“And he said, ‘They were brothers, sons of my mother; as Yahweh lives, if only you let them live, I would not slay you.’ And he said to Yether, his firstborn, ‘Rise and slay them.’ But the young man did not unsheathe his sword because he was afraid as he was still a youth. So, Zebach and Tsalmunna said, ‘You rise and fall on us because you have the strength of a man.’ So, Gideon rose and slew Zebach and Tsalmunna and took the moon-shaped ornaments that were on the necks of their camels.”
Punishment has been set…Gideon, as a rightfully established judge pronounces the verdict on these two kings: death. Had these men spared his brothers, Gideon states that he would have spared their lives. Life was not spared so judgment is not lifted. What is interesting is that Gideon initially assigns his son the responsibility of executing these men. Perhaps this is Gideon’s way of beginning to establish a bit of a dynasty, incorporating his son into his work of Judgeship. Of course, being a Judge in ancient Israel was an office appointed by God and not handed down from generation to generation, but this gives us a window both at the eventual downfall of Gideon and at the eventual rise of the national kings.
Even though his son seems to have accompanied Gideon in battle (possibly even as a page or an armor-bearer), his son considered himself not able to execute these two kings. Indeed, it is one thing to fight in battle and entirely another thing to execute a prisoner in cold blood. Thus, the kings chide Gideon for giving a child the job of a man and Gideon strikes both men dead, completing their judgment.
While we often associate crescents with Islam today (due to the influence of the Ottoman Empire), the crescent moon was a popular image in the ancient near-east, representing night and the various moon gods and goddesses that were associated with the pagan rites. Anyway, it was a common symbol from antiquity and it was a common practice to adorn the necks of your camels with symbols of your influence and wealth, and so these kings did. Gideon takes them as booty, but once again, it also seems to anticipate what will happen next with Gideon and his line.
This passage anticipates the poison that comes into the life of the believer when the believer begins to merge worldly ideas and practices with Biblical ones. Interestingly, the symbol of the crescent moon is a good example of this. It became an Ottoman symbol not just because it was common amongst ancient near-eastern tribes but because it was a symbol used by Christian Constantinople. It also made its way into Europe and became the alchemical symbol for silver…and as with so many other things, infected the life of the Christian world with things having roots in ancient pagan symbolics.
How we do similar things in the church. We see things in business or in society that appeal to us, so we import them into our practice…regardless of whether there is any Biblical ground for it in the first place. Yet, the church must always conform to the standard of God’s word as must the individual Christian. Sadly, that rarely happens.