Notes on Judges 8:1-14

by Jonathan Spurlock
(Holts Summit, MO)

Judges 8:1, KJV 1 And the men of Ephraim said unto him, Why hast thou served us thus, that thou calledst us not, when thou wentest to fight with the Midianites? And they did chide with him sharply.

It is not clear why Ephraim would ask a question like this. Their land or territory was several miles south of the area where the Midianites and others had camped. The land of Ephraim was hill country so travel would have been difficult at best to head north, towards Manasseh and Asher, and assist in the battle.

It is also unclear why Ephraim would be upset or “chide” with Gideon. When he noticed the Midianites and others were attempting to cross the Jordan river, he sent messengers to Ephraim asking for their help in fighting the Midianites and others.

2 And he said unto them, What have I done now in comparison of you? (Is) not the gleaning of the grapes of Ephraim better than the vintage of Abiezer?

Here Gideon uses a soft answer to “turn away wrath (Proverbs 15:1)” and to speak peace to the Ephraimites. He also used a comparison, saying in so many words that “you did even better than I did”.

3 God hath delivered into your hands the princes of Midian, Oreb and Zeeb: and what was I able to do in comparison of you? Then their anger was abated toward him, when he had said that.

Again Gideon praises the men of Ephraim for what they had done. The last verses of Judges 7 describe how Ephraim captured Oreb and Zeeb, executed them, and brought their heads to Gideon. Gideon had led his 300 soldiers at the beginning of the battle, and the men of Ephraim—an unspecified quantity—finished the battle when they captured these two princes of Midian.

God used Gideon in a different way to speak peace and perhaps avoid another conflict among the tribes.

4 And Gideon came to Jordan, (and) passed over, he, and the three hundred men that (were) with him, faint, yet pursuing (them).

Gideon had been threshing wheat (see chapter 6) so these events most likely took place near harvest time, usually in warm weather. The Jordan was probably not in flood stage as it was when Joshua and the Israelites crossed it in order to enter the land as recorded in Joshua 3-4.

It is no surprise that Gideon’s soldiers were faint, as they had been up most of the night and had been chasing the Midianites over a large amount of land. Besides that, there is no record that Gideon or any of his soldiers had eaten anything since the battle started.

5 And he said unto the men of Succoth, Give, I pray you, loaves of bread unto the people that follow me; for they (be) faint, and I am pursuing after Zebah and Zalmunna, kings of Midian.

There were at least two places called Succoth. One was located near the city of Rameses in Egypt (Ex. 12:37) and the other was east of the Jordan in Gad’s territory (Joshua 13:24-28). The Succoth east of the Jordan had existed since Jacob’s time (Genesis 33:17).

Gideon now made a reasonable request of the men of Succoth, that they would give some food to his soldiers. He also explained that he was chasing the kings of Midian. If Midian had basically conquered the Israel on the west side of the Jordan, it wouldn’t be long before they went for the rest of Israel.

Gideon’s enemies were also Succoth’s enemies. Had they realized that by this time?

6 And the princes of Succoth said, (Are) the hands of Zebah and Zalmunna now in thine hand, that we should give bread unto thine army?

This is an incredible insult to Gideon and the men with him. The people of Succoth may have already heard about the men of Ephraim and how they had brought the heads of Oreb and Zeeb, the princes of Midian, back to Gideon (Judges 7:25).

7 And Gideon said, Therefore when the LORD hath delivered Zebah and Zalmunna into mine hand, then I will tear your flesh with the thorns of the wilderness and with briers.

Gideon had faith in the LORD’s promised victory over Zebah and Zalmunna and the rest of Midian. There is no record he asked for the LORD’s guidance in what he said to the men of Succoth.

Admittedly the threatened punishment seems harsh. Had the men of Succoth given food to Gideon’s army none of this would have happened.

8 And he went up thence to Penuel, and spake unto them likewise: and the men of Penuel answered him as the men of Succoth had answered (him).

Penuel’s exact location is not certain but was probably close to Succoth. Gideon and his army wouldn’t, or maybe couldn’t, go very far without food so it is likely they tried to ask for food from each city they passed by.

Penuel itself was where Jacob had wrestled with God Himself (Genesis 32:24-30) and had his name changed from Jacob to Israel.

9 And he spake also unto the men of Penuel, saying, When I come again in peace, I will break down this tower.

Towers were mentioned often in the Bible. One of the most noted was the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11). The specific purpose for this tower is not mentioned but could be an observation tower. Penuel was on the east side of Jordan, perhaps close to the border between Israel’s territory and that of Ammon. Gideon promised to destroy the tower because Penuel, like Succoth, did not provide food for his army.

10 Now Zebah and Zalmunna (were) in Karkor, and their hosts with them, about fifteen thousand (men), all that were left of all the hosts of the children of the east: for there fell an hundred and twenty thousand men that drew sword.

Karkor’s location is not specified, except that it is or was most likely east of the Jordan. It seems unlikely the Midianites and others would try to cross the Jordan again, after losing all but 15,000 left of the original 135,000 who had originally invaded Israel.

11 And Gideon went up by the way of them that dwelt in tents on the east of Nobah and Jogbehah, and smote the host: for the host was secure.

This verse contains some very sketchy information. The locations of these cities are not certain except that they probably are or were east of the Jordan River. Neither is the identity of the tent-dwellers.

The text does not give details how Gideon and his army “smote” or defeated the Midianites, nor does it give any details if Gideon asked for a sign or other information from God. A hint of a miracle is contained in the words “the host was secure” and yet Gideon’s army defeated them.

12 And when Zebah and Zalmunna fled, he pursued after them, and took the two kings of Midian, Zebah and Zalmunna, and discomfited all the host.

Note the contrast: in the previous verse, the host (Midianite army, those remaining from the original 135,000 soldiers) were “secure”, Now, Gideon “discomfited (an old word meaning to defeat utterly; rout” according to ) the host or army. The text gives no details.

The kings of Midian managed to escape both battles but Gideon captured them anyway.

13 And Gideon the son of Joash returned from battle before the sun (was up),

This verse is not clear, in that the text does not state when the battles took place. Judges 7:19 says the Midianites had just “set the (middle) watch”, anywhere, probably between midnight and 3 a.m. It does not seem likely the Israelites defeated the Midianites, chased them across the Jordan, tried to find food at both Succoth and Penuel, and still captured the two kings. The phrase “before the sun (was up)” may mean any time in the morning between daylight and noon but this is not certain.

The important thing is that Gideon was used of God to bring victory for Israel.

[14 And caught a young man of the men of Succoth, and enquired of him: and he described unto him the princes of Succoth, and the elders thereof, even threescore and seventeen men. ]

The text does not say Gideon was at Succoth, only that he caught a young man from there. The young man described all 77 of Succoth’s princes and elders. No significance exists as to the number 77 here.

Scripture quotations taken from the King James Version of the Bible (KJV).

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