1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21

Judges chapter 8

English Standard Version

New International Version

New American Standard Bible

Christian Standard Bible

New Living Translation

King James Version

18Then said he unto Zebah and Zalmunna, What manner of men were they whom ye slew at Tabor? And they answered, As thou art, so were they; each one resembled the children of a king. 19And he said, They were my brethren, even the sons of my mother: as the Lord liveth, if ye had saved them alive, I would not slay you. 20And he said unto Jether his firstborn, Up, and slay them. But the youth drew not his sword: for he feared, because he was yet a youth. 21Then Zebah and Zalmunna said, Rise thou, and fall upon us: for as the man is, so is his strength. And Gideon arose, and slew Zebah and Zalmunna, and took away the ornaments that were on their camels' necks. 22Then 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. 23And Gideon said unto them, I will not rule over you, neither shall my son rule over you: the Lord shall rule over you. 24And Gideon said unto them, I would desire a request of you, that ye would give me every man the earrings of his prey. (For they had golden earrings, because they were Ishmaelites.) 25And they answered, We will willingly give them. And they spread a garment, and did cast therein every man the earrings of his prey. 26And the weight of the golden earrings that he requested was a thousand and seven hundred shekels of gold; beside ornaments, and collars, and purple raiment that was on the kings of Midian, and beside the chains that were about their camels' necks. 27And Gideon made an ephod thereof, and put it in his city, even in Ophrah: and all Israel went thither a whoring after it: which thing became a snare unto Gideon, and to his house. 28Thus was Midian subdued before the children of Israel, so that they lifted up their heads no more. And the country was in quietness forty years in the days of Gideon. 29And Jerubbaal the son of Joash went and dwelt in his own house. 30And Gideon had threescore and ten sons of his body begotten: for he had many wives. 31And his concubine that was in Shechem, she also bore him a son, whose name he called Abimelech. 32And Gideon the son of Joash died in a good old age, and was buried in the sepulcher of Joash his father, in Ophrah of the Abi-ezrites. 33And 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 Baal-berith their god. 34And 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: 35Neither showed they kindness to the house of Jerubbaal, namely, Gideon, according to all the goodness which he had showed unto Israel.
New King James Version

What does Judges chapter 8 mean?

Gideon is not content to allow any of the fleeing Midianite army to escape (Judges 7:19–23). He wants total victory and will chase the fleeing remnant led by the Midianite kings Zebah and Zalmunna.

First, the men of Ephraim confront Gideon. In response to his call, they captured and killed two commanders of Midian. They seem upset they weren't asked to participate in the earliest attack, in the Valley of Jezreel. Gideon cools their fury with flattery: suggesting they have done more to bring victory over Midian than he has. Gideon also implies that their tribe is far more prestigious than his clan (Judges 6:15), so they have no reason to worry about their reputation (Judges 8:1–3).

Next, Gideon and his 300 men (Judges 7:8) cross the Jordan River to pursue the escaping Midianites. Exhausted, they come to the Israelite town of Succoth. Sadly, the people of the town refuse to provide bread to Gideon's men. They are afraid Gideon will fail and Midian will retaliate. Gideon promises to return after his victory and punish the men of Succoth. He hints at "thrashing" them with wilderness plants for their disloyalty to Israel. The same refusal to help happens down the road at the town of Penuel. Gideon declares he will return to tear down their defensive tower. Both towns act more favorably to their oppressors than to their own people, and Gideon intends to make examples of them (Judges 8:4–9).

The Hebrew term for "thousand," 'eleph, is also used for a clan or division. Scripture indicates that only 15 'eleph are left of Midian's forces, after 120 'eleph have already fallen. Some commentators suggest "divisions" is a better translation in these passages. Among the reasons is that an army of 135,000 men would have been among the largest in the entire ancient world—exceeding those of nations like Egypt and Greece. The exact numbers are not as important as the fact that Gideon's army is outrageously smaller than his enemy, and yet they rout them, once again. Overtaking the remnant, Gideon and his men catch them by surprise. Once again, the Midianites panic and are defeated by a small number of Israelites. Zebah and Zalmunna run for their lives but are quickly captured (Judges 8:10–12).

Instead of celebrating, or returning directly home, Gideon makes good on his threats to the towns that rejected his cause. He takes a particular path to reach Succoth, apparently being discreet so the visit is unexpected. He forces a young man from the town to list all the elders and officials. In what would have been a public humiliation, Gideon has these leaders flailed with switches embedded with briers and thorns, just as he said he would. The English phrase used in translations of this incident is apt: Gideon "taught the men of Succoth a lesson" (Judges 8:13–16).

Consequences are more dire for the town of Penuel. Gideon promised to tear down their tower, so there would have been no reason for him to arrive by stealth—his target cannot run away, as the men of Succoth might have. It seems likely the men of the town resisted. Gideon never threatened to kill anyone from Penuel, yet here "the men" are casualties. If the townspeople fought back against Gideon's punishment, bloodshed would have been likely (Judges 8:17).

Finally, Gideon confronts the captured kings of Midian. This most likely happens further into Israeli territory. Gideon challenges the two men for a specific crime: murdering some men at Mount Tabor. In a shocking revelation, it seems those men were Gideon's own brothers. Gideon then orders his young son to kill the kings. However, Jether is not a soldier, and has never killed before. He is afraid to execute the men in front of a crowd. The kings taunt Gideon to do his own dirty work, which he does, taking spoils from their supplies (Judges 8:18–21).

The people of Israel offer Gideon a throne. They ask him to become their ruler, a role to be passed along to his son and grandsons. He rightly refuses, insisting that the Lord rules over Israel. However, Gideon then proceeds to act very much like a king. He asks for the characteristic gold earrings collected from the enemy. Depending on the exact size of an ancient shekel, the tribute adds up to as much as 71 pounds, or 19.6 kilograms, of gold. This would be enough to make a solid bar roughly the size of a liter or quart container. With this and the spoils taken from the kings of Midian, Gideon is now a wealthy man (Judges 8:22–26).

What Gideon does next is difficult to understand. He uses some of the gold given in tribute and makes an "ephod." In most contexts, an 'ephowd was a shirt-like garment associated with priestly duties (Exodus 28:6). The same word was also used more generally for religious items or icons. He installs this item in his hometown of Ophrah. The ephod becomes an idol, worshipped by Israel. Its existence causes some harm for Gideon in his family; the "snare" mentioned is likely something beyond the temptation to idolatry. Despite this strange failure, Israel remains at rest and free from their enemies for forty years (Judges 8:27–28).

During his last forty years, Gideon uses his wealth and influence to build an enormous family. With his many wives, he has seventy sons. Also, he takes a concubine who appears to be a Canaanite, from the Canaanite town of Shechem. Against God's law, Gideon has a son with her (Deuteronomy 7:3–4). The child is named Abimelech, literally meaning "the king is my father." This son will be involved in terrible bloodshed after Gideon's death (Judges 8:29–32).

When Gideon dies, the people of Israel immediately dive deeply into worship of Canaanite deities, called Baals. Scripture uses the term zanah to describe this practice. The word is also used for fornication and adultery; it implies something shameful, degrading, and immoral. The English term "whoring" is shocking, but it captures the sense of how God sees the sin of idolatry. Once again, the people of Israel set aside their God (Judges 8:33–34).

The end of this passage also notes how Israel's love for Gideon did not extend to his descendants. After he dies, the people seem to turn away from his sons and wives. This might have been part of what motivates Abimelech, son of Gideon's concubine, to his terrible acts in the next chapter (Judges 8:35).
What is the Gospel?
Download the app: