Gideon was a mighty man of valor (Judges 6:12). Because of their national sins, Israel was being oppressed by the Midianites. God raised up a champion to deliver Israel from their hand. That champion was Gideon. Thirty-two thousand Israelites volunteered to fight with Gideon, but God said that was too many (Judges 7:2-3). The number was culled down to ten thousand, but even that was too many. Why? In the coming battle the soldiers would take the credit for the victory rather than acknowledging it had come from God.
And the LORD said unto Gideon, The people are yet too many; bring them down unto the water, and I will try them for thee there: and it shall be, that of whom I say unto thee, This shall go with thee, the same shall go with thee; and of whomsoever I say unto thee, This shall not go with thee, the same shall not go. So he brought down the people unto the water: and the LORD said unto Gideon, Every one that lappeth of the water with his tongue, as a dog lappeth, him shalt thou set by himself; likewise every one that boweth down upon his knees to drink. And the number of them that lapped, putting their hand to their mouth, were three hundred men: but all the rest of the people bowed down upon their knees to drink water. And the LORD said unto Gideon, By the three hundred men that lapped will I save you, and deliver the Midianites into thine hand: and let all the other people go every man unto his place. (Judges 7:4-7)
The question here is: What really took place in this manner of selection? Other translations may make the description clearer, but the meaning is this: Anticipating a battle, there were those who did not kneel down and put their mouths directly into the water. Rather, they bent over and scooped up water with their hands in a rapid manner and drank. The others went down on their knees and placed their mouths into the water. Those who did not kneel down were selected to fight – 300 of them. It is believed that these 300 indicated a more readiness and penchant for fighting rather than the others. At any rate it was by divine direction and selection. In the following account Gideon and the 300 gained a great victory over the Midianites.
In Judges 8 what occurred when Gideon “taught the men of Succoth” by means of thorns and briers?
In the pursuit of the fleeing Midianite kings, Zebah and Zalmunna, Gideon had asked the leaders of Succoth (a city east of the Jordan) for food as his soldiers were faint. The princes replied, “. . . Are the hands of Zebah and Zalmunna now in thine hand, that we should give bread unto thine army?” Then Gideon said, “. . . When the LORD hath delivered Zebah and Zalmunna into mine hand, then I will tear your flesh with the thorns of the wilderness and with briers” (vv. 7-8). After capturing the kings, Gideon returned to Succoth and said, “. . . Behold Zebah and Zalmunna, with whom ye did upbraid me, saying, Are the hands of Zebah and Zalmunna now in thine hand, that we should give bread unto thy men that are weary? And he took the elders of the city, and thorns of the wilderness and briers, and with them he taught the men of Succoth (vv. 15-16). Though some commentators believe Gideon killed these leaders, the account does not say so. The word “taught” means “to know,” that is, they were made to know the folly of their judgment — a lesson they would not forget. Gideon tormented their bodies either by scourging or rolling them in the thorns or briers. This correction was intended, not for destruction, but to make them wiser and more thoughtful in the future. As fellow Israelites they had no confidence or faith in the leader God had raised up to deliver His people from the Midianites. In reality, they had offended God. Gideon taught them to “know themselves.”
1 Samuel 6:19 is enigmatical because of the translation, and as a result commentators vary on the interpretation. The Ark of the Covenant had been captured by the Philistines and was being returned to Israel. Because the men of Bethshemesh had looked into the Ark, an act absolutely forbidden by God, a number of them were slain. Bethshemesh was a priestly city (Joshua 21:16), and there were ample priests available to perform the duty of returning the Ark. The text reads: “And he (God) smote the men of Bethshemesh, because they had looked into the ark of the LORD, even he smote of the people fifty thousand and threescore and ten men: and the people lamented, because the LORD had smitten many of the people with a great slaughter.” The word “many” is not in the original. Since Bethshemesh was but a village, the number in the Authorized Version does not appear to be correct. Josephus says the number was 70. The wording in the original is difficult to understand, and the 50,000 figure seems to have crept into the text from a marginal note.
An explanation is required for 1 Samuel 28:11-20 — the account regarding the witch of Endor. Saul had lost the favor of God and was facing a critical battle with the Philistines. Because of his rebellion, God refused to answer his inquiries. So Saul sought an answer from a witch. “Then said Saul unto his servants, Seek me a woman that hath a familiar spirit, that I may go to her, and enquire of her. And his servants said to him, Behold, there is a woman that hath a familiar spirit at Endor” (v. 7).
The witch asked Saul:
Whom shall I bring up unto thee? And he said, Bring me up Samuel. And when the woman saw Samuel, she cried with a loud voice: and the woman spake to Saul, saying, Why hast thou deceived me? for thou art Saul. And the king said unto her, Be not afraid: for what sawest thou? And the woman said unto Saul, I saw gods ascending out of the earth. And he said unto her, What form is he of? And she said, An old man cometh up; and he is covered with a mantle. And Saul perceived that it was Samuel, and he stooped with his face to the ground, and bowed himself.
Keep in mind Samuel was dead (1 Sam. 28:3). So did the witch really bring up Samuel? Some seem to think so, but this notion contradicts clear-cut Scriptures that say the opposite.
Notice the following:
For in death there is no remembrance of thee: in the grave who shall give thee thanks? (Ps. 6:5)
The dead praise not the LORD, neither any that go down into silence. (Ps. 115:17)
Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help. His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish. (Ps. 146:3-4)
These things said he (Christ): and after that he saith unto them, Our friend Lazarus sleepeth; but I go, that I may awake him out of sleep. Then said his disciples, Lord, if he sleep, he shall do well. Howbeit Jesus spake of his death: but they thought that he had spoken of taking of rest in sleep. Then said Jesus unto them plainly, Lazarus is dead. (John 11:11-14).
Since Jesus said the Scripture cannot be broken (John 10:35), what is the problem with Samuel being brought up by the witch of Endor? Note particularly that Saul did not see Samuel. Only the witch did. Saul perceived that it was Samuel. What does “perceive” mean? It means “to know,” “to become aware of.” It does not mean “to see with the eyes.” The original Hebrew text does not contain the punctuation marks we use today. Properly, in these passages the word Samuel should be enclosed in quote marks. What do quote marks denote? They would denote a shift in usage, or irony. Irony is the use of words that express something other than and especially the opposite of the intended meaning. Since this figure was a demon masquerading as Samuel, quote marks would be the appropriate punctuation to indicate that this was not Samuel. Samuel was dead and the dead know nothing. The demon in the rest of the account forecast the death of Saul.
But how did the demon know what was going to happen to Saul? An answer may be found in 1 Kings 22, where we find demons are sometimes privy to God’s plans. We read in 1 Chronicles 10:13-14: “So Saul died for his transgression which he committed against the LORD, even against the word of the LORD, which he kept not, and also for asking counsel of one that had a familiar spirit, to enquire of it; And enquired not of the LORD: therefore he slew him, and turned the kingdom unto David the son of Jesse.” Saul’s enquiry to God displayed an unwillingness to humble himself in order to gain a right spirit.
The following account is found in 2 Samuel 21. For a period of three years drought prevailed in the land of Israel. David inquired of the Lord: “And the LORD answered: It is for Saul, and for his bloody house, because he slew the Gibeonites.” The Gibeonites were Amorites who, during the days of Joshua, had tricked Israel into swearing by an oath not to harm them (Josh. 9:3-17). Saul in his misguided zeal broke that oath and attempted to extricate them. David asked the Gibeonites what could be done to make atonement. Their answer was, “Let seven men of his sons be delivered unto us, and we will hang them up unto the LORD in Gibeah of Saul, whom the LORD did choose. And the king said, I will give them . . . . And he delivered them into the hands of the Gibeonites, and they hanged them in the hill before the LORD: and they fell all seven together, and were put to death in the days of harvest, in the first days, in the beginning of barley harvest” (vv.6, 9).
The question is: Why did David permit this when the Bible says the sons are not to be put to death for the deeds of the fathers? “The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, neither shall the children be put to death for the fathers: every man shall be put to death for his own sin (Deut. 24:16). The answer is found in the following texts: “. . . For I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me”(Ex. 20:5). “. . . The LORD, The LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty. . .” (Ex. 34:6-7). “Notwithstanding the LORD turned not from the fierceness of his great wrath, wherewith his anger was kindled against Judah, because of all the provocations that Manasseh had provoked him withal. And the LORD said, I will remove Judah also out of my sight, as I have removed Israel . . . ” (2 Kings 23:26-27). “And I will forsake the remnant of mine inheritance, and deliver them into the hand of their enemies; and they shall become a prey and a spoil to all their enemies; Because they have done that which was evil in my sight, and have provoked me to anger, since the day their fathers came forth out of Egypt, even unto this day” (2 Kings 21:14-15).
What conclusion can be drawn from this? An important key is found in the first verse of 2 Samuel 21. Notice it: “. . . The LORD answered, It is for Saul, and for his bloody house, because he slew the Gibeonites.” It should be obvious that these family members were turned over to the Gibeonites because they had participated in the slaughter of the Gibeonites!
In 2 Samuel 24 why was God angry because David numbered Israel? We read: “And again the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he moved David against them to say, Go, number Israel and Judah.” The marginal reference in verse one for the word “he” is Satan, that is, Satan provoked him. See also 1 Chronicles 21:1. Joab immediately recognized this was a mistake, but neither he nor David realized that Satan had provoked David to do this. Later David realized his mistake. “And David’s heart smote him after that he had numbered the people. And David said unto the LORD, I have sinned greatly in that I have done: and now, I beseech thee, O LORD, take away the iniquity of thy servant; for I have done very foolishly (v. 10).
Notice the statement in verse one, “And again the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel . . . .” Obviously some national sin continued even after the punishment by the famine recorded in 2 Samuel 21, sin that required further punishment. More than likely there had been no national remorse over the nation’s support in the rebellions of Absalom and Sheba (2 Sam. 15; 2 Sam. 20). Chapter 24 records how God permitted David to yield to temptation by withholding His support and grace. Numbering the people was not sinful in itself, for in previous instances it was done by God’s direction. So this act by David was certainly presumptuous. What was wrong was that such a census would incline any king, and David was not an exception, to rely on numbers of men for the glory and success of victory in war that belonged to God alone. Did David undertake this project for the purpose of expanding his kingdom, or to levy more taxes for his projects, or to increase his forced labor battalions? The Bible does not reveal the answer except to show what was done was very evil in the sight of the Lord.
When God gave David three choices of punishment that were to be placed upon the nation (2 Sam. 24:12-13), this chastisement was meant to humble David’s pride and diminish his self-confidence. He realized he was the one responsible for the coming discipline. But not altogether. God’s anger against the nation was based on some reality that God alone was aware of. As we see in the following account, David chose to fall upon God’s mercy by means of a three-day plague. By David’s repentance and the offering of sacrifices, the plague was stayed. In the plague seventy thousand men died, which somewhat reduced the numbers David had confidently relied upon. Both David and the people were punished for their sins, an object lesson for all to see.