The men of the tribe of Ephraim had not been eager to lend their assistance in fighting with the Midianites; but they were haughty and jealous of their assumed supremacy among the tribes, and they complained bitterly to Gideon because he had not summoned them to help in the beginning of the enterprise which had proved to be so completely successful. To their unreasonable discontentment, Gideon replied with a wiser peace-making spirit: “I have only slain or scattered the common mass of the enemy, but you have cut off their leaders; what was I in comparison with you?” In the conduct of Gideon in this case, we learn that envy is best removed by humility. But this was no time for a long debate! Although the Ephraimites had slain the two Midianite princes (Oreb and Zeeb), the Midianite kings had escaped; and they were hastening toward the Arabian wilderness, where they imagined they would be secure from pursuit. These men had also captured and put to death Gideon’s own brothers. Therefore, in addition to his duty as the Lord’s chosen captain, Gideon was also pursuing after these kings as the nearest of kin and the avenger of blood! Up the valley of the Brook Jabbok, Gideon and his tired men pressed after these great sheikhs who had held Israel in bitter subjection for so long. The Israelite warriors were fatigued with what they had done, and yet they were eager to do more against their enemies. This is a reflection of what is often the Christian’s case; they are fainting, and yet pursuing! The world knows next to nothing of the persevering and successful struggle which the real believer maintains with his sinful heart. But the child of God makes use of Divine strength – in the faith of which, he began his conflict; and by the supply of which alone, he can finish it in triumph!
At Succoth, a city in the tribe of Gad, Gideon and his weary men paused. The leader acquainted the men of Succoth with his intentions, and asked for provisions for his exhausted band of warriors. But the sympathies of the men of Succoth were with might rather than right. Unlike the man of faith, whose request they refused, they probably considered a little band of 300 men to be inadequate to cope with the 15,000 that were with the Midianite chieftains. And to make matters worse, the men of Succoth added a jeering insult to their refusal. Stung by this unexpected rejection, Gideon vowed speedy chastisement and then hurried on. Far upon the heights stood the town of Peniel – the scene of that mysterious conflict between Jacob and Jehovah (Gen. 32). The place was now an outpost, with a tower commanding a view of the surrounding tablelands and wilderness beyond. Here the deliverer of Israel made the same request, and was met with the same refusal. But his faith remained unshaken through all these discouragements; he did not stay to argue with them. The active servants of the Lord must still continue to pursue the enemies of their souls and of Christ’s cause, even though they may be ready to faint because of inward conflicts and outward hardships. And they shall be enabled to persevere! The less other people help them, and the more they seek to hinder them – the more the Lord will assist them.
By this time, the two Midianite kings and their remaining 15,000 men had reached the edge of the desert. It was here that Gideon found them; and upon his arrival, which was by night, “the host was secure.” They had taken an unfrequented path, and did not expect to be so hotly pursued. But Gideon’s chosen 300 (who, by now, had exchanged their lanterns and torches for swords and spears) again put them to flight – even though the enemy outnumbered them, fifty to one! The two kings, the murderers of Gideon’s brothers, were taken alive. This was the work of one eventful night, and Gideon “returned from battle before the sun was up” (verse 13). The day which followed was a day of triumph and retribution! Gideon brought the captive kings to Succoth, where he had been taunted the day before with the hopelessness of his undertaking. True to his promise, he executed swift punishment upon the elders of the town. The men of Penuel were also attacked and slain, and their town was levelled. Having done this, the Midianite chieftains themselves fell at sunrise by Gideon’s own sword. Their death was a picture of the destruction of all the Lord’s enemies, and of the victories of the Son of God over the powers of evil.
Thus ended the memorable “day of Midian” (Isa. 9:4). The rod of the oppressor had been effectually broken. The victory was so complete, and the valor and capacity of the leader were so noteworthy, that Gideon’s countrymen begged him to accept the regal title and state of a king; but the request was nobly and wisely refused. But the massive amounts of jewelry which had been taken from the dead Midianites suggested a course which was both unwise and unauthorized. Gideon requested that his share of the spoils might be the Midianites’ golden earrings, which weighed about 42½ pounds (worth nearly $1.2 million). But these proved to be a snare; for with these jewels and the costly apparel which had formerly decked the kings of Midian, Gideon made an ephod – the symbol of priestly authority – and placed it in his hometown. It is probable that Gideon originally had no idolatrous intentions with this ephod; but sadly, the idolatrous inclinations of the people of Israel attached themselves to it.
The land of Israel enjoyed rest for 33 years (1233-1200 BC) after Gideon’s victory over the Midianites; but sadly, after that – when the people found themselves under no restraint – they again forsook the Lord and returned to the idolatrous worship of Baal.
Lord, help us to never imitate the shameful treachery of the Israelites, by turning again to the ways of sin after receiving deliverance! Amen.
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*based on the current value of gold on July 24, 2022