Napsal(a) Rev. Julian Duckworth
Judges 8: Gideon subdues the Midianites.
In this chapter, Gideon continued to dismantle Midian’s oppression over Israel, facing opposition from some of his fellow Israelites in the process. First, the men of Ephraim complained that he did not call them to war. Gideon replied by praising them for their vineyards, and for capturing the two Midianite princes. So, Ephraim’s indignation subsided.
Then Gideon went to the city of Succoth, and asked for bread to feed his army. But the men of Succoth refused, instead taunting him because he had not yet captured the kings of Midian. Gideon told them them he would punish them with thorns and briars, after he had killed the two kings. The people of Penuel were equally dismissive when Gideon asked them for help, and he swore to tear down their tower.
In due course, Gideon captured the two Midianite kings, Zebah and Zalmunna. Gideon told his oldest son to kill them, but he was young, and too afraid to do it. So Gideon killed the two kings, and punished the people of Succoth and Penuel.
When he returned from battle, the people of Israel asked Gideon to rule over them. However, he refused, saying that the Lord would rule Israel. He then collected gold from people’s earrings, used it to make an ephod (a priest’s garment), and set it up in his own city, Ophrah. The people began to worship it, and it became a snare for Gideon.
And Israel had peace for forty years under Gideon. Gideon had seventy sons, and died at an old age. As soon as he passed away, the Israelites forgot all the goodness that the Lord had shown them, and turned to worship other gods.
The message of Gideon’s exchange with the Ephraimites is that sincerity and openness are the most powerful response to confrontation. Gideon, led by his trust in the Lord, could see the reason for Ephraim’s outburst, so he dealt with it by praising their strengths. This encounter shows how our faith in the Lord gives us a broader perspective, granting us the ability to respond rather than react (see Swedenborg’s work, Arcana Caelestia 8159).
When Gideon lashes out at the people of Succoth and Penuel, it may appear that he is acting purely from anger, and a wish to retaliate. In reality, he is filled with zeal to drive out the Midianites and free Israel. It is unthinkable to him that his own people would refuse to give his soldiers food. In our own lives, we can at times be astounded by our own resistance to serving the Lord’s purpose. We are constantly torn between two forces: heaven and hell (Arcana Caelestia 3839).
The killing of the two Midianite kings reflects the need for justice in spiritual matters. If we fail to heed the truths we know and believe, we will suffer the consequences of fear and guilt. These are not inflicted by the Lord, but follow on from our own choices (Arcana Caelestia 2447). Gideon’s son’s inability to kill the kings means that behind spiritual justice, there must be an understanding of the essential value of all life (Arcana Caelestia 5826).
Gideon’s ephod is a symbol showing how easily we can deviate from obeying the Lord. The text does not tell us the reason for Gideon’s actions, but perhaps he felt it was better for the people to worship something superficially related to worshiping the Lord, rather than following a foreign god. Seeing a priest’s garment reminds us that a priest serves the Lord. But we can so easily focus on the majesty of the ephod itself, and think no more about the priest’s duty nor about the Lord. We sometimes drift further from the Lord without even realizing it (see Swedenborg’s work, Divine Providence 327).