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Judges 8:1-4, Skillfully Handling Potential Opponents



When Gideon sent out his announcement for recruits for the battle described in Judges 7, he only sought help from the northern part of the northern tribes.  He was a member of the tribe of Manasseh, and so it was logical that the invitation went out to them, but he also decided only to invite people from Asher and Zebulun and Naphtali (6:36).  The text simply says, “And they went up to meet him.” Little did he think, perhaps, in preparing for war that he might have to handle difficult questions after the war from those who were not invited to help.  But that is the nature of planning; though you can seemingly dot all the “i’s” there is almost inevitably something that is left out. 


In any case, after Gideon’s 300 troops routed the opposition, they pursued some of the fleeing kings.  Gideon now sent out an alarm to Ephraim, asking them for help in rounding up a couple of these kings (7:24-25).  Ephraim faithfully responded and helpfully captured two of these kings, whom they then killed.  Complete victory for the people of God. Right?


                                                                              Trouble is Brewing


But Ephraim was offended. We can understand. They were just called in for the “cleanup” effort, literally the “dirty work.” They didn’t experience at all the dramatic victory through confusing the enemy with the horns and the smashed water jars. Those 300 warriors would have stories to tell for the rest of their lives; it would be a story that entered into the lore of the people of Israel.  They are the heroes. And, Ephraim’s part in it was only in the “clean up.” Wonderful.


So, Ephraim was offended.  They couldn’t really celebrate this great victory because they felt they had been dishonored in the process. So, they approached Gideon with the simple question, “Why didn’t you call for help when you were fighting the enemy?” (8:1) They didn’t just mention their concern in passing.  Both Recensions have them presenting their case forcefully.


A has:  ἐκρίνοντο μετ᾽ αὐτοῦ κραταιῶς or, “They expressed their judgment fiercely.”   B uses the verb διαλέγομαι and the adverb ισχυρώς, or “They disputed with him strongly.”  I love the way that the same emotion can be expressed through a variety of words.  And I also love the quaintness of the Brenton translation: “They chode with them sharply.” But this is not just a literary exercise; a second battle may be in the offing.


                                                           Gideon Skillfully Defuses the Situation


The point of the next few verses is to show how Gideon, fierce in battle, is sensitive towards his covenant partners/countrymen. But, as the rest of Judges 8 will show, this isn’t reflected towards all of the people of Israel.  That is, Gideon will recognize the value of Ephraim’s contribution to the war effort and, in a sense, recognize his mistake in only asking them for cleanup help.  When he actually meets covenant people who don’t want to help, but mock him in return, he will be unrelenting. Let’s first see how he defuses the situation with Ephraim.


They had simply asked Gideon why he didn’t invite them to help him in the main battle. His response is cryptic, if you just read the NETS translation of either recension.  The Greek of verse 2 is: 


τί ἐποίησα νῦν καθὼς ὑμεῗς.  


The NETS renders it, “What have I done now as you have?”  But this is opaque, and we have to go to the next sentence to see what Gideon is really saying.  His next sentence, in which the talks about the superiority of the offscouring or gleanings of Ephraim to the best part of the vintage harvest of Abiezer (i.e., Gideon’s people, v 2) shows that he is trying to praise the people who are challenging him.  He does so by raising Ephraim and lowering his own people.  In other words, he will say, ‘You Ephraimites are so good, so fruitful, so skillful, that even the things that you throw away or leave behind from your harvest is better than the choicest part of mine.”  


In this context, then, we return to the question and see how the Brenton translation takes us in a good direction, “What have I now done in comparison with you?”  Ok, that is better, because it gets at the issue of comparative strength and value.  Gideon will try to defuse the situation by saying that the people of Ephraim are much superior to Gideon and his people, and he and everyone knows it.


This is unexpected!  When have you heard of a victorious general, in the moment of greatest triumph, apologizing or underplaying his efforts in that battle?  But that is what Gideon did in this situation. And, then Recension A just gives us two words:  καὶ κατέπαυσαν, “and they stopped.” That is, there is complete deflation of all the strong and powerful words that were welling up in Ephraimite breasts.


Usually Recension B simplifies A in the Book of Judges, and here it just drops out these two words.  I wish they had remained.  Well, the next verse, verse 3, repeats the idea and so B probably thought the repetition was unnecessary, but I find the two words in A enormously powerful.  By the way, both A and B use the same verb to finish the paragraph:  ανίημι.  A has (8:3): 


τότε ἀνῆκε τὸ πνεῦμα αὐτῶν ἀπ᾽ αὐτοῦ ἐν τῷ λαλῆσαι αὐτὸν τὸν λόγον τοῦτον


“Then their spirit, when he (Gideon) said this word, gave up (their criticism) of him.”




Gideon not only teaches us how to listen to divine guidance in entering into the most fraught experience of his life, but also how to listen to human criticism in such a way as to minimize damage.  And perhaps he has this ability because he previously was cared for by his father when Gideon faced the mob’s cry for his head, after destroying the altars of Baal. He will be much more skillful at listening to criticism from the Ephraimites than Jephthah a few chapters later. . .

Judges 8:5-35

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