Gideon Delivers Israel – 6:28-7:25
The last judge I introduced was Gideon. He came from a well-to-do, wealthy and influential family. He was also a skeptical, sign-seeking, questioner of God. When the Angel of the LORD chose him to defend Israel, he excused himself by claiming he was a big nothing among the people of Israel. Yet, in spite of that, the Angel of the LORD came to Gideon and called him to the action of leading them to victory over the Midianites.
The Midianites, and an unnamed “people of the east,” were used of God to bring judgment upon the Children of Israel who had returned to their patterns of sinful behavior. They would swarm into the part of Israel were there was a lot of fertile crops and plunder the land. They left the Israelites with nothing to eat.
God is a faithful, covenant keeping God, and he warned Israel that such things would happen if they were to disobey His voice. The invasion by the Midianites was God’s way of keeping His Word.
When we closed our last study, Gideon had been tasked by the Angel of the LORD to confront the false religious system in his home town. Not only was his hometown the center of cultic worship practices, the house of his father served as the meeting place of the false religionists. At night, Gideon destroyed the altar with a bull, cuts down the totem pole associated with the altar, and makes an offering to God with a new altar he built out of the debris.
In the typical display of sinful backwardness that often follows when people move away from God, the men of the town confront Joash, Gideon’s father, about him tearing down the altar. They even invoke Deuteronomy 21:18 where the Scriptures declare that a stubborn and rebellious son must be stoned. The people were so given over to their idolatry and covenant breaking that they began to call that which was righteous evil.
Joash, revived in spirit, defended his son’s actions. He threatened the people with death who would fight for Baal. He told the people that if Baal is truly a god, he can fight for himself and he will punish Gideon. They then gave Gideon the nickname, Jerubbaal, that is to say, “Let Baal contend against him.”
All of those events my have happened shortly before the Midianites came around for their annual marauding, because shortly after Joash challenges the town folk, in came the Midianites.
Gideon is said to have been “clothed” or “filled with the Spirit.” In other words, the Spirit of the LORD possessed Gideon. Keep in mind this is a separate “filling” than what would happen at salvation. This “filling” was a theocratic anointing that gave the recipient the ability to command and lead. With Gideon, he rallies the troops for battle and they readily come to join him.
However, he still has his doubts about his calling and assured victory. In fact, his doubts are so enormous that he tests whether or not the LORD would truly help him by ask for a sign with a fleece. Twice!
Gideon’s fleece is often used as an example of how to determine God’s will. A person who has an important decision to make that could have multiple possibilities and outcomes is told to “throw out a fleece.”
I recall a young man I knew in college who did this with a particular girl he had been dating. He was fretting over whether or not he should really commit to her as the one he would eventually marry. One evening when they were leaving a sporting event together, they were headed over to a church fellowship, but they had drove separately. When they were leaving the parking lot, she was in front of him in her car. Remembering the idea about throwing out a fleece, he quickly prayed, “If this girl is the girl I’m to marry, please show me right now with the direction she turns.” As they pulled on the road from the parking lot, she turned to the right, when he knew he would turn to the left, heading over to the fellowship. For my friend, God had just answered his prayer! Of course, she had to pick up some cookies she said she would bring and the closest supermarket was down the street a block in the other direction. But no matter, that was God’s clear answer that he was free to date another gal he had met.
Gideon already knows what God told him about saving Israel from the Midianites. In fact, Gideon even tells God in a prayer, “If you will save Israel by my hand, AS YOU HAVE SAID,” (6:36). Gideon’s appeal to the use of laying out a fleece is not him determining God’s will for the matter at hand, he already knew what God’s will was. It was an act of disobedient doubt of what God clearly had revealed. It is only be an act of God’s grace that He answers Gideon’s requests about the fleece. In a way, it is as if God alone is concerned about His people’s deliverance.
When God does deliver, He wants to put His power on display so as to glorify Himself. He does that with Gideon’s army (7:2) and declaring two separations among the people.
First, God tells those who are afraid to go home. That word reduced the size from 32,000 to 10,000. The second separation is a bit difficult to understand in Hebrew, but it involved how the men drank water.
The idea is that 9,700 of them got down on both their knees and put their head and hands down low so as to draw water up with their hands to their mouths. The remainder merely knelt down on one knee and drew up water with one hand. There was nothing particularly special about how they drank the water that separated those 300 from the rest, as if the way they drank made them especially inclined to be great fighters. It just so happens that is the way they drank water by a brook. If their drinking technique indicated they were better than the rest, then that defeats the whole purpose of it being God who alone receives the glory for Israel’s victory over their enemy.
By this time, the Midianites were probably very much aware of Israel’s presence. They have probably seen the army gather and then leave over the course of a day or so. God placates Gideon’s fear by telling him to go down into the camp of the Midianites with his servant. When they came there, Gideon overhears one Midianite telling another about a dream he had about a loaf of bread knocking down a tent. The other Midianite responds with the interpretation that it was Gideon and that God has given the enter encampment into his hands. Only God can give such an amazing sign. Upon hearing that revelation, Gideon is said to have “worshiped” (7:15). He knew God was there with them.
Returning to his men, Gideon rallied the troops. He divided the 300 men into three groups. Pretending to be larger than what they really were, their blowing of trumps and lighting torches, set the camp of the Midianites into disarray. The LORD set everyman’s sword against his fellow man (7:22) and they fled in terror.