The Economic Effects of War (Judges 6:1-11)

Bible Commentary / Produced by TOW Project
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After Deborah, the quality of the judges begins to decline. Judges 6:1-11 illustrates what was likely a common feature of Israelite life at this time – economic hardship stemming from war.

The Israelites did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord gave them into the hand of Midian seven years. The hand of Midian prevailed over Israel; and because of Midian the Israelites provided for themselves hiding places in the mountains, caves and strongholds. For whenever the Israelites put in seed, the Midianites and the Amalekites and the people of the east would come up against them. They would encamp against them and destroy the produce of the land, as far as the neighborhood of Gaza, and leave no sustenance in Israel, and no sheep or ox or donkey. For they and their livestock would come up, and they would even bring their tents, as thick as locusts; neither they nor their camels could be counted; so they wasted the land as they came in. Thus Israel was greatly impoverished because of Midian; and the Israelites cried out to the Lord for help.

The effects of war on work are felt throughout many parts of the world today. In addition to the damage done by direct strikes against economic targets, the instability brought about by armed conflict can devastate people’s livelihood. Farmers in war-torn areas are reluctant to plant crops when they are likely to be dislocated before the harvest comes. Investors judge war-torn countries a poor risk and are unlikely to funnel resources to improving infrastructure. With little hope of economic development, people may be drawn into armed factions fighting over whatever resources may be left to exploit. So the dismal cycle of war and destitution continues. Peace precedes plenty.

Israel’s economic situation was so precarious under the Midianites that we find the future judge Gideon “beating out wheat in the wine press, to hide it from the Midianites” (Judg. 6:11). Daniel Block shows the rationale for his behavior.

In the absence of modern technology, grain was threshed by first beating the heads of the cut stalks with a flail, discarding the straw, and then tossing the mixture of chaff and grain in the air, allowing the wind to blow away the chaff while the heavier kernels of grain fell to the floor. In the present critical circumstances this obviously would have been unwise. Threshing activity on the hilltops would only have aroused the attention of the marauding Midianites. Therefore Gideon resorts to beating the grain in a sheltered vat used for pressing grapes. Generally wine presses involved two excavated depressions in the rock, one above the other. The grapes would be gathered and trampled in the upper, while a conduit would drain the juices to the lower.[1]

Today Christians and non-Christians alike overwhelmingly agree that it is immoral to conduct business in ways that perpetuate armed conflict. The international ban on “conflict diamonds” is a current example.[2] Are Christians taking a lead in such endeavors? Are we the ones who track down whether the businesses, governments, universities, and other institutions where we work are unwittingly participating in violence? Do we take the risk to raise such questions when our superiors might prefer to ignore the situation? Or do we hide, like Gideon, behind the excuse of just doing our jobs?