Of all the accounts recorded in Judges, Gideon’s is unique in that his is probably the longest one with the exception of Samson. Gideon’s judgeship and its aftermath covers four chapters, 6-9.
His account can be divided into two sections. Chapters 6-8 tell of Gideon’s deliverance of Israel from the Midianites, and then chapter 9 tells the story of his son, Abimelech.
With this post, I’ll introduce the first major section when Gideon delivers Israel from the Midianites.
Once again, as is the habit of sinful people, Israel rebelled against the LORD. One would think that after a few times this situation happened, the people would begin to get right; but not so.
After 40 years of rest following the judgship of Barak and Deborah, the next generation or so begins to act wickedly before the LORD. This time, Israel is punished by the hand of the Midianites. Now who exactly were they?
The Midianites have a close kinship with Israel. Genesis 25:2-4 tells how Abraham took a second wife named Keturah after the death of Sarah. She bore him a number of children – Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak, and Ohuah. Those children and their families begot many of the Arab peoples we know today. Not Ismael, necessarily, who was Abraham’s son by Hagar, but the children from Keturah. The children of Midian grew into several clans later know as the Midianites.
Genesis 37:25-36 tells how the Midianites were the caravaners who took Joseph to Egypt. In Exodus 2:15-22, Moses father-in-law was a Midianite named Reuel/Jethro. Later in Numbers 25:15-17, Balaam stirred up the Midianites against Israel and they were caused to fall into sexual sin because of them. They were later punished in Numbers 31.
Coming to Judges 6:1ff., the Midianites appear to be a prosperous people. In fact, when Israel went to war with them in Numbers 31, an immense amount of spoil was seized from them, 72,000 oxen and 16,750 shekles of gold. Here in Judges, they had domesticated sheep and camels. The camels were a perfect animal used in their caravans and nomadic trading life.
God used the Midianites, who worked with the Amalekites, another reoccurring enemy of Israel, along with another unnamed people group in the east, to bring judgment upon Israel. The Midianites would come up to the fertile farm land of Central Israel, and squat there. They would bring their families and livestock and basically eat up all the produce. They are described as locus without number.
Israel, rather than fighting them off, would flee to the hills and hide themselves in caves and makeshift strongholds. They probably had to hide their livestock there and what little food the could harvest before the invasion. Those circumstances were foretold in Deuteronomy 28:33, 38-42, and 51, when God said that if Israel sins, He would give their land to their enemies. Israel would cultivate and plant, but the enemies would come and eat of the harvest.
Israel is said to have “cried out” to the LORD in verse 7. One has to wonder if it was a cry of genuine repentance or just frustration because of the circumstances. In response, the LORD sends an unnamed prophet to rebuke the people. He begins by reminding them of Who it was that brought them out of Egyptian slavery, Who had rescued them from previous oppressors, and had committed Himself to be their God.
The prophet then confronts the people, and draws them to consider the reason for their suffering. They had sinned against their covenant-keeping God. He tells them how they had disobeyed the LORD by fearing the false gods of the Amorites. His was the message of all those sent from God. Elijah will later tell the people, “how long shall you falter between two opinions?” (1 Kings 18:21), Jesus our LORD said directly that “you cannot serve God and mammon,” and James wrote in his epistle that “friendship with the world is enmity against God” (James 4:4). The same principle applies here in Judges: Israel can no longer fear the false gods of the Amorites, but must turn to fearing the only true and living God.
Call of Gideon
After the prophet leaves, we are introduced to Gideon. From reading 6:11-27, it is clear that Gideon was from a wealthy family. They had servants and his family seemed to be influential leaders in their community. However, Gideon the man was something of a mystic. He wanted signs to provide confirmation of the major decisions in his life. That speaks more to his doubt than his trust in God.
The Angel of the LORD appears to Gideon at the time he was threshing wheat in the winepress. The winepress, by the way, was a terrible place to thresh wheat. One had to work extra hard to separate the chaff from the kernels with no breeze to help.
The Angel of the LORD says to Gideon that the LORD is with you! Gideon’s response was sarcastic, almost bitter and accusatory of God, “if the LORD is with us, why has all this happened to us?” He goes on to complain about not seeing God’s miracles and that He has forsaken Israel. It is an attitude of unbelief; the kind of smug bitterness witnessed even today among “churched” unbelievers who now want nothing to do with biblical Christianity and instead seek out man-made substitutes like liberal denominations that tickle the ears.
The Angel of the LORD, however, graciously continues to exhort Gideon. He even tells Gideon that He is the LORD who will go with him into defeating the Midianites. In spite of his excuses, the Angel of the LORD entertains Gideon’s request to perform a sign. (As if God’s Word is not good enough).
Having some sense of awareness to who it was he was speaking, Gideon insists on preparing an offering to the LORD. Gideon pulls together a good amount of food, including preparing a goat, something that would be scarce given their circumstance, and brings it before The Angel of the LORD. He commands Gideon to lay it on a rock, and in a similar fashion when God burned up the sacrifice of Elijah on Mount Carmel, the offering ignites in flame and is consumed.
That night, Gideon is assigned the task of tearing down the false idol of his father’s house. Using two bulls, one that would be later sacrificed (keep in mind livestock was essentially money), he toppled over the false altar of worship and cut down the wooden image associated with it. He then killed one of the bulls and offered it to the LORD.
One interesting note. Though Gideon was making a rather bold statement with his actions, he did it by night rather than the daytime, because he feared his father’s household and the men of the city too much.