Our thorny topic today might hold special interest because of where we live. I don’t recommend dealing with anyone according to our text, but it definitely caused some people to learn a lesson.
Twelve years ago I spent three weeks in Israel on a study trip. I think back to that trip often while remembering the desert conditions of parts of the country. In that small country there are, if I remember correctly, over twenty different climate zones. So you find variety, and surely desert! It was hot there and sometimes saturating my shirt in water (when there was some) felt really good.
The book of Judges is a fascinating read. Israel was not a highly organized, cohesive society over eleven hundred years B. C. The people often went their own ways away from God. After putting up with that for a while, in the providence of God they would be afflicted by their neighbors. Then the Israelites would cry out to Him. He would raise up a deliverer called a judge who initially would deliver them from the enemy but then also continue to judge or rule the people loosely during his or her lifetime. And then the cycle would repeat.
You may have heard of Gideon. He accomplished the great deliverance over the massive Midianite army with a very small attack force. But he followed God’s instructions, and the victory was the Lord’s. Even the lead up to this story is dramatic! Read all of it in Judges chapters 6 — 8.
In chapter eight he had routed the Midianites. But then the troubles began. One of these troubles happened when he and his men were still pursuing the fleeing enemy. Being hungry, they stopped at Succoth, a city located in the Israelite tribe of Dan, and asked for bread.
The people of Succoth refused the request. They scorned Gideon and his army’s efforts. Why should we give you food when you have not yet captured the enemy’s two kings?! Their reasoning seems backward to me, but, then, I am not in their sandals.
So, no bread here. Because of their response, Gideon promised them that after he captured the two enemy kings, he would return and flail the leaders of Succoth with thorns and briars.
Gideon gained a complete victory, and he kept his word. Our verse today is Judges 8:16 which says in the Darby Translation, “And he took the elders of the city, and thorns of the wilderness and briars, and with them he taught the men of Succoth.”
I just love reading that, not the action, but the way it is expressed. Various versions use other expressions here instead of “taught;” some other renderings are “disciplined,” “tore,” “crushed,” “threshed,” or “taught a lesson by punishing.” But the Hebrew word used here simply means “taught.”
If we just read that verse, we might wonder how they used the thorns, because the word “taught” suggests the end result of whatever Gideon did, not the method. Earlier in the chapter we do get an idea, because when he promised this course of action, he used a word that means something like “flail.” It would at least be humiliating, and, depending on the severity of it, it would be somewhere in the range of painful to life-threatening.
So Gideon gave them a torturous treatment, and we don’t recommend it today, but it apparently was effective. It also seems like an appropriate punishment for people who wouldn’t share a bit of food with those who were defending their country. Their refusal was despicable.
I don’t know that this was done with an appeal to God’s wisdom. Gideon just seemed to be acting out of his own sense of justice. They had refused to help when the army needed it badly, and so they would have to pay a price. Gideon was the one God had specifically chosen to be the deliverer. They should have respected him and provided the food. They benefited from his victory.
Jesus, in His passion, suffered something similar with the scourging and the crown of thorns. He was not suffering for His own sins as the leaders of Succoth were. Second Corinthians 5:21 says, “Him who knew not sin he has made sin for us, that we might become God’s righteousness in him.”
I hope you never have to learn a lesson taught by thorns and briars, but I hope you do receive Jesus’ suffering in the way it was intended.