Gideon and his 300 men are hot on the trial of the two kings of Midian; Zebah and Zalmunna. They have been fighting for quite a while and could use some food. Denied!
When we last left Gideon the men of Ephraim had been called to join the battle and protect the escape route. Naphtali, Manasseh and Asher had helped with the pursuit. The armies of Midian were on the run! Two of their princes were dead and all were fleeing Israel. Let’s join him as he takes a BRIEF pause from the battle.
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There is an atmosphere of celebration as the heads of Oreb and Zeeb are displayed on spears. Some of the Midianites have slipped through the lines and Gideon is preparing to give chase but the men of Ephraim have an issue they want to address. The elders of the men who helped in the battle are wearing angry looks as they gather. The celebration has missed their countenances all together.
Gideon is dismissing the groups that joined him from Naphtali, Manasseh and Asher. His original 300 will be going in pursuit of the remaining forces who broke through. Gideon turns towards the group of Ephraim as they approach. The anger on their faces alerts Gideon that there is trouble in their hearts and he is the target of their rage.
With arms hung battle ready the leader of the group addresses Gideon. “What is this that you have done to us, not to call us when you went to fight against Midian?” (verse 1a).
Gideon’s face registers the shock he feels at their words. “’What have I done how in comparison with you?’ (verse 2a) You are by far more blessed that my little clan. Besides that ‘God has given into your hands the princes of Midian, Oreb and Zeeb. What have I been able to do in comparison with you?’ (verse 3b).”
The leaders of Ephraim’s forces are mollified with his answer. They will accept the glory of the victory over the two princes, no matter whose hand was on the sword that took their heads. They prepare their men to return home. Gideon and his band of 300 will continue on without them. They have enough victories to satisfy their hearts.
Gideon and company cross over the Jordan to take up pursuit of the remaining forces. The princes are dead and there only remains a small portion of the original forces left to deal with. He figures that since God told him to go with his 300 against an adversary of 135,000, the remaining 15,000 should pose NO PROBLEM to the God of the universe.
Gideon’s men are hungry and tired but they weren’t giving up! They KNEW they had to finish this. If the remaining Midianites were left to their own fate they would surely gather others to themselves and once again become a thorn in Israel’s side. They can’t be let escape, especially their kings!
The first town Gideon’s forces come near is Succoth. Gideon leaves his group and approaches the gate where the elders sit. “Please give loaves of bread to the people who follow me, for they are exhausted, and I am pursuing after Zebah and Zalmunna, the kings of Midian” (verse 6).
Gideon is confident in his request because these men are his brothers, from the tribe of Gad and all are commanded to offer hospitality when requested. Gideon is also freeing the people from the hand of Midian for which these men should be very grateful. But he is left standing there as the men converse among themselves. Apprehension grows as the moments stretch out.
Finally the head elder gives Gideon his answer. It is NOT an answer Gideon expects OR relishes. “Are the hands of Zebah and Zalmunna already in your hand, that we should give bread to your army?” (verse 6b).
Gideon’s face and tone of voice show all the steel of disgust and wrath he feels for this group. “Well then, when the Lord has given Zebah and Zalmunna into my hand, I will flail your flesh with the thorns of the wilderness and with their briars” (verse 7). Gideon turns and hurries back to join his men. He will look elsewhere and he WILL follow through on his promise to the elders of Succoth.
The men of Succoth watch as Gideon leaves. They are not about to take back their words! The Midianites would make them pay for helping Gideon when they come back again. They have been tramping through Gad on their way to the Jezreel valley for the last seven years. Gideon and his small group don’t have a chance against them. Even if they are wrong in their estimation of Gideon’s chances, Gideon’s wrath is far less than that which Midian can bring!
Gideon and his men continue on. God is their only source as they refuse to abandon their pursuit. The next town of Penuel comes into sight. Gideon will give these men a chance to be part of God’s deliverance of Israel.
The men of Penuel are sitting at the gate, as expected. Gideon approaches them with his request. He is not as sure of the response he will receive after dealing with the men of Succoth. “Give me bread for the men who follow me. We are pursuing the kings of Midian and my men are exhausted.” Gideon’s face hardens as he waits and watches the elders. This has a VERY familiar feel.
“We are not going against the kings of Midian. We won’t anger them by helping you. What chance do you stand against them? Leave us!”
Gideon has heard enough! “When I come again in peace, I will break down this tower” (verse 9b). Gideon turns his back to yet another of those whom he thought were his family, those he thought would stand with him whatever he faced. His men and him have only the Lord to rely on for strength before, during and after the battle. He will see them through.
It is not much longer until Gideon’s men approach where Midian’s remaining army is encamped. The Midianites thought they were safe being this far from the Jezreel Valley. They are still within the boundaries of Israel; in the eastern territory of Manasseh. This group has never given them any trouble as they are fully subdued by fear of what Midian would do to them.
Gideon gathered his men just outside of the camp. “The Lord has given them into our hands! He has promised us we will see His victory. He chose each of you to be His hand of deliverance. Have courage and fight a little longer. The Lord will sustain us.” Nods abound and a battle plan is quickly laid out which looks a lot like the beginning of their previous battle. This time swords are part of the armament.
Gideon’s men surround the camp. It is late in the evening when they strike. The Lord throws the camp into confusion once again. The two kings take off running instead of standing and fighting with their men.
Upon seeing the kings fleeing, Gideon sends a small detachment after them. The rest of Gideon’s forces are positioned to press in on the edges and make sure no other forces slip away. God is fighting the battle once again by throwing them into confusion where they are slaying their own numbers!
Two hours pass before silence begins to permeate the area. Men lay in heaps between the edges of the camp. The small detachment has returned with the two kings. Gideon calls for them to be brought to his location. “Tie them securely and post a watch. We will deal with them later. Search the camp for supplies. Afterwards, rest and refresh yourselves. We will make our way home in the morning.”
Gideon’s men find enough to satisfy their hunger and tents to rest in for the night. They gather these supplies as well as the spoils left behind. They move a good distance away from the bodies littering the battleground before making camp for the night and setting watch on the two kings.
At first light Gideon calls for his men to break camp. “We are headed home! We have a few stops to make along the way and some justice to mete out too.”
The men are ready to go within the hour and the band led by Gideon makes its way “by the ascent of Heres” (verse 13b). Gideon is thinking of the promises he made to Succoth and Penuel. Both these towns will receive their just reward for how they treated God’s army!
A young man from Succoth is observed on the roadway where Gideon and his men are passing. The colors and pattern of his tunic identify him from that city. Gideon orders his capture. They want information only from him. No harm is to befall him unless he is also responsible for the inhospitable welcome Gideon and his men received.
He is brought before Gideon. In a tone that leaves no choice but cooperation, Gideon addresses him. “You are from the region of Succoth. I require the names of all the officials and elders of Succoth.”
“Why do you require this?” asks the young man.
“I have a promise to each of them that requires it. I must be able to reach every one of them to fulfill my vow.”
The young man acquiesces and provides a list of all the men Gabriel specified. He doesn’t miss even one. There are 75 in total. Gideon sent his men to gather vines with thorns and briers. These were woven together to make sturdy whips which would soon be laid to the backs of these less than honorable men.
Gideon approached the gate of Succoth. He called to the elders sitting in the gate. “Bring out_____ unto me” and he listed the names of each elder. “I have urgent business with all of these men. I have brought the spoils of war and am delivering their portion to them!”
Quickly the men are assembled. They are eager to receive their rewards from the hand of Gideon. A few of them remember the man who came seeking bread for his men but none of them suspect Gideon of bringing anything but good to them.
Gideon stands before them and calls for Zebah and Zalmunna to be brought to him. “Behold Zebah and Zalmunna, about whom you taunted me, saying, ‘Are the hands of Zebah and Zalmunna already in your hand, that we should give bread to your men who are exhausted?’” (verse 15b).
Several of the faces pale before him. Some take on a haughty look. Some appear confused. And others display indignation. Gideon studies each of them before his next words ring out. As he studies them his men move to encircle the group so that none of them flee their just reward. “Do you remember the words I spoke to you as I left? I made a promise of recompense for the inhospitable way my men and I were treated.” Gideon studies the faces again as his words register in their hearts and minds.
Gideon points to the head elder and calls him to step forward. The elder refuses. Gideon nods to his captain who steps forward immediately and grabs the elder by his robe. He takes him to the gate, removes a rope from his belt and secures the elder’s hands to the gatepost. Next his tunic is ripped from about his shoulders to expose his back. One of the whips constructed along the way is brought to Gideon who steps forward and whips it across the elder’s back. Gideon strikes way 20 times before releasing the man. Legally he could have given him 40 lashes save one but there are many more men who await this fate and Gideon wants to ensure he has strength to mete out the same to each of these men.
With the blows falling on the first elder some of the others attempted to escape or began pleading for their lives. NONE escaped or were granted absolution that day. Gideon repaid Succoth for their sin. It took several of the ropes Gideon’s men had woven and much of his strength before they left Succoth to continue on their way home. They still had one more stop though before they crossed the Jordan and headed for the valley of home.
As Gideon and his army approached Penuel he had Zabah and Zamunna brought forward again. He wanted the men of the city to see them as they approached. Penuel would know the truth of their ‘reward.’
Gideon stood before the gates with the two kings bound beside him. Gideon’s men then drew their swords and swarmed into the city. They killed every man within the city before returning to him. After they were all reassembled, Gideon called for ropes to be brought forth and lashed to the towers of defense in the city walls. These they pulled down and scattered their bricks.
Gideon and his men cross the Jordan and return to the Jezreel Valley. He turns his attention to the two Midianite kings. He has brought them to the place where they inflicted damage on his people. Now recompense will be demanded from them.
The tribe of Abiezer stands witness as Gideon addresses the kings of Midian. “Where are the men whom you killed at Tabor?” (verse 18b), Gideon demands of the two kings.
“’As you are, so were they. Every one of them resembled the son of a king’ (verse 18c). They were our enemies and we did to them as enemies demand.”
“They were my brothers, the sons of my mother. As the Lord lives, if you had saved them alive, I would not kill you” (verse 19). Anger simmers in Gideon’s eyes as he responds to the surety of the death of those he loved.
The kings stand stone faced before Gideon. They will not beg for their lives. They have no illusions as to Gideon having a heart of compassion towards them. He has brought them all the way to his home to stand judgment for their actions.
Gideon calls “to Jether, his firstborn, ‘Rise and kill them!’ But the young man did not draw his sword, for he was afraid, because he was still a young man” (verse 20).
“Rise and kill us yourself”, Zebah and Zalmunna call out to Gideon. “You are the man who captured us. It is your strength and right to do so, not a child’s.”
Gideon drew his sword from his sheath immediately. He stepped first to Zebah, looked him directly in the eye and ran him through with his sword. As soon as he withdrew it he did the same with Zalmunna. Both fell at the hand of Gideon and Israel was delivered from under their oppression, just as the Lord had promised.
Gideon took the crescent ornaments that had adorned the necks of the camels of the kings as his own spoils. The three hundred men who had accompanied him would divide what remained. The bodies of the two kings were thrown into a barren field for the birds devour. They deserved no burial as they had accorded none to those of Israel whom they slew.
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GOD fought this battle for Gideon! NO WAY could 300 men triumph over 15,000 without Him. Let alone triumph over 120,000! They had help in part of the battle but still the numbers of them who assisted Gideon were far less than those they faced. God had ‘bragging rights’ here without a doubt. Gideon had a miracle he could point to that God had brought in his own life. No longer did he have to rely on the stories of old to know the power of the Living God. He witnessed His deliverance firsthand.
Gideon had confidence by the time he pursued the escaping Midianites. He didn’t need to call on God for a battle tactic to finish the assault. He trusted in the One who had already delivered him successfully from his previous encounters.
He is just as faithful with us. We can trust in His promises. We can be confident in our hope. “God is not a man, that He should lie, or a son of man, that He should change His mind. Does He speak and not act? Does He promise and not fulfill?” (Numbers 33:19). If HE says it, HE WILL deliver it!
This holds true for both positive and negative promises. Consider carefully the choices He has set before you.
One promise that surely comes into play in this story is the promise of recompense for how we have treated others. “If you have done it unto the least of these you have done it unto me.” Succoth and Penuel both reaped their rewards according to this promise.
Father God, thank You for Your promise of salvation; of deliverance from evil. I have the choice to accept or reject Your offer. I choose to ACCEPT it! I don’t even want to think about going through this world without Your assurance. My life is in Your hands.
Thank You for the deliverance You gave my family during the fires. I’m asking that You help the restoration crews provide them with power so they can return to the homes You preserved for them. They, like Gideon, turn their eyes towards home. Continue to rein in our hearts while we wait.
Thank You Holy Spirit for taking me into the story of Gideon. I look forward to the MANY other stories You will bring alive to me. Let me NEVER forget the lessons of faith his story have inspired in me.