Then said he to Zebah and Zalmunna, What manner of men were they whom you slew at Tabor? And they answered, As you are, so were they…
The command of Gideon was in harmony with the savage character of that age. We are told by Tacitus concerning a Roman knight, one Civilis — who headed a revolt of the Gauls against Rome — that he acted in a similar but cruel manner, for he gave to his little son some prisoners whom he might use as targets for his little darts and arrows. This was done from revenge and from a desire to initiate the child into the dreadful art of war. Gideon may have desired thus to stimulate his eldest son to hatred of the enemies of his country and boldness in slaying them. Moreover, it was to add dishonour to the death of Zebah and Zalmunna. Jether must have had some boldness and strength, or he could not have followed his father in his last pursuit of the Midianitish kings or have risked the dangers attendant on the campaign; but he shrinks from obeying the command. He was paralysed by fear, not kept back by pity; and hence he stands before us as the type of one who in higher spheres loses advantages which might be gained by the exercise of strength and fearlessness. Nothing more is heard of him in Scripture. He drops out of notice. Life is a battle. Severe are the assaults to be resisted, wearying ofttimes the marches to be undertaken. Fearlessness is, however, essential if we would overcome the Zebahs and Zalmunnas of evil and wrong around.
1. In order to this, then, we must as far as we have opportunity cultivate physical power. There is truth in the phrase "muscular Christianity." To keep a healthy body for the home of the mind should be a persistent aim. We have no right to neglect it. We should be as unwise as would a cottager who, knowing that the rainy season was setting in, should neglect to stop up the gaping hole in the rotting thatch roof. We should strive to develop our powers to the full extent, and when we can go no further, we should conserve the force we have gained.
2. That which we say of the body applies also to the cultivation of mental faculties. The opportunity of strengthening the body may be brief, but that of the mind lifelong. We have but little power at first, but reading, thinking, and mingling with our fellows increases the conscious vigour of intellect.
3. Further, we should be strong in convictions of duty. We should have principles. Our arms should be nerved by moral earnestness.
4. It is well to cultivate a confidence in our powers and principles. Jether was fearful as to his powers, and so he drew not his sword. We should have no hesitancy in doing that which our heavenly Father directs, in our consciences or in His Word, to be undertaken. Yea, we should seek to go beyond others in service. We should arouse ourselves to the putting forth of strength, that by effort we may gain greater strength. We are not urged to put forth effort to attain knowledge and spiritual power in our own strength. We must "be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might." Needless to say, there must be humility, penitence, faith. This conscious spiritual strength and fearlessness are necessary in various circumstances.
(1) In the effort to prosper in lawful undertakings, to provide things honest in the sight of all men, and "to provide for our own." The strain on bone and brain at this day is very great.
(2) They are necessary in view of some of the contingencies of life. It is useless to be thinking always that something dreadful is about to happen. Fearlessness is a far better spirit in which to meet trial. But it must be a holy fearlessness, because we know that our God cares for us. We need to put aside fear when we stand before that which may cause us a greater anxiety than any circumstances of trial, personal suffering, or even death, the prosperity of Christ's Church and triumph of His truth. We may be concerned, like Eli, for the ark of God. We may hear the roar of the bulls of Bashan — the attacks of infidelity. We may shudder as we see the strongly netted leash of worldliness thrown over the Church. Even then we must not be paralysed by fear, as Jether before Zebah and Zalmunna, for the Spirit of the Lord can lift up a standard against all evil. He can defend His cause.
Parallel VersesKJV: 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.