Judges 8:5-35, The Rest of Gideon's Days
One would have thought that after Gideon’s stunning victory the people would have recognized the clear sign of the divine work and would have united as a people in service to Yahweh. But so inchoate were the evolving traditions of the people and so unformed their sense of national consciousness that they not only didn’t unite after the battle, but some groups found reason to pick a fight with Gideon, which led to fratricidal carnage.
The Flow of the Rest of the Chapter
After capturing and executing the kings Oreb and Zeeb, Gideon’s 300 then set out in pursuit of two other fleeing kings, Zebee and Salmana. Each of the Recensions has different words characterizing the men’s condition. In A, they are “weak and hungry” (ὀλιγοψυχοῦντες καὶ πεινῶντες), with the first verb literally being “were of small soul.” Perhaps the translators of Recension B considered the first participle too obscure or long, and so they gave us πεινῶντες καὶ διώκοντες, or “famished/hungry and pursuing.” But the story isn’t in the participles but in the interaction with the men of Succoth and then Phanoul.
Gideon requested food for his famished men. But just as Naboth in I Samuel was reluctant to give food to David’s band of men as it wandered through his fields (it might encourage these marauding bands just to stay out in the country, ravish fields and terrorize innocent farmers), so the leaders of Succoth didn’t really believe Gideon. Their question in verse 6 is, “Is the hand of Zebee and Salmana now in your hand that we should give bread to your army (στρατιᾷ; B has τη δυνάμει, which means the same thing)?”
One might think at first that this was a completely uncalled-for reaction on the part of Succoth but I would argue it is like feeding crowds of homeless people in 2023. Some might say that this is the humane thing to do, but just as many would say, ‘Feeding them would encourage them to multiply.’ So, no food for Gideon’s men. No doubt the story of their glorious triumph over Midian hadn’t fully filtered down to various groups in Israel.
Dealing with Fellow Israelites
What is interesting at this point (vv 7ff) is that Gideon has to make a decision about how to treat his recalcitrant fellow Israelites. Does he realize that they have a point, and therefore decide to go easy on them? Does he practice the kind of leniency and understanding that he exercised with the Ephraimites in 8:1-4? Not at all! He speaks to them harshly and unequivocally. When he returns from capturing and dealing with Zebee and Salmana he will slice them in pieces (verb is καταξαινω in A and αλοαω, to thresh, in B). To the people of Phanoul he says he will destroy their tower. That is, no mercy to be shown to the obstructionist fellow Israelites. Mere membership in the Covenant people doesn’t protect them.
So, Gideon engages in hot pursuit, captures and kills them. There is an interesting word, preserved in both Recensions, in verse 11. Gideon attacks but the camps “had confidence” (πεποίθυια). Yet, this confidence was for naught as Gideon destroyed the camps and set out after the fleeing kings. The verbs of destruction in verse 12 differ in the two Recensions, with A using a typical verb for destroy (εκτριβώ), while B surprisingly using εξιστημι, which can mean “to amaze,” but in this instance is probably best rendered “to throw into a panic.”
Handling Succoth and Phanoul
Well, one thing done, but now Gideon has to return to the threat uttered against Succoth and Phanoul. Will he put it into effect or show leniency here, too? Rather than just devastating the town and people of the former, he decides on a different strategy. He finds a boy from the town of Succoth and accosts him. Then, he asks the boy to write down (the verb is αναγράφω in A but simply γράφω in B) the names of the leaders and elders of the town. Now they have a target list, and Gideon and his people will focus in on these folk and kill them, or destroy the tower, though he does this only after giving the townspeople a little quiz on what they had done (vv 13-17).
Something particularly enraging for Gideon is that these captured kings, Zebee and Salmana, admit to killing the brothers of Gideon along the way (8:18-19). Gideon tells them that if they had spared them (the interesting verb in both Recensions is ἐζωογονήσατε or “preserve alive without killing”), then he likewise would have spared them. An alluring scene follows describing how these kings actually were killed. Gideon commands his young son to do so but he, perhaps never having faced something of this magnitude, can’t bring himself to do the tasks. So, Gideon does so.
Gideon then refuses the request of his men to rule over them. He understood his role most likely as one who would deliver the people from the current need and then return to his life. But instead of ruling over them, Gideon made an ephod which would commemorate the victory. But as luck and human nature would have it, this ephod then becomes a source of religious devotion, further alienating the people from Yahweh their God. The people quickly fell into infidelity upon Gideon’s death.
The account has several interesting words describing ornaments that were taken from camels and put on the ephod, or on other pieces of jewelry, or even the thorns with which Gideon flayed people, but the only one I will mention is the “barchan,” which is the Greek spelling but just transliterates the Hebrew word בַּרְקָן, which means “briar” or “thorn.” Thus, we learn a little (very little) Hebrew in this passage as we see the unfolding of the Gideon narrative. It breathes an air of verisimilitude—of surprising conquest, of skepticism, of scattered people, of rough justice when people don’t cooperate. It enriches our understanding of Greek, and of the Greek Old Testament.
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