THE BOOK OF JUDGES
Lesson 3: Chapters 6-8
Part II: The Wars Against Israel's Enemies
The Central Campaign of the Judge Gideon

Almighty God,
Your old covenant people suffered in the cycles of sin and apostasy as they repeatedly broke the commandment to serve and worship You alone.   They turned to the false gods of the pagans who they believed offered them acceptance by their pagan neighbors and the hope of material wealth and social prominence.   And yet we are reminded that despite their sins, You did not abandon them; they abandoned You.   Help us, Lord, as we face the same temptations in being influenced by the secular world.   Socially acceptable attitudes toward morality and tolerance being used as an excuse to turn a blind eye to sin have become more important than right worship and obedience to Your commands.   These have become the false gods of the modern age.   Give us the spiritual and moral strength to withstand those influences and the wisdom to recognize what is a snare to draw us away from our covenant relationship with You.   We pray in the name of God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.   Amen.

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The Sea-people are gathering in the north,
the vessels from the coasts of Kittim.
They will bear down on Asshur, bear down on Eber,
he too will perish forever.

Prophecy of Balaam, Numbers 24:23-24
(the Kittim are any of the peoples to the west from across the Mediterranean, Asshur is ancient Assyria, and Eber/Heber refers to the Hebrews)

The land was at rest as long as sin was at rest ...
Origen, Homilies on Judges 7.1

Historical period c. 13th - 12th centuries BC:

As the era of the Judges continues, the spiritual and social condition of the Israelites grew worse.   In fact, the entire region is in chaos.   In the 1200s BC, groups of migrating peoples from across the Aegean, driven out of their homelands by natural disasters and political upheaval, invaded in ships from across the Mediterranean to attack Egypt, Canaan and Assyria.   When they arrived in Egypt, in what proved to be one last burst of glory for a fading empire, Pharaoh Ramesses III (reigned c. 1186-1155 BC) was able to hold them off and drive them out of northern Egypt.   The Egyptians gave these migrating groups of peoples the name "Sea Peoples," and Ramesses III was so proud of their defeat that he recorded his victory in both documents and in inscriptions on temple wall reliefs.  

Some of the Sea Peoples died in the war with the Egyptians; some were captured and became mercenaries in the Egyptian army, but most invaded Canaan's coastal plain.   The Sea Peoples arrived in Canaan about the time Deborah and Shamgar were judging and defending Israel.   The various groups of Sea Peoples united and came to be identified as the Philistines.   Shamgar fought the Philistines and killed six hundred of the invaders who were threatening Israelite settlements (Judg 4:31).   The Philistines settled along the coast of Canaan in the five main cities of Ashdod, Ashkelon, Ekron, Gaza, and Gath, intermarrying with the Canaanites.   Of the five city-states founded by the Philistines, all have been positively identified by archaeologists with the exception of Gath.

As the Israelites were farther and farther removed from the generation of the elders of the holy warrior generation born during the 40 years of the wilderness experience, they grew farther and farther from God despite God's repeated gracious deliverance of them from the periods of oppression which are followed by years of peace.   This distancing of the Israelites relationship with God and His covenant is reflected in the character of the judges, each of whom is a product of his own generation and the violent conditions of the times in spite of a divine calling.   Gideon, the fifth judge, is an example.   He is the son of an apostate family living in an Israelite town that worships Baal.   But, despite his initial hesitation, Gideon serves God faithfully and refuses to take on the role of king over Israel (Judg 8:22-23).   However, that noble act is tarnished by his action in which he erected a cult object which became an object of worship in defiance of the first commandment (Judg 8:27).   After his death, a son of his will usurp power, cause disunity among the tribes, and will push the tribes of Israel into a civil war.   Notice that the careers of the judges continue to follow the same movement from south to north as the summary of the continuing conquest in chapter 1.

Chapter 6 ~ Part I: The Call of Gideon

 

The narrative of the judgeship of Gideon can be divided into two sections:
Part I: The description of the period of Israel's sin and subjugation by the Midianites and their allies until Gideon's call as a deliverer.   Through the miracles God works for Gideon, he is able to achieve victory over Israel's enemies (Judg 6:1-8:3).
Part II: The description of Gideon's leadership until his death (8:4-8:28).

 

Judges 6:1-6 ~ Israel is oppressed by the Midianites and their Allies
1 The Israelites did what is evil in Yahweh's eyes, and for seven years Yahweh handed them over to Midian; 2 and Midian bore down heavily on Israel.   To escape from the Midianites the Israelites used the mountain clefts and the caves and shelters.   3 Whenever Israel sowed seed the Midianites would march up with Amalek and the sons of the East.   They would march on Israel.   4 They would pitch camp on their territory and destroy the produce of the country [land] as far as Gaza.   They left Israel nothing to live on, not a sheep or an ox or a donkey, 5 for they came up as thick as locusts with their cattle and their tents; they and their camels were innumerable; they invaded the country to pillage it.   6 Thus Midian brought Israel to great distress, and the Israelites cried to Yahweh.

In verse 1 we have another of the repeated statements announcing Israel's covenant failures: The Israelites did what is evil in Yahweh's eyes... (2:11; 3:7, 12 [twice]; 4:1; 6:1; 10:6 and 13:1); this time their oppressors are the Midianites and other nomads who lived east of the Jordan River.
Question: Who are the Midianites, how are they related to the children of Israel, and why do they inhabit the lands to the east in the Transjordan (east of the Jordan River)?   See Gen 17:19; 25:1-6.
Answer: After Sarah's death, Abraham married a woman named Keturah by whom he had five sons.   The fourth son by Keturah was Midian.   When these sons reached adulthood, Abraham sent them away to "the lands to the east" (Gen 25:6) so they could not present a danger to his one heir and inheritor of the covenant with Yahweh who was Isaac, Abraham's son with Sarah.

The confederation of Midianite tribes was counted among the "peoples of the east" (Judg 6:3, 33; 7:12).   They were nomadic tribes that mostly occupied the desert lands in the Arabian Peninsula but their clans and settlements extended as far north as Syria.   They formed alliances with the peoples of the Negeb and the Transjordan like the Kenites, Amalekites, Moabites, Ammonites and Ishmaelites (Num 10:29; 25:6, 15, 16-18; Judg 1:16; 6:3, 33; 8:24).   The Biblical designation "the land of Midian" (Ex 2:15; Hab 3:7) probably refers to the center of Midianite territory in northwestern Arabia along the Gulf of Aqabah's eastern shore to the east of the Sinai Peninsula (1 Kng 11:18).

Gaza, a Philistine city mentioned in verse 4, was located in southwest Canaan about three miles from the Mediterranean coast.   The implication is that the entire land was devastated by the Midianite camel raiders and their allies from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean coast.
Question: In what ways did the Israelites suffer under the continued attacks by the Midianites and their allies?
Answer:

  1. To escape from Midianite attacks, the people were forced to hide in the mountains and in caves like animals.
  2. In the planting season their enemies would camp within Israelite territory and constantly raid their villages, destroying their agricultural crops.
  3. They confiscated the Israelite livestock and pillaged the villages.

Question: Why were they destroying the crop when it was planted instead of waiting for the harvest?
Answer: They were probably raiding at seed time and at harvest.   The intention wasn't just to steal from the Israelites; the intention was probably to starve out the Israelites and force them to leave the land.

The inspired writer compares the Midianites and their allies to locusts.   This metaphor describes the way the enemy destroyed everything in their path like a plague of locusts.   The same comparison will be made in 7:12 to describe the huge numbers of the enemy.

Judge deliverer cycles 1-4 for Gideon are fulfilled in this passage:

  1. Announcement of Israel's wrong doing (6:1)
  2. Statement of Yahweh's response (6:2)
  3. Notice of how long Israel was oppressed by the enemy (6:1a)
  4. Reference to Israel's repentance in "crying out" to God (6:6-7)

    The other parts of the cycle will be fulfilled in:
  5. Announcement of God "raising up" a deliverer (6:11-14)
  6. Description of how deliverance was achieved (6:33-35; 7:1-25; 8:4-21)
  7. Concluding statement of how long peace lasted (8:28)

Judges 6:7-10 ~ A Message from God's Prophet
7 When the Israelites cried to Yahweh because of Midian, 8 Yahweh sent a prophet [prophet man = nabi is] to the Israelites.   He said to them, This is what Yahweh, God of Israel, says, "It was I who brought you out of Egypt, and [I] led you out of the place of slave-labor.   9 I rescued you from the power of the Egyptians and from the power of all who oppressed you, I drove them out before you and [I] gave their country to you.   10 And I said to you: I am Yahweh your God.   You are not to fear the gods of the Amorites in whose country you are now living.   But you have not listened to my voice."'
[..] =
literal translation IBHE, vol. I, pages 646-47.

That the Israelites "cried out" to Yahweh (verses 6-7) is the fourth part of the deliverer cycle.   God's response is not to send a deliverer but that He "sent" a "man prophet."   The Hebrew word for "sent" (slh) in verse 8 is a technical term for the commissioning of a prophet as God's messenger (see for example Is 6:8-9 and Jer 23:21).   The Hebrew text specifically records that this messenger of Yahweh is a "man prophet."    Nabi/navi is the Hebrew word for male prophet and nabia/navia is the word for prophetess/woman prophet.   In Exodus 15:20 Miriam is called ha-nabia Miriam (the prophetess Miriam).   It is a curious redundancy in identifying the prophet as male when the word for male-prophet is used.   This redundancy is unique to this passage and to Judges 4:4 where Deborah is called a "prophetess woman" (nabia issa).   Nowhere else in Scripture is this redundancy used for a prophet.   The only exception may be 2 Kings 9:4 but in that case "young-man prophet" is used to distinguish Elisha's apprentice from Elisha.  Nothing in Scripture is accidental therefore this redundancy is meant to catch our attention for a reason.

Question: Is there a point the inspired writer wants to make? What is the purpose of explicitly stating that this man-prophet is a man?   See the same redundancy in Judges 4:4 where the literal Hebrew reads nabia issa, literally in the Hebrew "prophetess woman," for Deborah. What is the contrast in their missions?
Answer: The point is this prophet is a man as opposed to the last prophet mentioned in the Book of Judges, the nabia issa Deborah.   The contrast is that this man prophet does not come to set in motion the process of deliverance like the prophetess Deborah.   Instead he comes as God's prosecuting attorney to deliver another covenant law-suit indictment in accusing the Israelites of covenant infidelity and in forgetting God's acts as Israel's Savior and divine King.

Judges 6:7-10 is the second direct intervention by God in announcing an indictment against the Israelites for their covenant failures in the Book of Judges:

  1. The messenger (mal'ak) of Yahweh confronts Israel (Judg 2:1-5).
  2. A prophet (nabi) sent by Yahweh confronts Israel (Judg 6:7-10).
  3. Yahweh Himself confronts Israel (Judg 10:10-16).

Question: What is the prophet's message from God?   Notice the first person pronouns in the Hebrew text and how many times "I" (referring to Yahweh) is repeated.
Answer: It is a personal message given in seven first person pronouns to remind the Israelites of the miracles God worked to liberated them in the Exodus and the gift of the Promised Land.   The message ends in a concluding summary statement:

  1. It was I who brought you out of Egypt, and
  2. I led you out of the place of slave-labor.
  3. I rescued you from the power of the Egyptians and from the power of all who oppressed you ...
  4. I drove them out before you and
  5. I gave their country to you.
  6. And I said to you:
  7. I am Yahweh your God.   You are not to fear the gods of the Amorites in whose country you are now living.

Concluding statement: But you have not listened to my voice.

Seven is one of the so-called "perfect numbers" in Scripture (3, 7, 10 and 12) indicating divine perfection in fulfillment or completion especially in God's plan (for example, seven days in a week and God rested on the seventh day and Jesus' seven saying from the Cross, etc.); see the document "The Significance of Numbers in Scripture.

Question: In verse 10b God tells the Israelites through His prophet that they do not need to fear the false gods of the Amorites, but by implication who should they fear?   See Lev 25:17, 36, 43; Dt 6:13, 24; 8:6; 10:12, 20.
Answer: They do not need to fear false gods, but they do need to fear offending Yahweh.

The summary statement But you have not listened to my voice is repeated from Judges 2:2 and is a reminder of God's warnings that the Israelites must "listen" to God's voice and obey (for example see Dt 4:1; 7:12; 11:13; 15:5; 27:9, etc.) and their promise to be obedient to His commands (Ex 24:3, 7 and Josh 24:16-24).   God is frustrated with Israel's cycles of sin, subjugation, supplication and deliverance.   The prophet is sent to caution the Israelites against presuming that every descent into apostasy that brings divine judgment can be remedied by an appeal to elicit deliverance.

Judges 6:11-16 ~ The Angel of Yahweh appears to Gideon
11 The Angel of Yahweh came and sat under the terebinth at Ophrah which belonged to Joash of [of the] Abiezer.   Gideon his son was threshing wheat inside the wine-press, to keep it hidden from Midian, 12 and the Angel of Yahweh appeared to him and said, Yahweh is with you, valiant warrior!'   13 Gideon replied, Excuse me, my lord, but if Yahweh is with us, why is all this happening to us?   And where are all his miracles which our ancestors used to tell us about when they said, "Did not Yahweh bring us out of Egypt?"   But now Yahweh has deserted us; he has abandoned us to Midian.   14 At this, Yahweh turned to him and said, Go in this strength of yours, and you will rescue Israel from the power of Midian.   Am I not sending you myself?'   15 Gideon replied, forgive me, my lord, but how can I deliver Israel?   My clan is the weakest in Manasseh and I am the least important of my father's family.   16 Yahweh replied, I shall be with you and you will crush Midian as though it were one man.'  

Up to this point, the coming of Yahweh's messengers has been associated with judgment (2:15 and 6:7-8).   But after Yahweh's prophet delivers a message concerning Israel's covenant failures in verses 8-10, God sends another messenger; "the messenger of Yahweh" is a divine messenger who appears with his staff (6:21) sitting under the terebinth tree belonging to Gideon's father in Gideon's village.   The terebinth is a tree common to the lower regions of the hill country of Canaan/Israel.   Its broad, spreading branches, great size and long life made it a tree that was venerated by the inhabitants of Canaan/Israel.

Gideon's father, Joash, is the leader of the Abiezer clan in the tribe of Manasseh.(1) Despite Gideon's claim (6:15), his family is depicted as prosperous (Judg 6:19, 25, 27) and his father, as the leader of the clan and owner of the terebinth tree he sits dispensing justice like Deborah under her palm (Judg 4:5).   You will recall that sitting under Deborah's Palm Tree in 4:5 was the setting for the commissioning of Barak.
Question: Why is it significant that the messenger of Yahweh now takes Joash's place and sits under the tree belonging to Joash?
Answer: Taking Joash's place sends the message that there is now a new authority that is above Joash.   It is this authority who will begin the process of deliverance for Israel by commissioning of Gideon as Deborah commissioned Barak sitting under her Palm Tree.

The difficult choice for Gideon will be to whose authority will he submit himself: to his father's authority or to the authority of the messenger/angel of Yahweh?   The angel finds Gideon hiding in a wine press threshing grain.   A wine press is sunken into the ground and is therefore a more effective hiding place for the grain than a threshing floor.   A threshing floor is usually on higher ground where the wind can carry away the chaff that is tossed into the air.

The angel addresses Gideon as "valiant/mighty warrior," a form of address that shocks Gideon because he is not a mighty warrior, he is a farmer.
Question: What is the point of the divine messenger's address?
Answer: The point is that he will become a "valiant warrior" if he obeys God's divine call.  

Gideon is hesitant to believe in the divine presence of Yahweh.   He is at a disadvantage because he had not been raised to know Yahweh by a faithful Israelite family.   His father and the people of his village were apostates who had built an altar to Baal upon which they offered sacrifice.   Most Biblical scholars believe that Gideon's name is from the Hebrew verbal root which means to "to tear down" or "to cut off."   It is a name that will be fulfilled in his first act as God's agent (verse 25).   Gideon does know something of the history of his people since he refers to the Exodus liberation.   The seven annual festivals the people were commanded to keep were intended to allow every generation to relive the Exodus experience (Ex 13:3-10; Lev 23).   His family apparently kept these feasts and it was from them that Gideon knew about the miracles of the Exodus liberation through the feasts of Passover and Unleavened Bread.

Question: In Gideon's rather rude response, of what does he accuse God and is his accusation founded on truth?
Answer: He accused God of abandoning the Israelites; however, the truth is God has not abandoned Israel; the Israelites, like Gideon's father, have abandoned God.

Judges 6:14-16 ~ At this, Yahweh turned to him and said, Go in this strength of yours, and you will rescue Israel from the power of Midian.   Am I not sending you myself?'   15 Gideon replied, forgive me, my lord, but how can I deliver Israel?   My clan is the weakest in Manasseh and I am the least important of my father's family.   16 Yahweh replied, I shall be with you and you will crush Midian as though it were one man.'  
We, along with Gideon, discover that this divine personage is Yahweh Himself appearing in visible form like a man; it is also possible that the vision of the man is the pre-Incarnate Christ.   The "Angel of Yahweh is simply called "Yahweh" in verses 14, 16 and 23.

Question: Barak was commissioned by a prophetess of God sitting under a tree to set in motion the deliverance of Israel, but who commissions Gideon?   See verse 14.
Answer: God Himself.

Gideon has received an answer to why God has not rescued his people from the Midianites.   It is because it was not yet time for a deliverer and now he discovers to his shock that he is that chosen savior!
Question: What two reasons does Gideon give for not being able to accept the commission?
Answer: His clan is the weakest (probably meaning the least numerous) in the tribe of Manasseh and he is not his father's heir.

In response God tells Gideon that this is not a problem because I shall be with you and you will crush Midian as though it were one man.'  

Judges 6:17-24 ~ Gideon Asks for a Sign
17 Gideon said, If I have found favor in your sight, give me a sign that you are speaking to me.   18 Please do not go away from here until I come back to you, bringing you my offering and laying it before you.'   And he replied, I shall stay until you come back.'   19 Gideon went away, he prepared a young goat and from an ephah of flour he made unleavened cakes.   He put the meat into a basket and the broth into a pot, then brought it all to him under the terebinth.   As he approached, 20 the Angel [messenger] of Yahweh said to him, Take the meat and unleavened cakes, put them on this rock and pour the broth over them.'   Gideon did so.   21 The Angel of Yahweh then stretched out the tip of the staff which he was carrying, and touched the meat and unleavened cakes.   Fire sprang from the rock and consumed the meat and unleavened cakes, and the Angel of Yahweh vanished before his eyes.   22 Gideon then knew that this was the Angel of Yahweh, and he said, Alas, my Lord Yahweh!   Now I have seen the Angel of Yahweh face to face!'   23 Yahweh answered, Peace be with you; have no fear; you will not die.'   24 Gideon built an altar there to Yahweh and called it Yahweh-Peace.   This altar stands in our own day at Ophrah of Abiezer.

Gideon is beginning to believe that it is indeed Yahweh or His messenger who has called him, but he must be sure so he speaks respectively of how privileged he is to have found favor with God (like the heroes Noah, Abraham and Moses before him in Gen 6:8; 18:3 and Ex 33:12), and he requests a divine "sign" so he can be certain.   He asks Yahweh to wait until he returns with an offering and God graciously agrees.   The food offering Gideon brings is disproportionally large.   The flour to make the bread alone was the equivalent to about 22 liters.   The food was probably intended to be eaten in a communal meal as a sign of friendship.   This was a common custom as in Isaac's meal with Abimelech (Gen 26:29-30) or Jacob's meal with Laban (Gen 31:53-54), but Gideon knows that the way the offering is received will be the "sign" he is looking for.

Question: Yahweh accepts the offering and uses it to provide the "sign" Gideon requested.   What does He command Gideon to do with the offering and what are the three "signs" of divinity that Gideon receives?
Answer: Yahweh commands Gideon to place the pot of meat and unleavened bread rounds in the basket on a rock and to pour the broth over them.   Then, touching the tip of His staff to the rock, God gave three signs of His divinity:

  1. He does not consume the food as a human man would do.
  2. He consumes the food offering in fire.
  3. He miraculously vanishes.

Question: What is Gideon's reaction and why is he afraid?   See Gen 32:31/30 and Ex 19:21; 33:20; Lev 16:2.
Answer: It is understood that any sinful human who comes face to face with God cannot survive His awesome holiness that is so far removed from human unworthiness.   Anyone who remains alive after seeing God is therefore astonished and overwhelmed with gratitude since it is a favor God rarely grants.   Gideon is afraid because he fears he will not survive the experience.

In Gideon's accusation that God had abandoned Israel because He had not saved them from their enemies as He had in the Exodus liberation, Gideon was indirectly alluding to a deliverer from that time.  

Question: Who was another very reluctant hero who was called by God to deliver Israel from oppression by the Egyptians in the Exodus liberation?   See Ex chapter 3.
Answer: Moses was the divinely called deliverer of the Exodus liberation.

You may have noticed that Gideon's reluctance to deliver Israel from oppression by Israel's enemies very similar to God's call to a reluctant Moses to deliver Israel from oppression in Egypt.   It is interesting that as soon as Gideon spoke the rebuke concerning God's failure to deliver the Israelites as He did in the Exodus that the inspired writer began to offer similarities between the call of Moses and the call of Gideon.
Question: What are the similarities in the stories of their divine calls to service?   Compare Exodus 2:15 and Exodus Chapters 3-4:18 with Judges Chapter 6.
Answer: Gideon's call is an echo of God's divine call of Moses, but in a slightly different sequence:  

The Call of Gideon The Call of Moses
Gideon was hiding from his enemies in a wine press while he was threshing grain when God called him (Judg 6:14). Moses was hiding from his enemies in Midian herding sheep when God called him (Ex 2:15-3:1).
God tells Gideon: "I have sent you" (Judg 6:15). God tells Moses "I have sent you" (Ex 3:12).
Gideon protests that he is inadequate (Judg 6:15) Moses protests that he is inadequate (Ex 4:1, 10, 13).
Gideon received divine reassurance: "I will be with you" (Judg 6:16). Moses received divine reassurance: "I will be with you" (Ex 3:12a).
Gideon is given the sign of a fire theophany to reassure him of God's divine Presence (Judg 6:22). Moses is given a sign of a fire theophany to reassure him of God's divine Presence (Ex 3:2, 12b).
The fire theophany induced fear in Gideon (Judg 6:22b-23). The fire theophany induced fear in Moses (Ex 3:6b).
Two additional signs are given as proof of the success of the mission (Judg 6:36-40). Two additional signs are given as proof of the success of the mission (Ex 4:1-7).
After much hesitation, Gideon accepted the call. After much hesitation, Moses accepted the call.
Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2013

Question: What is one important difference between the two calls to divine service?
Answer: In the call of Moses, God identifies Himself to Moses by His divine name Yahweh, but he does not do the same with Gideon.   It is the inspired writer who tells us it is Yahweh who is personally calling Gideon.

A second difference is that Gideon like Moses will be in almost constant dialogue with Yahweh but the personal dialogue with Gideon lasts only in the events leading up to the battle in which God speaks with Gideon seven times (Judg 6:25, 36, 39; 7:2, 4, 7, 9).   However, God's dialogue with Moses continues throughout his life.  

Question: In the comparison between Moses and Gideon, what is ironic concerning the role of the Midianites?  See Ex 2:15-22; 4:18.
Answer: It is ironic that in the time of Moses the Midianites in the clan of Jethro, Zipporah' s father who became Moses' father-in-law, were the friends of Moses and the Israelites, but in Gideon's time they are their enemies.

Judges 6:23-24 ~ Yahweh answered, Peace be with you; have no fear; you will not die.'   24 Gideon built an altar there to Yahweh and called it Yahweh-Peace.   This altar stands in our own day at Ophrah of Abiezer.
God reassures him, telling Gideon: Peace be with you; have no fear; you will not die.' To commemorate the event, Gideon built a commemorative altar (not to be used in sacrifice), which the inspired writer testifies remained in place in his time.   In honor of Yahweh's victory over Baal, Gideon names the altar "Yahweh Shalom," naming the altar after the life-giving word that has been revealed to him (verse 23).   He has met God and God has given him peace.   Gideon's town of Ophrah has never been identified.

Judges 6:25-32 ~ Gideon Destroys the Altar of Baal
25 Now that night, Yahweh said to Gideon, Take you father's bull, the seven-year-old bull [take your father's bull and a second seven-year-old bull], and pull down the altar to Baal belonging to your father and cut down the sacred pole beside it.   Then, on top of this strong-point, build a proper altar to Yahweh your God.   26 Then take the bull [seven-year-old bull] and burn it as a burnt offering on the wood of the sacred pole which you have cut down.'   27 Gideon then took ten of his servants and did as Yahweh had ordered him.   But, being too frightened of his family and of the townspeople to do it in daylight, he did it at night.   28 Next morning, when the townspeople got up, they found that the altar to Baal had been destroyed, the sacred pole standing beside it had been cut down and the [second] bull had been sacrificed as a burnt offering on the newly built altar.   29 Who has done this?' they asked one another.   They searched, made enquiries and declared, Gideon son of Joash has done it.'   30 The townspeople then said to Joash, Bring out your son; he must die for having destroyed Baal's altar and cut down the sacred pole which stood beside it.'   31 To the people all crowding around him, Joash replied, Is it your job to plead for Baal?   Is it your job to champion his cause?   Anyone who pleads for Baal must be put to death before dawn.   32 If he is a god, let him plead for himself, now that Gideon has destroyed his altar.'   That day, Gideon was given the name Jerubbaal, because, they said, Baal must plead against him, because he has destroyed [torn down] his altar!'   [..] = literal translation IBHE, vol. I, page 648.   Two bulls belonging to Gideon's father are used: one is an ox, a draught animal for heavy labor, that was used to pull down the altar and the other bull is to be offered as a sacrifice.  

Question: Yahweh gives Gideon his first test of obedience.   What is he commanded to do and why?   How does this test concern his relationship with God and with his father?   Ex 20:3-5a; 34:13-14.
Answer: He his commanded to make war against the Canaanite cult of Baal by demolishing the town's altar to Baal and to cut down the cult object associated with it that are sponsored by his father.   Then, he is to build an altar to Yahweh in its place and offer in sacrifice the seven-year-old-bull of his father which is to be burnt on the wood of the cult object.  Gideon must choose pleasing his divine father over pleasing his physical father.

Gideon not only passes his test of obedience, but he fulfills the meaning of his name from the verb "to tear down." The "sacred pole," called an asherah, was the emblem of Asherah (Greek = Astarte), goddess of love and fertility and consort of Baal.  Sacrifice and worship were restricted to take place at God's altar of sacrifice at His Sanctuary unless permission was expressly given by God to erect an altar and offer sacrifice at another location (prohibition: Lev 17:1-7; Dt 12:11-12; exception as in the covenant renewal ceremony in Josh 8:30-35).  That the sacrificed bull was seven years old is symbolically significant.   Seven is the number of fullness, completion and perfection.   The bull is not offered as a sin sacrifice for the people (see Lev 4:13-21), but as a "whole burnt offering" or holocaust in which the entire animal is offered up to Yahweh the great King as a tribute or "gift offering," acknowledging God's sovereignty and authority.   That there were ten servants assisting Gideon may also be significant.   The number "ten" is the number signifying divine order (as in the Ten Commandments and the ten Egyptian plagues).

As Gideon feared, the townspeople were angry when they discovered the Baal altar was destroyed.
Question: How did they threaten Gideon and how did his father defend him?
Answer: The people threaten to kill Gideon, but his father defends him by arguing that if Baal is a true god he will defend himself and if not, he is obviously false.  

Gideon's father has to choose between the townspeople or his son, but fundamentally, he must choose between Baal and Yahweh.   His son's courageous act has left him no middle ground.   He cannot serve both Baal and Yahweh.   He chooses his son and Yahweh and further declares his choice by threatening to execute anyone who attempts to defend Baal.   This is a pivotal moment in salvation history for Joash and the people of Ophrah.

Question: What is God's point in destroying the people's pagan altar and pagan cult object?
Answer: The real problem that the Israelites are facing is not their oppression by the Midianites but the lack of their relationship with Yahweh.

Joshua 6:32b ~ That day, Gideon was given the name Jerubbaal, because, they said, Baal must plead against him, because he has destroyed [hacked/torn down] his altar!'  
The townspeople do not challenge Joash and Gideon is reborn in their eyes as Jerubbaal, which means "let Baal contend", yerubba'al; it is a word play on the threefold use of the verb riv/rib "to contend/fight back." Gideon has lived up to his name and in tearing down the altar of Baal he has given Yahweh victory over the false god.

Judges 6:33-40 ~ The Midianite Invasion and Gideon's Sign of the Fleece
33   All Midian and Amalek and the sons of the East joined forces and , having crossed the Jordan, pitched camp in the plain of Jezreel.   34 And the spirit of Yahweh clothed Gideon around; he sounded the horn [shofar = ram's horn] and Abiezer rallied behind him.   35 He sent messengers throughout Manasseh, and Manasseh too rallied behind him; he sent messengers to Asher, Zebulun and Naphtali, and they marched out to meet him.   36 Gideon said to God, If it is really you delivering Israel by means of me, as you have said, 37 look, I am going to put a woolen fleece on the threshing-floor; if there is dew only on the fleece and all the ground stays dry, then I shall know that you will deliver Israel by means of me, as you have said.'   38 And so it happened.   Early next morning, Gideon got up, squeezed the fleece and wrung enough dew out of the fleece to fill a cup.   39 Gideon then said to God, Do not be angry with me if I speak just once more.   Allow me to make the fleece-test just once more: let the fleece alone be dry and there be dew all over the ground!'   40 And God did so that night.   The fleece alone stayed dry, and there was dew all over the ground.  [..] = literal translation IBHE, vol. I, pages 659-60.

As Gideon is undergoing his ordeal in his hometown, the Transjordan enemies of Israel have launched an attack by invading across the Jordan from the east and setting up their war camp in the Jezreel, a valley containing some of the best arable land west of the Jordan River.  

Question: How does God prepare His divinely chosen deliverer?
Answer: God "clothes" Gideon with His divine spirit.

In the New Covenant in Christ Jesus God fills and indwells His people with His Holy Spirit (for example see Acts 2:4; 4:8, 31; Rom 8:11), but in the Old Covenant the usual expression is that God's spirit "rested" or "clothed/came upon" God's chosen ones (i.e., Num 11:25-26; 1 Sam 10:6; 16:13).

Gideon calls for the blowing of the ram's horn (shofar) signal to rally the tribes to war.   His own tribe of Manasseh is the first to respond followed by the northern tribes of Asher, Zebulun and Naphtali.   The tribe of Manasseh occupied lands on both sides of the Jordan River.   Gideon's clan lives on the west side but the clans on the east side also rallied for war (Judg 7:23).

Gideon has another crisis of faith and asks God for another sign to authenticate his mission.   The sign is not to answer the question of when or how he should lead the Israelites into battle but if he should lead them at all.   As you may recall there were also two signs to authenticate the mission of Moses in Exodus 4:1-7 (see the chart in the handout).   In the second part of the test he even asks God not to be angry; Gideon knows he is on dangerous ground in what he is asking.   For the second time, God is infinitely patient with His deliverer (see 6:11-24).   God does not even rebuke Gideon.   Gideon's imperfections only serve to magnify for us an appreciation for God's grace.

Question: What two ways does he offer a test for a sign of God's divine Presence with him in his mission?   What is the answer?
Answer: He presents a wool fleece with the request that the night dew only fall on the fleece and not on the ground.   When this fleece-test is fulfilled he asks for the reverse.   God, in His patience, grants the second sign and the fleece remains dry while the ground is wet.   Gideon has his answer: God is with him.

It is not unexpected that the dew should collect on the fleece which Gideon realizes; it is then that he asks for the reverse sign.   The miracle for Gideon is in the reverse sign.
Question: Why does Gideon need further proof that God has called him when he has seen the earlier signs like the fire theophany and is now "covered" with God's Spirit?   How is Gideon like all of us?
Answer: Like all of us, Gideon is still a fallen human being who struggles to maintain his faith and to render obedience to God.   Being "clothed" in the Spirit of God in Gideon's case or being baptized in the Holy Spirit in the case of a person who has received the Sacrament of Baptism does not change our personalities nor are we rendered immune from sin and doubt.   The path of salvation is one of continual conversion and continual submission.

Chapter 7: Gideon's Campaign against the Midianites and their Allies

 

Judges 7:1-8 ~ Yahweh Prepares Gideon's Army
1 Jerubbaal (that is, Gideon) got up very early, as did all the people who were with him; he pitched camp at En-Harod; the camp of Midian was north of his, under the Hill of Moreh in the valley.   2 Yahweh then said to Gideon, there are too many people with you for me to put Midian into their power; Israel might claim the credit for themselves at my expense: they might say, "My own hand has rescued me."   3 So now make this proclamation to the people, "anyone trembling with fear is to go back and watch from Mount Gilboa."   Twenty-two thousand of the people went back, and ten thousand remained.   4 Yahweh said to Gideon, there are still too many people.   Take them down to the waterside and I shall sort them out for you there.  If I say to someone, "he is to go with you," that man is to go with you.   And if I say of anyone, "He is not to go with you," that man is not to go.'   5 So Gideon took the people down to the waterside, and Yahweh said to him, All those who lap the water with their tongues, as a dog laps, put these on one side.   And all those who kneel down to drink, put these on the other side.'   6 The number of those who lapped with their hands to their mouth was three hundred; all the rest of the people had knelt to drink.   7 Yahweh then said to Gideon, With the three hundred who lapped the water, I shall rescue you and put Midian into your power.   Let the people as a whole disperse to their homes.'   8 So they took the people's provisions and their horns, and then Gideon sent all the Israelites back to their tents, keeping only the three hundred.   The camp of Midian was below his in the valley.

Gideon's military camp is south of the enemy camp but at a higher elevation so he has a good view of the large enemy camp (7:8, 9).   That there are too many people with you...' God says for the intended victory in our human understanding seems incredible, but ours is an incredible God.  
Question: Why does God announce that He will reduce the number of Israelite warriors?
Answer: He does not want to Israelites to claim the victory through their superior numbers but instead to acknowledge that their victory is through God's intervention.

Question: How many times does God reduce their numbers and how many warriors are left?
Answer: He reduced their numbers twice until there were only 300 men left.

The number three hundred may be literal or symbolic.   It is the multiplication of the two perfect numbers three and ten.   In sacred Scripture the number three represents that which is solid, real, substantial, and something in its completeness, and ten is the number of divine order.   God has reduced the Israelite army to the perfect number of men to create a force of commandos who can surprise the enemy by striking quickly and with deadly force.

Judges 7:9-15 ~ Yahweh Gives Gideon Encouragement
9 Now it happened, that same night, that Yahweh said to him, Get up and go down to the camp.   I am putting it into your power.   10 If, however, you are nervous about going down, go down to the camp with your servant Purah; 11 listen to what they are saying, and that will encourage you to go down to the camp.'   So, with this servant Purah, he went down to the edge of the outposts of the camp.   12 Midian, Amalek and all the sons of the East were deployed in the valley as thick as locusts; their camels were as innumerable as the sand on the seashore.   13 Gideon got there just as a man was telling his comrade a dream; he was saying, This was the dream I had: a cake made of barley bread came rolling into the camp of Midian; it came to a tent, struck against it and turned it upside down.   14 His comrade replied, This can only be the sword of Gideon son of Joash the Israelite.   God has put Midian and the whole camp into his power.'   15 When Gideon heard the dream thus told and interpreted, he bowed in reverence; he then went back to the camp of Israel and said, On your feet, for Yahweh has put the camp of Midian into your power!'

Having the advantage of viewing the enemy camp from a higher location must have unnerved Gideon.   Gideon is still the reluctant and fearful deliverer.   He is not yet the "valiant warrior" that God wants him to be.   God works with us as we are and knows what greatness we are capable of even when we lack courage or self-confidence.  

Question: Why does God send Gideon down in secret into the enemy camp?
Answer: Knowing Gideon's fears, God gives him a sign of encouragement from the camp of the enemy.

God knows our fears and weaknesses as well as our strengths.   God also encouraged His chosen agent Joshua before his first battle in Joshua 5:13-15.   God even allows Gideon to take his servant with him in the same way Moses was allowed to have his brother Aaron with him for moral support (Ex 4:13-17).   We are reminded that it is not fearlessness that is the indispensable requirement for God's deliverer to achieve victory, but it is obedience to God that is necessary.

Judges 7:12 ~ Midian, Amakek and all the sons of the East were deployed in the valley as thick as locusts; their camels were as innumerable as the sand on the seashore.
This is the second time the locust metaphor has been used for Israel's enemies in the Gideon narrative (see 6:5).   Even though God has promised him victory (7:9), Gideon needs to hear the prophecy of defeat from the mouth of his enemy.   The prophecy served to unnerve the enemy camp in the same way God put dread over the people of Jericho before the Israelite attach (Josh 2:9), and their fear is the antidote to Gideon's fear.

Judges 7:13-14 ~ Gideon got there just as a man was telling his comrade a dream; he was saying, This was the dream I had: a cake made of barley bread came rolling into the camp of Midian; it came to a tent, struck against it and turned it upside down.   14 His comrade replied, This can only be the sword of Gideon son of Joash the Israelite.   God has put Midian and the whole camp into his power.'  
The man telling the dream and his audience recognize the dream as being a divine revelation.   In the dream the tent represents the tent-dwelling, nomadic Midianites and their allies.   The barley cake represents the agricultural Israelites.   That the barley loaf overturned the tent foretells the victory of the Israelites over the Midianites and their tent-dwelling allies.  

Judges 7:15 ~  When Gideon heard the dream thus told and interpreted, he bowed in reverence; he then went back to the camp of Israel and said, On your feet, for Yahweh has put the camp of Midian into your power!'
Bowing in worshipful reverence is the sign that Gideon gives in acknowledging God's power and authority to do what He has promised.   Gideon's fear is gone and he rallies the camp and leads his 300 commandos into battle with a command that is similar to Deborah's in 4:14.

Judges 7:16-22 ~ Gideon's Surprise Attack
16 Gideon then divided his three hundred men into three groups.   To each he gave a horn and an empty pitcher, with a torch inside each pitcher.   17 He said to them, Watch me, and do as I do.   When I reach the edge of the camp, whatever I do, you must do also.   18 I shall blow my horn, and so will all those who are with me; you too will them blow your horns all round the camp and shout, "for Yahweh and for Gideon!"'   19 Gideon and his hundred companions reached the edge of the camp at the beginning of the middle watch, when the new sentries had just been posted; they blew their horns and smashed the pitchers in their hands.   20 The three groups blew their horns and smashed their pitchers; with their left hands they grasped the torches, with their right hands the horns for blowing them; and they shouted, The sword for Yahweh and for Gideon!'   21 And they stood still, spaced out round the camp.   The whole camp was thrown into confusion and the Midianites fled, shouting.   22 While the three hundred blew their horns, Yahweh made each man turn his sword against this comrade throughout the entire camp.   They all fled as far as Beth-ha-Shittah in the direction of Zarethan, as far as the bank of Abel-Meholah opposite Tabbath.

Gideon divided his men into three companies of a hundred warriors with each warrior carrying a ram's horn and an empty pitcher with a lighted torch inside.   Notice they are not carrying swords in their hands.   It is the third night watch when they go down to encircle the enemy camp.   Prior to the Roman conquest of the Levant in 68 BC, the Israelites observed the 12 night hours divided into three "watch" periods.   The third watch was from about 2 AM to dawn, so it was about 2 AM at "the beginning of the third watch" when the Israelites set out. They encircle the enemy camp, and when Gideon and his men blew their horns and smash their pots followed by the other two groups, the sudden noise and flashes of light in the darkness startled and unnerved the enemy who in their panic turned their weapons on each other.   Gideon has deployed his men but God has achieved the victory.

Judges 7:22b ~ They all fled as far as Beth-ha-Shittah in the direction of Zarethan, as far as the bank of Abel-Meholah opposite Tabbath.
None of the sites named in verse 22 have ever been identified.   However, it is clear that the enemy fled east toward the Jordan River as far as the "place-of the-acacia trees" (an unknown site).   Zarethan is one of the fords of the Jordan (1 Kng 4:12) and Abel-Meholah and Tabbath are probably settlements in the Jordan Valley to the south or southeast of Beth-Shean.  

Judges 7:23-25 ~ The Victory of Gideon and the Israelites
23 The men of Israel mustered from Naphtali, Asher and all Manasseh, and pursued Midian.   24 Gideon sent messengers throughout the highlands of Ephraim to say, Come down to meet Midian, seize the water-points ahead of them as far as Beth-Bara and the Jordan.'   All the men of Ephraim mustered and seized the water-points as far as Beth-Barah and the Jordan.   25 They captured the two Midianite chieftains, Oreb (Raven) and Zeeb (Wolf); they killed Oreb at Oreb's Rock and Zeeb at Zeeb's Winepress.   They pursued Midian; and they brought the heads of Oreb and Zeeb to Gideon on the other side of the Jordan.

As the enemy flees toward the fords of the Jordan River, Gideon doesn't want any to escape.   He musters the warriors that had been dismissed from the first raid.   He is also aware that the enemy may attempt to cross the Jordan by going south into the lands of Ephraim, and so he sends messengers to the Ephraimite clans to pursue the enemy.   The Ephraimites cover the fords as far south as Beth-Barah, an unknown site but presumably on the southern border of Ephraim.   The names of the sites where the two Midianite chieftains were killed on the west side of the Jordan are still known in the time of the inspired writer. Gideon has already crossed over the Jordan River into the Transjordan where he will continue the fight.   The Ephraimites bring Gideon the heads of the Midianite chieftains to his camp as proof of their success.

Question: What is interesting about the place name of the site where the Midianite chieftain Zeeb/Wolf was killed in relation to the beginning of the story of Gideon?   See Judg 6:11.
Answer: The story began with Gideon hiding in a winepress when God first called him "Valiant Warrior."   Now, with his first victory with the help of God, his story has come full circle at another winepress and he has become the "Valiant Warrior" God called him to be.

Judges 8:1-3 ~ The Ephraimites Take Offense
1 Now the men of Ephraim said to Gideon, What do you mean by treating us like this, not summoning us when you went to fight Midian?'   And they reproached him bitterly.   2 He replied, What have I achieved, compared with you?   Is not the gleaning of Ephraim's grapes better than the vintage of Abiezer?   3 God delivered Oreb and Zeeb, the chieftains of Midian, into you power.   What was I able to do, in comparison with what you have done?'   At these words, their anger with him died down.

This seemingly out-of-place section which breaks up the momentum of the war narrative will be important later for two reasons:

  1. It demonstrates Gideon's humble nature and diplomatic skills which will be contrasted with the events in the next section of the narrative (8:4-17).
  2. It shows the Ephraimites' sensitivity to their place among their tribal brothers that will lead to trouble in Judges 12:1-6 and later in Israel's history during the period of the United Monarchy.

Ephraim and Manasseh were the half-tribes of Joseph.   Ephraim was supposed to have precedence over their brother tribe of Manasseh even though Manasseh was Joseph's first born (Gen 48:10-14).   The Ephraimites were very jealous of this prerogative and they perceived it as a slight that a member of the lessor tribe of Manasseh did not call upon them at the first of the battle against the Midianites and their allies.   Their challenge to Gideon is insulting since no one from Ephraim had the initiative or the divine call to take up the fight against Israel's enemies
Question:   How does Gideon respond to their challenge?   Notice the imagery he uses in the metaphors of "gleaning" and "vintage."
Answer: Gideon handles the dispute with grace and diplomacy.   He acknowledges the supremacy of Ephraim in verse 2b and gives credit for the victory to God.   He uses the double metaphor of gleaning (what is gathered up after the harvest) and vintage (the grape harvest itself), but he uses the metaphors in an unusual context by saying in this case the "gleaning" or the capture of the enemy chieftains by the Ephraimites, is greater than the "vintage," the initial "harvesting" of the enemy in the battle he led.

His humble response placates them.   It should not be missed that the symbolic connection in the metaphors he used associated with grain harvesting and the processing of the grape harvest are connected to his first encounter with the messenger of Yahweh in 6:11 where Gideon is hiding in a winepress threshing the grain from the harvest or the gleanings after the Midianites had raided the fields.   Now he is the one "harvesting" the enemy and "pressing" them like grapes in a winepress.   In those repeated images we have come to the end of Part I of Gideon's story.   Up to this point he has been the model of the Mosaic hero: humble, fearful of offending God, reverent, and obedient.   He has also been in a continual discourse with God.   Part II will reveal changes in Gideon's character, and we no longer have evidence of God's direct interaction with His deliverer.

Chapter 8:4-35 ~ Part II: Gideon's Campaign in the Transjordan

 

Judges 8:4-9 ~ Gideon Pursues the Enemy to the East Side of the Jordan
4 Gideon reached the Jordan and crossed it, but he and his three hundred companions were exhausted with the pursuit.   5 So he said to the men of Succoth, Please give my followers some loaves of bread, since they are exhausted, and I am pursuing Zebah and Zalmunna the kings of Midian.'   6 The headmen of Succoth replied, Are the hands of Zebah and Zalmunna already in your grasp, that we should give bread to your army?'   7 Very well,' retorted Gideon, when Yahweh has put Zebah and Zalmunna into my power, I shall tear your flesh off with desert-thorn and thistles.'   8 From there he went up to Penuel and asked the men of Penuel the same thing; they replied as those of Succoth had done.   9 And to those of Penuel he made a similar retort, When I return victorious, I shall destroy this tower.'

Either the narrative is now out of sequence and we return to when Gideon and his men crossed the Jordan into the Transjordan lands before the incident with the Ephraimites in 7:25-8:1-3 or this is a different campaign.   The three hundred selected in 7:1-8 apparently continue to be Gideon's vanguard commando force.   They pursue the Midianites and the allies across the Jordan into the region of the Transjordan on the east side of the river near the village of Succoth and Penuel to the east of Succoth.  These sites are also mentioned in the Jacob narrative; it was at Penuel where Jacob wrestled with God (see Gen 32:23-31 and 33:17).   The villages are located in the tribal lands of Gad and are occupied by Israelites from that tribe (Josh 13:24-28).   When Gideon requests food for his exhausted men, his request is rudely denied by both towns.
Question: How is Gideon's response to their rudeness different from his response to the Ephraimites?
Answer: He makes no attempt to court their support and instead threatens them.

The "tower of Penuel" was a fortified tower used for observation and defensive.   His threat to destroy the tower is in essence a threat to destroy the town and the people.  The names of the Midianite kings mean respectively "victim/sacrifice" and "wandering shade," apparently names given to them by their Israelite enemies.  

Judges 8:10-12 ~ Defeat of the Midianites and their Allies in the Transjordan
10 Zebah and Zalmunna were in Karkor with their army, about fifteen thousand men, all that was left of the entire army of the sons of the East.   Of men bearing arms, a hundred and twenty thousand has fallen.   11 Gideon approached them by the tent-dwellers' route, east of Nobah and Jogbehah, and attacked the army when it thought itself in safety.   12 Zebah and Zalmunna fled.   He pursued them; he took the two kings of Midian prisoner, Zebah and Zalmunna, and the whole army he routed in panic.

Karkor is a desert oasis on the caravan route that is about 100 miles southeast of Amman, Jordan.   It is still used by Moslem pilgrims traveling to Mecca in Saudi Arabia.   The "tent-dwellers route or caravan route of the eastern desert peoples that is mentioned is just east of Amman.   The Midianites did not expect Gideon and his army to move so quickly to the east but that is the advantage Gideon had marching with a reduce force.   Gideon and his men ambush the enemy and are victorious.

Judges 8:13-21 ~ Gideon's Acts of Revenge
13 After the battle Gideon came back by the Ascent of Heres.   14 He caught a young man, one of the people of Succoth, and questioned him, and the latter wrote down the names of the headmen and elders of Succoth for him, seventy-seven men.   15 Gideon son of Joash then went to the people of Succoth and said, Here you see Zebah and Zalmunna, about whom you taunted me and said, "Are the hands of Zebah and Zalmunna already in your grasp, that we should give bread to your exhausted troops?"'   16 He then seized the elders of the town and, taking desert-thorn and thistles, tore [threshed] the men of Succoth to pieces.   17 He destroyed [tore down] the tower of Penuel and slaughtered the townsmen.   18 He then said to Zebah and Zalmunna, The men you killed at Tabor, what were they like?"   They replied, They looked like you.   Every one of them carried himself like the son of a king.'   19 Gideon replied, They were my brothers, the sons of my own mother; as Yahweh lives, if you had spared their lives I would not kill you.'   20 To Jether his eldest son he said, Stand up and kill them!'   But the boy did not draw his sword; he dared not; he was still only a lad.   21 Zebah and Zalmunna then said, Stand up yourself, and strike us down; for as a man is, so is his strength.'   Then Gideon stood up and killed Zebah and Zalmunna; and he took the crescents from round the camels' necks.   [..] = literal translation IBHE, vol. I, page 655-66; dwsu = "threshes" and nts = torn down."

After defeating the Midianites and their allies, Gideon returned west toward the two Israelite towns of Gad to fulfill his threat with chilling ruthlessness.   His men capture a young man from Succoth and force him to write down the names of the chieftains and elders of his town (notice that the young man is literate; there is historical evidence of the literacy of Israelites in this early period).   Gideon kills the seventy-seven (probably a symbolic number) elders of Succoth but his violence escalates against Penuel where he not only tears down the tower but slaughters all the men of the town.   Biblical author Gregory Mobley notes that Gideon who once "threshed" wheat in Judged 6:11 now "threshes" the leaders of Succoth with thorns and thistles in Judges 8:7, 16, and Gideon who had once "torn down" the shrine of Baal in Judges 6:32 now "tears down" the tower of Penuel in Judges 8:17 (Mobley, Empty Men, page 144).  

After years of war and military success, how has Gideon's character changed?
Question: He is no longer the humble and diplomatic young deliverer he was in his first campaign.   His is now confident, arrogant, and cruel.

Gideon made no attempt to court the townspeople of Succoth or Penuel into rendering aid to his men as he diplomatically soothed the hurt feelings of the Ephraimites in 8:1-3.   Instead he threatened them and returned to fulfill his threat in a horrific act of violence against his own people.
Judges 8:18-19 ~  He then said to Zebah and Zalmunna, The men you killed at Tabor, what were they like?"   They replied, They looked like you.   Every one of them carried himself like the son of a king.'   19 Gideon replied, They were my brothers, the sons of my own mother; as Yahweh lives, if you had spared their lives I would not kill you.'  
Gideon's oath in verse 19 does not seem genuine.   For the first time we hear about a battle at Mt. Tabor in which Gideon's brothers were killed.

Judges 8:20-21 ~ 20 To Jether his eldest son he said, Stand up and kill them!'   But the boy did not draw his sword; he dared not; he was still only a lad.   21 Zebah and Zalmunna then said, Stand up yourself, and strike us down; for as a man is, so is his strength.'   Then Gideon stood up and killed Zebah and Zalmunna; and he took the crescents from round the camels' necks.  
Next, wishing to deny his enemies an honorable "warrior's death," Gideon attempts to force the vengeful role of "blood-redeemer" for the deaths of his brothers upon his pre-adolescent firstborn son by commanding him to carry out the executions.4   It is a task the boy is unwilling to fulfill.   Gideon's delegation of power to the boy may be a sign designed to designate the boy as his successor and may be considered his "blooding" as a warrior.   It is also a final humiliation to the Midianite kings to be killed by someone below their rank.   In this episode Gideon is arrogant, cruel, and vengeful.   He has forgotten God's command when He told the Israelites: "Vengeance is mine" (Dt 32:35).   Yahweh's wars are not wars of personal vengeance but holy wars of liberation.   While the enemy kings deserved to die for their crimes, Gideon has violated the prohibitions of a holy war.    In verse 21 the Midianite kings defiantly take the opportunity to make the most of Gideon's embarrassment concerning his son and berate Gideon for not carrying out their executions himself, and so he kills them.

Question: What has happened to Gideon?   How is he no longer the image of a Mosaic liberator?   See Num 12:3; Sir [Ecclesiasticus] 45:4.
Answer: It appears that his successes have delivered him into the sin of pride.   He is no longer the humble deliverer in the image of Moses.

and he took the crescents from round the camels' necks.   These are probably golden ornaments on the Midianite kings' camels that identified their status.   Gideon's use of the ornaments will demonstrate how far Gideon has drifted from the young, humble and valiant warrior in Part I of the narrative.

Judges 8:22-28 ~ Israel's Offer to Gideon and his Refusal
22 The men of Israel said to Gideon, Rule over us, you, your son and your grandson, since you have rescued us from the power of Midian.'   23 But Gideon replied, I will not rule you, neither will my son.   Yahweh shall rule you.'   24 Gideon went on, however, Let me make you one request.   Each of you give me one ring out of the booty', for the vanquished had had gold rings, being Ishmaelites.   25 We shall give them gladly,' they replied.   So he spread out his cloak, and on it each of them threw a ring from his booty.   26 The weight of the gold rings which he had asked for amounted to seventeen hundred shekels of gold, besides the crescents and the earrings and purple garments worn by the kings of Midian, and besides the collars round their camels' necks.   27 From this Gideon made an ephod and set it up in his town of Ophrah.   All Israel, following his example, prostituted themselves to it, and it was a snare for Gideon and his family.   28 Thus Midian was humbled before the Israelites.   He did not raise his head again, and the country had peace for forty years, as long as Gideon lived.  

For the first time we learn that Ishmaelites were among the allies of the Midianites.
Question: Who are the Ishmaelites?   See Gen 16:1-2, 15-16.
Answer:   They are the desert nomads who are the descendants of Ishmael, the son of Abraham and Sarah's Egyptian slave girl Hagar.

The seventeen hundred shekels of gold in verse 26 amount to about 49 pounds of gold.
Question: The Israelites offer to make Gideon king over them.   What is his answer?
Answer: To his credit, Gideon refuses and acknowledges Yahweh as the only king over Israel but he asks for a king's ransom in gold as a donation from each warrior.

Question: What does Gideon do with the gold?
Answer: He makes a gold object and sets it up in his hometown where the altar of Baal used to stand.

Question: Gideon's request for gold earrings is eerily similar to what other request for gold earrings used to make an object of idol worship?   See Ex 32:2-6.
Answer: It is reminiscent of Aaron's request for the earrings of the Israelites to make the idol of the Golden Calf.  

The making of the Golden Calf was the beginning of Israel's fall from grace just as the making of Gideon's golden cult object is the beginning of his family and his clan's descent into idolatry and sin.   It is uncertain what the ephod was.   It most certainly was not like the ephod of the High Priest which was worn since this object is "set up" like an idol.   Gideon may have intended it as a reminder of his achievements but it was a snare for Gideon and his family, which must mean members of his family and others came to worship it following his example (8:27b).   The Gideon narrative that began with a reminder of the Exodus liberation in 6:8-9 and Gideon's accusation that God had not done for Israel in her current suffering what He did for Israel in the Exodus in 6:13 now ends with a repeat of the people's fall from grace after the Exodus deliverance in the worship of the Golden Calf, just as the people now turn to idol worship after God's gracious deliverance through Gideon.

The Gideon narrative cycle concludes with the announcement of the years of peace brought by Gideon's judgeship: 28 Thus Midian was humbled before the Israelites.   He did not raise his head again, and the country had peace for forty years, as long as Gideon lived.    

Judges 8:28-35 ~ Israel Relapses into Idolatry
29 So Jerubbaal son of Joash went to live at home.   30 Gideon had seventy sons begotten by him, for he had many wives.   31 His concubine, who lived in Shechem, also bore him a son, to whom he gave the name Abimelech [father-is-king].   32 Gideon son of Joash died after a happy old age and was buried in the tomb of Joash his father, at Ophrah of Abiezer.   33 After Gideon's death, the people of Israel again began to prostitute themselves to the Baals, taking Baal-Berith [baal-of-oaths] for their god.   34 The Israelites no longer remembered Yahweh their God, who had rescued them from all the enemies round them.   35 And to the family of Jerubbaal, Gideon, they showed no faithful gratitude for all the good which it had done for Israel.

These verses serve as the conclusion of the Gideon narrative and as the introduction to the story of Gideon's son Abimelech.   After Gideon's death the people began to worship idols again.   The sin of idolatry in the Bible is imaged as both adultery and prostitution (i.e., Jer 3:8-9; 5:7; Ez 16:1, 30-43; 23:37).   Baal-Berith was the god of covenant oaths and contracts and therefore a deity important to merchants.   Israel, engaged in doing trade with the Canaanites, was making covenants in violation of Deuteronomy 7:3.   They had forgotten God's mighty works on their behalf and the works of His deliverer Gideon.   The Israelites lacked both faith and gratitude.   But for the first time in the narratives of the Judges, 8:27 makes it clear that the descent of the people into the "sin cycle" begins not after the judge's death but during the judge's own lifetime, and the judge is himself a contributor to it!   It foreshadows the evil that is to come.

Questions for reflection or group discussion:
Question: Gideon put out a fleece not to discern God's will but to discern if he was being directed by God.  Have you ever put out a "fleece" to discern God's will for you in determining what path you should take or decision you should make?   What should be the parameters and/or limitations in the laying out a "fleece" to determine God's will?   How can the commands of the Ten Commandments help you in discerning the will of God in such a spiritual exercise?  

Question: When Gideon realized he was in the presence of God, he was afraid.   What does Proverbs 1:7 say about "fear of Yahweh"?   Why is fear of offending God a spiritually healthy condition?   Do you fear offending God and do you think people today have any fear of God?   Why or why not.   "Fear of the Lord" is listed as one of the seven gifts of the Spirit (see CCC 1831) and the teachings on the Last Judgment should inspire "fear of the Lord (see CCC 1041).   See what Cardinal John Henry Newman wrote about fearful respect of the Lord in CCC 2144.

Question: Can you think of some Christian leaders or other people in our modern age who were called by God to do a work that advanced the Kingdom and who later, like Gideon, fell from grace through the sin of pride?   What is the warning in their fall from grace for us?

Endnotes:

1. A pottery shard with writing (oastrcia were the post-it notes of antiquity) was found in Samaria with the name of Gideon's clan and dating to the 8th century BC.

2. R. Boling, Judges, page 141: "...fishermen living on one of the streamless and springless Desert Islands have obtained sufficient water for their livelihood by spreading out fleece in the evening and wringing dew from them in the morning"; quoting from information in The Journal of the Palestine Oriental Society, 3 [1923] pages 197-99.

3. In the Gideon narrative and in chapter 12 the Ephraimites are already seeking supremacy over their brother tribes.   The quest for supremacy is based on Jacob granting re'shith (firstborn) status to the tribe of Joseph (Gen 49:22-26) and the same status granted to Ephraim over his elder brother Manasseh (Gen 48:5, 13-20).   The one with the "firstborn" status of the heir received a double portion of the father's material wealth and spiritual blessing. The Ephraimites even approached Joshua (a member of the tribe of Ephraim) when the tribal lands were being allotted and demanded that he give them double the land that the other tribes received.   Joshua ignored the demand (see Josh 17:14) and suggested if they wanted more than their initial allotment that they drive out more Canaanites (Josh 17:17-18).  In 930 BC the Ephraimites will lead a revolt against the supremacy of the Judahite king Rehoboam and bring an end to the United Kingdom of Israel (1 Kng 11:26; 12:20).

4. Revenge killings for the death of a family member are still practiced in the Middle East today.   In the laws of the Sinai Covenant God established laws to limit such killings and to allow for justice for the accused.   In cases of murder, the Law of the Sinai covenant gave the nearest male relative the right and obligation to hunt down the murderer (Num 35:12-28; Dt 19:4-6, 11-13).   To avoid injustice in cases of accidental death, cities of refuge were established to offer sanctuary to the accused until his case could be heard by elders, and no one was to be put to death on the evidence of only one witness (Num 35:24, 30; Josh 20:4).

Catechism reference for Judges 6:11-32 concerning the intervention of angels: CCC 332-336.

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