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Despite another great victory that The Lord had delivered to the Israelites (see notes for Judges 7), this time through Gideon, Gideon experienced the same sort of opposition that Moses and Joshua often did.
"And the men of Ephraim said to him, "What is this that you have done to us, not to call us when you went to fight with Midian?" And they upbraided him violently." (Judges 8:1 RSV)
Nevertheless, Gideon, with only 300 men, continued his pursuit of a large retreating enemy army.
"And Gideon came to the Jordan [see The Jordan River] and passed over, he and the three hundred men who were with him, faint yet pursuing." (Judges 8:4 RSV)
How many troops did Gideon and his 300 men have on the run? From the 135,000 that Gideon attacked (with only 300 men), there were now "only" 15,000 enemy left. How? "When they blew the three hundred trumpets, The Lord set every man's sword against his fellow and against all the army" (Judges 7:22 RSV). Gideon had put the enemy on the run with his trumpets ruse, but it was The Lord that caused the enemy army to self-destruct. But Gideon continued the pursuit because he wanted the enemy leaders, Zebah and Zalmunna.
"Now Zebah and Zalmunna were in Karkor with their army, about fifteen thousand men, all who were left of all the army of the people of the East; for there had fallen a hundred and twenty thousand men who drew the sword." (Judges 8:10 RSV)
Zebah and Zalmunna were captured and questioned by Gideon. It was then that Gideon discovered that Zebah and Zalmunna has caused the deaths of Gideon's own brothers, to which Gideon, after his young son was unable to do so, killed Zebah and Zalmunna himself.
"Then he said to Zebah and Zalmunna, "Where are the men whom you slew at Tabor?" They answered, "As you are, so were they, every one of them; they resembled the sons of a king." And he said, "They were my brothers, the sons of my mother; as The Lord lives, if you had saved them alive, I would not slay you." And he said to Jether his first-born, "Rise, and slay them." But the youth did not draw his sword; for he was afraid, because he was still a youth. Then Zebah and Zalmunna said, "Rise yourself, and fall upon us; for as the man is, so is his strength." And Gideon arose and slew Zebah and Zalmunna; and he took the crescents that were on the necks of their camels." (Judges 8:18-21 RSV)
The Israelites then attempted to make Gideon their king, to which Gideon refused (the Israelite monarchy would eventually happen though, with Saul - see Israelite Monarchy - The Origin).
"Then the men of Israel said to Gideon, "Rule over us, you and your son and your grandson also; for you have delivered us out of the hand of Midian." Gideon said to them, "I will not rule over you, and my son will not rule over you; The Lord will rule over you." (Judges 8:22-23 RSV)
After Gideon died, of old age, the Israelites again went corrupt.
"And Gideon the son of Joash died in a good old age, and was buried in the tomb of Joash his father, at Ophrah of the Abiezrites.
Judges Chapter 9
Gideon's son Abimelech did not inherit his father's wisdom and faithfulness. Abimelech was a cold-blooded opportunist who murdered his own brothers for politics.
"Now Abimelech the son of Jerubbaal went to Shechem to his mother's kinsmen and said to them and to the whole clan of his mother's family, "Say in the ears of all the citizens of Shechem, 'Which is better for you, that all seventy of the sons of Jerubbaal rule over you, or that one rule over you?' Remember also that I am your bone and your flesh." And his mother's kinsmen spoke all these words on his behalf in the ears of all the men of Shechem; and their hearts inclined to follow Abimelech, for they said, "He is our brother." And they gave him seventy pieces of silver out of the house of Baal-berith with which Abimelech hired worthless and reckless fellows, who followed him. And he went to his father's house at Ophrah, and slew his brothers the sons of Jerubbaal, seventy men, upon one stone; but Jotham the youngest son of Jerubbaal was left, for he hid himself. And all the citizens of Shechem came together, and all Beth-millo, and they went and made Abimelech king, by the oak of the pillar at Shechem." (Judges 9:1-6 RSV)
Abimelech was successful in his wars, but justice came to him one day at Thebez, where "God requited the crime of Abimelech, which he committed against his father in killing his seventy brothers."
"Then Abimelech went to Thebez, and encamped against Thebez, and took it. But there was a strong tower within the city, and all the people of the city fled to it, all the men and women, and shut themselves in; and they went to the roof of the tower. And Abimelech came to the tower, and fought against it, and drew near to the door of the tower to burn it with fire. And a certain woman threw an upper millstone upon Abimelech's head, and crushed his skull. Then he called hastily to the young man his armor-bearer, and said to him, "Draw your sword and kill me, lest men say of me, 'A woman killed him.'" And his young man thrust him through, and he died. And when the men of Israel saw that Abimelech was dead, they departed every man to his home. Thus God requited the crime of Abimelech, which he committed against his father in killing his seventy brothers." (Judges 9:50-56 RSV)
Judges Chapter 10
After Abimelech came Tola and Jair.
"After Abimelech there arose to deliver Israel Tola the son of Puah, son of Dodo, a man of Issachar; and he lived at Shamir in the hill country of Ephraim. And he judged Israel twenty-three years. Then he died, and was buried at Shamir.
But, as happened over, and over, and over again, the Israelites went corrupt with idolatry - so The Lord had them subjected to their enemies, on both sides of the Jordan.
"And the people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of The Lord, and served the Baals and the Ashtaroth, the gods of Syria, the gods of Sidon, the gods of Moab, the gods of the Ammonites, and the gods of the Philistines; and they forsook The Lord, and did not serve him. And the anger of The Lord was kindled against Israel, and he sold them into the hand of the Philistines and into the hand of the Ammonites, and they crushed and oppressed the children of Israel that year. For eighteen years they oppressed all the people of Israel that were beyond the Jordan in the land of the Amorites, which is in Gilead.
Judges Chapter 11
Jephthah was a renegade from within the eastern tribes of Israel who was nevertheless asked by the Israelites to be their deliverer. It was a practical choice; the Israelites weren't looking for a man of God, they were looking for a man who won battles, any way, any where.
"Now Jephthah the Gileadite was a mighty warrior, but he was the son of a harlot. Gilead was the father of Jephthah. And Gilead's wife also bore him sons; and when his wife's sons grew up, they thrust Jephthah out, and said to him, "You shall not inherit in our father's house; for you are the son of another woman." Then Jephthah fled from his brothers, and dwelt in the land of Tob; and worthless fellows collected round Jephthah, and went raiding with him.
The Lord nevertheless made Jephthah into a man of God, by means of the Holy Spirit. Jephthah had yet much to learn about making vows to The Lord however, one lesson of which cost Jephthah the life of his daughter (see the Fact Finder question below).
"Then the Spirit of The Lord came upon Jephthah, and he passed through Gilead and Manasseh, and passed on to Mizpah of Gilead, and from Mizpah of Gilead he passed on to the Ammonites. And Jephthah made a vow to The Lord, and said, "If thou wilt give the Ammonites into my hand, then whoever comes forth from the doors of my house to meet me, when I return victorious from the Ammonites, shall be The Lord's, and I will offer him up for a burnt offering." (Judges 11:29-31 RSV)
Judges Chapter 12
Jephthah experienced the same foolish opposition from the Israelites that most of the earlier leaders also did. Jephthah achieved a victory for Israel, to which some of the Israelites threatened him for not including them in the war that Jephthah had fought and won for them. Jephthah responded by fighting them.
"The men of Ephraim were called to arms, and they crossed to Zaphon and said to Jephthah, "Why did you cross over to fight against the Ammonites, and did not call us to go with you? We will burn your house over you with fire." And Jephthah said to them, "I and my people had a great feud with the Ammonites; and when I called you, you did not deliver me from their hand. And when I saw that you would not deliver me, I took my life in my hand, and crossed over against the Ammonites, and The Lord gave them into my hand; why then have you come up to me this day, to fight against me?" Then Jephthah gathered all the men of Gilead and fought with Ephraim; and the men of Gilead smote Ephraim, because they said, "You are fugitives of Ephraim, you Gileadites, in the midst of Ephraim and Manasseh." (Judges 12:1-4 RSV)
The Israelites began as a single nation, but like many modern-day countries, regional accents developed through the various tribes of Israel. The result, for example, is that some would pronounce Shibboleth as Sibboleth - with sometimes deadly consequences within Israel itself (the accent differences still existed in the time of Christ when the Galilean accent of northern Israel was noticeable to the people in Jerusalem, in the south e.g. "the bystanders came up and said to Peter, "Certainly you are also one of them, for your accent betrays you" Matthew 26:73 RSV).
"And the Gileadites took the Fords of the Jordan against the Ephraimites. And when any of the fugitives of Ephraim said, "Let me go over," the men of Gilead said to him, "Are you an Ephraimite?" When he said, "No," they said to him, "Then say Shibboleth," and he said, "Sibboleth," for he could not pronounce it right; then they seized him and slew him at the fords of the Jordan. And there fell at that time forty-two thousand of the Ephraimites." (Judges 12:5-6 RSV)
Fact Finder: How did Jephthah's vow to The Lord cost him the life of his daughter?