Fearful Elders of Succoth

Gideon at Succoth

Bible Reference: Judges 8: 4-17

Heart of the Story: When Gideon and 300 Israelites soldiers were  pursuing the Midianite army, Succoth officials refused provisions to Gideon and his army. After defeating the army, Gideon punished the elders with desert thorns and briers.

Back Story: Because the Israelites started to worshiping Canaanite gods, God allowed the Midianites and their allies to oppress them for seven years. They killed Israelites’ livestock and ruined their crops. The Israelites were reduced to living in mountain clefts, caves and strongholds. Eventually, the Israelites called out to God who raised Gideon to free them.

Gideon was from Manasseh, the only Israelite tribe that was assigned land on both the east side and west side of the Jordan River. Gideon’s home was in the west. With 300 Israelite men Gideon overcame the main Midianite army; however, 10,000 Midianites escaped across the Jordan River. Pursuing the Midianites, Gideon and his 300 men came to Succoth, a town about four miles east of the Jordan River in the tribal lands of Gad.

Manasseh and Gad tribemen knew to each other. Half of Manasseh’s tribal lands bordered Gad on the north; while the fordable Jordan River separated the two tribes on Gad’s west. The Succoth elders knew the viciousness of the Midianite oppression of the central and northern Israel tribes. Probably, they knew about Gideon’s roust of the Midianites in the Jezreel Valley. Despite the lack of telephone and internet, news traveled fast in the ancient world.

Story Line: Gideon asked the Succoth officials for bread for his weary army. Gideon had every reason to expect encouragement and support from the town. The 12 tribes had agreed that in times of national danger they would rally to protect each other. The Succoth officials’ refusal of provisions to Gideon’s army was shocking. Even more so was the insolent taunt that Gideon hadn’t yet captured or killed the Midianite chiefs so why should they support him?

Because Gideon wanted to pursue the Midianites, he took no action against the Succoth officials for their disrespect; however, he promised to return after God gave him victory over the Midiainite kings and tear their flesh with desert thorns and briers. After leaving Succoth, Gideon defeated the Midianites and captured two of their kings, Zebal and Zalmunna. Gideon and his men returned to the Succoth area. They caught a young man of Succoth who wrote down the names of the 77 officials.

Analysis of Relationships: When Gideon entered Succoth after defeating the Midianites, he showed the captured Midian kings to the town officials and reminded them of their taunting words. Then, Gideon and his army punished the officials using thorns and briers. In the Western world today, thorns and briers are rarely used in punishment; however, in the ancient world, they were a common method of punishment. Thorns and briers were placed on a man’s naked body and pressed down by implements like a heavy wooden sleigh. Often the sleighs (sledges) were dragged back and forth over the individual’s body so thorn and brier spines dug deep into and tore the skin. Given the Succoth officials very public and insolent refusal to assist Gideon’s hungry army, probably the soldiers were enthusiastic in their punishment.

The reason that the Succoth officials refused aid to Gideon and his army was because they feared reprisal from the Midianites. Fear is a normal reaction to a real threat, but, Succoth’s fear came with foreswearing of the promise of common support for their Israelite brothers. I wonder if Gideon would have been so angry if the Succoth officials had been open and honest. They could have said something like: “we want to aid you but are afraid that if we do and you do not win the battle, we will be attacked and killed by the Midianites.” True, they would have lost face and been labeled cowards but they wouldn’t have been so offensive.

Several authors implied that the men of Succoth were Israelites by birth, but were Midianites in their hearts. Perhaps, that is an overstatement; but, assuredly, they were looking out for their own town rather than the greater welfare of their nation.

Reflection: Do individuals, countries, and God expect us to keep promises of mutual aid to each other?

Actions of the Succoth elders were shocking in Israel during the period of the Judges. Read other unexpected — even crass — actions of Israelites and early Christians in Lesser Known Bible Characters. See http://www.CarolynRothMinistry.com/

Copyright November 30, 2014. Carolyn A. Roth; all rights reserved.

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