Zebah and Zalmunna
ZEBAH AND ZALMUNNA Ze’ bə, Zăl’ mun ə (זֶ֣בַח, sacrifice, צַלְמֻנָּ֑ע, protection withheld; LXX Ζέβεε, Σαλμανά). Two Midianite kings whom Gideon pursued, conquered, and killed.
After punishing the people of Succoth and Penuel for failing to help him (8:14-17), Gideon put Zebah and Zalmunna to death on the principle of blood revenge because they had killed his own brothers at Tabor (either the mount, or possibly a city). In the process he removed the crescent-shaped jewelry of silver or gold counted as important (see Isa 3:18) and possibly indicative of royalty, worn by the camels and the two kings (Judg 8:18-21).
Compare the statement of Philostratus (Bk. 2, c. 1) that
The term Zebah seems to be connected with the concept of “sacrifice” as the Heb. root shows. The name Zalmunna is composed of two elements: Heb. צֶ֫לֶם, H7512, image; and מָנַע, H4979, to withhold, possibly suggesting that this name indicated that some heathen deity or image held back its protective power. Further support for this suggestion that the term Zalmunna contains a reference to a heathen deity is seen in the comparison that has been made between it and the name of a priest, צלמשׁזב, meaning “(the god) ṩalm has delivered” found in a N Arabian inscr. from Teima (prob. 5th cent. b.c.).
G. A. Cooke, A Textbook of North Semitic Inscriptions (1903), 195-199; C. F. Keil, F. Delitzsch, Joshua, Judges, Ruth (1950), 350-355.
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
(zebhach, "victim"), zal-mun’-a (tsalmunna`, "protection refused"): Two Midianite kings or chiefs whom Gideon slew (Jud 8:4-21; Ps 83:11 (Hebrew text, verse 12)). The name zebhach (Zebee) is very much like that of ze’ebh (Zeb, "Zeeb" in the Septuagint). Moore (Judgess, 220) says that tsalmunna` is probably "a genuine Midianite name"; Noldeke conjectured that it contains that of a deity (ts(a)lm), and a compound form tslmshzbh, is found in an inscription from Teima, a place East of the Midianite capital (Corpus Inscriptionum Semiticarum, II, cxiii f).
The narrative of Jud 8:4-21 is not to be connected with that of 8:1-3. Budde (Kurzer Hand-Comm. z. Altes Testament, XXII) would join 8:4 to 6:34; Moore (ICC) following Budde’s earlier work (1890) would connect it with a part of 7:22b, describing the direction of the flight, while Nowack (Hand-Komm.) regards the battle of 8:11 as the same as that of 7:11 if; he then takes the latter part of 8:11 to refer to the place of the camp at night. There are many difficulties in forming a natural connection for the verses. It may be noted that in 8:18 f Gideon is not "the least in my father’s house," as he represents himself to be in 6:15.
The whole section tells of a daring raid made by Gideon upon the Midianites. Some of his own kin had been slain by Midianite hordes at Ophrah (Jud 8:18 f), and, stirred by this, Gideon went in hot pursuit with 300 men (Jud 8:4). He requested provisions for his men from the people of Succoth and Penuel, but was refused this. He then went on and caught the Midianites unawares at Karkor (Jud 8:10) and captured their two chiefs. He then had his revenge on the two towns, and returned probably to his home with the two notable prisoners. These he determined to slay to avenge the death of his own kinsmen, and called upon his eldest son to perform this solemn public duty that he owed to the dead. His son, apparently only a boy, hesitated, and he did the deed himself. W. R. Smith (Lectures on the Religion of the Semites, 2nd edition, 417, note) compares with this call to Gideon’s son the choice of young men or lads as sacrificers in Ex 24:5, and says that the Saracens also charged lads with the execution of their captives.
The narrative reminds one of David’s romantic life in 1Sa 25; 27; 30. It is throughout a characteristic picture of the life of the early Hebrews in Palestine, for whom it was a sacred duty to avenge the dead. It affords a splendid illustration of what is meant by the spirit of Yahweh coming upon, or rather "clothing itself with" ( margin) Gideon (Jud 6:34); compare also Saul’s call to action (1Sa 11:1-11), and also Jud 19 f.