kill us; 
for as the man is,
so is his strength.’ 
So Gideon proceeded to kill Zebah and Zalmunna; 
and he took the crescents
that were on the necks of their camels.
22 Then the Israelites said to Gideon,
 ‘Rule over us,
 you and your son and your grandson also;
 for you have delivered us
 out of the hand of Midian.’
 23Gideon said to them,
 ‘I will not rule over you,
 and my son will not rule over you;
 the Lord will rule over you.’
 24Then Gideon said to them, 
‘Let me make a request of you;
 each of you give me an ear-ring
 he has taken as booty.’
 (For the enemy had golden ear-rings, 
because they were Ishmaelites.)
 25‘We will willingly give them,’
 they answered. 
So they spread a garment,
 and each threw into it an ear-ring
 he had taken as booty.
 26The weight of the golden ear-rings
that he requested
was one thousand seven hundred shekels of gold
 (apart from the crescents and the pendants
 and the purple garments worn by the kings of Midian,
 and the collars that were on the necks of their camels).
 27Gideon made an ephod of it
and put it in his town,
 in Ophrah;
 and all Israel prostituted themselves to it there, 
and it became a snare to Gideon
 and to his family.
28So Midian was subdued
before the Israelites, 
and they lifted up their heads no more.
 So the land had rest
for forty years
in the days of Gideon.
29 Jerubbaal son of Joash
went to live in his own house.
 30Now Gideon had seventy sons, 
his own offspring
, for he had many wives.
 31His concubine who was in Shechem
 also bore him a son,
 and he named him Abimelech.
 32Then Gideon son of Joash died
 at a good old age, 
and was buried in the tomb of his father Joash
at Ophrah of the Abiezrites.
33 As soon as Gideon died,
 the Israelites relapsed
and prostituted themselves
with the Baals,
 making Baal-berith their god.
 34The Israelites did not remember the Lord their God,
 who had rescued them from the hand
of all their enemies on every side;
 35and they did not exhibit loyalty
to the house of Jerubbaal (that is, Gideon) 
in return for all the good
 that he had done to Israel.