A Gideon deals with arrogant men (Ephraim) [1-3]
B Succoth & Peniel Refuse help [4-9]
C Z’s Captured [10-12]
B Succoth & Peniel Punished [13-17]
A Gideon deals with arrogant men (Zeb & Zal) [18-21]
The chiastic structure reinforces the promise of God: He will deliver his people from his oppressors.
But the structure also says a great deal more. The majority of the passage is about Israel and its sins. First, we see how Succoth & Peniel are faithless. They did not join in the battle and realize that the victory was the Lord’s. They waiver because they do not believe the promise.
Secondly, Ephraim is in parallel with the two evil kings, Zeb & Zal. What a rebuke! Ephraim’s pride is so abhorrent that they are equated with God’s enemies.
The Pride of Ephraim [1-3]
George Schwab notes that Gideon’s army had intentionally been whittled down to 300 men so there would be no boasting. But that is exactly what Ephraim wants to do. They are not willing to rejoice in the victory or politely watch those appointed by God do God’s work. They want in on the action so they can show how great they are and they are appalled that Gideon wouldn’t ask them to participate.
Gideon’s reply is a quite eloquent. Initially it sounds like he appeases them by telling them how great they are. But there is an implied jab: Great Ephraim accomplished little in comparison to little Gideon.
Succoth & Peniel [4-9; 13-17]
Succoth & Peniel hedge their bets. If Gideon loses, then they will be safe. But unbelief is never safe. Gideon whips them with brier bushes. It is a reminder of the curse of the fall (which was the first sin of unbelief): Thorns & thistles would make their lives miserable.
Gideon pulled down Peniel’s strong tower. Their symbol of pride and protection was no match for Gideon’s tired army. All should take note: Pride cometh before the fall and no one is protected who does not fear the Lord. For God’s weakness is mightier than man’s strength.
Peniel was also the place where Jacob wrestled with God. One might see in this scene the Lord continuing to wrestle with his people.
We should not pass over the fact that Gideon killed the men of Peniel. Why was he so harsh with them when Succoth was merely whipped? Indeed, all who transgress the commandments of the Lord will die. But one wonders if Gideon’s fallen nature and failure as a judge begins to be shown here?
Zeb & Zal [18-21]
Note the chiasm:
A Z’s pride and the killing of Gideon’s clan
B Gideon’s relations (brothers)
C Gideon would have spared
B Gideon’s relations (son)
A Z’s pride and Gideon killing of Z’s.
The pride of Z's is evident. They were haughty to kill off men who were like princes. They arrogantly tell Gideon to kill them himself (likely thinking he was too weak to do it).
Gideon shows he isn't weak in that regard. But a question arises about the center of the chiasm. Some commentators suggest that Gideon was weak in another way. Perhaps it was just talk, but it sounds like he might have compromised the Lord's will by sparing them if they had not killed his family.
Or maybe there is another take. This may be a word that is more intended for Israel than for the Z's. Perhaps the Lord is sending an implicit threat to His own people: He will spare Israel if they are tender to obey Him and deal with each other in righteousness.
I tend to lean toward the latter.
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.