“And Gideon came to Jordan, and passed over, he, and the three hundred men that were with him, faint, yet pursuing them.
And he said unto the men of Succoth, Give, I pray you, loaves of bread unto the people that follow me; for they be faint, and I am pursuing after Zebah and Zalmunna, kings of Midian.
And the princes of Succoth said, Are the hands of Zebah and Zalmunna now in thine hand, that we should give bread unto thine army?
And Gideon said, Therefore 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.“ (Judges 8:4-7)
After Gideon’s initial defeat and breaking up of the Midianite army, Joint forces from all the northern tribes had blocked escape routes and begun to hunt down survivors. While we are not told how long it took, we know that some of the forces needed a couple of days to get there, so Gideon and his men were out of provisions by the time they crossed the Jordan.
Because the were on the eastern side of the Jordan and did not have it to protect them from the Middianite raiders, the Trans-Jordan tribes had been even harder hit than the others. They would benefit most of all from the defeat of The Midianites.
Though they hate the situation they are in, some people are unwilling to give up any of the things they have to change it, fearing something might go wrong. Many today realize the danger of our present spending programs, but are unwilling to make any changes to Social Security or Medicare for fear they will lose some benefits, even though failure to do so may ultimately cause the total collapse of the system.
The men of Succoth had the same attitude, and when Gideon requested food for his men, refused it because there were still some Midianites left who might come back and raid them again. They didn’t consider the possibility that giving the food might ensure that the Midianites were unable to come back.
Gideon warned them that they would suffer because of their refusal to contribute to the victory. The leaders would be beaten with the branches of thorn bushes.
“And he went up thence to Penuel, and spake unto them likewise: and the men of Penuel answered him as the men of Succoth had answered him. Jud 8:9 And he spake also unto the men of Penuel, saying, When I come again in peace, I will break down this tower.” (Judges 8:8)
A few hours later, at Penuel, Gideon got the same response. His men were even hungrier, and he promised to destroy the walls of Penuel so that they would be unprotected if the Midianites came back.
“Now Zebah and Zalmunna were in Karkor, and their hosts with them, about fifteen thousand men, all that were left of all the hosts of the children of the east: for there fell an hundred and twenty thousand men that drew sword.
And Gideon went up by the way of them that dwelt in tents on the east of Nobah and Jogbehah, and smote the host: for the host was secure. And when Zebah and Zalmunna fled, he pursued after them, and took the two kings of Midian, Zebah and Zalmunna, and discomfited all the host.” (Judges 8:10-12)
Israel had killed all but fifteen thousand of the hundred thirty five thousand men in the Midianite army, nearly ninety percent of them. Near the Ammonite border, the Midianites stopped to rest and regroup, believing themselves safe in the desert afew miles from present day Aman, Jordan.
Catching them off guard, Gideon and his three hundred men attacked and scattered them, capturing the two kings.
“And Gideon the son of Joash returned from battle before the sun was up, And caught a young man of the men of Succoth, and inquired of him: and he described unto him the princes of Succoth, and the elders thereof, even threescore and seventeen men.” (Judges 8:13-14)
Before the sun was up the next morning Gideon and his army had returned as far a Succoth where they found a young man and got him to describe seventy seven of the leaders of Succoth.
“And he came unto the men of 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. And he beat down the tower of Penuel, and slew the men of the city. ” (Judges 8:15-17)
At both Succoth and Penuel, Gideon demonstrated he had captured the two kings of the Midianites. He then proceeded to punish the elders of Succoth with branches from thorn bushes. At Penuel he destroyed the city’s defenses and killed the men who had refused to help. They had to learn that there were consequences for their actions.
“Then said he unto Zebah and Zalmunna, What manner of men were they whom ye slew at Tabor? And they answered, As thou art, so were they; each one resembled the children of a king.
And he said, They were my brethren, even the sons of my mother: as the LORD liveth, if ye had saved them alive, I would not slay you. And he said unto Jether his firstborn, Up, and slay them. But the youth drew not his sword: for he feared, because he was yet a youth.” (Judges 8:18-20)
Questioning revealed that the two kings had been personally involved in killing Gideons brothers. Gideon told his son to fulfill the responsibility of the avenger of blood to execute murderers, but Jehter was young and hesitated to do it.
“Then Zebah and Zalmunna said, Rise thou, and fall upon us: for as the man is, so is his strength. And Gideon arose, and slew Zebah and Zalmunna, and took away the ornaments that were on their camels' necks.” (Judges 8:21)
Implying Gideon must not be much of a man since his son was afraid to kill them, Zebah and Zalmunna dared Gideon to do it. He executed them and claimed their symbols of power. He would have let them live, had they not murdered his brothers.