NOT TAKING SIDES IS NOT AN OPTION WHEN THE LORD CALLS ON YOU TO SUPPORT THE RIGHTEOUS
Some of the biggest disappointments in the experience of those who have been blessed by God with discernment and vision and charged with carrying out a divine mission come not from God’s enemies but from within the camp of God’s own people. That is Gideon’s frustration in this sad tale of two TransJordan cities of Gad that refused to step up to the plate and take their stand on the side of righteousness and faith.
Gideon had been called by God to deliver the Israelites from the bondage of the Midianites. After culling the troops down to just 300 men so that Gideon’s troops could not take credit for the victory, the Lord routed the enemy and directed Gideon to continue to pursue the capture of the remaining two kings – Zebah and Zalmunna. In the pursuit of this mission Gideon and his men were in need of rest and physical sustenance. Gideon made request of the leaders of both Succoth and Penuel (tribe of Gad located beyond the Jordan River – closest to the enemy) but was refused on the grounds that they preferred to sit on the sidelines and not take sides until they could see which side emerged victorious in this conflict. Gideon condemned their unwillingness to provide assistance to the righteous and promised that there would be appropriate judgment upon his victorious return.
From the Lord’s perspective, there is no doubt regarding which side deserves support. It should be based on supporting righteousness rather than trying to look into the future and from an expediency standpoint trying to anticipate the outcome and jumping on the bandwagon of the winner.
Some commentators see a shift in Gideon’s outlook beginning in 8:4 where now he no longer is seeking the Lord’s will but has taken control himself and is more concerned for personal vengeance, etc. I don’t see anything negative in his actions until later in the chapter. He is still carrying out his divine commission with firm commitment and a faith that has grown stronger as he has seen God at work. He is more decisive and bold in his actions, but still trusting in the Lord.
Block: We are surprised to learn, however, that not only are Gideon’s mopping-up operations more complicated than anticipated, but this theme also is interwoven with another: Gideon’s disposition toward his fellow Israelites. In fact, these two themes alternate in the narrative in an A B A’ B’ pattern, with A (8:4-9) and A’ (8:13-17) involving the latter issue and B (8:10-12) and B’ (8:18-21) concerning the former.
NOT TAKING SIDES IS NOT AN OPTION WHEN THE LORD CALLS ON YOU TO SUPPORT THE RIGHTEOU
I. (:4-9) SIDELINE SITTERS — REFUSAL TO TAKE RISK TO SUPPORT THE RIGHTEOUS EVOKES THE THREAT OF RETRIBUTION
A. (:4-7) Appeal to the Leaders of Succoth for Support
1. (:4) Legitimate Need for Immediate Support
“Then Gideon and the 300 men who were with him came to the Jordan and crossed over, weary yet pursuing.”
– Look at who is taking the initiative to do battle with the enemy
– didn’t stop at the obstacle of the Jordan but crossed over to finish the deal; why have to revisit this enemy at a later date?
– Look at who has the discernment to realize what needs to be done and is actively engaged in providing deliverance from which all will benefit. Gideon fully understood the commission he had received from the Lord.
– Look at who has been taking the bulk of the risk all along and is persevering despite the difficulty and physical challenges
– Look at how complete the victory was that God was providing – Gideon still has all 300 of his men; so far they had been called to “Stand” – but had not had to do much actual fighting – Ephes 6 – “be steadfast” – don’t back down
“weary yet pursuing” – God gives just enough strength
Illustration: heard Stan White talk about the type of training that Ray Lewis does in the off-season; takes certain younger players under his wing (Stan’s son and now wider receiver draftee Streeter) to show them what it takes to be a winner; you come to a wall and then must discipline yourself to continue to push forward
If you are on the same team as these weary and starved soldiers, what would prevent you from providing assistance?
2. (:5) Urgent Request for Appropriate Assistance
“He said to the men of Succoth, ‘Please give loaves of bread to the people who are following me, for they are weary, and I am pursuing Zebah and Zalmunna, the kings of Midian.’”
Succoth was beyond Jordan, in the tribe of Gad. Penuel was also in the same tribe, and not far distant from Succoth.
– Gideon more concerned for his men than for himself – appreciates their loyalty — “following me”
– Not asking for any major commitment on their part – “loaves of bread”
– just asking for physical sustenance; not that they would join the fight
– Offers two very cogent reasons for such assistance:
– The plight of his soldiers (their fellow countrymen) is evident – “they are weary”
– The critical nature of his mission is evident – “pursuing Zebah and Zalmunna”
Adam Clarke: As Gideon was engaged in the common cause of Israel, he had a right to expect succor from the people at large. His request to the men of Succoth and Penuel was both just and reasonable.
Significance of names of these two kings: Zebah = “victim” or “sacrifice” and Zalmunna = “protection[shade] refused [denied]” – pointing to their ultimate fate
James Jordan: God had already appointed them for destruction
3. (:6) Expedient Response Revealing an Aversion to Taking Risk
“The leaders of Succoth said, ‘Are the hands of Zebah and Zalmunna already in your hands, that we should give bread to your army?’”
– We want to sit on the fence and wait
– We look at your weak band of 300 men and have a hard time visualizing how the Lord is going to give you the victory
– We want to see which side wins the conflict – not attempting to make the decision on the basis of supporting righteousness
– We will thrown our support behind the winning horse – but they end up riding in the losing hearse
Tone is one of taunting, mocking – shows their complete lack of faith – but these are supposed to be part of the nation of Israel
Illustration from business: we want to increase sales; study the market and see there is potential opportunity; don’t want to take the risk of hiring another sales rep until we have enough sales to support him – will never happen
4. (:7) Sobering Threat of Retribution from a Confident Assurance of Victory
“Gideon said, ‘All right, when the Lord has given Zebah and Zalmunna into my hand, then I will thrash your bodies with the thorns of the wilderness and with briers.’”
– You will suffer the consequences of your choice – sitting on the fence was not really remaining neutral but was actively supporting the enemy
– Victory is assured for the righteous
– Discipline will be painful and severe
James Jordan: Deuteronomy 23:3-4 tells us that God had cursed Moab and Ammon because they did not give bread to hungry Israel as they came out of Egypt. Jesus makes the same point in Matthew 25:34-40. It is important to realize that Midian was often allied with Moab and Amon, as in the story of Balaam and Phineas, which is in the background of the story of Gideon (Num. 22-25; Dt. 23:4). Thus, when Succoth refused to help God’s people, they were identifying themselves with the Moabites, Ammonites, and Midianites.
B. (:8-9) Appeal to the Leaders of Penuel for Support
1. Intensified Legitimate Need for Immediate Support (understood)
“He went up from there to Penuel”
– situation keeps getting worse over time
Gen. 32:24-30 town associated with Jacob’s wrestling with angel
2. Similar Urgent Request
“and spoke similarly to them”
3. Similar Expedient Response
“and the men of Penuel answered him just as the men of Succoth had answered”
4. Similar Sobering Threat of Retribution from a Confident Assurance of Victory
“So he spoke also to the men of Penuel, saying, ‘When I return safely, I will tear down this tower.’”
The tower was where the villagers of Penuel found their security and defense; believing themselves to be safe from attack
[ASIDE: left unsaid how the Lord provided for the physical sustenance of Gideon’s troops to enable them to defeat the enemy]
Other Biblical Examples of Call to Support Righteousness:
– Who will speak on behalf of the widows and orphans and seek justice and relief for them? How much more the necessity to speak up for the unborn babies who are being aborted each day?
– Apostle Paul wanted people to support him against the unjust accusations of the Judaizers
II. (:10-12) SURPRISED SOLDIERS — THE VICTORY OF THE RIGHTEOUS SETS THE STAGE FOR THE PROMISED RETRIBUTION
A. (:10) Staging of the Decisive Battle
“Now Zebah and Zalmunna were in Karkor, and their armies with them, about 15,000 men, all who were left of the entire army of the sons of the east; for the fallen were 120,000 swordsmen.”
B. (:11) Surprise Attack
“Gideon went up by the way of those who lived in tents on the east of Nobah and Jogbehah, and attacked the camp when the camp was unsuspecting.”
James Jordan: Geographical study shows that he went all the way around the camp to the other side, and attacked during the night from the east, the quarter they would least have expected an attack to come from.
Inrig: There is a great lesson for us in Gideon’s persistence. D. L. Moody once said, “Give me a man who says ‘This one thing I do’ and not ‘These fifty things I dabble with.’” Benjamin Disraeli declared, “The secret of success is constancy of purpose.” Singleness of purpose in carrying out the will of God.
C. (:12) No Surprise Regarding the Victory – a Total Rout
“When Zebah and Zalmunna fled, he pursued them and captured the two kings of Midian, Zebah and Zalmunna, and routed the whole army.”
– Why would someone be waffling over whether or not to support the righteous when it is clear that the Lord will provide the ultimate and complete victory?
“routed” – Herbert Wolf – more precisely “terrifying” — How fitting that it should end with a terror-stricken Midian!. The Hiphil is also used of an exhausted, easily frightened army in 2 Sam 17:2.
III. (:13-17) SPANKED CITIES — THE PROMISED RETRIBUTION SHOULD MOTIVATE OTHERS TO SUPPORT THE RIGHTEOUS RATHER THAN DECEIVING THEMSELVES THAT THEY CAN SAFELY SIT ON THE FENCE
A. (:13-16) Retribution on Succoth
1. (:14) Targeting the Responsible Leaders
“Then the youth wrote down for him the princes of Succoth and its elders, seventy-seven men.”
Quite a list this youth put together for Gideon
Brensinger: The numbers seventy and seven frequently signifying completeness suggest that all of the officials have been accounted for.
[maybe our politicians would be more careful with their voting records if there was such strict accountability for the consequences of their decisions.]
2. (:15) Turning the Tables on Their Taunting
“He came to the men of Succoth and said, ‘Behold Zebah and Zalmunna, concerning 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 weary?’”
“No risk, no reward” – goes beyond that here; actual retribution
3. (:16) Tearing Up the Bodies of the Guilty Elders
“He took the elders of the city, and thorns of the wilderness and briers, and he disciplined the men of Succoth with them.”
Dale Ralph Davis: Since they sided with Israel’s enemies, they were treated as Israel’s enemies. Here is instruction for us: sometimes the people of God are a great disappointment (if you don’t know that, you may not survive in the church.) Don’t allow God’s people to disillusion you; at least be prepared for it.
B. (:17) Retribution on Penuel
1. Destroyed Their Pride and Protection
“He tore down the tower of Penuel”
2. Destroyed Their Men
“and killed the men of the city”
Matthew Henry: not all, perhaps not the elders or princes, but those that had affronted him, and those only. He slew some of the men of the city that were most insolent and abusive, for terror to the rest, and so he taught the men of Penuel.
IV. (:18-21) SLAIN SOVEREIGNS — THE EXECUTION OF THE MIDIANITE KINGS REMOVES THE PAGAN DOMINATION OF GOD’S PEOPLE AND CONFIRMS THE POWER OF GIDEON
A. (:18-19) Death Sentence Pronounced
“Then he said to Zebah and Zalmunna, ‘What kind of men were they whom you killed at Tabor?’ And they said, ‘They were like you, each one resembling the son of a king.’ And he said, ‘They were my brothers, the sons of my mother. As the LORD lives, if only you had let them live, I would not kill you.’”
This story must refer to some earlier Midianite raid where members of Gideon’s family had been targeted and killed.
Has Gideon’s motivation changed from carrying out national deliverance to some type of personal blood vendetta? Seems to me like the Lord still wanted them executed
James Jordan: if you were to put the best possible light on Gideon’s actions here … perhaps he was saying: “As the anointed one of Israel, it is my task to be the blood avenger for my brethren. What you have done to Israel as a whole, you have done in particular to my own brethren; and what I do to you to avenge the blood of my brethren, is what God does to you to avenge all His children . . . Thus my personal vengeance is also the Lord’s vengeance.”
B. (:20) Execution Opportunity Offered to Jether
“So he said to Jether his first-born, ‘Rise, kill them.’ But the youth did not draw his sword, for he was afraid, because he was still a youth.”
Trying to teach his son to follow in his footsteps and walk by faith – faith cannot be passed down automatically from father to son
Also Gideon desired that his son would receive honor through this symbolic deed
[other commentators criticize Gideon and say that he is taking personal vengeance here in an inappropriate fashion – I don’t agree; he is still on track at this point – we will see his own slippage in the passage we study next week]
C. (:21) Execution Challenge Carried Out by Gideon
“Then Zebah and Zalmunna said, ‘Rise up yourself, and fall on us; for as the man, so is his strength.’ So Gideon arose and killed Zebah and Zalmunna, and took the crescent ornaments which were on their camels’ necks.”
Captured kings are trying to maintain as much dignity and honor as possible – realizing that they are about to be executed; issue a challenge to Gideo
Significance of the crescent ornaments – associated with worship of the moon; part of their bringing shame upon the name of God by celebrating the superiority of their gods;
Cf. victory ornamentation of Preakness winning horse
Herbert Wolf: The crescent-shaped ornaments (lit. “little moons”) on the camels’ necks are still in common use among the Arabs. Made of silver or gold, they are mentioned again in Isaiah 3:18 among articles highly prized by women. The Midianites, along with many other Semite people, probably worshiped the moon-god.
There is no neutral stand — Luke 11:23 “He that is not with me is against me: and he that gathereth not with me scattereth.”
Grady Henley — Illustration: “That’s Not My Job”
This is a story about four people named Everybody, Somebody, Anybody, and Nobody. There was an important job to be done and Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it. Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it. Somebody got angry about that, because it was Everybody’s job. Everybody thought Anybody could do it, but Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn’t do it. It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody, when Nobody did, what Anybody could have done.
The call has gone out from the mouth of the Lord: “Who will stand in the gap,” Ezek 22:30, between the righteous judgment of the Lord and the sinner doomed for hell? Who will tell that sinner that Jesus loves them and that one day they must give an account for their sins?
Who will stand in the gap and tell those there is only two sides, good and evil, and each must decide which side they will be on, Exo 32:26 “Then Moses stood in the gate of the camp, and said, Who is on the LORD’S side? let him come unto me. And all the sons of Levi gathered themselves together unto him.”
The plea went forth from the throne of God for someone to go and tell the nation that judgment was coming. Isaiah answered the call, Isa 6:8. He made his stand for the cause of God.
Are we going to sit on the sidelines and expect to be rewarded as part of the winning team or are we going to step out in faith and have the courage to take a stand for the Lord and His kingdom of righteousness?