Slideshow image

Year 1, Week 27, Day 1

I have a brief observation for today’s reading of Judges 7-8.

Today’s reading continues the pattern of the LORD raising up Judges to deliver Israel for their oppression. The previous day’s reading began with the life of Gideon, who was the fourth of the six major Judges recorded in Israel. Gideon was called by the LORD to deliver the Israelites from the Midianites. Judges 7 describes how the LORD used Gideon to rescue the Israelites. But Judges 8 describes something of the downfall of Gideon in the aftermath of the victory that the LORD gave to Israel over Midian. 

One of the things that struck me from today’s reading is the LORD who reveals Himself whose hand secures the victory: “Make their nobles like Oreb and Zeeb, all their princes like Zebah and Zalmunna, who said, “Let us take possession for ourselves of the pastures of God…that they may know that you alone, whose name is the LORD, are the Most High over all the earth” (Psalm 89:11-12,18). Gideon and his men were victorious in defeating Israel’s oppressors: “And they captured the two princes of Midian, Oreb and Zeeb. They killed Oreb at the rock of Oreb, and Zeeb they killed at the winepress of Zeeb. Then they pursued Midian, and they brought the heads of Oreb and Zeeb to Gideon across the Jordan” (Judges 7:25). And yet, while Gideon was raised up to be the instrument of the victory, it was the LORD who obtained the victory. In fact, while 32,000 men rose to assist Gideon against the Midianites, the LORD winnowed down the fighting force to 300. This reduction in forces was for a clear reason: “The people with you are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hand, lest Israel boast over me, saying, ‘My own hand has saved me’” (Judges 7:2).

The reduction of Gideon’s forces is reminiscent of the force that Abraham used when he rescued Lot from Amalekites with just 318 men (see Genesis 14). Abraham was successful, as was Gideon. It was made clear who gave Gideon the victory: “And his comrade answered, “This is no other than the sword of Gideon the son of Joash, a man of Israel; God has given into his hand Midian and all the camp” (Judges 7:14). And yet, the credit for the victory seems to shift in the minds of at least some of the Israelites as they desire Gideon to become their king: "Then the men of Israel said to Gideon, “Rule over us, you and your son and your grandson also, for you have saved us from the hand of Midian” (Judges 8:22). Gideon will decline the offer of being Israel’s king, but his remaining years in Israel is a mixed review. Nevertheless, the LORD was faithful: “So Midian was subdued before the people of Israel, and they raised their heads no more. And the land had rest forty years in the days of Gideon” (Judges 8:28).

Gideon’s years in the aftermath of the defeat of the Midianites are troublesome years, not just in the life of Gideon, but in Israel as a whole. While the Midianites were no longer a threat, Israel was not just back to dealing with their own worst enemy—themselves. As Gideon defeats the Midianites, the tribe of Ephraim contends against Gideon: “What is this that you have done to us, not to call us when you went to fight against Midian?” And they accused him fiercely” (Judges 8:1). Gideon had been contending against the Midianites, but now the Ephraimites contend against Gideon. Gideon threatens to come back later and deal with Ephraim. Then as Gideon appeals to Succoth and Penuel for aid, they refuse and Gideon severely declares, first to Succoth: “Well then, when the LORD has given Zebah and Zalmunna into my hand, I will flail your flesh with the thorns of the wilderness and with briers” (Judges 8:7); and then to Penuel: “When I come again in peace, I will break down this tower” (Judges 8:9). Israel and Gideon are morally unraveling, even as the LORD is fighting to rescue them.

Gideon’s actions take a worse step in the aftermath of turning down the kingship: “I will not rule over you, and my son will not rule over you; the LORD will rule over you.” And Gideon said to them, “Let me make a request of you: every one of you give me the earrings from his spoil” (Judges 8:23-24). Gideon’s request leads to a moral downfall: “And Gideon made an ephod of it and put it in his city, in Ophrah. And all Israel whored after it there, and it became a snare to Gideon and to his family” (Judges 8:27). Reminiscent of Aaron fashioning an idol from golden earrings (see Exodus 32:2), Gideon creates a priestly garment, which suggests that he is assuming a priestly role, and contributed further to Israel’s idolatry. Whereas Abraham refused the spoils from his victory with his 318 men—evening paying a tithe toward the worship of the LORD. Gideon misuses spoils, leading Israel away from the worship of the LORD.

What struck you in today’s reading? What questions were prompted from today’s reading?

Pastor Joe