A Bad Lesson on Loyalty, Commitment, and Responsibility
And Gideon came to the Jordan and crossed over, he and the 300 men who were with him, exhausted yet pursuing. So he said to the men of Succoth, “Please give loaves of bread to the people who follow me, for they are exhausted, and I am pursuing after Zebah and Zalmunna, the kings of Midian.”
And the officials of Succoth said, “Are the hands of Zebah and Zalmunna already in your hand, that we should give bread to your army?”
So Gideon said, “Well then, when the Lord has given Zebah and Zalmunna into my hand, I will flail your flesh with the thorns of the wilderness and with briers.”
And from there he went up to Penuel, and spoke to them in the same way, and the men of Penuel answered him as the men of Succoth had answered.
And he said to the men of Penuel, “When I come again in peace, I will break down this tower.””
I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “Good grief, Gideon! Chill out! Why you gonna flail people with thorns and tear down their towers? They aren’t the bad guys?”
There are a couple of different things going on here. For one, from what we can tell none of these guys came out to help Gideon at any point in the battle. They didn’t come out when the army of Israel was forming, and they didn’t come out while the 300 were chasing down the losers.
Second, they are certainly going to reap the benefits of Gideon’s victory. The Lord is taking care of them by sending Gideon, and they should be able to tell by the bloodbath that Gideon is winning. They are pretending to not have any part in this uprising, in case Gideon loses. By being uncommitted, they think they win either way. They keep the Midianite oppressors as friends if the rebellion dies and they enjoy the peace of Israel if Gideon wins.
Gideon won’t have it. Israel has been slowly dividing itself over foreign gods for 40 years and he sees now that is what caused the Midianite oppression. Gideon calls them out to pick a side. It’s the same call from Joshua (Choose this do whom you will serve) and the call from Moses (if you keep these laws, God will be your god and you will be His people.)
Finally, you have the unspoken laws of ancient hospitality. God built in a number of laws that would care for the poor, the alien, the orphan, the widow, and yes, an army. By their inhospitability, Succoth and Penuel show that they aren’t going to be following the laws of Yahweh. That sends a signal to Gideon that they, as a city, have already chosen their side. They aren’t just not helping out, they are against Gideon and the army of Israel. Since they’ve shown their cards, Gideon has made public by his oath that the survival of their cities rests on whether God is going to win the rebellion against Midian or not.
There is a lot to be said about loyalty in the modern day of “This is where I go to church and that’s where I used to go to church.” There is also a lot to be said about aligning yourself to a leader before you’re sure if something is going to work or not. We can find ourselves in a lot of different spots in this story, just don’t find yourself in Succoth or Penuel after God’s victory!