Judges 8: Pursuing Zebah and Zalmunna

Next we find the 2 Midianite Kings in Karkor with their greatly diminished armies.  Gideon wages a surprise attack and conquers them.  He is incredibly dogged in their pursuit and finally at 8:18 we learn why.

“Describe for me the men you killed at Tabor.” Gideon demands.    “They were like you. Each one looked like a king’s son,” the two respond snidely. This enrages Gideon.  “They were my brothers, the sons of my mother. I swear, as surely as the Lord is alive, if you had let them live, I would not kill you.”

He we learn that the Israelis had a “blood vengeance” law i.e. that a blood member of the murdered victim could exact his own retribution.  (Number 35: 12-28, Cities of Refuge)  

But if he strikes him with an iron implement, so that he dies, he is a murderer; the murderer shall surely be put to death. 17 ‘If he strikes him with a stone in the hand, by which one could die, and he does die, he is a murderer; the murderer shall surely be put to death. 18‘Or if he strikes him with a wooden hand weapon, by which one could die, and he does die, he is a murderer; the murderer shall surely be put to death. 19 o ‘The 1 avenger of blood himself shall put the murderer to death; when he meets him. …(Numbers 16-20)

This was called “go’el haddam” There were of course some important points of the law for it to be fulfilled:

  1. Firstly, there had to be a witness to their crime.
  1. Gideon’s young son, Jephthah  (also spelled Jether), would I imagine fulfill that providing he has been bar-mitzvahed (reached the age of majority).  Judges does not say, but I would say that he had not based on the next repartee of Gideon ordering the “boy” to kill the two men and he refrains.  Much is made of that Jephthah  is a young boy and the two kings taunt Gideon on that by telling him to do a “man’s job”.  This all leads me to believe Jephthah was not bar-mitzvahed and was truly  young.
  1. Still Numbers is clear that the “avenger” should do it himself but Gideon tries to get out of it.  The reasoning given is to “humiliate” the Kings.  I don’t agree.  I think true to his form, its cowardice because he had to get angry to cold bloodedly kill them.
  • Next the murderers could flee to a sanctuary or city of refuge if they were Israelites. 
  1. We do not know if Karkor was one of them, it is not mentioned, but as the Midianite Kings, are not Israelites but Ishmaelites (descendants of the elder son of Abraham and Sarah’s handmaid, the Egyptian Hagar, I would imagine that this clause does not apply to them.
  1.   Today like the Midianites (Bedouins), the Ishmaelites are today’s Arabs.  BTW, you can see where Karkor is on the map on the other Judges post.
  • Finally according to Prof. Barry G. Webb’s Book, The Book of Judges, the  suspected murderer could appeal to the elders for his case to be reviewed.  Well the Kings are elders of their tribe,  but as noted  not Israelites,  so I imagine that clause too, is null.
  1. Professor Webb is the senior research fellow emeritus in Old Testament at Moore Theological College, Sydney, Australia; where he taught for thirty-three years.  Here is his blog post about the book, I recommend reading it it is very informative.

So Gideon the avenger,  kills his brother’s murderers.  What definitely leaves a bad taste is that he then takes their crescent-shaped gold ornaments from the camel’s necks for himself.

As for Succoth and Penuel, he fulfills his promises to those towns as well; Succoth’s leaders are whipped with thorns and briers but Penuel, he goes beyond that and not only destroys their tower but kills all the men in the city.

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