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camp; seized with a panic, and without attempting the slightest resistance, they turned in hasty flight, and sped on madly, in the hope of gaining the fords of the Jordan, and thus to reach in safety the Desert or some friendly tribe. Fierce was the chase through Palestine; Gideon sent his speedy messengers through all the mountain of Ephraim, bidding the people occupy at once the passes of the Jordan, and so cut off the retreat of the Midianites. The men of Ephraim promptly obeyed the command, and caused a terrible massacre at the fords of the Jordan. They captured also the two Midianite princes, Oreb and Zeeb, slew them, and brought their heads as trophies to Gideon. A hundred and twenty thousand of the enemies fell in this fearful war.
But the men of Ephraim, hardy warriors, conscious of their growing power, and not free from overbearing pride, which was later to cause fatal divisions, felt aggrieved that they should not have been summoned sooner to share in the glory of the victory, and they remonstrated sharply with Gideon. His judicious answer, reflecting the moderation and nobleness of his nature, averted a dangerous conflict: What have I done,' he replied, 'in comparison with you? Is not the gleaning of the grapes of Ephraim better than the vintage of Abi-ezer? God has delivered into your hands the princes of Midian, Oreb and Zeeb, and what was I able to do in comparison with you?' The Ephraimites were satisfied. Gideon and his three hundred men continued their pursuit of the enemy; they hastened on eastward, anxious to capture the Midianite kings Zebah and Zalmunna, crossed the Jordan, and arrived wearied and exhausted at the ancient city of Succoth. They begged for bread to satisfy their hunger; the men of Succoth answered tauntingly, Dost thou hold Zebah and Zalmunna already in thy hands, that we should give bread to thy army?' Gideon swore to take fearful
revenge if he should return victorious, and passed on with his hungry followers. Having arrived at Penuel, he repeated his entreaty, was as heartlessly refused, and menaced a similar retribution. Meanwhile Zebah and Zalmunna had rallied at Karkor the remnant of their army, consisting of fifteen thousand men, eager to crush Gideon and his handful of followers. But the Hebrews, incited by despair, and fighting for their existence, surprised the hostile camp at an unguarded hour with complete success. The heathen army was routed and put to flight; Gideon dashed off in pursuit of the two kings, and captured them. He proceeded with them to Succoth, summoned the elders of the town, seventy-seven in number, and bade them look upon his royal captives. * Behold, here are Zebah and Zalmunna, with whom you mocked me, saying, Are Zebah and Zalmunna already in thy hands, that we should give bread to thy men that are weary?' Thereupon he carried out his fearful threat, and beat the elders to death with thorns and briars. He then fell upon the town of Penuel, and slew its inhabitants. Now he ordered Zebah and Zalmunna to be brought before him; the moment had arrived for fulfilling what he considered a sacred duty. “What manner of men,' he asked the captives, were those you slew at Tabor?' Promptly they replied, “ As thou art, so were they, each one resembled the children of a king. Then Gideon exclaimed, They were my brothers, the sons of my mother; as the Lord lives, if you had saved them alive, I would not slay you.' Desirous to leave to his first born the merit and the glory of the deed, he called upon his son Jether to strike the death-blow. But the youth trembled to approach the famous heroes. Then the kings, anxious to escape the indignity of falling by the hand of a boy, requested Gideon, 'Rise thou, and fall upon us, for as the
man is, so is his strength. So Gideon himself avenged the murder of his brothers, and the war was concluded.
When perfect peace and security were restored, the Hebrews, ready to show their gratitude to the hero who by his fearless courage had restored to them their liberty and their homes, offered him the crown of royalty, to be hereditary among his descendants. But Gideon felt that his task was accomplished; he had always considered himself merely as an agent and instrument of God; he was satisfied to have been the champion of his people, he shrank from being their king, and he replied, 'I will not rule over you, nor shall my son rule over you, the Lord shall rule over you.'
Nothing gives us a better insight into the strange character of the time than the fact recorded of Gideon after this noble answer, which seems to imply an absolute obedience to the Divine will. He requested the Israelites to bring him from the spoils as many golden trinkets as they could find; and when they had presented heavy golden earrings, and chains taken from the camels' necks, and magnificent embroideries, he made of them an image or ephod, and set it up as an object of worship at Ophrah, his own city. Can we doubt that this image was dedicated, not to an idol, but to God, whom it was meant to represent? How far, therefore, was true Mosaism from being established in the minds of even firm believers in the one God!
Gideon had many wives, and became the father of seventy sons, besides whom a wife of inferior rank bore to him at Shechem another son, whom he called Abimelech. He survived his glorious victories for forty years, a happy and peaceful time for the Israelites; and when he died at a great age, he was buried in the grave of his ancestors, mourned by a grateful nation.
But with Gideon departed the faith and the gratitude of the people. They turned to idolatry, and the worship of Baal became again general in the land. A time of confusion and bloodshed followed. Abimelech, ambitious and unscrupulous, aspired to the sole rulership over Israel. He shrank from no crime to secure this end. He first stirred up the people of Shechem : What is better for you—that seventy persons, all the sons of Jerub-baal, reign over you, or that one man reign over you? And remember that I am your bone and your flesh. He found sympathy and support, and proceeding to his father's house at Ophrah with a number of reckless and evil-minded men, he slaughtered all his brothers upon one great stone, possibly an old altar of Baal. Jotham alone, the youngest, escaped the terrible massacre.
The men of Shechem now proclaimed Abimelech king. But Jotham, young as he was, felt deeply his wicked brother's atrocity, and longed to avert the danger that threatened the people. He went up to Mount Gerizim, and when large numbers of Shechemites had assembled, he addressed to them the following fine parable--the first we read of in the Bible :
Hearken to me, ye men of Shechem, that God may hearken to you. Once the trees went forth to anoint a king over them, and they said to the olive-tree, “ Reign thou over us”; but the olive-tree said to them, “Should I leave my fatness, which God and man honour in me, and go to wave over the trees ?” Then the trees said to the fig-tree, “ Come thou and reign over us”; but the figtree said to them, “ Should I forsake my sweetness and my choice fruit, and go to wave over the trees ?” Then
the trees said to the vine, “Come thou and reign over us"; and the vine said to them, “Should I leave my wine, which cheers God and man, and go to wave over the trees ? ” Then all the trees said to the bramble, " Come thou to reign over us”; and the bramble said to the trees, “ If in truth you anoint me king over you, then come and put your trust in my shadow; and if not, let fire come out of the bramble, and devour the cedars of Lebanon."
Concluding the parable with an appeal which implied the interpretation, Jotham exclaimed : “Now, therefore, if you have done truly and sincerely, in that you have made Abimelech king, and if you have dealt well with Jerubbaal and his house, and have done to him as his hands deserve—for my father fought for you, and exposed his life to the danger, and delivered you out of the hand of Midian
if you then have dealt truly and sincerely with Jerub-baal and with his house this day, then rejoice you in Abimelech, and let him also rejoice in you; but if not, let fire come out of Abimelech, and devour the men of Shechem and the house of Millo; and let fire come out from the men of Shechem, and from the house of Millo, and devour Abimelech.'
As Jotham ceased speaking, he disappeared from the mountain top; and fearful for his life, he fled from Gerizim to Beer, where he remained in concealment.
Abimelech was now undisputed ruler, at least over some districts, and he maintained the power for three years. But then a spirit of mutual hostility arose between him and the people of Shechem; the latter waylaid and plundered the followers of Abimelech, who, feeling no longer safe in his old stronghold of Shechem, took up his abode in Arumah. Gaal, the son of Ebed, dexterously fostered the dissension; at a vintage-feast, when all the people were assembled in a great temple of Baal, venting their