The Period Of The Judges

 
Chapter 30
He Justly Chastises the Insolence of the Men of Succoth and Penuel [8.13-8.17]


Scripture

13 And Gideon the son of Joash returned from battle before the sun was up,
14 And caught a young man of the men of Succoth, and enquired of him: and he described unto him the princes of Succoth, and the elders thereof, even threescore and seventeen men.
15 And he came unto the men of Succoth, and said, Behold Zebah and Zalmunna, with whom ye did upbraid me, saying, Are the hands of Zebah and Zalmunna now in thine hand, that we should give bread unto thy men that are weary?
16 And he took the elders of the city, and thorns of the wilderness and briers, and with them he taught the men of Succoth.
17 And he beat down the tower of Penuel, and slew the men of the city.


Commentary


13 And Gideon the son of Joash returned from battle before the sun was up,-Judges 8.13 (KJV) 

13 Gideon, son of Joash, returned from the battle through the Heres Pass (location unknown)-Judges 8.13 (GW)

And Gideon the son of Joash returned from battle …To Penuel and Succoth, to punish them for their callous treatment of him and his men.

before the sun was up means "the heights of Heres, the sun-hills." ...from this it appears that it was in the night that he assaulted the remnant of the Midianite host at Karkor, which must be the night following; it could not be the same night in which he had defeated them in the valley of Jezreel; although Vatablus thinks this battle was begun and finished in one night. But there were, according to history, so many things done after the first defeat, such as sending messengers to Mount Ephraim and the Ephraimites, taking and holding the fords of Jordan against the fleeing Midianites, and bringing the heads of Oreb and Zeeb to Gideon, arguing with him, and his answer to them, and his stay at Succoth and Penuel; which make it more probable that the day following was spent in the pursuit, and that it was the night after that that the whole affair was finished in  one final battle. And before sunrise Gideon returned to Penuel and then to Succoth; both Ben Gersom and Abarbinel hold the same opinion. However, according to the Targum, Jarchi, and Kimchi, this phrase is to be rendered, "before the sunset", while the sun was still above the horizon; and so it must be in the daytime that he pursued the two kings and took them, and returned before sunset. Abendana observes that the word for "sun" may be the name of a place, and so the Septuagint, Syriac, and Arabic versions call it the ascent of Ares or Heres (GW version); as if it was the name of the place from which Gideon returned from the battle, also called the ascent of Akrabbim.

We definitely prefer the KJV rendition here which reads: "Before the sun was up." As Hervey said, "This rendition may be well defended and gives excellent sense." Without any doubt the word "Heres is an ancient word for "sun"; and the foolish excuse for making this a proper name of some place is based totally upon what some scholar imagines to be the customary use of "up" or "ascent." However, where is the scholar who knows ALL the uses of such words? Furthermore, when they have made a place-name out of it, WHERE is the place? Of course, there is no such place. Furthermore, the mention of sunrise here indicates, what is almost a certainty, namely, that Gideon attacked the kings at Karkor AT NIGHT. Is that not what he did previously? Why would he have changed his tactics?

 

14 And caught a young man of the men of Succoth, and enquired of him: and he described unto him the princes of Succoth, and the elders thereof, even threescore and seventeen men.-Judges 8.14 (KJV)

14 and captured a young man from Succoth. He questioned him, and the young man wrote down for him the names of the 77 officials and leaders of Succoth.-Judges 8.14 (GW)

And caught a young man of the men of Succoth, and inquired of him…Just before he came to the city, he discovered a young man that lived there. He made him a prisoner and interrogated him about the chief magistrates of the city; what their names were, and where they lived.

and he described unto him the princes of Succoth, and the elders thereof, even threescore and seventeen men. This Succoth was not a small and inconsequential city, but with so many princes and elders in it, seventy-seven in all, it appears to have been of considerable size and importance. Under pressure, the young man explained to Gideon, what sort of men they were, their names, and where they lived: or perhaps he wrote down their names, and what part of the city they lived in; or Gideon wrote it down for himself so that he would not forget. I believe the young man wrote down the names of the seventy-seven elders of the city because here the Hebrew meaning of described is “to write down, describe in writing.” The RSV accurately translates the verse; “, "And he wrote down for him the officials and elders of Succoth."

It was previously assumed by liberal scholars that people could not write well at this time, but now all scholarship recognizes that such an objection was made out of ignorance. Alphabetic writing was already common at this time. A pottery shard found at Isbet Sartah is inscribed with the oldest existent Hebrew alphabet known at this time (cf. A. Demsky and M. Kockavi, “An Alphabet from the Days of the Judges,” in Biblical Archaeology Review, IV. 3, 1978, pp. 23–31). Therefore, it is most likely that he wrote these names on a piece of pottery so that Gideon would know who to deal with when he captured the city. As Cundall noted, "This is a vital witness to the wide dissemination of the arts of writing and reading,” which was known and employed by people of all ranks and conditions, not only in the times of Samuel, but also far earlier even in the times of Moses.

Gideon showed great wisdom, and a desire for strict justice by desiring to punish only the delinquents, and not the innocent with the wicked, the people with their rulers; for though he asked bread from the men of Succoth, the answer was returned in a disrespectful manner by the princes. 

The princes (KJV) were really the officials (RSV), perhaps the military leaders; the elders were heads of families who formed the real governing body of the district.

 

15 And he came unto the men of Succoth, and said, Behold Zebah and Zalmunna, with whom ye did upbraid me, saying, Are the hands of Zebah and Zalmunna now in thine hand, that we should give bread unto thy men that are weary?-Judges 8.15 (KJV)

15 Gideon went to the men of Succoth and said, “Here are Zebah and Zalmunna! You insulted me when you said, ‘We shouldn't give your exhausted men food before you've captured Zebah and Zalmunna.'” -Judges 8.15 (GW)

And he came unto the men of Succoth…Entered the city, and announced to the inhabitants of it that he remembered their insult and cruel actions toward him and his men.

and said, behold, Zebah and Zalmunna, with whom ye did upbraid me. They taunted Gideon saying that he would never capture the Midianite kings; that they were not currently in his hands, and never would be. That he and his three hundred men was an unequal match to them with their 15,000 men; but our Lord does what man cannot do. This small Gideon-band plus God had taken them, and brought them along as prisoners, and perhaps spared them for this very reason, to let the men of Succoth see that they were in his hands; and now Gideon calls upon them to behold them with their own eyes, those that had defied and laughed at him.

saying, are the hands of Zebah and Zalmunna now in thy hand, that we should give bread unto thy men that are weary? He threw their own words back in their faces, which he had carefully laid up in his memory, for this precise time and circumstance. All he adds to their words is the disposition of his men, pointing out that they were “hungry” and “weary”, and this he did to expose their vile ingratitude; that they would refuse to give a few loaves of bread to those who were faint and weary in THEIR service.

 

16 And he took the elders of the city, and thorns of the wilderness and briers, and with them he taught the men of Succoth.-Judges 8.16 (KJV) 

16 So Gideon took the leaders of the city and taught them a lesson using thorns and thistles from the desert.
-Judges 8:16 (GW)

And he took the elders of the city…All of them, especially those who were out front in making accusations and taunts while refusing to give the 300 bread, and he put them in their proper place, where they might be made public examples to the citizenry. He was able to identify the elders, according to verse 14, because a young man they had captured upon entering the city had been coerced into making a list of their names.

and thorns of the wilderness, and briers; which grew close by, and were quickly gathered up and cut-to-length according to directions from Gideon.

and with them he taught the men of Succoth. Instead of he taught, Houbigant reads "he tore"; and this is not only agreeable to what Gideon had threatened [1](Judges 8:7), but is supported by the Vulgate, Septuagint, Chaldee, Syriac, and Arabic. By refusing his soldiers refreshment, they had committed a public crime, as well as an act of inhumanity, and were subjected to a horrible punishment, which the great abundance and remarkable size of the thorn bushes, together with the thinness of clothing in the East, has probably suggested. The Hebrew verb for “taught” may be translated “caused to know” or “made submissive.” Evidently, he wrapped them in thorns and briars and threshed them as he had threatened earlier.

It is not clear what is meant by the men of Succoth; it is either the men who lived there or the elders of that city, but I believe we know enough from the previous history of Gideon’s dispute with the city elders to make an educated assumption. The punishment was dished out to the elders for a dual purpose: firstly, he taught the general population to be cautious and not to follow such bad examples as the elders had been, or to not behave badly to their superiors; secondly, the princes and elders of the city are taught or chastised with thorns and briers; a severe punishment but serving the same purpose as a parent spanking a child “to teach you to do/or not do something.” In the case of these elders he wants to use the punishment he inflicts upon them to demonstrate to them the seriousness of their actions; that is, their sin and the wickedness of it. The Targum is, “he broke upon them, or by them, the men of Succoth;” so Jarchi and others explain that they broke the briers and thorns upon them, by using them as whips; or rather broke and tore their flesh with them: whether they died or not is not certain, but it is certainly possible. Still, in view of what is stated in Judg. 8:17, that he slew the men of Penuel, it is inconceivable that the rulers of Succoth would not also have been put to death. As Dalglish noted, "The language of the narrative forbids any other interpretation than that the elders were put to death by being threshed amid thorns and briers, or by having thorns and briers dragged over their prostrate bodies."  "The words "he taught" here, by the slight change of a single letter, can be read as "he threshed."  Certainly, such cruel punishments were known in those times, as indicated in [2]Amos 1:3. However, George Moore stated, "... making the word `thistles' (briers) in this passage mean `threshing-sledges,' as in some dictionaries and commentaries is merely a figment of bad [3]etymology."

         ______________________________verse 16 notes________________________________

[1](Judges 8.7; NKJV) So Gideon said, "For this cause, when the Lord has delivered Zebah and Zalmunna into my hand, then I will tear your flesh with the thorns of the wilderness and with briers!” He made good on this threat.

[2] (Amos 1:3) Thus says the Lord: ‘For three transgressions of Damascus, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment; because they have threshed Gilead with threshing sledges of iron.’” Damascus is the capital city of Syria and is to be especially stricken because of the cruelties Syria had visited upon Israel. The expression For three transgressions … and for four, (which introduces the message of judgment to all of the nations, including Israel) is a rhetorical way of saying that the offender has been guilty of an incalculable number of offenses, and his cup of iniquity is filled to overflowing—judgment must fall. If understood mathematically, three transgressions fill the cup and the fourth one causes it to overflow; hence, judgment is inevitable and, once announced, irrevocable. Because they have threshed Gilead. The particular offense of Syria was its threshing of the people of Gilead with iron threshing instruments. Gilead was the area east of the Jordan River that had been given to the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh. Being next to Syria on the north, it was particularly vulnerable to attack.

[3] Etymology is the study of the sources and development of words. The history of a word or word element, including its origins and derivation. Although the etymologizing of proper names appears in the Old Testament and Plato dealt with etymology in his dialogue Cratylus, lack of knowledge of other languages and of the historical developments that languages undergo prevented ancient writers from arriving at the proper etymologies of words.

 

17 And he beat down the tower of Penuel, and slew the men of the city.-Judges 8.17 (KJV)

17 Then he tore down the tower of Penuel and killed the men of that city.-Judges 8:17 (GW)

And he beat down the tower of Penuel…As he threatened he would, [4](Judges 8:9)  whether this was before or after he had chastised the elders of Succoth, is not clear; one would think by the course he steered going from Succoth to Penuel, he would come to Penuel first when he returned; however, he surely demolished the tower that they had made their security.

and slew the men of the city; perhaps they might have, as Kimchi conjectures, resisted when he began to deal with the destruction of their tower; which caused a skirmish to ensue, in which they were slain; or when they saw him approaching, they realized that he was serious about carrying out the threats he made against them, therefore, they retreated to their tower for safety, and were killed in it when it was beaten down about them. We are not told how this was done, but, no doubt they had methods in those days for demolishing such structures.

{"And he slew the men of the city"} This does not mean that he slaughtered the whole city, but only the rulers of it, as was the case in Succoth.

"The punishment inflicted by Gideon upon Succoth and Penuel was well deserved in all respects, and it was righteously executed. They had not only acted treacherously against Israel as far as they could, from their self-serving and selfish interests, but in their contemptuous treatment of Gideon and his men, they had poured contempt upon the Lord, who had demonstrated and shown before all Israel that Gideon and his men were God's own soldiers by the victory which was given to him against an immeasurable army. Having been called by the Lord to be the deliverer and the judge of Israel, it was Gideon's duty to punish those faithless cities."

It is easier for us to understand the punishment that Gideon gave to the men of Succoth, that is, if he stopped their punishment before they succumbed to death; it is harder to understand why Gideon killed his fellow Israelites at the city of Penuel. Perhaps they were rightly found guilty of treason.

Gideon’s punishment of these two cities raises another question—why didn’t Gideon show to the people of Succoth and Penuel the same kindness he showed to the Ephraimites and simply forgive them their offences? For one thing their offences were not alike. The pride of Ephraim was nothing compared to the rebellion of Succoth and Penuel. Ephraim was protecting their tribal pride, a sin but not a costly one; but Succoth and Penuel were rebelling against God’s chosen leader and assisting the enemy at the same time. Theirs was the sin of hardness of heart toward their brethren and treason against the God of heaven. Of what good was it for Gideon and his men to risk their lives to deliver Israel if they had traitors right in their own nation?

Leaders must have discernment or they will make wrong decisions as they deal with different situations. Personal insults are one thing, but rebellion against the Lord and His people is quite something else.

You may recall, as I have, of another incident of an inhospitable village when Jesus and His disciples on their way to Jerusalem were denied welcome by a Samaritan settlement. James and John were no better than Gideon in their reaction. “And when His disciples James and John saw this, they said, “’Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, just as Elijah did?’” (Luke 9:54; NKJV). Then how great the contrast between their attitude and that of the Master: “But He turned and rebuked them, and said, ‘You do not know what manner of spirit you are of.  For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men's lives but to save them.’ And they went to another village.” (Luke 9:55-56; NKJV). But Gideon, his victory complete, went back to those villages that did not receive him, and at Succoth he taught the men, and at Penuel he slew the men of the city.

 

GOD HAD FULFILLED HIS PROMISE TO DELIVER ISRAEL FROM MIDIANITE OPPRESSION BY THE HAND OF GIDEON.

 

__________________________________verse 17 notes__________________________________ 

[4] (Judges 8.9) So he also spoke to the men of Penuel, saying, "When I come back in peace, I will tear down this tower!” The warning he gave them of the punishment for their crime was very fair. (1.) He did not punish them immediately, because he did not want to lose so much time from the pursuit of the enemy, and because he did not want it to seem that he acted in the heat of passion, and because he would be able to do more to shame and confuse them when he had completed his undertaking, which they thought was impracticable. But, (2.) He told them how he would punish them (v. 7, 9), to show the confidence he had of success coming in the strength of God, and that, if they had the least grain of grace and consideration left, they might upon second thoughts repent of their foolishness, humble themselves, and arrange how to atone for it, by sending after him aid and supplies, which if they had done that, no doubt, Gideon would have pardoned them. God gives notice of danger, and space to repent, that sinners may flee from the wrath to come.

 

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