As Judges 7 closed, God had given a great victory over the Midianites (including the death of two of their princes). We learn from 8:10 that 120,000 enemy men had fallen, but there were still 15,000 who were fleeing and Gideon and his men are in hot pursuit! The first half of Judges 8 details the exterminating of these remaining enemies and some hurdles Gideon faced along the way. First, Gideon faces sharp complaints from the men of Ephraim. They were angry about not being involved in the attack against Midian from the beginning. Gideon’s reply seemed to douse their anger. He told them that they had already played a most important part in the attack by capturing and killing the two Midianite princes. “And what was I able to do in comparison with you?” (8:3).
After crossing the Jordan, Gideon and his men are getting fatigued. They ask some fellow Israelites in that area for bread (a reasonable request) and explain that they are in pursuit of the Midianite kings (Zebah and Zalmunna). Amazingly, they are turned away with this verbal attack – “Are the hands of Zebah and Zalmunna now in your hand, that we should give bread to your army?” (8:6). Nearly 90% of the enemy forces had already been slain, but these men refuse to help Gideon and his men finish the job! Gideon, enraged by their reply, promises to punish them severely when he returns (after finishing off the Midianites). A similar exchange is recorded with a different Israelite city. They too refuse to help Gideon and he promises vengeance.
Even without their assistance, Gideon will be victorious with God’s help. He did not give up even though he and his men were exhausted. Even today Jesus’ soldiers must press on and not quit, even when we are weary (cf. Gal. 6:9; I Cor. 15:58). “Then Gideon went up by the road of those who dwell in tents on the east of Nobah and Jogbehah; and he attacked the army while the camp felt secure. When Zebah and Zalmunna fled, he persued them; and he took the two kings of Midian, Zebah and Zalmunna, and routed the whole army. Then Gideon the son of Joash returned from battle” (8:11-13). He proceeded to severely punish the uncooperative Israelites (even to the point of death). He also tore down a tower according to his promise. Finally, Gideon slays the two enemy kings himself. He wanted his firstborn son to do it since he was young and this would have further humiliated the defeated kings. But, the boy was too timid to do so.
“Then the men of Israel said to Gideon, ‘Rule over us, both you and your son, and your grandson also; for you have delivered us from the hand of Midian.’ But Gideon said to them, ‘I will not rule over you, nor shall my son rule over you; the LORD shall rule over you'” (8:22,23). What a wonderful reply to their request! Gideon knew who their real leader was; it wasn’t him but God. However, he then made a request of them that would lead to trouble. He desired the golden earrings from their plunder. They end up giving him approximately 50 pounds worth of gold! Although the text does not explain why, Gideon took the gold and “made it into an ephod and set it up in his city, Ophrah. And all Israel played the harlot with it there. It became a snare to Gideon and to his house” (8:27). An ephod is a priestly garment. Gideon had no right to make a priestly garment or attempt to worship God in a presumptuous way. Although Gideon did not worship a false god, it appears he failed to worship the true and living God in the manner exclusively authorized by the Mosaic law. Furthermore, he led others into sin with his foolishness. For all the good that Gideon accomplished for Israel (including subduing the Midianites and providing peace for 40 years), this account is a significant blemish on his record. Even great men make mistakes, and this is a most unfortunate one for Gideon.
As the chapter closes, mention is made of Gideon’s family. His many wives bore him 70 sons! His concubine in Shechem bore him a son also, named Abimelech (who will be the central character in Judges 9). Gideon lived a long life but “so it was, as soon as Gideon was dead, that the children of Israel again played the harlot with the Baals, and made Baal-Berith their god. Thus the children of Israel did not remember the LORD their God, who had delivered them from the hands of all their enemies on every side; nor did they show kindness to the house of Jerubbaal (Gideon) in accordance with the good he had done for Israel” (8:33-35). Ingratitude is a terrible sin. The people should have shown more respect to the memory of this great judge, Gideon. Sadly, when strong leadership ends, it is not uncommon for the people to fall into error quickly.