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Bible Commentaries
Judges 6

Pett's Commentary on the BiblePett's Commentary


Chapter 6. Gideon.

In this chapter we have an account of the distressed condition Israel was in as a result of continual Midianite invasion; 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, whereby 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; and 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.

Verse 1

Chapter 6. Gideon.

In this chapter we have an account of the distressed condition Israel was in as a result of continual Midianite invasion; 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, whereby 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; and 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 (Judges 6:1 to Judges 8:32 ).

The Continual Invasions by Midian, Amalek and the Children of the East (Judges 6:1-6 ).

Judges 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; Exodus 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; Genesis 37:25 on; Exodus 3:1; Numbers 22:4; Numbers 22:7), and were fairly widespread. Because of what they had done to Israel some suffered at the hands of Israel (Numbers 25:16-18; Numbers 31:2; Numbers 31:7-12). 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.

Verse 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.

Verse 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.

Verse 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.

Verse 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; Deuteronomy 28:38. 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.

Judges 6:6 a

‘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.

Judges 6:6 b

‘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’.

Verses 7-10

Yahweh Sends His Prophet (Judges 6:7-10 ).

Judges 6:7-8 a

‘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.

Judges 6:8-9

“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.

Judges 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.

Verse 11

The Call of Gideon and His Response (Judges 6:11-32 ).

Judges 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 Judges 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 Num 26:30 ; 1 Chronicles 7:18.

“Stationed Himself under the oak.” We can compare with this how Deborah ‘stationed herself’ under a palm tree (Judges 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.

Verse 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.

Verse 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?

Verse 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).

Verse 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; Exodus 4:13). The word for ‘Lord’ is vocalised differently here compared with its vocalisation in Judges 6:13, 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’; Judges 6:27 -’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 (Judges 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’.

Verse 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 (Judges 6:22), although intercommunication between the Angel and Yahweh is sometimes revealed (Zechariah 1:13).

Verses 17-18

Judges 6:17-18 a

‘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.

Judges 6:18 b

‘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.

Verse 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 b y Abraham, a passage which Gideon may have had in mind. But this was a feast indeed.

Verse 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.

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.

Verse 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.

Verse 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.

Verse 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.

Verse 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 Judges 6:26. The use of such a pre-summary is a regular device in the Pentateuch. Judges 6:26 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.

Verse 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).

Verse 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’ usually in Israel 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; Leviticus 4:21) 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.

Verse 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 Judges 6:31, 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.

Verse 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.

Verse 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.

Verse 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.

Verse 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.

Verse 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’.

Verse 33

Gideon Goes Forth in the Name of Yahweh And Is Reduced to Three Hundred Men (Judges 6:33 to Judges 7:8 ).

Judges 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. 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.

Verse 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.

Verse 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.

Verse 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.

Verse 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.

Verse 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.

Verse 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.

Verse 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.

Bibliographical Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Judges 6". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/pet/judges-6.html. 2013.
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