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Sefer Shoftim Chapter 8

In Chapter 7, Gidon successfully defeated the Midanite army and captured two of their leaders, Orev and Zev. However, the Midianite kings Zevach and Zalmanua remained at large and Gidon now pursues them. We see several quarrels break out between the tribes of Israel. Firstly, the tribe of Efraim complain that Gidon only invited them to join the battle when it was almost complete. Gidon’s exceptional leadership qualities allow him to deal with this by reassuring them that their final blow was crucial to the victory. (This will compare to another incident with a later judge Yiftach in Chapter 12, who unfortunately will not deal with a similar complaint as positively.)


Secondly, the Jewish community of Succot and Penuel refuse to give sustenance to the exhausted soldiers who have been pursuing the Midianites. Despite these setbacks, Gidon successfully defeats the Midianites and captures their kings. Returning from the victory, Gidon punishes the people of Succot and Penuel for their lack of compassion. He thrashes 77 elders and destroys the tower of Penuel.


The Midianites had taken many Jewish captives and their kings are now interrogated. King Zevach and King Zalmanua confess to having killed all of them, even those who looked like Gidon (his relatives). Gidon states he would have spared them their lives if they had spared the lives of his relatives, but as they have not, he kills them.


The Israelite men ask Gidon to rule over them, but he declines and states “God shall rule over you!” (8:23). Instead, he requests for donations from their booty and makes an ephod out of it. His intention was to make this into tangible symbol of the Divine victory. However, instead it became a stumbling block for the people who began to worship the ephod itself, rather than seeing it as a representation of God.


This ends the story of Gidon. The text tells us that “the land was tranquil for forty years in the days of Gidon” (8:28). However, following his death, the cycle of Shoftim continues and the people once again worship idols.


The Request for a King

The first mention of a Jewish king comes in this chapter, ironically from the Midianite enemy. The Midianites describe the captives they killed as “like the form of the king’s sons” (8:18). The Da’at Mikra commentary explains this to mean they were handsome and vigorous, like royalty. Although this is just a general comment that they had a regal appearance, this comment is the first hint that a judge has the qualities of a king.


The Jewish people take note of this and in the following section request of Gidon, his son and grandson to rule over them! Until now, there has been no mention of hereditary leadership as each judge is appointed on his (or her) own merits alone. Gidon’s humble response reminds us of his initial reluctance to accept the rule of a judge in the first place (look at Chapter 6). He is reminding the people of an important point: a human king cannot replace the Divine King! The cycle of sin stems from the people’s inability to serve God wholeheartedly. A flesh and blood king will not save them from this. First, they must accept the ultimate reign of the King of Kings: God. Here we see the sparks of the great king debate. This will remain unsolved for another two centuries.

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