The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord, and for seven years he gave them into the hands of the Midianites. Because the power of Midian was so oppressive, the Israelites prepared shelters for themselves in mountain clefts, caves and strongholds. Whenever the Israelites planted their crops, the Midianites, Amalekites and other eastern peoples invaded the country. They camped on the land and ruined the crops all the way to Gaza and did not spare a living thing for Israel, neither sheep nor cattle nor donkeys. They came up with their livestock and their tents like swarms of locusts. It was impossible to count them or their camels; they invaded the land to ravage it. Midian so impoverished the Israelites that they cried out to the Lord for help.
When the Israelites cried out to the Lord because of Midian, he sent them a prophet, who said, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: I brought you up out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. I rescued you from the hand of the Egyptians. And I delivered you from the hand of all your oppressors; I drove them out before you and gave you their land. I said to you, ‘I am the Lord your God; do not worship the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you live.’ But you have not listened to me.”
The angel of the Lord came and sat down under the oak in Ophrah that belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, where his son Gideon was threshing wheat in a winepress to keep it from the Midianites. When the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon, he said, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.”
“Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our ancestors told us about when they said, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up out of Egypt?’ But now the Lord has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian.”
The Lord turned to him and said, “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?”
“Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.”
The Lord answered, “I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites, leaving none alive.”
Gideon replied, “If now I have found favor in your eyes, give me a sign that it is really you talking to me. Please do not go away until I come back and bring my offering and set it before you.”
And the Lord said, “I will wait until you return.”
Gideon went inside, prepared a young goat, and from an ephah of flour he made bread without yeast. Putting the meat in a basket and its broth in a pot, he brought them out and offered them to him under the oak.
The angel of God said to him, “Take the meat and the unleavened bread, place them on this rock, and pour out the broth.” And Gideon did so. Then the angel of the Lord touched the meat and the unleavened bread with the tip of the staff that was in his hand. Fire flared from the rock, consuming the meat and the bread. And the angel of the Lord disappeared. When Gideon realized that it was the angel of the Lord, he exclaimed, “Alas, Sovereign Lord! I have seen the angel of the Lord face to face!”
But the Lord said to him, “Peace! Do not be afraid. You are not going to die.”
So Gideon built an altar to the Lord there and called it The Lord Is Peace. To this day it stands in Ophrah of the Abiezrites.
That same night the Lord said to him, “Take the second bull from your father’s herd, the one seven years old. Tear down your father’s altar to Baal and cut down the Asherah pole beside it. Then build a proper kind of altar to the Lord your God on the top of this height. Using the wood of the Asherah pole that you cut down, offer the second bull as a burnt offering.”
So Gideon took ten of his servants and did as the Lord told him. But because he was afraid of his family and the townspeople, he did it at night rather than in the daytime.
In the morning when the people of the town got up, there was Baal’s altar, demolished, with the Asherah pole beside it cut down and the second bull sacrificed on the newly built altar!
They asked each other, “Who did this?”
When they carefully investigated, they were told, “Gideon son of Joash did it.”
The people of the town demanded of Joash, “Bring out your son. He must die, because he has broken down Baal’s altar and cut down the Asherah pole beside it.”
But Joash replied to the hostile crowd around him, “Are you going to plead Baal’s cause? Are you trying to save him? Whoever fights for him shall be put to death by morning! If Baal really is a god, he can defend himself when someone breaks down his altar.” So because Gideon broke down Baal’s altar, they gave him the name Jerub-Baal that day, saying, “Let Baal contend with him.”
Now all the Midianites, Amalekites and other eastern peoples joined forces and crossed over the Jordan and camped in the Valley of Jezreel. Then the Spirit of the Lord came on Gideon, and he blew a trumpet, summoning the Abiezrites to follow him. He sent messengers throughout Manasseh, calling them to arms, and also into Asher, Zebulun and Naphtali, so that they too went up to meet them.
Gideon said to God, “If you will save Israel by my hand as you have promised—look, I will place a wool fleece on the threshing floor. If there is dew only on the fleece and all the ground is dry, then I will know that you will save Israel by my hand, as you said.” And that is what happened. Gideon rose early the next day; he squeezed the fleece and wrung out the dew—a bowlful of water.
Then Gideon said to God, “Do not be angry with me. Let me make just one more request. Allow me one more test with the fleece, but this time make the fleece dry and let the ground be covered with dew.” That night God did so. Only the fleece was dry; all the ground was covered with dew.
- Judges 6:1-40
Noted Biblical Scholars, Teachers, and Preachers Comments
Judges 6:1 ‘Midian’: “These wandering herdsmen from east of the Red Sea had been dealt a severe blow in Moses’ time (Num. 31:1-18) and still resented the Israelites. They became the worst scourge yet to afﬂict Israel.”
- John MacArthur, John MacArthur Commentary (quoted Scripture without bold/italics)
Judges 6:11 ‘The Source of Gideon’s Power’: “The story of Gideon is an illustration of how God seeks His qualities within us and is not concerned with us just as numbers or statistics. Gideon was about to face the enemy and he had an army of 32,000 soldiers. But the Lord said to Gideon, ‘You have too many-let all who are afraid go back.’ So Gideon gave the word to the troops, and 22,000 of those men turned back. Then the Lord said to Gideon again, ‘There are still too many. I can see those among you who are not prepared for what we are going to do. You will never be able to make Israelite soldiers of them.’
“I presume that there are few preachers among us on the top side of this terrestrial ball who would have turned down those 22,000, but God was putting the emphasis on quality, on those who would cooperate in the performance of the will of God.
“Then Gideon took the 10,000 men to the river and tested them as God had directed and when this sifting was all done, Gideon had an army of 300 men. God seeks out those who are willing that their lives should be fashioned according to His own grace and love. He sifts out those who cannot see God’s purpose and design for our blessing.”
- A. W. Tozer, I Talk Back to the Devil
Judges 6:11-23 ‘the Angel’: “This angel (lit. ‘messenger’) of the Lord is identiﬁed as ‘the LORD’ Himself (vv. 14, 16, 23, 25, 27). Cf. Genesis 16:7-14; 18:1; 32:24-30 for other appearances. … Gideon threshed wheat in the winepress … to hide it. This indicated a situation of serious distress; also, it indicated a small amount of grain. This is clear because he is doing it rather than having cattle tread it. It is on bare ground or in the winepress rather than on a threshing ﬂoor made of wood, and is done remotely under a tree out of view. The fear of the Midianites caused this.
“Gideon’s language indicates a weak theology. The very chastisements of God were proof of His care for and presence with Israel. Cf. Hebrews 12:3-11.
“Like Moses (Ex. 33), Gideon desired a sign; in both incidents, revelation was so rare and wickedness so prevalent that they desired full assurance. God graciously gave it.
‘In the realization of the presence of God, the sensitive sinner is conscious of great guilt. Fire from God further ﬁlled Gideon with awe and even the fear of death. When he saw the Lord, he knew the Lord had also seen him in his fallenness. Thus, he feared the death that sinners should die before Holy God. But God graciously promised life (v. 23). For a similar reaction to the presence of God, see Manoah in 13:22, 23 (cf. Ezek. 1:26-28; Is. 6:1—9; Rev. 1:17).”
- John MacArthur, John MacArthur Commentary (quoted Scripture without bold/italics)
Judges 6:11-24 ‘The Promise of Victory over the Midianites’: “To Gideon, a subsequent judge, the Lord promised victory over the Midianites: ‘The LORD said to him, ‘Surely I will be with you, and you shall defeat Midian as one man’ (6:16). This prophecy found immediate fulﬁllment (7:1-25). The defeat of the Midianites is unambiguously miraculous in nature, as Gideon’ s army had been whittled down to a mere 300 ﬁghting men. Furthermore, as additional divine encouragement for Gideon, God allowed Israel’s judge to overhear a prophetic dream and interpretation that foretold of Midian’s impending doom at the hands of the Israelites.”
- Tim LaHaye and Ed Hindson, Exploring Bible Prophecy
Judges 6:23 ‘Greetings of calm and peace’: “The greeting, ‘Peace to You,’ would be a pleasant word, but when the Lord says it, we feel the peace itself. Suppose Peter had stood up in that boat that was tossed about on the Galilean lake and had said to the waves, ‘Be still.’ The waves would not have taken much notice of him, and the whistling blast would have defied him. But when Jesus said, ‘Silence! Be still!’ the rampant lions of the sea crouched at his feet, and there was a great calm. The Lord also cheered Gideon with, ‘Don’t be afraid.’ What is there to fear? Gideon feared his own unfitness and unworthiness in the awful presence of God. But the Lord said, ‘Don‘t be afraid,’ and Gideon’s heart grew calm. Then the Lord added, ‘You will not die.’ This is what the Lord says to every poor trembler who is holding to him by the desperate grip of faith. We will not die the second death. We have no sin to die for, for he has laid our transgressions on his Son. We will not die, for Jesus died. ‘Your life is hidden with Christ in God’ (Col 3:3). A young person who does not know what God is going to make of him should listen to these words. The capacities of service that God can infuse into a single individual are marvelous. At present we may be disturbed in mind, afflicted in heart, and ill at ease; we need perfect peace. We should not rest until we have it. At God’s altar, where Jesus died, we will find it, and only there. When Jesus‘s blood makes peace with God, there is our peace.”
- Charles H. Spurgeon, from sermon notes
Judges 6:25-32 ‘rampant apostacy’: “If Gideon is to deliver his people, he must initiate religious reform. God commands him to destroy his father’s altar to Baal (6:25-32). Since ‘Baal’ is a general title for a male deity, it is difficult to determine whether this altar honors some local fertility deity or one of the great Baals of the Canaanite religion. Some usual trappings of a Canaanite fertility shrine are mentioned.
“That the ritual prescriptions of the law could be properly overruled is shown when Gideon is commanded to offer a sacriﬁce, though he is neither a priest nor a Levite. The state of Gideon’s people, perhaps of the entire nation, is revealed in this incident. Gideon’s family and city are so enmeshed in religious apostasy that Gideon must destroy the altar in secret. Gideon’s own father, clearly of weak character, tolerates Baalism; however, at the crucial moment he stands by his son and God’s truth. Gideon receives an honoriﬁc nickname, Jerub-Baal (“Let Baal contend”), from this incident.”
- Walter A. Elwell, editor, Baker Commentary on the Bible
Judges 6:36-40 ‘’: “The horde has crossed the Jordan and is camped in the Valley of Jezreel. Once Gideon, empowered by the Spirit, is ready to take the lead, the trumpet is sounded. This time, presumably due to God’s working, the Israelites are ready to resist. The western tribes from Manasseh northward respond.
“In contrast to the ideal Old Testament leader, many of the leaders of Judges are quite fallible. Their fallibility contrasts with God’s faithfulness and grace. Gideon, in his fallibility, still needs reassurance; and God graciously grants him, not just one miraculous sign, but two (6:36-40).”
- Walter A. Elwell, editor, Baker Commentary on the Bible
Judges 6 ‘challenge’: “There is danger in a defeated spirit in the Christian life, for it can plunge us into discouragement. It can take out of our spirits hope and optimism and drive.
“Discouragement, incidentally, is hardly a sin. But, it can lead to any number of sins, for to discourage is to dishearten. We go to church, but we don’t care for the church. Nothing means anything to us. Hymns are dull and tasteless and the sermon is a bore. We have lost our appetite for spiritual things.
“Now, the danger of defeat is that it will bring defeatism.
“It is never a disgrace to lose, but it is questionable to allow your loss to give you a psychology of defeat.
“I want to give you some rules for the time of discouragement. Perhaps your Sunday school class has gotten smaller and smaller. Your prayers, seemingly, are not being answered. Someone has suggested in a round-about way that you are not all that you have thought yourself to be in certain fields. So, you are discouraged and downhearted and defeated.
“First, do not accept the judgment of your own heart about the matter. A discouraged heart will always go astray, so don’t think about yourself the way you feel about yourself.
“Instead, go to God and Christ. God loves you, and Christ loves you enough to have died for you. He thought you were worth something. Remember that discouraged Gideon was hiding until God sought him out and said, ‘Get up, thou mighty man of God!’ It was a shock to Gideon, but he got up and accepted God’s judgment of him, and he went out and put the Midianites to ignominious flight.”
- A. W. Tozer, Tozer Speaks
The first of the scholarly quotes is from Rev. MacArthur and he speaks of Midian being the strongest foe against the Israelites during this period, but there are two more mentions of the Philistines than the Midianites. Yet, after the book of Judges, the Midianites are only mentioned ten times in the following books. The Philistines emerge in the book of Judges as a strong force and remain. The Philistines are mentioned over 100 times in 1 Samuel alone. So, while Rev. MacArthur may be correct, the book of Judges is a turning point, with Midian descending in power and Philistia rising.
But who was Midian? He was one of Abraham’s children, born of Keturah after Sarah died. It was Midianite merchants in a caravan to Egypt that bought Joseph from his brothers and sold him to Potiphar in Egypt. It was the land of Midian where Moses went, escaping the possible wrath of Pharoah. Moses married a Midianite, one of the daughters of Jethro, a Midianite priest. Zipporah was later described as a Cushite. Many think that Zipporah was dark skinned, but that must have come from the Cush side of the family instead of the Abrahamic side. Cush was a son of Ham, along with Egypt, Put, and Canaan. Cush was the father of Nimrod and the grandfather of Sheba.
The point is that interaction with the Midianites is prevalent up to and through the book of Judges. After the book of Judges even Sheba is mentioned more often. Did Midian oppress the people thinking that they had just as much right to the Abrahamic Covenant as did the descendants of Isaac and Jacob? Was their elimination as a foe of the Israelites due to their own hubris? The bottom line is that they were a tool in God’s toolbox, regardless of their personal motivation. The Midianites were not granted a piece of the Promised Land as distant cousins of the Israelites and fellow descendants of Abraham. Thus, they were no longer part of the Biblical account. But while God is sovereign over all, God’s actions toward the Midianites here is clearly paving the way to allow the faithful to thrive in the Promised Land, but will they be faithful? We know the answer. The Chosen People would eventually lose the Promised Land due to their own unfaithfulness, but Midian did not get the land either.
In this first part of Gideon’s story, we see the laborious series of tests. Scripture states to not test God, but Gideon does repeatedly. In the Wilderness temptations, Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 6:16, to not put God to the test. Deuteronomy was part of Gideon’s Scriptures at that time, but he had to test the Angel of the Lord. He prepared food: bread, meat, and a bowl of broth. The angel said to place the meat and the bread on a rock. The angel then took his staff and touched the rock. Fire was emitted from the rock and consumed the bread and meat. Then the angel disappeared.
Gideon was scared out of his wits. As I have heard theologians explain, Gideon may have thought that Gideon’s brothers were playing a horrible prank on him, and he had to rule that out.
God tells Gideon to take an army and defeat Midian and their allies. Oddly, after the Angel of the Lord disappeared and Gideon breaks down emotionally, realizing that he had been in the presence of God and he had thoroughly blown the occasion, the Lord is speaking to Gideon. Was this the manifestation of a Christophany? Was it an audible voice with no visible presence? Or was it in Gideon’s mind? Or did the Angel of the Lord reappear to continue the conversation and Gideon’s charge to lead an army?
Gideon argued that others might be better suited, but many years later, David took a sling to kill Goliath when everyone in Saul’s army was bigger and stronger than David. God picks the unlikely. Shamgar had used an ox goad to kill 600. He could use the wimp from the smallest family in the smallest clan. And we’ll find out next week that God will send almost all the army home. God really does not need the army. He works in us due to our faith.
But God sees that Gideon is hesitant, so He gives him an easier task. Tear down a local Baal altar that has Asherah poles. These false gods will become prominent in these history books of the Old Testament. Baal was the false god of the harvest and fertility. Asherah was the goddess of fertility, being the false goddess as god mother and creator of all things, a god maker if you will. Often the two were worshipped together and in the Promised Land, many who worshipped God on the festival days would hedge their bet by worshipping Baal and Asherah at other times. They did not have to go to Shiloh to the tabernacle to worship the local false gods. Due to Asherah being the mother god, these worship rites often involved sexual rites. It is thought that Rahab was a shrine prostitute, and as such, highly honored in the city of Jericho.
Gideon was afraid, but he was also afraid of the Lord. He did what the Lord said at night. He tore down the Baal altar and the Asherah poles and erected a proper altar and gave a sacrifice to God. In spite of the fact, as the Baker Commentary points out, Gideon was not a priest or a Levite.
The next morning the townspeople were irate. They found out Gideon had done the damage. They confronted Gideon’s father, Joash, not Gideon himself. They demanded that Gideon should pay for the damages, but it was Gideon’s father who challenged the townspeople and Baal. If Baal was really a powerful god, let Baal deal with Gideon. And thus, Gideon got the name, Jerub-Baal as a result.
With his notoriety, Gideon amassed an army, but even then, Gideon wanted more proof that God was delivering the enemy into his hands. Gideon asked that the ground be dry and the fleece wet. God made that happen. Then the next night, Gideon asked for the ground to be wet with dew and the fleece dry.
So, Gideon had an angel appear out of nowhere, but he might have been busy, so that did not count. Then he demanded a sign. When the sign was given, he felt himself undone because he was in the presence of the Lord and had not believed. Then when he gets an assignment, he first goes at night to hide that it was him. When that does not work, his father does the arguing for him.
Is Gideon a faithless, sniveling coward or God’s appointed judge? Can he be both?
In the next chapter, we will see what seems to be a totally different person.
Do we not do similar things? When we hear that voice in our head, we compare it to Scripture and we realize that it could have come from God, but then, do we not want reassurance before we pack up the family and go across the ocean to the mission field, or simply go to the local mission to help out?
Maybe Gideon had the faith all along and he was testing the voice that he heard to ensure that it really was God. Not testing God but testing his own sanity. Once Gideon knew, he was fearless. Are we?
Some Serendipitous Reflections
“Gideon, Judges 6: 1. One time Gideon is so sure of God (vv.7-10,22,24,27a); the next moment he is so unsure (vv.13,15,17,27b,36,39). How are you like Gideon in this regard?
“2. When have you resorted to using ‘Gideon’s fleece’? What happened? Were you tempted to do it over again? Why?
“3. ln the past five years, what have been two ‘sure’ signs of God’s presence with you? What are two present signs?
“4. Where are you uncertain, afraid, or overly cautious of God’s call to you right now?
“5. Gideon built an altar and tore one down overnight. What would you like to ‘tear down’ in your life, if you could? And what would you like to ‘build up’ to the glory of God? How can your small group help you get started in this ‘overnight’ project?”
- Lyman Coleman, et al, The NIV Serendipity Bible for Study Groups
There is one set of questions for this chapter, about Gideon’s call to be a judge.
Substitute whatever group for any reference to a small group or ask who could come to your aid.
The second question is appropriate today in that there are books recommending that we request a fleecing from God to prove that God is calling us. Is it appropriate to do so or should we step out in faith? Once Gideon had his several signs from God, he did not hesitate. With the knowledge that it is God telling you that you will be victorious, is there any room for further hesitation?
If you like these Thursday morning Bible studies, but you think you missed a few, you can use this LINK. I have set up a page off the home page for links to these Thursday morning posts. I will continue to modify the page as I add more.
Soli Deo Gloria. Only to God be the Glory.