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D. The fourth apostasy 6:1-10:5
The writer of Judges structured this book so the story of Gideon would be its focal center. Robert Chisholm Jr. argued that the events described in Judges 6:1 to Judges 16:31 were chronologically parallel to those in Judges 3:7 to Judges 5:31, thus harmonizing the events in Judges with 1 Kings 6:1. [Note: Robert B. Chisholm Jr., "The Chronology of the Book of Judges," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 52:2 (June 2009):247-55.]
"Within the main body of the book, seven major narrative blocks can be noted. Moreover, there are certain parallel features between these narratives so that the entire book reflects a carefully worked symmetrical pattern. Furthermore this pattern has as its focal point the Gideon narrative in Judges 6:1 to Judges 8:32.
"A Introduction, Part I (Judges 1:1 to Judges 2:5)
B Introduction, Part II (Judges 2:6 to Judges 3:6)
C Othniel Narrative (Judges 3:7-11)
D Ehud Narrative (Judges 3:12-31)
E Deborah-Barak Narrative (Judges 4:1 to Judges 5:31)
F Gideon Narrative (Judges 6:1 to Judges 8:32)
E’ Abimelech Narrative (Judges 8:33 to Judges 10:5)
D’ Jephthah Narrative (Judges 10:6 to Judges 12:15)
C’ Samson Narrative (Judges 13:1 to Judges 16:31)
B’ Epilogue, Part I (Judges 17:1 to Judges 18:31)
A’ Epilogue, Part II (Judges 19:1 to Judges 21:25)
"This arrangement suggests that the Gideon narrative has a unique contribution to make to the theological development of the book. As the nation went from one cycle of discipline to the next, there was a continual deterioration. Also there was a shift in the ’quality’ of the judges themselves as the book advances. The Gideon narrative seems to mark a notable turning point." [Note: Tanner, p. 150. See also D. W. Gooding, "The Composition of the Book of Judges," Eretz Israel 16 (1982):70-79; and Barry G. Webb, The Book of Judges: An Integrated Reading, JSOT Supplement Series 46 (Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1987).]
Renewed apostasy and its punishment 6:1-10
The Midianites were Bedouin nomads and descendants of Abraham and Keturah (Genesis 25:1-2) who occupied the plains that bordered the Arabian Desert to the east of Moab and Ammon. They were raiders who descended on the Israelites at harvest times, stole their crops and possessions, and then retreated to their own land (cf. Isaiah 9:4; Isaiah 10:26; Isaiah 60:6). They did not want to kill the Israelites and take over their land. They preferred to let the Israelites sow and harvest their crops and then steal what God’s people had labored so hard to produce. The Midianites conducted their raids on camels that made them very hard to overtake in pursuit.
"This is the earliest instance of such a phenomenon of which we have record. The effective domestication of the camel had been accomplished somewhat earlier deep in Arabia and had now spread to tribal confederacies to the south and east of Palestine, giving them a mobility such as they had never had before." [Note: Bright, p. 158.]
To conceal their harvested crops and other valuable possessions, the Israelites hid them in caves and other holes in the ground. Many of the mountainous areas of Israel abound with natural caves and dens.
The Amalekites and other tribes that lived in the Arabian Desert east of Canaan joined the Midianites in their raids. These desert-dwellers were the "sons of the east" (Judges 6:3). The raids extended all the way to Gaza on the Mediterranean coast (Judges 6:4), far into Israel.
After seven years of these locust-like devastating raids (cf. Deuteronomy 28:31; Deuteronomy 28:38; Joel 1:4), the Israelites were at their wits end and called out to Yahweh in their misery (Judges 6:6). In response to their cries God sent an unnamed prophet (Judges 6:8) to explain the reason for their discipline. They had again disobeyed the Lord (Judges 6:10). Yet now the prophet God sent did not deliver the people (cf. Judges 4:4-7), but chastened them. This is another subtle sign that things were getting worse in Israel. The Book of Judges portrays a God who cannot help but be generous in spite of His people’s waywardness.
1. The story of Gideon 6:1-8:32
Paul Tanner pointed out that the Gideon narrative consists of five primary structural sections.
"The first section (Judges 6:1-10) provides the introduction and setting before Gideon’s debut, the second section (Judges 6:11-32) gives the commissioning of Gideon as deliverer of Israel, the third section (Judges 6:33 to Judges 7:18) presents the preparation for the battle, the fourth section (Judges 7:19 to Judges 8:21) recounts the defeat of the Midianite army, and the fifth section (Judges 8:22-32) records the conclusion to Gideon’s life after the victory over Midian. Yet thematic parallels exist between the first and fifth sections and between the second and fourth sections, thus giving the whole narrative a symmetrical pattern:
A’ 8:22-32" [Note: Tanner, p. 151.]
Other scholars divide the Gideon narrative into three parts: God’s punishment and deliverance of Israel (Judges 6:1 to Judges 8:3), Gideon’s punishment and subjugation of Israel (Judges 8:4-28), and Gideon’s legacy (Judges 8:29 to Judges 9:57). [Note: Block, Judges . . ., pp. 250-307. See also O’Connell, p. 139.]
"The history of Gideon and his family is related very fully, because the working of the grace and righteousness of the faithful covenant God was so obviously displayed therein, that it contained a rich treasure of instruction and warning for the church of the Lord in all ages." [Note: Keil and Delitzsch, p. 326.]
The appearance of the Angel of the Lord 6:11-18
"As the reproof of the prophet was intended to turn the hearts of the people once more to the Lord their God and deliverer, so the manner in which God called Gideon to be their deliverer, and rescued Israel from its oppressors through his instrumentality, was intended to furnish the most evident proof that the help and salvation of Israel were not to be found in man, but solely in their God." [Note: Keil and Delitzsch, p. 330.]
Gideon’s name means "Hewer." God used him to cut down the altar of Baal and then the Midianites.
In calling Gideon to deliver the Israelites, God revealed Himself twice. First, God appeared to Gideon and spoke directly to him through the Angel of the Lord (Judges 6:11-24; cf. Genesis 32:28). Second, He commanded Gideon to destroy the local Baal worship and renew the worship of Yahweh (Judges 6:25-32; cf. Judges 2:1-3; 1 Kings 18:30-40). In the first case God acknowledged Gideon, and in the second He called on Gideon to acknowledge Him as his God.
Ophrah was a village over which Gideon’s father, Joash, exercised a strong influence (Judges 6:11; cf. Judges 6:24). Its exact location is uncertain, but it appears to have been in the Jezreel Valley.
Normally the Israelites beat out their wheat in the open field or on a raised piece of ground. The prevailing wind would blow the lighter chaff away while the heavier grain would fall to the ground. However, Gideon was beating out his grain in a winepress. The Israelites built winepresses in lower lying areas so the juice of the grapes would not run off. Gideon’s use of a winepress for threshing grain points to the Midianite threat that he felt. To remain unnoticed he beat out his grain in a less conspicuous place (Judges 6:11).
The Angel in His greeting (Judges 6:12) addressed Gideon as the man he would become by God’s enablement, not the man he was then. In the same way, God had called Abraham the father of a multitude before he had any children. He called Peter a rock before he behaved as one. He also calls Christians saints even though we are not yet as saintly as God will make us. Alternatively, this may simply have been a complimentary address. [Note: Block, Judges . . ., p. 260.]
"One of the great truths of Scripture is that when God looks at us, He does not see us for what we are, but for what we can become, as He works in our lives." [Note: Inrig, p. 84.]
Gideon could not understand why the Israelites were suffering as they were, if Yahweh was indeed with His people (Judges 6:13; cf. Deuteronomy 31:17). He failed to realize that their condition was the result of their abandoning God, not His abandoning them.
"’Sins, not afflictions, argue God’s absence.’" [Note: Bishop Hall, quoted by Bush, p. 85. Cf. Joshua 7:10-13.]
The strength of Gideon to which the Angel referred (Judges 6:14) was what God’s promised presence and commission guaranteed (Judges 6:14; Judges 6:16). Gideon did not disbelieve the Angel as much as he failed to understand how he could be God’s instrument of deliverance. He was the youngest and therefore the least esteemed in his father’s household. Furthermore his family was a comparatively insignificant one in Manasseh (Judges 6:15). Gideon was looking for natural signs of leadership, but God was promising supernatural enablement.
To confirm that the Angel really was a divine messenger, Gideon requested some supernatural confirmation that this calling was from God (Judges 6:17). He then prepared to offer his guest a token of his hospitality (Judges 6:18).
Gideon’s commissioning by Yahweh 6:11-32
". . . the heroic women of the song [of Deborah, ch. 5] give way to an unheroic ’man of Israel’ (Judges 7:14) who not only does all he can to evade the call of Yahweh but in the end abandons God. . . . In the person of Gideon the narrator recognizes the schizophrenic nature of Israel’s spiritual personality. On the one hand she treasures her call to be God’s covenant people; on the other she cannot resist the allurements of the prevailing Canaanite culture." [Note: Block, Judges . . ., p. 250.]
The writer presented Gideon as sort of a second Moses in his calling. Both men were very reluctant to lead God’s people (cf. Exodus 3-4).
The Angel’s sign 6:19-24
The food Gideon offered his visitor was what a person would normally set before a guest one wished to honor in a special way in that culture. The Angel directed Gideon to place the food on the rock as a sacrifice on an altar. The Angel’s miracle convinced Gideon that He was God and that He would fulfill His promises to be with Gideon and to grant him victory. Perhaps Gideon remembered how God had consumed the sacrifice on the brazen altar similarly when the Israelites dedicated the tabernacle in the wilderness. If so, this memory might have encouraged him to believe that the same God who had delivered Israel then was still with His people and could deliver them again.
"The acceptance of the sacrifice was also a token of the acceptance of his person; it went to confirm the commission now given him, and to afford him every needed assurance of success." [Note: Bush, p. 88.]
This miracle strengthened Gideon’s faith greatly. In building an altar to Yahweh, Gideon acknowledged Him as his God.
"God had taught Gideon that it was not his inadequacy but God’s adequacy that really counted." [Note: Inrig, p. 95.]
God presented Himself to Gideon as the same God who had appeared to the patriarchs and had fulfilled His promises to them (cf. Genesis 18).
Gideon’s public confession 6:25-32
"Under normal circumstances the narrative should have proceeded directly from Judges 6:24 to Judges 6:33-35, and then on to Judges 7:1. But the normal sequence is interrupted twice to deal with a pair of abnormalities. The first is an objective issue, the presence of a pagan cult installation in Gideon’s father’s own backyard. The second is a subjective problem, Gideon’s persistent resistance to the call of God." [Note: Block, Judges . . ., p. 265.]
After the Angel had vanished, the Lord appeared to Gideon again the same night. He commanded him to tear down his family’s pagan altar and its accompanying Asherah pole, build an altar to Yahweh, and offer his father’s bull as a burnt offering of worship. Gideon’s name means "hacker," and this event may have been the source of it. This act would constitute a public confession of Gideon’s commitment to the Lord. It was necessary for him to take this stand personally before the nation would follow him as its judge. Compare Moses’ need to circumcise his son (Exodus 4:24-26). The real problem in Israel was not the Midianites’ oppression but Israel’s spiritual bondage due to idolatry.
Probably Gideon used one bull to pull apart the Canaanite altar, which he then offered as a burnt offering to Yahweh. [Note: See Block, Judges . . ., p. 266.] This sacrifice served a twofold purpose. Burnt offerings of worship made atonement and symbolized the offerer’s total dedication to the Lord. Gideon’s sacrifice also constituted a rejection of Baal worship since the bull was the sacred animal in the Baal fertility cult. [Note: Cundall and Morris, p. 107.] The fact that the bull was seven years old, strong, and healthy may have symbolized that the current seven-year oppression by Israel’s enemies was about to end. On the other hand it may have indicated that the destruction of Baal worship to follow would be an act of God. Gideon’s fear of being observed as he obeyed God (Judges 6:27) was natural since veneration of Baal was strong in his family and town (Judges 6:28-30).
"How different from Deuteronomy 13:6-10, where Moses commanded that even close relatives must be stoned for idolatry! The heresy had become the main religion." [Note: Wolf, p. 422.]
"The sentence that should have been imposed on idolators [sic] is pronounced upon the one who destroys the idol!" [Note: Block, Judges . . ., p. 268.]
However, Gideon’s daring act of faith inspired his father Joash to take a stand for Yahweh (Judges 6:31) even though Joash had been a leader of Baal worship (Judges 6:25). The person Gideon probably feared most, his father, became his most outspoken defender.
"The probability, we think, is that Gideon, perceiving in the morning to what a pitch of exasperation the citizens were wrought, and how seriously they threatened his life, took occasion frankly to inform his father of the visit of the angel, and of all the circumstances of his call and commission, and that this, added to his feelings as a father, had served at once to convince him of his former error and to determine to stand by his son against the rage of the populace." [Note: Bush, p. 92.]
"There are some profound spiritual implications in Gideon’s assignment. 1. Baal must go before Midian can go. . . . 2. God’s altar cannot be built until Baal’s altar is destroyed. . . . 3. The place we must start is in our own backyard." [Note: Inrig, pp. 100-101.]
Gideon’s personal struggle to believe God’s promise 6:33-7:18
"The primary matter in the Gideon narrative is not the deliverance itself, but rather something more personal, namely, Gideon’s struggle to believe God’s promise. . . .
"Judges 6:33 to Judges 7:18 is arranged in the following concentric pattern:
"A The Spirit-endowed Gideon mobilized four tribes against the Midianites, though lacking confidence in God’s promise (Judges 6:33-35).
B Gideon sought a sign from God with the fleece to confirm the promise that the Lord would give Midian into his hand (Judges 6:36-40).
C. With the fearful Israelites having departed, God directed Gideon to go down to the water for the further reduction of his force (Judges 7:1-8).
C’ With fear still in Gideon himself, God directed Gideon to go down to the enemy camp to overhear the enemy (Judges 7:9-11).
B’ God provided a sign to Gideon with the dream of the Midianite to confirm the promise that the Lord would give Midian into his hand (Judges 7:12-14).
A’ The worshiping Gideon mobilized his force of 300 for a surprise attack against the Midianites, fully confident in God’s promise (Judges 7:15-18).
"The reduction of Gideon’s army is a familiar story often told from the perspective of emphasizing God’s ability to deliver whether by many or by few. While this is true, such an explanation falls short of doing justice in this context. The context is dealing with a struggle within Gideon himself." [Note: Tanner, p. 157.]
The mobilizing of four tribes in fear 6:33-35
Some time later Israel’s enemies from the East again crossed the Jordan and massed their forces in the Valley of Jezreel near Gideon’s home (Judges 6:33). They numbered 135,000, or 135 units, depending on the meaning of eleph here (Judges 8:10). "Thousand" seems preferable (cf. Judges 7:12). This foray appears to have been the Midianites’ annual invasion.
Gideon wished to reconfirm the Lord’s promise to be with him and to lead him in victory against the enemy. Perhaps considerable time had elapsed between Gideon’s call (Judges 6:11-32) and this new threat of attack. The Spirit of the Lord came upon (lit. clothed) Gideon in a special way strengthening and defending him for his great task (Judges 6:34; cf. Genesis 28:20; Isaiah 59:17). He then sent out a call for men from several of the other tribes to join him and his family to fight the Midianites (Judges 6:34-35).
"When the ’spirit of the LORD’ first appears in Judges 3:10, it possesses Othniel, the first judge; and deliverance follows immediately. Here, however, when the spirit possesses Gideon, and despite the auspicious sign that several tribes fall into place when Gideon sounds the trumpet (Judges 6:34-35), Gideon hesitates (Judges 6:36-40). Apparently, the spirit is not effective apart from human participation . . ." [Note: McCann, pp. 65-66. Cf. 11:29-40; 13:1-25.]
Gideon’s desire for encouragement 6:36-40
The Lord graciously answered Gideon’s request for additional signs that God was with him. Gideon did not need to request these signs; God had already promised to help him (Judges 6:14; Judges 6:16) and had given him a sign (Judges 6:21). Notwithstanding, Gideon’s faith needed some added support, and God provided this without reproof (cf. James 1:5).
"The remarkable thing is that God responds to his tests. He is more anxious to deliver Israel than to quibble with this man’s semipagan notions of deity." [Note: Block, Judges . . ., p. 273.]
"Gideon’s fleece is not a sign of faith. It is the opposite. It is not a search for God’s will. It is a desperate grasp for security by one who knows clearly what that will is but who is reluctant to do it." [Note: Idem, "Gideon: A Rough Vessel," The Standard 77:2 (February 1987):25. See idem, Judges . . ., p. 307.]
Perhaps Gideon used a woolen fleece simply because it was handy. He asked God to cause the dew to settle on the fleece that night but not on the surrounding ground. In the morning he discovered that is what God had done. Gideon may have concluded that he had asked the wrong thing since wool attracts dew. In any case he asked God to let the dew fall on the ground but not on the fleece the next night. God did this too. Thus, this double demonstration, that God was indeed with him, and would grant him victory as He had promised, strengthened Gideon’s faith.
Some students of this story have seen a deeper meaning in these signs than is immediately apparent.
"Dew in the Scriptures is a symbol of the beneficent power of God, which quickens, revives, and invigorates the objects of nature, when they have been parched by the burning heat of the sun’s rays. The first sign was to be a pledge to him of the visible, tangible blessing of the Lord upon His people, the proof that He would grant them power over their mighty foes by whom Israel was then oppressed. The woollen fleece represented the nation of Israel in its condition at this time, when God had given power to the foe that was devastating its land, and had withdrawn His blessing from Israel. The moistening of the fleece with the dew of heaven whilst the land all round continued dry, was a sign that the Lord God would once more give strength to His people from on high, and withdraw it from the nations of the earth. Hence the second sign acquires the more general signification, ’that the Lord manifested himself even in the weakness and forsaken condition of his people, while the nations were flourishing all around’ (O. v. Gerl.) . . . ." [Note: Keil and Delitzsch, pp. 339-40.]
Did God intend the dew, the fleece, and the ground to represent these things? Whether He did or not, it is clear that these two miraculous demonstrations of God’s presence and power strengthened Gideon’s faith. Gideon was now ready to lead the Israelites against their foes.
"The manipulation of dew would be a powerful way for the real deity to stand up and be counted since both Baal and the Lord had claimed the right to provide this moisture so critical to survival in the land. On a threshing floor before the soldiers of Israel God used the manipulation of dew to confirm His power and presence at the expense of Baal." [Note: John A. Beck, "Gideon, Dew, and the Narrative-Geographical Shaping of Judges 6:33-40," Bibliotheca Sacra 165:657 (January-March 2008):28-38.]
Note four things that God used to prepare Gideon in this chapter. First, Gideon met the preincarnate Christ. Second, he committed himself to following Yahweh. Third, he obeyed the Lord by taking a public stand for Him, relying on His promises. Fourth, the Holy Spirit gave Gideon supernatural power. When the people God calls to Himself respond positively by committing themselves to Him and standing up for Him, He strengthens their faith so He can use them in greater ways. His ability can overcome the inability of His servants if they rely on His promises, even though their faith may be weak.
"All the judges except Abimelech countered a foreign threat, but only in the case of Gideon is there an extensive personal interaction between the judge and the Lord. This observation suggests that the narrative provides more than simply a victory account for future generations of Israel’s defeat of Midian. While it is true that Samson offered up a few quick prayers, only in the case of Gideon is there a focus on the judge’s faith and his coming to grips with the Lord’s call on his life." [Note: Tanner, p. 156.]
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Judges 6". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany