Then Gideon and the 300 men who were with him came to the Jordan and crossed over, weary yet pursuing. He said to the men of Succoth, “Please give loaves of bread to the people who are following me, for they are weary, and I am pursuing Zebah and Zalmunna, the kings of Midian.” The leaders of Succoth said, “Are the hands of Zebah and Zalmunna already in your hands, that we should give bread to your army?” (Judges 8:4-6 NASB)
Gideon’s 300 “mini-army” has crashed the pots, shook the torches, blown the trumpets, and saw the innumerable army of desert nomads chaotically rout from the few. Now, pursuing two of their kings, they’re kind of tired. It’s been a long hard day of slaying fleeing foes. They could use a break today, and there’s no fast-food joint to be found.
As they pass by Sukkoth, Gideon asks the city for help for his weary men. The response from the walled “secure” city is, “But you haven’t beaten them yet.” What if we help and those kings survive and come back to punish us? What if you fail? What if…? They’re afraid. They fear the repercussions of doing the right thing. After all, we know that “no good deed goes unpunished.”
So, Gideon promises them a “sign”, but after the fact. Once his men have the heads of the two kings, Gideon will come back and punish them. They’re not exactly afraid of 300 men, having just seen 15,000 camel riders pass by ahead of them. And Gideon moves on, still tired, still hungry.
He went up from there to Penuel and spoke similarly to them; and the men of Penuel answered him just as the men of Succoth had answered. (Judges 8:8 NASB)
So, now, having been refused twice by people of the “Half-tribe of Manasseh”, Gideon presses on after the two kings. It’s very possible, highly probable, that these two cities had a lot to gain by Gideon winning. So, why not help? Seven years of these camel-riding “locusts” led them to believe it wouldn’t change because of 300 men. And no one believes in God anymore.
We’re not that far from this situation now. There aren’t enough people to make a difference, and no one believes in God anymore. But, this is still early in the chapter. The fight hasn’t ended yet. And Gideon does defeat these kings with the 300. On his return we have the following:
Then Gideon the son of Joash returned from the battle by the ascent of Heres. And he captured a youth from Succoth and questioned him. Then the youth wrote down for him the princes of Succoth and its elders, seventy-seven men. He came to the men of Succoth and said, “Behold Zebah and Zalmunna, concerning whom you taunted me, saying, ‘Are the hands of Zebah and Zalmunna already in your hand, that we should give bread to your men who are weary?'” He took the elders of the city, and thorns of the wilderness and briers, and he disciplined the men of Succoth with them. He tore down the tower of Penuel and killed the men of the city. (Judges 8:13-17 NASB)
In our day, we’re distracted by the brutality, but the point then, as now, is that God did deliver victory with 300, in spite of nay-sayers, doubters, and quitters. Those who refused to help didn’t prevent the victory, or even impede it. Instead, they opted out of the blessings that were theirs for participation. That’s what the writer of Judges intended for his audience to learn. And that’s the lesson for us today.
That’s what I see through my hole in the fence. What do you see?