Judges Chapter Eight
Gideon pacifies the Ephraimites. (1-3) Succoth and Penuel refuse to relieve Gideon. (4-12) Succoth and Penuel punished. (13-17) Gideon avenges his brethren. (18-21) Gideon declines the government, but given occasion for idolatry. (22-28) Gideon's death, Israel's ingratitude. (29-35)
Commentary on Judges 8:1-3
(Read Judges 8:1-3)
Those who will not attempt or venture any thing in the cause of God, will be the most ready to censure and quarrel with such as are of a more zealous and enterprising spirit. And those who are the most backward to difficult services, will be the most angry not to have the credit of them. Gideon stands here as a great example of self-denial; and shows us that envy is best removed by humility. The Ephraimites had given vent to their passion in very wrong freedom of speech, a certain sign of a weak cause: reason runs low when chiding flies high.
Commentary on Judges 8:4-12
(Read Judges 8:4-12)
Gideon's men were faint, yet pursuing; fatigued with what they had done, yet eager to do more against their enemies. It is many a time the true Christian's case, fainting, and yet pursuing. The world knows but little of the persevering and successful struggle the real believer maintains with his sinful heart. But he betakes himself to that Divine strength, in the faith of which he began his conflict, and by the supply of which alone he can finish it in triumph.
Commentary on Judges 8:13-17
(Read Judges 8:13-17)
The active servants of the Lord meet with more dangerous opposition from false professors than from open enemies; but they must not care for the behaviour of those who are Israelites in name, but Midianites in heart. They must pursue the enemies of their souls, and of the cause of God, though they are ready to faint through inward conflicts and outward hardships. And they shall be enabled to persevere. The less men help, and the more they seek to hinder, the more will the Lord assist. Gideon's warning being slighted, the punishment was just. Many are taught with the briers and thorns of affliction, who would not learn otherwise.
Commentary on Judges 8:18-21
(Read Judges 8:18-21)
The kings of Midian must be reckoned with. As they confessed themselves guilty of murder, Gideon acted as the avenger of blood, being the next of kin to the persons slain. Little did they think to have heard of this so long after; but murder seldom goes unpunished in this life. Sins long forgotten by man, must be accounted for to God. What poor consolation in death from the hope of suffering less pain, and of dying with less disgrace than some others! yet many are more anxious on these accounts, than concerning the future judgment, and what will follow.
Commentary on Judges 8:22-28
(Read Judges 8:22-28)
Gideon refused the government the people offered him. No good man can be pleased with any honour done to himself, which belongs only to God. Gideon thought to keep up the remembrance of this victory by an ephod, made of the choicest of the spoils. But probably this ephod had, as usual, a teraphim annexed to it, and Gideon intended this for an oracle to be consulted. Many are led into false ways by one false step of a good man. It became a snare to Gideon himself, and it proved the ruin of the family. How soon will ornaments which feed the lust of the eye, and form the pride of life, as well as tend to the indulgences of the flesh, bring shame on those who are fond of them!
Commentary on Judges 8:29-35
(Read Judges 8:29-35)
As soon as Gideon was dead, who kept the people to the worship of the God of Israel, they found themselves under no restraint; then they went after Baalim, and showed no kindness to the family of Gideon. No wonder if those who forget their God, forget their friends. Yet conscious of our own ingratitude to the Lord, and observing that of mankind in general, we should learn to be patient under any unkind returns we meet with for our poor services, and resolve, after the Divine example, not to be overcome of evil, but to overcome evil with good.
── Matthew Henry《Concise Commentary on Judges》
 And the men of Ephraim said unto him, Why hast thou served us thus, that thou calledst us not, when thou wentest to fight with the Midianites? And they did chide with him sharply.
Why haft thou, … — Why hast thou neglected and despised us, in not calling us in to thy help, as thou didst other tribes? These were a proud people, puffed up with a conceit of their number and strength, and the preference which Jacob gave them above Manasseh, of which tribe Gideon was, who by this act had seemed to advance his own tribe, and to depress theirs.
 And he said unto them, What have I done now in comparison of you? Is not the gleaning of the grapes of Ephraim better than the vintage of Abiezer?
What have I, … — What I have done in cutting off some of the common soldiers, is not to be compared with your destroying their princes; I began the war, but you have finished.
The gleaning — What you have gleaned or done after me, Of Abiezer - That is, of the Abiezrites, to whom he modestly communicates the honour of the victory, and does not arrogate it to himself.
 God hath delivered into your hands the princes of Midian, Oreb and Zeeb: and what was I able to do in comparison of you? Then their anger was abated toward him, when he had said that.
Was abated — His soft and humble answer allayed their rage.
 And Gideon came to Jordan, and passed over, he, and the three hundred men that were with him, faint, yet pursuing them.
Passed over — Or, had passed over.
 And the princes of Succoth said, Are the hands of Zebah and Zalmunna now in thine hand, that we should give bread unto thine army?
Are the hands, … — Art thou so foolish, to think with thy three hundred faint and weary soldiers, to conquer and destroy an host of fifteen thousand Men? Thus the bowels of their compassion were shut up against their brethren. Were these Israelites! Surely they were worshippers of Baal, or in the interest of Midian.
 And he went up thence to Penuel, and spake unto them likewise: and the men of Penuel answered him as the men of Succoth had answered him.
Penuel — Another city beyond Jordan; both were in the tribe of Gad.
 And he spake also unto the men of Penuel, saying, When I come again in peace, I will break down this tower.
Your tower — Your confidence in which makes you thus proud and presumptuous.
 Now Zebah and Zalmunna were in Karkor, and their hosts with them, about fifteen thousand men, all that were left of all the hosts of the children of the east: for there fell an hundred and twenty thousand men that drew sword.
That drew sword — That is, persons expert and exercised in war, besides the retainers to them.
 And Gideon went up by the way of them that dwelt in tents on the east of Nobah and Jogbehah, and smote the host: for the host was secure.
That dwelt in tents — That is, of the Arabians, so fetching a compass, and falling upon them where they least expected it.
Was secure — Being now got safe over Jordan, and a great way from the place of battle; and probably, supposing Gideon's men to be so tired with their hard service, that they would have neither strength nor will to pursue them so far.
 And Gideon the son of Joash returned from battle before the sun was up,
Before the sun was up — By which it might be gathered, that he came upon them in the night, which was most convenient for him who had so small a number with him; and most likely to terrify them by the remembrance of the last Night's sad work.
 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.
He described — He told him their names and qualities.
 And he beat down the tower of Penuel, and slew the men of the city.
Slew the men of the city — Not all of them; probably those only who had affronted him.
 Then said he unto Zebah and Zalmunna, What manner of men were they whom ye slew at Tabor? And they answered, As thou art, so were they; each one resembled the children of a king.
What manner of men — For outward shape and quality.
At Tabor — Whither he understood they fled for shelter, upon the approach of the Midianites; and where he learned that some were slain, which he suspected might be them.
Resembled — Not for their garb, or outward splendor, but for the majesty of their looks: by which commendation they thought to ingratiate themselves with their conqueror.
 And he said, They were my brethren, even the sons of my mother: as the LORD liveth, if ye had saved them alive, I would not slay you.
I would not slay — For being not Canaanites, he was not obliged to kill them; but they having killed his brethren, and that in cool blood, he was by law the avenger of their blood.
 And he said unto Jether his firstborn, Up, and slay them. But the youth drew not his sword: for he feared, because he was yet a youth.
Up, and slay — That he might animate him to the use of arms for his God and country, and that he might have a share in the honour of the victory.
 Then Zebah and Zalmunna said, Rise thou, and fall upon us: for as the man is, so is his strength. And Gideon arose, and slew Zebah and Zalmunna, and took away the ornaments that were on their camels' necks.
So is his strength — Thou excellest him, as in age and stature, so in strength; and it is more honourable to die by the hands of a valiant man.
 Then the men of Israel said unto Gideon, Rule thou over us, both thou, and thy son, and thy son's son also: for thou hast delivered us from the hand of Midian.
Rule — Not as a judge, for that he was already made by God; but as a king.
Thy son's son — Let the kingdom be hereditary to thee, and to thy family.
Thou hast delivered us — This miraculous and glorious deliverance by thy hands deserves no less from us.
 And Gideon said unto them, I will not rule over you, neither shall my son rule over you: the LORD shall rule over you.
I will not rule — As a king.
The Lord shall rule — In a special manner, as he hath hitherto done, by judges, whom God particularly appointed and directed, even by Urim and Thummim, and assisted upon all occasions; whereas Kings had only a general dependance upon God.
 And Gideon said unto them, I would desire a request of you, that ye would give me every man the earrings of his prey. (For they had golden earrings, because they were Ishmaelites.)
Ishmaelites — A mixture of people all called by one general name, Ishmaelites or Arabians, who used to wear ear-rings; but the greatest, and the ruling part of them were Midianites.
 And Gideon made an ephod thereof, and put it in his city, even in Ophrah: and all Israel went thither a whoring after it: which thing became a snare unto Gideon, and to his house.
Thereof — Not of all of it; for then it would have been too heavy for use; but of part of it, the rest being probably employed about other things appertaining to it; which elsewhere are comprehended under the name of the ephod, as chap. 17:5.
Put it — Not as a monument of the victory, for such monuments were neither proper nor usual; but for religious use, for which alone the ephod was appointed. The case seems to be this; Gideon having by God's command erected an altar in his own city, Ophrah, ch. 6:24, for an extraordinary time and occasion, thought it might be continued for ordinary use; and therefore as he intended to procure priests, so he designed to make priestly garments, and especially an ephod, which was the chief and most costly; which besides its use in sacred ministrations, was also the instrument by which the mind of God was enquired and discovered, 1 Samuel 26:6,9, and it might seen necessary for the judge to have this at hand, that he might consult with God upon all occasions.
Went a whoring — Committed idolatry with it; or went thither to enquire the will of God; whereby they were drawn from the true ephod, instituted by God for this end, which was to be worn by the high-priest only.
A snare — An occasion of sin and ruin to him and his, as the next chapter sheweth. Though Gideon was a good man, and did this with an honest mind, and a desire to set up religion in his own city and family; yet here seem to be many sins in it; 1. Superstition and will-worship, worshipping God by a device of his own, which was expressly forbidden. 2. Presumption, in wearing or causing other priests to wear this kind of ephod, which was peculiar to the high-priest. 3. Transgression of a plain command, of worshipping God ordinarily but at one place, and one altar, Deuteronomy 12:5,11,14. 4. Making a division among the people. 5. Laying a stumbling-block, or an occasion of idolatry before that people, whom he knew to be too prone to it.
 Thus was Midian subdued before the children of Israel, so that they lifted up their heads no more. And the country was in quietness forty years in the days of Gideon.
Lifted up their head — That is, recovered not their former strength or courage, so as to conquer or oppress others.
Forty years — To the fortieth year, from the beginning of the Midianitish oppression.
The days, … — As long as Gideon lived.
 And Jerubbaal the son of Joash went and dwelt in his own house.
His own house — Not in his father's house; as he did before; nor yet in a court like a king, as the people desired; but in a middle state, as a judge for the preservation and maintenance of their religion and liberties.
 And his concubine that was in Shechem, she also bare him a son, whose name he called Abimelech.
Shechem — She dwelt there, and he often came thither, either to execute judgment, or upon other occasions.
Abimelech — That is, my father the king; so he called him, probably, to gratify his concubine, who desired it either out of pride, or design.
 And Gideon the son of Joash died in a good old age, and was buried in the sepulchre of Joash his father, in Ophrah of the Abiezrites.
A good old age — His long life being crowned with the continuance of honour, tranquility, and happiness.
 And it came to pass, as soon as Gideon was dead, that the children of Israel turned again, and went a whoring after Baalim, and made Baalberith their god.
As soon as, … — Whereby we see the temper of this people, who did no longer cleave to God, than they were in a manner constrained to it, by the presence and authority of their judges.
Baalim — This was the general name including all their idols, one of which here follows.
Baal-berith — That is, the Lord of the covenant; so called, either from the covenant wherewith the worshippers of this god bound themselves to maintain his worship, or to defend one another therein; or rather, because he was reputed the god and judge of all covenants, and promises, and contracts, to whom it belonged to maintain them, and to punish the violaters of them; and such a god both the Grecians and the Romans had.
── John Wesley《Explanatory Notes on Judges》
08 Chapter 8
Is not the gleaning of the grapes of Ephraim better.
The conduct of the Ephraimites
1. Their unthankfulness was great, and the injury which he sustained thereby, who ought to have been much honoured of them for his industry and labour. We ought not to look for our reward and commendation for well-doing from men, but to rest in this, that God knoweth our works, and it is enough that we are sure that from Him we shall receive our reward.
2. Another of the faults of these Ephraimites against Gideon is that they envied him for the honour he got by the victory. Whereby, though they sustained no hurt, neither were the worse, but the better, yet they could not bear it, that Gideon should have the glory of it: where we may see a foul property of envy, and what it is. It is a grief and sadness for the prosperity of others, and namely, of such as be our equals. And when I say envy is a grief at our equals for any eminency or prosperity that they have above us, I mean such as are in kindred estate, years, dignity, or in gifts like us. And the cause of this envy is not for that we are troubled as though any hurt or danger were coming towards us from them whom we envy (for that is another affection, to wit, fear), but for that through a cankered stomach we cannot bear it, that such an one as is no better than ourselves should be lifted up so high and commended so far above us. And is not this a cursed mind in us, that we cannot be willing that another should fare well, we being never the worse, and that we should have an evil eye at that for the which we should rejoice? And because I now speak of the Ephraimites, I think it not amiss to add this of them, that their father Ephraim, the younger being preferred by Jacob before the elder brother Manasseh, the stock and offspring of them exalted themselves since from age to age, and are noted for it oft times in the history of the Old Testament. As in Joshua we read they among others were discontented with their portion, so in the twelfth of this book the posterity of them contended with Jephtha for not calling them with him to battle against the Ammonites after he had overcome them; even as these Ephraimites did here with Gideon. So Esau, himself deadly hating his brother, derived this sin to his posterity, the Edomites; so Ahab did idolatry to the generations that came after him. And hereby we may learn what force some blemishes and corruptions in a flock or kindred have to infect almost the whole posterity, God justly thus punishing the sins of the fathers upon the children to many generations, punishing sin with sin.
3. And yet one thing more note in these Ephraimites, namely, the flights, subtleties, doubleness, and hollowness that lie hidden in men’s hearts, till they have occasion to show them, or grace to repent of them. These would now seem to have had great injury that they were not called to the battle, whereas it was their own sin that they went not, for they did forbear for fear of danger, and were willing to stand by, as it were, lying in the wind to wait for the issue. So that if Gideon and their brethren the Israelites that joined with him had lost the day, then all the blame would have been laid upon them by these Ephraimites; but now they had got the victory by God’s direction and blessing, they complain on the other side that they had injury themselves, for that they were not, as they said, bidden to help in the battle. Wherein we may behold deep subtlety and hypocrisy, and how far all such are from simplicity and plain dealing, that according to the proverb, howsoever the world go they will save one, and however it fall out, they will provide for themselves. (R. Rogers.)
Gideon and the men of Ephraim
The scanty information that we have leaves the impression that in speaking as they did the men of Ephraim were entirely in the wrong. If they were the foremost of the tribes, why had they not organised resistance themselves? If they had neglected duty, what right had they to complain that others had discharged it? If Gideon had invited them, would they not have equally resented such an unwarrantable piece of presumption in a mere Manassite? But how few men in Gideon’s place would have made allowance for them as he did! It shows how grace had got the better of nature in him. It shows how little he cared for his own interest or honour; how much for the welfare of Israel and the ruin of its foes. That in the very moment of victory he who had been the instrument of it all should be reproached instead of honoured by his countrymen, and even by the very men who had been thinking only of themselves when he was planning and enduring and risking everything to save them all--this was trying in the extreme to flesh and blood. But Gideon knew that an angry reply might kindle mere discontent into a flame, and that even a continuance of jealousy would defeat his purpose of following up the pursuit and effectually terminating the war. His answer, therefore, was one calculated not only to soothe Ephraim, but even to restore their self-respect. The answer was in an important sense a true one. God had overruled for good the very slowness of Ephraim to come forward. It was their seizing the line of the Jordan that had turned defeat into irretrievable overthrow; and, as plain matter of fact, those slain by Ephraim must have been far more numerous than all that Gideon and his men had beaten down. The answer was true, no doubt, but not on that account the easier to give. To acquiesce in a statement of the case, nay, even to suggest it, in which no credit was given for those preparatory trials and schemes, and risks and conflicts, without which all the direct hard fighting of Ephraim would have been perfectly useless--this showed a moderation that nothing can have inspired except the deep sense that the real glory belonged to another altogether, and that Ephraim on the one hand, and he and his men upon the other, were only instruments that God employed, each in the way that He deemed best, for working out His own designs. When he thus effaced himself, and gave up the glory without a murmur that by all fair human standards was righteously his own, Gideon stood at a pitch of moral grandeur that few of the choicest saints in Scripture have exemplified. When we remember that he was no quiet, meditative spirit, but a mighty man of war, rejoicing in his prowess, keenly sensitive to dishonour, and animated by not a little of the fierce vindictive spirit of his age, the triumph of faith and grace within him becomes all the more conspicuous. (W. Miller, M. A.)
The gleaning of the grapes of Ephraim
The gleaning of the grapes of Ephraim. This is the portion that falls to us. We are living in a glorious day. Our fathers gathered the vintage with strife and travail, and garments rolled in blood. It is for us to stand at the waters of Beth-barah and gather up the fruits of victory. The world is at its very best. If life was ever worth living, it is worth living now. Great is the privilege, and correspondingly great the responsibility, of those who are appointed to glean the grapes of Ephraim.
I. Ours is the golden age of truth.
1. The body of truth is larger than that of any former times. Aristotle, one of the most learned of the ancients, if he were to return to-day, could hardly pass a preliminary examination for admission to one of our grammar schools. The results of past research and controversy along the past have accumulated into a great treasury of knowledge. Each generation has contributed its part. History is not a treadmill, wherein men go round and round, getting nowhere; but a thoroughfare, the King’s highway, whereon we journey like a royal troop, league by league, laden with the spoils of the conquest, until we come to the palace of the King.
2. The great body of truth thus accumulated is held in a truer spirit of toleration than the past ever knew.
3. Along with this goes a truer orthodoxy than of old. The denominations may differ, and indeed do differ, with respect to minor matters, but they are loyal to old landmarks.
II. Ours is also the golden age of morality, particularly in its larger sense as touching all the relations of man with his fellow-men.
1. The industrial reform may be cited in evidence. Capital has rights, for which it tenaciously strives; labour has rights, for which it vigorously contends. Out of this conflict must come the solution: an honest day’s wage for an honest day’s work; corporations with souls, and labourers with rights.
2. The temperance reform. This was almost unheard of a century ago. For this we have to thank the fathers who gathered the vintage of Abi-ezer, who in the controversies of moral suasion and legislation wrought out these more salutary methods and passed on their achievements to us.
3. Political reform. We hear much of “civic corruption” in these days, of bribery, blackmail, etc. In the time of William
III. bribery was so commonly practised that the king publicly announced his inability to dispense with it, saying, “Under the existing order of things, to refuse the common practice would endanger the crown.” The municipal corruption which is so arousing the popular indignation at this moment would have been made little of in former days. It is a good sign--this stirring about the Augean stables.
4. Sociological problems. All branches of the Christian Church are concerned in the discussion of questions which touch the welfare of the community; the betterment of home and society; the care of the poor, the aged, and all incapables. The liberalitas of the ancient world has given way to the caritas of our religion. We are beginning to understand the song of the angels, not merely in its ascription of glory to God, but also in its expression of goodwill toward men.
5. As to personal character. We make more of character and less of adventitious prominence than of old.
III. This is the golden age of moral energy. Truth and ethics are changed into power by a fire burning beneath them. The Church works with a purpose. A man, aside from his creed and personal graces, must in these times have something to do.
1. There was a time when good people were chiefly concerned about their personal salvation. Each for himself was the shibboleth of those days.
2. At other times the people of God have been chiefly concerned for the preservation of the Church. This was the meaning of the Crusades; in them we find a stern endeavour to rescue the Holy Sepulchre, and so vindicate the majesty of the Church and avenge her wrongs. The effort was not to convert the infidel, but to destroy him root and branch.
3. In our time we speak of the kingdom. This is the missionary age. All are summoned to work--men, women, and children. All are summoned to work for the evangelisation of the world--the deliverance of souls from sin. We seem to be dwelling in the early twilight of the last days. The victory of Christ is a foregone conclusion. His glory shall cover the earth as the waters cover the sea. (D. J. Burrell, D. D.)
The gleaning of the grapes of Ephraim is better than the vintage of Abi-ezer
In other words, the smallest experience of the joys of God’s people--mere vintage-gleanings--is worth far more than the richest world-clusters. (J. R. Macduff, D. D.)
Faint, yet pursuing.
Gideon and his three hundred
I. The army. Merely three hundred devoted warriors, under command of a trusted leader. But no unreliable material in their midst. Each true as steel.
1. The leader was a man thoroughly equipped for his work. Many good causes have languished or been lost for want of an efficient chief. Gideon had boldness to strike, and enthusiasm to follow up. Also a heart thoroughly loyal to God.
2. The men composing this army were specially chosen. They were men who knew no fear in the hour of danger nor alarm at the force of the foe.
3. The men composing this army were devoted to their work. Not to be caught unawares: ever on the alert for the foe.
II. The victory.
1. Divine help. The history of battlefields tells us that the victorious armies have not always been the best equipped; that Providence is not always on the side of the strongest artillery. There is a moral influence at work in all struggles for the right which will make itself felt, whatever be the opposing odds. The greatest exploits are sometimes achieved by the feeblest instrumentality. It is not so much mechanical organisation we want--it is life.
2. Human instrumentality. To those who go out at God’s command the way is wonderfully opened up, the insurmountable barriers vanish. In every Christian enterprise the work is virtually done when the first advance is made in God’s name.
III. The pursuit: “Faint, yet pursuing.” We cannot read this without feeling rebuked for half-heartedness in our Christian work. Many a time we seem to have made inroads on Satan’s dominion, souls seem to have been rescued from the oppressor, but the advantage thus gained was not followed up; the old foe, driven out only for a time, returned, and the last state became worse than the first. And what is the reason? Why do we stop short of full success? Because we give way to weariness. We are like Gideon’s men in being faint; but we fail to imitate them in pursuing. (D. Merson, B. D.)
Gideon and his men
I. The facts.
1. Who and what were they who were “faint, yet pursuing”? The victorious three hundred, who had previously cried to the Lord. Victorious by Divine power, through faith, which produced works; they went forth, trusting in the Lord. Gideon’s plan, like Abraham’s, an instance of inspired judgment and energy, of Divine influence, not superseding, but exalting and invigorating, the natural faculties; not excluding, but producing consummate generalship.
2. The victors--weak in themselves--felt their bodily wants and infirmities.
II. Principles which the facts exemplify.
1. The preceding events in the context show the connection of sin and misery; the intention of Divine chastisements; the necessity and benefit of repentance; the required instrumentality of faith and obedience; God’s care to exclude boasting.
2. The text, as a comment on the events, suggests that all God’s people indeed are called to be conquerors like Gideon and his men--on the same principles.
3. Like Gideon and his men, they are called, and able, notwithstanding their weakness, to be still pursuing.
4. While thus pursuing, they are liable to be tried like Gideon and his men, with foolish, jealous, testy brethren, like the Ephraimites; to be disappointed of expected help by selfish or churlish brethren--as at Succoth and Penuel.
5. In the case of the Christian’s spiritual warfare, as in Gideon’s case, there is a disproportion of forces. Enemies--numerous, insolent, oppressive. Friends--some faint-hearted, some foolish, some selfish and churlish. The faithful weak and faint in themselves. But God is among His people--their sufficiency is of Him.
6. Not only converted individuals, but all true Churches, exemplify the same principles. (Isaac Keeling.)
The victor in pursuit
I. Account for the exhaustion.
1. The greatness of the work.
2. The fewness of the hands.
3. The lack of material supplies.
4. The want of sympathy.
II. Account for the perseverance.
1. Because he takes the past as a pledge for the future.
2. He considers that things half-done are not well done.
3. He accounts Him faithful who had promised.
4. He has a great work in hand.
5. He looks onward.
Fainting will give place to renewal of strength. Pursuit leads to complete victory. (W. Burrows, B. A.)
Faint, yet pursuing
I. Faintness comes to the body by long travel. Every step we take is waste. It is so with the soul. There is a mysterious spending of its substance and vitality, day by day, in thought, emotion, will, effort. A Christian soul spends more than another because it has more to spend. It has higher thoughts, and more passionate emotions, and nobler efforts, and more fervent willing. And if, through long travel, the waste is more than the recruiting, then comes faintness.
II. Faintness comes to the body by rapid movement. A man shall walk leisurely over some miles of road or up the slope of a mountain and be quite cool and comparatively fresh, while a racer shall bound away over the same distance, and at the end be panting with exhaustion. It is so in this respect also with the soul. If a man will contend with all his spiritual energy--with aspiring affections, and in the full fervours of a living will, against God’s kingdom of heaven, against moral perfection; if he will match himself for that attainment, run in that race, climb that awful steep, he need not be surprised if now and again he is fain to pause and cry with one who ran eagerly long ago, “I have seen an end of all perfection, but Thy commandment is exceeding broad.” All earnest natures tend to go by rapid movements, and are in consequence subject to sudden exhaustion. The fainting is the natural fruit of the effort. Intellectual difficulties will not melt away. Moral mysteries will not disappear. The law of sin in the members will not die. The law of the spirit of life will not grow so fast, will not bloom so fair, as was hoped; and the panting, eager spirit, after many ineffectual endeavours, is sometimes almost benighted with the gloom of such disappointments, and sinks down fainting, almost ceasing to pursue. There is nothing very alarming in this weariness. It will soon pass away. You have not lost your ideal, nor your love for it, nor your purpose to realise it, nor that Divine hope which kindles itself always by the side of a holy purpose, nor that prophetic faith which counts the thing that is not yet as though it were. And if you have lost none of these things, you have lost no real strength. It will recover and revive ere long, and bear you on again to moral victory.
III. Faintness comes to the body by the difficulty of the ground that has been trodden, or of the work that has been done. A mile through tangled thickets or thorny brakes, over rough rocks or in sinking sand, may be more exhausting than seven or ten over the smooth greensward or along the level way. Some Christians go to heaven by the way of the plain and some by the mountain roads. Who can tell why one is sent by the mountain and another by the plain? why one smiles and sings all the way while another smiles and weeps?
IV. Faintness comes to the body through lack of sustenance. The soul, like the body, will faint if it is famished.
V. Faintness may come to the body by sickness, by disease. If there be an overtasking of the physical energies, or an exposure to malign influences, weakness will certainly creep in. If a man works in an unwholesome place, if he breathes in tainted, poisoned air, the whole head will soon be sick, the whole heart faint. It is even so with the soul. It sickens and grows faint when in any way, in any place, it inhales the poison of sin. (A. Raleigh, D. D.)
Faint, yet pursuing
I. The Christian is apt to faint in the time of temptation, when sin assails and troubles him.
II. The Christian is apt to faint in time of affliction. Call faith to your help; trust God’s goodness, power, and love.
III. The Christian is apt to faint in his endeavours to do good.
IV. The Christian is apt to faint in prayer, whether praying for himself or for others. (E. Blencowe, M. A.)
The Christian’s twofold experience
I. The difficulties and hardships of the Christian’s way sometimes make him faint.
1. He is buffeted by the world.
2. He meets also with many a source of trouble in himself.
3. He is tempted by Satan. He is often disappointed of his hopes and expectations.
II. Though the difficulties and trials of his way make the Christian faint, yet the principle of faith still keeps him pursuing.
1. A strong sense of duty is impressed upon his thoughts, and impels him still to hold on his way.
2. A fear of consequences also operates. Should the Christian give up his pursuit, what will ensue? Will he thereby become happier than he is now? Will all his trials cease? He feels that greater apprehensions will then arise. (R. Maguire, M. A.)
Strength to fainting hearts
“Faint, yet pursuing.” Why are believers faint? They are so because of sin. Even the Christian is still considerably under its power. And often, through getting a clear view of his own corruption, he becomes desponding. He fears that the day of complete deliverance from sinning and from sin will never come. Then, springing from this great root of bitterness, many other things arise to produce faintness. Suffering is one of them. For religion does not free from suffering. “Many are the afflictions of the righteous.” And often, under his troubles, the believer gets sorely dispirited. His patience gives way; his fortitude fails; he loses heart. Another saddening thing is bereavement. Gideon’s heart was sore because of the death of his brothers at Tabor, and many of his fellow Israelites were similarly distressed. The mourners we have always with us. Another cause of depression is worldly loss. The Israelites suffered much in this way. Man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by bread. One other cause of faintness is anxiety about the future. Bunyan’s Mr. Fearing has left behind him a very numerous family. But from the causes of faintness turn now to the things by the help of which the faint may continue pursuing. One of these remedies is repentance. Another cure for faintness is faith--a persistent trustful clinging to Christ, and to God in Him. When Gideon grasped the truth which the angel spake to him, that the Lord was with him as his strength, he became like another man. Another remedy is gratitude. God’s gracious answer to his request for a succession of signs filled Gideon’s heart with devout gratitude, which in turn was a rich solace to him in his grief. And so, still, if fainting hearts would but meditate more on God’s kindnesses to them, they would be mightily strengthened to bear their trials. And here you have another cure for faintness--hope. Not Gideon’s faith only, but also his hope springing from it, made him the mighty man of valour that he was. And still God’s afflicted ones are saved by hope. Say, “I will hope continually, and will yet praise Thee more and more.” And then, having so vowed, act accordingly. “Praise is comely.” But more, this your praising of God will give you a still fuller mastery over your faintness. (William Miller.)
Faint, yet pursuing
Neither in the Bible, nor in any other book, is there a more beautiful motto than this. There could not be a more honourable description, and it is one that is deserved by many warriors in the battle of life. That man hates the profession or business by which he earns his living. He has drifted into it or been forced into it by circumstances, but now he finds that it is uncongenial and unsuited to him. He is the round man in the square hole, and is therefore faint and weary with his life’s work, but he deserves the “well done, good and faithful servant,” because he does his best. A business is sometimes so laborious and monotonous that it is almost unbearable. That half of the world which does not know how the other half lives can scarcely realise the faintness and weariness of the dim millions who work themselves to death in order to live honestly. Why does that woman, who might earn three pounds a week by a life of sin, make shirts for six shillings? Because, though faint, she has determined by the grace of God to pursue the good and the right way. Some are faint and weary with struggling against inherited disease, or tendencies to evil, but they fight their enemy to the last. Others find that their domestic relations are incompatible with happiness; but they continue to do what is right, and to suffer without murmuring. One of these “meek souls” said to a friend, “You know not the joy of an accepted sorrow.” Of life itself many are faint and weary; but they will not leave the post where God has placed them. Of course, when applied to brave men and women like these, the description “Faint, yet pursuing,” is a most honourable one; but there are many cases where it would be anything but an expression of praise. Take the case of the selfish man. He has discovered that the result of having no high purpose in life, and of caring for no one but himself, is misery. He is seized with ennui, that “awful yawn which sleep cannot dispel,” and is generally sick of himself through very selfishness. But though faint and weary, he pursues his course still. Is there on earth a more pitiable sight than that of a man who has grown to hate some sinful indulgence which he continues to pursue merely from force of habit? But we desire to use the motto for our encouragement. None of us are overcoming sin fast enough, but we must never despair. Let us take for our motto, “Faint, yet pursuing.” It is only pride that tells us that we are not making the progress we ought to make. And if we do not see results, why then it is braver to continue the struggle when the tide of war is against us than to be only able to fight when shouts of triumph are in our ears. Oh, that it might be said of us in our warfare against evil passions and desires, what was said by a historian of a celebrated Cameronian regiment--“They prayed as they fought, and fought as they prayed; they might be slain, never conquered; they were ready whenever their duty or their religion called them, with undaunted spirit and with great vivacity of mind, to encounter hardships, attempt great enterprises, despise dangers, and bravely rush to death or victory.” Many people are faint who would not be if they would only accept the invitation of their heavenly Father, and cast all their anxiety upon Him. The prophet Joel tells the weak to say, “I am strong”; and it was St. Paul’s experience that when he was weak then he was strong. Our faintness and weakness, instead of hindering us from pursuing the right way, may help us to do so. There is an old story in Greek annals of a soldier under Antigonus, who had a disease, an extremely painful one, likely to bring him soon to the grave. Always first in the charge was this soldier, rushing into the hottest part of the fray. His pain prompted him to fight, that he might forget it; and he feared not death, because he knew that in any case he had not long to live. Antigonus, who greatly admired the valour of his soldier, discovering his malady, had him cured by one of the most eminent physicians of the day; but from that moment the warrior was absent from the front of the battle. He now sought his ease; for, as he remarked to his companions, he had something worth living for--health, home, and other comforts. Might not our faintness, weakness, and disappointments, like this soldier’s disease, stimulate to distinguished service? We must remember that it is not the strong and the successful, but the weary and the heavy laden, who are especially invited by Christ. (E. J. Hardy, M. A.)
The princes of Succoth . . . The men of Penuel.
Patience under provocation
Instead of being supported, as they had good right to expect they would have been, by those who profess to be the Lord’s people, instances are by no means rare of men of Gideon’s stamp being met on their part by scoffs and insinuations, and positive refusals along with cold prudential admonitions to attend to their own business, and allow matters just to take their course. Nor is this all. There are some who go even farther still--men who, while professing to be the friends of truth, are found actually, out of deliberate malice, envy, or jealousy, refusing to lend a lending hand and casting obstacles in the way of accomplishing the reformation on which their generous hearts are set. Now of all this we are furnished with a striking illustration in what is here recorded as having passed between Gideon and the men of Succoth and Penuel. Yet mark how nobly he continued to restrain the impulse of his resentment--an example which naturally reminds us of that of one greater far than Gideon, when He met with treatment similar, yet worse still, at the hands of those whom He had come to seek and to save from a servitude more deplorable by far. Oh, how amazing was His long-suffering forbearance! How analogous also to the conduct of Gideon, while infinitely more worthy of our admiration, was the patient perseverance with which He went on His way, still carrying forward the work which His Father had given Him to do, and for the sake of those very people who thus shamefully requited His love and service and self-denial, exposed Himself to still greater privations and still severer sufferings than any He had yet borne! Oh, if we wonder at the behaviour of the Ephraimites and the men of Succoth and Penuel toward Gideon son of Joash under provocation so aggravated, what ought we to think of Jesus the Son of God in bearing with us as He does! Yet, from what afterwards took place, let us beware how we presume on the long-suffering to which we owe so much. If the promises of Christ are yea and amen, so also are His threatenings; let us never for one moment lose sight of that! Gideon contented himself meanwhile with simply threatening the men of Succoth and Penuel, the former that he would tear their flesh with thorns (Judges 8:7), the latter that he would “break down their tower” (Judges 8:8) But afterwards, when he returned from taking vengeance on his country’s enemies at Karkor, thereby crowning his enterprise with complete success, then he fulfilled these threatenings to the very letter. And even so it shall be with all the enemies of Jesus, with all who decline to come to the help of the Lord against the mighty, at that day when He shall “come again, to be admired of all them that love Him,” and to “take vengeance” on all besides. Sooner or later the judgment He has threatened shall descend upon them. (W. W. Duncan, M. A.)
Punishment of the selfish and mean-spirited
These men were blind to the glory of the common cause--selfish, poor-spirited creatures, that shut themselves up in their fenced cities, and were satisfied to let God’s soldiers starve, and God’s work come to an end for want of support, so long only as they had bread enough to satisfy their own hunger. This was a state of mind not to be corrected by a mere civil speech or explanation. Gideon taught them, not by expostulation, but by the sword and with the briers of the wilderness. Can we say that there are none now who merit the same punishment? none who resist every appeal to assist those who are faint by pursuing God’s work? There are still men who have no eye for spiritual importance, but measure all things by their outward appearance and by their relation to their own comfort; men who fortify themselves in their ungenerous selfishness by asking, as these men of Succoth did, “What have you made of this pursuit in which you want us to assist you? what great good have you done, that we should help you? Are Zebah and Zalmunna already in your hands, that we should acknowledge you as useful men, and give you what you ask to help you on in your pursuit?” For such persons, who despise the day of small things, who cannot recognise God if He takes on Him the form of a little child, nor His Church when it exists as a grain of mustard-seed, there remains the doom of seeing the whole work of God in the world finished without their aid, and of hearing the voice of God Himself in rebuke, “Behold, ye despisers, and wonder and perish!” (Marcus Dods, D.D.)
The children of a king.
The royal house of Jesus
There are family names that stand for wealth, or patriotism, or intelligence. The name of Washington means patriotism, although some of the blood of that race has become very thin in the last generation. The family of the Medici stood as the representative of letters. The family of the Rothschilds is significant of wealth. The house of Hapsburg in Austria, the house of Stuarts in England, the house of Bourbon in France, were families of imperial authority. But I come to preach of a family more potential, more rich, and more extensive--the royal house of Jesus, of whom the whole family in heaven and on earth is named.
1. First, I speak of our family name. To have conquerors, kings, or princes in the ancestral line gives lustre to the family name. In our line was a King and a Conqueror. Our family name takes lustre from the star that heralded Him, and the spear that pierced Him, and the crown that was given Him. What other family name could ever boast of such an illustrous personage?
2. Next, I speak of the family sorrows. If trouble come to one member of the family, all feel it. So, in the great Christian family, the sorrow of one ought to be the sorrow of all.
3. Next, I notice the family property. After a man of large estate dies, the relations assemble to hear the will read. Our Lord Jesus hath died; and we are assembled to-day to hear the will read. He says: “My peace I give unto you.” Through the apostle He says: “All are yours.”
4. Next, I speak of the family mansion. Almost every family looks back to a homestead--some country place where you grew up. But all the dwelling-places of dukes and princes and queens are as nothing to the family, mansion that is already awaiting our arrival. (T. De Witt Talmage.)
The royal appearance of God s children
The people of God resemble the children of a king--
I. In their spiritual conformity to the image of King Jesus.
II. In their illustrious titles.
III. In their courtly apparel.
IV. In their royal immunities and privileges.
1. They dwell in the royal presence.
2. They have constant access to God.
3. They have royal provision.
4. They have special instruction.
5. They have a kingly guard.
6. They have royal prospects.
1. The dignity and rights of the saints of God.
2. How full of consolation to believers in sorrow and affliction! (J. Burns, D. D.)
Jether, the timid son of a brave father
The command of Gideon was in harmony with the savage character of that age. We are told by Tacitus concerning a Roman knight, one Civilis--who headed a revolt of the Gauls against Rome--that he acted in a similar but cruel manner, for he gave to his little son some prisoners whom he might use as targets for his little darts and arrows. This was done from revenge and from a desire to initiate the child into the dreadful art of war. Gideon may have desired thus to stimulate his eldest son to hatred of the enemies of his country and boldness in slaying them. Moreover, it was to add dishonour to the death of Zebah and Zalmunna. Jether must have had some boldness and strength, or he could not have followed his father in his last pursuit of the Midianitish kings or have risked the dangers attendant on the campaign; but he shrinks from obeying the command. He was paralysed by fear, not kept back by pity; and hence he stands before us as the type of one who in higher spheres loses advantages which might be gained by the exercise of strength and fearlessness. Nothing more is heard of him in Scripture. He drops out of notice. Life is a battle. Severe are the assaults to be resisted, wearying ofttimes the marches to be undertaken. Fearlessness is, however, essential if we would overcome the Zebahs and Zalmunnas of evil and wrong around.
1. In order to this, then, we must as far as we have opportunity cultivate physical power. There is truth in the phrase “muscular Christianity.” To keep a healthy body for the home of the mind should be a persistent aim. We have no right to neglect it. We should be as unwise as would a cottager who, knowing that the rainy season was setting in, should neglect to stop up the gaping hole in the rotting thatch roof. We should strive to develop our powers to the full extent, and when we can go no further, we should conserve the force we have gained.
2. That which we say of the body applies also to the cultivation of mental faculties. The opportunity of strengthening the body may be brief, but that of the mind lifelong. We have but little power at first, but reading, thinking, and mingling with our fellows increases the conscious vigour of intellect.
3. Further, we should be strong in convictions of duty. We should have principles. Our arms should be nerved by moral earnestness.
4. It is well to cultivate a confidence in our powers and principles. Jether was fearful as to his powers, and so he drew not his sword. We should have no hesitancy in doing that which our heavenly Father directs, in our consciences or in His Word, to be undertaken. Yea, we should seek to go beyond others in service. We should arouse ourselves to the putting forth of strength, that by effort we may gain greater strength. We are not urged to put forth effort to attain knowledge and spiritual power in our own strength. We must “be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might.” Needless to say, there must be humility, penitence, faith. This conscious spiritual strength and fearlessness are necessary in various circumstances.
As the man is, so is his strength.--
Strength the property of truth
Yes: as a man is in character, in faith, in harmony with the will of God, so is his strength; as he is in falseness, injustice, egotism, and ignorance, so is his weakness. And there is but one real perennial kind of strength. The demonstration made by selfish and godless persons, though it shake continents and devastate nations, is not force. It has no nerve, no continuance, but is mere fury, which decays and perishes. Strength is the property of truth, and truth only; it belongs to those who are in union with eternal reality, and to no others in the universe. Would you be invincible? you must move with the eternal powers of righteousness and love. To be showy in appearance or terrible in sound on the wrong side with the futilities of the world is but incipient death. (R. A. Watson, M. A.)
As the man is, so is his strength
I. As a man is physically, so is his strength. If we are to estimate him by his muscular strength, we must take into account his bodily form, his age, his health, his build, his stature. Gideon belonged, as we may say, to the order of nature’s nobility. Now, it is perfectly true that we cannot give to ourselves a handsome mien, nor add one cubit to our stature; nevertheless, it is equally true that we can do much to promote our health, to build up our constitution, and even to give dignity to our physical presence. By a regular life, by scrupulous temperance, by due bodily exercise, by habits of order and cleanliness, every one can do not a little in this direction.
II. As a man is intellectually so is his strength. I use the word “strength” here as meaning power of work, capacity for accomplishing the ends of life, and making the world the better for his existence. I suppose that, during the past hundred years, no proverb has been more often quoted, as none has been more largely illustrated, than the pithy aphorism of Lord Bacon, “Knowledge is power.” In order to succeed, it is requisite to have intelligence and brains. The commerce of England is not indeed in the hands of learned scholars; but it is, for the most part, in the hands of shrewd, clear-headed, practical men, who understand their business, and know how to push it. Thus intellect becomes an equivalent for strength, and mind means money. In real power of work, the skilled artisan leaves the mere labourer far behind, and the thoughtful clerk the mere mechanical penman; so that as a man is in intelligence so is his strength.
III. As a man is morally and spiritually, so is his strength. Character and faith, I will venture to say, more than anything else, determine your power of overcoming difficulty and of accomplishing good. This is the sure gauge of your personal force in society and in the world. A man with a resolute conscience will always be a power.
IV. As the man is in faith, so is his strength. Ah! that’s the main point of all. What a work that brave soul accomplished all through unshaken confidence in his God! Be that faith yours, young men, and you shall be strong, and shall overcome the wicked one. There is no strength in the world to compare with that which faith imparts, especially the faith which lays hold of a risen and all-sufficient Redeemer. The splendid undertakings of an Alexander, Hannibal, a Caesar, are nothing to the achievements which it has accomplished. It has mastered legions of passions, quelled the turbulence of lust, overcome the world, driven the devil to flight, and thrown open an entrance to the palaces of heaven! (J. T. Davidson, D. D.)
Rule thou over us . . . for thou hast delivered us.
Many a man does well in times of difficulty and danger who fails entirely in prosperity. It remains for us to see whether Gideon yielded to this greatest of temptations. Did he now allow selfishness instead of faith and duty to become the ruling principle of his life? That question had to be practically answered at the great assembly that was held on his return. He stood there on the pinnacle of glory. He was at once the Wallace and the Bruce of his native land. And his very modesty in claiming so little for himself made his glory greater. Vanquished by his generosity as much as Penuel and Succoth had been vanquished by his arms, Ephraim probably took the lead in the offer of kingly authority that was made to him. That offer was the climax of his natural glory. His rejection of it was the climax of his moral and spiritual glory. Now, were not the proposal and the reason for it good alike? Gideon had undoubtedly displayed every kingly quality--skill in war, wisdom in council, prudent reserve, patient determination, and superiority to every petty motive and desire. There can be no doubt that had it been right for any man to become king then, he was the very man to fill the place. There can be no doubt that the proposal was in many respects prompted by right feeling, and in some respects a wise one. But the leaders of Israel did not fully understand the wants of their age. Looked at either spiritually or politically, kingly rule would then have been premature. It was needful that God should still manifest His presence at times in direct and striking ways. The nation had not learnt the truth of His continual presence. They had not learnt this truth sufficiently to warrant its being even partially obscured by the intervention of a single human ruler. Neither, considering the question in its lower, its political, aspect, was there yet enough cohesion or common feeling among the tribes to enable them to work permanently together as a united people. Now, I do not say that such reasons for rejecting the offer made to him were distinctly present to the mind of Gideon; but we can see them now, and he was guided aright by the instinctive entering into the mind of God, the instinctive comprehension of the Divine plan, which is one of the choicest gifts that God confers on those who live in close communion with Him. The very fault of Israel in not recognising the hand of God, and in offering the crown on that account to Gideon, was made the occasion of setting emphatically before them the very truth they needed--the occasion of gathering up for them the spiritual meaning of the whole of this portion of their history. Thus, by his faithfulness and self-denial, Gideon became the means of bringing spiritual benefits to his people as real and more enduring than the political and social ones that his sword had won. And so the time came at last when God’s immediate presence got to be recognised in some such real though confused, imperfect way as truths do get recognised among men. The time arrived for Jehovah retiring, so to speak, somewhat into the background when He appointed David, the man after His own heart, to take His place visibly. And this brings us to the point at which Gideon is no longer a guiding light, but a beacon to warn us of our danger. Very rightly had he read in all that had occurred the lesson that it was Jehovah, and in the meantime Jehovah only and immediately, that must govern Israel. Very nobly had he refused power in which he would have delighted, in order that he might get this lesson impressed upon his people. But at this point he grew impatient at the people’s dulness, and at the slowness of the evolution of the scheme of Providence. He had done much to make Israel feel the nearness of the God whom he trusted in and loved so fervently. Might he not now take a further and more influential step? Might not means be devised by which this wonderful deliverance could be effectually commemorated, and coming generations be made really to feel that it was Jehovah alone that had delivered or that could deliver? Thus he would help on God’s plan by his own shrewd contrivance. With this object he took advantage of the enthusiasm that prevailed--an enthusiasm of admiration for himself that was only heightened by his refusal of the crown, unwelcome though that refusal was. He asked for a certain portion of the spoil, and it was placed at once at his disposal. With this he made an ephod and placed it in his own city, Ophrah. In all this Gideon greatly erred. His natural fondness for devices and his skill in shrewd contrivance, kept in check till now, and made useful by his living faith and strict obedience, had led him at last astray. Forming plans of his own without being in direct communion with the God who had guided him till now, he failed to meet the wants of his time; nay, he pandered to its most dangerous vices. That happened here which happens so continually in the Church’s tangled story. Excessive reverence for the past was made a substitute for walking with the personal God in the living present. It is sad that one who had believed so steadfastly, one who had served so well and done so much, should thus, through impatience and self-will, have stumbled at the end. Yet even this bears its lesson with it--the lesson that even in the noblest of God’s servants we cannot find a perfect model; that in communion with the present Spirit we must learn for ourselves to judge concerning what is to be admired and what to be only shunned in the very best and greatest of mankind. One perfect example there is, but only one: He who is man, but also more than man, and who is our pattern most of all in this--that, Son of God and head of humanity as He was, He yet did in each particular, not His own will, but the will of the Father that had sent Him. (W. Miller, M. A.)
Gideon, the deliverer
I. Gideon teaches us the importance of having our faith strengthened. Any means Gideon possessed for accomplishing the work he had undertaken were, humanly speaking, altogether inadequate. He had not a chance of success, if it could be said with truth, “There is no hope for him in God.” Faith being then, as faith is still, the medium of connection between human weakness and Divine power, it was his mainstay. He was thrown entirely on its strength. The ship does not ride the storm otherwise than by the hold her anchor takes of the solid ground. By that, which lies in the calm depths below, as little moved by the waters that swell and roll and foam above, as by the winds that lash them into fury, she resists the gale, and rides the billows of the stormiest sea. But her safety depends on something else also. When masts are struck and sails are furled, and, anchored off reef or rocky shore, she is labouring in the wild tumult for her life, it likewise lies in the strength of her cable and of the iron arms that grasp the solid ground. By these she hangs to it; and thus not only the firm earth, but their strength also, is her security. Let the flukes of the anchor or strands of the cable snap, and her fate is sealed. Nothing can avert it. Powerless to resist, and swept forward by the sea, she drives on ruin; and hurled against an iron shore, her timbers are crushed to pieces like a shell. And what anchor and cable are to her, faith, by which man makes God’s strength his own, was to Gideon, and is still to believers in their times of trial.
II. Gideon teaches us to make thorough work of what belongs to our deliverance from sin. In closing the account of what God did for him, and through him for his people, the historian says, “Thus was Midian subdued before the children of Israel, so that they lifted up their heads no more.” And how was this accomplished? The remarkable victory God wrought for Gideon, without any effort on his part, may be regarded as a type of that greater, better victory which, without any effort on ours, God’s Son wrought for us when He took our nature and our sins upon Him--dying, the just for the unjust, that we might be saved. Gideon followed up this victory by calling all possible resources to his aid. He summoned the whole country to arms, as, accompanied by his famous three hundred men, he hung on the skirts of the broken host, and with sword bathed in their blood cut down the fugitives--kings, princes, captains, and common soldiers--with an eye that knew no pity and a hand that did not spare. Now, it is to work as thorough, and against enemies more formidable, that He who trod the winepress alone, redeeming us to God by His blood, calls all His followers. By resolute self-denial, by constant watchfulness, by earnest prayer, by the diligent use of every means of grace, and above all by the help of the Holy Spirit, we are to labour to cast sin out of our hearts. This is no easy work. But heaven is not to be reached by easy-going people. Like a beleaguered city, where men scale the walls and swarm in at the deadly breach, the violent take it by force. The rest it offers is for the weary. The crowns it confers are for warriors’ brows. (T. Guthrie, D. D.)
Gideon at his best
A man is at his best when he overcomes a great temptation, when he shows the might of a regal spirit, and conquers himself. Gideon now reaches the climax of goodness, which is true greatness.
I. Kingship offered to him. Here is--
1. An appeal to the love of power. Men love power. What disaster ambition has produced! The evils of war. The tricks of diplomatists. Prostitution of talents. Sacrifice of principle.
2. An appeal to paternal affection. Positions for some, if not all, of Gideon’s sons. The first of a kingly race. The founder of a royal family. An opportunity seldom presented. A rare opening.
3. An appeal to the desire of posthumous fame. To live after death a widespread and all but universal desire. One indication of our immortality. The opportunity now presented to Gideon to satisfy desire in a tangible form. His name inscribed in the roll of Israel’s kings. Who is the man to refuse? Gideon.
II. Kingship rejected by him.
1. Gideon’s self-denial.
2. Gideon’s patriotism. Shown as much sometimes by what a man refuses to do as by what he undertakes.
3. Gideon’s loyalty to conscience. The voice of the people not always the voice of God. But the voice of conscience directed by the Bible and enlightened by the Holy Spirit is the voice of God. Listen to that voice.
III. Kingship acknowledged by him.
1. Fidelity to God.
2. Reproof of the people. You have the theocratic form of government. The best form. Why seek to subvert the Divine arrangement?
3. A true regard for the people’s welfare. The people do not always know what is for the best. Here learn that a man may do his best and seemingly fail. Gideon before his age. (Wm. Burrows, B. A.)
Kingship offered and refused
The nation needed a settled government, a centre of authority which would bind the tribes together, and the Abi-ezrite chief was now clearly marked as a man fit for royalty. He was able to persuade as well as to fight; he was bold, firm, and prudent. But to the request that he should become king and found a dynasty Gideon gave an absolute refusal. We always admire a man who refuses one of the great posts of human authority or distinction. The throne of Israel was even at that time a flattering offer. But should it have been made? There are few who will pause in a moment of high personal success to think of the point of morality involved; yet we may credit Gideon with the belief that it was not for him or any man to be called king in Israel. As a judge he had partly proved himself; as a judge he had a Divine call and a marvellous indication: that name he would accept, not the other. One of the chief elements of Gideon’s character was a strong but not very spiritual religiousness. He attributed his success entirely to God, and God alone he desired the nation to acknowledge as its Head. He would not even in appearance stand between the people and their Divine Sovereign, nor with his will should any son of his take a place so unlawful and dangerous. Along with his devotion to God it is quite likely that the caution of Gideon had much to do with his resolve. Before Gideon could establish himself in a royal seat he would have to fight a great coalition in the centre and south and also beyond Jordan. To the pains of oppression would succeed the agony of civil war. Unwilling to kindle a fire which might burn for years and perhaps consume himself, he refused to look at the proposal, flattering and honourable as it was. But there was another reason for his decision which may have had even more weight. Like many men who have distinguished themselves in one way, his real ambition lay in a different direction. We think of him as a military genius. He for his part looked to the priestly office and the transmission of Divine oracles as his proper calling. He desired to cultivate that intercourse with Heaven which more than anything else gave him the sense of dignity and strength. From the offer of a crown he turned as if eager to don the robe of a priest and listen for the holy oracles that none beside himself seemed able to receive. (R. A. Watson, M. A.)
Gideon’s unambitious spirit
1. Gideon’s piety. The Israelites offered Gideon the rule over them. Few men would have refused so tempting an offer. But Gideon knew that he could not accept it without trenching upon God’s prerogative. In the spiritual application, our wisdom is to make request to the Lord Jesus, “Rule Thou over us, for Thou hast delivered us.” He hath “saved us” at the cost of His own life-blood, “from our enemies, and from the hand of all that hate us.”
2. Gideon’s modesty. What he had sought in his service against Midian was not his own aggrandisement, but Israel’s welfare (1 Corinthians 9:18; 1 Corinthians 9:23; 2 Corinthians 12:14-15). Ambition and self-seeking mar the service of God, and injure the minister’s own soul. The service itself is its own highest honour and best reward.
3. Gideon’s wisdom, too, appears in his choosing to remain in the station to which the providence of God had called him. Restlessness can never bring happiness. The adage is true, He who carves for himself often cuts his fingers; he who leaves God to carve for him shall never have an empty plate. “Seekest thou great things for thyself, seek them not” (Jeremiah 45:5). (A. R. Fausset, M. A.)
Gideon made an ephod.
Gideon, the ecclesiastic
A strong but not spiritual religiousness is the chief note of Gideon’s character. It may be objected that such an one, if he seeks ecclesiastical office, does so unworthily; but to say so is an uncharitable error. It is not the devout temper alone that finds attraction in the ministry of sacred things; nor should a love of place and power be named as the only other leading motive. One who is not devout may in all sincerity covet the honour of standing for God before the congregation, leading the people in worship and interpreting the sacred oracles. A vulgar explanation of human desire is often a false one; it is so here. The ecclesiastic may show few tokens of the spiritual temper, the other-worldliness, the glowing and simple truth we rightly account to be the proper marks of a Christian ministry; yet he may by his own reckoning have obeyed a clear call. His function in this case is to maintain order and administer outward rites with dignity and care--a limited range of duty indeed, but not without utility, especially when there are inferior and less conscientious men in office not far away. He does not advance faith, but according to his power he maintains it. But the ecclesiastic must have the ephod. The man who feels the dignity of religion more than its humane simplicity, realising it as a great movement of absorbing interest, will naturally have regard to the means of increasing dignity and making the movement impressive. When it is supposed that Gideon fell away from his first faith in making this image the error lies in over-estimating his spirituality at the earlier stage. We must not think that at any time the use of a symbolic image would have seemed wrong to him. He acted at Ophrah as priest of the true God. And yet, pure, and for the time even elevated, in the motive, Gideon’s attempt at priestcraft led to his fall. “The thing became a snare to Gideon and his house,” perhaps in the way of bringing in riches and creating the desire for more. (R. A. Watson, M. A.)
Ruler or priest
Underlying Gideon’s desire to fill the office of priest there was a dull perception of the highest function of one man in relation to others. It appears to the common mind a great thing to rule, to direct secular affairs, to have the command of armies and the power of filling offices and conferring dignities; and no doubt to one who desires to serve his generation well, royalty, political power, even municipal office, offer many excellent opportunities. But set kingship on this side, kingship concerned with the temporal and earthly, or at best humane aspects of life, and on the other side priesthood of the true kind which has to do with the spiritual, by which God is revealed to man and the holy ardour and Divine aspirations of the human will are sustained, and there can be no question which is the more important. A clever, strong man may be a ruler. It needs a good man, a pious man, a man of heavenly power and insight, to be in any right sense a priest--one who really stands between God and men, bearing the sorrows of his kind, their trials, doubts, cries and prayers, on his heart, and presenting them to God, interpreting to the weary and sad and troubled the messages of heaven. (R. A. Watson, M. A.)
A mock ephod
In Paul’s words, Gideon did not know what sin was. He knew suffering in plenty; but, shallow old soldier as he was, he did not know the secret of all suffering. Gideon was as ignorant as the mass of men are what God’s law really is, what sin really is, and what the only cure of sin really is. At bottom that was Gideon’s fall. And accordingly Gideon made a mock ephod at Ophra, while all the time God had made a true and sure ephod both for Himself and for Gideon and for all Israel at Shiloh. And God’s ephod had an altar connected with it, and a sacrifice for sin, and the blood of sprinkling, and the pardon of sin, and a clean heart, and a new life; all of which Israel so much needed, but all of which Gideon, with all his high services, knew nothing about. Sin was the cause of all the evil that Gideon in his bravery had all his life been battling with; but, instead of going himself, and taking his Ironsides and all his people up with him to God’s house against sin, Gideon set up a sham house of God of his own, and a sham service of God of his own, with the result to himself and to Israel that the sacred writer puts in such plain words. Think of Gideon, of all men in Israel, leading all Israel a-whoring away from God! The pleasure-loving people came up to Gideon’s pleasure-giving ephod, when both he and they should have gone to God’s penitential ephod. They forgot all about the Midianites as they came up to Ophra to eat and to drink and to dance. When, had they been well and wisely led, they would have gone to Shiloh with the Midianites “ever before them,” till the God of Israel would have kept the Midianites and all their other enemies for ever away from them. Gideon was a splendid soldier, but he was a very short-sighted priest. He put on a costly ephod indeed, but it takes a great deal more than a costly ephod to make a prevailing priest. I see, and you must see, men every day who are as brave and as bold as Gideon, and as full of anger and revenge against all the wrongs and all the miseries of their fellow-men; men and women who take their lives in their hands to do battle with ignorance and vice and all the other evils that the land lies under; and, all the time, they go on repeating Gideon’s fatal mistake; till, at the end of their life they leave all these wrongs and miseries very much as they found them: nothing better, but rather worse. And all because they set up an ephod of their own devising in the place of the ephod and the altar and the sacrifice and the intercession that God has set up for these and all other evils. They say, and in their goodness of heart they do far more than merely say--what shall the poor eat, and what shall they drink, and how shall they be housed? At great cost to themselves they put better houses for the working classes, and places of refreshment and amusement, and reading-rooms, and libraries, and baths, and open spaces, and secular schools and “moderate” churches in the room of the Cross and the Church and the gospel of Jesus Christ; and they complain that the Midianites do not remove but come back faster than they can chase them out. Either the Cross of Christ was an excess and a superfluity, or your expensive but maladroit nostrums for sin are an insult to Him and to His Cross. (A. Whyte, D. D.)
Gideon’s great error
1. Gideon’s sin injurious to himself. Scripture, unlike mere human biographies, tells faithfully the failings of its heroes. The record of the believer’s blemishes is as edifying as that of his graces. Good intentions are no excuse for self-willed inventions. An oracle of Gideon’s own contrivance, and made out of the golden amulets of idolaters, could never be pleasing to God, and was a bad return to make for the Divine favour in granting him victory. It “became a snare unto Gideon” himself, by lessening his zeal for the house of God in Shiloh. Still more so to his family.
2. Gideon’s sin had a deadly effect on the nation. One false step of a good man leads multitudes astray. If Gideon could have risen from the grave and seen the consequences of his one grand error, how he would have grieved! (A. R. Fausset, M. A.)
And Jerubbaal the son of Joash went and dwelt in his own house.
Gideon at his worst
Man is a strange mixture of greatness and of littleness, of goodness, and of badness. The one lies very close to the other.
I. Gideon at his worst morally. Biblical saints are not made more than human. Their virtues are described that we may imitate them, their vices depicted that we may avoid them. Gideon not without his failings: many wives, and even concubines. Remember the degenerate times in which he lived. No man altogether superior to the influences of his age; Gideon not. His guilt not so great as if he had lived in our days. Polygamy now almost an impossible crime. Be thankful for what the gospel has done for modern society. In those days, too, a man became a ruler, and was permitted to do things not allowed to the private individual. Great positions have always great moral dangers. In lonely walks of life there is favourable opportunity for the growth of the white flower of a blameless character. Zeal for the Lord of hosts may go along with imperfection. Zeal will not condone for the imperfection.
II. Gideon at his worst physically. Gideon lived to a good old age; still he died, and was buried in the sepulchre of Joash. He who overcame vast multitudes is now overcome of death. Mighty Gideon lies powerless in the sepulchre of Joash. Thousands passing away daily, and yet the living regard not the common fate. Oh, that men would consider their latter end! To live in view of death is not to die the sooner, is not to live less nobly or usefully.
III. Gideon at his worst influentially. Not always true that the good which a man does is buried along with his bones. A good man’s influence must abide more or less. A man’s greatness shows that he can project an influence that shall outlast his earthly life. Yet how often we appear to see the efforts made by a good man in life blighted at his death. As soon as Gideon was dead, the children of Israel turned again, and went a-whoring after Baalim, and made Baal-berith their god. Pathetic the statement, short-lived Gideon’s influence. The people restrained by Gideon’s presence, but not converted by his example. Superficial changes not lasting. Rulers may do much, but the gospel only can work a permanent reformation. (Wm. Burrows, B. A.)
The children of Israel remembered not.
The origin, nature, and baseness of ingratitude
I. What gratitude is, and upon what the obligation to it is grounded. This virtue includes--
1. A particular observation, or taking notice of a kindness received, and consequently of the goodwill and affection of the person who did that kindness. For still, in this case, the mind of the giver is more to be attended to than the matter of the gift; it being this that stamps it properly a favour and gives it the noble and endearing denomination of a kindness.
2. That which brings it from the heart into the mouth, and makes a man express the sense he has of the benefit done him by thanks, acknowledgments, and gratulations; and where the heart is full of the one, it will certainly overflow and run over in the other.
3. An endeavour to recompense our benefactor, and to do something that may redound to his advantage, in consideration of what he has done towards ours.
II. The nature and baseness of ingratitude. There is not any one vice or ill quality incident to the mind of man, against which the world has raised such a loud and universal outcry, as against ingratitude. It is properly an insensibility of kindnesses received, without any endeavour either to acknowledge or repay them. To repay them, indeed, by a return equivalent, is not in every one’s power, and consequently cannot be his duty; but thanks are a tribute payable by the poorest. For surely nature gives no man a mouth to be always eating, and never saying grace; nor a hand only to grasp and to receive: but as it is furnished with teeth for the one, so it should have a tongue also for the other: and the hands that are so often reached out to take and to accept, should be sometimes lifted up also to bless. The world is maintained by intercourse; and the whole course of nature is a great exchange, in which one good turn is and ought to be the stated price of another.
III. The principle from which it proceeds. In one word, it proceeds from that which we call ill-nature.
1. A proneness to do ill turns, attended with a complacency, or secret joy of mind, upon the sight of any mischief that befalls another.
2. An utter insensibility of any good or kindness done him by others.
IV. Those ill qualities that inseparably attend ingratitude, and are never disjoined from it.
1. Pride. The original ground of our obligation to gratitude is that each man has but a limited right to the good things of the world, and that the natural and allowed way by which one is to obtain possession of these things is by his own industrious acquisition of them. Consequently, when any good is dealt to him any other way than by his own labour, he is accountable to the person who dealt it to him, as for a thing to which he had no right or claim by any action of his own. But pride shuts a man’s eyes against all this, and so fills him with an opinion of his own transcendent worth, that he imagines himself to have a right to all things, as well those that are the effects and fruits of other men’s labours as of his own. So that if any advantage accrues to him by the liberality of his neighbour, he does not look upon it as a free and undeserved gift, but rather as a just homage to that worth and merit which he conceives to be in himself, and to which all the world ought to become tributary.
2. Hard-heartedness, or want of compassion. It was ingratitude that put the poniard into the hand of Brutus, but it was want of compassion which thrust it into Caesar’s heart.
V. Some useful consequences, by way of application, from the premises.
1. Never enter into a league of friendship with an ungrateful person: that is, plant not thy friendship upon a dunghill; it is too noble a plant for so base a soil.
2. As a man tolerably discreet ought by no means to attempt the making of such an one his friend, so neither is he, in the next place, to presume to think that he shall be able so much as to alter or ameliorate the humour of an ungrateful person by any acts of kindness, though never so frequent, never so obliging. Flints may be melted, but an ungrateful heart cannot; no, not by the strongest and the noblest flame. I limit not the operation of God’s grace; but, humanly speaking, it seldom fails but that an ill principle has its course, and nature makes good its blow.
3. Wheresoever you see a man notoriously ungrateful, you may rest assured that there is in him no true sense of religion. (R. South, D.D.)
──《The Biblical Illustrator》