[Henry: “Faint and yet pursuing;” much fatigued with what they had done, yet eager to do more. Our spiritual warfare must thus be prosecuted with what strength we have, though but little; it is many a time the true Christian’s case, fainting, yet pursuing.—Bp. Hall: It is hard if those who fight the wars of God may not have necessary relief; that whilst the enemy dies by them, they should die by famine. If they had labored for God at home in peace, they had been worthy of maintenance; how much more now that danger is added to their toil?—The same: Those that fight for our souls against spiritual powers, may challenge bread from us; and it is shameless unthankfulness to deny it.
The same (on the punishment of Succoth): I know not whether more to commend Gideon’s wisdom and moderation in the proceedings, than his resolution and justice in the execution of this business. I do not see him run furiously into the city, and kill the next; his sword has not been so drunken with blood, that it should know no difference; but he writes down the names of the princes, and singles them forth for revenge.—The same: It is like, the citizens of Succoth would have been glad to succor Gideon, if their rulers had not forbidden. They must therefore escape, while their princes perish.—The same (on Penuel): The place where Jacob wrestled with God and prevailed, now hath wrestled against God and takes a fall; they see God avenged, which would not believe Him delivering.—Wordsworth: They who now despise the mercy of Christ as the Lamb, will hereafter feel the wrath of Christ as the Lion ( Revelation 5:5).—Bush: The whole of this remarkable transaction tends to inspire us with confidence in God, and to encourage our exertions in his cause; but there are two lessons especially which we shall do well to learn from it: 1. To prosecute our spiritual warfare under all discouragements ourselves; and2. To be careful to put no discouragements in the way of others. God is indignant with those who would weaken the hands of his people.
Bp. Hall: The slaughter of Gideon’s brethren was not the greatest sin of the Midianitish kings; [yet] this alone shall kill them, when the rest [of their sins] expected an unjust remission. How many lewd men hath God paid with some one sin for all the rest!—Scott: Sins long forgotten must be accounted for to God.—Tr.]
FN#4 - Judges 8:6.—Dr. Cassel: “Hast thou the fist of Zebah and Zalmunna already in thy hand,” etc. Bertheau and Keil, in their commentaries, have the same rendering, merely changing Luther’s plural, Sind die Faüste, to the singular. כַּף is properly the hollow hand, the palm; accordingly the Dutch Version renders, rather awkwardly to be sure, “Is dan the handpalm tan Zebah en Tsalmuna alreede in uwe hand,” etc. The word “fist,” even if it did not somewhat alter the metaphor involved, lacks dignity in modern English, although it avoids the tameness of using “hand” twice. For an independent version, De Wette’s would be better: “Hast thou then Zebah and Zalmunna already in thy hand,” etc.—Tr.]
FN#6 - Judges 8:13.—מִלְמַעֲלֵה הֶחָרֶס. The above rendering takes no account of the לְ. “At” would be better than “from.” It is literally, “from at” the ascent of the sun. It indicates the point to which Gideon came, and at which he turned back.—Tr.]
FN#7 - Analogies to this word, such as ῥάχος, thorn = βράχος (cf. ῥαδινός and βραδινός, ῥῖγος, and frigus), cannot here be further investigated. In Scandinavian dialects, rhamnus, thornbush, is called getbark or geitbark.
FN#8 - Eusebius (Onomast., Perthey, p252) does not say that this Karkor and Carcaria near Petra are one and the same place. Nor can they be the same. although the names may be similarly explained.
FN#9 - Greek texts have a corrupt form ̓Ιεγεβάλ. The Syrian version of Paul of Tela does not have the name at all (Rördam, p169).
FN#10 - For which the Jewish expositors decide, because they assign the previous expedition to the night-time.
FN#11 - That ויֹּדַע need not necessarily be written וַיּוֹדַע (Bertheau), and is found elsewhere, has already been justly remarked by Keil, who refers to Numbers 16:5, and Job 32:7.
FN#12 - Cf. Grotius, De Jure Pacis et Belli, lib. iii4, 10.
FN#13 - Bush: “In countries where polygamy is tolerated, the ties of brotherhood are, as might be expected, much more close and tender between those who are born of the same mother, than those who are connected only as the children of the same father. This explains why ‘son of my mother’ was among the Hebrews, as now among the Arabs and others, a far more endearing expression than that of ‘my brother,’ in the general sense” The same remarks hold also of the tribes of Western Africa. Speaking of polygamy and family life among them, the Rev. J. G. Auer observes (Spirit of Missions for1867, p729): “Children cleave to their mother more than to their father, and a full brother or sister is called ‘my mother’s child.’ ”—Tr.]
FN#14 - On the first of these stories, see Gibbon’s Decline, etc, Milman’s ed, Boston, i319; on the second, vol. vi 271 note58; on the third, vi267–71, with Milman’s note on p271.—Tr.]
Gideon refuses to be king. Prepares an ephod, which is followed by evil consequences. Gideon’s death and burial
22Then [And] the men of Israel said unto Gideon, Rule thou over us, both thou, and thy Song of Solomon, 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 [Jehovah] shall rule over you 24 And Gideon said unto them, I would desire a request of you, that you would give me every man the ear-rings [the ring][FN15] of his prey. (For they had golden ear-rings [rings], because25[for] they were Ishmaelites.) And they answered, We will willingly give them. And they spread a garment,[FN16] and did cast therein every man the ear-rings [ring] of his prey 26 And the weight of the golden ear-rings [rings] that he requested, was a thousand and seven hundred shekels of gold; beside [apart from the] ornaments [moons], and [the] collars [ear-drops], and [the] purple raiment [garments] that was [were] on the kings of Midian, and beside [apart from] the chains [collars] that were about their camels’ necks 27 And Gideon made an ephod thereof, and put it in his city, even in Ophrah: and all Israel went thither [omit: thither] a whoring after it [there]: which thing, [and it i. e. the ephod] became a snare unto Gideon, and to his house 28 Thus was Midian subdued [But Midian was humbled] before the children [sons] of Israel, so that they lifted up their heads no more 29 And the country was in quietness[FN17] forty years in the days of Gideon. And Jerubbaal the son of Joash went and dwelt in his own house 30 And Gideon had three score and ten sons of his body begotten: for he had many wives 31 And his concubine that was in Shechem, she also bare him a Song of Solomon, whose name he [they][FN18] called Abimelech 32 And Gideon the son of Joash died in a good old age, and was buried in the sepulchre of Joash his father, in Ophrah of the Abi-ezrites.
TEXTUAL AND GRAMMATICAL
1 Judges 8:24.—נֶזֶם, ring; whether ear-ring or nose-ring, the word itself does not declare. Cassel and De Wette both render it by the singular (De Wette, Ohrring). It is used as a collective, and simply indicates the class of ornaments desired, without any reference to the number which each man was supposed to have, or was expected to give. This indefinite singular is best rendered in English by the plural, as in E. V.—Tr.]
2 Judges 8:25.—חַשִּׂמְלַה: Dr. Cassel, ein Gewand, “a garment.” The definite article simply indicates the garment used on the occasion. The term שִׂמְלָה, though also used in the general sense of garment and raiment, is specially applied to the outer garment, the mantle or cloak, cf. Bib. Dict., s. v. “Dress.” Being a four-cornered piece of cloth, it was quite suitable for the present purpose.—Tr.]
3 Judges 8:28.—וַתִּשְׁקֹט הָאָרֶץ, “and the land rested.” The E. V. departs here from its own previous renderings, see Judges 3:11; Judges 3:30; Judges 5:31, where the Hebrew has the same words.—Tr.]
4 Judges 8:31.—וַיָּשֶׂם אֶת־שְׁמוֹ Dr. Cassel: man nannte seinen Namen. Bertheau also takes ויָּשֶׂם as the indeterminate 3 d pers. (see ties. Or137, 3), and says: “the name sounds like a nickname, given him because his lordship was of such brief duration, and he so very far from being Father of a King.” The difficulty is that the text gives no hint of a change of subject. But cf. the commentary below, and Keil’s view in note on p140.—Tr.]
EXEGETICAL AND DOCTRINAL
An extraordinary victory had been gained—a triumph without a parallel. A glory surrounds Gideon in the eyes of Israel, such as had distinguished no one else within the memory of men. Who can stand beside him? How has the arrogance and vain-glory of Ephraim been put to shame! Having caught a couple of princes, already fleeing for their lives, they ceased from the conflict, though still far from finished. Gideon, whose courage began, and whose untiring energy prosecuted the war, has also finished it. He has captured and destroyed, not princes (שָׂרֵי) merely, but—as the narrative emphatically intimates—the kings (מַלֵכֵי) themselves. And what kings! The chiefs of all Midian. Kings, therefore, whose defeat and capture was of the greatest consequence, as the narrative sufficiently indicates by the constant repetition of their names. Their names, also, like those of the “princes,” are peculiar; those were borrowed from animals, these from “sacrifice” and “carved work.” The latter therefore indicate perhaps the conjunction of priestly with royal authority. Nor did Gideon smite the hostile armies in his own country merely, but he ventured far into a strange land. To pursue a great army into the rock desert, and as it were drag the enemy out of his hiding-place, was an exploit of the most astounding character. Who but Gideon would have dared to enter the terrible Harra, there to seize his royal prey? Apart from this, how imposing his assurance, his Wisdom of Solomon, his moderation and strength! If men admired the discreetness of his answer to Ephraim, they were startled by the punishment of Succoth and Penuel, and the terrible recompense meted out to the rings. Success carries the day with the people: now surprising, grand, and dazzling was its form on this occasion! The people feel that now they have a man among them, who towers, not physically, but in soul and spirit, far above them all. No wonder that Israel, gathered from all quarters to see the hero and his captures, urgently presses him, and says:—
Judges 8:22. Rule over us, thou, thy Song of Solomon, and thy son’s son. This is the language of gratitude and admiration. Excited, and, like all multitudes, easily carried away by momentary impulses of joy and approval, they offer him the supreme authority, and even propose to make it hereditary. It is only done, however, in a storm of excitement. Nor do they propose that he shall be their מֶלֶךְ, but their משֵׁל—not their King, but their Imperator. What they desire is to be not only for his honor, but also for their welfare. His family is to continue forever the champion of Israel. But in this vehement urgency of the moment, the people show how little they comprehend, notwithstanding this and many other great events of their history, to whom they are really indebted for victory. They show that they regard the strength by which Gideon has conquered to be physical, rather than moral. Thou shalt rule, for thou hast delivered us from Midian. They fail to perceive the contradiction to which they give utterance when they talk of an hereditary “ Judges,” or as they word it, “ruler.” It belongs to the essence of a Judges, that he be raised up by the Spirit, and filled with the strength of God. He is God’s military ambassador to a people that has no king. Not the people, but God, had made Gideon what he was—their military leader and commander. His children will not be able to lead the nation, unless they also are called by God. The kingship is hereditary, because it rests on the broad basis of established order, and not merely on the endowments of extraordinary persons. The divinely inspired imperator can at most transmit only his treasures. It was not without a purpose that the narrative told of the timid boy, Jether, Gideon’s first-born. Will he—if God do not call him—be able to smite the Midianites? and if he be not able, will the men of Israel obey him? None the less great, however, was the temptation for Gideon. He on whom but recently Ephraim looked superciliously down, has now the offer of dominion over Israel laid at his feet. It requires more strength to resist the allurements of proffered power, than to defeat an enemy. But Gideon is a great Prayer of Manasseh, greater than Washington, to whom absolute dominion was not offered, and who accepted the Presidency because he would obey “the voice of the people,” saying as he did Song of Solomon, that “no people could be more bound to acknowledge and adore the invisible hand which conducts the affairs of men, than the people of the United States” (cf. Marshall’s Life of Washington, ii146).
Judges 8:23. And Gideon said unto them, I will not rule over you, neither shall my son rule over you: Jehovah shall rule over you. God—not “Elohim,” but “Jehovah,” the God of Israel—is your only Imperator. With this he repels the idea that he was the sole and real conqueror, as also the supposition that any others than those whom God calls can be of service. He declares, moreover, that God must be obeyed, because He is the Ruler; and that as in this war against Midian victory was gained only because his (Gideon’s) orders were followed, so victory will always be contingent on obedience to God.
With these words Gideon worthily crowns his heroic deeds; and there he should have stopped. But the moment that he connects the cause of God with a measure of his own, albeit with the best intentions, he falls into error, and without designing it leads the people astray.
Judges 8:24-26. Give me, every Prayer of Manasseh, the ring of his booty. Since the rings were taken from men, they must be understood to be ear-rings, the use of which, especially among the ancients, was to a great extent common to both men and women. In Ceylon and among the Burmese, the perforation of the ears is to this day, for both sexes, a religious ceremony; just as the habit of wearing rings! did not have its origin solely in desire for finery. The observations of modern travellers among the Arabs, are confined to female ornaments, but “sons” also wore such rings as are here mentioned, even among the Israelites ( Exodus 32:2). Plautus (Pœnulus, v2, 32) says jeeringly of the Carthaginians: “Digitos in manibus non habent, quia incedunt cum annulatis auribus” (cf. Serarius). The explanation, “they had golden rings, for they were Ishmaelites,”[FN19] is to be referred, not to the rings, but to the material of which they were made. It calls attention to the love of finery and splendor which then as now characterized the Arab tribes,[FN20] and at the same time accounts for the wealth of gold implied in the possession of so many rings of that metal by the Midianitish army. Gold is still extensively used by the Arabs for the same purposes (cf. Ritter, xiv415, etc.; xv828, etc.).
The army must have been pervaded by thorough, even though temporary, enthusiasm for their heroic leader, since they willingly gave up the most valuable part of the booty, without knowing but that he wanted it for personal use. Accordingly, an abundance of gold rings were brought together. Now, for the first time, was Israel astounded at the magnitude of the spoil; now was it seen that the man who formerly ranked his harvest second to the gleaning of Ephraim, had obtained glory and wealth beyond comparison. For not only were1,700 shekels of gold handed over to him at this time, but to him also belonged (for Judges 8:26 speaks only of his possessions) the moons ( Judges 8:21), the נְטִיפוֹת, and the purple garments of the kings, and the decorations of their camels. The נְטִיפוֹת are ear-pendants, made of pearls and precious stones,[FN21]peculiar to their kings, in distinction from the simple rings worn by all other Midianites. The name signifies a “drop,” which the pearl resembled. The Greek σταλάγμιον, with which Gesenius compares it, I have met with only in Plautus (Menechmei, iii3) as stalagmia. The monument of Cyrus was adorned with ear-pendants of precious stones (Arrian, vi29). Procopius represents the Persian king Pherozes with a costly pearl hanging from his right ear (Brisson, De Regno Pers., p83). Among the Indians, persons of distinction wore precious stones in their ears (Curtius, viii9, 21). In the Ramayana it is stated, that in Ayodhya no one was without ear-pendants (akundali) and other ornaments (Bohlen, Altes Indien, ii170).—Great wealth stood now at Gideon’s command; but he had no thought of appropriating the gifts of the men of Israel to himself. All that he retained was the booty which had fallen to him from the Midianitish kings. Hannibal also, caused the rings of the Roman knights who fell at Cannæ to be collected by the peck (Liv. xxiii12),—but Gideon has no Punic ends in view.
Judges 8:27-28. And Gideon made an ephod thereof.[FN22] The high-priestly significance of the ephod is clearly explained in Exodus 28. It is the special sacred garment, by which Aaron and his sons are distinguished as priests. With the ephod, the breastplate is connected, fastened to it by strings, and not to be displaced ( Exodus 28:28). This garment, with the breastplate, the high priest wears in the sanctuary. With it therefore are connected the Urim and Thummim, through which divine instructions are imparted, and to which, after the death of Moses and Joshua, Israel applies for directions. It is this high-priestly character of the ephod, and the gift of prophetic communication through the Urim and Thummim of its breastplate (cf. 1 Samuel 30:7), that explains the consecration of such a garment by Gideon. Its procurement is closely connected with the words: “Jehovah shall rule over you.” The people has been saved by God’s revelation of Himself to Gideon. To his service, therefore, the choicest of the spoil must be devoted. Not on Prayer of Manasseh, but on Him, is hope to be built. He will say what the people are to do. Through the priestly ephod, the heavenly King will speak, and rule his obedient people. The consecration of the ephod, therefore, as that with which the Urim and Thummim are connected, expresses the truth that God governs; and is Gideon’s declaration that Hebrews, and not any human Imperator, is to be honored.
Thus far, Gideon’s action was blameless, and worthy of his faith. But he “deposited[FN23] the ephod in his city, in Ophrah.” Now, Ophrah was not the seat of the common sanctuary, the tabernacle, nor of the national priesthood. And though the priestly family of that day may have been in a decline, though the tribe of Ephraim, among whom it had at that time its principal seat, gave unequivocal evidence of unbelieving pride, on which account alone Gideon might hesitate to commit the oracle to their keeping; yet, all these reasons, however indicative of spiritual Wisdom of Solomon, were not sufficient to authorize the consecration of an ephod, and the establishment of a priesthood, in Ophrah. It was the inauguration of a separate sanctuary, the establishment, so to speak, of an opposition ephod, under the controlling influence of Gideon. The ecclesiastical centre of Israel was thus severed from the tabernacle. The hero, notwithstanding his personal fidelity to God, evinces herein conceptions of Israel’s calling too subjective to be secure against disastrous error. The result soon makes this apparent.
And all Israel went a whoring after it. The expositions of recent interpreters, who ascribe to Gideon the erection of a golden calf, are founded in utter misapprehension. The use of rings by Aaron in casting his idol, was simply the result of his having no other gold, and has surely no tendency to establish a necessary connection between the collection of rings and the casting of golden calves. The establishment by the recreant Micah, in the closing part of our Book, of “an ephod and a graven image,” is itself evidence that he who only consecrated an ephod, did not erect an image. Gideon, with the words “Jehovah shall rule!” on his lips, cannot intend to give up that for which he has risked his life—fidelity towards the God who will have no graven images. The erection of an idol image is the worst of sins. It was from that very sin that Gideon had delivered his people; he was the Contender against Baal, the destroyer of idol altars,—the man who would not even suffer himself to be made Imperator, an idol of the people. Gideon continues faithful to the moment of his death, which he reaches in a good old age. If, nevertheless, Israel goes a whoring after the ephod, this was no part of Gideon’s wish; still, the snare was of his laying, because he placed the ephod “in his own house.” He thought that by that means the people would better remember from what distress they had been delivered; but it is the nature of the multitude to pervert even faith into superstition. They come to Ophrah with worship and prayer for direction, because this particular ephod is there—not because they seek to honor God, but because this is Gideon’s ephod. They regard not the word which issues from the breastplate to him who believes in God, but only the fact that the ephod. is made of the spoils of Midian. Thus they turn Gideon’s faith into superstition; and Israel’s moral strength, instead of being increased, is weakened. The unwholesome desire has been excited to present worship, not in the customary place, but wherever the subjective sense of novelty allures the worshipper. If Gideon had not consecrated the ephod in his house, it had not become a snare for Israel. It helped him indeed to retain the leadership of Israel, under the supremacy of Jehovah; but by it, discarding as it did the lawful priesthood, he led the people astray into an historical subjectivism instead of establishing them in their objective faith, and thus prepared the way for apostasy. For what but apostasy could follow at his death, when the popular faith became thus connected with his person, his government, and the ephod in his house? The hero erred, when he also made himself a priest. His house fell, because he undertook to make it a temple for the people. The ephod with the breastplate became a snare, because the God of Israel is not to be led by Gideon, but Gideon by Him—even though there be no ephod in his house.[FN24]
The renewed apostasy, however, for which the way was thus prepared, manifested itself only in the sequel. As long as Gideon lived, his powerful Spirit kept the enemy in fear, and the people at rest. The effects of his achievement lasted forty years, although the hero, refusing dominion, had retired as a private person to his house and stayed there,—unlike Washington, who, though at the end of the war he returned with “inexpressible delight” to his country-seat at Mount Vernon on the Potomac, yet soon left it again, to become President of the new republic.
Judges 8:29-32. And Jerubbaal, the son of Joash, went and dwelt in his own house The surname Jerubbaal has not again called for attention, since the events which gave rise to it. But now, that Gideon’s work is finished, the narrative, with a subtilty of thought that is surprising, speaks of him under this name. It was given him because he had overthrown the altar of Baal, for which the superstitious populace expected to see the vengeance of Baal overtake him ( Judges 6:32). The result shows that Baal is nothing. Gideon has smitten him and his servants, and is covered with success and glory. “There goes”—so speak the people among themselves—“Jerubbaal into his house; the greatest man in Israel, because he smote Baal.” Baal is impotent against the faithful and valiant. Victory constantly attends his enemies, for God is with them. May this truth never be forgotten by our own people and princes! As long as he continued to live, Gideon had every thing that ministered to fame and happiness m Israel—many sons, peace; riches, and a “good old age.” The last expression is used of no one else but Abraham ( Genesis 25:8); for of David it is employed not by the Book of Kings, but only by the late Chronicles ( 1 Chronicles 29:28). The “goodness” of his old age consisted in his seeing the blessed results of his great deed of faith, continuing unbroken and unchanged as long as he lived. Nevertheless, the narrative already. hints at the shadow which after his death darkened his house. In Shechem, a concubine bore him a Song of Solomon, whom they called Abimelech. וַיָּשֶׂם, I think, refers not to Gideon, but indefinitely to those about the concubine; for it was in Shechem that the name originated. Gideon, who would not “rule,” much less be king, would not have named his Song of Solomon, “My Father is King.” On the other hand, it was but natural that the vanity of the concubine, when she bore a son to the great Gideon, the man of royal reputation and distinction, would gladly consent to have him named Abimelech.[FN25] This vanity of Shechem is the foundation of the coming tragedy.
Of no previous hero has the account been so extended. It is even mentioned that he was buried in his father’s sepulchre, in the family vault. That also is a sign of his happy and peaceful end. Here also, as always at the close, the name of the hero’s father is associated with his own, as a tribute of honor for the support he once afforded his son ( Judges 6:31); beyond this, however, nothing is recorded of him. Gideon, as conqueror, dwelt no longer in his father’s house, but in his own ( Judges 8:29); but at death he is buried in his father’s tomb. In that tomb, the glory of Manasseh sleeps; he in whom, tradition declares, the blessing of Jacob on this grandson was fulfilled, and of whom the Midrash says, that what Moses was at an earlier time, that Gideon was in his.