Judges 8:10–17 (ESV)
Now Zebah and Zalmunna were in Karkor with their army, about 15,000 men, all who were left of all the army of the people of the East, for there had fallen 120,000 men who drew the sword. And Gideon went up by the way of the tent dwellers east of Nobah and Jogbehah and attacked the army, for the army felt secure. And Zebah and Zalmunna fled, and he pursued them and captured the two kings of Midian, Zebah and Zalmunna, and he threw all the army into a panic.
Then Gideon the son of Joash returned from the battle by the ascent of Heres. And he captured a young man of Succoth and questioned him. And he wrote down for him the officials and elders of Succoth, seventy-seven men. And he came to the men of Succoth and said, “Behold Zebah and Zalmunna, about whom you taunted me, saying, ‘Are the hands of Zebah and Zalmunna already in your hand, that we should give bread to your men who are exhausted?’” And he took the elders of the city, and he took thorns of the wilderness and briers and with them taught the men of Succoth a lesson. And he broke down the tower of Penuel and killed the men of the city.
Gideon’s mission is to capture Zebah and Zalmunna. He doesn’t need to destroy their army. That’s important because Gideon only has 300 men and the Midianite army protecting Zebah and Zalmunna has 15,000 men.
But when Gideon attacks, Zebah and Zalmunna flee. Big mistake. Once again, panic in the Midianite camp is the key to Gideon’s victory. He captures Zebah and Zalmunna and this throws all their army into a panic. Even then, the text doesn’t say their army is destroyed. However, had they kept their wits about them, they could have organized a counter-attack rescue mission with a fifty-to-one overwhelming force.
So, Gideon achieves the very thing the men of Succoth and Penuel thought impossible. He returns triumphant and rubs their noses in it.
The punishment Gideon inflicts on Succoth and Penuel seems extreme until we consider what he’s punishing—something akin to treason. There’s a deep lesson in this.
Treason is typically the betrayal of a nation. A treasonous act either helps the enemy or hurts your own country. This might be giving information or arms to the enemy or harming something on your own side.
But they didn’t do that; they only refused to help their own soldiers. Why is that akin to treason?
Because Gideon’s battle was also spiritual. The rules are different in the spiritual realm. Significant events aren’t limited to just physical things. Worship or any display of loyalty counts, even though it doesn’t involve harm or the physical transfer of anything. You can’t physically harm God anyway.
The Midianite raids that Gideon is putting an end to were the LORD’s punishment for disloyal acts of worship. Those acts transferred no physical assets and didn’t harm anything. Yet the LORD’s response transferred and harmed plenty.
Gideon likewise inflicted great physical punishment in response to a mostly spiritual disloyalty.
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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. ESV stands for the English Standard Version. © Copyright 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved. NIV stands for The Holy Bible, New International Version®. © Copyright 1973 by International Bible Society. Used by permission. All rights reserved. KJV stands for the King James Version.