In the last essay, we began the second major period of the Judges, that of the Midianite oppression, which appears in 6:1-10:5. We studied chapter six, which told about the Midianite oppression and Gideon’s call to overthrow them. In this essay we are studying chapters 7-8, in which we find Gideon’s victory over the Midianites, his eventual fall into idolatry, and his death.
Chapter seven opens with the armies of Israel and Midian camped on the battlefield. Then in verses 2-8 we find the famous story of the Lord’s cutting Gideon’s army from 32,000 men to 300. Clearly the Lord wanted this victory to manifest his power rather than the power of men.
The reduction of the forces takes place in two stages. The first stage is God’s direction to Gideon to permit all who would admit they were afraid to leave (vv. 2-3). It astonishes that so many did. Nearly two thirds of the army left when given the opportunity, which might be the reason that the Lord decided to reduce the army so radically. Such a large percentage of fearful men easily could have led to panic and defeat.
The motive behind the second stage of the reduction is a bit mysterious (vv. 4-7). That is, no one knows why the Lord used the method he did to cut the army. It could have been a matter of alertness, because someone lapping water from their hand could stay alert by keeping their head up, whereas someone kneeling down to the water could not. But that is only a guess. At any rate, only 300 of the remaining 10,000 drank that way; and so all but the 300 were sent home.
The 300 took the provisions of the 9700, and so they now each had a trumpet and a jar (v.8). Although the Lord already had assured Gideon of victory, in verses 9-15 we see how he gave Gideon another experience to build up his confidence. He told him to go to the Midianite camp to listen to their talk. So he and his servant went (vv. 9-12). And they overheard a Midianite tell one of his friends a dream. And the friend interpreted it to mean that Gideon would defeat the Midianites (vv. 13-14). After hearing this amazing dream and its interpretation, Gideon returned to his camp completely convinced that God would give the Midianites into their hands (v. 15). He was as pumped as he was going to get; and he returned to prepare the attack.
In verses 16-24 we see the results. Gideon divided the 300 Israelites into three companies. He gave each soldier a trumpet, a torch and a jar (v. 16). Some have wondered how they could have carried three things in two hands. The trumpets would have been rams horns, and they would have been on some sort of string and would have hung around their necks. Moreover the torches were placed in the jars.
The three Israelite companies surrounded the Midianite camp in the middle of the night; and at the moment indicated by Gideon, they blew their trumpets, broke their jars, waved their torches and shouted, “For the Lord and for Gideon.” The clamor created such an impression that the Midianites were thrown into a panic (vv. 17-21). It may even have stampeded their camels. At any rate, the Midianites began to attack one another. Thousands were killed, and the rest fled across the Jordan (v. 22), with Gideon’s 300 brave men in pursuit.
A call was sent out to the tribes to help, and many fighting men came, including many from the tribe of Ehpraim (vv. 23-24). Presumably these, apart from those from Ephraim, would have been the troops that had been sent home earlier. The Ephraimites secured the fords of the Jordan and captured two Midianite kings (vv. 24-25).
Then at the beginning of chapter eight we see the Ephraimites complaining to Gideon for not calling them out at the beginning of the conflict (v. 1). No real explanation is given for that decision not to call them out. At that time Ephraim, located in central Canaan, was the strongest of the tribes. Perhaps Gideon didn’t believe that his influence was sufficient to send a call to the more southerly tribe, which also was the strongest tribe. But once the initial victory was won, he called them out so that they could share in the triumph and the booty. And he overcame their anger by flattering them (vv.2-3).
In verse 4-17 we are told how two Israelite cities located east of the Jordan along the Jabbok River directly east of Shechem, Succoth and Penuel, not only refused to help pursue the Midianites, but also refused to feed Gideon’s troops. Apparently they were so afraid of the Midianites they wouldn’t even help their fellow Israelites (vv. 4-9).
Gideon went on about his business; but before leaving, he told the residents of the two cities that he would be back after completing his victory to trample the flesh of the inhabitants of Succoth with thorns and briars (v.7) and to smash the tower of Penuel (v. 9). Gideon did gain that final victory and captured two Midianite kings (vv. 10-12). Then he fulfilled his promise to the two cities. He came back and punished the seventy-seven leaders of Succoth and broke down the tower of Penuel as he had promised (vv. 13-17).
Verses 18-21 tell us the fate of the two Midianite kings. We learn that they had been responsible for killing Gideon’s brothers. And he killed them as punishment according to the law of retaliation, “an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.” The kings seemed to have no problem with that. It was the code by which they lived and died.
In verses 22-28 we see both the strength and weakness of Gideon. Some of the northern tribes offered to make Gideon an hereditary king, with his son and grandson ruling after him. This indicated the high esteem in which they held Gideon. Gideon showed his strength by resisting the temptation to place an earthly crown on his head and on the heads of his descendents (vv. 22-23). But Gideon showed his weakness when he asked each person in the tribes to give him a gold earring that they had gotten as booty. They gladly complied, because the spoil had been large. He collected 1700 shekels of gold, 40-75 pounds of it, depending on whether the measure was a light or heavy shekel (vv. 24-26).
Then Gideon made an ephod. An ephod was the garment worn by the high priest in Judaism. It isn’t known why Gideon made the garment. Some have suggested that Gideon made a solid gold image of an ephod that became an idol. Others have said that Gideon wanted to exercise a priestly role in the community, and had the ephod made for himself to wear when he fulfilled that role. Whatever the case, the ephod became an object of idolatry in Gideon’s hometown; as people there began to worship it (vv. 27).
In verses 29-35 we see that Gideon became very wealthy, that he had many wives and children. But his son who caused the most problems was not one of the seventy sons of his wives, but the son of his concubine in Shechem. His name was Abimelech; and we will study his life in the next study. After 40 years of rest for the land (v. 28), Gideon died (v. 32)
For application this week, we will look at chapters 6 through 8 from the perspective of Gideon rather than from the perspective of God. From Gideon’s perspective, he had to be four things, all of which we also must be if we are to properly relate to God. First, he had to be open to the supernatural. And he was. He was willing to listen to the angel of the Lord and to accept a sign when it was given (6:17-22). I trust that each of us is open to the supernatural.
Second, Gideon had to have faith. Although Gideon’s faith wavered, as indicated by his insistence on the fleece sign (6:36-40), he genuinely believed in the Lord and in doing the Lord’s will. And when Gideon was willing to go into battle with only the 300 men whom the Lord had allowed him (7:15-18), he showed great faith. I don’t know if I have “the great faith,” that Gideon had, but I trust that I have the faith necessary to do God’s will for my life. And I trust that you do as well.
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 (6:25-27) before he obeyed in the great battle against the Midianites. Most of us are not called to do “big things.” But if we are obedient in the small things that we re called to do, I trust we will be ready if and when God calls us to a big thing.
And finally, fourth, Gideon had to be courageous. For example, he knew that his family and the townspeople would be incensed if he tore down the altar to Baal (6:25-28), but he had the courage to do it anyway. And when God called him to defeat the Midianites, he was ready. The same is true for us. If we don’t have the courage to do a small thing, we won’t have the courage to do a big thing when that call comes.