Then the men of Ephraim said to Gideon, "Why have you done this to us? Why did you fail to call us when you went to fight against Midian?" And they contended with him violently.
I. THEY OUGHT NOT TO BE SUFFERED TO INTERFERE WITH THE CHIEF ENDS AND PRESSING CLAIMS OF DIVINE SERVICE. Gideon hastens after the routed and retreating foe. The sullen apathy of Ephraim, the refusal of Succoth and Penuel to meet the demands of patriotism and humanity, do not turn him aside. When the last blow has been struck and the power of Midian is laid low he will return and mete out to each according to their deserts. This is an illustration of how side issues may often arise, and of the manner in which they are to be dealt with. It is seldom that the difficulties and oppositions of life, however annoying and restraining they may be, can utterly prevent the graver duties or excuse dilatoriness. Frequently the petty nature of the opposition is revealed by steadfast continuance in the path of duty, and solitary resolution. We must do what we can, leaving with others the responsibility for their own conduct. The greatest workers in Christ's vineyard have had to labour and live on amidst misunderstanding, obloquy, and hindrance; but their work has been achieved nevertheless, and its moral effect has been all the greater.
II. WHEN THE PROPER TIME ARRIVES THEY MUST BE DEALT WITH ACCORDING TO THE NATURE AND DEGREE OF THE OPPOSITION. A wise discrimination is needed. Where gentleness will avail, harsh measures are to be avoided. Gideon knew the haughty character of Ephraim, the wound their ambitious spirit had sustained when the leadership was wrested from their hands, and so he exercised forbearance, and was gentle and pacific. Civil war was averted when it might have involved national ruin, and the generous side of Ephraim was appealed to. "A soft answer turneth away wrath." After all, Ephraim had atoned for past misbehaviour by the timely and effective service rendered even in the face of an unexplained misunderstanding. It is wise to credit our opponents with the best motives, and to speak gently and reasonably, abstaining from self-glorification. But where the hindrance had been a national crime and a violation of the first principles of humanity a different course was pursued. Here the functions of the judge were called into exercise. The punishment was stern and exemplary, but carefully meted out. Succoth and Penuel are visited with prompt and terrible recompense. But the princes and elders are punished, as being the chief culprits; the common people, who were helpless, were spared. All heresy and schism, unholiness of life, spiritual opposition, etc., is not to be regarded in the same light. Gentleness may win a brother. A little blame may rest with ourselves. Allowance is to be made for the failings of human nature. But we are to have no fellowship with the profane, the blasphemer, the unbeliever, etc. Difference of opinion may co-exist with real co-operation and fellowship. - M.
Is not the gleaning of the grapes of Ephraim better.1. Their unthankfulness was great, and the injury which he sustained thereby, who ought to have been much honoured of them for his industry and labour. We ought not to look for our reward and commendation for well-doing from men, but to rest in this, that God knoweth our works, and it is enough that we are sure that from Him we shall receive our reward.
2. Another of the faults of these Ephraimites against Gideon is that they envied him for the honour he got by the victory. Whereby, though they sustained no hurt, neither were the worse, but the better, yet they could not bear it, that Gideon should have the glory of it: where we may see a foul property of envy, and what it is. It is a grief and sadness for the prosperity of others, and namely, of such as be our equals. And when I say envy is a grief at our equals for any eminency or prosperity that they have above us, I mean such as are in kindred estate, years, dignity, or in gifts like us. And the cause of this envy is not for that we are troubled as though any hurt or danger were coming towards us from them whom we envy (for that is another affection, to wit, fear), but for that through a cankered stomach we cannot bear it, that such an one as is no better than ourselves should be lifted up so high and commended so far above us. And is not this a cursed mind in us, that we cannot be willing that another should fare well, we being never the worse, and that we should have an evil eye at that for the which we should rejoice? And because I now speak of the Ephraimites, I think it not amiss to add this of them, that their father Ephraim, the younger being preferred by Jacob before the elder brother Manasseh, the stock and offspring of them exalted themselves since from age to age, and are noted for it oft times in the history of the Old Testament. As in Joshua we read they among others were discontented with their portion, so in the twelfth of this book the posterity of them contended with Jephtha for not calling them with him to battle against the Ammonites after he had overcome them; even as these Ephraimites did here with Gideon. So Esau, himself deadly hating his brother, derived this sin to his posterity, the Edomites; so Ahab did idolatry to the generations that came after him. And hereby we may learn what force some blemishes and corruptions in a flock or kindred have to infect almost the whole posterity, God justly thus punishing the sins of the fathers upon the children to many generations, punishing sin with sin.
3. And yet one thing more note in these Ephraimites, namely, the flights, subtleties, doubleness, and hollowness that lie hidden in men's hearts, till they have occasion to show them, or grace to repent of them. These would now seem to have had great injury that they were not called to the battle, whereas it was their own sin that they went not, for they did forbear for fear of danger, and were willing to stand by, as it were, lying in the wind to wait for the issue. So that if Gideon and their brethren the Israelites that joined with him had lost the day, then all the blame would have been laid upon them by these Ephraimites; but now they had got the victory by God's direction and blessing, they complain on the other side that they had injury themselves, for that they were not, as they said, bidden to help in the battle. Wherein we may behold deep subtlety and hypocrisy, and how far all such are from simplicity and plain dealing, that according to the proverb, howsoever the world go they will save one, and however it fall out, they will provide for themselves.
(W. Miller, M. A.)
I. OURS IS THE GOLDEN AGE OF TRUTH.
1. The body of truth is larger than that of any former times. Aristotle, one of the most learned of the ancients, if he were to return to-day, could hardly pass a preliminary examination for admission to one of our grammar schools. The results of past research and controversy along the past have accumulated into a great treasury of knowledge. Each generation has contributed its part. History is not a treadmill, wherein men go round and round, getting nowhere; but a thoroughfare, the King's highway, whereon we journey like a royal troop, league by league, laden with the spoils of the conquest, until we come to the palace of the King.
2. The great body of truth thus accumulated is held in a truer spirit of toleration than the past ever knew.
3. Along with this goes a truer orthodoxy than of old. The denominations may differ, and indeed do differ, with respect to minor matters, but they are loyal to old landmarks.
II. OURS IS ALSO THE GOLDEN AGE OF MORALITY, particularly in its larger sense as touching all the relations of man with his fellow-men.
1. The industrial reform may be cited in evidence. Capital has rights, for which it tenaciously strives; labour has rights, for which it vigorously contends. Out of this conflict must come the solution: an honest day's wage for an honest day's work; corporations with souls, and labourers with rights.
2. The temperance reform. This was almost unheard of a century ago. For this we have to thank the fathers who gathered the vintage of Abi-ezer, who in the controversies of moral suasion and legislation wrought out these more salutary methods and passed on their achievements to us.
3. Political reform. We hear much of "civic corruption" in these days, of bribery, blackmail, etc. In the time of William
III. bribery was so commonly practised that the king publicly announced his inability to dispense with it, saying, "Under the existing order of things, to refuse the common practice would endanger the crown." The municipal corruption which is so arousing the popular indignation at this moment would have been made little of in former days. It is a good sign — this stirring about the Augean stables.
4. Sociological problems. All branches of the Christian Church are concerned in the discussion of questions which touch the welfare of the community; the betterment of home and society; the care of the poor, the aged, and all incapables. The liberalitas of the ancient world has given way to the caritas of our religion. We are beginning to understand the song of the angels, not merely in its ascription of glory to God, but also in its expression of goodwill toward men.
5. As to personal character. We make more of character and less of adventitious prominence than of old.
III. THIS IS THE GOLDEN AGE OF MORAL ENERGY. Truth and ethics are changed into power by a fire burning beneath them. The Church works with a purpose. A man, aside from his creed and personal graces, must in these times have something to do.
1. There was a time when good people were chiefly concerned about their personal salvation. Each for himself was the shibboleth of those days.
2. At other times the people of God have been chiefly concerned for the preservation of the Church. This was the meaning of the Crusades; in them we find a stern endeavour to rescue the Holy Sepulchre, and so vindicate the majesty of the Church and avenge her wrongs. The effort was not to convert the infidel, but to destroy him root and branch.
3. In our time we speak of the kingdom. This is the missionary age. All are summoned to work — men, women, and children. All are summoned to work for the evangelisation of the world — the deliverance of souls from sin. We seem to be dwelling in the early twilight of the last days. The victory of Christ is a foregone conclusion. His glory shall cover the earth as the waters cover the sea.
(D. J. Burrell, D. D.)
(J. R. Macduff, D. D.)
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