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Bible Commentaries

The Pulpit Commentaries
Judges 6

 

 

Verses 1-10

EXPOSITION

6:1

Midian. In Numbers 22:7 we read of the Midianites as allied with the Moabites in their hostility to the children of Israel, and we find them willing agents of Balaam s iniquitous counsels (Numbers 25:6, Numbers 25:17, Numbers 25:18; Numbers 31:7, Numbers 31:8), and suffering a terrible chastisement from the Israelites in consequence. An abiding national feud was the natural consequence; and this, added to their love of plunder, no doubt led to the present invasion in company with the Amalekites ( 3:13, note). Observe the contrast between the victory described in Numbers 31:1-54. and the defeat narrated in this chapter.

6:2

The dens … and caves. In the writer's time certain hiding-places called by the above names were traditionally known as the places where the Israelites took refuge during the terrible Midianite invasion. The limestone hills of Palestine abounded in such caves.

6:3

Children of the east. We first find this term in Genesis 29:1, where it is applied to the people of Haran. Comparing the analogous phrases, "the east country" (Genesis 25:6), the mountains of the east (Numbers 23:7), "the men of the east" (Job 1:3), "the east" (Isaiah 2:3; Matthew 2:1), we gather that the country lying to the east of Palestine as far as the river Euphrates was called the east country, and that the various tribes of Arabs and others who peopled that desert were called "the children of the cast" (see Genesis 29:33 and 7:12; 8:10).

6:4

Left no sustenance, etc; i.e. neither grass, nor corn, nor fruit. It is added, neither sheep, nor ox, nor ass. These all either died for want of food or were seized by the Midianites. The next verse explains that the enormous multitudes of their cattle and camels consumed the whole produce of the ground.

6:5

As grasshoppers. See the striking description of the destruction caused by locusts in Joel 3:1-21. I have heard travellers in India describe the sudden darkening of the sky by a flight of locusts.

6:8

A prophet. Literally, a man, a prophet, just as Deborah was described as a woman, a prophetess ( 4:4). It is interesting to observe the flow of the spirit of prophecy in those early days between Moses and Samuel, before the dispensation of the prophets had risen to its height. I brought you up from Egypt. Note the constant reference to the exodus as a fixed point in their national and religious life (see 6:13; 2:1).

HOMILETICS

6:1-10

The fruit of ingratitude.

What a condemnation of Israel there was in the simple statement of facts by the mouth of the prophet, without exaggeration and without comment. God had brought them up from the land of Egypt with a mighty hand and a stretched-out arm; when they were in bondage he had broken their yoke; when they were oppressed he had set them free; when the multitudes of Moabites, and Ammonites, and Midianites, and Canaanites, had opposed their entrance into the land of promise, God had brushed them all away and given their land to the Israelites. He had accompanied these acts of grace and power with a simple command not to worship the idols of Canaan, but to remember that Jehovah was their God, but they had not obeyed his voice. They had forsaken God, to whom they owed all they had, and they had turned to heathen vanities. What need to say any more? They were now reaping what they had sown. They were helpless because they had cast off him who had helped them so wondrously, and who would have been their help in every time of need if they had not so wantonly forsaken him. And in like manner how often will a bare statement of facts be enough to overwhelm us with guilt and shame! Let any man be his own prophet, and with unflinching truth record the incidents of a year or a day of his own life. "God in his abounding grace and love redeemed me by the blood of his dear Son; he freely forgave me my trespasses and sins; he received me into the adoption of children, by Jesus Christ, unto himself; he sealed me with the Holy Spirit of promise; he crowned me with loving-kindness and tender mercy; he showed me the kingdom of heaven, and bid me enter into it; he showed me the deadly evil of sin; he showed me the beauty and loveliness of goodness; he said to me, Abhor that which is evil, and cleave to that which is good. But I have not hearkened to his voice; I have forgotten his love, and despised his grace; I have disbelieved his word, and have believed the lying promises of sin; I have loved the world; I have been the slave of my own lusts, and the subject of my own passions; I have turned aside with the multitude of evil-doers, and I am now eating the fruit of my own doings; I have forsaken God, and so God has forsaken me."

HOMILIES BY A.F. MUIR

6:1-6

Israel's extremity.

With repeated defection a severer punishment is needed and inflicted. Midian is not only a neighbour, but one who encircles Israel on south, south-east, and east. It was a name given to the great Arab tribes living east of the Red Sea, and south and east of Canaan. Unlike a comparatively civilised nation, they are not satisfied with receiving tribute; they render husbandry and the arts of civilised life impossible by lawless raids, ceaseless devastation, and wanton destruction. It is a new terror. Israel may be overwhelmed and stamped out if this curse of the wilderness be not restrained.

I. ISRAEL'S ABANDONMENT OF JEHOVAH IS PUNISHED BY AN APPARENT ABANDONMENT OF ISRAEL BY JEHOVAH. It seems a light punishment; really there could scarcely be a harder one. Let the sinner and the backslider consider what their condition would be were God just to treat them as they treat him. Even the mildest phase of such discipline could not be long bearable. Simply to be left to oneself—let alone—what tragic possibilities does that suggest! But when enemies of the most ruthless description overrun our land, and have us at their mercy, how much does abandonment mean! It is in such times we learn how much we owe to Divine inter- position hour by hour. The moral consciousness of Israel was consequently lowered. So of all in like cases.

II. THE MANNER AND EXTENT OF THEIR DISCIPLINE ARE SUGGESTIVE OF THE HEINOUSNESS or THEIR OFFENCE. Things had come to such a pass that only a full experience of the worst of their heathenish and idolatrous neighbours would avail. There is little or no love of God left; let the consequences of their unbelief teach them a bitter hatred of evil; in time it will drive them back to the doctrine and practice of truth for very life. By and by they will learn to love it again. We have but to think of God's loving nature and infinite tenderness to see how desperate such a measure is. If forbearance failed, no other remedy would suffice but this. All unbelief is this potentially. It was a glimpse of the horror of a godless world.

III. IT WAS A SALUTARY DISCIPLINE, BECAUSE IT LED THEM TO REPENTANCE AND PRAYER. God had no pleasure in this long agony; but neither, on the other hand, would he shorten it until due cause appeared. The result justified the severity. Saints often regard their calamities amongst their greatest mercies. How roughly handled have been some of God's dearest ones I But the worst is not ours to bear, since Christ died. There is no calamity we cannot take to him. He will distil sweetness from wormwood itself, and give us help in time of sorest need. "Whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth." He may be nearer to us in the affliction than in the prosperity.—M.

6:7, 6:8, 6:11, 6:34

Divine mercy: its adaptation and sufficiency.

The cry of distress is heard instantly by Jehovah, and the answer begins to come at once. But only as is best for the sinning nation. As there was discipline-in the misery to which Israel was reduced, so there is still discipline in the succession and several instalments of the mercy of God. The aim is not merely nor so much to deliver from the material evil to which they were subject, but to root out the unbelief and develop the spiritual life and moral heroism of the people.

I. THE IMMEDIACY OF GOD'S MERCY. "It came to pass, when the children of Israel cried ... that the Lord sent a prophet." There appears to be no interval. God begins to readjust his relations with Israel at once. But the material boon is not granted then. The sting must rankle until true repentance is forthcoming. Deliverance would have been a very questionable blessing under the circumstances. Freedom and independence are responsibilities as well as birthrights. So God hears the cry of the sinner always. "Not what we wish, but what we want," that in the end what we wish may be rendered spiritually advisable and blessed. The measure of comfort here was that God was not silent, prayer was not unavailing. There is hope in the opening of mercy's door, even though it be in reproof.

II. THE SUCCESSIONS OF GOD'S MERCY. First the cry of desperation and repentance, then the outward reproof, then the direction, encouragement, and training of a deliverer, then the recovery of national freedom, prosperity, and prestige. Flowerlike. So God adapts his blessings to the moral and spiritual capacity of his people. The Divine view of our misery and its requirements is the reverse of the human; we think of the material suffering, God of the moral defect and sin. These mercies as they come in train are manifestly education, that the work of grace may be effectual. "Grace for grace" is a law of his kingdom. And the dignity of God is never lost.

III. MERCY IN ITS CULMINATION. God did not stop short of ultimate deliverance, although it was not achieved at once. So "he crowneth us with his loving-kindness and tender mercy." It is no mere secular and vulgar deliverance. It is national re-creation. The chivalry of Israel is called forth. It is even more a religious than a military triumph. So the salvation of the soul has its splendours and glories. It is absolute, complete, and magnificent, crowning the life of the faithful. "An abundant entrance will be ministered" into the kingdom of his Son. "We are more than conquerors" through him.—M.

6:7-10

Merciful reproof.

The answer to prayer begins in reproof. An anonymous messenger is sent, a prophet probably from amongst the Israelites themselves. In such a season of distress and seclusion they would become strangers even to themselves. No biography is given of the prophet. He is raised for the occasion. His message is simple. But it is the utterance of the people's own national and individual conscience. He is a "voice crying in the wilderness," and saying, "Repent!"

I. THERE IS ENCOURAGEMENT EVEN IN GOD'S CHIDINGS. For—

1. They are better than absolute and final silence.

2. They are meant to bring us back to him, and not to drive us away.

3. His severity is to prepare us for his gentleness.

II. IT IS OFTEN AS NECESSARY AND PROFITABLE TO BE IMPRESSED WITH WHAT WE ALREADY KNOW AS TO RECEIVE NEW TRUTH. Revelation is not primarily intended to satisfy intellectual cravings, but to stimulate and enrich the moral nature. A sermon may be a mere exhortation, an impressive resume of acknowledged truth, and yet more valuable than if it were full of theological discoveries. Knowledge of God becomes religious and living when it is realized and acted upon. In this connection notice—

1. How impressive the personality of the prophet.

2. The heightening of the conscience of sin by contrast with remembered and recited mercies.

3. The tone and style of the discourse. It was short, direct, spoken to the conscience. Its chief message and its sting is in the conclusion. No word of comfort is uttered. The people are left with their consciousness of sin. But this in itself is a gracious work, and preparatory for everything that is good. Thorough repentance is the condition of deep and lasting piety.—M.

HOMILIES BY W.F. ADENEY

6:7-10

God sought and found in times of trouble.

I. TROUBLE DRIVES MEN TO GOD. The people forsook God in their prosperity, and neglected his service so long as they enjoyed their comfortable homes in peace. But now they are miserable fugitives hiding in wild mountain caves, they remember his goodness and cry to him for help. This is a common experience. It is to our shame that it must be confessed. We ought to seek God for his own sake, to worship him in the beauty of holiness, not merely to obtain blessings for ourselves. In prosperity we should recognise tokens of his love, and so lift up our thoughts to him in grateful recognition of his goodness. To turn to God only in the hour of our need is a sign of base selfishness. Nevertheless it is better to seek him then than not at all. And if it is disgraceful in us that trouble should be needed to drive us to God, it is merciful in him to send the trouble for that object. The calamity which leads to this result is the greatest blessing. Herein we may see the end of many of the most severe forms of adversity. They are sent to us in our indifference to rouse us to our need of God, and lead us to seek him. Hence we may conclude that if we sought God aright in happy circumstances we might be spared some of the troubles which our spiritual negligence renders necessary to our soul's welfare (Hosea 5:15).

II. IF GOD IS TRULY SOUGHT IN TROUBLE HE WILL CERTAINLY BE FOUND. As soon as the people cried God heard them, and sent them first a prophet and then the deliverer Gideon. If we forsook God in our prosperity it would be reasonable that God should forsake us in our need. But he does not deal with us according to our sins. Our claim does not lie in our merit, in our obedience and fidelity, in anything of ours, but in his nature, and character, and conduct. Because God is our Father he hears us not out of consideration for our rights, but out of pity for our distresses. Therefore we need not fear that he will not respond to our call. To doubt is not to show our humility, but our distrust in the mercy of God and influence of Christ's sacrifice and intercession (Jeremiah 29:11-13).

III. WHEN GOD IS FOUND IN TROUBLE HE DOES NOT ALWAYS BRING IMMEDIATE DELIVERANCE. Israel called for help in need. God did not send the help at once. The people expected a deliverer, God sent a prophet. No word of promise is given by the prophet that relief will be accorded to the temporal distress of the nation. He speaks only of sin, and shows the ingratitude of the people, that they may feel how richly they deserve the calamities which have fallen upon them. They think most of their distresses, God of their sins. They cry for deliverance from the yoke of the Midianites, God wishes first to deliver them from the yoke of iniquity. Therefore the prophet of repentance comes before Gideon the deliverer. So we must expect that when God visits us in our sins he will deal with us so as to save us from spiritual evil before relieving us of physical distress. Christ bore the sicknesses and infirmities of his people, but his great work was to save them from their sins (Matthew 1:21).

IV. THE CONSCIOUSNESS OF SIN WHICH MUST PRECEDE DELIVERANCE IS PRODUCED BY A PROPHET'S MESSAGE IN THE MIDST OF TROUBLE. The trouble is necessary to soften the hearts of the people, and make them willing to listen to the prophet. Yet the trouble does not produce repentance. For this a prophet is needed. The prophet does not make any prediction, nor does he give any revelation of God; he simply reveals his hearers to themselves. We need prophets to show to us our own true character. Much of the Bible is a revelation of human nature which would not have been possible without the aid of prophetic inspiration. The call to repentance consists

(1) in recounting the ancient mercy of God, for it is in the light of God's goodness that we see most clearly our own wickedness; and

(2) in directly charging Israel with ingratitude and apostasy. All sin includes the sin of ingratitude. Till we feel this it is not well that God should show us more mercy. Therefore the stern John the Baptist must precede the saviour Christ; bat as Gideon followed the prophet, full salvation will follow repentance and submission.—A.


Verses 11-24

EXPOSITION

6:11

An angel, etc. Rather, the angel of the Lord, otherwise called "the angel of his presence" (Isaiah 63:9). In 6:14, 6:16, 6:23, for the angel of the Lord we have simply the Lord (see 2:1, note). An oak. Rather the oak, or terebinth, as it should be rendered. It was doubtless a well-known tree still standing in the writer's time (see 6:19). Compare the mention of the oak (terebinth) at Shechem (Genesis 35:4); the great oak (terebinth) in which Absalom was caught (2 Samuel 18:9); Deborah's palm tree ( 4:5, where see note). Observe the simple way in which the ministration of the angel is introduced, as if it were a matter of course in the eyes of him who is the Lord of the millions of the heavenly host, those ministers of his who do his pleasure. Human scepticism, the twin sister of human selfishness, would blot out all creation except itself. To hide it, etc. These graphic touches give a lively picture of the straits to which the Israelites were reduced by the Midianite occupation.

6:12

Appeared. Angels were not always visible when present (see Numbers 22:31; 2 Samuel 24:17; 2 Kings 6:19, etc.).

6:13

If the Lord be with us, etc. The utter dejection caused by the Midianite oppression breathes in every word spoken by Gideon. But how reassuring the angel's words were. Which our fathers told us of. This is a distinct reference to the national traditions, which are elsewhere alluded to (cf. Exodus 12:26, Exodus 12:27; Psalms 44:1; Psalms 78:3-5; Jeremiah 16:14).

6:15

Wherewith shall I save Israel? etc. Compare the unwillingness of Moses (Exodus 3:11; Exodus 4:10, Exodus 4:13), of Saul (1 Samuel 10:21, 1 Samuel 10:22), of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:6), of Amos (Amos 7:14, Amos 7:15), and of St. Peter (Luke 5:8). Also in ecclesiastical history that of Ambrose, Gregory the Great, and others. The least fit are usually the most forward, the most fit the most backward, to undertake great offices ( 9:8-15). True humility is the usual companion of true greatness (see 2 Corinthians 2:16; 2 Corinthians 3:5).

6:17

A sign that thou talkest with me—that it is indeed thou thyself that speakest to me, even God, and that there is no illusion.

6:18

My present. Minehah means sometimes a present made to man, as in 3:18; but it more commonly means a sacrificial offering (Genesis 4:3 - 5), which seems to be its meaning here, as explained 3:19, 3:20. When coupled with zevach, the animal sacrifice, minchah means the meat and drink offering.

6:19

Unleavened cakes (Genesis 19:3; 1 Samuel 28:24). The necessary haste gave no time for the use of leaven, which is one explanation of the unleavened bread at the passover (Exodus 12:33, Exodus 12:34, Exodus 12:39). Presented it. A word specially used of sacrifices and offerings (Amos 5:25).

6:20

Lay them upon this rock, as upon an altar, and pour out the broth, as a drink offering or a libation (see 13:19).

6:21

There rose up fire, etc. The consuming of the sacrifice by fire from heaven was the token of its being accepted (cf. 13:20, 13:23; also 1 Kings 18:23, 1 Kings 18:33, 1 Kings 18:38; 1 Chronicles 21:26). The angel of the Lord departed, etc. In the very similar case of the angel who appeared to Manoah ( 13:15-20), the angel ascended in the flame of the altar. It is probable that he did so in the present instance, though it is not expressly stated how he disappeared (cf. Acts 8:39).

6:22

Gideon perceived, etc. Gideon's suspicious were now turned into a certainty. It was indeed God that had spoken to him by his angel ( 6:17). Alas, etc. Gideon speaks thus in terror of the death which he thought must be the penalty of seeing the angel of the Lord (see 13:22, and note). Because. Rather, therefore, or to this end, viz; that I should die.

6:23

Peace, etc. Cf. Daniel 10:19, and John 20:21, John 20:26; Luke 24:36-39. Hence the name of the altar, Jehovah-shalom—"The Lord is peace," is at peace with me.

6:24

For naming altars built in commemoration of particular events see Genesis 22:14; Genesis 31:47-49; Genesis 33:20; Joshua 22:34, etc.

6:25

The grove. See 3:7. The size of the asherah is indicated by the order in 3:26 to use it for the altar fire.

HOMILIES BY W.F. ADENEY

6:7-10

God sought and found in times of trouble.

I. TROUBLE DRIVES MEN TO GOD. The people forsook God in their prosperity, and neglected his service so long as they enjoyed their comfortable homes in peace. But now they are miserable fugitives hiding in wild mountain caves, they remember his goodness and cry to him for help. This is a common experience. It is to our shame that it must be confessed. We ought to seek God for his own sake, to worship him in the beauty of holiness, not merely to obtain blessings for ourselves. In prosperity we should recognise tokens of his love, and so lift up our thoughts to him in grateful recognition of his goodness. To turn to God only in the hour of our need is a sign of base selfishness. Nevertheless it is better to seek him then than not at all. And if it is disgraceful in us that trouble should be needed to drive us to God, it is merciful in him to send the trouble for that object. The calamity which leads to this result is the greatest blessing. Herein we may see the end of many of the most severe forms of adversity. They are sent to us in our indifference to rouse us to our need of God, and lead us to seek him. Hence we may conclude that if we sought God aright in happy circumstances we might be spared some of the troubles which our spiritual negligence renders necessary to our soul's welfare (Hosea 5:15).

II. IF GOD IS TRULY SOUGHT IN TROUBLE HE WILL CERTAINLY BE FOUND. As soon as the people cried God heard them, and sent them first a prophet and then the deliverer Gideon. If we forsook God in our prosperity it would be reasonable that God should forsake us in our need. But he does not deal with us according to our sins. Our claim does not lie in our merit, in our obedience and fidelity, in anything of ours, but in his nature, and character, and conduct. Because God is our Father he hears us not out of consideration for our rights, but out of pity for our distresses. Therefore we need not fear that he will not respond to our call. To doubt is not to show our humility, but our distrust in the mercy of God and influence of Christ's sacrifice and intercession (Jeremiah 29:11-13).

III. WHEN GOD IS FOUND IN TROUBLE HE DOES NOT ALWAYS BRING IMMEDIATE DELIVERANCE. Israel called for help in need. God did not send the help at once. The people expected a deliverer, God sent a prophet. No word of promise is given by the prophet that relief will be accorded to the temporal distress of the nation. He speaks only of sin, and shows the ingratitude of the people, that they may feel how richly they deserve the calamities which have fallen upon them. They think most of their distresses, God of their sins. They cry for deliverance from the yoke of the Midianites, God wishes first to deliver them from the yoke of iniquity. Therefore the prophet of repentance comes before Gideon the deliverer. So we must expect that when God visits us in our sins he will deal with us so as to save us from spiritual evil before relieving us of physical distress. Christ bore the sicknesses and infirmities of his people, but his great work was to save them from their sins (Matthew 1:21).

IV. THE CONSCIOUSNESS OF SIN WHICH MUST PRECEDE DELIVERANCE IS PRODUCED BY A PROPHET'S MESSAGE IN THE MIDST OF TROUBLE. The trouble is necessary to soften the hearts of the people, and make them willing to listen to the prophet. Yet the trouble does not produce repentance. For this a prophet is needed. The prophet does not make any prediction, nor does he give any revelation of God; he simply reveals his hearers to themselves. We need prophets to show to us our own true character. Much of the Bible is a revelation of human nature which would not have been possible without the aid of prophetic inspiration. The call to repentance consists

(1) in recounting the ancient mercy of God, for it is in the light of God's goodness that we see most clearly our own wickedness; and

(2) in directly charging Israel with ingratitude and apostasy. All sin includes the sin of ingratitude. Till we feel this it is not well that God should show us more mercy. Therefore the stern John the Baptist must precede the saviour Christ; bat as Gideon followed the prophet, full salvation will follow repentance and submission.—A.

Jdg_6:11-24

EXPOSITION

6:11

An angel, etc. Rather, the angel of the Lord, otherwise called "the angel of his presence" (Isaiah 63:9). In 6:14, 6:16, 6:23, for the angel of the Lord we have simply the Lord (see 2:1, note). An oak. Rather the oak, or terebinth, as it should be rendered. It was doubtless a well-known tree still standing in the writer's time (see 6:19). Compare the mention of the oak (terebinth) at Shechem (Genesis 35:4); the great oak (terebinth) in which Absalom was caught (2 Samuel 18:9); Deborah's palm tree ( 4:5, where see note). Observe the simple way in which the ministration of the angel is introduced, as if it were a matter of course in the eyes of him who is the Lord of the millions of the heavenly host, those ministers of his who do his pleasure. Human scepticism, the twin sister of human selfishness, would blot out all creation except itself. To hide it, etc. These graphic touches give a lively picture of the straits to which the Israelites were reduced by the Midianite occupation.

6:12

Appeared. Angels were not always visible when present (see Numbers 22:31; 2 Samuel 24:17; 2 Kings 6:19, etc.).

6:13

If the Lord be with us, etc. The utter dejection caused by the Midianite oppression breathes in every word spoken by Gideon. But how reassuring the angel's words were. Which our fathers told us of. This is a distinct reference to the national traditions, which are elsewhere alluded to (cf. Exodus 12:26, Exodus 12:27; Psalms 44:1; Psalms 78:3-5; Jeremiah 16:14).

6:15

Wherewith shall I save Israel? etc. Compare the unwillingness of Moses (Exodus 3:11; Exodus 4:10, Exodus 4:13), of Saul (1 Samuel 10:21, 1 Samuel 10:22), of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:6), of Amos (Amos 7:14, Amos 7:15), and of St. Peter (Luke 5:8). Also in ecclesiastical history that of Ambrose, Gregory the Great, and others. The least fit are usually the most forward, the most fit the most backward, to undertake great offices ( 9:8-15). True humility is the usual companion of true greatness (see 2 Corinthians 2:16; 2 Corinthians 3:5).

6:17

A sign that thou talkest with me—that it is indeed thou thyself that speakest to me, even God, and that there is no illusion.

6:18

My present. Minehah means sometimes a present made to man, as in 3:18; but it more commonly means a sacrificial offering (Genesis 4:3 - 5), which seems to be its meaning here, as explained 3:19, 3:20. When coupled with zevach, the animal sacrifice, minchah means the meat and drink offering.

6:19

Unleavened cakes (Genesis 19:3; 1 Samuel 28:24). The necessary haste gave no time for the use of leaven, which is one explanation of the unleavened bread at the passover (Exodus 12:33, Exodus 12:34, Exodus 12:39). Presented it. A word specially used of sacrifices and offerings (Amos 5:25).

6:20

Lay them upon this rock, as upon an altar, and pour out the broth, as a drink offering or a libation (see 13:19).

6:21

There rose up fire, etc. The consuming of the sacrifice by fire from heaven was the token of its being accepted (cf. 13:20, 13:23; also 1 Kings 18:23, 1 Kings 18:33, 1 Kings 18:38; 1 Chronicles 21:26). The angel of the Lord departed, etc. In the very similar case of the angel who appeared to Manoah ( 13:15-20), the angel ascended in the flame of the altar. It is probable that he did so in the present instance, though it is not expressly stated how he disappeared (cf. Acts 8:39).

6:22

Gideon perceived, etc. Gideon's suspicious were now turned into a certainty. It was indeed God that had spoken to him by his angel ( 6:17). Alas, etc. Gideon speaks thus in terror of the death which he thought must be the penalty of seeing the angel of the Lord (see 13:22, and note). Because. Rather, therefore, or to this end, viz; that I should die.

6:23

Peace, etc. Cf. Daniel 10:19, and John 20:21, John 20:26; Luke 24:36-39. Hence the name of the altar, Jehovah-shalom—"The Lord is peace," is at peace with me.

6:24

For naming altars built in commemoration of particular events see Genesis 22:14; Genesis 31:47-49; Genesis 33:20; Joshua 22:34, etc.

6:25

The grove. See 3:7. The size of the asherah is indicated by the order in 3:26 to use it for the altar fire.

HOMILETICS

6:11-24

The preparation.

God's agents, whether kings, or judges, or prophets, or apostles, are reasonable agents. They are not inanimate machines or blind instruments; they are living, thinking, feeling, reasonable, men. When they are called to great and heroic works they must be endued with great and heroic thoughts. A high sense of justice (2 Samuel 23:3), a noble contempt of gain (1 Samuel 13:3), wisdom with lofty courage (Ezekiel 2:6, Ezekiel 2:7), the enthusiasm of love with the moderation of prudence (2 Corinthians 6:3-10), are the qualities that must be found in them respectively. The sword which is to pierce must first be sharpened; the intelligence which is to guide must first be enlightened; the arm which is to prevail must be strengthened; the spirit which is to triumph over difficulties and obstacles must be awakened, and fed, and sustained. The work to which Gideon was called was no common work. A nation to be upheaved from the lowest vassalage of spiritless slaves and dejected helots into victory and freedom; another nation to be dragged down from power, and possession, and supremacy, and dominion, with no apparent instruments with which to effect it. And who was Gideon? The least considered member of a poor family, of a divided tribe, of which no name was famous in the annals of his country; a man unknown and unheard of, whose occupation was to thresh corn stealthily, lest the Midianites should take it; a man thought nothing of by his own countrymen, and contemptuously overlooked by his foreign masters. But he was the chosen instrument for delivering Israel. HE MUST THEN BE PREPARED. And two things were necessary in the first place: one to awaken in him a thorough trust in God; the other to inspire him with a proper trust in himself, springing from his trust in God. And so the angel began at once with the startling words, "The Lord is with thee." And the answer of doubt and despair from the lips of Gideon was met by a look of God—a turning of God's face upon him, a lifting up of the light of God's countenance upon him, with a power of unutterable grace, and a word of further encouragement: "Go in this thy might;… have not I sent thee?" and again he said, "Surely I will be with thee!" And the scene that followed—the tarrying of the angel till his return with the kid and the unleavened cakes; the solemn sacrifice on the altar of rock; the outstretched staff in the angel's hand touching the flesh and the cakes; the bursting forth of the fire from the rock; the word of comfort, Peace be unto thee! and the disappearance of the angel as mysteriously as he came—was all directed to the same end, to work in Gideon's mind the deepest possible conviction that God was with him, and that the whole love and power of the Almighty was on his side.

But it was also necessary to inspire him with a proper trust in himself. As long as he thought of himself only as the drudge of the family, a thresher of wheat, a skulker by the wine-press; as long as he felt himself one of a degraded caste, as long as he had no hope, no spirit, no sense of having a mission, he would and could do nothing great. The man, the warrior, the captain, the deliverer, the hero, the martyr, must be aroused within him. And so the voice of God addresses him, "The Lord is with thee, thou mighty man of valour. Go in thy might, and thou shalt save Israel from the hand of the Midianites. Surely I will be with thee, and thou shalt smite Midian as one man." And if these words fell, as no doubt they did, upon a spirit already chafed with a sense of his country's degradation; if burning thoughts of shame and humiliation were smouldering in his mind as he threshed his wheat in secret, trembling at every sound, and casting suspicious glances on every side, for fear some Midianite should be near, how would these words of homage and respect from the mysterious stranger awaken his soul to a new estimate of his place in the world. It was no longer a time to hide, and despair, and complain, and whine, and use the weapons of the weak, guile and subtlety, it was a time to rise, and act, and dare, and risk, and he was the man to be at the head of this new movement. This was Gideon's preparation.

HOMILIES BY A.F. MUIR

6:11-15

The call of Gideon.

Unexpected by himself and undreamt of by the nation. The whole land is given over to idolatry and wretchedness, but God is at no loss to find his servant. A strong man—a hero, ignominiously concealed, he is a symbol of Israel's helplessness.

I. THE PERSONALITY AND RELATIONS OF GIDEON ARE A REBUKE TO ISRAEL, A VINDICATION OF THE SOVEREIGN WILL OF GOD, AND A REVELATION OF THE SOURCE OF ALL TRUE POWER. He is the youngest scion of an insignificant family in a secondary tribe. Not only has he had no special religious or political training, he is an idolater, or at any rate belongs to an idolatrous family.. And he is addressed whilst acting in a manner of which he must have felt ashamed. Hidden, helpless, a sceptic regarding Divine existence or intervention. The culture and religion of Israel are ignored. So God always chooses whom he will to act, to preach: to suffer. There was no danger that Gideon would be credited with the work of deliverance as an achievement of his own originality and innate power.

II. THE OCCASION WAS SIGNIFICANT OF THE HELP GOD INTENDED TO GIVE. He comes when things are at the worst. It was a sign that he would work out a radical deliverance. Not partial help, but complete salvation would be due to him.

III. GIDEON IS AN INSTANCE OF THE POWER OF RELIGIOUS KNOWLEDGE. He has heard in some way or another of God's works in his nation's history. Evidently his thoughts have been occupied with them. A rough interpretation has been arrived at, helping him to grasp the meaning of the situation. His was not total ignorance, but a knowledge preparing for higher revelations and corresponding achievements. Truth smoulders in the mind until it bursts into flame. Inward impressions and realisations of sacred knowledge prepare for the Divinely-arranged circumstances of life, critical moments, and heavenly visitations,

IV. GOD'S MANNER OF DEALING WITH THE DIFFICULTIES AND OBJECTIONS OF HIS INTENDED SERVANT IS VERY INSTRUCTIVE. He accommodates himself to the thoughts passing through Gideon's mind. By his words he drives the brooding mind into distressful paradox. The past achievements of Gideon are remembered, and a corresponding respect shown him. The revelation of himself is gradual. He is considerate, gracious, and painstaking with the heart he intends to make his own. "Have not I sent thee" is sufficient guarantee for God's servant. There ought to be no misgiving when that assurance has been given.—M.

6:12, 6:13

The paradox of the Divine presence.

It has ever been the case that spiritual blessing is hard to be realised in the absence of material prosperity. There is something almost ironical in the contrast between the assertion "Jehovah is with thee," and the actual condition.of the person addressed. It was the more inconceivable because of the external nature of the religious sanctions and rewards of the age. Mosaicism abounds in material and temporal blessings. A natural question, then, for Gideon was, "Where are these?" There are many who think very similarly today. Are they right or are they wrong? If God be with a man ought he not to prosper? Notice first—

I. THE DIFFICULTY OF GIDEON. It was to reconcile the assurance of God's presence with the signs of actual weakness and distress all around him. There is something very ingenuous in the identification of himself with his people. "Thee" is altered by him to "us." It is full of promise for the future of the hero. He knows of no blessing in which his country does not share. And that is the right temper in which to face all such problems. The glorious past of Israel rose up before his mind's eye. How different from the days in which his lot had fallen! Had God any favour to his people? Why, then, this utter inaction? this absence of all miraculous intervention? If the old records were to be credited God had delivered his people with a "high hand and an outstretched arm;" now to all appearance the heavens had "withdrawn, and become astronomical." And yet how great and immediate the need for God's help! Day by day deeds were wrought under the sun that could not be spoken of. So there are times in these days when crimes are committed, nascent movements of religious and secular moment are withered, and the dial of civilisation is set back. The great calamities of war, pestilence, earthquake, etc; seem to call to heaven, but it is silent. Is it indifferent? Has the hope of man been a dream?

II. HOW IT MAY BE ANSWERED. Other things being equal, the blessing of God ought to make rich, and happy, and prosperous. But that is not its chief end in the present. It is first to make right. And God is in the seed as much as in the plant. He has many ways of fulfilling his premises. The blessing of Gideon was a potential one. It began even then in him, but it was to be communicated to others. It was as really a blessing for Israel as if the oppressor bad been driven from her borders, etc. Spiritual influences begin deeply, secretly, and mysteriously; but they are ere long known by their fruits. God was with Israel repentant in the moment of her repentance. And yet the external evils of her condition were as yet unchecked. God can be with a man in fulness of blessing and help, even when he is poor, and wretched, and helpless; but he will not continue so if he be obedient to the heavenly will. Spiritual blessing then should be expected to show itself, at least first, spiritually and inwardly; and an individual may be the holder of it vicariously for a nation or the race.—M.

6:14

The assuring thought of God's servant.

"Have not I sent thee?" This is one of those words by which the saint has often been "strengthened with all might in the inner man." It lifted the heroes of Israel, the reformers, the men of the commonwealth of England, above the common weaknesses of their age and race. "A man, a woman, with a mission"—why not? Some careers are wholly explained by it; some simple achievement critical in history; and many unostentatious, secret services rendered in the Master' s name, under the influence of overpowering impulses, more or less transient or permanent.

I. THE LIFE IS THEREBY CONSECRATED AND DIRECTED. A man is not at liberty to follow his own private aims when the heavenly voice speaks thus within him. A higher plane of life and action is thereby created. An unseen influence isolates and consecrates him. This usually imparts greater definiteness to his conduct. He does not "beat the air."

II. THE MOST DIFFICULT DUTIES ARE IN THIS FAITH RENDERED PRACTICABLE. "If God be for us, who can be against us?" "All things are possible to them that believe." The fatalists of history—Caesars and Napoleons—have left their mark and proved the strength of a ruling idea. But this conviction is reasonable and of infinite power. The greatest changes the world has seen have been wrought under its influence—apostolic mission, reformation, missionary enterprise at home and abroad, Sunday school origin and extension. And so in the things of the individual life and private sphere.

III. THROUGH ITS INFLUENCE A PRESENT CONSOLATION AND AN ETERNAL REWARD ARE SECURED. Has God sent us? Then he will take note of our behaviour, and sustain our flagging strength. Has God sent us? our service cannot be for earthly gain. He is our Master; and as he sends no man "a warfare at his own charges," so the saint is sustained by the hope of the "crown of glory that fadeth not away."—M.

6:17

Asking for a sign.

The stranger said, Have not I sent thee? I will be with thee. Gideon wanted a proof that he was one who had authority, etc; to use such words. That he was a supernatural visitor he suspected; he wanted to be sure. But it was rather to ascertain the reality of his own heavenly calling, which at first he could hardly believe. There was no other evidence open to him; and he asked the evidence peculiar to his epoch. He was altogether different therefore from the Jews of Christ's time, who required a sign, but no sign would be given them, save the sign of the prophet Jonas. They had signs enough already, but had no spiritual perception.

I. THIS REQUEST AROSE NOT FROM WANT OF FAITH, BUT FROM SELF-DISTRUST. Might not this all be a dream? And who was he himself? It is the doubt of a mind suspicious of its own sanity, etc. All this argues a deep humility than which nothing could fit him better for the work he has to do. God forgives a desire like this, and answers it; but doubts as to himself and his character, etc; are of another sort.

II. GOD ENCOURAGES ALL TRUE SERVANTS BY SOME TOKEN OF HIS PRESENCE AND HELP. Moses at Horeb; Paul in the temple in his trance—"Depart: for I will send thee far hence unto the Gentiles" (Acts 22:21). Many holy men have had such inward urgings and impulses. And all earnest service is accompanied by tokens of the Divine blessing. We are encouraged, therefore, to look for these signs. Their absence ought to cause no concern. Their nature will depend upon the kind of work we are doing.—M.

6:18-21

The sign-the present turned into a sacrifice.

The narrative speaks for itself; it is a picture of Eastern hospitality. Gideon's sense of the extraordinary nature of the visit expresses itself in his taking upon himself the duties of servant as well as host, to keep it secret. As the angel said to Manoah, "I will not eat of thy bread" ( 13:16), so the visitor betrays his true character as an angel of Jehovah in abstaining from the food. Of the phrase "and they did eat" in Genesis 18:8, the Targum gives the gloss,." they seemed to him to eat." Angels, not having a corporeal nature, do not require mortal sustenance. But the most striking incident in the narrative is the touching of the flesh and cakes with the angel's staff, and their being consumed by fire from the rock. This circumstance betokened not rejection of the gift, but its acceptance in a higher sense; the present becomes a sacrifice.

I. ALL BEST GIFTS ARE SACRIFICIAL. That which is given in order to a return; from gratification of self-love, ostentation, vanity; from custom; or without any real sense of loss, sacrifice, etc; is not accounted great by generous minds, however intrinsically precious it may be. As the sentiment enhances the value of the gift, even trifling in our eyes, so that which has cost pain, effort, loss of loving hearts, is "above rubies." Personality often thwarts the purpose of a well-intended gift; therefore it has often to be effaced ere the true end is attained.

II. How GOD OFTEN DEALS THUS WITH THE GIFTS OF HIS SERVANTS. It is not in a few isolated miracles that this has taken place. The mode of procedure is a principle of his kingdom, and is seen in every true life.

1. In carrying on a spiritual work to unforeseen developments, and so that demands are made the agent did not at first contemplate. Some kinds of spiritual effort are like sinking a shaft for a mine, the ultimate expenditure of labour and means is not ascertainable. That which was almost a pastime becomes a serious task. Consequences are evolved that call for heroism and generous self-devotion.

2. Results which were aimed at in the first instance are withheld, and the labourer has to continue steadfast amidst apparent want of success.

3. The labour itself becomes dear, and enthusiasm makes the greatest efforts easy, and the heaviest burdens light. At first it is "our" work; by-and-bye it is God s work. We lose ourselves m the presence of the "not ourselves that maketh for righteousness," who accepts our feeble labours and turns them towards infinite and inconceivable purposes.

III. WHAT IS SUBSERVED BY THIS CONVERSION.

1. It is educative. The subject of it is being taught a nobler life. He is wooed gradually out of the narrow shell of self into the larger atmosphere and arena of Divine love. At first God provokes us to the disinterested passion for himself, then he surprises us into fitting expression of it. The bridges of retreat are cut.

2. Our vague intention is interpreted to our spirits, and is set free. The alchemy of Divine love turns our dross into gold, our water into wine.

3. The permanent utility of man's work is thereby secured. Like the devotion of Christ, it receives an absolute worth in perfected sacrifice.—M.

6:22-24

Jehovah Shalom, or spiritual forebodings stilled.

The religious experience of one is often of help to others. At all times has the commerce of man with the unseen taken place; it is a necessary element in his spiritual life. The test of true religion is the sentiment thus awakened.

I. THE NATURAL FEAR OF GOD, AND ITS CAUSE. The sentiment expressed by Gideon a general one, but peculiar to Israelites. The Greek knew not this fear, because his conception of the nature of the gods was different. They were but as men, only more glorious and powerful. To the Israelite God was the Supreme in holiness and authority. Reverence for the character of God deepened into fear, because of the tradition that a visitation such as he now received meant death, either immediate or near at hand, and because of the sense of sin. No man could see God and live. We have the remnant and echoes of this belief still among us, in the fear of supernatural appearances and intimations. It is the dread of the simple, absolute holiness and goodness of God, deepened by our sense of sinfulness. The culprit trembles in presence of the judge. Had Israel rightly served God, this dread would have disappeared. Were men's hearts right with him, they would welcome his presence and prize his visitations.

II. THE WHISPER OF TRACE. It is a token of good-will. The terror which overcame the strong man is allayed. Christ gives a deeper tranquillity. He fills the breast with the sense of spiritual reconciliation—"the peace of God which passeth all understanding." And this is felt in the trial hours of life, and in the agony of dying. It steadies and evens the spirit amidst the most afflicting circumstances. In conversion the fear of the sinner under conviction is often intense. But who shall tell the rapture when peace is found?

III. THE MEMORIAL. HOW fitting that it should be commemorated, and by such a symbol! The altar is the meeting-place of man and God. The monument. The church. It told to others of an individual, secret transaction and experience. Here was won a victory over self, a triumph of duty more signal than Marathon, Bannock-burn, or Morgarten. It is well to tell men of God's mercies to us; and this intimation was an eloquent appeal to men to draw near and receive a like blessing.—M.

HOMILIES BY W.F. ADENEY

6:11-14

Diffidence.

Gideon was a great and gifted man who distrusted his own powers, and was in danger of failing to follow his true vocation through modest diffidence. When the angel accosted him as a "mighty man of valour," the expression overwhelmed him with astonishment. It came upon him as a new revelation. While there are conceited persons who value themselves too highly, and are over-ready to undertake rash enterprises for which they are quite incompetent, there are also good and able men like Gideon who are not aware of their own powers, and are in danger of neglecting the high trusts God has committed to them from self-distrust and modesty.

I. THE GROUNDS OF DIFFIDENCE.

1. Adversity. Gideon could not believe in the presence of God and the possibility of relief for his country, because the troubles of the time seemed to preclude all hope. We are tempted to distrust while the prospect is dark. Yet God is often nearest to us when the distress is deepest.

2. The absence of any sign of God's presence. Gideon saw no miracle, and he could not discern the presence of God in less striking events. As sensationalism in religion is a dissipation which unfits the soul for quiet, natural modes of worship, so the habit of depending on marvels and prodigies for faith in Divine truth weakens the sense of the Divine in the calm and orderly movements of nature and providence.

3. Lowly circumstances. Gideon considered himself the least important member of a poor and obscure family ( 6:15). Possibly he was despised in the household for his retiring habits. Men are often taken at their own estimate of themselves until their true character is put to the test. A man's own relatives are sometimes the last to recognise his merits. We are all more or less influenced by surrounding circumstances, and given too much to judge by appearances.

II. THE MEANS FOR OVERCOMING DIFFIDENCE.

1. God knows his servants' true nature and powers. He takes no note of outward appearances. Rank, riches or poverty, family honour, count for little with him. He seeks out the right man wherever he is to be found—at the threshing-floor, by the sheep-fold, in the fishing-boat. God never calls any man to any task for which the man does not possess the requisite talents.

2. God is with his servants when they are obeying his voice. He never calls a man to a special task without giving him special grace to perform it. If he commands his servant to undertake a difficult mission, he is certain to go with him and stand by him in the time of need. Diffidence comes from regarding self; true confidence from looking away to God. So Moses was diffident as he thought of his own weakness, but made brave to face Pharaoh by the assurance of God's presence (Exodus 3:11, Exodus 3:12); and Paul dared to stand alone before Caesar with confidence because "the Lord stood with" him (2 Timothy 4:17).

3. God sometimes uses special means to confirm the. faith of his servants. Gideon asked for a sign, and it was given him. To some no sign can be granted (Matthew 12:39). If no special signs are granted us now, we should remember

(1) we are not called to Gideon's work, and

(2) we are not left in the religious obscurity of Gideon's age, but have the revelation of God in Christ, the greatest of "signs."—A.


Verses 25-32

EXPOSITION

6:25

The same night, etc. The iron was hot; it was time to strike. As regards what follows, there are two ways of understanding the verse. One, that of the A.V supposes that only one bullock is spoken of, and that "the young bullock" belonging to Joash is further described as "even the second bullock of seven years old;" to which it is objected that a bullock of seven years old is not "a young bullock," "the bullock of an ox," as the Hebrew phrase is, and that there is no explanation of the meaning of "the second bullock;" and that the Hebrew manifestly describes two bullocks:

(1) Joash's young bullock, and

(2) the bullock of seven years old.

The other supposes two bullocks, and instead of has the more natural rendering and. The only objection to this, by far the most natural rendering, is that Gideon is not told what to do with the first bullock. But it is a simple explanation that the two bullocks were used in the laborious work of demolishing the altar of Baal, and removing the earth and the stone to build the altar of the Lord, and that when the work was finished one of the bullocks—the seven-year-old—was sacrificed. For the grove see 3:7, note.

6:26

This rock. Rather, the keep or stronghold of Ophrah, where also the high place was; just as the temple was in the stronghold of Zion, and the hold of the house of Baal-Berith at Shechem was in the citadel of the place ( 9:46). In the ordered place. The meaning of this phrase is uncertain. It may either be rendered as in the A.V meaning on the levelled ground ordered and prepared for the building of the altar; or it may more probably be rendered with the arranged material, i.e. the stones which were laid in order at the bottom, and the wood which was laid in order upon the top of the altar (cf. Genesis 22:9). The material may either refer to that taken from the altar of Baal, which had been thrown down, and which was then ordered to be used in building the altar of the Lord, or to its own arranged material or superstructure, the wood of the asherah.

6:27

Then, i.e. the next night. He would have done it the next day; but even his father's household, as well as the men of Ophrah generally, were so infected with the idolatry of the times, that he was afraid of being interrupted by violence.

6:28

The grove. See 6:25. The second bullock. There must be some special meaning in this description, the second. Can it refer to his place in the team, the young bullock being the leader, the first, and the seven-year-old the wheeler, the second?

6:29

They said, Gideon hath, etc. No doubt one of the ten servants ( 6:27) employed by him had spoken about it.

6:31

Stood against him. The words describe their hostile, menacing, attitude, clamouring to have Gideon brought out that they might kill him. Will ye plead, etc. The emphasis is on the ye. Joash met and silenced their pleading by threatening death to any that should plead for Baal. Baal shall plead for himself. Joash's courage was rising under the influence of his son s brave deed.

6:32

Jerubbaal, i.e. Jarov Baal, let Baal plead. In 7:1; 8:29, 8:35; 9:1, etc; Jerubbaal is used as the synonym of Gideon, just as in English history Coeur de Lion is used as a synonym for Richard. The name Jerubbaal appears as Jerubbesheth; besheth or bosheth, meaning shame, i.e. a shameful idol, being substituted for Baal, as in the name Ishbosheth, for Eshbaal (see 2 Samuel 2:8; 1 Chronicles 8:33).

HOMILETICS

6:25-32

The action commenced.

Idolatry was the evil which Israel had done in the sight of the Lord. Idolatry was the sin which had brought upon Israel the terrible Midianite servitude. The hour of deliverance had come, but it must be the hour of repentance too. And repentance must be in deed, not in word. Baal must be cast off before the Lord would go forth with their armies. The first blow in the great contest that was coming on must be a blow struck against Baal-worship, and then the Lord would strike a blow against Midian. And so we see the mighty man of valour, who had been prepared for his work by his interview with the angel of the Lord, and who was to sweep the Midianite locusts from off the soil of his beloved country, commence his work as a bold religious reformer. How could be fight the battles of Israel while the altar of Baal crowned the heights of his native city? bow could he call upon the Lord to help him while the shameful abomination stood up to testify against his own flesh and blood? And so his action began with a deed as bold as that of Luther when he burnt the Papal bull in the sight of all the people. While men were asleep, little dreaming of what was about to happen, he rose from his bed, called ten of his servants to him, and, marching straight up to the altar of Baal, surrounded as it was with awe and superstition, he threw it down. He cut down the statue or pillar of Ashtoreth, and before the morning light shone upon Ophrah, the altar of Jehovah was smoking with its whole burnt offering as openly and as conspicuously as the altar of Baal had done. It was with amazement that the men of the city saw the great altar of their god levelled to the ground, and a new altar standing in the sacred inclosure. But Gideon nearly paid for his holy boldness with his life, and his great work was well-nigh nipped in the bud; for when it transpired that he had thrown down the altar, there arose a cry for his blood. The angry idolaters surrounded the house of Joash, and demanded that Gideon should be brought out to them, that they might slay him and avenge the insult done to their god. It was a critical moment, and Gideon's life hung upon a thread. But God had a work for him to do, just as he had for Peter when Herod put him in prison and sought to kill him. and so he was not suffered to fall into their hands. His father's happy word, Let Baal plead for himself, was caught up by the people, and all thoughts of punishing Gideon seem to have gone out like a candle before a puff of wind. He was now free to pursue his great enterprise. But here we may pause for a moment to read some great lessons to ourselves. We dare not enter upon any work for God while any known sin is casting its deadly shade upon us. Are you seeking to do something for God? begin by plucking out the right eye that offends, by throwing down the altar of the false god within you. Lay the axe to the root of the tree, and at any risk or cost clear yourself of complicity with sin. Then you may begin your work. Again, be bold in a right cause; do not quail before risk and danger, because no great work was ever done without it; and if our work is of God, dangers will fade away before his Almighty help. God can brush away the difficulties and hindrances that threaten us, like cobwebs. Again, remember that nothing creates enthusiasm and attracts companions so much as courage and daring. The timid may work single-handed all their lives; but a leader "bold and brave" never lacks followers. There is excitement in bold action, and courage commands confidence. Beyond a doubt "the boldness of Peter and John" (Acts 4:13) was one of the things that helped to build up the Church in those days of danger and persecution. St. Paul's unflinching courage in the face of Jews and Gentiles was a great power in his missionary work. The fearless attitude of Luther and of the English Reformers before all the power of Pope and priests and the civil sword breathed a spirit of untameable resolution into the hearts of their followers. And so it always has been, and always will be. Boldness of action springing from deep conviction of truth is the surest presage of success. Let us learn to be courageous in every good thing; not flinching from dangers, or shirking consequences, or hanging back in cowardly delay, when once our judgment is clear of what is right to be done. Then may we hope to lead others and to stir up many to help in the good cause of truth and righteousness. Enthusiasm, decision, and courage, coupled with a sound mind, are among the great wants of our day.

HOMILIES BY A.F. MUIR

6:25-30

The first work.

The training of Gideon has now fairly commenced, and it is not allowed to lag. There is no interval between command and execution. The growth of Gideon's spiritual character is gradual, and there is a beautiful fitness in each step; but it is also rapid and decisive.

I. IT IS A RELIGIOUS WORK OF INDIVIDUAL AND NATIONAL CONSEQUENCE. An idolatrous sitar to be razed, an altar to the true God to be reared. The plan of the altar of Baal was different from that of the altar of Jehovah, and could not be mistaken for it. The whole neighbourhood knew. How many such substitutions are taking place every day—the symbol of wickedness and unbelief giving place to that of faith. Our works are our true words to men. Much of the Christian religion consists in witnessing. There cannot be too marked a contrast, if it be real. A religious revolution of the most radical description took place. The whole question of religion was once more raised, and settled otherwise.

II. IT WAS A COMPLETE WORK. Not only destruction, but construction; negative and positive. All true witnessing should be such. Negative criticism merely is mischievous. It is not enough to declare ourselves by abstention and inaction, or by rebuke and captious judgment; we must do the works of God. We must build as well as destroy.

III. IT WAS A TEST OF his SINCERITY.

1. It committed Gideon. There could be no drawing back. It was a challenge to the whole people. The hill-top was seen from afar.

2. It required energy. No slight task even as a manual labour. Organisation, leadership, vigorous and timely effort were necessary.

3. Courage was demanded. A new beginning, a great reform, had to be made. Difficult to take the initiative. Many reasons could have been found for conformity to established usages. The most rancorous hatred would be at once aroused. Only high faith and clear, Heaven-informed purpose could have secured his success.

III. IT WAS A PERSONAL, IMMEDIATE, AND DOMESTIC WORK. Joash, infirm as his faith in Baal was, was responsible for the erection and maintenance of the altar of Baal. The worship was popular, and he patronised it. That had to be publicly retracted. How near at hand was the field of Gideon's first work I His own life had to be openly changed; his home had to witness his zeal for God. There are many who profess to be at a loss for something by which to testify their love for God and righteousness. Let them do righteously, love mercy, and walk humbly before God, and there will soon be disturbance and persecution. Our own homes are to be the scenes of our first obedience. What have we done there? And although, apparently, a day intervened between the vision and the work of demolition, yet no time was lost. The first fitting opportunity is sought and utilised, and the interval is occupied with the necessary preparations. So God expects prompt obedience from all his children. The smoke of that new altar—how much it signified I Are we yet his? Let us lose no time in giving our hearts to him. What is our record? Let our deeds speak for us. Time is short.—M.

6:29, 6:30

Who hath done this thing?

A frequent inquiry. A natural curiosity—to trace up to causes; a religious rancour—to visit punishment upon the author.

I. THE WORLD TAKES NOTE OF THE ACTIONS AND LIVES OF THE RIGHTEOUS. The effects of religion are ever an astonishment, a delight or a vexation. There is something in them that piques curiosity and rouses interest. Men tried to explain Christ. Religious questions ever the most keenly discussed.

II. THE REASON OF THIS IS IN THE VITAL IMPORTANCE OF THE QUESTIONS INVOLVED. Temporal convenience and interests are compromised. The craftsmen of Ephesus. Life and death eternal depend upon our conduct here. Christians are a reproof to the unfruitful works of darkness.

III. IT IS WELL WHEN OUR DEEDS ARE INQUIRED ABOUT THAT THEY SHOULD BE GOOD, AND NOT EVIL. The detective usually tracks the criminal. How much better so to act that we shall not fear when men discover our works. So act that when revelation comes "they may be ashamed who falsely accuse our good conversation in Christ." To our own Master we stand or fall. In that day we shall not heed the judgments of men.—M.

6:31, 6:32

Jerubbaal, or, Is an idol anything?

How mighty the work was Gideon had wrought at once appeared from its effects. His father is won over, and so argues for him that the Abi-ezrites are first silenced, and then converted. The nickname of Gideon showed the process of the change.

I. THE GRAND ARGUMENT AGAINST IDOLATRY. Isaiah (Isaiah 44:1-28.) expresses the contempt of the true Israelite for idols. But no one has formulated the argument better than Joash. It is as forcible to-day in India and Africa as in the days of Gideon. The same is true of the world-powers and principles idols represent.

II. THE LIVING WITNESS TO THE FORCE OF THIS ARGUMENT. No monument could equal himself. It was an instance of a man against a god—yea, against all the gods of heathenism. A heathen convert is such a witness. And the heroes of faith are the grand arguments against the evil principles and influences they overthrew and survived. The gospel reveals an extended view of the same question, beyond death and the grave; "Fear not them which kill the body," etc.—M.

HOMILIES BY W.F. ADENEY

6:25, 6:26

Gideon the iconoclast.

I. REFORMATION MUST PRECEDE DELIVERANCE. As the prophet of repentance appeared before Gideon the deliverer, so even Gideon did not undertake the work of fighting the Midianites until he had first effected a religious reformation among his own people. It is vain to treat symptoms when the radical seat of a disease is untouched. Spiritual apostasy had brought on Israel national humiliation. The distress could not be safely relieved till the sin was destroyed. God will not deliver us from the trouble into which sin has brought us before we begin to turn from the wicked course which made the trouble a necessary chastisement. It is true that under the gospel we are not made to wait for the return of Divine favour until all sin is destroyed. On the contrary, it is one great characteristic of this new dispensation of mercy that restoration to the favour of God does not wait for, but precedes, and is the chief cause of, a perfect reformation of life. Nevertheless,

(1) this is only possible after repentance, which is the turning from sin in desire, and

II. REFORMATION BEGINS WITH THE DESTRUCTION OF EVIL. Gideon's first work is to destroy the altar and idol of false worship. To wrench out the stones of the massive altar of Baal and tear up the "Asherah" was no easy work; yet it was necessary. It is pleasant to prophesy smooth things, and we should prefer to trust entirely to the power of light to dispel the darkness, of life to overcome death, of the gospel of peace to supplant all forms of evil. But it is not possible to succeed by this means alone. Evil must be exposed, challenged, resisted, overthrown. Sin must be rebuked; wrong practices must be directly thwarted and frustrated. This implies aggressive action on the part of the Church, and long, arduous, united efforts to throw down the great structures of sinful institutions, and uproot inveterate habits of vice and crime. Intemperance, commercial dishonesty, religious hypocrisy, etc; must be directly met and fought by practical agencies suited to cope with the strength and size of great national sins.

III. REFORMATION IS NOT COMPLETE WITHOUT THE SUCCESSFUL ESTABLISHMENT OF A NEW AND BETTER ORDER. Gideon's reforming work is not complete when he has thrown down the emblems and instruments of idolatry. This is but half his work. He must next erect an altar to the true God and sacrifice thereon. The danger of every attempted reformation is lest it should stay with the work of destruction—lest the iconoclast should not be also a reformer. It is more easy to throw down than to rebuild. The passions of the destroyer are not always joined to the patient, calm wisdom and energy of the renovator. Yet it is vain to cast out the evil spirit unless we fill the place of it with a better spirit (Matthew 12:43-45). Mere negative Protestantism, negative temperance, negative anti-war movements are likely to lead to abortive issues unless they are supplemented by influences which promote and establish positive good. Conviction of sin must be followed by the creation of a new heart if the future life is to be pure (Psalms 51:10).—A.


Verses 33-40

EXPOSITION

6:33

The Midianites, etc. See 6:3, note. The valley of Jezreel. Rather, the plain, "the great plain of Esdraelon," as the Book of Judith styles it (Judith 1:8; see 4:13, note). The great plain of Jezreel, or Esdraelon (which is the Greek form of the name), through which the Kishon flows, is eight hours in length from east to west, and five hours (twelve miles) in breadth from north to south. It is described as "a very extensive and fertile plain shut in between the mountain ranges of Samaria and Mount Carmel on the south, and of Galilee on the north," and extending from the Mediterranean at the Gulf of Caipha, or Haipha, to the valley of the Jordan. The access to it from the fords of Jordan in the neighbourhood of Bethshan (or Beishan, called by the Greeks Scythopolis) made it the natural place for invasion by the wild tribes east of Jordan, as it is to this day. Particular parts of this great ,plain are called "the valley, of Megiddo" and "the plain of Samaria." For a full account of the plain of Esdraelon see Stanley, 'Sinai and Palestine,' ch. 9. Went over, i.e. crossed the Jordan. It appears from verses 3-5 that these invasions were repeated at certain seasons. When they had plundered all they could get, and eaten up all the produce of the land, they would go back for a while to their own country east of Jordan, and then return again. So they did now, but they met with a different reception this time.

6:34

The Spirit of the Lord, etc. See 3:10; 11:29; 13:25; 14:6, 14:19; cf. Isaiah 11:2; Isaiah 61:1; John 20:22; Acts 13:2; Acts 20:28; and 1 Corinthians 12:4. Abi-ezer. His own family (1 Corinthians 12:11; see Joshua 17:2). In Numbers 26:30 the name appears as Jeezer, by a very defective transliteration—Aiezer represents the Hebrew letters. The b has probably fallen out by accident. Here we have the immediate fruit of Gideon s daring in the cause of God. The whole family of Abi-ezer, numbering probably thousands, sprang to his side.

6:35

He sent messengers, etc. Manasseh, Asher, Zebulun, and Naphtali were the adjacent tribes—Manasseh (i.e. the half tribe of Manasseh, west of Jordan) on the south, Asher on the west, and Zebulun and Naphtali on the north. Three of these were the very tribes who had fought under Barak, and it is pleasing to see Asher now joined with them instead of abiding in his breaches. This ready compliance with the call was the consequence of the Spirit of the Lord being upon Gideon. Came up. No doubt Gideon was eneamped upon one of the southern hills that overlooked the plain, probably Gilboa, just as Barak was on Mount Tabor (see ch. 8:8-12). To meet them, i.e. Gideon and the Abi-ezrites.

6:36

If thou wilt save, etc. There is something touching in Gideon's diffidence of himself, even now that he found himself at the head of a large force. The thought that he was "the least in his father's house" seems still to possess him, and he can hardly believe it possible that he is to save Israel. In his humility he craves a sign that he is indeed chosen and called.

6:37-40

It is difficult to guess what led to this somewhat quaint sign which Gideon asked. Possibly the dews were usually heavy upon the hill of Gilead ( 7:3, note) where Gideon was encamped, as they seem to have been on Mount Gilboa (2 Samuel 1:21) and on Hermon (Psalms 133:3), and sheep-skins may have been a common protection against the cold nights, as in Afghanistan; and he may have noticed how often in the morning both the skin that covered him, and the ground around, was wet with the heavy dew. And this may have suggested the double test, by which his faith was, through God's condescending mercy, confirmed and established.

HOMILETICS

6:33-40

The Divine side of human history.

This section reveals an extraordinary change in the whole aspect of things in Israel. At the beginning of the chapter we see the people utterly cowed before their enemies, skulking in caves and dens and hiding-places, while their insolent masters take possession of their land, their food, their substance, and all that they had. For seven years had this state of things endured. It had become a matter of course that, when the season came, the Midianites and their allies should swarm across the Jordan, cover the land, devour everything, stay as long as they pleased, and then return unresisted to their own country. But at the close of the chapter a change, like the sudden melting of the snow in the spring, has taken place. There are indeed the same Midianite hosts, "like grasshoppers for multitude, and their camels without number, as the sand by the sea side for multitude" ( 7:12); there are the same kings in all their pride of power, and the same princes as greedy as ravens for their prey, and as hungry as wolves in pursuit of the spoil ( 7:25, note). But when they have reached the well-known plain of Jezreel, instead of tame submission, instead of the frightened people running like rabbits to their holes, they find a nation in arms. Manasseh was up and in the field; Naphtali and Zebulun had flocked armed to the national standard; Asher had answered the call of the trumpet; and 32,000 men were at the feet of their leader. Instead of running, hiding, and yielding, there was arming, and combining, and defiance throughout the land. Now what was the cause of this great change? The respective numbers of the Midianites and Israelites were the same, the respective qualities of the nations were the same, the shape of the ground was the same, the resources of the two peoples were the same; whence the difference? The difference lay in the motive power of the will of God. Before, his will was to give Israel up into the hands of Midian to punish their idolatry; now, his will was to deliver them on their true repentance. It is just the lesson taught by the prophet Isaiah in the sublime message which he delivered to Sennacherib: "Hast thou not heard long ago, how I have done it; and of ancient times, that I have formed it? now have I brought it to pass that thou shouldest be to lay waste fenced cities into ruinous heaps. Therefore their inhabitants were of small power, they were dismayed and confounded: they were as the grass of the field, and as the green herb, as the grass on the house-tops, and as corn blasted before it be grown up." What regulates the world is the motive power of the will of God acting upon and through the wills and the capacities of men. There are in the men virtue, courage, sagacity, ability, prudence, wisdom, counsel, on the one hand; or meanness, cowardice, blindness, weakness, rashness, folly, inconsequence, on the other; and these qualities have each their own proper force and momentum; but it is the will of God which gives to them their direction and their results. It is to be noted too that God in his providence raises the instruments and gives the qualities which are to accomplish his will. As was observed before, God's agents are reasonable men, and it is by their great qualities that they accomplish the work committed to them. But who gives them those great qualities? How came Abraham, and Joseph, and Moses, and Samuel, and David, and Judas Maccabeus to appear on the world's stage just when they did? It is very true that Abraham's faith, and Joseph's prudence, and the wisdom of Moses, and the integrity of Samuel, and the heroism of David and Judas accomplished those great results at critical moments in their country's history which have made their names famous for ever. And if we are looking at events on their human side, it is quite true to say that Abraham founded the Hebrew race, and that David founded the Jewish monarchy, and Judas rescued his country from destruction. But it is of supreme importance, if we would see God in history, and in the history of our own times in particular, to recognise in the sages, and heroes, and reformers, and also in the philosophers, and discoverers, and inventors, whose several labours have changed the aspect of the world at particular epochs, God's special instruments sent for that very thing; and to recognise in the changes brought about, not merely the action of those instruments, but the results of the will of God. As long as God is pleased to preserve a nation in greatness and power, he continues to raise up among them warriors, divines, men of genius, and statesmen. When the set time of decadence is come there arise no great men among them; their mighty men become as women (Jeremiah 51:30), and counsel perishes from the wise (Jeremiah 18:18). In applying these truths to our own Church and country it behoves us to remember that we owe all our own national prosperity, both in spiritual and temporal things, to the undeserved mercy of God; that the continuance of that prosperity depends upon the continuance of his favour; and that the only way by which to preserve that favour is to walk in righteousness and godliness. Unless God wills to maintain our power and greatness among the nations, all the courage and policy in the world will not suffice to do so; and even courage and policy may cease to grow among us. The example of Gideon further teaches us that boldness on God's side is the prelude of triumph over foes, and that what makes leaders of the right stamp is their investiture by the Holy Spirit of God.

HOMILIES BY A.F. MUIR

6:33-40

The crisis and the confirmation.

Gideon's first task demanded moral rather than physical courage. It was restricted in its sphere. It witnessed to the principle that sin must be removed ere national or individual calamities can be permanently cured, or God's help vouchsafed. The stage now clears for the larger life and wider influence.

I. THE ENEMY PRESENTS HIMSELF IN SUDDEN, OVERWHELMING FORCE. A remarkable juncture. Esdraelon, the battle-field of Canaan. Here thrones and kingdoms had been lost and won. To the heart of flesh it would have been the death-knell of hope. There was no proportion between the extent of his possible preparation and the magnitude of the crisis. Many would have advised a policy of temporizing inaction. To the sent of God the circumstances pointed all the other way. Elijah at Horeb. Paul at Athens. The Son of man longing for his "hour." Are you in a minority; the only Christian in your office; with everything to discourage and tempt you? "Let not your heart be troubled." Outward difficulties are balanced and overpowered by spiritual reinforcements. "The Spirit of the Lord came upon him."

II. GIDEON'S SUMMONS TO ARMS MEETS WITH UNEXPECTED SUCCESS. "He blew a trumpet," i.e. he used the means. But probably he did not expect anything like the result. He was touching chords that vibrated in unforeseen directions. He didn't know the moral power he had acquired by his first work. We never can gauge the extent of our moral influence. Jerubbaal is the magnet. Strong in God, in himself, at home, throughout the nation. We are all guilty herein; we think God's people fewer and worse than they are. How much one steadfast, heroic soul can effect; how many others he can fire with enthusiasm and endue with courage by his example and actions!

III. SUDDEN SUCCESS OCCASIONS HUMILITY AND DOUBT. Clearly this man is not as others. He becomes strong against odds and vast oppositions, weak and hesitating when all goes well. Adversity and difficulty are plainer in their problems to the spiritual man than prosperity. But perhaps it was the quality of his soldiery he mistrusted. They did not seem of the right stuff for a duel a outrance. Perhaps the very suddenness of his power terrified him.

IV. HE SEEKS FOR WISDOM AND CONFIRMATION OF THE HEAVENLY GRACE.

1. Probably the very scene of his first vision—Association helps an imaginative, spirit. Spiritual associations are mightiest.

2. He proposes a sign that shall reveal his duty. Under ordinary circumstances this is dangerous and misleading. But the whole background of Gideon's career is miraculous, and he had a warrant to expect miracles. We have a complete revelation and a Divine example. The dew abundant in Canaan; the wetting of the fleece a rustic idea. The doubt is then suggested, What if all this be natural? Therefore—

3. The proof is reversed. As in experimental science the test of variations is employed, so here in spiritual divination. God accommodates himself to our weakness that he may vanquish it. Henceforth the path is clear and his mind is made up. Have we done all that conscience and revelation have made plain and obligatory? Have we gone to the Divine footstool for the wisdom and strength we required?—M.

 


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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Judges 6:4". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tpc/judges-6.html. 1897.

Lectionary Calendar
Friday, December 6th, 2019
the First Week of Advent
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