Harry Whittaker
Judges And Ruth

9. Pursuit (7:24-8:21)

The men of Ephraim responded to Gideon’s appeal for cooperation, though not from the best of motives. They intercepted and slew a great number, including two leading Midianite captains. And then, when Gideon and his small band came on the scene, they proceeded to be as quarrelsome as possible. As descendants of Joseph’s firstborn they greatly prided themselves on their prestige and status as a leading tribe in Israel. In later days Jephthah was to find in them the same touchiness. None were so prickly as these Ephraimites (Isa. 11:13).

Truculent Ephraim

The gist of their complaint was: ‘We are the best fighters in Israel and the most important tribe. Why then were we not invited to the party?’ They were peeved that a great victory had already been won without their own matchless contribution.

Faced with a similar situation (12:1-6) Jephthah reacted strongly. Tough fellow that he was, he meant to stand no nonsense from anybody. And the men of Ephraim found to their cost that bluster does not always pay.

However, Gideon’s situation was markedly different. He had only three hundred men at his back, and tired men at that. Also, they were miles from home.

So Gideon, against his own inclination, tried the soft answer that turneth away wrath, and it worked.

“Is not the gleaning of the grapes of Ephraim better than the vintage of Abiezer?” he blandly asked them, meaning either: Already you have achieved far greater results than anything I have done; or else: This campaign of mine was surely too trivial to bother so important a tribe as Ephraim with. And by mentioning his hometown he kept his own personal achievements tactfully in the background.

This diplomacy saved any further explosion, but subsequent developments were to show that Gideon’s blood-pressure had been driven markedly higher.

Succoth and Penuel

Set on making the most of the Midianite rout, he got away from the Ephraimites as quickly as possible. Jordan was forded, and he and his valiant supporters pressed on towards Succoth on the north bank of the Jabbok. They were now tired and hungry men, “faint yet (still) pursuing”.

Surely the men of Succoth — fellow Manassites — would help them with food and encouragement. But no! These men knew that their city lay right in the main line of Midianite invasion (had they suffered on former occasions?), and how were they to know that Gideon would teach these pirates from the desert such a lesson that for generations they would be content to stay out in the wilderness?

So, in effect, they said: ‘It is more than our lives are worth to make enemies of those marauders by helping you. First get their kings Zebah and Zalmunna, and we’ll find you all the food you want.’

This made Gideon angry, but he could not stay then to deal with their cowardly churlishness as it deserved. So with a bitter comment he left them: “The Lord will certainly give me victory in this pursuit (what a different Gideon this is!). When these Arabs have been taught their lesson, then you will learn yours! I’ll see to that!”

Gideon and his men crossed the river and continued wearily up the valley to Penuel, only to meet with the same reception there. These men of Gad had even less excuse, for they had a national reputation as fighters (1 Chron. 12:8); also, they were well fortified and had a strong tower of refuge. So with a sardonic promise: “I’ll be back!” Gideon kept his men to the main objective, more faint yet still pursuing.

Rout of a demoralised foe

The trail took them southeast, and at last they came up with the enemy at a place called Karkor. The Midianites felt confident that the pursuit would not follow them thus far, and since here they were ringed round by hills with only one approach route (according to Garstang’s “Joshua-Judges”), defence would in any case be an easy matter. So “the host was secure”.

If the AV of v. 13 may be accepted (s.w. 14:18; RV follows LXX), then Gideon made another night attack. This is a highly probable conclusion after the earlier success of the same tactics.

It may be surmised that, having posted his main force at the obvious point of escape, he sent a detachment to come at the Arab encampment via the “back door”, that is over the steep circle of hills, making a great clamour as before to scare their demoralised panicky foe. Then, when flight took place by the one and only exit, it would be a relatively simple matter to intercept and destroy those who were armed only with their own frantic fear.

Zebah and Zalmunna

The two princes Zebah and Zalmunna managed to get away, but they were pursued (on captured camels?) and taken.

Back at Penuel, Gideon did as he had promised. Turning the men of the place into his slaves, he roughly drove them to the task of dismantling the tower of refuge in which they took so much pride.

And near Succoth a young man of the place who fell into his hands readily supplied a written list of the main men of the city. These Gideon rounded up. After prisoners Zebah and Zalmunna had been paraded before them, the tokens of success whom they had demanded to see before granting even the most trivial aid, Gideon left the mark of his excusable resentment on these unbrotherly brothers so that his name would be remembered in Succoth for long years to come.

He also grimly interrogated Zebah and Zalmunna about certain of their most notorious atrocities. Even now, in the hands of this dour vengeful leader, these evil men could not refrain from boasting of the horrors they had perpetrated.

“Those whom you treated in such fashion were my own brothers,” was Gideon’s curt comment. And turning to his son Jether, he bade him: “Up, and slay them! are not you the near kinsman, the avenger of blood?”

But Jether, a mere lad, hesitated. And the two hard men of the desert quailed at the possibility of being hacked and mangled because of his inadequate skill and strength. Or was it that in their pride they thought it demeaning to die by the hand of any but the mightiest of the mighty men? So without demur Gideon slew them himself.

Back amongst his own folk, Gideon found himself the centre of a wild surge of enthusiasm throughout the northern tribes. They marvelled that one so unsure of himself should have suddenly become the tough ruthless warrior who had sensationally rid them of their enemies. Was he not the very leader they needed? And a clamour arose that he be made king — in everything but name. Clearly his fine qualities ran in the family. Had not the lad Jether also distinguished himself in the Midianite campaign? They would have a dynasty of intrepid leaders.


Chapter 7

Beth-barah, north of the confluence of Jabbok and Jordan, the scene of much work by John the Baptist (John 1:28).
Oreb, Zeeb. Compare the double meaning in Jer. 5:6: “A Zeeb of the Orebs (Arabs) shall slay them.”

Chapter 8

The grapes of Ephraim. A big slaughter there, evidently; Isa. 10:26.
Zebah, Zalmunna. Since these names mean: Victim and Protection withheld, they are probably grim Israelite perversions of the true names of these princes.
This intransigence suggests that Moses’ misgivings about an unbrotherly spirit in the eastern tribes (Num. 32:14,15) were not altogether without foundation.

Bread unto thine army. Compare Deut. 23:3,4; 1 Sam. 25:8-11.
The marked change in Gideon, very obvious here, stems from 7:15.
Regarding these numbers, see “Bible Studies”, 10.15.
Described unto him. RVm: wrote down for him, is certainly correct. The modernists who said ever so confidently that this reading was impossible because of the illiteracy of the times have now themselves proved to be archaic.
Taught. RVm: threshed. One letter difference.
The men of the city; i.e., the elders; v. 14.
Tabor. Had they fled there from Abiezer? Or, error for tabor (= navel, a name for Shechem)? Or, error for Tabbath, unknown (7:26).
Ornaments. RV: crescents. There is archaeological evidence that these were worn as fertility symbols.
Because they were Ishmaelites. Note the different plunder taken from the Midianites; v. 26.

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