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Commentary On The Book Of Judges 3.

By Dr Peter Pett BA BD (Hons-London) DD

Chapter 6. Gideon.

In this chapter we have an account of the distressed condition Israel was in as a result of continual Midianite invasion. We learn:

  • Of a prophet being sent to them to reprieve them from their sins.
  • Of the angel of Yahweh appearing to Gideon with an order to him to go and save Israel out of the hands of the Midianites.
  • Of a sign given to him by the angel, by which he knew this order was from God.
  • Of the reformation from idolatry he commenced in his father's family, by throwing down the altar of Baal, and building one for Yahweh.
  • Of the preparation he made to fight the Midianites and others.
  • But first he desired a sign from Yahweh, that Israel would be saved by his hand, a request which was granted and repeated.

    God’s Fourth Lesson - Invasions From the East - Gideon the Deliverer (6.1-8.32).

    The Continual Invasions Of Central Israel By Midian, Amalek and the Children of the East (6.1-6).

    6.1 ‘And the children of Israel did what was evil in the sight of Yahweh, and Yahweh delivered them into the hand of Midian seven years.’

    Again the refrain is repeated because the sin of Israel was repeated. Again they turned to idols and worshipped Baal and the Asherah. It should make us wonder why God did not get sick of them (and does not get sick of us also with our continual disobedience). It was of course because He was working out His sovereign plan of redemption through them. But again He determined to teach them a lesson.

    The time of ‘rest’ after the activities of Barak and Deborah was now over, for in their passing Israel once more slipped back into their old ways. They had enjoyed a generation at peace, serving Yahweh, offering sacrifices and offerings, faithfully attending at the central sanctuary, generally obeying Yahweh’s commandments, but now they had become complacent and were neglecting Him once again. They had begun again to look to the local Baals and Asherah as well, and to do ‘what was evil in the sight of Yahweh’.

    ‘Yahweh delivered them into the hand of Midian seven years.’ ‘Seven’ is the number of divine completeness. And these were seven years of perpetual invasions, when the Midianites would sweep in from the eastern desert, murder and plunder, seize their crops and cattle, and then withdraw to wait for the next harvest. God gave Israel full measure for their sins. This particular episode was so dreadful that it bored itself into the mind of Israel long after the others were almost forgotten. ‘The day of Midian’ was remembered as horrific (Isaiah 9.4).

    The Midianites consisted of a number of semi-nomadic and bedouin tribes, including Ishmaelites. They were connected with Abraham’s other sons (other than Isaac). They engaged in both caravan trade (Genesis 37.28) and despoiling any weaker than themselves, as well as herding sheep and goats (Exodus 2.15; 3.1). They dwelt in, and moved around in, the wilderness and desert from south of the Dead Sea to lands east of the Jordan (Genesis 25.2-6; 37.25 on; Exodus 3.1; Numbers 22.4, 7), and were fairly widespread. Because of what they had done to Israel some suffered at the hands of Israel (Numbers 25.16-18; 31.2, 7-12). Five Midianite chieftains, ‘the princes’ of Sihon, king of the Amorites, and thus his vassals and presumably fairly settled, were defeated by Moses in the approach to the land (Joshua 13.21). There was nothing but enmity between them and the Israelites. Israel could expect no mercy at their hands.

    Here they conjoined with the Amalekites (pure bedouin, who as far as Israel were concerned were under The Ban and therefore subject to total destruction - Deuteronomy 25.19) and the children of the East (Arab tribes east of Jordan - Jeremiah 49.28; Ezekiel 25.4), similar semi-nomadic and bedouin tribes. The confederacy was for the purpose of a powerful attack on Canaan in view of its then present prosperity, combined with its military weakness now that Hazor and its confederacy were no longer a threat. The tribal confederacy was weak because faith in and response to Yahweh had become dulled, affecting their oneness. The covenant was only effective when response to the needs of the confederacy was strong and immediate. With their war camels, a new weapon of war, the Midianites and their allies were themselves the new serious threat.

    6.2 ‘And the hand of Midian prevailed against Israel, and because of Midian the children of Israel made themselves storage holes which are in the mountains, and caves and defence points.’

    The Midianites and their allies would time and again suddenly, silently and swiftly descend on Israel, robbing, raping and looting, and the Israelites thus prepared themselves places in the mountains where they could hide provisions and when necessary find refuge and defend themselves, away from the marauding camels. Compare Isaiah 2.18-20. The mountainous areas of Israel abound with such natural caves and dens which could be turned to this kind of use.

    6.3 ‘And so it was, that when Israel had sown, the Midianites used to come up, and the Amalekites, and the children of the east. They used to come up against them.’

    The land was seen as an easy target with no strong defenders to prevent their marauding. Their aim was partly booty, including cattle and wealth, but partly revenge, for they came to destroy the crops not to make use of them. Another reason for this latter, however, would be to keep the land weak. They ‘came up’ because they came up from the Jordan rift valley.

    6.4 ‘And they encamped against them, and destroyed the increase of the earth as far as Gaza, and left no sustenance in Israel, neither sheep, nor ox, nor ass.’

    They took up temporary residence over a wide area ‘as far as Gaza’, where they came to a stop because they came up against the Philistines. And they did it for the purpose of burning the crops, vines and olives and stealing the livestock. Thus a large part of central Israel was affected, and probably some Philistine territory. But the main sufferers were Israel. They were left to starve. The only way they survived was by what they produced, or hid away, in their hiding places in the mountains.

    6.5 ‘For they came up with their cattle, and their tents, they came in as locusts for multitude. Both they and their camels were without number. And they came in to the land to destroy it.’

    They were there as numerous and as devastating as locusts (see Deuteronomy 28.31, 38. This was to be part of the curse on those who disobeyed God’s laws). Their cattle ate the growing crops before they then destroyed them, and they burned everything that they found. Their approach was swift and silent on camels, and there were so many that they could not be counted. This is the first mention anywhere of the wide-scale use of camels in warfare, although camels had been domesticated in a small way for centuries. The sole purpose of the invaders was loot and destruction.

    6.6a ‘And Israel were brought very low because of Midian.’

    Low in produce, low in possessions, low in cattle and sheep, low in supplies, low in spirits. They were down to rock bottom. For the use of ‘Israel’ here before a passive verb see introduction.

    6.6b ‘And the children of Israel cried to Yahweh.’

    Recognising at last their folly in treating Yahweh lightly, they once again gathered at the central sanctuary, renewed the covenant, ensured their sacrificial system was working properly, turned from Baal and Asherah, and began to walk in accordance with the law of God. This was all involved in ‘crying to Yahweh’.

    Yahweh Sends His Prophet (6.7-10).

    6.7-8a ‘And so it happened that when the children of Israel cried to Yahweh because of Midian, that Yahweh sent a prophet to the children of Israel, and he said to them, “Thus says Yahweh, the God of Israel”.’

    When His people repented and responded to Him Yahweh heard them, and sent a prophet to them to remind them of His goodness to them in the past, with words which reminded them of His covenant with them. We are not told who the prophet was, but it does remind us that God had not left Himself without a witness. There were always Yahweh inspired men among them.

    6.8b-9 “I brought you up from Egypt, and brought you forth out of the house of bondage, and I delivered you out of the hand of the Egyptians, and out of the hand of all who oppressed you, and drove them out from before you, and gave you their land.”

    Yahweh now repeated what He had said in the opening words of the covenant (Exodus 20.1-2), that of His free grace and goodness He had delivered them from Egypt and from the bondage there, had rescued them from the pursuing Egyptian army, and from all who had oppressed them since (as previously described in Numbers, Joshua and Judges), and had driven out their enemies in as far as they, His people, had been willing to be obedient, and He had given them their land. There was nothing of what He had promised that He had not done for them.

    6.10 “And I said to you, I am Yahweh, your God. You shall not fear the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But you have not listened to my voice.”

    The first words of the covenant (Exodus 20.1) were now applied to their present situation. Because of what He had done for them, and because He was ‘the One Who is there’, the ‘I am’ (Exodus 3.14), He had told them that they should not ‘fear’, that is stand in awe of and worship of, the gods of the Amorites, the people of the land. They were to worship Him only. But they had disobeyed. They had ‘feared’ them and not Him. They had not listened to His warning. That was why their problems had come on them.

    So the prophet of Yahweh was sent to bring home to them the words of the covenant, and in response to their repentance, to seal it again with them. He was proof that the Spirit of Yahweh was now about to act, and was indeed acting through him. For the ensuing narrative would demonstrate that He was now acting again on their behalf.

    The Call of Gideon and His Response (6.11-32).

    6.11 ‘And the Angel of Yahweh came, and stationed Himself under the oak which was in Ophrah, that pertained to Joash the Abiezrite. And his son Gideon was threshing wheat in the winepress, to hide it from the Midianites.’

    Once again the Angel of Yahweh intervened on behalf of Israel (compare 2.1-5). (Ophrah was probably between Shechem and Jezreel but as yet is unidentified). Later, as in earlier uses of the term ‘the Angel of Yahweh’, He would become Yahweh. He was speaking, in this case, to Gideon. Gideon’s father was an Abiezrite, connected with the tribe/sub-tribe of Machir (part of Manassesh) - see Numbers 26.30; 1 Chronicles 7.18.

    ‘Stationed Himself under the oak.’ We can compare with this how Deborah ‘stationed herself’ under a palm tree (4.5). It was no doubt a local landmark and a recognised type of place from which important and authoritative people such as Joash passed on judgments.

    ‘And his son Gideon was threshing wheat in the winepress, to hide it from the Midianites.’ Things had come to such a pass that the ‘beating out’ had to be done in secret, so that the Midianites would not know about it. For this reason his son Gideon did it himself by hand. He was in a panic lest the Midianites discover it. They had scanty enough food to see them through the year.

    The winepress would be two rock hewn troughs, probably situated a little out of the way and presumably near the oak. Grapes would be trampled in the larger upper one, and the juice drain down into the lower one. But here it was grain that was secretly being beaten by hand out of sight. Grain would in normal times be threshed on an open, exposed, elevated, windswept floor so that the wind could separate wheat from chaff. But times had changed. To beat the grain in the open would be to court attack from the Midianites.

    6.12 ‘And the Angel of Yahweh appeared to him, and said to him, “Yahweh is with you, you mighty man of valour.” ’

    Gideon may well have been thinking of His people’s troubles, and scheming as to what he could do about it, possibly considering daring, and perhaps foolhardy and impractical plans, although only theoretical, as to how he could reverse the situation. In view of what follows it is probable that he was associating such actions with allegiance to Yahweh, and that he was himself a faithful worshipper of Yahweh. Then suddenly the Angel of Yahweh ‘appeared to him’. He found himself confronted face to face with the One he had been thinking about.

    The words of this stranger probably shook Gideon. His thoughts had not been intended to be taken too seriously too quickly. And yet here was this clearly important and imposing person encouraging his thoughts and assuring him that Yahweh was with him in them. The actual words spoken by the Angel demonstrated to him that He was not only aware that his thoughts had been moving in that direction, but was actually encouraging him, no, even forcing him in that direction.

    ‘Yahweh is with you’. He was being assured that Yahweh was with him in what he had been theoretically planning to do. And ‘you mighty man of valour’ confirmed that He had war in His mind, and that He felt that Gideon was just the man for it. Gideon would be of the wealthy landowning class. He had known that it was the responsibility of people like him to give a lead to the people, but he had not known how it could be done, or even that it could be done.

    6.13 ‘And Gideon said to him, “Oh my lord, if Yahweh be with us, why then has all this befallen us? And where are all his wonderful works which our fathers told us of, saying, did not Yahweh bring us up from Egypt. But now Yahweh has cast us off and delivered us into the hand of Midian ” ’

    He was not sure to whom he was talking, but he sensed from his words that he was somehow from Yahweh. So he challenged Him as to why, if Yahweh was with him, they were in this state. Why had these troubles befallen them? Why had Yahweh not done something about it before? Those who still clung to the covenant were constantly being told by their fathers of what Yahweh had done for them in the past, when He had brought them out of Egypt (Exodus 13.8; Deuteronomy 6.20 on). They had heard it so often. But that was just a recounting of history. Where was His powerful activity now? For seven long years they had suffered abominably but He had done nothing.

    “But now Yahweh has cast us off and delivered us into the hand of Midian.” As so often with human beings it was expressed as God’s fault and not theirs. Yet in his heart he must have had a good idea of the answer to his own question, and his words were probably an attempt to obtain confirmation that they had not fully been cast off. That there was still hope. Their past history was based on God’s continued goodness and their own failure, and God’s response when they repented. Would He do it again?

    He must have known that they had grown complacent. That they had been ‘cast off’ because of their faithlessness. And that could only be because they had failed to fulfil their part in the covenant, their true response to God had atrophied. The worship of Baal was now rampant. Who knew that better than him with the altar of Baal on his father’s land? That alone could explain why Midian, whom Yahweh had told them to destroy, were instead destroying them. But as it was Yahweh Who had cast them off how then could He be with him?

    6.14 ‘And Yahweh looked on him and said, “Go in this your might and save Israel from the hand of Midian. Have I not sent you?” ’

    The Angel now revealed Who He was. It was Yahweh Himself Who looked on Him. He spoke in such a way that Gideon realised that he was speaking to a divine visitor. He realised that he was receiving a divine command, that Israel had not been fully cast off. He was to be mighty in Yahweh’s power and was to deliver Israel from the hand of Midian.

    ‘Have I not sent you?’ He suddenly knew that Yahweh Himself was calling him to be the instrument of Yahweh’s saving action (compare Exodus 4.11). And like Moses in similar circumstances he was overawed. He was not now sure that he wanted to have the responsibility of being the instrument of Yahweh. (If we make a comparison with Deborah we must recognise that she had been a prophetess for many years, used to receiving commands from Yahweh. She did not have it thrust on her, compare also the same with Samuel).

    6.15 ‘And he said to him, “Oh Lord, with what shall I save Israel? Look, my family is the poorest in Manasseh. And I am the least in my father’s house” ’

    (Compare Exodus 4.10, 13). The word for ‘Lord’ is vocalised differently here compared with its vocalisation in verse 13, indicating a more exalted manner of address. He now knew to Whom he was speaking. But he did not feel competent to save Israel. Dreaming about it was fine. But who was he to do such a thing?

    ‘My family (or ‘clan’) is the poorest in Manasseh.’ Not necessarily literally, but possibly poorest in numbers. But this was typical Near Eastern self-humbling and exaggeration. He was saying ‘we are but humble and poor before You, not counting for anything, even compared with our fellow tribesmen’.

    He was being overly self deprecating. His own family were in fact comparatively wealthy ( see verse 11 -’that pertained to Joash’; verse 27 -’ten of his servants’), but not compared with God.

    ‘I am the least in my father’s house’. Again deliberate self depreciation. If he had had elder brothers they were mainly dead (8.19). Consider how the loquacious Moses could speak of himself in a similar way (Exodus 4.10). Basically he was pointing out that if he were to do this he would need to be sure that Yahweh was going to be with him, for he did not have the capability to do it on his own. The word for ‘family’ is eleph, often translated thousand. It thus means ‘my group, my unit, my clan’.

    6.16 ‘And Yahweh said to him, “I will surely be with you, and you will smite the Midianites as one man.” ’

    God’s reply was that Gideon should consider the odds. He would be there with him. Thus it would be Gideon and Yahweh against Midian, ‘two’ against ‘one’, ‘one God and one man’ against ‘one man’. And He assured him that His presence with Gideon was guaranteed. The men of Midian and Amalek and of the East may seem numberless, but to Yahweh they were merely ‘as one man’. And one of His blows would be sufficient to dispense with them all. Thus Gideon’s status was irrelevant.

    ‘I will be with you.’ Compare Exodus 3.12, where the evidence that Yahweh was with Moses would be found in the acceptance of his worship ‘on this mountain’ (compare also Joshua 1.5). Thus Yahweh would be with him as ‘the I am’, the One Who was always there. Gideon then seizes on this to ask a similar sign, let Yahweh accept his offering and reveal Himself in fire again as he had to Moses.

    ‘And Yahweh said to him.’ As so often the Angel of Yahweh becomes Yahweh Himself speaking to man. The Angel is Yahweh’s presence in veiled form (verse 22), although intercommunication between the Angel and Yahweh is sometimes revealed (Zechariah 1.13).

    6.17-18a ‘And he said to him, “If now I have found grace in your sight, then show me a sign that it is you who talks with me. Do not leave here, I beg you, until I come to you and bring my offering and lay it before you.” ’

    God had given Moses a sign. Now, if He was truly with him, let Him graciously give one to Gideon. Subsequent events suggest that he had in mind that He appear in fire as He had on ‘that mountain’. God had appeared to Moses in fire (Exodus 3.2) and Sinai was always connected with fire in Israel’s minds (Exodus 19.18). ‘That it is You Who talks with me’ can only mean that he now realises that this is Yahweh Himself.

    ‘Do not leave here, I beg you, until I come to you and bring my offering and lay it before you.’ Gideon was terrified that the Angel might disappear before he could be sure of the situation. He begged Him to remain where He was until he could bring an offering to present before Him. Possibly he was aware that he would need to offer some kind of sign to others to persuade Israel to follow him.

    ‘An offering.’ The word can mean an ordinary gift, or tribute. But it is also used of the sacrificial meal offering.

    6.18b ‘And he said, “I will wait until you come again.” ’

    God, ever ready to recognise man’s need for reassurance, promises that He will not leave but will be there when Gideon returns. How good God is to man’s unreadiness to believe fully.

    6.19 ‘And Gideon went in and made ready a kid, and unleavened cakes of an ephah of flour. The flesh he put in a basket, and he put the broth in a pot, and brought it out to him under the oak and presented it.’

    The broth suggests that the kid was boiled. The whole meal was of ultra-generous proportions as befitted such a guest. In view of their poverty-stricken situation this demonstrated how impressed Gideon was with his visitor. A whole lamb and an ephah of flour. The mention of an ephah of flour may suggest a sacrificial intent in Gideon’s mind (compare Ezekiel 45.24). An ephah was far more than would be expected for a visitor, as was a whole kid (a tenth of an ephah would feed a man for a day). Gideon was still clearly in two minds about Him and was not sure whether to bring a meal or a sacrifice.

    For the whole consider Genesis 18.6-8, where Yahweh was brought a feast by Abraham, a passage which Gideon may have had in mind. But this was a feast indeed.

    6.20 ‘And the Angel of God said to him, “Take the flesh, and the unleavened cakes, and lay them on this rock. and pour out the broth, and he did so.” ’

    ‘Pour out the broth’. This was an immediate indication that sacrifice was involved (compare Leviticus 17.13). The broth was probably poured over the whole.

    Note the variation, ‘the angel of God’. The directions were given by ‘God’, so that it might be emphasised that the sacrifice would be received by God under His covenant name, Yahweh. The change from ‘God’ to Yahweh then emphasises the personal nature of the reception of the offering and is deliberate on the part of the writer. Or it may be that the writer wanted to bring out that Gideon now recognised that he was dealing with God Almighty.

    It is probable that the broth was to be poured over the whole. Alternatively it has been suggested that the broth was poured into cup-like holes in the rock. Such were found in many places in rocks in Palestine and may have been part of earlier religious ritual. However the action in verse 21 suggests otherwise.

    6.21 ‘Then the Angel of Yahweh put out the end of the staff that was in his hand, and touched the flesh and the unleavened cakes, and there went up fire out of the rock, and consumed the flesh, and the unleavened cakes. And the Angel of Yahweh departed out of his sight.’

    Yahweh gave Gideon the sign he had asked for. Note that He touched with His staff not the rock, but the sacrificial elements, the flesh and unleavened cakes, covered with the soup, a sign of His acceptance. And fire then arose and consumed them. Yahweh revealed Himself in fire and wholly accepted the offering. It was very similar to the burning bush except that there nothing was consumed.

    We should note here that Gideon was not consciously acting as a priest. The angel of Yahweh was the priest accepting and offering up the offering. And although offerings under ‘green trees’ were forbidden in Deuteronomy 12.2, that was in the case of sacred trees where altars had been built under them. There is no indication that this was a sacred tree.

    ‘And the Angel of Yahweh departed out of his sight.’ The sudden remarkable disappearance was final confirmation that he had been dealing with Yahweh Himself.

    6.22 ‘And Gideon perceived that he was the Angel of Yaheweh, and Gideon said, “Alas! Oh Lord Yahweh, forasmuch as I have seen the Angel of Yahweh face to face.” ’

    Now he knew fully that he had been face to face with the angel of Yahweh and was greatly distressed. For he knew that no man could see God and live (see Genesis 32.30; Exodus 33.20). And in his distress he cried to Yahweh. He was overcome by his experience.

    6.23 ‘And Yahweh said to him, “Peace be to you, do not be afraid, you shall not die.” ’

    In reply Yahweh gave him peace in his heart about it. He assured him that he would not die as a result of his experience. ‘Peace be to you’. A regular greeting which wished peace of heart on the recipient.

    6.24 ‘Then Gideon built an altar there to Yahweh, and called it Yahweh-shalom. To this day it is yet in Ophrah of the Abiezrites.’

    In gratitude Gideon built an altar to Yahweh, calling it ‘Yahweh is peace (or ‘well-being’)’. This is a summary description of what follows so that this altar is the one he built on the rock in verse 26. The use of such a pre-summary is a regular device in the Pentateuch. Verse 26 demonstrates that temporary altars to Yahweh could be set up for the purposes of sacrifice wherever Yahweh specifically commanded them (see Exodus 20.24-25). It may thus be seen as confirming that there was one central sanctuary but that temporary altars could be set up for a temporary purpose when specifically directed, and only then, by Yahweh. The sacrifices would be offered by a tribal priest, that is, one dwelling among them.

    Alternately this may suggest that Deuteronomy 12.14 speaks of a central altar for each tribe (translating ‘in each one of your tribes’) in the place where God chose, as well as one at the central sanctuary. But in view of Joshua 22.10-34 that is unlikely to be true at this time.

    6.25 ‘And it came about the same night that Yahweh said to him, “Take your father's bullock ox, and the second bullock of seven years old, and throw down the altar of Baal which your father has, and cut down the Asherah-image which is by it.” ’

    Now that Gideon was committed, God tested his willingness to obey, while at the same time removing from the town one of the main causes of contention between them and Yahweh. This altar of Baal, with the Asherah-image beside it, was probably a centre of worship for the whole town, as the commotion caused by its destruction demonstrated (verse 30). It serves to demonstrate how deeply the worship of Baal and Asherah had taken over as the main type of worship in Israelite towns, while they were also still observing the Yahwism rites at the central sanctuary. Yahweh was in effect being made a member of a pantheon of gods and goddesses.

    It is probable that we are to see here that Gideon is being told to make use of two bullocks. The first the strongest (to pull down the altar and images) and the second the seven year old, in the prime of life, and kept hidden all those years. Yahweh had been watching over it all those years ready for this moment. Their first task would be to assist in the breaking down of the altar and Asherah-image. Then the second of the two would be offered as a burnt offering. (The first being returned to its stall). The second one was significant because its lifespan had covered the period of the Midianite raids, seven years. It would be an appeal to God concerning those seven years.

    The revelation may have been in the form of a dream, or of a strong inclination forced on him by Yahweh. (LXX designates the first a ‘young bullock’).

    The reference to ‘the second bullock’ would be clear to Gideon. It may have been the second in the stalls, or the second when put in the yoke. Or it may be reference to the fact that they now only had two because of the activities of the Midianites, the prime bullock and the second bullock. (Or it may be that ‘the second bullock’ was the only one used. The verse may be interpreted either way).

    6.26 “And build an altar to Yahweh your God on the top of this stronghold in the orderly manner. And take the second bullock and offer a burnt offering with the wood of the Asherah which you shall cut down.”

    The rock on which Yahweh caused the offering to be sent up by fire was now described as a ‘strong place’ or ‘stronghold’. It is where the angel of Yahweh, the captain of Yahweh’s host has stood (Joshua 5.14). There an altar to Yahweh must be built in accordance with Exodus 20.24-25. It is from there that He will go out to possess the land.

    “In the orderly manner. And take the second bullock and offer a burnt offering with the wood of the Asherah which you shall cut down.” The ‘orderly manner’ means as prescribed in Exodus 20.24. The Asherah-image or pole was to be burnt and thus basically be handed over to Yahweh. And its fire was to be used to offer up the second bull to Yahweh. It must thus have been fairly large.

    ‘Offer a burnt (or ‘whole’) offering.’ It is not necessary to assume from this that Gideon himself offered the burnt offering. He may well secretly have called on a tribal priest, for to ‘offer an offering’ in Israel usually meant through a priest’ (compare Luke 2.24 where there can be no doubt on the matter). This kind of offering, ‘a whole offering’, was totally burned up as a complete offering to God. We note that a bullock was to be offered when ‘the whole congregation of Israel’ had sinned (Leviticus 4.13, 21) as was true here. Israel’s failure to sacrifice rightly to Yahweh was being remedied.

    The offering of the bullock was also significant in that Baal was figured in the form of a bull, so that in symbolism both Baal and Asherah were being burned up and offered to Yahweh. Perhaps there was in it a hint that Baal, pictured in the form of the bullock, had held sway for the seven years of the bullock’s life, and that his reign was now ended. When the town awoke in the morning they would witness an altar of unhewn stones, clearly dedicated to Yahweh, and the remains of the bull and of the Asherah-image on it, demonstrating that they had been deposed and replaced by Yahweh. It may equally signify that the seven year ‘reign’ of the Midianites was also now ended.

    6.27 ‘Then Gideon took ten men of his servants, and did as Yahweh had said to him, and so it was that, because he feared his father's household, and the men of the city, he could not do it by day, so he did it by night.’

    This may mean ‘a number of his servants’. Ten is frequently used to mean ‘a number of’ (e.g. Genesis 31.41). The fact that they clearly had many servants, and what follows in verse 31, demonstrates the importance of Gideon’s father in the town. He was a man of position and authority. Gideon no doubt chose the servants because he knew of their allegiance to Yahweh.

    He ‘did as Yahweh had said to him -- by night.’ His obedience was more important than the sacrifice, although both were crucial. The fact that he did it by night was not because of cowardice, but because he simply would not have been allowed to do it by day. The whole household of his father would have risen against him in fury (which demonstrates that the house of Joash, with the consent of Joash, had also strayed into Baalism), as would the townsfolk. They would immediately have put an end by force to what he was trying to do. Whereas doing it by night it could be accomplished, and the coming morning would reveal to all what had happened. Baal had been dethroned.

    6.28 ‘And when the men of the city arose early in the morning, behold, the altar of Baal was broken down, and the Asherah-image was cut down which was by it, and the second bullock was offered on the altar that was built.’

    When the townsfolk arose in the morning they found that the altar of Baal was broken down and that the Asherah-image had been cut down and had disappeared, and a new altar had been built on the rock under the oak in accordance with Israelite patterns, with the remains of a burnt offering on it.

    But instead of this arousing their consciences as it should have done, they were filled with fury. The fact that they so quickly became aware of it and were so concerned, demonstrates that they were all using this particular sanctuary, even though strictly it belonged to Joash

    6.29 ‘And they said one to another, “Who has done this thing?” And when they enquired and asked, they said, “Gideon, the son of Joash, has done this thing.” ’

    Gideon had made no attempt to hide the fact that he was responsible. Thus when people asked around, seething with fury, the information was soon forthcoming. Gideon had done it. That should have given them pause for thought, for the sanctuary belonged to Joash and his son may have done it at his behest. But their feelings on the matter were strong because they considered that such an act was sacrilege against Baal and Asherah.

    6.30 ‘Then the men of the city said to Joash, “Bring out your son, that he may die, because he has broken down the altar of Baal, and because he has cut down the Asherah-image that was by it.” ’

    No doubt they had checked up first on the fact that it was not under Joash’s orders. Then they demanded Gideon’s death. He had committed a gross act of sacrilege. This was ironic for according to Israelite law it was they who should have been put to death (Deuteronomy 13.6-10).

    This and what follows demonstrates that Joash was a leading authority in the town, sufficient to be able to stay the wrath of the townsfolk. That was why the Baal sanctuary had been on his lands. The final decision was his. The whole incident brings out how deeply immersed they all were in Baal worship.

    6.31 ‘And Joash said to all that stood against him, “Will you plead for Baal? Or will you save him? He who will plead for him, let him be put to death, while it is yet morning. If he is a god, let him plead for himself, because one has broken down his altar.” ’

    Joash replied cleverly and revealed all his experience as a leader of men. He did not argue the point. He charged them with similar sacrilege to that with which they were charging his son.

    ‘Will you plead for Baal? Or will you save him?’ Did they really think that Baal needed them to save him, needed them to put forth his pleas? Was that all they thought of Baal? He pointed out that they were accusing Baal of not being able to look after his own affairs. And that that was sacrilege on their part and deserved the immediate death penalty. They were sentenced from their own lips. It brought them up sharp, which in their state of frenzy was what was necessary.

    Then he suggested that the truly religious attitude was to leave it to Baal to exact his own revenge. If he was a god he would do so. He would be able to make his own pleas, whether to Joash or other gods and goddesses. And if he did not, then they could come to their own conclusions.

    6.32 ‘Therefore on that day he called him Jerubbaal, saying, “Let Baal plead against him, because he has broken down his altar.” ’

    Joash was a man of remarkable good sense who probably had little faith in Baal’s ability to act. By renaming his son Jerubbaal (‘let Baal plead’ or ‘’let the lord plead’) he accomplished a number of things. Firstly he satisfied the angry crowds. It seemed to them that he had responded to them and put a curse on his son, and they were satisfied and eagerly awaited the outcome. Then he satisfied Gideon who would interpret it as referring to ‘the lord Yahweh’. Thirdly he left the issue open until it was apparent who had come out on top. He left the issue in divine hands. Gideon is elsewhere called Jerubbesheth (2 Samuel 11.21). This is because the writers replaced ‘baal’ with ‘bosheth’ which means ‘shame’.

    Gideon Goes Forth in the Name of Yahweh And Is Reduced to Three Hundred Men (6.33-7.8).

    6.33 ‘Then all the Midianites, and the Amalekites, and the children of the east assembled themselves together, and they passed over and pitched in the Valley of Jezreel.’

    This was in accordance with their usual practise in their regular attacks on the region. It was harvest time and once again they anticipated good booty and ample revenge on Israel. In their view it was there for the taking. So they passed over the Jordan and settled themselves in the valley of Jezreel from where they could comb out and gather their booty. Jezreel was east of the plain of Esdraelon, and near Taanach and Megiddo.

    6.34 ‘But the Spirit of Yahweh clothed Himself with Gideon, and he blew a trumpet (of ram’s horn) and Abiezer was gathered together after him.’

    Yahweh now prepared to go into battle on behalf of Israel, in Gideon’s body through His Spirit. He ‘clothed Himself’ with Gideon. This did however require Gideon’s response and obedience. God does not force Himself on people. The result was that his own sub-tribe gathered in his support.

    Word of his experiences and all that had happened to him had spread around and there was renewed hope in Yahweh at this hopeless time. Since being renamed Jerubbaal he had seemed only to prosper and Baal had been able to do nothing against him. This demonstrated clearly that Yahweh was with him. All the memories of what Yahweh had done in the past had come flooding back. And they were very conscious of the raiders again poised to strip them of everything.

    ‘And he blew a ram’s horn, and Abiezer was gathered together after him.’ The call went out for them to gather to deal with the enemy in the name of Yahweh, and the first response came from his own sub-tribe. The Abiezrites were one of the sub-tribes of the tribe of Manasseh, to which Gideon and his father's house belonged.

    We are not specifically told that the people of Ophrah were reconciled to him, but they may well have been made to rethink by the course of events. When they cooled down they may well have felt that one who could stand against Baal, ‘the rider of the clouds’, in the name of Yahweh, could deal with this dreadful enemy who were ruining their lives. Baal was fine for producing crops but he seemed helpless against Gideon and against the Midianites.

    6.35 ‘And he sent messengers throughout all Manasseh, and they also were gathered together after him, and he sent messengers to Asher, and to Zebulun, and to Naphtali, and they came up to meet them.’

    Gideon now issued the call to the nearest tribes to assist him in his coming war. ‘Manasseh’ probably means the half-tribe on this side of Jordan. The others were very much connected with the invasions of the Midianites and their allies. Issachar was probably seen as included in Zebulun as earlier. All responded to the call.

    6.36 ‘And Gideon said to God, “If you will save Israel by my hand, as you have said.” ’

    Gideon is about to ask another sign. Note that the request is made to ‘God’, not Yahweh, and thus continues through the section. There is a hint here that the request was seen as not strictly pleasing, for Gideon had admitted that Yahweh had said that He would save Israel by his hand. There should therefore be no need to require a further sign from the covenant God, from Yahweh. So this was a personal thing between Gideon and God. It was nothing to do with the covenant.

    But God was patient, for this was no hardened warrior, this was a young man in the making who through most of his manhood had known only times of oppression (and whose brothers had been murdered by these very raiders when resisting). The writer may have had in mind Deuteronomy 6.16, compare Exodus 17.7, where ‘Yahweh’ was not to be put to the test.

    6.37 “Behold, I will put a fleece of wool on the threshing floor, and if there be dew on the fleece only, and if it be dry on all the ground, then will I know that you will save Israel by my hand, as you have said.”

    The thought that he had called all the tribes together made the inexperienced young man quail. What if he was making a fool of them all and of himself? Had he just dreamed what had happened? He was riddled with doubts. So he set a task for God so that He would prove whether the call had been genuine. It was a little late for it, for the tribes were gathering. But his mind was being torn apart by his doubts (nothing else could have excused his request for two extra signs).

    His suggestion was that he lay out a fleece of wool on the threshing-floor. Then if it was dew-filled in the morning, but the ground was dry, he would know that Yahweh would deliver Israel by his hand. Israel was a land of heavy dews. Thus the situation would indeed require a miracle. Perhaps his mind went back to another young man who had been eager for a blessing, in Genesis 27.28, and to the response that came to him, ‘God give you of the dew of heaven, and of the fatness of the earth, and plenty of corn and wine. Let peoples serve you and nations bow down to you. Be lord over your brothers.’ This was what he wanted too. The plentiful dew would signify that God was about to bring the people food through him as a result of him being lord over his brothers.

    6.38 ‘And it was so, for he rose up early on the next day, and pressed the fleece together, and wrung the dew out of the fleece, a dish full of water.’

    God graciously provided him with the sign he requested, so much so that a whole dish full of water was wrung from the fleece while the ground was bone dry. He was promised the dew of heaven.

    But then he realised what a fool he had been. The fleece would naturally retain the dew, while the ground around may well have had time to dry out. He should have asked it the other way round.

    6.39 ‘And Gideon said to God, “Do not let your anger be kindled against me, and I will speak but this once. Let me prove, I pray you, but this once with the fleece. Let it now be dry only on the fleece, and on all the ground let there be dew.” ’

    So he asked God for a further sign, conscious that he was being a little presumptious. His request was that this time the fleece should be dry and the ground around soaked with dew. The continual use of ‘God’ draws attention to his unbelief. This was not covenant relationship, this was private doubt.

    6.40 ‘And God did so that night, for it was dry on the fleece only, and there was dew on all the ground.’

    God graciously gave him his further sign. Next morning the ground was covered in dew but the fleece was bone dry.

    What lesson do we learn from all this, apart from the need to be obedient to God? The main thing is that when God wants a man to do something special He prepares him for it step by step so that when the final test comes he is ready. Gideon thought that his test was now over. All that remained was the battle against overwhelming odds. But God was turning a raw young man into a man of steel and faith, and He had yet more tests in store for Gideon.

    One thing we do not learn is that we have a right to seek guidance in this way, to set God tests in our daily lives. Only when God sends us against a huge, overwhelming enemy force that has been tyrannising a whole country for years, with only a small group of timid men to help, will we have even the smallest right to do what Gideon did. Of course Deborah would not have needed such proof. But she had had many years of experience of the power of God.

    Chapter 7. Gideon Smites the Midianite Confederacy.

    In this chapter we have an account of the army gathered out of several tribes at the call of Gideon, which were finally reduced under God’s instructions from thirty two large units to three hundred men. The way by which this was done is described, and we are informed how Gideon was directed that he himself should go among the host of the Midianites to spy on them. Once there he heard one of the enemy telling his dream to his fellow, a dream which greatly encouraged Gideon to believe that he would succeed. Also we are told of the way in which he disposed of his reduced army in order to attack the Midianites, and the orders that he gave them. These had the desired effect, and resulted in the total rout of that huge army. Those who were not destroyed were pursued by Israelites gathered out of several tribes, and the passages of Jordan were taken by the Ephraimites, so that those who attempted to escape into their own country there fell into their hands.

    7.1 ‘Then Jerubbaal, who is Gideon, and all the people who were with him, rose up early, and pitched beside the spring of Harod, and the camp of Midian was on the north side of them, by the Hill of Moreh in the valley.’

    This verse emphasises the new name given to Gideon, the name of Jerubbaal, but the narrative then speaks of him again as Gideon. It is however under his new name that he is known elsewhere (1 Samuel 12.11) and his household is known as the house of Jerubbaal (8.29, 35), the one with whom Baal presumably (in men’s minds) strove but could not defeat.

    The people were now with him and they rose up early, ready for battle. The odds did not seem good. Thirty two units against one hundred and thirty five units (8.10). But they were encouraged by the signs that Gideon had received.

    ‘The spring of Harod.’ This spring was at the foot of Mount Gilboa, east of Jezreel, and flows eastward into the Bethshean valley. It is a copious spring and its name means ‘trembling’, an apt name in view of the withdrawal of many of Gideon’s troops through fear (verse 3). It is probably what is now known as ‘Ain Jalud in which case its banks are infested in leeches, and no one knowing it would put his mouth directly in the water. The enemy were to the north, in the plain, by the hill of Moreh, at the head of the north side of the Valley of Jezreel, now known as Jebel Dahi.

    7. 2 ‘And Yahweh said to Gideon, “The people who are with you are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hand, lest Israel vaunt themselves against me, saying, my own hand has saved me.” ’

    Gideon undoubtedly wondered whether his thirty two units would be sufficient. What a shock he received when Yahweh declared that they were too many. For Yahweh knew men’s hearts. He did not want them taking the credit on themselves. This was in fact further assurance that He was committed to victory, and it demonstrated that His strength did not lie in numbers but in His own power. Gideon could take comfort in that.

    ‘Lest Israel vaunt themselves against Me.’ The unusual use of ‘Israel’ (unusual in Judges - see introduction) as the subject of an active verb stresses the theoretical nature of the idea being mooted. His covenant ‘children of Israel’ would not vaunt themselves against Him, only a rebel Israel.

    7. 3a “Now therefore go to, proclaim in the ears of the people saying, whoever is fearful and trembling, let him return, and depart (or ‘chirp’ - from the Arabic) from Mount Gilead.”

    This was in accordance with Deuteronomy 20.8. The purpose was so that the cowardly might not spread fear among the remainder.

    ‘Depart from Mount Gilead (gl‘d).’ It is quite possible that those living in the area had called a nearby mountain after their ancestor Gilead (Numbers 26.29). Abiezer was descended from Gilead (Numbers 26.30 with Joshua 17.2). There was a more famous Mount Gilead elsewhere (Genesis 31.21). Some have suggested translating here ‘Mount Gal‘ud’ (the same consonants).

    But the meaning of the verb translated ‘depart’ is unknown, and it is not found elsewhere. However, we can compare the later Arabic ‘to dance, leap, spring’ or ‘to chirp’. Thus the whole tenor of the phrase is uncertain. Perhaps it means ‘chirp from Mount Gilead’ in Transjordan, like a bird sitting watching from a place of safety. The idea being to picture the defaulters as taking refuge on Mount Gilead and chirping from there in safety as they watch the battle. Or perhaps the consonants need repointing and the ‘m’ (here translated ‘from’) be attached to ytspr instead. But the basic idea is clear. They could return home.

    7.3b ‘And there returned of the people twenty two military units (‘thousands, clans, families’) and there remained ten units.’

    Twenty two military units, having had the opportunity to consider the position, decided to withdraw. Thus Gideon was now left with only ten military units. How his heart must have quailed when he saw two thirds of his fighting force depart. But Yahweh was also watching and His heart did not quail. In fact He decided that there were still too many. After all the enemy only had one hundred and thirty five military units of fighting men.

    7. 4 ‘And Yahweh said to Gideon, “The people are still too many. Bring them down to the water, and I will try (‘separate by refining’) them for you there. And it shall be, that of whom I say to you, this shall go with you, the same shall go with you, and of whoever I say to you, this shall not go with you, the same will not go.” ’

    Gideon was told to take them all down to the water’s edge, where Yahweh would separate those who were to go in the first phase from those who were not to go. Notice that Yahweh’s purpose was to ‘test’ them. This was thus a refining process in order to obtain the most useful.

    7. 5 ‘So he brought down the people to the water, and Yahweh said to Gideon, Everyone who laps of the water with his tongue, as a dog laps, him you will set by himself. Likewise everyone who bows down on his knee to drink.” ’

    The distinction was to be between those who took water in their hands and lapped it like a dog, and those who knelt down and put their faces in the water, not noticing the leeches.

    It may be that this was simply a way of distinguishing a small group from the remainder, but there may well have been more to it than that, for Yahweh had described it as a ‘test’. Those who put their faces in the water showed a certain lack of self-restraint and of alertness. Furthermore they demonstrated that they had not noticed the leeches (see on verse 1). Thus they had less control and were less aware of things. For what he was about to do Gideon needed men of iron control and men who had their wits about them and were alert.

    7. 6 ‘And the number of those who lapped, putting their hand to their mouth, was three hundred men. But all the rest of the people bowed down on their knees to drink water.’

    Now, no doubt to Gideon’s dismay, his ten larger units had been reduced to three much smaller units. The number three represents completeness. Thus ‘three’ military units may mean ‘the ideal number of men but on a small scale’. Three small units was all that God needed, three small units of alert, self-controlled, astute fighting men.

    7. 7 ‘And Yahweh said to Gideon, “By the three hundred men who lapped will I save you, and deliver the Midianites into your hand. And let all the people go, every man to his place.” ’

    Then Yahweh confirmed to Gideon that by these three smaller units of men He would bring them deliverance and would cause the enemy to be defeated. The remainder could go to their tents and await the call to further action.

    7. 8 ‘So the people took victuals in their hand, and their ram’s horns, and he sent all the men of Israel, every man to his tent, but retained the three hundred men. And the camp of Midian was beneath him in the valley.’

    This may mean that the people handed their ram’s horns over to Gideon i.e. ‘took them’ to Gideon (he would need three hundred ram’s horns), or that the remainder now took their victuals and ram’s horns with them to their tents. These troops were not needed immediately, although they would be called on when the battle was won (7.23 with 6.35). They retired to their tents to await further instructions.

    ‘Victuals’. LXX has ‘they took the pitchers of the people’ which would require a slight change in the Hebrew. The Hebrew texts behind LXX may have read like this. It makes sense that they should hand over pitchers and ram’s horns to the three hundred to ensure that they had enough.

    ‘Returned to their tents’ could mean that they went home (‘tents’ being metaphorical), but it is more likely, in view of what followed, that they were there ready in their camp when the call came.

    ‘And the camp of Midian was beneath him in the valley.’ There, stretched out before him in the Valley of Jezreel, were the countless camels and their riders, fierce warriors who feared nothing. Or so it seemed. One hundred and thirty five military units of them, filling the valley. And he with less than three units and with only three men to deal with each large camel unit.

    Gideon Learns That Yahweh Has Made the Enemy Afraid of Him (7.9-14).

    7.9 ‘And so it was that the same night Yahweh said to him, “rise, get yourself down into the camp, for I have delivered it into your hands.” ’

    Now that everything was ready the command came to advance. The waiting was over and it was time for the attack to begin. But Yahweh saw the dread in Gideon’s heart as he looked out over the numerous camp fires scattered throughout the valley, and then around at his pitifully small band of men. And He had compassion on him. God is ever ready to consider our needs. He never demands more than we can give.

    ‘And so it was that the same night Yahweh said to him.’ These are the same exact words as the opening of 6.25. The writer wishes us to connect the actions. The throwing down of the altar of Baal was the reason why he could now go forward to deliver Israel. Had he not done the one he would not have been able to do the other. Like faith, obedience and success grow step by step.

    7.10-11a ‘But if you are afraid to go down, you yourself go with Purah, your servant, down to the camp. And you will hear what they say, and afterwards your hands will be strengthened to go down into the camp.’

    So God gave him permission to go out as a scout to assess the enemy, assuring him that what he would overhear would give him the strength to go forward with the attack.

    7.11b ‘Then went he down with Purah his servant to the outermost part of the armed men who were in the camp.’

    So Gideon and his servant made their way down and wormed their way in the darkness to where there were men at the extremity of the camp. These would be the sentinels, standing on duty and talking with each other to pass the first watch away.

    7.12 ‘And the Midianites and the Amalekites, and all the children of the east, lay along in the valley like locusts for multitude, and their camels were without number as the sand which is on the sea shore for multitude.’

    As they crawled nearer they could see stretching before them the camp fires indicating the huge force that was awaiting their attack, a force beyond numbering, like a huge swarm of locusts covering the ground, and they were there with the sole purpose of devouring all that the Israelites possessed. Only those who have witnessed the vastness of a swarm of locusts and seen the devastation that they cause can begin to appreciate the picture.

    ‘Without number.’ Granted that this is deliberate exaggeration, nevertheless we should remember that numbering was not an art practised by many in those days, especially among folk like the Israelites. Numbers were used descriptively rather than mathematically. The sand by the sea shore is a description regularly used to describe countless numbers (Genesis 22.17; Joshua 11.4; 1 Samuel 13.5; 2 Samuel 17.11; Hosea 1.10). So they were beyond Gideon’s ability to count. And these camels were there to carry off booty.

    7.13 ‘And when Gideon was come, behold there was a man who told a dream to his fellow, and said, “Behold, I dreamed a dream, and lo, a cake of barley bread tumbled into the camp of Midian, and came to the Tent, and smote it that it fell, and turned it upside down so that the Tent lay along.” ’

    As they came nearer they heard two sentinels talking, and one telling the other of a vivid dream he had had, the dream of a cake of barley bread tumbling into the camp of Midian and crashing into the Tent (probably the tent of the Midianite commander-in-chief, but possibly as symbolising the whole camp) and dismantling it spectacularly so that it lay horizontally on the ground. His double use of ‘behold’ and ‘lo’ demonstrated how impressed he had been by it.

    Dreams were considered of great importance in ancient times, especially if the dreamer was an important man, for it was thought that the gods revealed the future by these means. Every dream was seen as having some significance, the only problem being to discern what that was.

    In this case barley bread was the food of the poor. It was half the value of fine flour (2 Kings 7.1) and was clearly seen as symbolising downtrodden Israel. It would have been their staple diet at this time of oppression. The fact of only one barley cake may indeed suggest the bareness of their provisions. Thus the dream could only mean the destruction of the Midianite confederacy by Israel. That is certainly how the sentinels saw it. The writer probably saw some significance in the fact that they were camped ‘by the hill of Moreh’ (verse 1). Moreh means ‘diviner, oracle giver’.

    7.14 ‘And his fellow answered and said, “This is none other than the sword of Gideon, the son of Joash, a man of Israel. Into his hand has God delivered Midian and all the host.” ’

    His companion certainly had no doubt as to its meaning. News had reached the camp about this man Gideon who had mustered the forces of Israel. It may have been through the capture of Israelites who in defiance had told them what Gideon was going to do to them, or the capture of runners who had been taking the call throughout Israel, or the help of Canaanites who were always ready to do Israel down. They did not know how many had gathered, or what forces Gideon had, but they were clearly alarmed. God had sent his ‘hornet’ before Him to terrify the enemy (Deuteronomy 17.20; Joshua 24.12).

    ‘Into his hand has God delivered Midian and all the host.’ Note the use of the term ‘God’, not ‘Yahweh’. The Midianites would not think in terms of Yahweh. They felt that the dream indicated that the gods were against them and on Gideon’s side. Perhaps also they had heard something about the amazing sign that Gideon had received, passed on in a somewhat exaggerated fashion. The appearance of the angel of Yahweh would have been cited in the call to the tribes (6.35). Fear of the unknown was beginning to bite into the hearts of the Midianite confederacy. Yahweh had filled their hearts with apprehension and doubt.

    The Defeat of the Midianites and Their Allies (7.15-25).

    7.15 ‘And it was so that, when Gideon heard the telling of the dream, and its interpretation, he worshipped. And he returned to the camp of Israel, and said, “Arise, for Yahweh has delivered into your hand the host of Midian.” ’

    On hearing the words of the sentinels Gideon’s heart was filled with worship and praise. He recognised that God was showing him that Midian were panicking. They too were afraid of Yahweh. Thus it was clear that victory would now be His. His men could get up and go, for Yahweh would deliver them into their hand.

    It is noteworthy that all through the narrative there is no hint of criticism from God. He knew that this was an immature young man in the process of growing up, and that what He was demanding would have tested the faith even of Deborah. He knew too that the signs would be important in keeping the children of Israel convinced that Yahweh was with Gideon in the face of what was being asked of them. They too needed great faith. Gideon was not only confirming his own faith but the faith of his followers. After all, the only status that he had in their eyes was that which came through God’s signs.

    Thus He patiently went along with Gideon in what he asked as long as he continued to move forwards to the final end. It should be noted that each sign, apart from the first, followed Gideon’s steps of obedience. He committed himself first and then sought signs along the route as confirmation, not before he was willing to act. They were confidence boosters for all who followed him, not demands before he would act.

    How many of us would have destroyed the altar of Baal knowing that the death penalty awaited? Would have taken the risk of calling on the tribes to follow us when the position seemed hopeless (6.35)? Would have stood by without protest when God twice reduced our strength to a minimum? And would have gone down by night to the camp of Midian? How many of us would even have got the people to follow us? How cleverly we would have demonstrated that we could not do these things. It would not be sensible. Most of us would have prayed and left it to God do it if He wanted to. But Gideon was a man of growing faith, and was willing to stick his neck out for it, and that is what the writer is portraying. He was one of the men of faith in Hebrews 11.32.

    7.16-18 ‘And he divided the three hundred men into three companies, and he put into the hands of all of them ram’s horns, and empty pitchers, with torches within the pitchers. And he said to them, “Watch me, and do the same. And behold when I come to the extremity of the camp it shall be that as I do, so you shall do. When I blow the ram’s horn, I and all who are with me, then you blow the ram’s horns also on every side of the whole camp, and say ‘For Yahweh and for Gideon’.” ’

    The strategy was simple. With the ram’s horns hanging by a cord from their necks and their swords at their sides, they would carry the empty pitchers and the torches within the pitchers, to a point just outside the enemy camp. They would go in three companies so that they could spread out widely on three different approaches to the camp.

    Then Gideon would blow his ram’s horn first, a lone and disconcerting wail, alerting the camp that the attack was beginning. Thus would the camp be awoken and sleepily stirring when suddenly they would hear the sound of three hundred ram’s horns over a wide range, replying to the first and sounding the charge. Racing from their tents in the unnerving darkness they would then see three hundred lights appear over a wide range, each held by the leader of a military unit to rally his men (or so they would think). Thus they faced three hundred military units, a huge force. And they were already unnerved at the thought that the gods were with Gideon. No wonder panic set in.

    7.19-20 ‘So Gideon, and the one hundred men who were with him, came to the extremity of the camp at the beginning of the middle watch, when they had but newly set the watch, and they blew the ram’s horns and broke in pieces the pitchers that were in their hands, and the three companies blew the ram’s horns, and broke the pitchers, and held the torches in their left hands and the ram’s horns in their right hands to blow withal, and they cried “The sword of Yahweh and of Gideon”.’

    So the men of Israel crept silently down in the darkness just after 10.00 pm (22.00 hours, the middle watch was from around 22.00 hours to 2.00 am), when most would be asleep or dozing in anticipation of coming battle. The new watch had just come on, alert and nervous, and suddenly there came the wail of a single ram’s horn, and then the area around the camp became alive with signs of a night attack, with ram’s horns replying and torches blazing. Night attack was always devastating, for in the darkness it was not always possible to tell who was who, and figures in the darkness seemed multiplied, and could be friend or enemy.

    So first the ram’s horns were sounded, echoing through the night, drawing attention to the wide areas where the attacks were coming from, then the horns on their cords were dropped while the pitchers, which would be of earth and easily broken, were smashed. This would make an unnerving noise in the darkness as they probably clashed them against each other, and the torches would then be lifted and waved, bursting into flame.

    Dropping the broken jars they would again seize their ram’s horns and would give a further series of blasts, and would wave their torches and shout their warcry, “For Yahweh and for Gideon”. The torches would be of rags soaked in oil on a stick, or some other form of inflammable material. They would only glow gently within the pitchers until exposed to and waved in the air. The whole effect over a wide area can be imagined. The Midianite confederacy, already unnerved by Yahweh’s activity, wondered what was about to hit them and panicked. The dreaded Gideon, by now developed in their minds into a mythical hero, was here.

    The sentinels would probably sound their own horns, and some would race to the commanders’ tents. Figures would be moving in the darkness with drawn swords, joined by others leaving their tents ready for an attack, some carrying torches. The fearful, unnerved, would think of escape, others of readiness for battle, and run to their camels with weapons at the ready. The result was that as shadowy figures came out of the darkness of the camp they began to see each other as the enemy and to cut each other down, and as blade clashed with blade it would result in further panic. The enemy were among them!

    7.21 ‘And they stood every man in his place around the camp, and all the host ran about, and they shouted and put them to flight.’

    The courage needed by these men was immense. Had they been discovered they would probably have died instantly, or even worse. But they stood in their place, blew their ram’s horns, waved their torches and yelled their war cry. And they succeeded. The enemy ran about, totally disorganised, broke up and fled for safety from the ‘pursuing hordes’, which were, in fact, all in their minds. Many of their camels would be left behind. The tendency would be not to bother about them. Life was at stake and they would not be thinking clearly.

    7.22a ‘And they blew the three hundred ram’s horns, and Yahweh set every man’s sword against his fellow and against all the host.’

    The three hundred continued to blow as they watched the disorder revealed in the camp, by cries, and clashes of steel, and moving torches, and Yahweh fed the panic until it became a rout, with men slaughtering each other. For once the escape began the three allied forces would be intermingled and recognition would totally have gone. Every man would be seen as an enemy, and everyone thought the other was an enemy, for who was to know? Note the stress on the fact of Yahweh’s direct involvement. This was Yahweh’s doing.

    7.22b ‘And the host fled to Bethshittah toward Zererath, as far as the border (‘lip, bank’) of Abel-meholah, by Tabbath.’

    The places are unknown to us but ‘bank’ suggests either a wadi leading down to the Jordan or even the Jordan itself. Abel-meholah later became part of Solomon’s fifth district (1 Kings 4.12) and was Elisha’s birthplace (1 Kings 19.16). It is usually seen as sited in the Jordan valley, south of Beth-shean. Some place Zererah as south of Jabesh Gilead. So they fled towards the Jordan rift, heading for ‘home’.

    7.23 ‘And the men of Israel were gathered together, out of Naphtali, and out of Asher, and out of all Manasseh, and pursued after Midian.’

    The enemy having been routed by Yahweh, the chase now began. The three hundred would be first in pursuit (8.4). The ten units in their tents would be the next to join the pursuit, followed by many more who would join them as messengers carried the news of the success. (Asher could hardly have joined in if they had not been still nearby. They would never have caught up).

    7. 24a ‘And Gideon sent messengers throughout all the hill country of Ephraim, saying, come down against Midian and take before them the waters as far as Bethbarah, even the Jordan.’

    Not wanting the enemy to escape too easily Gideon sent fast messengers to Ephraim and asked them to move down and guard the fords. The flight would take time, for some would at some point stand and fight, others would make for the hills until the way seemed clear, while their panic meant that they had not been ready for the journey and many would be on foot. So they would not move as fast as the speedy messengers, whom Gideon probably already had standing by.

    7.24b ‘So all the men of Ephraim were gathered together, and took the waters as far as Bethbarah, even the Jordan.’

    Ephraim were quick to respond. They stood firm by the covenant. They knew something of what had been happening but had clearly not been so affected, if at all, by the invasion. But they were ready to support their brothers.

    7. 25 ‘And they took two princes of Midian, Oreb and Zeeb, and they slew Oreb at the rock of Oreb, and Zeeb they slew at the winepress of Zeeb, and pursued Midian. And they brought the heads of Oreb and Zeeb to Gideon, beyond Jordan.’

    Chronologically this happened after Gideon had crossed the Jordan (compare 8.4). This method of continuing a story until the end, followed by going back to a parallel story occurs regularly in ancient writings.

    Oreb means Raven and Zeeb means Wolf. The Midianites appear to have favoured animal names. Compare how Moses’ Midianite wife was called ‘little bird’ (Zipporah - Exodus 2.21). Oreb and Zeeb were princes of Midian. But the ‘kings’ appeared to have escaped. They had the fleetest camels. The rock and winepress were named after these events. The whole situation became a byword in Israel (Isaiah 9.4; 10.26; Psalm 83.11). Out of all the sufferings of the people in Judges this one was most deeply remembered as the most terrible, for their enemy had tried to destroy them through starvation.

    Chapter 8. Events To The Death of Gideon.

    In this chapter we are told how Gideon pacified the Ephraimites, who complained because they were not sent for to fight the Midianites; how he pursued the Midianites until he took their two kings; and how on his return he chastised the men of Succoth and Penuel, because they had refused to relieve his men with food while they were pursuing the enemy. It then describes how he slew the two kings of Midian; and after this conquest was offered sole-rulership of Israel; how he requested of the Israelites the earrings which they had taken from the Midianites, and how in weakness he made from them an ephod which proved a snare to his household and his people; how the people were in peace for ‘forty years’ during his life; and that he had a numerous issue, and died in a good old age, but that after his death the Israelites fell into idolatry, and were ungrateful to his family.

    The Pursuit of the Kings of Midian (8.1-21).

    8. 1 ‘And the men of Ephraim said to him, “Why have you served us like this, that you did not call us when you went to fight with Midian?” And they lambasted him sharply.’

    The men of Ephraim were angry because they had not been called to the battle. No doubt they had had their share in the booty but they thought of the glory and prestige that might have been theirs. As a major tribe they treasured their position and did not want to lose it to others. It might have been a different story had the attempt been a failure. But it had been a great success. So their leaders came to him with a deputation to argue their position. They were bitter at Gideon’s failure to call them.

    8.2 ‘And he said to them, “What have I done in comparison with you? Is not the gleaning of the grapes of Ephraim better than the vintage of Abiezer?” ’

    Gideon revealed that he had learned from his wise father. He did not try to argue the position, or point out that Yahweh alone had received any glory from the victory. Rather he pointed out to them how successful they had been. He and his men had not captured any Midianite royalty whereas Ephraim had captured two. He and his men had only picked up commoners whereas Ephraim had picked up and brought to him the heads of royalty.

    The gleaning is the leftovers picked up from the fields when the reapers have gone by, an accurate picture of the work of Ephraim. But in that gleaning were the royal princes and a considerable number of the enemy. The victory as a whole had been Yahweh’s. The vintage of Abiezer were merely the lingerers from among the fleeing enemy.

    On the other hand Ephraim had met them full on at the fords and had reaped amply, including the princes. The importance attached in those days to the killing of the chiefs is brought out in that Barak lost to a woman the right to kill Sisera and it was counted as a great loss (chapter 4).

    ‘Abiezer’ probably refers to Gideon himself rather than to the content of the three hundred, although it could be that the test had separated out the locals who knew about the leeches. Compared with Ephraim he had received little honour as yet.

    8.3 “God has delivered into your hands the princes of Midian, Oreb and Zeeb, and what was I able to do in comparison with you?” Then their anger was abated towards him when he said that.’

    Note the double repetition of ‘in comparison with you’. Like his father he was a diplomat and by it he pacified the prickly Ephraimites. Contrast the way in which the more abrasive Jephthah dealt with them (12.2-3). But we can see from this why God had been afraid that Israel would vaunt themselves (7.2) if they won the battle in any other way. The use of ‘God’ rather than Yahweh draws attention to their wrong attitude. They were out for their own glory and not the glory of Yahweh.

    8.4 ‘And Gideon came to Jordan, and passed over, he and the three hundred men who were with him, faint, yet pursuing .’

    Gideon came to the Jordan. The last part of 7.25 and 8.1-3 had been looking ahead, now in verse 4 we return to Gideon’s pursuit of the enemy. He was not satisfied just with victory, he wanted the heads of the two kings of the Midianites. We learn later that his intense pursuit arose from the fact that these two kings had earlier mercilessly killed his brothers, probably on a previous raid (8.18). The Midianites were separated into several sub-tribes headed by a number of princes (compare the five princes in Joshua 13.21), over whom were these two great chieftains, here called ‘kings’.

    ‘The three hundred.’ This does not necessarily mean none had been killed. It is now a global term that covers that noble band of men. ‘Faint, yet pursuing.’ They were exhausted but ready to follow Gideon anywhere, and there was a job to be done. God’s test had produced the right kind of men.

    8. 5 ‘And he said to the men of Succoth, “Give, I pray you, loaves of bread to the people who follow me, for they are faint and I am pursuing after Zebah and Zalmunna, the kings of Midian.” ’

    Succoth was in the region of Gad in the Jordan rift valley not far from Zarethan (1 Kings 7.46). It is probably Tell Deir ‘Alla which was a sanctuary surrounded by dwellings and stores. It flourished during the late Bronze Age and its sanctuary was finally destroyed in the first decades of 12th century BC as indicated by a cartouche from the end of the nineteenth dynasty. It was not seemingly a fortified city, and was presumably at this time occupied by Israelites which explains why their refusal brought such condemnation on them. In refusing food they were breaching the tribal covenant. Gideon sought nothing for himself but he was concerned for his men. Note the further stress on them being faint. They had not eaten since the ‘battle’.

    ‘The men of Succoth’, the city elders. They should have assisted in the pursuit of Israel’s enemy but they even refused food to their brothers. They had seen the passage of Zebah and Zalmunna with fifteen military units, which by now had presumably regained their composure and were feeling safe from the enemy. They were not sure that Gideon and his three hundred were a match for them. They would at this stage know nothing of Gideon’s great victory. They judged by appearances.

    8. 6 ‘And the princes of Succoth said, “Are the hands of Zebah and Zalmunna now in your hands that we should give bread to your army”.’

    These would be the chief men of the town, honoured among the elders. ‘Said’ is in the singular. One spoke for them all. They were frightened of the sword arms of the Midianite kings which were still free. The kings would not look kindly on those who offered hospitality to those who were their enemies. This counted to them more than the covenant. The reference to hands may reflect the custom of cutting off the hands of the slain in order to assess their numbers, although for leaders the head would appear to have been the norm, as recognisable (7.25; 1 Samuel 17.51; 31.9; 2 Samuel 4.12; 20.22).

    However the Shechemites were being ironic. The reference to ‘your army’ may well have been derisory. They did not consider it much of an army. But they knew what their covenant responsibility was and deliberately rejected it for the sake of safety. In view of the contrast between the two armies they felt that they were quite safe. So they refused bread to their brothers.

    8.7 ‘And Gideon said, “Therefore when the Lord has delivered Zebah and Zalmunna into my hand, then I will thresh your flesh with the thorns of the wilderness, and with briers.” ’

    Harsh though this may sound it was in fact comparatively merciful. Their breaking of the covenant with Yahweh strictly demanded death (compare 21.10). It was like desertion in the face of the enemy. Gideon simply proposed severe chastisement to the leaders. Some have suggested that he proposed something more severe, their being trampled on thorns as the corn is trampled on the threshingfloor, indicating an unpleasant death. This would be supported by the fact of what he did to the leaders of Penuel.

    8. 8 ‘And he went up thence to Penuel, and spoke to them in the same way, and the men of Penuel answered him as the men of Succoth had answered.’

    He and his men received the same treatment at Penuel. Again the tribal covenant with Yahweh was ignored in the interests of safety. The only possible inference is that they too did not expect Gideon and his men to return alive. Both knew what they were doing and would not be surprised at Gideon’s threats. In theory they would have agreed the rightness of them. The covenant with Yahweh was binding and the penalty for failing to respond to it was death. They knew they were breaching the covenant. This demonstrates how lax the response to the covenant was becoming east of Jordan.

    8. 9 ‘And he spoke also to the men of Penuel, saying, “When I come again in peace, I will break down this tower.” ’

    His response to the elders of Penuel was similar. They had a tower which was the strongpoint of the town, in which they took great pride. This suggests that the town guarded an important pass, something supported by the fact that Jeroboam later fortified it (1 Kings 12.25). When he returned he would destroy this fortified tower along with these men who had refused sustenance to their covenant brothers. Penuel means ‘the face of God’ which makes this even more poignant (see Genesis 32.26). They had turned their backs on the face of God.

    8. 10 ‘Now Zebah and Zalmunna were in Karkor, and their hosts with them, about fifteen eleph men, all that were left of the host of the children of the east, for there fell a hundred and twenty eleph men that drew sword.’

    Here the term ‘children of the east’ includes the whole armies of Midian, Amalek and the children of the east. It is a term that can be applied generally to a type of semi-nomad (see Genesis 29.1; Job 1.3). Only fifteen units remained of the one hundred and thirty five units of armed men with which they had set out. Karkor is possibly Qarqar in the Wadi Sirhan.

    8.11. ‘And Gideon went up by the way of those who dwelt in tents on the east of Nobah and Jogbehah, and smote the host for they were off their guard.’

    With his men hungry and fainting Gideon visited the semi-nomads who were keeping their flocks to the east of Nobah and Jogbehah, where it seems they found the hospitality which had been lacking from the cities of their own tribal federation. These people may well have hated the confederacy of the people of the east because they had suffered from their depredations. They would always be prey to them and would have nothing to lose by helping Gideon. Indeed they may well have provided Gideon with desert fighters, or at least guides. Jogbehah (modern Jubeihat) was a ‘fenced city with folds for the sheep’ in territory allotted to Gad (Numbers 32.35-36). Nobah was previously called Kenath (Numbers 32.42).

    ‘And smote the host for they were off their guard.’ It should be noted that at this stage there is no specific mention of the three hundred, although they would still be his main fighting force. He may well have been reinforced by the semi-nomad desert fighters, and even possibly by Ephraimites when they sought him out to complain (7.25b-8.2), to say nothing of others involved in the pursuit. Thus Gideon may have had a reasonably large force with which to make his attack which was totally successful because he caught them off their guard, possibly with the guidance of the desert fighters. The sudden war cry of ‘the sword of Yahweh and of Gideon’ coming when they thought they were well out of range of his forces may well have struck further terror to their hearts. Here was that dreaded Gideon again, come no doubt by some supernatural means. They were no doubt still convinced that they had earlier been defeated by a huge force.

    8.12 ‘And Zebah and Zalmunna fled, and he pursued after them, and took the two kings of Midian, Zebah and Zalmunna, and discomfited with terror all the host.’

    The name Zebah means ‘slaughter, sacrifice’. It was intended to indicate his fearsomeness as a warrior, but here indicates his destiny. Before the servant of Yahweh he could do nothing. He himself became the slaughter and sacrifice. Zalmunna probably means ‘shelter withheld’. The two kings fled the battlefield and were captured, and their terrified men scattered and fled. (As often with names they were possibly adapted when turned into Hebrew to convey a message).

    8.13 ‘And Gideon the son of Joash returned from battle, from the ascent of Heres.’

    Gideon ‘returned from battle.’ That was the last thing that the leaders of Succoth or Penuel had expected. They had not realised that Yahweh was with him.

    ‘From the ascent of Heres’. This means the ascent of ‘the sun’. Many mountains would be called this, compare a similarly named mountain in Aijalon (1.35), but the writer may have seen in it an indication of the power of Yahweh, remembering the incident when the sun stood still to ensure Joshua’s victory (Joshua 10.12-14). There may also be reference to 5.31, ‘let those who love Him be as the sun when he goes forth in his might’.

    8.14 ‘And he caught a young man of the men of Succoth, and enquired of him. And he wrote down for him the names of the princes of Succoth, and its elders, even seventy seven men.’

    Gideon would not kill haphazardly. The covenant had been broken and due punishment was required, but he would only exact it of those directly responsible. So he arranged for the detaining of a young man of Succoth in order to discover the names of the leading authorities, the princes and the elders. There were seventy seven of them which suggests a fairly large town. ‘Seventy and seven’ was in Genesis 4.24 the number of perfect revenge.

    ‘He wrote down for him.’ An interesting confirmation that writing was an art widely practised in Israel. Examples are known from mines in Sinai of an alphabetic script used by slaves from Canaan working in the mines there well before this time, and potsherds have been discovered in a number of Canaanite cities utilising the same script.

    8.15 ‘And he came to the men of Succoth, and said, “Behold, Zebah and Zalmunna, concerning whom you taunted me saying, Are the hands of Zebah and Zalmunna now in your hand, that we should give bread to your men who are weary?” ’

    Their words had clearly hit Gideon hard. He could not forgive what they had done to his valiant men, instruments of Yahweh in the deliverance of Israel. Now they could see that Zebah and Zalmunna really were in his hand. The elders would be in no doubt of their fate. They knew the penalty for the breach of the tribal covenant.

    8.16 ‘And he took the elders of the city, and thorns of the wilderness, and briers, and with them he taught the men of Succoth .’

    The words are expressive. They were taught what it meant to breach the covenant, with thorns and briers, probably by a severe beating. It may be that he spared their lives for he exacted the punishment that he had first promised and no more (verse 7).

    8.17 ‘And he broke down the tower of Penuel, and slew the men of the city.’

    Penuel was a fortified city and thus had less excuse for their cowardice and breach of covenant, so he destroyed their fortifications and slew their chief men, ‘the men of the city’. This latter interpretation is probable because he was clearly carefully meting out blame to those who were blameworthy. However it may be that the city defended itself against him and he thus had to deal with all in fierce battle.

    8.18 ‘Then said he to Zebah and Zalmunna, “What manner of men were they whom you slew at Tabor?” And they answered, “As you are, so were they. Each one resembled the children of a king.” ’

    ‘Then said he to Zebah and Zalmunna.’ This was clearly later when he had returned home, for his son was now with him. These three incidents in verses 15-18 are described together, not necessarily chronologically, as an indication of his threefold revenge on his enemies.

    “What manner of men were they whom you slew at Tabor?” This would be Mount Tabor. Presumably in previous raids the Midianites had searched the mountain and found Gideon’s brothers there defending their hidden food supplies and their women and children. They had captured and mercilessly executed them as possible future threats. And Gideon knew of it. Probably the whole story, and especially the part played by Zebah and Zalmunna, had been described by a fugitive who escaped.

    ‘And they answered, “As you are, so were they. Each one resembled the children of a king.” ’ Like Gideon they had been upstanding, strong, unbending and men of obvious authority, which was probably why it was decided that they had to be executed to get rid of a possible future threat. The two kings must have known by this time that their fate was sealed. They remembered the incident, and the men, well.

    8.19 ‘And he said, “They were my brothers, even the sons of my mother. As Yahweh lives, if you had saved them alive, I would not kill you.” ’

    They were guilty out of their own mouths and had determined their own punishment. They had by their actions forfeited mercy. As they had done, so would be done to them (compare 1.7). This was the principle on which justice was determined. We learn also here why Gideon was such a good choice to lead against the Midianites. Not only was he a man faithful to Yahweh and a leader of men, but he fulfilled his family responsibility to bring to justice the men who had killed his brothers, not in battle but by execution. His deep personal grievance against them would have heightened his determination to bring them to justice.

    ‘The sons of my mother.’ His full brothers, sons of his mother. This is not denying that they had the same father.

    8.20 ‘And he said to Jether, his firstborn, “Up, and slay them”.’ But the youth drew not his sword, for he feared, because he was yet a youth.’

    The men had slain members of his own family. It was therefore required that revenge be obtained through a blood relative, and he wanted his son to have the honour of slaying these great kings. If he did it himself it would be as Judge of Israel, but this was a personal family matter, and he wanted it to be carried out as such.

    ‘But the youth drew not his sword, for he feared, because he was yet a youth.’ His son had not experienced battle and killing. And like his father he was not a man of unnecessary cruelty. And he hesitated to draw his sword and act as executioner.

    8.21a ‘Then Zebah and Zalmunna said, “You rise and fall on us, for as the man is, so is his strength.” ’

    The two kings, no doubt tightly bound, made no plea for mercy. Now that they knew that Gideon was brother to the men they had themselves executed they knew that they could expect none. Gideon would be betraying his own family if he failed to exact blood vengeance (Genesis 9.6). But they preferred to die at the hands of a worthy opponent rather than those of a callow youth, which in terms of those days would have been demeaning. And they even probably felt sorry for the boy.

    8.21b ‘And Gideon arose, and slew Zebah and Zalmunna, and he took the crescents which were on their camels' necks.’

    Now that it was clear that he was acting on behalf of family vengeance Gideon carried out the execution himself. Gideon’s sense of justice and fair play comes out all through the account. He exacted only the punishments that justice and custom required, and never slew unnecessarily. To us he may appear merciless. In terms of his own day he was a model of reasonableness.

    ‘And he took the crescents which were on their camels' necks.’ Crescents are mentioned only here and in Isaiah 3.18, but crescent-shaped objects have been found in many excavations in Palestine. At some stage they were probably connected with the moon, but we must not necessarily connect them with moon worship wherever they are found. They had become delightful shapes for use in ornamental jewellery.

    Gideon Is Made an Hereditary Prince and Makes An Ephod (8.22- 28).

    8.22 ‘Then the men of Israel said to Gideon, “You rule over us, both you and your son, and your son's son also. For you have saved us out of the hand of Midian.” ’

    As a Judge of Israel Gideon did have authority over them, but this was basically an offer of hereditary rulership, as is evidenced by the fact that his sons and grandsons were to follow him as rulers. They saw in Gideon and his family, leaders who could bring them peace and security, and leaders in whom justice was tempered with mercy. They could think of no better choice. Gideon was their deliverer who had made life bearable for them again. ‘The men of Israel.’ This was unlikely to mean the whole of Israel. As regularly ‘the men of Israel’ means a representative group of them, and it refers only to those in his area. Certainly Judah would not have participated in the request, nor probably Ephraim and the tribes Beyond Jordan.

    8.23 And Gideon said to them, I will not rule over you, neither shall my son rule over you. Yahweh shall rule over you.’

    There are good grounds for thinking that in fact this was a speech of acceptance couched in pious terms. He certainly proceeded to behave like a ruling prince (verses 27, 30) and the people expected his sons to succeed him (9.2). But his stress was on the fact that their real ruler was Yahweh Who ruled over the whole covenant people. (In Canaan the word ‘king’ (melech) denoted a petty king over a city. It was thus not suitable to describe Yahweh). He did not want to replace the tribal covenant, and wanted the people to recognise that Yahweh was their King. But he was prepared to rule as Yahweh’s hereditary prince over this particular area.

    8.24 ‘And Gideon said to them, “I would desire a request of you, that you would give me, every man, the earrings (or nose-rings) from his spoil.” (For they had golden earrings (or nose rings) because they were Ishmaelites).’

    Ishmaelites were rated as Midianites, possibly as a sub-tribe (see also Genesis 37.28). Here Gideon wanted their earrings/noserings because they symbolised the enemy and he wanted to create a memorial to their destruction, no doubt also incorporating the crescents and golden camel chains he had taken from the dead kings (verse 26). Earrings were widely worn by nomads. They were of no use to Israel who, at times when they were being faithful to Yahweh, abjured them. They symbolised unfaithfulness (Exodus 33.4-6).

    8.25 ‘And they answered, “We will willingly give (literally ‘giving we will give’) them,” and they spread a garment, and cast in it every man the earrings from his spoil.’

    The people responded willingly, probably having been informed of his purpose. They spread a long robe and filled it with the earrings which were a part of their spoils.

    8.26 ‘And the weight of the golden earrings that he requested was one thousand and seven hundred shekels of gold, besides the crescents and the pendants, and the purple raiment that was on the kings of Midian, and besides the chains that were on their camels’ necks.’

    A large amount of gold was thus gathered (about 19 kilograms or over forty pound weight if it was the ordinary shekel) as well as some purple cloth. Purple was a favourite colour for rulers, and especially among nomads.

    8.27a ‘And Gideon made an ephod of it, and put it in his city, even in Ophrah.’

    We do not know for certain what an ephod (a metallic sacral robe) in this context was for. In Exodus 28.6-35 it was a garment worn by the priests, which contained the precious stones which represented the tribes of Israel. It may thus be that this was such a garment, made of the purple robes of the kings, ornamented heavily with the gold, to be kept as a memorial of Yahweh’s glorious victory over their enemy. There is no evidence for suggesting that it was an image, although it may have been placed over a stone pillar. Nor are there any grounds for thinking that Gideon initially encouraged its veneration. (If it was an image why did the writer not call it that?)

    8.27b ‘And all Israel went a-whoring after it there, and it became a snare to Gideon and his house.’

    This probably indicates that the people saw it in terms of the priestly ephod and began to consult it like an oracle. The priestly ephod was connected with the breastplate which contained within it the Urim and the Thummim for the purpose of consulting Yahweh. It may then be that the household of Gideon encouraged this. It would bring them great prestige. This might have led on to veneration and worship of it by some of the people. Thus what was in the first place intended to be a memorial to the glory of Yahweh would become a snare to him and his house, and a stumblingblock to the people.

    If it happened while Gideon himself was still alive it may well have been seen as a way of discovering Yahweh’s will. They did not go a-whoring after Baal until Gideon was dead (verse 33). But this did not make it right, for it turned them away from the central sanctuary which was where Yahweh’s will could truly be found. Only the priest at the central sanctuary could consult Urim and Thummim before Yahweh. We can compare how the brazen serpent, later called Nechushtan, made by Moses at God’s command for a good purpose (Numbers 21.8-9) also became a snare to Israel (2 Kings 18.4). Any religious object is open to this danger which is why they are best avoided however ‘nice and helpful’ they seem at first.

    But some suggest that we should translate ‘to Gideon, even to his house’ (see verse 34), that is ‘Gideon’ as signifying his house (as ‘Israel’ signifies the children of Israel), suggesting that its main harm occurred after Gideon was dead. Then this could be seen as connected with verse 33 and be referred to Baal worship. Note that there is no specific condemnation of Gideon for what he did, only indirect disapproval of the result. It is a warning to all how easy it is to lead others astray with what at first appears to be innocent.

    8.28 ‘So Midian was subdued before the children of Israel, and they lifted up their heads no more. And the land had rest forty years in the days of Gideon.’

    As a result of Gideon’s work under Yahweh’s hand Midian was removed as a problem for the next generation. The ‘forty years’ also indicates a period of waiting before God. The land was at peace and the people were faithful to Yahweh and the central sanctuary -- apart possibly from the affair of the ephod.

    The Final Days of Gideon (8.29-35).

    8.29 ‘And Jerubbaal the son of Joash went and dwelt in his own house.’

    He was now accepted as a ruler in his own right and set up his own household, no longer subject directly to his father. He was of course already a married man of some years as witness his teenage son (8.20).

    The judges had no palace, no royal court, they obtained no taxes (except for indirect maintenance of the system of tithes which were collected by the Levites), they ruled by divine favour and recognition by the people. But they had the right to call to arms the tribal confederacy when the need arose, and to seek God’s will through Urim and Thummim at the central sanctuary, (which may have been where the local ephod came in, a convenient means of doing something similar without the hassle), and arbitrated on behalf of the people in accordance with custom and the law of God.

    The switch to the name Jerubbaal rather than Gideon may be in order to remind us that he was the conqueror of Baal, a man once maligned, but now made a prince among his people.

    8.30-31 ‘And Gideon had seventy sons begotten from his own body (literally ‘going out of his thigh’), for he had many wives. And his concubine who was in Shechem she also bore him a son, and he called his name Abimelech.’

    Having been made sole ruler of his territory he began to behave like it. He married many wives and had many children. ‘Seventy’ indicates divine perfection intensified. Polygamy was not frowned on in those days but was mainly the privilege of the rich. But excessive polygamy always led to trouble, especially in the matter of inheritance of a kingship. It was specifically forbidden to those who would rule Israel (Deuteronomy 17.17).

    A concubine is a slave wife or a wife of lower class coming without dowry, not suited to full wife status (9.18), whose son would not necessarily be in line to inherit. Her son would grow up antagonistic to the ‘true’ sons. It appears she continued to live at Shechem, presumably with her father, probably so that she was available when Gideon spent time there judging the people. While she may not have been a worshipper of Baal she would undoubtedly have been heavily influenced in that direction and her religion was probably syncretistic, with ‘lord of the covenant’ (Baal-berith) being worshipped along with Yahweh, the true Lord of the Covenant. He may even possibly have been worshipped as Yahweh, but with ‘strange’ rites.

    Abimelech’s name means ‘the king is my father’, probably given so that he had some prestige among his fellows especially in Shechem and in order to please his concubine. It proved to be a mistake for it gave him great ideas of his own importance. We should beware of giving ideas to people unless we intend them to be carried out. But originally such a name meant ‘Melech is my father’ (or Molech - with the vowels changed to those of ‘bosheth’ meaning shame) - possibly significant to the writer in the light of the fact that he slew his brothers as sacrifices in his father’s name - it was Melech who demanded human sacrifice. Thus his mother may have worshipped Melech.

    8.32 ‘And Gideon the son of Joash died in a good old age, and was buried in the sepulchre of Joash his father, in Ophrah of the Abiezrites.’

    The reference to his ‘good old age’ demonstrates to the writer that his life had pleased God. He was gathered to his fathers in the family sepulchre. From now on ‘died and was buried’ becomes the final accolade to a good judge (deliberately omitted in the case of Abimelech).

    To be fair to Gideon his new lifestyle was probably approved of by his contemporaries who overlooked the warnings of God. They probably felt that he was living in the style to which his position entitled him. So easily do we think we know better than God. But it would not be long after his death before the wisdom of God’s laws would become apparent.

    8.33. ‘And so it was that, as soon as Gideon was dead, the children of Israel turned again, and went a-whoring after the Baalim, and made Baalberith their god.’

    This is illustrated further in chapter 9. It was partially the result of his many wives, as chapter 9 demonstrates. Baal-berith, ‘lord of the covenant’, was the Shechemite god. He is probably to be equated with El-berith, ‘god of the covenant’ (9.46). The Shechemites are later called ‘the sons of Hamor (the ass)’. At Mari the ass was associated with covenant making. Seemingly among the Amorites a covenant had to be sealed by the sacrifice of an ass. The same seems to have applied here with the Shechemites in their covenant with Baal-berith.

    There is no record of Shechem ever being captured by Joshua and it may be that their worship of ‘the lord of the covenant’ had convinced Joshua that they were true worshippers of Yahweh so that they were welcomed to participate in the covenant ceremony at Shechem (Joshua 24). Indeed Yahweh and Baal-berith may well have been equated. But if so this had now degenerated back to worship with Baalistic tendencies under that name. The result was that the accession of Abimelech led to the children of Israel again turning to Baal worship.

    8.34 ‘And the children of Israel did not remember Yahweh their God, who had delivered them out of the hands of all their enemies on every side, nor did they show kindness to the house of Jerubbaal, namely Gideon, according to all the goodness which he had showed to Israel.’

    Once again the children of Israel proved faithless, forgetting how God had delivered them from numerous enemies and forgetting all that Gideon had done for them. They ‘did not remember Yahweh’, that is they ceased worshipping Him except in a very perfunctory manner. ‘They did not show kindness to the household of -- Gideon’, that is they allowed his sons to be slaughtered and did nothing about it. Perhaps this was when they began to use the ephod as an oracle giver (verse 27).

    Note again the use of Jerubbaal, significant in a context where there was again hostility against Gideon in a Baal context, for Jerubbaal was ‘the striver with Baal’.

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    The Book of Judges: Contents




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