Sunday, February 7, 2010

Judges series - Judges 8

The way to read this article is that the orange underlined texts are the verses of the Bible (NIV, unless otherwise stated). The black texts following the Bible verses (and enclosed by square brackets) are my commentaries. At the end of these Bible texts and commentaries, I have inserted a section on "Points to take note".
{For full listing of all articles in this series, click here}

Judges 8
[This chapter is the last of the 3 on Gideon. Indeed, Gideon was a major judge; 3 chapters were devoted to him, Judge Deborah had only 2 (only Judge Samson whom we will cover in the future, has more chapters devoted to him). In this chapter, we will read of the capturing of the 2 last kings (“the 2 Zs”, I called them), and the punishments of the 2 cities which refused to aid the Lord, finally a brief about Gideon’s life, including the creation of the Gideon’s Ephod, and his having a son called Abimelech, by a Shechem woman.]

Zebah and Zalmunna {2 remaining Midian Kings}
1 Now the Ephraimites asked Gideon, "Why have you treated us like this? Why didn't you call us when you went to fight Midian?" And they criticized him sharply. 2 But he answered them, "What have I accomplished compared to you? Aren't the gleanings of Ephraim's grapes better than the full grape harvest of Abiezer? 3 God gave Oreb and Zeeb, the Midianite leaders, into your hands. What was I able to do compared to you?" At this, their resentment against him subsided. [There is a little background to the Ephraimites’ remarks. Like I said in the last commentary in Judges 7, a little knowledge of the 12 tribes of Israel helps in understanding of some of the Bible stories. At the start, Manasseh and Ephraim are the 2 sons born to Joseph, one of the 12 sons of Israel (aka Jacob). Customarily, the firstborn will carry the family line down the generations; there are great privileges and rights to the firstborn families. What happened was, when it was time to bless Joseph’s children, Israel (Joseph’s father, and therefore the paternal grandfather of the 2 kids) placed his right hand on the Ephraim, and left on Manasseh (in the words of my daughter, Audrey, the crossing of hands), although Manasseh was the firstborn, and should have had Israel’s right hand on him. What resulted was that Ephraim was put ahead of Manasseh, and to cut the story short, the matter was resolved with 2 tribes being established in the house of Joseph. So, the tribes of Israel often got quoted with Ephraim and Manasseh in them. It is almost like there were 13 tribes because Ephraim and Manasseh were often quoted, and quoted separately.

Because Gideon was from the weakest clan in the Manasseh tribe, and in Judges 6:35, we read that he sent messengers out to some of the tribes of Israel but did not include the Ephraimites, and now there was victory, the Ephraimites were not happy. Gideon had God’s wisdom, and he answered them saying firstly, the Ephraimites had better privileges and rights (though they did not come from the firstborn, descendants of Manasseh were of the firstborn line), the mere gleanings of the Ephraimites were better than the full harvest of the Gideon’s clan, Abiezer; secondly, the Ephraimites got to slay the Midianite leaders, Oreb and Zeeb. Gideon did subsequently sent messengers to Ephraim to come and kill the Midianites (Judges 7:24). Basically, Gideon was saying to the Ephraimites, “You got the better end of the stick”. He made peace - no wonder God made him the Judge.]
4 Gideon and his three hundred men, exhausted yet keeping up the pursuit, came to the Jordan and crossed it. 5 He said to the men of Succoth, "Give my troops some bread; they are worn out, and I am still pursuing Zebah and Zalmunna, the kings of Midian." 6 But the officials of Succoth said, "Do you already have the hands of Zebah and Zalmunna in your possession? Why should we give bread to your troops?" 7 Then Gideon replied, "Just for that, when the LORD has given Zebah and Zalmunna into my hand, I will tear your flesh with desert thorns and briers." 8 From there he went up to Peniel and made the same request of them, but they answered as the men of Succoth had. 9 So he said to the men of Peniel, "When I return in triumph, I will tear down this tower." [There will always be people who will not aid the cause of God. We read of this also in Judge Deborah’s exploit, where she, together with Barak led the Israelites to fight at the Kishon River, and there was a village called Meroz whose inhabitants refused to help. The Lord cursed the village (Judges 5:23). Here we read of the peoples of two separate cities refusing to provide bread for Gideon’s 300 men troop, when the latter were pursuing the remaining 2 kings of Midian, Zebah and Zalmunna. Earlier on, in Judges 6, I suggested people like Abraham, Moses and Gideon have the favor of God. Indeed if you study a little more of their lives, you will know that they had the favor of God. I really hope I can grow in favor with God. Do you know why? It is because people with God’s favor will be able to do great exploits for God. If you want to read a little more about this favor and doing exploits for God, you can read the 3rd section of my article – Reserve glory and worship for God, practise honor, and grow in favor with God. I believe that the words of people with God’s favor can be powerful; God is likely to bring their words to pass, if they are not inconsistent with His ways. Gideon declared that he would come back to them, men of Succoth and Peniel, and teach them a lesson. That would surely come to pass.] 10 Now Zebah and Zalmunna were in Karkor with a force of about fifteen thousand men, all that were left of the armies of the eastern peoples; a hundred and twenty thousand swordsmen had fallen. 11 Gideon went up by the route of the nomads east of Nobah and Jogbehah and fell upon the unsuspecting army. 12 Zebah and Zalmunna, the two kings of Midian, fled, but he pursued them and captured them, routing their entire army. [Gideon finally managed to route the entire enemy army; even with reduced numbers, still it was 300 men versed 15,000. The 2 Midian kings were captured.] 13 Gideon son of Joash then returned from the battle by the Pass of Heres. 14 He caught a young man of Succoth and questioned him, and the young man wrote down for him the names of the seventy-seven officials of Succoth, the elders of the town. 15 Then Gideon came and said to the men of Succoth, "Here are Zebah and Zalmunna, about whom you taunted me by saying, 'Do you already have the hands of Zebah and Zalmunna in your possession? Why should we give bread to your exhausted men?' " 16 He took the elders of the town and taught the men of Succoth a lesson by punishing them with desert thorns and briers. 17 He also pulled down the tower of Peniel and killed the men of the town. [This is the record of Gideon’s declarations against Succoth and Peniel coming to pass. Don’t play, play with people with God’s favor, God is on their side. You can read of other examples of this from my separate article – Don’t play, play, the words from the mouths of favored men of God can be powerful]
18 Then he asked Zebah and Zalmunna, "What kind of men did you kill at Tabor?" "Men like you," they answered, "each one with the bearing of a prince." 19 Gideon replied, "Those were my brothers, the sons of my own mother. As surely as the LORD lives, if you had spared their lives, I would not kill you." 20 Turning to Jether, his oldest son, he said, "Kill them!" But Jether did not draw his sword, because he was only a boy and was afraid. 21 Zebah and Zalmunna said, "Come, do it yourself. 'As is the man, so is his strength.' "So Gideon stepped forward and killed them, and took the ornaments off their camels' necks. [I was wondering what these verses about the killings at Mount Tabor were about. Perhaps, Gideon was referring to the atrocities of Midianites against the Israelites in the seven years after Judge Deborah and before God’s appointment of Gideon, recorded for us in Judges 6:1. It was possible. Deborah, together with Barak fought Jabin in the area of Mount Tabor, in the valley below the mount and at the bank of the Kishon River. With victory, it was likely that the Israelites occupied and lived on those lands around Mount Tabor. In fact, in Judges 6:2-6, the Israelites were so oppressed by the Midianites that the Israelites had to run up the mountain and live in mountain clefts, caves and strongholds. I believe although many Israelites were killed, many of the Israelites were left alive for oppressions (including perpetually being robbed of the fruits of their labor, crops and livestock – free food for the Midianites); maybe the nobles and the royalties were mostly brought before the kings of the Midianites, to be dealt with. They ended up being killed. To avenge the deaths, Gideon decided that the 2 kings must die. Maybe Gideon thought of giving the honor to his firstborn, but the boy was too young and was afraid to kill; it ended up Gideon himself did the honor.]

Gideon's Ephod
22 The Israelites said to Gideon, "Rule over us—you, your son and your grandson—because you have saved us out of the hand of Midian." 23 But Gideon told them, "I will not rule over you, nor will my son rule over you. The LORD will rule over you." 24 And he said, "I do have one request, that each of you give me an earring from your share of the plunder." (It was the custom of the Ishmaelites to wear gold earrings.) 25 They answered, "We'll be glad to give them." So they spread out a garment, and each man threw a ring from his plunder onto it. 26 The weight of the gold rings he asked for came to seventeen hundred shekels, not counting the ornaments, the pendants and the purple garments worn by the kings of Midian or the chains that were on their camels' necks. [The Israelites wanted to make Gideon King over the Israelites but Gideon declined. Instead he asked that he be given an earring from each man from the share of the spoil of war. At first I was stumped by the sentence in the bracket in verse 24. On checking I learnt that the Midianites and Ishmaelites are the same (Gen37:25, 28), the descendants of Ishmael, the son Abraham had with Hagar, the Egyptian maidservant. Wearing gold earrings was the custom of Ishmaelites, and so that accounted for the great number of earrings collected as war spoils.] 27 Gideon made the gold into an ephod, which he placed in Ophrah, his town. All Israel prostituted themselves by worshiping it there, and it became a snare to Gideon and his family. [What a pity! What a pity! To me it was a pity, unless some references can be found to support that the worshipping was after Gideon’s time, I really have to take this verse plainly and say that it was a pity, Gideon did not end well. Such worship was and is an abomination to God.]

Gideon's Death
28 Thus Midian was subdued before the Israelites and did not raise its head again. During Gideon's lifetime, the land enjoyed peace forty years. [Israelites enjoyed 40 years of peace while Judge Gideon was alive] 29 Jerub-Baal son of Joash went back home to live. 30 He had seventy sons of his own, for he had many wives. 31 His concubine, who lived in Shechem, also bore him a son, whom he named Abimelech. 32 Gideon son of Joash died at a good old age and was buried in the tomb of his father Joash in Ophrah of the Abiezrites. [Gideon lived a long life, had 70 sons and many wives. Specifically recorded here is a concubine in Shechem who bored him a son, called Abimelech. Gideon died and was buried with his father, Joash in their hometown of Ophrah] 33 No sooner had Gideon died than the Israelites again prostituted themselves to the Baals. They set up Baal-Berith as their god and 34 did not remember the LORD their God, who had rescued them from the hands of all their enemies on every side. 35 They also failed to show kindness to the family of Jerub-Baal (that is, Gideon) for all the good things he had done for them. [History repeated itself, again after the death of a judge, the Israelites went back to the worship of pagan gods, and forgot about the Lord who rescued them from the hands of all their enemies. They also forgot what Gideon had done for them, and did not show kindness to the family of Gideon. The first bit, I can understand easily. Why the 2nd bit got recorded for us? Maybe the Lord would like us to not forget to be kind to the families of the servants of God after the servants had passed on. Many servants of God gave of themselves, even at the sacrifices of their loved ones, whom they then left behind when they (the servants) passed on. Shouldn’t we be kind to those they left behind?]

Points to take note/learnt:

1. Love peace, and be gracious as the Lord has been to you
Many of us have a mindset of being very hard up for things, wealth, status, and even power and authority. Worse still, some of us are having this mindset despite already having and are being blessed with much by the grace of God. The relentless pursuit of these things, without the blessing of God inadvertently leads to strive, and peace taking a back seat, and enmity will arise, or made worse. We saw that Gideon was not like that, but we will read later in Chapter 12 (you do not need to turn it now, as I will cover it in due course) that another judge raised by God, called Jephthah, although also from the Manasseh tribe, just like Gideon, was not like Gideon in this respect.

Very clearly God had raised Gideon, from the weakest clan in the Manasseh tribe, and the least in his family, above all; yet we saw how he dealt with the sensitive issue between the sub-tribes of the house of Joseph. Gideon was a man of war (we are all men of war; the Apostle Paul said we are all soldiers of Christ) and at the same time he was a peace-maker, and loved peace (blessed is the one who is a peace-maker). God is love yet God has to discipline and punish. God is peace yet God has to war. God is a giver yet God has to take away, too, at times. God knows when to do what, because God is Wisdom. For us, to juggle such ironies in life (sorry, we cannot avoid them all), we need the wisdom of God. We are being told, in life, to get into the company of the “wise”, learn from them, tap on their “brains”, etc, yet that is not good enough, and it can never be enough (the wisdom of men are just plain foolishness in the eyes of God), we need to get into the company of God, learn of His ways, and tap on the wisdom of God to correctly juggle such ironies.

Gideon was not hard up at all; he just concentrated on doing the things that God wanted him to do. I believe he knew what mattered was how God looked at him. In the Book of Romans, the Apostle Paul talked about serving, and he put it in this way: Serve righteously, and serve in the peace and joy of the Holy Spirit, in that way, our service will be pleasing to God, and our service will also gain the approval of men. Such had been the attitude of Gideon, and we read that at the end of the war when finally the entire Midan enemy had been subdued, the people still wanted Gideon, and his descendants, to be their king, despite the fact that the war was over, and his letting the Ephraimites taking some of the choicest credits. Jephthah, whom we will read about in chapter 12, was different; he demanded that the people promised him leadership even before going to battle for the people -such a contrast.

You do not need to shine all the time before men, let others shine too, and you will shine even brighter before the Lord.

2. Can one sit on the fence? Apparently not
We read here that apparently one cannot sit on the fence, and not choose side. Indeed the line dividing the kingdom of God and the domain of darkness can be a thin one. God is spirit, and Satan is spirit. God has powers and Satan has too (but much lesser, in reality, but is still a force to content with for the mortal men). There are “realities” on both sides of the fence, yet many of them, on Satan’s side are fakes. For example, there is real authority on one side but no real authority on the other, Satan’s side, over the children of God. Satan has no authority over us (Christians), the children of God, unless we choose to submit to his make-believe authority. I believe the real authority of Satan over the lives of the children of God had been effectively cancelled by Jesus’ victory on the cross.

Men need to choose side; he cannot sit on the fence. In fact, more correctly, in this matter, a man is never sitting on the fence. By The Fall of Man, unregenerate man is on Satan’s side. The only choice for man is either he remains on the side of Satan or he crosses over the line or the fence into God’s side. Jesus Himself said that those not with Him is against Him (Matt 12:30a, Luke 11:23a). What is even more startling to know is what He said, for the second part, that those who do not gather with Him, scatter. The KJV version used the phrase, “scattereth abroad”. Scattering has the meaning of “to separate and disperse. The KJV gives the connotation of being far away, from God.

If you are not on God’s side you are on Satan’s side; Harsh, it might seem, but that is the reality, although I believe in most cases, if not all, God does provide a chance for one to choose. When it is the time to choose, when one does not choose, one is actually not sitting on the fence; he has made a decision, and that decision is that he has opted to ratify his existing position of being on Satan’s side (As a side issue, those on God’s side, if you turn your back on God, you are a mutiny, you can be given over, and the enemy knows it, and you can be devoured, left, right, and centre, so to speak. Stay steadfast, please.).

In this Book of Judges, there are 3 examples of men or cities not taking side with God. In Judges 5:23, we saw how the place, Meroz, was cursed for her refusal to help the Lord who was fighting the enemy.

Here, we have the elders of Succoth not willing to feed the fighting men of God; also, the case of the men at Peniel. Gideon prophesied or declared judgments over these 2 cities, and God honored the declarations, and the punishments went ahead. These examples did not show that the parties went against God, but only that they were not with the Lord (just like Jesus said it in the New Testament), and they would not gather with the Lord.

Was the Lord being cruel? No, you must understand that in those days, for all the 3 cities or peoples involved in them, the God of the Israelites was clearly “known” to them; they heard of the mighty exploits and the works of the Lord all around them, yet they chose to reject the Lord. You can see for yourselves what Gideon and his 300 men were asking for, only bread, not anything that the people were not able to provide for them, yet they chose not to do so. I believe, although some of us, because of the remoteness of the events from us (and lack of detailed facts), cannot fully comprehend, but it must have been very clear in the hearts and minds of the peoples in those two towns that they were deciding not to be siding with God, the God of Israel.

Accept it, we all have to make choices; do not blame Adam and Eve for they had to make a choice when confronted by the Serpent (remember, not making a decision is still a choice made), they made their choice which affected you and I, but we have to make a choice of either staying in the condemned state or be set free from the curse of death, and cross over the fence to God’s side.

3. Don’t play, play, the words from the mouths of favored men of God can be powerful
For the exposition of this, please read my separate article – Don’t play, play, words from the mouths of favored men of God can be powerful. For those not reading the separate article, it suffices for me to say here that the declarations or prophetic words of favored men of God can very well be honored by God, and be made to come to pass, just like what had happened to Succoth and Peniel, here.

4. Any form of idol worship is abominable to God
Gideon made a golden ephod with the gold melted down from the gold earrings from the spoil of war. This ephod was placed in his hometown and was being worshipped by the Israelites; and this was recorded for us as a snare to Gideon and his family.

This is not an isolated case, and I believe if we are not careful, we, men, tend to do these things – instead of worshipping God, we end up worshipping or giving the due reverence to a thing (making it an idol) rather than the Giver, who is God Himself. Another example of this is the bronze snake or serpent Moses erected for the Israelites, under the instruction of God, but later became an idol, the worship of which (and it was worshipped, the Israelites burned incense to it) became an abomination to God (Numbers 21:9 & 2 Kings 18:4).

5. Always be on your guard (be watchful) so that you may finish well
Few men of God, recorded for us in the Bible, finished well. Moses finished with one thing against him (you can read of this in Why Moses did not enter the Promised Land), King Solomon strayed away from God with grave consequence to the kingdom of Israel (In 1 Kings 11:4-6 & 11-14, we read that as Solomon grew old, he was turned by his many wives to other gods, incurring the wraths of God, so much so, that God decided to tear away the kingdom from him, but for the sake of King David, Solomon’s father, who did finish well (you can tell, even from the reading of these verses concerning Solomon), deferred the tearing away until the reign of Solomon’s son; leaving only one tribe intact, again, for the sake of David, the man after God’s heart), John the Baptist, which in recent days, was being preached about as being doubtful of Jesus’ identity (sending messengers to question Jesus) when at the beginning of his ministry he was so emphatic that Jesus was the true Messiah, the shoe laces of whom he was not worthy even to tie, or that it was not in proper order that he should baptize Jesus; or even Judas Iscariot, one of the 12 Disciples of Jesus who ended up betraying Jesus, and hanging himself from a tree. Although how and when Paul, the God appointed Apostle of Jesus Christ, died, are not fully verified, it is generally accepted that Paul (and the Apostle Peter) died in persecution, or at least in general persecution, during the reign of Roman emperor Nero. I believe although Paul did not start well (he was an ardent persecutor of the Christians and the Christian faith until he was supernaturally blinded by the Lord on the road to Damascus), he finished well. He had repeatedly called believers to be watchful, to keep our eyes focused on the finishing line, and to press on, and to run the race in such a way as to finish the race, wining the prizes. His motto for us is to run to win the prize God has in mind for each one of us, in Heaven.

Moses obviously cannot be blamed for the bronze snake or serpent being worshipped by the Israelites, but Gideon, it looked to me, could not absolved from blame unless it can be proved that such worship was started only after his passing on.

6. Again, without a judge, after the death of Gideon, the Israelites went back to pagan worship
History repeated itself for the Israelites in this area - a consistent failure on the part of the Israelites over the judges period. Look at ourselves honestly, is there an area in our lives, we consistently fail the Lord?

7. Be kind to the family of the servants of God
Despite Gideon’s failing, of installing the golden ephod in his hometown leading to people worshipping the ephod, God still have it recorded here that the Israelites ought to have been kind to the family of Gideon after he passed on. To me, there is a point that the Lord wants to put through, that we should be kind to the family of the late servants of God. This, I am encouraged that in my church I saw at least 2 examples of kindness being extended by the church to the spouses and children of a pastor and a missionary who died.

Anthony Chia – This concludes my exposition of the 3 chapters in the Bible on the major Judge, Gideon. Lord, there is much to learn from Gideon’s life; help me to learn them well so that I may please you, always.

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