Chapter 28
The Cynical [Judges 8.5-8.9]


5Then 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 Zebah and Zalmunna, kings of Midian.”
6And the leaders of Succoth said, “Are the hands of Zebah and Zalmunna now in your hand, that we should give bread to your army?”
7So 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!”
8Then he went up from there to Penuel and spoke to them in the same way. And the men of Penuel answered him as the men of Succoth had answered.
9So he also spoke to the men of Penuel, saying, “When I come back in peace, I will tear down this tower!”


Gideon, as a valiant general was pursuing the remaining Midianites, and bravely following up on his first blow which brought a very great slaughter to the enemy: dead were 120,000 men that drew the sword—“Now Zebah and Zalmunna were at Karkor, and their armies with them, about fifteen thousand, all who were left of all the army of the people of the East; for one hundred and twenty thousand men who drew the sword had fallen” (Judges 8.10). This was a terrible execution they brought upon themselves, and so they were easy prey for their comrades and afterwards for Israel. But, it seems, the two kings of Midian were well protected and made their escape with 15,000 men. They were able to cross over Jordan before the passes could be secured by the Ephraimites, and made their way towards their own country. Gideon thinks he does not complete his commission to save Israel if he lets them escape. He is not content to chase them out of the country, but he will “chase them out of the world” (Job 18:18). He pushes this resolution to the limit, and the Lord crowned his efforts with great success.
1. His resolve was very commendable. He accomplished his objective under the greatest disadvantages and discouragements that he could possibly face. He took his 300 men and that was all, who now laid aside their trumpets and torches, and took the swords and spears from the dead Midianites. God had said, “By these 300 men will I save you” (ch. 7:7); and, having great confidence in that promise, Gideon kept only the 300—“When Gideon came to the Jordan, he and the three hundred men who were with him crossed over, exhausted but still in pursuit” (Judges 8.4). He expected more from 300 men, supported by a promise from God, than from thousands supported only by their own bravery.
2. They were faint, and yet pursuing; they were greatly fatigued from what they had done, and yet eager to do more against the enemies of their country. Our spiritual warfare must likewise be carried out in a similar way; with what strength we have. Although we may have just a little strength; which is the case with many true Christians; fainting and yet pursuing.
3. Though he met with discouragement from his own people, was heckled for what he was doing, because they said he was attempting to do something that he could never accomplish, yet he would not quit and continued with it. If those that should be helping us to do our duty prove to be hindrances to us, let’s not allow them to drive us off from it. Those who do not know how to value God’s acceptance will not know how to despise the rebuke and disrespect of men.
4. He made a very long march, taking the road that goes by the way of those that dwelt in tents [1](Judges 8.11), either because he hoped to find them kinder to him than the men of Succoth and Penuel, that dwelt in walled towns (sometimes there is more generosity and charity found in country tents than in city palaces), or because that was a road they would not expect him to take, and therefore it would be a great surprise to them. It is evident he spared no pains to complete his victory. Now he found it an advantage to have his 300 men; they were men that could bear hunger, and thirst, and work hard.


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[1](Judges 8.11) “Then Gideon went up by the road of those who dwell in tents on the east of Nobah and Jogbehah; and he attacked the army while the camp felt secure.”


5Then 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 Zebah and Zalmunna, kings of Midian.”--Judges 8.5(KJV)
5 So Gideon said to the men of Succoth, “Please give me some food for the men under my command. They're exhausted, and I'm pursuing King Zebah and King Zalmunna of Midian.”-- Judges 8.5(GW)       

Then he said to the men of Succoth …He spoke to the principal men of that place, which was a fortified city he passed by as he was pursuing the Midianites in their flight to their own country. This was a city on the other side of the Jordan River, and in the territory of the tribe of Gad, and therefore, it was inhabited by Israelites, [2](Joshua 13:27).  It got its name from the booths or tents which Jacob erected there [3](Genesis 33:17).

“Please give loaves  of bread to the people who follow me—He did not expect the city officials to meet him in a formal way, congratulate him on his victory, present him with the keys of their city, and give him a prize, much less, he did not want them to leave their homes and families, and join him in pursuing their mutual enemies, or to furnish him and his men with arms; though he was entitled to all this; all he wanted from them was some food for his soldiers that were ready to faint because it had been many hours since they had eaten. He very humbly and unrelentingly made this request: “Please give loaves4 of bread to the people who follow me.” The request would have been reasonable if they had been poor travelers in need; but considering that they were soldiers, called, and chose, and faithful (Rev. 17:14), men whom God had greatly honored and to whom Israel was highly obliged, who had done a great service for their country and were now doing more. They were conquerors, and had the power to force them to make a contribution. They were fighting God’s battles and Israel’s,—nothing could be more honorable than that their brethren should furnish them with the best provisions their city had to offer. He didn’t ask for something that was expensive or hard to obtain, but loaves of bread; and he would have accepted broken pieces; and he did not demand it in an authoritative manner, as he might have done as a general, but he put it as a request; and the arguments he uses are: “They're exhausted, and I'm pursuing King Zebah and King Zalmunna of Midian.” 

Gideon was engaged in a cause that would benefit all the tribes of Israel, ridding their country of tyrannical enemies, he had a right to expect support from the people at large. His request to the men of Succoth (and later Penuel) was both just and reasonable.
When the tribes of Reuben, Gad and part of Manasseh had been permitted by Moses to take their inheritance on the east side of the Jordan River, those tribes made a solemn vow that they WOULD support their brethren who went on into Canaan, but the leaders of Succoth and Penuel shamefully betrayed their western brethren by refusing to give even a few loaves of bread to Gideon and his bone-weary soldiers who were near exhaustion from their pursuit of Israel's enemies.

How could they have done such an unpatriotic and shameful thing? Dalglish thought that, "The citizens of these two cities might have been Canaanites, or that they may have suffered much already from the Midianites and feared reprisals if they aided Gideon, or that they were Israelites who felt that Gideon's mission was unwarranted, ill-advised, and doomed to utter failure." It appears to this writer that the middle one of these possibilities is correct.

Barnes also agreed that the leaders of these two Trans-Jordanic cities, "Did not wish to risk the vengeance of the Midianites by giving supplies to Gideon's men ."

Do you know what we have here? It is one of the finest lessons concerning divine election and man’s free will. This is the way they work together. God said to Gideon, “I am going to choose the men that I want to go with you, but the way I will do it is to let them make the choice. Bring them down to the water, and the ones, who lap water like a dog, just going through and throwing it into their mouths, are the ones I have chosen. You can put aside those men who get down on all fours and take their time drinking. I don’t want them.”

Had we been there (ours is a great day for interviewing the man on the street), we could have had interviews with the men in Gideon’s army. For example, let us take the man that is down on all fours. We would go up to him and say, “Brother, why did you get down on all fours?” “Well,” he would reply, “I was just wondering why I didn’t go home with the other crowd. I have been thinking this thing over and I have a wife and family, and I just do not think I ought to be here. I feel like I should have gone home. I have no heart for this.” He made his choice, but God also made His choice. That is divine election and human free will. You see, God elects, but He lets you be the one to make the choice. Then we go to the man that lapped water like a dog, and went to the other side of the stream. “Why did you lap water like that?” we ask him. He says, “Where are the Midianites?” “Wait just a minute,” we reply. “Why did you do that?” He replies, “Because I am with Gideon one hundred percent!” May I say to you that these three hundred men had a heart for battle. If you had said to any one of these three hundred men, “Say, did you know that God has elected you?” he would have replied, “I don’t know what you are talking about. The thing is that I want to go after these Midianites!”

You can argue about divine election and free will all you want to, but it works. You cannot make it work out by arguing, but it sure works out in life, friend. Each one of the ten thousand men in Gideon’s army exercised his free will. God did not interfere with one of them as far as their free wills were concerned. Today God, through His Son Jesus Christ, offers you the free gift of salvation. It is a legitimate offer. It is a sincere offer from God Himself. He says, “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out” (John 6:37). Now don’t tell me that you can argue about election right now. You cannot. You can come to God if you want to come. If you don’t come, I have news for you—you were not elected. If you do come, I have good news for you—you were elected. That is the way God moves.

Now these three hundred men have often been misunderstood. A few months ago, I went to a little church in South Carolina. When I got there, a dear little lady I had known for years said to me, “Mr. Lowe, we have here just a little Gideon’s band.” They didn’t have a Gideon’s band! They had the most discouraged, lazy folk I have ever seen in my life. That is not Gideon’s band. Gideon’s band was a group of dedicated men, willing to die to deliver Israel, men who had their hearts and souls in this matter. May I say to you that these men lapped up water like a dog because they were after the Midianites and not after water. They will drink after the battle is over.

I once watched a football game, and then I listened to the post game interview of the quarterback. Even after the game, he was so excited and so emotional that he took no credit for himself. He gave his team the credit for winning. He said, “We were determined to win.” That is Gideon’s band, friend, and that is the thing that is needed today in the church, if you please.

for they are exhausted due to lack of food; they had not eaten since midnight, since they had been in constant pursuit of the enemy, and they were not done yet.

and I am pursuing Zebah and Zalmunna, kings of Midian,” who had fled with 15,000 men, and were now, as Jarchi speculates, destroying the countries of Reuben and Gad, and the half tribe of Manasseh. But now Gideon and his men were in hot pursuit of them, in hopes of overtaking them, and then to complete the conquest, and thoroughly deliver Israel from their bondage on both sides of the Jordan, the benefits of which these men of Succoth would share with the other tribes. These were the arguments that Gideon used, and they were convincing ones, as he attempted to persuade them to give his weary troops some provisions— “They're exhausted, and I'm pursuing King Zebah and King Zalmunna of Midian.” 


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[2](Joshua 13:27) “and in the valley Beth Haram, Beth Nimrah, Succoth, and Zaphon, the rest of the kingdom of Sihon king of Heshbon, with the Jordan as its border, as far as the edge of the 8Sea of Chinnereth, on the other side of the Jordan eastward.”

[3](Genesis 33:17;NKJV) “And Jacob journeyed to Succoth, built himself a house, and made booths (shelters) for his livestock. Therefore the name of the place is called Succoth.” This city was located east of the Jordan and just north of the Jabbok (32:22). 

6And the leaders of Succoth said, “Are the hands of Zebah and Zalmunna now in your hand, that we should give bread to your army?”-- Judges 8.6 (KJV)
6 The generals at Succoth replied, “We shouldn't give your army food. You haven't captured Zebah and Zalmunna yet.”--Judges 8.6 (GW)

And the leaders of Succoth said …The chief officials of the place answered Gideon, one spoke for the rest; for the word said is singular in this translation.

Are the hands of Zebah and Zalmunna now in your hand, that is, are their hands in your possession, referring to the ancient custom of collecting the hands of the slain; or are they taken prisoner, and handcuffed; or are their hands bound behind them, and put into the custody of Gideon, to do with them as he pleased? No, they were not; and then they suggested that they never would be captured. They mocked him and his small number of men, saying that they were not a match for these kings, whom, perhaps a little before this little band arrived, they had seen the two kings pass by with 15,000 men. This little army would not stand a chance, should they turn and attack them, which they thought would be the case; and therefore, they say, when they are in your hands, which they thought would never happen, we will give you bread. They were afraid to help Gideon, for fear that, if he should be overpowered, the Midianites would take revenge on them; and they dared not trust God. It was FEAR OF REPRISAL that motivated the shameful actions of Succoth.

The Anchor Bible and other liberal sources question the authenticity of these names, Zebah and Zalmunna, with many speculative references to transcribers, editors, compilers, etc., but, by far, the most probable understanding is that the Holy Spirit inspired Samuel whom we believe to be the author of Judges not only got the names down correctly, but that his simple narrative, as it stands, is worth a hundred scissors-and-paste jobs by critics, no two of whom can agree on anything!

Cundall admitted that the names Zebah and Zalmunna, "May be genuinely Midianite." As for the meaning of these names, David Frances Roberts wrote this: “ ‘Victim' for Zebah and ‘protection refused’ for Zalmunna." 

“Are the hands of Zebah and Zalmunna now in your hand, that we should give bread to your army?” was an insolent as well as a time-serving reply. It was insolent because it implied a bitter taunt that Gideon was counting with confidence on a victory which they believed he would not gain; and it was time-serving, because living in the near neighborhood of the Midianite sheiks; they dreaded the future vengeance of those roving chiefs. This impertinent manner of acting was heartless and disgraceful in people who were of Israelitish blood.

But the princes of Succoth neither feared God nor regarded man. Their attitude showed their contempt for God; they refused to answer the just demands of him whom God had raised up to save them. They insulted him, teased him, despised the success he had already been honored with, ignored the success of his present undertaking, did what they could to discourage him from prosecuting the war, but they were very willing to believe that the remaining forces of Midian, which they had recently seen march through their country, would be too hard for himto conquer: Are the hands of Zebah and Zalmunna now in thy hand? "No, nor ever will be,’’ so was their conclusion, judging by the disproportion of numbers.

that we should give bread to your army?” Instead of help, they have an excuse—they don't want to side with Israel until they have already won the battle. When the heart is unwilling, it is never hard to find an excuse. They feared, that if they did give them bread, that these kings would hear about it, and they would suffer for it, and their bondage would be harder than it was before. The men of Succoth were so selfish and insecure in themselves, so cruel and uncompassionate to their brethren, and so ungrateful to their deliverers, and that stirred up the spirit of great resentment in this humble and good man. The men of Succoth had no faith in God or appreciation for Gideon and his men, and their lack of love cost them dearly. Were these Israelites! Surely they were worshippers of Baal, or they wanted to promote the interests of Midian. The bowels of their compassion were shut up against their brethren; they were as destitute of love as they were of faith; they would not give morsels of bread (so some read it) to those that were ready to perish. These base and degenerate men were not worthy of the title of Israelite.

7So 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!”--Judges 8.7 (KJV)
7 Gideon responded, “Alright, then. When the LORD hands Zebah and Zalmunna over to me, I'll whip your bodies with thorns and thistles from the desert.”--Judges 8.7 (GW)

So Gideon said, …In answer to the princes of Succoth:

“For this cause, when the LORD has delivered Zebah and Zalmunna into my hand …This he believed so firmly that to him it was as if it had already happened; he had no doubts about it, because God made him a promise that he would deliver the host of Midian into his hand, and his faith rested upon that promise. Actually, he had already accomplished a great deal of it and so he believed that eventually he would fulfill all of God’s promise [4](see Judges 7:7, 9). 

then I will tear your flesh with the thorns of the wilderness and with briers!” which grew in a wilderness near this city, and Kimchi thinks that this city took its name from the wild thorns; and the gist of this verse is, either that he would scourge them with thorns and briers; or, as the Targum states he would thrust their flesh upon them; which Kimchi interprets as casting their naked bodies upon thorns and briers, and then treading on them with the feet; or draw a cart over them as they lay upon them. It was a cruel torture that could end in death, to which captives were often subjected in ancient times, by having thorns and briers placed on their naked bodies and pressed down by sledges, or heavy implements of husbandry being dragged over them. We can say with confidence that severe punishment is the subject, but we cannot say with certainty what is meant here, so we will defer further discussion of it until Judg. 8:16.

The warning he gave them here of how he would punish them for their crime was very fair. He did not punish them immediately, because he did not want to lose so much time from the pursuit of the enemy that were fleeing from him, and because he could do more to shame them when he had completed his undertaking, which they thought was impracticable. The threat he made against this city is reminiscent of the curse made earlier on the city of Munoz in Deborah’s time [5](see Judges 5.23).

Many times the resistance we have in doing the Lord's work is from our friends. We can't let that hinder us.


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[4](see Judges 7:7, 9) 7Then the Lord said to Gideon, “With the 300 men who lapped water I will save you and hand Midian over to you. All the other men should go home.”... 9 That night the Lord said to Gideon, “Attack! Go into the camp! I will hand it over to you.”  God could have added, “I have determined to do it, and it is as sure as if it were done”.—Adam Clarke's Commentary

[5](see Judges 5.23) Curse Meroz, says the angel of the Lord, curse bitterly its inhabitants because they came not to the help of the Lord, to the help of the Lord against the mighty.”


8Then he went up from there to Penuel and spoke to them in the same way. And the men of Penuel answered him as the men of Succoth had answered.--Judges 8.8 (KJV)

8 Then Gideon went to Penuel and asked the people there for the same help. But they gave him the same reply that the men of Succoth gave.--Judges 8.8 (GW)

Then he went up from there to Penuel …A place not far from Succoth, which was also situated in the territory of Gad, near the brook Jabbok; Jacob gave the place its name, after  the Lord appeared to him there face to face, [6](Genesis 32:30)  but now there was nothing of God in this place.

and spoke to them in the same way. He asked for bread for his men, as he had of the inhabitants of Succoth. And the men of Penuel answered him as the men of Succoth had answered. They denied his request in the same scornful manner. The refusal of the men of Succoth and Penuel to help him was typical of the divided attitude of the Israelites at that time. Since no central power existed, the various cities and territories were a law unto themselves, and their refusal to help Gideon was tantamount to allying themselves with the Midianites against the Lord and His chosen deliverer.


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[6](Genesis 32:30) “ So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel, saying, ‘“For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.”’ Jacob gives a new name to the place; he calls it Peniel, the face of God because there he had seen the appearance of God, and obtained the favor of God. Observe, The name he gives to the place preserves and perpetuates, not the honor of his valor or victory, but only the honor of God’s free grace. He does not say, "In this place I wrestled with God, and prevailed;’’ but, "In this place I saw God face to face, and my life was preserved;’’ not, "It was to my praise that I came off a conqueror, but it was because of God’s mercy that I escaped with my life.’’ Note, it becomes those whom God honors to take shame to themselves, and to admire the condescensions of his grace to them.


9So he also spoke to the men of Penuel, saying, “When I come back in peace, I will tear down this tower!”--Judges 8.9 (GW)

9 So he told them, “When I come back after my victory, I'll tear down this tower.”--Judges 8.9 (GW)

Gideon, with a handful of pitiable folk was pursuing the common enemy, to complete the deliverance of Israel. His way led him through the city of Succoth first and afterwards to Penuel. So he also spoke to the men of Penuel, saying …In a threatening way, as he had spoken to the men of Succoth. Their crime was great; consequently, Gideon, as a righteous judge, reprimands the insolence of these hostile Israelites. The men of Succoth and the men of Penuel were both in the tribe of Gad, on the other side of the Jordan, and both refused to help the common cause by refusing Gideon’s three-hundred some bread to alleviate their hunger and restore their strength.

“[7]When I come back in peace, I will tear down this tower!” Probably they had not only denied him, but insultingly pointed to a tower, which was their chief defense; and indicated to him that any efforts he might exert to punish them would not succeed, because they could amply defend themselves. They placed their confidence in the strong tower that stood in their city; and when he threatened them, they boasted of it as their security. But, he told them how he would punish them and vowed to do it, to show the confidence he had of success by 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 contrive how to atone for their actions, by sending after him encouragement and supplies, which if they had done that, no doubt, Gideon would have pardoned them.


Gideon was so determined to complete the task God gave him, that he was focused on the pursuit of the Midianite Kings; for that reason, he was so afraid of losing time, that he postponed the vengeance they merited until his return. His confident anticipation of a triumphant return reveals the strength of his faith; and his specific threat was probably provoked by some proud and presumptuous boast, that in their lofty watchtower the Penuelites would have the wherewithal to resist any attack.


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[7]Having gotten the victory; that is, having conquered all his enemies, and delivered Israel from their bondage, and restored peace and prosperity to them