What does Judges 8:21 mean?
ESV: Then Zebah and Zalmunna said, “Rise yourself and fall upon us, for as the man is, so is his strength.” And Gideon arose and killed Zebah and Zalmunna, and he took the crescent ornaments that were on the necks of their camels.
NIV: 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.
NASB: Then Zebah and Zalmunna said, 'Rise up yourself, and attack us; for as the man, so is his strength.' So Gideon arose and killed Zebah and Zalmunna, and took the crescent amulets which were on their camels’ necks.
CSB: Zebah and Zalmunna said, "Get up and strike us down yourself, for a man is judged by his strength." So Gideon got up, killed Zebah and Zalmunna, and took the crescent ornaments that were on the necks of their camels.
NLT: Then Zebah and Zalmunna said to Gideon, 'Be a man! Kill us yourself!' So Gideon killed them both and took the royal ornaments from the necks of their camels.
KJV: Then 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.
NKJV: So Zebah and Zalmunna said, “Rise yourself, and kill us; for as a man is, so is his strength.” So Gideon arose and killed Zebah and Zalmunna, and took the crescent ornaments that were on their camels’ necks.
Verse Commentary:
Are Zebah and Zalmunna taunting Gideon or flattering him? Commentators differ. The captured enemy kings (Judges 8:12–13) are daring Gideon to kill them himself (Judges 8:20). They quote a proverb about strength and manhood—a defiant provocation from condemned men with nothing to lose. This mirrors the bravado seen in modern action movies, novels, and comic books: the gritty soldier telling his executioner, "Just kill us yourself…if you're man enough!"

Another explanation is that the Midianite kings would prefer being killed by a great warrior, like Gideon. Part of the shame of Sisera's death was being killed by a woman (Judges 4:22; 5:26). To die at the hands of an accomplished warrior, at least, presents a respectable image. Yet another facet might be avoiding a messier, more painful death. Gideon's frightened son, Jether, clearly isn't experienced with a sword. Gideon is much more likely to deliver a decisive, clean blow than a terrified novice.

Whatever their motive, or combination of motives, the two men get their last wish. Gideon kills them and ends the ordeal. Then he takes crescent ornaments from the kings' camels. Scholars suggest these were representations of the moon god, worshipped by many pagan peoples during this time. The crescents may also have indicated the royal positions of the kings. We're not told what Gideon does with these objects, other than adding them to the rest of his spoil from the battles.
Verse Context:
Judges 8:1–21 begins with a confrontation between Gideon and the men of Ephraim. Gideon defuses the situation with diplomacy. With his original 300 fighters, he chases down the remnant of the Midianite army led by two kings known as Zebah and Zalmunna. Once the Midianites are defeated and the kings are captured, Gideon punishes the men of two Israelite towns who refused to help him. He then reveals to the captured kings that they murdered his own brothers at Mount Tabor. He kills them and takes their distinctive jewelry as spoils of war.
Chapter Summary:
Gideon soothes the anger of the men of Ephraim. Then, with his 300 fighting men, he chases the remnant of the Midianite army. After a difficult pursuit, he finally catches and defeats them in the wilderness. Gideon then returns to two Israelite towns who refused to help him along the way. He flogs the leaders of one town and kills the men of the other. He then executes the captured enemy kings. Gideon collects tribute from Israel but declines to become their official king. He lives to gain seventy sons, many wives, and at least one Canaanite concubine. When Gideon dies, Israel immediately returns to idol worship.
Chapter Context:
Judges 8 follows the great victory described at the end of the previous chapter. This passage begins with Gideon awkwardly soothing the anger of Ephraimites while trying to chase down an escaping enemy. After capturing the Midianite kings, Gideon punishes two towns for failing to aid their fellow Israelites. Gideon refuses to become a literal king but collects tribute from the people and lives like a king all his days, with many wives and sons. The people return to idol worship after his death. Soon after, the concubine's son, Abimelech, murders Gideon's other sons and briefly rules before meeting a gruesome death.
Book Summary:
The Book of Judges describes Israel's history from the death of Joshua to shortly before Israel's first king, Saul. Israel fails to complete God's command to purge the wicked Canaanites from the land (Deuteronomy 7:1–5; 9:4). This results in a centuries-long cycle where Israel falls into sin and is oppressed by local enemies. After each oppression, God sends a civil-military leader, labeled using a Hebrew word loosely translated into English as "judge." These appointed rescuers would free Israel from enemy control and govern for a certain time. After each judge's death, the cycle of sin and oppression begins again. This continues until the people of Israel choose a king, during the ministry of the prophet-and-judge Samuel (1 Samuel 1—7).
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