David Guzik Commentary on the Bible
Judges 6 - THE CALL OF GIDEON
A. Apostasy, servitude and supplication.
1. (Judges 6:1) Israel’s apostasy brings them into servitude.
Then the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD. So the LORD delivered them into the hand of Midian for seven years,
a. Then the children of Israel did evil: The forty years of rest (Judges 5:31) following the defeat of Sisera eventually came to an end. In their prosperity and complacency, Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD.
b. So the LORD delievered them into the hand of Midian: God brought Israel into bondage through the oppression of the Midianites. This was an example of God’s grace and mercy to Israel because the oppression would make them turn back to God. It would have been worse if God just left them alone.
2. (Judges 6:2-6) The details of Israel’s bondage to Midian.
And the hand of Midian prevailed against Israel. Because of the Midianites, the children of Israel made for themselves the dens, the caves, and the strongholds which are in the mountains. So it was, whenever Israel had sown, Midianites would come up; also Amalekites and the people of the East would come up against them. Then they would encamp against them and destroy the produce of the earth as far as Gaza, and leave no sustenance for Israel, neither sheep nor ox nor donkey. For they would come up with their livestock and their tents, coming in as numerous as locusts; both they and their camels were without number; and they would enter the land to destroy it. So Israel was greatly impoverished because of the Midianites, and the children of Israel cried out to the LORD.
a. The children of Israel made for themselves the dens, the caves, and the strongholds: The oppression of Midian - coming because of the sin of Israel - brought Israel into humiliation. Before they turned back to God they had to be humbled.
b. Whenever Israel had sown, Midianites would come up: The Midianites did not continually occupy the land, but only came at the time of harvest to confiscate what the Israelites grew (leave no sustenance for Israel).
i. Israel’s sin made all their hard work profitless. All their produce and livestock was stolen after they worked hard to bring it to fruition. Sin does this. It robs us of what we work hard to gain.
ii. In May of 1990, the president of an American University was charged with two misdemeanor counts of making indecent telephone calls. Police evaluated about a dozen obscene calls made by the educator. He was later fired, and his wife left him. He lost everything for what, in retrospect, seemed like nothing.
c. Both they and their camels were without number: The Midianites dominated Israel because of their effective use of camels. “It is clear that the use of this angular and imposing beast struck terror in the hearts of the Israelites.” (Cundall)
d. And the children of Israel cried out to the LORD: After the long season of humiliation, fruitless labor, poverty, and domination by an oppressive power, Israel finally cried out to the LORD. Prayer was their last resort instead of their first resource.
3. (Judges 6:7-10) In response to Israel’s cry to the LORD, God sends a prophet.
And it came to pass, when the children of Israel cried out to the LORD because of the Midianites, that the LORD sent a prophet to the children of Israel, who said to them, “Thus says the LORD God of Israel: ‘I brought you up from Egypt and brought you 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 before you and gave you their land. Also I said to you, “I am the LORD your God; do not fear the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell.” But you have not obeyed My voice.’ “
a. The LORD sent a prophet: The delivering judge will appear later. Before Israel could receive and respond to the work of the judge, they had to be prepared by this un-named prophet.
b. I brought you up from Egypt: God spoke through the prophet, reminding Israel of all He did for them in the past. To face their current crisis, Israel needed a reminder of what God did before.
i. This reminded them of the love of God. The God loving enough to deliver from Egypt before still loved them enough to deliver them from the Midianites.
ii. This reminded them of the power of God. The God powerful enough to deliver from Egypt before was still powerful enough to deliver them from the Midianites.
c. But you have not obeyed My voice: God sent this messenger to tell them where the real problem was. It wasn’t that the Midianites were so strong, it was that Israel was so disobedient.
i. Israel thought the problem was the Midianites but the real problem was Israel. It is human nature to blame others for problems that we cause.
ii. The message of the prophet also shows that when Israel cried out to the LORD, they didn’t understand that they were the problem. Their cry to God for help did not mean that they recognized or repented of their sin.
B. The deliverer is called.
1. (Judges 6:11-13) The Angel of the LORD appears to Gideon.
Now the Angel of the LORD came and sat under the terebinth tree which was in Ophrah, which belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, while his son Gideon threshed wheat in the winepress, in order to hide it from the Midianites. And the Angel of the LORD appeared to him, and said to him, “The LORD is with you, you mighty man of valor!” Gideon said to Him, “O my lord, if the LORD is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all His miracles which our fathers told us about, saying, ‘Did not the LORD bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the LORD has forsaken us and delivered us into the hands of the Midianites.”
a. The Angel of the LORD came and sat under the terebinth tree: When the Angel of the LORD appeared to Gideon, we recognize this is as a theophany - an Old Testament appearance of Jesus Christ, in human, bodily form, but before His incarnation in Bethlehem.
i. The description of the encounter with the Angel of the LORD shows that this is not merely an angel speaking on behalf of God. It shows that God himself, appearing in human form, spoke to Gideon:
· Then the LORD turned to him and said (Judges 6:14)
· And the LORD said to him (Judges 6:16)
ii. Since no man has seen God the Father at any time (John 1:18, John 5:27) and by nature the Holy Spirit is a spirit without bodily form, it is reasonable to see this as an appearance of the Second Person of the Trinity, as an appearance of God the Son. However, this is not the incarnation in the same sense that Jesus was as a baby in Bethlehem. At Bethlehem Jesus was truly and fully human (while also being truly and fully God). Here, it is more likely that Jesus took the mere appearance of humanity, doing so for a specific purpose.
b. Gideon threshed wheat in the winepress: This was both difficult and humiliating. Wheat was threshed in open spaces, typically on a hill-top so the breeze could blow away the chaff. Wheat was not normally threshed in a sunken place like a winepress.
c. The LORD is with you, you mighty man of valor! This was a strange greeting to Gideon. It didn’t seem like the LORD was with him and it didn’t seem like he was a mighty man of valor. Gideon might have turned to see if there was another person to whom the angel spoke.
d. Where are all His miracles which our fathers told us about: Gideon heard about the great works of God in the past yet he wondered why did not see the same great works in his day. Gideon thought the problem was with God (now the LORD has forsaken us) - not with him and with the nation of Israel as a whole. In truth, Israel forsook God - God did not forsake Israel.
2. (Judges 6:14-16) Gideon’s call to God’s service.
Then the LORD turned to him and said, “Go in this might of yours, and you shall save Israel from the hand of the Midianites. Have I not sent you?” So he said to Him, “O my Lord, how can I save Israel? Indeed my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house.” And the LORD said to him, “Surely I will be with you, and you shall defeat the Midianites as one man.”
a. Go in this might of yours: It is hard to see that Gideon had any might to go in. But the Angel of the LORD wasn’t mocking Gideon when he told him, “Go in this might of yours.”
· Gideon had the might of the humble, threshing wheat on the winepress floor
· Gideon had the might of the caring, because he cared about the low place of Israel
· Gideon had the might of knowledge, because he knew God did great things in the past
· Gideon had the might of the spiritually hungry because he wanted to see God to great works again
· Gideon had the might of the teachable, because he listened to what the Angel of the LORD said
· Gideon had the might of the weak, and God’s strength is perfected in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9)
b. O my Lord, how can I save Israel? Gideon had might to go in, but he could not see himself as someone who could do great things for God. He thought of himself as a nobody, from the smallest clan in his tribe, and that he was the least in his own family.
i. At the same time, Gideon was correct: he could not save Israel. But a great God could use a small and weak Gideon.
c. Surely I will be with you, and you shall defeat the Midianites as one man: God’s assurance to Gideon was not to build up his self confidence, but to assure him that God was indeed with him. Gideon did not need more self-confidence, he needed more God-confidence.
i. It is important to know that God sent us but it is even greater to know that He is with us. This was the same assurance God gave to Moses (Exodus 3:12) and that Jesus gave all believers (Matthew 28:20).
3. (Judges 6:17-21) A sign from the Angel of the LORD.
Then he said to Him, “If now I have found favor in Your sight, then show me a sign that it is You who talk with me. Do not depart from here, I pray, until I come to You and bring out my offering and set it before You.” And He said, “I will wait until you come back.” So Gideon went in and prepared a young goat, and unleavened bread from an ephah of flour. The meat he put in a basket, and he put the broth in a pot; and he brought them out to Him under the terebinth tree and presented them. The Angel of God said to him, “Take the meat and the unleavened bread and lay them on this rock, and pour out the broth.” And he did so. Then the Angel of the LORD put out the end of the staff that was in His hand, and touched the meat and the unleavened bread; and fire rose out of the rock and consumed the meat and the unleavened bread. And the Angel of the LORD departed out of his sight.
a. Then show me a sign that it is You who talk with me: It was not wrong for Gideon to ask for a confirming sign. It made sense to ask God to confirm some area of direction that was not specifically detailed in His word, and in regard to something as life-or-death as leading Israel into battle against an enemy.
i. For example, we don’t need a special sign that God loves us because He forever demonstrated His love at the cross according to Romans 5:8. This is true for many other things specifically detailed in God’s Word. Yet when it comes to guidance in things not specifically detailed in God’s Word, we should look for and expect confirmation in various ways.
b. Fire rose out of the rock and consumed the meat and the unleavened bread: The miraculous sign alone should not have persuaded Gideon because there are miraculous deceptions. Yet this miracle of fire together with the other aspects of this whole experience should have persuaded Gideon that this all was from the LORD.
4. (Judges 6:22-24) Gideon reacts with awe and worship to the miraculous sign.
Now Gideon perceived that He was the Angel of the LORD. So Gideon said, “Alas, O Lord GOD! For I have seen the Angel of the LORD face to face.” Then the LORD said to him, “Peace be with you; do not fear, you shall not die.” So Gideon built an altar there to the LORD, and called it The-LORD-Is-Peace. To this day it is still in Ophrah of the Abiezrites.
C. The beginning of Gideon’s ministry.
1. (Judges 6:25-27) Removing Baal worship from his midst.
Now it came to pass the same night that the LORD said to him, “Take your father’s young bull, the second bull of seven years old, and tear down the altar of Baal that your father has, and cut down the wooden image that is beside it; and build an altar to the LORD your God on top of this rock in the proper arrangement, and take the second bull and offer a burnt sacrifice with the wood of the image which you shall cut down.” So Gideon took ten men from among his servants and did as the LORD had said to him. But because he feared his father’s household and the men of the city too much to do it by day, he did it by night.
a. Tear down the altar of Baal that your father has: In Gideon’s community, Baal was worshipped right along side of Yahweh. God called Gideon to get his own house in order first.
b. He did it by night: Gideon lacked the courage to do this in the daytime. Yet it is better to timidly obey the LORD than to not obey Him at all.
2. (Judges 6:28-32) The removal of an altar raises a controversy.
And when the men of the city arose early in the morning, there was the altar of Baal, torn down; and the wooden image that was beside it was cut down, and the second bull was being offered on the altar which had been built. So they said to one another, “Who has done this thing?” And when they had inquired and asked, they said, “Gideon the son of Joash has done this thing.” Then the men of the city said to Joash, “Bring out your son, that he may die, because he has torn down the altar of Baal, and because he has cut down the wooden image that was beside it.” But Joash said to all who stood against him, “Would you plead for Baal? Would you save him? Let the one who would plead for him be put to death by morning! If he is a god, let him plead for himself, because his altar has been torn down!” Therefore on that day he called him Jerubbaal, saying, “Let Baal plead against him, because he has torn down his altar.”
a. Gideon the son of Joash has done this thing: They didn’t have a hard time figuring out who was responsible for the destruction of the altar. Gideon was found out immediately. He should have been bold to begin with because what he did could not be hidden.
b. Bring out your son, that he may die, because he has torn down the altar of Baal: This shows just how powerful Baal worship was in Israel at this time. “The heresy had become the main religion.” (Wolf)
i. Ancient Israel worshipped Baal because he was thought to be the god of weather, and they relied on the weather for agricultural prosperity. In the hard economic times because of the Midianite oppression, people worshipped Baal all the more - not understanding that they only made things worse by not turning to God.
c. If he is a god, let him plead for himself, because his altar has been torn down! Gideon’s father made a very logical argument for preserving his son’s life. Since Baal is the offended party, he can defend himself.
i. This is similar to what happened during a great move of God in the South Seas in the 19th Century. One tribal chief was converted to Christianity and he gathered up all the idols of his people. He told the idols he was going to destroy them, and then he gave them the chance to run away. He destroyed all the ones that sat there like dumb statues.
ii. This incident gave Gideon the nickname Jerubbaal.
3. (Judges 6:33-35) Gideon gathers an army.
Then all the Midianites and Amalekites, the people of the East, gathered together; and they crossed over and encamped in the Valley of Jezreel. But the Spirit of the LORD came upon Gideon; then he blew the trumpet, and the Abiezrites gathered behind him. And he sent messengers throughout all Manasseh, who also gathered behind him. He also sent messengers to Asher, Zebulun, and Naphtali; and they came up to meet them.
a. The Spirit of the LORD came upon Gideon: This follows the familiar pattern of the Spirit’s work upon men under the Old Covenant. The Holy Spirit comes upon specific people for specific reasons, usually for divinely empowered leadership. Under the New Covenant, a broad and generous outpouring of the Holy Spirit is promised upon all flesh (Joel 2:28-29, Acts 2:17-18).
b. Then he blew the trumpet: Because of this divine empowering, Gideon was able to gather an impressive number of troops on short notice. Judges 7:3 tells us that 32,000 men came to follow him into battle.
4. (Judges 6:36-40) God assures Gideon’s doubts.
So Gideon said to God, “If You will save Israel by my hand as You have said; look, I shall put a fleece of wool on the threshing floor; if there is dew on the fleece only, and it is dry on all the ground, then I shall know that You will save Israel by my hand, as You have said.” And it was so. When he rose early the next morning and squeezed the fleece together, he wrung the dew out of the fleece, a bowlful of water. Then Gideon said to God, “Do not be angry with me, but let me speak just once more: Let me test, I pray, just once more with the fleece; let it now be dry only on the fleece, but on all the ground let there be dew.” And God did so that night. It was dry on the fleece only, but there was dew on all the ground.
a. If you will save Israel by my hand as You have said: Gideon asked God to do another miracle to confirm His word. Then he asked God to a third miracle to confirm it again.
i. Sometimes Christians talk about putting out a “fleece” before the LORD. This phrase refers back to what Gideon did here. He used a literal fleece in asking God to confirm His Word with a sign.
b. Then I shall know that You will save Israel by my hand, as You have said: Gideon showed that he had a weak, imperfect faith. We can understand (and encourage) his request for one sign (fulfilled in Judges 6:17-21). But asking for second and third signs shows that his faith was weak.
i. The test was wrong because it was essentially a trick, and it had nothing to do with fighting the Midianites. Gideon probably didn’t understand that he was actually dictating his terms to God. Sometimes God shows His displeasure with such requests. In Luke 1:18, when Zechariah, John the Baptist’s father, asked for a confirming sign, the LORD made him mute until the birth of his son.
ii. Gideon also did not keep his word. God fulfilled the sign once, and Gideon said that would be enough for him. But he went back on his word after God fulfilled the first sign. Yet the LORD was still merciful and gracious to Gideon.
iii. Before being too hard on Gideon, we should consider the challenge that is ahead of him. Many of us would dismiss such a call out of hand, without even considering allowing God to confirm it. Gideon’s weak faith is still greater than no faith. No wonder Gideon is included in the “hall of faith.” (Hebrews 11:32)
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