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This blog site will feature essays, columns and musings that deal with the intersection of Christianity and journalism and the American Songbook.

Christian journalist: Gideon, grapes and Zeeb (Judges 8:1-3)

“Now the Ephraimites asked Gideon, ‘Why have you treated us like this? Why didn’t you call us when you went to fight Midian?’ And they criticized him sharply. But he answered them, ‘What have I accomplished compared to you? Aren’t the gleanings of Ephraim’s grapes better than the full grape harvest of Abiezer? God gave Oreb and Zeeb into your hands. What was I able to do compared to you?’ At this, their resentment against him subsided.”

Exegesis and Application

This is a perfect illustration of the proverb, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” (Proverbs 15:1)

Several features of this short historical account bear mentioning. First, why should the Ephraimites be so angry about not being a part of the conquering party? They had been involved before (7:24-25). It appears that Gideon asked the northern tribes to begin the attack and since Ephraim was south of Manasseh they were asked to cut off the southern retreat of Midianites. There seems to be nothing underhanded about Gideon’s decision concerning the troops from Ephraim. Interestingly, in Judges 1, we read where all the tribes involved in this battle failed to drive out the Canaanites when required to do so by Yahweh, so clearly Gideon wasn’t singling out the Ephraimites for punishment.

How does Gideon respond to the sharp criticism and accusation of his fellow Israelites, the Ephraimites? Gideon’s response is not theological in that he claims a divine mandate, but rather sociological and psychological. He makes three, maybe four prudent and wise points in reply to the Ephraimite charge:

1) He tells them that his accomplishments pale in comparison to their accomplishments. He says this twice in two verses (vs. 2 & 3).

2) He tells them that the booty from the victory over the Midianites is nothing in comparison to what they have in Ephraim. And that which is carefully cultivated in his region of Manasseh (i.e., Abiezer) is not as good as even the leftovers from an Ephraim harvest.

3) He reminds them that they have captured the two commanders of the Midianites – Oreb and Zeeb. What more important battle trophies are there? And these two trophies are a sign of God’s favor since he gave the leaders to them.

4) In his reply he uses the term “Elohim” for God in rather than “Yahweh.” Not to make too much of this, but clearly, the Ephraimites are mad at God’s anointed leader, Gideon, so perhaps to distance himself from spiritual hectoring, Gideon uses the term for “God” that the dreaded Midianites used earlier (7:14). No self-righteousness in Gideon’s answer.

Gideon’s reply to the Ephraimites’ angry confrontation diffuses the situation and they are rightfully placated. Gideon tells the truth, gives no ground in compromising and gently resolves a touchy issue. The rest of chapter 8 confirms that Gideon is not naturally given to gentleness or timidity, so his response to Ephraim is all the more remarkable that “the Spirit of God was upon him” (7:34) and empowered him to be wise as a serpent and gentle as a dove.

A word fit for the occasion by a careful user of language works wonders.

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