Gideon’s Vicious Revenge

Judges 8:1–21
1Then the men of Ephraim said to him, “What is this that you have done to us, not to call us when you went to fight against Midian?” And they accused him fiercely. And he said to them, “What have I done now in comparison with you? Is not the gleaning of the grapes of Ephraim better than the grape harvest of Abiezer? God has given into your hands the princes of Midian, Oreb and Zeeb. What have I been able to do in comparison with you?” Then their anger against him subsided when he said this. And Gideon came to the Jordan and crossed over, he and the 300 men who were with him, exhausted yet pursuing. So he said to the men of Succoth, “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.” And the officials of Succoth said, “Are the hands of Zebah and Zalmunna already in your hand, that we should give bread to your army?” So Gideon said, “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 briers.” And from there he went up to Penuel, and spoke to them in the same way, and the men of Penuel answered him as the men of Succoth had answered. And he said to the men of Penuel, “When I come again in peace, I will break down this tower.” 10 Now Zebah and Zalmunna were in Karkor with their army, about 15,000 men, all who were left of all the army of the people of the East, for there had fallen 120,000 men who drew the sword. 11 And Gideon went up by the way of the tent dwellers east of Nobah and Jogbehah and attacked the army, for the army felt secure. 12 And Zebah and Zalmunna fled, and he pursued them and captured the two kings of Midian, Zebah and Zalmunna, and he threw all the army into a panic. 13Then Gideon the son of Joash returned from the battle by the ascent of Heres. 14 And he captured a young man of Succoth and questioned him. And he wrote down for him the officials and elders of Succoth, seventy-seven men. 15 And he came to the men of Succoth and said, “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?’” 16 And he took the elders of the city, and he took thorns of the wilderness and briers and with them taught the men of Succoth a lesson. 17 And he broke down the tower of Penuel and killed the men of the city. 18 Then he said to Zebah and Zalmunna, “Where are the men whom you killed at Tabor?” They answered, “As you are, so were they. Every one of them resembled the son of a king.” 19 And he said, “They were my brothers, the sons of my mother. As the Lord lives, if you had saved them alive, I would not kill you.” 20 So he said 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. 21 Then Zebah and Zalmunna said, “Rise yourself and fall upon us, for as the man is, so is his strength.” And Gideon arose and killed Zebah and Zalmunna, and he took the crescent ornaments that were on the necks of their camels.

After the brilliant victory God gives to Gideon against the Midianites, we find a shift in the person that Gideon had become. He is introduced to us as a fearful man who is hiding in a winepress to sift a little grain for his family. He was a man who needed 3 different signs of proof that God was indeed with him and going to provide victory. Now, after this one victory over Midian he has become something else. The only word that seems to apply is vicious. You might also notice that the voice of God is suddenly absent. His reactions against the people of Penuel for not providing his men a little bread seems extreme. We expect him to kill the kings of the enemies, but when he turns on his own people we are a little shocked. We’re witnessing a shift in his demeanor and it is not attractive. I am a little disappointed that Gideon goes so quickly from reluctant hero to vindictive leader in such a short time.

An interesting detail in this story is the ability of the boy of Succoth to write and Gideon’s apparent ability to read what was written. The people of Canaan, including the Israelites, were the first of the ancient world to move beyond picture writing in favor of a simpler alphabet of less than 30 characters. This revolutionary idea meant that writing was no longer limited to a few who made it their business to master thousands of ideograms describing syllables and words. The oldest surviving written example of an alphabet dates from within a century of Gideon’s visit to Succoth. It is a schoolboy’s exercise written on a potsherd. It was found at Izbet Sarteh in what was once the hill country of Ephraim.
Lawrenz, J. C. ©1997. Judges, Ruth (p. 101). Milwaukee, WI: Northwestern Pub. House.

So, aside from proving that he can read, we are watching Gideon become a less than gracious winner and leader. I think it’s okay to be disappointed. But I also must admit that I too can be a disappointing leader. I too can forget to take God with me into the victories that He gives. We can be quick to forget God. So, I won’t try to tear Gideon down because God is gracious and forgiving. Gideon had been chosen by God to lead, and lead he did.