January 18, 2014

Mega Thanatos III: Gideon's Revenge & Ahab’s Human Meatgrinder

Judges 8:10 ~ Now Zebah and Zalmunna were in Karkor with a force of about fifteen thousand men, all that were left of the armies of the eastern peoples; a hundred and twenty thousand swordsmen had fallen.

We read in Judges that Gideon and his men killed one hundred and twenty thousand Midianites. As we have asked before, we have to ask again. Why such a large death toll? Zebah and Zalmunna were (2) two kings/commanders of the Midianites that had managed to escape previous destruction at the hands of Gideon and his men. It appears Gideon had caught up with them in Karkor. It seems as if Gideon came upon them with surprise and they were routed. The kings were subsequently captured. At the time of the rout we read that the remaining 15,000 that are attacked at Karkor are actually a remnant of a force of about 135,000. That means 120,000 were summarily killed. Although it is not explicitly stated, the remainder are probably killed here. The truth is that if Gideon does not wipe out the remaining 15,000, he has left the charge to him incomplete. He only would've done a partial job. If God is anything, He is thorough and He expects the same of His people. When Christ came to die for our sins he completed the job and then said, "It is finished." What do we suppose would've happened if Jesus pulled up just short of the Cross or Resurrection? There would be no salvation for anyone. Getting the job done is what God is all about.

Unlike the previous chapter Gideon's blood vengeance seems to replace national deliverance as a motive for his actions with the Midianites when he subsequently deals with his "allies" that wouldn't help his men. A once doubting and fearful person has not become a brutalizing aggressor. In this passage Gideon seems to deal ruthlessly with his own Trans-Jordanian countrymen who reject his request for supplies of an exhausted group of men. So why does the one who had accomplish so much for God in the previous chapter of Judges turn certifiably homicidal in chapter 8 with his allies?

I believe here we see the definitive need for a divine Savior. A divine king. A divine liberator or vindicator. In Gideon we see a flawed man and the flawed equivalent of all the positions mentioned above. The sword that had belonged to the Lord and Gideon (Judges 7:18-20) is now tainted because of the human hand that holds it. The writer of Judges paints of picture of a horribly flawed human deliverer that is the virtual antithesis of a divine/human deliverer, judge and king which the era of the judges and kings would inaugurate. In stark contrast to the patience and grace of God, we see a brutal, harsh and graceless man killing tens of thousands in a vengeful rampage. We as readers must be careful to distinguish the difference between the national interests that Gideon is used for by God and the personal vendettas that often distract Gideon away from his duty as a judge.

We will later read in 1 Kings 20:29 that the children of Israel slew 100,000 Syrian footmen in a single day…and a wall would fall upon the remaining 27,000.

1 Kings 20:26-30 ~ “In the spring, Ben-Haded mustered the Syrians and went up to Aphek to fight against Israel. And the people of Israel were mustered and were provisioned and went against them. The people of Israel encamped before them like two little flocks of goats, but the Syrians filled the country. And a man of God came near and said to the king of Israel, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Because the Syrians have said, “The Lord is a god of the hills but he is not a god of the valleys,” therefore I will give all this great multitude into your hand, and you shall know that I am the Lord.’” And they encamped opposite one another seven days. Then on the seventh day the battle was joined. And the people of Israel struck down of the Syrians 100,000 foot soldiers in one day. And the rest fled into the city of Aphek, and the wall fell upon 27,000 men who were left.

So why did so many men die at the hands of Ahab who was such an evil king? Ben-Haded and Ahab face off in Israel and there can be only one winner. Ahab is informed by an unknown prophet that if he would call on select officers of provincial commanders to lead the attack, God would give him the victory. In one of the few instances of Ahab actually obeying the command or statutes of God, Ahab gains the upper hand here. The Arameans suffer heavy causalities and Ben-Haded barely escapes with his life. Ben-Haded then replaces lost commanders and re-engages Ahab the following spring. He and his army face near total annihilation to the tune of 100,000 troops in a single day. The remaining 27,000 appear to be crushed by the falling walls of Aphek.

Although Ahab initially obeys the prophet of God and gains the victory, Ben-Haded’s counselors come to him seeking leniency and Ahab grants it based on his own self-trust thereby going against the will of God. Ahab makes a treaty with Ben-Haded which flies in the face of God. Ahab was condemned for forming a treaty with God’s enemy. The irony is that we are condemned when we too make a treaty with God’s enemy and accept it into our lives and live with it. That enemy is sin. It is by holding on to our sins and refusing to relinquish them...that we end up doing the very same thing that Ahab did. The good news is that Jesus takes our condemnation onto Himself in our stead.

As we will see with many incidents involving Ahab, his obedience to God ebbs and flows like a shifting tide (just like ours). Most often Ahab will stand against God /God’s will and he will pay dearly for this oscillation at the end of his life (just like us). Ahab represents a man that pretends to be something he is not and he dies the same way. He pretends to be a believer but only obeys God when it suits him. He pretends to be king but in reality he is second behind the whims and desire of Jezebel. When he dies he is pretending to be a common soldier instead of the king that he was supposed to be. Just like the rest of his life…he should’ve been a king but instead he was only a pretender.

So why the decimation of Ben-Haded’s troops? Ben-Haded is Aramean and is the king of Aram, Damascus. In reality we do not see a victory by Ahab’s military might...we see a military victory because of the might of God’s intervention. It is the prophet of God steering the king behind the scenes that effects the outcome of the battle that wipes-out Ben-Haded’s army. There are in reality two battles against the Arameans. One is a siege against Samaria itself and then a battle of Aphek where walls come down in the end crushing what amounts to the population of substantial town. In the first the Arameans are soundly defeated. In the second they remaining forces are decimated. The truth is that the Arameans were in constant hostilities with Israel. These constant merciless incursions by the Arameans would have justified the cost of life but there is more here. Two battles give Ahab two chances to see the omnipotence and sovereignty of God yet Ahab persists in is apostate and rebellious ways. Ahab’s eventual victories come at his submission to the will of God but he he receives judgment for the opposite. Not only is judgment visited on the pagan Arameans, it will also be visited upon an apostate Ahab.

We see God’s unconditional love to His people too. There is nothing in this passage to make us believe that God’s mercies upon Israel are warranted. If anything, both Gideon's secondary behavior and Ahab’s misdeeds dictate against this. Yet God’s faithfulness to His people persists. God is long-suffering with His disobedient followers and still watches over them and protects them from the contamination of other pagan cultures even when His own people may be just as guilty at times. How often do we see the sins of the Church outpace that of society-at-large in things like divorce, adultery, immorality...yet God is still faithful? The mercy and forbearance of God is riddled throughout this narrative (and our lives) more than any other divine attribute. To overlook this is to miss the theological point of this narrative all together.

If modern man learns anything from this we need to learn that we have much to be thankful for…not the least of which is God’s patience, mercy and faithfulness to His word. It behooves us to repent and seek His forgiveness. To not do so is to tempt the judgment of God just as Ahab did or worse...to incur the judgment as the Arameans received. We are under enough wrath without provoking God, why look a gift horse in the mouth?

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