Thus far in our study of Judges we have noted that 1:1-2:5 provides background information for the main part of the book. In that passage we are told that after the death of Joshua the tribes resolved to continue the war of extermination of the Canaanites; and they had some initial successes.
But those successes were limited. Indeed there was a broad spectrum of success. For example, Judah and Simeon had considerable success (1:3-19), but Manasseh, Ephraim and Zebulun failed to drive out the inhabitants of several named villages, though they succeeded in using the Canaanites as forced labor (1:27-30).
At the opposite end of the spectrum from Judah and Simeon were the Danites. The tribe of Dan not only failed to drive the Canaanites out of their inheritance, they couldn’t even settle there. Eventually at least some of them completely gave up on settling in the central part of Canaan and migrated far to the north to a city they conquered there, and named Dan.
After recording a rebuke from the Angel of the Lord for Israel’s lack of faithfulness to the covenant in 2:1-5, the author contrasted the faithfulness of the people while Joshua was alive, in 2:6-10, with their lack of faithfulness after Joshua died, in 2:11-19.
Next, 2:20-23 we saw the results of Israel’s continued apostasy. In effect, the Lord washed his hands of Israel’s attempts to conquer the Promised Land. “I will no longer drive out before them any of the nations that Joshua left when he died,” said the Lord (verse 21).
In the last essay, we moved into the main body of the book, which presents the history of the judges. We studied the first major section; namely, 3:7-5:31, which covers the period of Othniel, Ehud and Deborah.
In this essay we take up chapter six. Obviously the victory over Jabin and Sisera, which was so clearly the work of the Lord, led to a resurgence of faith in the Lord. But with the passing of the years, as so often is the case, the memory of the great deliverance faded from the consciousness of the people. And once again Israel turned to other gods. This time the chastening nation was the Midianites, with help from the Amalekites (6:1-6).
Midian was located in the deep south, south of Edom and east of the Gulf of Aqaba, which is the eastern border of the Sinai peninsula. The Amalekites, you may recall, dwelled in southern Palestine, south of Judah.
The impression given by the text is that the Midianites did not occupy the land of Israel, but they swept through it every year with all of their people and herds. They lived off the land and devastated it. Thus the image of locusts in verse five is very appropriate. Moreover the Midianites were so cruel in their oppression while in the land that the Israelites were not safe dwelling in cities and towns. Therefore they hid in caves and the like in the mountains while the Midianites were in the land.
Israel’s faith in the Lord was small; but they finally did, in their desperation, call on him for help. He responded by sending a prophet, who reminded Israel of the Lord’s past blessings, and of Israel’s idolatrous failures (6:7-10).
Next comes the call of Gideon. Gideon’s call took place in two parts. The first part was a conversation he had with the angel of the Lord in verses 11-24. And the second part was the carrying out of instructions given in a dream. That’s in verses 25-32. Notice that the divine visitor not only is called “the angel of the Lord” in verse 11. But in verse 14 he is called “the Lord.” That quite clearly indicates that the “angel of the Lord” was the Lord himself in human manifestation.
It is uncertain where Ophrah was located; but Joash as an Abiezrite was of the half-tribe of Manasseh that settled west of the Jordan in central Canaan (Josh. 17:2). The oak, the sacred tree, evidently was located on Joash’s property.
The fact that Gideon, the son of Joash, was threshing the grain in a winepress provides further proof that the Midianites were greatly feared. Ordinarily grain was threshed in the open by means of a threshing sledge drawn by oxen. Only the poorest people threshed their grain by beating it with a stick. Moreover the fact that the harvest could be threshed in an area as small as a winepress indicated that the harvest was small.
As Gideon threshed the grain, the angel of the Lord appeared to him, addressed him as a “mighty warrior,” and told him the Lord was with him. Gideon was wary, because it didn’t look to him as if the Lord was with him or any one else in Israel.
But the Lord responded by commissioning Gideon as a delivering judge (v. 14). But Gideon objected. How can I do that? I am the least in my family; and we are from an insignificant tribe (v. 15).
The Lord answered that objection easily. “But I will be with you,” he said (v. 16). There is an interesting parallel here to the great commission in Matt. 28 (19-20). Both Gideon and the disciples of Jesus were given a commission followed by the Lord’s promise to be with them.
But Gideon still was not satisfied, and he asked for a sign that this person really was the Lord (v. 17). He also asked the stranger to wait while he went into the house to get a present for him. The Lord agreed, and Gideon went into the house to prepare a meal (vv. 19-24).
This meal, given as a present, was a kind of tribute that one would give to a superior in that culture. Once the meal was prepared and brought out to the angel of the Lord, he told Gideon to put it on a rock, probably on some part of the winepress. Then the Lord touched the food with his staff, and fire appeared from the rock completely consuming the food, after which the angel of the Lord vanished (vv. 20-21).
That was enough to convince Gideon that he had been dealing with the angel of the Lord; and he was filled with fear (v. 22), because according to Ex. 33:20 no one could look upon the Lord and live. But the Lord reassured him, this time presumably by an inner voice (v. 23). Gideon responded by building an altar at that spot.
That was the first part of Gideon’s call. In verses 25-32 we see the second part. This aspect of Gideon’s call apparently came in a dream. At least the Lord communicated to him at night. It could be called Gideon’s first assignment. The Lord told him to pull down the altar to Baal that belonged to his father, cut down the sacred pole bedside the altar, build an altar to the Lord, and sacrifice a bullock on it using the wood from the pole (vv. 25-27).
The purpose of this is fairly obvious. Before Gideon could be a deliverer for the nation, he had to be a deliverer for his own family. This altar to Baal belonged to his father, though it served the entire town. The fact that Joash had an altar to Baal on his property shows the extent to which Israel had sunk into idolatry.
So that altar had to be torn down; and an altar to the Lord built. Moreover, a sacrifice of cleansing and purification had to be offered to purify Gideon and his family. All this Gideon did, but at night, because he feared the reaction of both his family and the townspeople.
He was right. The townspeople were quite upset the next morning when they discovered what Gideon had done (vv. 28-29). They discovered that Gideon had done it, and they wanted his head so to speak (v. 29). But his father Joash had a perfect defense of Gideon at hand. He suggested that if Baal was all they contended, that is if he really is God, he ought to be capable of defending himself against the offense done by Gideon. And so Gideon was spared.
Soon the Midianites came for their annual spoiling of Israel. But God had prepared Gideon to resist them this time (vv. 33-35). This apparently was the eighth consecutive year that they came. They crossed the Jordan and camped in the Valley of Jezreel. But this time the Lord “took possession of Gideon.” That verb literally means “to cloth with.” Thus Gideon was “clothed with” the Spirit of God. You will recognize this as typical of God’s charismatic movement upon a judge of Israel. Thus equipped, Gideon was ready to do what was necessary. He sent out a call to Israel’s tribes beginning with his own; and they responded (v. 35).
Now then, in the next paragraph we see Gideon’s faith slip a bit (vv. 36-40). The patience of the Lord in this section is really remarkable. Gideon asks the Lord to demonstrate by means of a sign whether or not he would deliver Israel. The sign that Gideon proposed was the famous one of laying out a fleece overnight. He asked the Lord to have dew fall on the fleece but not on the ground around it. And it happened. But Gideon, realizing that wool tends to draw dew more readily than ground or rock, was not satisfied with his own test. So he asked the Lord to do the opposite the next night. And that happened.
Thus Gideon finally was ready both religiously and mentally to take on the Midianites. We will study that in the next essay. But we must do some application on today’s lesson before we close. I see three points in respect to the Lord. First, God’s call implies God’s empowerment. When the Lord called Gideon, he called Gideon a “mighty warrior” even though there was no indication that Gideon was such a person. The Lord knew that he was going to supernaturally empower Gideon, and of course he did. Now each of us may not need as great a supernatural empowerment as Gideon, but whatever we need, he will provide.
Second, God’s commission implies God’s accompaniment. When the Lord commissioned Gideon, he told Gideon that he would be with him when Gideon fulfilled that commission. And the Holy Spirit does the same for us. Whatever he calls us to do, we can count on the Lord’s being there for us. He will see us through, no matter how rough the situation.
And third, God’s commitment implies his patience. As Gideon wavered in his faith, and asked the Lord to wet a fleece one night and then wet the ground around the fleece the next night, the Lord patiently went along, and nurtured Gideon’s faith.
From Gideon’s perspective, he had to be four things. First, he had to be open to the supernatural. He was willing to listen to the angel of the Lord and to accept a sign when it was given (6:17-22). Second, Gideon had to have faith. Although Gideon’s faith wavered, he genuinely believed in the Lord and in doing the Lord’s will. Third, Gideon had to be obedient. He had to obey in small things before he could be obedient in big things. He obeyed in respect to tearing down the altar to Baal and the sacred Pole before he obeyed in the great battle against the Midianites. And fourth, Gideon had to be courageous. He knew that his family and the townspeople would be incensed if he tore down the altar to Baal, but he had the courage to do it anyway.
The same is true for us. If we are to accomplish God’s will in our lives, we must be open to the supernatural; we must have faith; we must be obedient (beginning with small things); and we must be courageous.