David Guzik Commentary on the Bible
The Call of Gideon
A. Apostasy, servitude and supplication.
1. (1) Israels 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 Gods grace and mercy to Israel because the oppression would make them turn back to God. It would have been worse if God had just left them alone.
2. (2-6) The details of Israels 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, living as cave-dwellers instead of properly civilized people.
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 steal what the Israelites grew (leave no sustenance for Israel).
i. Israels 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. There are many accomplished men who lose everything in life because they wont stop their sin. All is lost in order to gain what, in retrospect, seems like nothing.
ii. As far as Gaza: That is, the whole breadth of the land, from Jordan to the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. Thus the whole land was ravaged and the inhabitants deprived of the necessaries of life. (Clarke)
c. Both they and their camels were without number: The Midianites were a desert-dwelling people and they 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. (7-10) In response to Israels 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 first 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 before deliver from Egypt, still loved them enough to now deliver them from the Midianites.
ii. This reminded them of the power of God. The God powerful enough to before deliver from Egypt was still powerful enough to now 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 wasnt 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 didnt 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. (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:
Lord turned to him and said (Judges 6:14)
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.
i. This was a place of privacy; he could not make a threshing-floor in open day as the custom was, and bring either the wheel over the grain, or tread it out with the feet of the oxen, for fear of the Midianites, who were accustomed to come and take it away as soon as threshed. (Clarke)
ii. So God called Moses and David from following the ewes, Elisha from the plough-tail, the apostles from fishing, washing, and mending their nets. He usually appeared to the busy in visions, like as Satan doth to the idle in manifold temptations. (Trapp)
c. The Lord is with you, you mighty man of valor! This was a strange greeting to Gideon. It didnt seem like the Lord was with him and it didnt seem that he was a mighty man of valor. Gideon might have turned to see if there was another person to whom the angel spoke.
i. Wherein did that valor consist? Apparently, he was a simple man living a very ordinary life. The Angel found him about his daily duty. (Morgan)
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.
i. Yet to his credit, it bothered Gideon that Israel was in this condition. He was far from apathetic or fatalistic. He is revealed as a man continuing his work with the bitterness of the whole situation burning like a fire in his bones. (Morgan)
2. (14-16) Gideons call to Gods 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 fathers 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. Yet the Angel of the Lord didnt mock Gideon when he told him, Go in this might of yours. Gideon indeed had might, but not as we might normally think.
might of the humble, threshing wheat on the winepress floor
might of the caring, because he cared about the low place of Israel
might of knowledge, because he knew God did great things in the past
might of the spiritually hungry because he wanted to see God to great works again
might of the teachable, because he listened to what the Angel of the Lord said
might of the weak, and Gods strength is perfected in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9)
b. O my Lord, how can I save Israel? Gideon had might to go forth in, but he could not see himself as someone who could do great things for God. He thought of himself as insignificant, 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 to rescue Israel.
c. Surely I will be with you, and you shall defeat the Midianites as one man: Gods 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 has 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. (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 dont 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 Gods Word. Yet when it comes to guidance in things not specifically detailed in Gods Word, it is possible to 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.
i. Here was a sign that the Midianites should be destroyed without mans labour. (Trapp)
4. (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.
a. Now Gideon perceived that He was the Angel of the Lord: This demonstrates that before this, Gideon believed that this person was simply a man. The appearance of the Angel of the Lord was completely human in its character.
b. Peace be with you; do not fear, you shall not die: Once Gideon realized the identity of the Angel of the Lord, he was terrified. The Angel of the Lord brought this comforting word to the terrified Gideon.
i. Why was Gideon afraid? Not because he was a coward-you will scarcely meet with a braver man in all Scripture than this son of Joash-but because even brave men are alarmed at the supernatural. He saw something which he had never seen before, an appearance celestial, mysterious, above what is usually seen of mortal men; therefore, as he feared God, Gideon was afraid. (Spurgeon)
c. So Gideon built an altar there to the Lord: Gideon did this as an act of worship and consecration unto the Lord, whom he had just encountered face-to-face. He was no longer terrified of God, as demonstrated by the title given to the altar: The-Lord-Is-Peace.
i. When Gideon is fully at peace, what does he begin to do for God? If God loves you he will use you either for suffering or service; and if he has given you peace you must now prepare for war. Will you think me odd if I say that our Lord came to give us peace that he might send us out to war? (Spurgeon)
C. The beginning of Gideons ministry.
1. (25-27) Removing Baal worship from his midst.
Now it came to pass the same night that the Lord said to him, Take your fathers 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 fathers household and the men of the city too much to do it by day, he did it by night.
a. The same night that the Lord said to him: This happened right away. When Gideon made himself responsive to God, God guided him. Perhaps it happened as soon as Gideon built the altar; with the altar built, now God commanded him to sacrifice something on it.
b. Tear down the altar of Baal that your father has: In Gideons community, Baal was worshipped right along side of Yahweh. God called Gideon to get his own house in order first.
i. It seems that two bulls were to be offered; one as a sin offering, and the other as a consecration offering. It appears that the second bullock was offered, because it was just seven years old, Judges 6:25, being calved about the time that the Midianitish oppression began; and it was now to be slain to indicate that their slavery should end with its life. (Clarke)
c. He did it by night: Gideon probably did this at night and under the cover of secrecy because he feared that his fathers household and the men of the city would prevent him from doing what needed to be done.
2. (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 didnt have a hard time figuring out who was responsible for the destruction of the altar. Gideon was found out immediately. 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.
ii. They all felt an interest in the continuance of rites in which they had often many sensual gratifications. Baal and Ashtaroth would have more worshippers than the true God, because their rites were more adapted to the fallen nature of man. (Clarke)
c. If he is a god, let him plead for himself, because his altar has been torn down! Gideons father made a very logical argument for preserving his sons life. Since Baal was the offended party, he could 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. The name means, A man against whom Baal is to strive and contend; a title of honour. (Trapp)
3. (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 Spirits 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. (36-40) God assures Gideons 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: God already gave Gideon a sign (Judges 6:17-21). Here, Gideon asked God to do a second miracle to confirm His word – and then 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.
ii. Adam Clarke described how the early church commentator Origen, who was given to allegorizing, found the deeper meaning of this account:
The fleece was covered with dew while all around was dry, representing the Jewish nation favored with the law and the prophets.
The dew wrung out into the bowl represents the doctrines of Christianity, which are extracted from the Jewish writings. This is also shadowed forth by Christs pouring water into a basin and washing the disciples feet.
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. For such a bold, life-endangering mission, one might understand (and encourage) his request for one sign (fulfilled in Judges 6:17-21). But asking for second and third signs showed 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 didnt 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 Baptists 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. This is an outstanding example of Gods gracious patience with a troubled child. (Wood)
iii. Yet before being too critical of Gideon, we should consider the challenge that was ahead of him. Many of us would immediately refuse such a call, without even considering allowing God to confirm it. Gideons weak faith was still greater than no faith. For this reason, Gideon is rightly included in the register of great men and women of faith (Hebrews 11:32).
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