In our last study we read how the Lord, taking the form of an Angel, appeared to Gideon and told him to attack the marauding armies from the east. Gideon first tested his call with a fleece before assembling an army of thirty-two thousand men.
1 Early in the morning, Jerub-Baal (that is, Gideon) and all his men camped at the spring of Harod. The camp of Midian was north of them in the valley near the hill of Moreh. 2 The Lord said to Gideon, ‘You have too many men. I cannot deliver Midian into their hands, or Israel would boast against me, “My own strength has saved me.” 3 Now announce to the army, “Anyone who trembles with fear may turn back and leave Mount Gilead.”’ So twenty-two thousand men left, while ten thousand remained.
4 But the Lord said to Gideon, ‘There are still too many men. Take them down to the water, and I will thin them out for you there. If I say, “This one shall go with you,” he shall go; but if I say, “This one shall not go with you,” he shall not go.’
5 So Gideon took the men down to the water. There the Lord told him, ‘Separate those who lap the water with their tongues as a dog laps from those who kneel down to drink.’ 6 Three hundred of them drank from cupped hands, lapping like dogs. All the rest got down on their knees to drink.
7 The Lord said to Gideon, ‘With the three hundred men that lapped I will save you and give the Midianites into your hands. Let all the others go home.’ 8 So Gideon sent the rest of the Israelites home but kept the three hundred, who took over the provisions and trumpets of the others.
The Israelites had effectively turned their backs on the Lord by following the Baals. Now the power of God had to be demonstrated convincingly so that the victory could not be claimed by the Israelites themselves.
Why did the Lord choose only the men who drank from their hands?
Some say they showed that they would constantly be looking round and would thus be more suitable. Not so – the Lord simply wanted to reduce the numbers. He only needed men who would stand and be obedient!
Gideon had tested his calling with a fleece, but he was not a soldier and he still had doubts about his ability to lead the men into battle – more so now that his army had been reduced to three hundred men. The Lord knew this; so with great kindness he provided further encouragement:
Now the camp of Midian lay below him in the valley. 9 During that night the Lord said to Gideon, ‘Get up, go down against the camp, because I am going to give it into your hands. 10 If you are afraid to attack, go down to the camp with your servant Purah 11 and listen to what they are saying. Afterwards, you will be encouraged to attack the camp.’ So he and Purah his servant went down to the outposts of the camp. 12 The Midianites, the Amalekites and all the other eastern peoples had settled in the valley, thick as locusts. Their camels could no more be counted than the sand on the seashore.
13 Gideon arrived just as a man was telling a friend his dream. ‘I had a dream,’ he was saying. ‘A round loaf of barley bread came tumbling into the Midianite camp. It struck the tent with such force that the tent overturned and collapsed.’
14 His friend responded, ‘This can be nothing other than the sword of Gideon son of Joash, the Israelite. God has given the Midianites and the whole camp into his hands.’
15 When Gideon heard the dream and its interpretation, he bowed down and worshipped.
Now he knew that he need have no fear. And I believe the Lord also suggested what happened next.
He returned to the camp of Israel and called out, ‘Get up! The Lord has given the Midianite camp into your hands.’ 16 Dividing the three hundred men into three companies, he placed trumpets and empty jars in the hands of all of them, with torches inside.
Very few soldiers would have gone into battle with a trumpet, but in the dark, with the trumpets given to the three hundred, they would sound like thirty thousand to the enemy.
Placing torches inside empty jars meant that only a small pool of light would be visible at their feet until the jars were broken.
It seems that the men were divided into three companies so that two groups could be sent in a pincer movement around the back of the camp with one group remaining at the front.
17 ‘Watch me,’ he told them. ‘Follow my lead. When I get to the edge of the camp, do exactly as I do. 18 When I and all who are with me blow our trumpets, then from all round the camp blow yours and shout, “For the Lord and for Gideon.”‘
19 Gideon and the hundred men with him reached the edge of the camp at the beginning of the middle watch, just after they had changed the guard. They blew their trumpets and broke the jars that were in their hands. 20 The three companies blew the trumpets and smashed the jars. Grasping the torches in their left hands and holding in their right hands the trumpets they were to blow, they shouted, ‘A sword for the Lord and for Gideon!’ 21 While each man held his position round the camp, all the Midianites ran, crying out as they fled. 22 When the three hundred trumpets sounded, the Lord caused the men throughout the camp to turn on each other with their swords. The army fled to Beth Shittah towards Zererah as far as the border of Abel Meholah near Tabbath.
Verse 12 tells us that there were Midianites, Amalekites and other eastern peoples. As they cried out (verse 21) the different languages in the dark would have been interpreted as the enemy in their midst and each man would have fought for his life. But note: who was behind this? (v22)
23 Israelites from Naphtali, Asher and all Manasseh were called out, and they pursued the Midianites. 24 Gideon sent messengers throughout the hill country of Ephraim, saying, ‘Come down against the Midianites and seize the waters of the Jordan ahead of them as far as Beth Barah.’
So all the men of Ephraim were called out and they seized the waters of the Jordan as far as Beth Barah. 25 They also captured two of the Midianite leaders, Oreb and Zeeb. They killed Oreb at the rock of Oreb, and Zeeb at the winepress of Zeeb. They pursued the Midianites and brought the heads of Oreb and Zeeb to Gideon, who was by the Jordan.
The attackers had crossed the Jordan in order to reach Israel – now with the fords sealed off it created a barrier preventing their return home. Also the local Israelites were happy to join an army mopping up the remains of a dejected rabble.Gideon Map
Before we move on just look again at which tribes were called on to help, and who (in verse 24) came down to fight the Midianites.
Now into chapter 8; Judges 8:1-3
1 Now the Ephraimites asked Gideon, ‘Why have you treated us like this? Why didn’t you call us when you went to fight Midian?’ And they challenged him vigorously.
2 But he answered them, ‘What have I accomplished compared to you? Aren’t the gleanings of Ephraim’s grapes better than the full grape harvest of Abiezer? 3 God gave Oreb and Zeeb, the Midianite leaders, into your hands. What was I able to do compared to you?’ At this, their resentment against him subsided.
What was their complaint?
Ephraim considered themselves as a most important tribe. Ephraim and Manasseh were both sons of Joseph (hence no tribe of Joseph) but Jacob had given the double blessing to Ephraim, the younger son. Joshua had been an Ephraimite too. (Ephraim and Manasseh eventually merged and the whole northern section was then either referred to as Ephraim, or Israel.)
Now Judges 8:4-9
4 Gideon and his three hundred men, exhausted yet keeping up the pursuit, came to the Jordan and crossed it. 5 He said to the men of Sukkoth, ‘Give my troops some bread; they are worn out, and I am still pursuing Zebah and Zalmunna, the kings of Midian.’
6 But the officials of Sukkoth said, ‘Do you already have the hands of Zebah and Zalmunna in your possession? Why should we give bread to your troops?’
7 Then Gideon replied, ‘Just for that, when the Lord has given Zebah and Zalmunna into my hand, I will tear your flesh with desert thorns and briers.’
8 From there he went up to Peniel and made the same request of them, but they answered as the men of Sukkoth had. 9 So he said to the men of Peniel, ‘When I return in triumph, I will tear down this tower.’
Why were the people of Sukkoth and Peniel unwilling to help Gideon?
The ‘Eastern Alliance’ never attacked the Jewish tribes on the eastern side of the River Jordan – did they have an alliance going?
Remember, at this time none of the tribes were staunch ‘God-worshippers’, but worshipped the gods of the surrounding nations.
If they helped Gideon, and he failed, there would be severe repercussions.
Now Judges 8:10-11
10 Now Zebah and Zalmunna were in Karkor with a force of about fifteen thousand men, all that were left of the armies of the eastern peoples; a hundred and twenty thousand swordsmen had fallen. 11 Gideon went up by the route of the nomads east of Nobah and Jogbehah and attacked the unsuspecting army.
(Southeast corner of the map)
This would have been a more easterly route, taking them past Karkor, so they could attack from the rear
Now Judges 8:12-13
12 Zebah and Zalmunna, the two kings of Midian, fled, but he pursued them and captured them, routing their entire army.
13 Gideon son of Joash then returned from the battle by the Pass of Heres.
Taking the more direct route home.
So far so good, and here the Sunday School story often ends. But the Bible is brutally honest and what follows is an uncomfortable ending to what has been a stirring account.
Now Judges 8:14-21
14 He caught a young man of Sukkoth and questioned him, and the young man wrote down for him the names of the seventy-seven officials of Sukkoth, the elders of the town. 15 Then Gideon came and said to the men of Sukkoth, ‘Here are Zebah and Zalmunna, about whom you taunted me by saying, “Do you already have the hands of Zebah and Zalmunna in your possession? Why should we give bread to your exhausted men?”’ 16 He took the elders of the town and taught the men of Sukkoth a lesson by punishing them with desert thorns and briers. 17 He also pulled down the tower of Peniel and killed the men of the town.
18 Then he asked Zebah and Zalmunna, ‘What kind of men did you kill at Tabor?’
‘Men like you,’ they answered, ‘each one with the bearing of a prince.’
19 Gideon replied, ‘Those were my brothers, the sons of my own mother. As surely as the Lord lives, if you had spared their lives, I would not kill you.’ 20 Turning to Jether, his eldest son, he said, ‘Kill them!’ But Jether did not draw his sword, because he was only a boy and was afraid.
21 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.
Gideon has acted like a conquering leader, and the Israelites responded accordingly.
22 The Israelites said to Gideon, ‘Rule over us – you, your son and your grandson – because you have saved us from the hand of Midian.’
23 But Gideon told them, ‘I will not rule over you, nor will my son rule over you. The Lord will rule over you.’
Pretty good, but he could also have said ‘The Lord saved us – not me.’
24 And he said, ‘I do have one request, that each of you give me an earring from your share of the plunder.’ (It was the custom of the Ishmaelites to wear gold earrings.)
25 They answered, ‘We’ll be glad to give them.’ So they spread out a garment, and each of them threw a ring from his plunder onto it. 26 The weight of the gold rings he asked for came to seventeen hundred shekels, not counting the ornaments, the pendants and the purple garments worn by the kings of Midian or the chains that were on their camels’ necks. 27 Gideon made the gold into an ephod, which he placed in Ophrah, his town. All Israel prostituted themselves by worshipping it there, and it became a snare to Gideon and his family.
What was Gideon thinking of?
What was an Ephod?
It was a very ornate garment warn by the High Priest. It was a mark of his authority to minister between Almighty God and man.
Gideon obviously considered it to be a very religious item but it soon became an object of worship itself rather than the God it represented. Every idol has the same effect, and as far as God is concerned that is prostitution.
We will leave Gideon there, but be prepared – the story only gets worse.
(2 Chronicles 20:1-30 has a better example of fighting against an overwhelming army but is often ignored in Sunday School!)