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Antiquities of the Jews, Vol 1, The

CHAPTER 6. How The Midianites And Other Nations Fought Against The Israelites And Beat Them, And Afflicted Their Country For Seven Years, How They Were Delivered By Gideon, Who Ruled Over The Multitude For Forty Years.

1. Now when Barak and Deborah were dead, whose deaths happened about the same time, afterwards the Midianites called the Amalekites and Arabians to their assistance, and made war against the Israelites, and were too hard for those that fought against them; and when they had burnt the fruits of the earth, they carried off the prey. Now when they had done this for three years, the multitude of the Israelites retired to the mountains, and forsook the plain country. They also made themselves hollows under ground, and caverns, and preserved therein whatsoever had escaped their enemies; for the Midianites made expeditions in harvest-time, but permitted them to plough the land in winter, that so, when the others had taken the pains, they might have fruits for them to carry away. Indeed, there ensued a famine and a scarcity of food; upon which they betook themselves to their supplications to God, and besought him to save them.

2. Gideon also, the son of Joash, one of the principal persons of the tribe of Manasseh, brought his sheaves of corn privately, and thrashed them at the wine-press; for he was too fearful of their enemies to thrash them openly in the thrashing-floor. At this time somewhat appeared to him in the shape of a young man, and told him that he was a happy man, and beloved of God. To which he immediately replied, "A mighty indication of God's favor to me, that I am forced to use this wine-press instead of a thrashing-floor!" But the appearance exhorted him to be of good courage, and to make an attempt for the recovery of their liberty. He answered, that it was impossible for him to recover it, because the tribe to which he belonged was by no means numerous; and because he was but young himself, and too inconsiderable to think of such great actions. But the other promised him, that God would supply what he was defective in, and would afford the Israelites victory under his conduct.

3. Now, therefore, as Gideon was relating this to some young men, they believed him, and immediately there was an army of ten thousand men got ready for fighting. But God stood by Gideon in his sleep, and told him that mankind were too fond of themselves, and were enemies to such as excelled in virtue. Now that they might not pass God over, but ascribe the victory to him, and might not fancy it obtained by their own power, because they were a great many, and able of themselves to fight their enemies, but might confess that it was owing to his assistance, he advised him to bring his army about noon, in the violence of the heat, to the river, and to esteem those that bent down on their knees, and so drank, to be men of courage; but for all those that drank tumultuously, that he should esteem them to do it out of fear, and as in dread of their enemies. And when Gideon had done as God had suggested to him, there were found three hundred men that took water with their hands tumultuously; so God bid him take these men, and attack the enemy. Accordingly they pitched their camp at the river Jordan, as ready the next day to pass over it.

4. But Gideon was in great fear, for God had told him beforehand that he should set upon his enemies in the night-time; but God, being willing to free him from his fear, bid him take one of his soldiers, and go near to the Midianites' tents, for that he should from that very place have his courage raised, and grow bold. So he obeyed, and went and took his servant Phurah with him; and as he came near to one of the tents, he discovered that those that were in it were awake, and that one of them was telling to his fellow soldier a dream of his own, and that so plainly that Gideon could hear him. The dream was this:—He thought he saw a barley-cake, such a one as could hardly be eaten by men, it was so vile, rolling through the camp, and overthrowing the royal tent, and the tents of all the soldiers. Now the other soldier explained this vision to mean the destruction of the army; and told them what his reason was which made him so conjecture, viz. That the seed called barley was all of it allowed to be of the vilest sort of seed, and that the Israelites were known to be the vilest of all the people of Asia, agreeably to the seed of barley, and that what seemed to look big among the Israelites was this Gideon and the army that was with him; "and since thou sayest thou didst see the cake overturning our tents, I am afraid lest God hath granted the victory over us to Gideon."

5. When Gideon had heard this dream, good hope and courage came upon him; and he commanded his soldiers to arm themselves, and told them of this vision of their enemies. They also took courage at what was told them, and were ready to perform what he should enjoin them. So Gideon divided his army into three parts, and brought it out about the fourth watch of the night, each part containing a hundred men: they all bare empty pitchers and lighted lamps in their hands, that their onset might not be discovered by their enemies. They had also each of them a ram's horn in his right hand, which he used instead of a trumpet. The enemy's camp took up a large space of ground, for it happened that they had a great many camels; and as they were divided into different nations, so they were all contained in one circle. Now when the Hebrews did as they were ordered beforehand, upon their approach to their enemies, and, on the signal given, sounded with their rams' horns, and brake their pitchers, and set upon their enemies with their lamps, and a great shout, and cried, "Victory to Gideon, by God's assistance," a disorder and a fright seized upon the other men while they were half asleep, for it was night-time, as God would have it; so that a few of them were slain by their enemies, but the greatest part by their own soldiers, on account of the diversity of their language; and when they were once put into disorder, they killed all that they met with, as thinking them to be enemies also. Thus there was a great slaughter made. And as the report of Gideon's victory came to the Israelites, they took their weapons and pursued their enemies, and overtook them in a certain valley encompassed with torrents, a place which these could not get over; so they encompassed them, and slew them all, with their kings, Oreb and Zeeb. But the remaining captains led those soldiers that were left, which were about eighteen thousand, and pitched their camp a great way off the Israelites. However, Gideon did not grudge his pains, but pursued them with all his army, and joining battle with them, cut off the whole enemies' army, and took the other leaders, Zeba and Zalmuna, and made them captives. Now there were slain in this battle of the Midianites, and of their auxiliaries the Arabians, about a hundred and twenty thousand; and the Hebrews took a great prey, gold, and silver, and garments, and camels, and asses. And when Gideon was come to his own country of Ophrah, he slew the kings of the Midianites.

6. However, the tribe of Ephraim was so displeased at the good success of Gideon, that they resolved to make war against him, accusing him because he did not tell them of his expedition against their enemies. But Gideon, as a man of temper, and that excelled in every virtue, pleaded, that it was not the result of his own authority or reasoning, that made him attack the enemy without them; but that it was the command of God, and still the victory belonged to them as well as those in the army. And by this method of cooling their passions, he brought more advantage to the Hebrews, than by the success he had against these enemies, for he thereby delivered them from a sedition which was arising among them; yet did this tribe afterwards suffer the punishment of this their injurious treatment of Gideon, of which we will give an account in due time.

7. Hereupon Gideon would have laid down the government, but was over-persuaded to take it, which he enjoyed forty years, and distributed justice to them, as the people came to him in their differences; and what he determined was esteemed valid by all. And when he died, he was buried in his own country of Ophrah.

CHAPTER 7. That The Judges Who Succeeded Gideon Made War With The Adjoining Nations For A Long Time.

1. Now Gideon had seventy sons that were legitimate, for he had many wives; but he had also one that was spurious, by his concubine Drumah, whose name was Abimelech, who, after his father's death, retired to Shechem to his mother's relations, for they were of that place: and when he had got money of such of them as were eminent for many instances of injustice, he came with them to his father's house, and slew all his brethren, except Jotham, for he had the good fortune to escape and be preserved; but Abimelech made the government tyrannical, and constituted himself a lord, to do what he pleased, instead of obeying the laws; and he acted most rigidly against those that were the patrons of justice.

2. Now when, on a certain time, there was a public festival at Shechem, and all the multitude was there gathered together, Jotham his brother, whose escape we before related, went up to Mount Gerizzim, which hangs over the city Shechem, and cried out so as to be heard by the multitude, who were attentive to him. He desired they would consider what he was going to say to them: so when silence was made, he said, That when the trees had a human voice, and there was an assembly of them gathered together, they desired that the fig-tree would rule over them; but when that tree refused so to do, because it was contented to enjoy that honor which belonged peculiarly to the fruit it bare, and not that which should be derived to it from abroad, the trees did not leave off their intentions to have a ruler, so they thought proper to make the offer of that honor to the vine; but when the vine was chosen, it made use of the same words which the fig-tree had used before, and excused itself from accepting the government: and when the olive-tree had done the same, the brier, whom the trees had desired to take the kingdom, [it is a sort of wood good for firing,] it promised to take the government, and to be zealous in the exercise of it; but that then they must sit down under its shadow, and if they should plot against it to destroy it, the principle of fire that was in it should destroy them. He told them, that what he had said was no laughing matter; for that when they had experienced many blessings from Gideon, they overlooked Abimelech, when he overruled all, and had joined with him in slaying his brethren; and that he was no better than a fire himself. So when he had said this, he went away, and lived privately in the mountains for three years, out of fear of Abimelech.

3. A little while after this festival, the Shechemites, who had now repented themselves of having slain the sons of Gideon, drove Abimelech away, both from their city and their tribe; whereupon he contrived how he might distress their city. Now at the season of vintage, the people were afraid to go out and gather their fruits, for fear Abimelech should do them some mischief. Now it happened that there had come to them a man of authority, one Gaal, that sojourned with them, having his armed men and his kinsmen with him; so the Shechemites desired that he would allow them a guard during their vintage; whereupon he accepted of their desires, and so the people went out, and Gaal with them at the head of his soldiery. So they gathered their fruit with safety; and when they were at supper in several companies, they then ventured to curse Abimelech openly; and the magistrates laid ambushes in places about the city, and caught many of Abimelech's followers, and destroyed them.

4. Now there was one Zebul, a magistrate of the Shechemites, that had entertained Abimelech. He sent messengers, and informed him how much Gaal had irritated the people against him, and excited him to lay ambushes before the city, for that he would persuade Gaal to go out against him, which would leave it in his power to be revenged on him; and when that was once done, he would bring him to be reconciled to the city. So Abimelech laid ambushes, and himself lay with them. Now Gaal abode in the suburbs, taking little care of himself; and Zebul was with him. Now as Gaal saw the armed men coming on, he said to Zebul, That some armed men were coming; but the other replied, They were only shadows of huge stones: and when they were come nearer, Gaal perceived what was the reality, and said, They were not shadows, but men lying in ambush. Then said Zebul, "Didst not thou reproach Abimelech for cowardice? why dost thou not then show how very courageous thou art thyself, and go and fight him?" So Gaal, being in disorder, joined battle with Abimelech, and some of his men fell; whereupon he fled into the city, and took his men with him. But Zebul managed his matters so in the city, that he procured them to expel Gaal out of the city, and this by accusing him of cowardice in this action with the soldiers of Ahimelech. But Abimelech, when he had learned that the Shechemites were again coming out to gather their grapes, placed ambushes before the city, and when they were coming out, the third part of his army took possession of the gates, to hinder the citizens from returning in again, while the rest pursued those that were scattered abroad, and so there was slaughter every where; and when he had overthrown the city to the very foundations, for it was not able to bear a siege, and had sown its ruins with salt, he proceeded on with his army till all the Shechemites were slain. As for those that were scattered about the country, and so escaped the danger, they were gathered together unto a certain strong rock, and settled themselves upon it, and prepared to build a wall about it: and when Abimelech knew their intentions, he prevented them, and came upon them with his forces, and laid faggots of dry wood round the place, he himself bringing some of them, and by his example encouraging the soldiers to do the same. And when the rock was encompassed round about with these faggots, they set them on fire, and threw in whatsoever by nature caught fire the most easily: so a mighty flame was raised, and nobody could fly away from the rock, but every man perished, with their wives and children, in all about fifteen hundred men, and the rest were a great number also. And such was the calamity which fell upon the Shechemites; and men's grief on their account had been greater than it was, had they not brought so much mischief on a person who had so well deserved of them, and had they not themselves esteemed this as a punishment for the same.

5. Now Abimelech, when he had aftrighted the Israelites with the miseries he had brought upon the Shechemites, seemed openly to affect greater authority than he now had, and appeared to set no bounds to his violence, unless it were with the destruction of all. Accordingly he marched to Thebes, and took the city on the sudden; and there being a great tower therein, whereunto the whole multitude fled, he made preparation to besiege it. Now as he was rushing with violence near the gates, a woman threw a piece of a millstone upon his head, upon which Abimelech fell down, and desired his armor-bearer to kill him lest his death should be thought to be the work of a woman:—who did what he was bid to do. So he underwent this death as a punishment for the wickedness he had perpetrated against his brethren, and his insolent barbarity to the Shechemites. Now the calamity that happened to those Shechemites was according to the prediction of Jotham, However, the army that was with Abimelech, upon his fall, was scattered abroad, and went to their own homes.

6. Now it was that Jair the Gileadite, 16 of the tribe of Manasseh, took the government. He was a man happy in other respects also, but particularly in his children, who were of a good character. They were thirty in number, and very skillful in riding on horses, and were intrusted with the government of the cities of Gilead. He kept the government twenty-two years, and died an old man; and he was buried in Camon, a city of Gilead.

7. And now all the affairs of the Hebrews were managed uncertainly, and tended to disorder, and to the contempt of God and of the laws. So the Ammonites and Philistines had them in contempt, and laid waste the country with a great army; and when they had taken all Perea, they were so insolent as to attempt to gain the possession of all the rest. But the Hebrews, being now amended by the calamities they had undergone, betook themselves to supplications to God; and brought sacrifices to him, beseeching him not to be too severe upon them, but to be moved by their prayers to leave off his anger against them. So God became more merciful to them, and was ready to assist them.

8. When the Ammonites had made an expedition into the land of Gilead, the inhabitants of the country met them at a certain mountain, but wanted a commander. Now there was one whose name was Jephtha, who, both on account of his father's virtue, and on account of that army which he maintained at his own expenses, was a potent man: the Israelites therefore sent to him, and entreated him to come to their assistance, and promised him the dominion over them all his lifetime. But he did not admit of their entreaty; and accused them, that they did not come to his assistance when he was unjustly treated, and this in an open manner by his brethren; for they cast him off, as not having the same mother with the rest, but born of a strange mother, that was introduced among them by his father's fondness; and this they did out of a contempt of his inability [to vindicate himself]. So he dwelt in the country of Gilead, as it is called, and received all that came to him, let them come from what place soever, and paid them wages. However, when they pressed him to accept the dominion, and sware they would grant him the government over them all his life, he led them to the war.

9. And when Jephtha had taken immediate care of their affairs, he placed his army at the city Mizpeh, and sent a message to the Ammonite [king], complaining of his unjust possession of their land. But that king sent a contrary message; and complained of the exodus of the Israelites out of Egypt, and desired him to go out of the land of the Amorites, and yield it up to him, as at first his paternal inheritance. But Jephtha returned this answer: That he did not justly complain of his ancestors about the land of the Amorites, and ought rather to thank them that they left the land of the Ammonites to them, since Moses could have taken it also; and that neither would he recede from that land of their own, which God had obtained for them, and they had now inhabited [above] three hundred years, but would fight with them about it.

10. And when he had given them this answer, he sent the ambassadors away. And when he had prayed for victory, and had vowed to perform sacred offices, and if he came home in safety, to offer in sacrifice what living creature soever should first meet him, 17 he joined battle with the enemy, and gained a great victory, and in his pursuit slew the enemies all along as far as the city of Minnith. He then passed over to the land of the Ammonites, and overthrew many of their cities, and took their prey, and freed his own people from that slavery which they had undergone for eighteen years. But as he came back, he fell into a calamity no way correspondent to the great actions he had done; for it was his daughter that came to meet him; she was also an only child and a virgin: upon this Jephtha heavily lamented the greatness of his affliction, and blamed his daughter for being so forward in meeting him, for he had vowed to sacrifice her to God. However, this action that was to befall her was not ungrateful to her, since she should die upon occasion of her father's victory, and the liberty of her fellow citizens: she only desired her father to give her leave, for two months, to bewail her youth with her fellow citizens; and then she agreed, that at the forementioned thee he might do with her according to his vow. Accordingly, when that time was over, he sacrificed his daughter as a burnt-offering, offering such an oblation as was neither conformable to the law nor acceptable to God, not weighing with himself what opinion the hearers would have of such a practice.

11. Now the tribe of Ephraim fought against him, because he did not take them along with him in his expedition against the Ammonites, but because he alone had the prey, and the glory of what was done to himself. As to which he said, first, that they were not ignorant how his kindred had fought against him, and that when they were invited, they did not come to his assistance, whereas they ought to have come quickly, even before they were invited. And in the next place, that they were going to act unjustly; for while they had not courage enough to fight their enemies, they came hastily against their own kindred: and he threatened them that, with God's assistance, he would inflict a punishment upon them, unless they would grow wiser. But when he could not persuade them, he fought with them with those forces which he sent for out of Gilead, and he made a great slaughter among them; and when they were beaten, he pursued them, and seized on the passages of Jordan by a part of his army which he had sent before, and slew about forty-two thousand of them.

12. So when Jephtha had ruled six years, he died, and was buried in his own country, Sebee, which is a place in the land of Gilead.

13. Now when Jephtha was dead, Ibzan took the government, being of the tribe of Judah, and of the city of Bethlehem. He had sixty children, thirty of them sons, and the rest daughters; all whom he left alive behind him, giving the daughters in marriage to husbands, and taking wives for his sons. He did nothing in the seven years of his administration that was worth recording, or deserved a memorial. So he died an old man, and was buried in his own country.

14. When Ibzan was dead after this manner, neither did Helon, who succeeded him in the government, and kept it ten years, do any thing remarkable: he was of the tribe of Zebulon.

15. Abdon also, the son of Hilel, of the tribe of Ephraim, and born at the city Pyrathon, was ordained their supreme governor after Helon. He is only recorded to have been happy in his children; for the public affairs were then so peaceable, and in such security, that neither did he perform any glorious action. He had forty sons, and by them left thirty grandchildren; and he marched in state with these seventy, who were all very skillful in riding horses; and he left them all alive after him. He died an old man, and obtained a magnificent burial in Pyrathon.


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