Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
When the Ephraimites met with Gideon, after they had smitten the Midianites at Oreb and Zeeb, and were pursuing them farther, they said to him, "What is the thing that thou hast done to us (i.e., what is the reason for your having done this to us), not to call us when thou wentest forth to make war upon Midian? And they did chide with him sharply," less from any dissatisfied longing for booty, than from injured pride or jealousy, because Gideon had made war upon the enemy and defeated them without the co-operation of this tribe, which was striving for the leadership. Gideon's reply especially suggests the idea of injured ambition: "What have I now done like you?" sc., as if I had done as great things as you. "Is not the gleaning of Ephraim better than the vintage of Abiezer?" The gleaning of Ephraim is the victory gained over the flying Midianites. Gideon declares this to be better than the vintage of Abiezer, i.e., the victory obtained by him the Abiezrite with his 300 men, because the Ephraimites had slain two Midianitish princes. The victory gained by the Ephraimites must indeed have been a very important one, as it is mentioned by Isaiah (Isa 10:26) as a great blow of the Lord upon Midian. "And what could I do like you?" i.e., could I accomplish such great deeds as you? "Then their anger turned away from him." רוּח, the breathing of the nose, snorting, hence "anger," as in Isa 25:4, etc.
Pursuit and Complete Overthrow of the Midianites. - That the Midianites whom God had delivered into his hand might be utterly destroyed, Gideon pursued those who had escaped across the Jordan, till he overtook them on the eastern boundary of Gilead and smote them there.
When he came to the Jordan with his three hundred men, who were exhausted with the pursuit, he asked the inhabitants of Succoth for loaves of bread for the people in his train. So far as the construction is concerned, the words from עבר to ורדפים form a circumstantial clause inserted as a parenthesis into the principal sentence, and subordinate to it: "When Gideon came to the Jordan, passing over he and the three hundred men ... then he said to the men of Succoth." "Exhausted and pursuing," i.e., exhausted with pursuing. The vav is explanatory, lit. "and indeed pursuing," for "because he pursued." The rendering πεινῶντες adopted by the lxx in the Cod. Alex. is merely an arbitrary rendering of the word רדפים, and without any critical worth. Gideon had crossed the Jordan, therefore, somewhere in the neighbourhood of Succoth. Succoth was upon the eastern side of the valley of the Jordan (Jos 13:27), not opposite to Bethshean, but, according to Gen 33:17, on the south side of the Jabbok (Zerka).
The princes of Succoth, however, showed so little sympathy and nationality of feeling, that instead of taking part of the attack upon the enemies of Israel, they even refused to supply bread to refresh their brethren of the western tribes who were exhausted with the pursuit of the foe. They said (the sing. ויּאמר may be explained on the ground that one spoke in the name of all: see Ewald, 319, a.), "Is the fist of Zebah and Zalmunna already in thy hand (power), that we should give thine army bread?" In these words there is not only an expression of cowardice, or fear of the vengeance which the Midianites might take when they returned upon those who had supported Gideon and his host, but contempt of the small force which Gideon had, as if it were impossible for him to accomplish anything at all against the foe; and in this contempt they manifested their utter want of confidence in God.
Gideon threatened them, therefore, with severe chastisement in the event of a victorious return. "If Jehovah give Zebah and Zalmunna into my hand, I will thresh your flesh (your body) with desert thorns and thistles." The verb דּוּשׁ, constructed with a double accusative (see Ewald, 283, _.), is used in a figurative sense: "to thresh," in other words, to punish severely. "Thorns of the desert" as strong thorns, as the desert is the natural soil for thorn-bushes. The ἁπ. λεγ. בּרקנים also signifies prickly plants, according to the early versions and the Rabbins, probably "such as grow upon stony ground" (Bertheau). The explanation "threshing machines with stones or flints underneath them," which was suggested by J. D. Michaelis and Celsius, and adopted by Gesenius, cannot be sustained.
The inhabitants of Pnuel on the north bank of the Jabbok (see at Gen 32:24.) behaved in the same churlish manner to Gideon, and for this he also threatened them: "If I return in peace," i.e., unhurt, "I will destroy this tower" (probably the castle of Pnuel).
The Midianitish kings were at Karkor with all the remnant of their army, about fifteen thousand men, a hundred and twenty thousand having already fallen. Gideon followed them thither by the road of the dwellers in tents on the east of Nobah and Jogbeha; and falling upon them unawares, smote the whole camp, which thought itself quite secure, and took the two kings prisoners, after discomfiting all the camp. The situation of Karkor, which is only mentioned here, cannot be determined with certainty. The statement of Eusebius and Jerome (Onom. s. v. Καρκὰ, Carcar), that it was the castle of Carcaria, a day's journey from Petra, is decidedly wrong, since this castle is much too far to the south, as Gesenius (Thes. p. 1210) has shown. Karkor cannot have been very far from Nobah and Jogbeha. These two places are probably preserved in the ruins of Nowakis and Jebeiha, on the north-west of Ammn (Rabbath-ammon; see at Num 21:31). Now, as Burckhardt (Syr. p. 612) also mentions a ruin in the neighbourhood, called Karkagheisch, on the left of the road from Szalt to Ammn, and at the most an hour and a half to the north-west of Ammn, Knobel (on Num 32:42) is inclined to regard this ruin as Karkor. If this supposition could be proved to be correct, Gideon would have fallen upon the camp of the enemy from the north-east. For "the way of the dwellers in tents on the east of Nobah and Jogbeha" cannot well be any other than the way which ran to the east of Nobah and Jogbeha, past the most easterly frontier city of the Gadites, to the nomads who dwelt in the desert. באללים השּׁכוּני has the article attached to the governing noun, which may easily be explained in this instance from the intervening preposition. The passive participle שׁכוּן has an intransitive force (see Ewald, 149, a.). The verb החריד in the circumstantial clause acquires the force of the pluperfect from the context. When he had startled the camp out of its security, having alarmed it by his unexpected attack, he succeeded in taking the two kings prisoners.
Punishment of the Towns of Succoth and Pnuel, and Execution of the Captures Kings of Midian.
Gideon returned victorious from the war, החרס מלמעלה, "from by the ascent (or mountain road) of Hecheres," a place in front of the town of Succoth, with which we are not acquainted. This is the rendering adopted by the lxx, the Peshito, and the Arabic; but the rest of the early translators have merely guessed at the meaning. The Chaldee, which has been followed by the Rabbins and Luther, has rendered it "before sunset," in utter opposition to the rules of the language; for although cheres is a word used poetically to denote the sun, מעלה cannot mean the setting of the sun. Aquila and Symmachus, on the other hand, confound חרס with הרים. - Gideon laid hold of a young man of the people of Succoth, and got him to write down for him the princes and elders (magistrates and rulers) of the city, - in all seventy-seven men. ויּכתּב ויּשׁאלהוּ is a short expression for "he asked him the names of the princes and elders of the city, and the boy wrote them down." אליו, lit. to him, i.e., for him.
Gideon then reproached the elders with the insult they had offered him (Jdg 8:6), and had them punished with desert thorns and thistles. "Men of Succoth" (Jdg 8:15 and Jdg 8:16) is a general expression for "elders of Succoth" (Jdg 8:16); and elders a general term applied to all the representatives of the city, including the princes. אתי חרפתּם אשׁר, with regard to whom ye have despised me. אשׁר is the accusative of the more distant or second object, not the subject, as Stud. supposes. "And he taught the men of Succoth (i.e., caused them to know, made them feel, punished them) with them (the thorns)." There is no good ground for doubting the correctness of the reading ויּדע. The free renderings of the lxx, Vulg., etc., are destitute of critical worth; and Bertheau's assertion, that if it were the Hiphil it would be written יודע, is proved to be unfounded by the defective writing in Num 16:5; Job 32:7.
Gideon also inflicted upon Pnuel the punishment threatened in Jdg 8:9. The punishment inflicted by Gideon upon both the cities was well deserved in all respects, and was righteously executed. The inhabitants of these cities had not only acted treacherously to Israel as far as they could, from the most selfish interests, in a holy conflict for the glory of the Lord and the freedom of His people, but in their contemptuous treatment of Gideon and his host they had poured contempt upon the Lord, who had shown them to be His own soldiers before the eyes of the whole nation by the victory which He had given them over the innumerable army of the foe. Having been called by the Lord to be the deliverer and judge of Israel, it was Gideon's duty to punish the faithless cities.
After punishing these cities, Gideon repaid the two kings of Midian, who had been taken prisoners, according to their doings. From the judicial proceedings instituted with regard to them (Jdg 8:18, Jdg 8:19), we learn that these kings had put the brothers of Gideon to death, and apparently not in open fight; but they had murdered them in an unrighteous and cruel manner. And Gideon made them atone for this with their own lives, according to the strict jus talionis. איפה, in Jdg 8:18, does not mean where? but "in what condition, of what form, were the men whom he slew at Tabor?" i.e., either in the city of Tabor or at Mount Tabor (see Jdg 4:6, and Jos 19:22). The kings replied: "As thou so they" (those men), i.e., they were all as stately as thou art, "every one like the form of kings' sons." אחד, one, for every one, like אחד אישׁ in Kg2 15:20, or more frequently אישׁ alone. As the men who had been slain were Gideon's own brothers, he swore to those who had done the deed, i.e., to the two kings, "As truly as Jehovah liveth, if ye had let them live I should not have put you to death;" and then commanded his first-born son Jether to slay them, for the purpose of adding the disgrace of falling by the hand of a boy. "But the boy drew not his sword from fear, because he was yet a boy." And the kings then said to Gideon, "Rise thou and stab us, for as the man so is his strength," i.e., such strength does not belong to a boy, but to a man. Thereupon Gideon slew them, and took the little moons upon the necks of their camels as booty. "The little moons" were crescent-shaped ornaments of silver or gold, such as men and women wore upon their necks (see Jdg 8:26, and Isa 3:18), and which they also hung upon the necks of camels-a custom still prevalent in Arabia (see Schrder, de vestitu mul. hebr. pp. 39, 40, and Wellsted, Reisen in Arab. i. p. 209).
Gideon's Remaining Acts, and Death. - Jdg 8:22, Jdg 8:23. As Gideon had so gloriously delivered Israel from the severe and long oppression on the part of the Midianites, the Israelites offered him an hereditary crown. "The men of Israel" were hardly all the twelve tribes, but probably only the northern tribes of the western part of the land already mentioned in Jdg 6:35, who had suffered the most severely from the Midianitish oppression, and had been the first to gather round Gideon to make an attack upon the foe. The temptation to accept the government of Israel was resisted by this warrior of God. "Neither I nor my son shall rule over you; Jehovah shall rule over you," was his reply to this offer, containing an evident allusion to the destination and constitution of the tribes of Israel as a nation which Jehovah had chosen to be His own possession, and to which He had just made himself known in so conspicuous a manner as their omnipotent Ruler and King. This refusal of the regal dignity on the part of Gideon is not at variance with the fact, that Moses had already foreseen the possibility that at some future time the desire for a king would arise in the nation, and had given them a law for the king expressly designed for such circumstances as these (Deu 17:14.). For Gideon did not decline the honour because Jehovah was King in Israel, i.e., because he regarded an earthly monarchy in Israel as irreconcilable with the heavenly monarchy of Jehovah, but simply because he thought the government of Jehovah in Israel amply sufficient, and did not consider either himself or his sons called to found an earthly monarchy.
Gideon resisted the temptation to put an earthly crown upon his head, from true fidelity to Jehovah; but he yielded to another temptation, which this appeal on the part of the people really involved, namely, the temptation to secure to himself for the future the position to which the Lord had called and exalted him. The Lord had called him to be the deliverer of Israel by visibly appearing in His angel, and had not only accepted the gift which he offered Him, as a well-pleasing sacrifice, but had also commanded him to build an altar, and by offering an atoning burnt-sacrifice to re-establish the worship of Jehovah in his family and tribe, and to restore the favour of God to His people once more. Lastly, the Lord had made His will known to him again and again; whilst by the glorious victory which He had given to him and to his small band over the powerful army of the foe, He had confirmed him as His chosen servant to be the deliverer and judge of Israel. The relation which Gideon thus sustained to the Lord he imagined that he ought to preserve; and therefore, after declining the royal dignity, he said to the people, "I will request of you one request, that ye give me every one the ring that he has received as booty." This request the historian explains by adding the remark: "for they (the enemy) had golden rings, for they were Ishmaelites," from whom therefore the Israelites were able to get an abundance of rings as booty. Ishmaelites is the general name for the nomad tribes of Arabia, to whom the Midianites also belonged (as in Gen 37:25).
This request of Gideon's was cheerfully fulfilled: "They spread out the cloth (brought for collecting the rings), and threw into it every one the ring that he had received as booty." Simlah, the upper garment, was for the most part only a large square piece of cloth. The weight of these golden rings amounted to 1700 shekels, i.e., about 50 lbs., (מן לבד) separate from, i.e., beside, the remaining booty, for which Gideon had not asked, and which the Israelites kept for themselves, viz., the little moons, the ear-pendants (netiphoth, lit. little drops, probably pearl-shaped ear-drops: see Isa 3:19), and the purple clothes which were worn by the kings of Midian (i.e., which they had on), and also apart from the neck-bands upon the necks of their camels. Instead of the anakoth or necklaces (Jdg 8:26), the saharonim, or little moons upon the necks of the camels, are mentioned in Jdg 8:21 as the more valuable portion of these necklaces. Even at the present day the Arabs are accustomed to ornament the necks of these animals "with a band of cloth or leather, upon which small shells called cowries are strung or sewed in the form of a crescent. The sheiks add silver ornaments to these, which make a rich booty in time of war" (Wellsted, Reise, i. p. 209). The Midianitish kings had their camels ornamented with golden crescents. This abundance of golden ornaments will not surprise us, when we consider that the Arabs still carry their luxurious tastes for such things to a very great excess. Wellsted (i. p. 224) states that "the women in Omn spend considerable amounts in the purchase of silver ornaments, and their children are literally laden with them. I have sometimes counted fifteen ear-rings upon each side; and the head, breast, arms, and ankles are adorned with the same profusion." As the Midianitish army consisted of 130,000 men, of whom 15,000 only remained at the commencement of the last engagement, the Israelites may easily have collected 5000 golden rings, or even more, which might weigh 1700 shekels.
"And Gideon made it into an ephod," i.e., used the gold of the rings obtained from the booty for making an ephod. There is no necessity, however, to understand this as signifying that 1700 shekels or 50 lbs. of gold had been used for the ephod itself, but simply that the making of the ephod was accomplished with this gold. The word ephod does not signify an image of Jehovah, or an idol, as Gesenius and others maintain, but the shoulder-dress of the high priest, no doubt including the choshen belonging to it, with the Urim and Thummim, as in Sa1 14:3; Sa1 21:10; Sa1 23:6, Sa1 23:9, etc. The material for this was worked throughout with gold threads; and in addition to that there were precious stones set in gold braid upon the shoulder-pieces of the ephod and upon the choshen, and chains made of gold twist for fastening the choshen upon the ephod (see Ex 28:6-30). Now, if 50 lbs. of gold could not be used for these things, there were also fourteen precious stones to be procured, and the work itself to be paid for, so that 50 lbs. of gold might easily be devoted to the preparation of this state dress. The large quantity of gold, therefore, does not warrant us in introducing arbitrarily into the text the establishment of a formal sanctuary, and the preparation of a golden image of Jehovah in the form of a bull, as Bertheau has done, since there is no reference to פּסל or מסכה, as in Judg 17-18; and even the other words of the text do not point to the founding of a sanctuary and the setting up of an image of Jehovah.
(Note: Oehler has correctly observed in Herzog's Cyclopaedia, that Bertheau acts very arbitrarily when he represents Gideon as setting up the image of a bull, as Jeroboam did afterwards, since there is nothing to sustain it in the account itself. Why cannot Gideon have worshipped without any image of Jehovah, with the help of the altar mentioned in Jdg 6:24, which was a symbol of Jehovah's presence, and remained standing till the historian's own time?)
The expression which follows, אתו ויּצּג, does not affirm that "he set it up," but may also mean, "he kept it in his city of Ophrah." הצּג is never used to denote the setting up of an image or statue, and signifies not only to put up, but also to lay down (e.g., Jdg 6:37), and to let a thing stand, or leave behind (Gen 33:15). The further remark of the historian, "and all Israel went thither a whoring after it, and it became a snare to Gideon and his house," does not presuppose the founding of a sanctuary or temple in Ophrah, and the setting up of a golden calf there. In what the whoring of Israel after the ephod, i.e., the idolatry of the Israelites with Gideon's ephod which was kept in Ophrah, consisted, cannot be gathered or determined from the use of the ephod in the worship of Jehovah under the Mosaic law. "The breastplate upon the coat, and the holy lot, were no doubt used in connection with idolatry" (Oehler), and Gideon had an ephod made in his town of Ophrah, that he might thereby obtain revelations from the Lord. We certainly are not for a moment to think of an exposure of the holy coat for the people to worship. It is far more probable that Gideon put on the ephod and wore it as a priest, when he wished to inquire and learn the will of the Lord. It is possible that he also sacrificed to the Lord upon the altar that was built at Ophrah (Jdg 6:24). The motive by which he was led to do this was certainly not merely ambition, as Bertheau supposes, impelling the man who, along with his followers, and maintained an independent attitude towards the tribe of Ephraim in the war itself (Jdg 8:1.), to act independently of the common sanctuary of the congregation which was within the territory of Ephraim, and also of the office of the high priest in the time of peace as well. For there is not the slightest trace to be found of such ambition as this in anything that he did during the conflict with the Midianites. The germs of Gideon's error, which became a snare to him and to his house, lie unquestionably deeper than this, namely, in the fact that the high-priesthood had probably lost its worth in the eyes of the people on account of the worthlessness of its representatives, so that they no longer regarded the high priest as the sole or principal medium of divine revelation; and therefore Gideon, to whom the Lord had manifested himself directly, as He had not to any judge or leader of the people since the time of Joshua, might suppose that he was not acting in violation of the law, when he had an ephod made, and thus provided himself with a substratum or vehicle for inquiring the will of the Lord. His sin therefore consisted chiefly in his invading the prerogative of the Aaronic priesthood, drawing away the people from the one legitimate sanctuary, and thereby not only undermining the theocratic unity of Israel, but also giving an impetus to the relapse of the nation into the worship of Baal after his death. This sin became a snare to him and to his house.
The history of Gideon is concluded in Jdg 8:28-32. - Jdg 8:28. The Midianites had been so humiliated that they lifted up their head no more, and the land of Israel had rest forty years "in the days of Gideon," i.e., as long as Gideon lived.
Before the account of his death, a few other notices respecting his family are introduced for the purpose of preparing the way for the following history of the doings of his sons, in which the sin of Gideon came to a head, and the judgment burst upon his house. "And Jerubbaal, the son of Joash, went and dwelt in his house." Both the word ויּלך, which simply serves to bring out the fact more vividly (see the remarks on Exo 2:1), and also the choice of the name Jerubbaal, merely serve to give greater prominence to the change, from the heat of the war against the Midianites to the quiet retirement of domestic life. Instead of accepting the crown that was offered him and remaining at the head of the nation, the celebrated Baal-fighter retired into private life again. In addition to the seventy sons of his many wives, there was a son born to him by a concubine, who lived at Shechem and is called his maid-servant in Jdg 9:18, and to this son he gave the name of Abimelech, i.e., king's father. את־שׁמו ויּשׂם is not the same as את־שׁמו קרא, to give a person a name, but signifies to add a name, or give a surname (see Neh 9:7, and Dan 5:12 in the Chaldee). It follows from this, that Abimelech received this name from Gideon as a cognomen answering to his character, and therefore not at the time of his birth, but when he grew up and manifested such qualities as led to the expectation that he would be a king's father.
Gideon died at a good old age (see Gen 15:15; Gen 25:8), and therefore also died a peaceful death (not so his sons; see Judg 9), and was buried in his father's grave at Ophrah (Jdg 6:11).
Jdg 8:33-35 form the introduction to the history of Gideon's sons.
After Gideon's death the Israelites fell once more into the Baal-worship which Gideon had rooted out of his father's city (Jdg 6:25.), and worshipped Baal-berith as their God. Baal-berith, the covenant Baal (equivalent to El-berith, the covenant god, Jdg 9:46), is not Baal as the god of covenants, but, according to Gen 14:13, Baal as a god in covenant, i.e., Baal with whom they had made a covenant, just as the Israelites had their faithful covenant God in Jehovah (see Movers, Phniz. i. p. 171). The worship of Baal-berith, as performed at Shechem according to Jdg 9:46, was an imitation of the worship of Jehovah, an adulteration of that worship, in which Baal was put in the place of Jehovah (see Hengstenberg, Dissertations on the Pentateuch, vol. ii. p. 81).
In this relapse into the worship of Baal they not only forgot Jehovah, their Deliverer from all their foes, but also the benefits which they owed to Gideon, and showed no kindness to his house in return for all the good which he had shown to Israel. The expression Jerubbaal-Gideon is chosen by the historian here, not for the purely outward purpose of laying express emphasis upon the identity of Gideon and Jerubbaal (Bertheau), but to point to what Gideon, the Baal-fighter, had justly deserved from the people of Israel.