Summary: When Gideon arrived back home at Ophrah, leading Zebah and Zalmunna captive, the procession must have been as exciting as a ticker-tape parade. Gideon was a true hero, with only 300 men, he had routed the enemy camp.
Gideon Honorably Slays the two Kings of Midian [Judges 8.18-8.21]
18 Then said he unto Zebah and Zalmunna, What manner of men were they whom ye slew at Tabor? And they answered, As thou art, so were they; each one resembled the children of a king.
19 And he said, They were my brethren, even the sons of my mother: as the LORD liveth, if ye had saved them alive, I would not slay you.
20 And he said unto Jether his firstborn, Up, and slay them. But the youth drew not his sword: for he feared, because he was yet a youth.
21 Then Zebah and Zalmunna said, Rise thou, and fall upon us: for as the man is, so is his strength. And Gideon arose, and slew Zebah and Zalmunna, and took away the ornaments that were on their camels' necks.
When Gideon arrived back home at Ophrah, leading Zebah and Zalmunna captive, the procession must have been as exciting as a ticker-tape parade. Gideon was a true hero, with only 300 men, he had routed the enemy camp and then pursued the fleeing soldiers across the Jordan River and as far south as Karkor. He had brought his royal prisoners back, plus whatever spoils the men had gathered along the way. Gideon had a personal matter to settle with these two kings because they were guilty of killing his brothers at Tabor.
According to Mosaic Law, the family was to avenge crimes like this by killing those responsible for the murders. There was no police system in the land, and each family was expected to track down and punish those who had murdered their relatives, provided the culprit was guilty (see Numbers 35.9-34). In the case of Zebah and Zalmunna, the culprits were not only murderers but also enemies of Israel.
18 Then said he unto Zebah and Zalmunna, What manner of men were they whom ye slew at Tabor? And they answered, As thou art, so were they; each one resembled the children of a king. (Judges 8.18; KJV)
18 He asked Zebah and Zalmunna, “What kind of men did you kill at Tabor?” They answered, “They were like you. Each one looked like a king's son.” (Judges 8:18-21; GW)
Then said he unto Zebah and Zalmunna (see Article 8.1; below)…Not at Penuel or Succoth, but when he had brought them, as his prisoners, into the land of Canaan, and perhaps to his own city Ophrah.
Judgment began with the house of God, with the just correction of the men of Succoth and Penuel, who were Israelites, but it did not end there. The kings of Midian, when they had served to demonstrate Gideon’s victories and grace his triumphs, must now be reckoned with.
What manner of men was they whom ye slew at Tabor (See Article 8.2; below)? We have no basis for this question and are obliged to speculate what led Gideon to ask it. When the children of Israel, for fear of the Midianites, made themselves dens in the mountains (see Judges 6:2) , those young men, it is likely, took shelter in that mountain, where they were found by these two kings, and most dishonorably and barbarously slain in cold blood while Gideon was absent on this expedition. Gideon had heard some confused account of the event which identified the site as Tabor (actually, Mount Tabor or the city next to it), and he almost immediately noticed that some of his brethren were missing, and he suspected they were among those that were killed, and therefore he asked this question: what manner of men were they whom ye slew at Tabor? The RSV renders this: "Where are the men whom ye slew at Tabor?" This was only one of the countless atrocities which the Midianite chiefs had perpetrated during their seven years' of lawless occupancy. They boldly acknowledge it and describe the persons whom they slew, from which he found they were his own brethren. This creates in Gideon a resolve to avenge their death by slaying the Midianitish kings, whom he otherwise was inclined to save.
When he asks them what manner of men they were, it is not because he was uncertain of the character of the men, or because he wanted proof of their identity; he was concerned for his brethren and the news of their death, and especially the cruel manner of it pained him. To top-it-off, these proud tyrants were eager to admit to the atrocity. But he puts that question to them so that by their acknowledgment of the more than ordinary good looks and charm of those they killed, they might make their crime appear even more heinous, and consequently their punishment the more righteous.
Gideon no doubt knew that his brethren had been killed by Zebah and Zalmunna, and the desire to avenge their death was one motive for his hasty pursuit and attack. His question was rather a taunt, a bitter rebuke to his captives, preparing them for their fate