Judges 8

Judges 8:

To understand the background of this passage and interaction between Gideon and the Ephraimites , we must go back to Genesis 48.  The old patriarch, Jacob, has been reunited with his beloved son, Joseph. Joseph’s story is well known from how he rose from a slave and a prisoner to become the 2nd most powerful man in Egypt.  He has two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim. Manasseh being the first born.  Now dying, an old man, Jacob calls in Joseph and his two sons for the purpose of passing on his blessings to his two grandsons. Manasseh being the first born should receive the blessing of Jacob’s right hand and Ephraim the left hand as tradition would have it.

Jacob switches his hands on purpose placing his right hand on the second born, Ephraim. Joseph tries to correct his father’s mistake, believing his failing eyesight has caused this misplacement of his hands.  Jacob refused and told Joseph he knew what he was doing. Manasseh would become a people and be great but the younger son, Ephraim would be greater.

Jacob as we recall was the 2nd born son of Isaac and his older brother Esau was the 1st born, but Jacob received the blessing. Isaac was the 2nd born son of Abraham and Ishmael was his first born, but Isaac would receive the blessing.

During the wilderness years of wandering, the tribe of Ephraim would grow more numerous than Manasseh. From the tribe of Ephraim would come Joshua. In the Promised Land, Ephraim and their city, Shiloh, would be the home of the tabernacle. Manasseh would be divided in its inheritance of land.  Now remember what Gideon said to the angel of the Lord when he was called to lead them in battle.  “ But Lord”, Gideon asked, “ how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh and I am the least in my family.”

It was common knowledge to all Israelites the tribe of Ephraim was the superior tribe in all of Israel. Manasseh was the weakest and Gideon’s clan the weakest of the weakest and Gideon, the least of the least in the weakest of the weak. In other words, God had on purpose reached down to select the most unlikely person from the most unlikely family from the most unlikely tribe.  In fact when reading the story of Jacob- we sometimes question God’s selection of persons He uses, don’t we?  After all after reading the account of those 12 sons, Judah, would not have been our choice as the tribe to have the honor of being the line through which the Messiah would come.

Remember what Paul wrote in I Corinthians 1:  “ But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things – and the things that are not- to nullify the things that are so that no one may boast before Him.”   GOD USES THE WEAK. And He has gone to great lengths in the story of Gideon to show us He has chosen the weakest of the weak.

The tribe of Ephraim is accustomed to being the leaders in Israel. They are the strongest of the tribes, more superior in every way- from agriculture to battle. In other words, they are accustomed to being in the spotlight as God’s chosen and superior tribe.  They were after all the blessed, the strongest of the strong and known for a history of superiority. Guess what else they were- PRIDEFUL. Prideful to the point of arrogance.  And now we see what is down in the well of their hearts comes up in the bucket of their mouth as they reveal their envy and jealousy at Gideon:  “ Why have you treated us like this? Why didn’t you call us when you went to fight Midian? And they criticized Gideon sharply.”

Remember what God said to Gideon as HE began to downsize them?  “ You have too many men for Me to deliver Midian into their hand. In order that Israel may not boast against me that their own strength has saved her.” Do you get the feeling, Ephraim would have taken credit for winning such a battle? Humble is not the adjective you would use to describe this tribe of Ephraim is it?  Pride produces a feeling of superiority which is the opposite of being humble. Who does God give His grace to? the humble and He resists the prideful.  Ephraim was used to getting the glory- so much so, perhaps they had forgotten who was the God of Glory.

Instead of celebrating with their brothers from the tribe of Manasseh, they are criticizing them. Standing outside the spotlight- they become envious, back biting,  judgmental , finding fault, and becoming cynical.  Quite often in the business world an employee gets an honor as Employee of the Year, and others immediately complain, the selection process was not fair; management had shown favoritism; this employee was given the best territory, the best accounts, the best opportunity, etc.  You know it happens every day.

We sometimes look at other churches which are growing and find ourselves envying their growth, their programs, their leadership. Why would we not rejoice that our brothers and sisters in Christ are having a season of growth and success?  And praise God from Whom all blessings flow? Do we not see ourselves sometimes in the tribes of Israel- God’s people who cannot genuinely affirm the other’s success?  Did you realize West Jackson Baptist Church was one of the oldest Baptist churches in Jackson. They started Englewood, Calvary and Popular Heights.  Interesting that Englewood has become the larger church- larger than its first born brother West Jackson.

In fact we can take it to a personal level, as we see other individuals and families succeed, while we struggle and we are envious and perhaps even a little irked that God has chosen to bless them and not us.

Is Ephraim’s reaction to Gideon, really a response to God? Why  didn’t you ,God, call us when you went to fight the enemy?   Maybe the question should be ask of Ephraim, why didn’t you volunteer? Ephraim was jealous of Manasseh. Now would this lowly tribe’s honor would eclipse theirs?  Would they have put themselves under the leadership of Gideon?  Probably not. They are frustrated, and in their frustrations they strike out at Gideon.


I wonder if Gideon had to bite his tongue in order to hold it.  Count to ten, maybe before he opened his mouth and said something that would just cause the situation to escalate. His reply is the essence of Proverbs 15: 1: “ A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”

We often hear grace defined as ‘ unmerited favor.’ In other words, undeserved.  Gideon is very much aware of how underserving he is of the favor and recognition he is receiving.  Ephraim is showing a complete lack of gratitude to Gideon and what God has accomplished through him.  Here is what Paul wrote on at least two different occasions: “ Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourself.” ( Phil 2: 3) And also: “ Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves.” ( Romans 12: 10)

Ephraim wanted to rain on Gideon’s parade. Gideon did not even want a parade, so Gideon raised the umbrellas of humility and peacefulness with his reply:  “ What have I accomplished compared to you? Aren’t the gleanings of Ephraim’s grapes better than our full harvest? God gave you 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. “

To be honest, we have been on both the side of dishing out the criticism and receiving it. We know how it pleases our old nature to zing someone with words designed to bring them down . We also know what is like to be criticized for our efforts and how those sharp words wound us.

You realize what we are studying is not a battle of good versus evil. We are witnessing what takes place in churches every day  – dissension and  hurtful words among God’s people.  You know what it does- it costs time and energy and distracts us from the real enemy.

Notice the word used to described Gideon and his 300-  ‘ exhausted (NIV) ‘faint’ ( KJV).   “ Let us not be weary in well-doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not. As we have opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.”  Dissension, criticism of our brothers and sisters in the household of faith can cause us to grow faint- it is exhausting, not uplifting to continually find fault in our brothers and sisters in the Lord.

When someone criticizes us and ours- we take it personally, don’t we?  We replay it like a video over and over in our mind. Our flesh wants to strike back. We nurse it, we rehearse it and look forward to the moment we might reverse it.

Whenever we have had a victory over the enemy; whenever we have responded to an attack the way the Lord intends us to respond- we must be careful after the victory. For the enemy we battle against is always looking for an opening where he might gain a foothold.

Now let us back up a minute to review the situation so we can put ourselves in Gideon’s place. He has been on a spiritual roller coaster from the first moment the angel of the Lord called him out of the winepress where he was trying to sift wheat.  We have established, Gideon does not have a high opinion of himself, family or his tribe, Manasseh. He has fought a battle, led his completely overwhelmed group of 300 against a force of 135,000 and experienced victory. There is no doubt about who gave them the victory- the Lord had.  There was not boasting on their part.  Gideon and his men are not well trained, well – conditioned soldiers- they are and have always been the weakest, the least prosperous and this is certainly new territory for them. In addition they are pursing the enemy who still outnumbers them and they are worn out. They need food. They stop in Succoth and ask the men of Succoth for bread for they are tired and hungry and in pursuit of Zebah and Zalmunna, the kings of Midian. The leaders of Succoth  do not want to get involved unless they have already captured these kings, fearing if they do not capture them and these kings find out they fed and helped Gideon, they will retaliate against their city.

Gideon’s reply tells me he getting fed up with these people instead of being fed by his own brothers and sisters. Gideon and his men needed to re-fuel their empty tanks and instead of getting refueled- they are refused. They are running on empty and their resources are depleted.   Are your spiritual tanks empty sometimes after a week of one problem after another? Do you come to a place whether it is home after a week on the road or to the church on Sunday to find rest and refueling and your needs go unmet?

We understand Gideon’s response don’t we? I wonder if we understand the response of the people in Succoth and Peniel?  After all these people lived in fear of these terrorists.  They know if Gideon does not capture these kings and they help Gideon- they will pay the price of revenge the terrorist will take out on them.

The people in those towns looked at things the way they were. The risks involved were too costly. If Gideon failed to take these kings- who still had 15000 troops, they would be in trouble.  You know what was wrong with those towns people? Their faith was in numbers.  In reality- they had no faith in Gideon’s 300- they were hedging their bets on survival by playing it smart. Don’t commit to help these people until you see they are the winners.

They preferred to stay neutral in the battle.  Just like those today- who say let’s not bring up Christianity and Christian values in our business and mission statement- it might offend some people.  In Portland, TN, a group of Christians put up a billboard which stated this verse from the Bible.:  “ Thou shall not lie with a man as with a woman, it is an abomination.” ( Leviticus 18:22) God.  On the other side of the billboard is this message;  Love the sinner, hate the sin.    It has created as firestorm and had been referred to as hate message, and even bullying.  Yet those who put it up- say it is time for Christians to speak up.  I wonder how many of us are like the townspeople of these two towns- let’s not take sides or we will offend someone.

They are really not afraid of offending Gideon are they? And people are not afraid to offend Christians today. They do not fear us- for they do not fear God.  When there is a decision between right and wrong, you cannot stay neutral as Christians.  Jesus said you are for me or against me.  The calling out of God against sin in the Old Testament- and those who would say this is not the language of the New Testament, do not know what Scripture says for Paul clearly calls this sin- sin in Romans 1.  The flowers fade and grass withers, but the Word of God lasts forever.

Both Gideon in his frustration and exhaustion and the towns of Succoth and Peniel are wrong.  And two wrongs never make a right.

Peniel refuses to help Gideon and his men and Gideon pronounces to both- he will take vengeance on them. He will tear the flesh of the leaders of Succoth with briars and thorns and tear down Peniel’s tower of which they are so proud.

I hate to admit it- but I have behaved both like Gideon and the people of these two towns.

Did Gideon feel he and his men deserved to be taken care of by these towns? I believe his response shows he believe he deserved to be treated like a hero who was taking all the chances and putting himself and his men in harm’s way.

This is not the same Gideon who was so afraid he kept asking God to reassure him – He was really God. He was disappointed in the response of these people. Disappointment reveals we had certain expectations of others, doesn’t it? He expected to be recognized for his efforts and sacrifice. I understand Gideon’s response, his anger, his emotional outbursts. But I also notice Gideon has changed. This is not the same meek, humble, afraid of his own shadow Gideon, who considered himself the least of the least. This was not the man who depended entirely on the  Lord for his victory and bowed down and worshipped God. Now instead of destroying the enemy, Gideon is intent on destroying those who do not support him.  He tells them what he will do when he comes back after capturing these kings.

I can understand his outbursts and his anger.  We have all said things we wish we had not in  a moment of frustration, anger, and being emotionally tipped over by exhaustion and hunger.  Not thinking clearly we say things we know later we should not have said.

What is alarming about Gideon’s behavior is from that outburst to the subsequent tracking down of the enemy, routing their army, taking the two kings captive gave Gideon time to cool off.  I would have thought he would be over his anger and frustration. Come back to those towns and apologize and say I am sorry I reacted the way I did.  But Gideon obviously kept rehearsing what had been said, nursing this grudge, and looking forward to reversing the situation to show them the error of their ways.

Probably his army of 300  had taken up Gideon’s offense also- and as a result rather than returning with an apology for his rash words and anger, Gideon returns with vengeance on his mind.

Gideon did not wait on the Lord, did he? He did not wait on the Lord who we are told in Isaiah 40- ‘ those who wait on the Lord will gain new strength.’

He extracted his revenge. Beating the 77 leaders of Succoth and punishing them by whipping them with thorny branches.  It reminded me of the thorns the soldiers fitted into a crown and placed upon His head and crushed it into his flesh so the blood ran down his face. They did this to mock and humiliate Jesus and here, the once humble Gideon desires in anger to humiliate not his enemy, but his own people. Our words are as barbed as thorns sometimes aren’t they?  Where is the gentle word that turns around wrath instead of these harsh words that stir up anger?  And then in tearing down the tower in Peniel there was the loss of life.  Are we guilty sometimes of tearing down others’ lives with our harsh , critical, judgmental words?

Paul said something that is very important for us to  be able to ‘ press on  toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus’.  You know what he said was necessary to be able to press on? -‘ Forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead…”  _(Phil 3)

We are going to run into people like those in Succoth and Peniel. These people can ruin our day. We have to forgive and forget what lies behind. How do you do that, Tim?  How do you forget what has been done to you and your family that hurt? You do it by focusing on what lies ahead. You do it by focusing on the goal the Lord has for you. The purpose for which you were created, saved and exist. Your passion for Him becomes the burning desire of your heart. It is this passion that ignites you – it is this relationship with Him that means more than anything. And anything that interferes with you pressing on- you want to forget what lies behind and reach forward to  what lies ahead.


Gideon has been used mightily by the Lord. Now he is behaving like he has done something to deserve the favor he has received.

“ By grace are you saved through faith, and that not of yourselves. It is a gift of God not of works, lest any many should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God has before ordained we should walk in them.” ( Ephesians 2: 8-10)

The Christian life, life with the Lord Jesus Christ is a by grace through faith operation from beginning to end.

It is clear salvation is all of God. It is clear there is no good thing that dwells in our flesh. It is clear apart from Him we can do nothing.

It is a gift of God- not of works lest we boast.

And if we lose sight of what we were created in Christ Jesus for- we lose the opportunity to do the good works God has ordained beforehand that we should walk in.

It is very tempting and easy to use church leadership and spiritual gifts not to serve  and honor God but to win influence and honor for ourselves.

Gideon is starting a fall- for pride goes before a fall. And in this case when the enemy trips a leader it creates a domino effect as we shall see in next week’s lesson.

Here is the hard question from today’s lesson:

  • Is there something you are doing for the Lord for which you do not believe you are getting enough recognition for?
  • Is there some work God has ordained for you to walk in- you are not walking in?
Copyright © 2010 Linda Benthal
Last modified: 08/12/14