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Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible

Gideon

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GIDEON . The son of Joash, a Manassite; he dwelt in Ophrah, a place hitherto unidentified, which belonged to the clan of the Abiezrites. Gideon has also the names of Jerubbaal ( Judges 6:32 ) and Jerubbesheth ( 2 Samuel 11:21 ). After the victory of the Israelites, under the guidance of Deborah, over the Canaanites, the land had rest for forty years (an indefinite period). Apostasy from Jahweh again resulted in their being oppressed, this time by the neighbouring Bedouin tribes, the Midianites and Amalekites. The underlying idea is that, since the Israelites did not exclusively worship their national God, He withdrew His protection, with the result that another nation, aided by its national god, was enabled to overcome the unprotected Israelites. A return to obedience, and recognition of Jahweh the national God, ensures His renewed protection; relief from the oppressor is brought about by some chosen instrument, of whom it is always said that Jahweh is ‘with him’; this is also the case with Gideon ( Judges 6:18 ).

The sources of the story of Gideon, preserved in Judges 6:1 to Judges 8:35 , offer some difficult problems, upon which scholars differ considerably; all that can be said with certainty is that the narrative is composite, that the hand of the redactor is visible in certain verses ( e.g. Judges 6:20 , Judges 7:6 , Judges 8:22-23 ), and that the sources have not always been skilfully combined; this comes out most clearly in Judges 7:24 to Judges 8:3 , which breaks the continuity of the narrative. Disregarding details, the general outline of the history of Gideon is as follows:

Introduction , Judges 6:1-10 : For seven years the Israelites suffered under the Midianite oppression; but on their ‘crying unto the Lord’ a prophet is sent, who declares unto them the reason of their present state, viz. that it was the result of their having forsaken Jahweh and served the gods of the Amorites.* [Note: ‘Amorites’ is a general name for the Canaanite nations, see Amos 2:9-10 .]

The call of Gideon , Judges 6:11-14 : The ‘Angel of the Lord’ appears to Gideon and tells him that the Lord is with him, and that he is to free Israel from the Midianite invasion. Gideon requires a sign: he brings an offering of a kid and unleavened cakes, the Angel touches these with his staff, whereupon fire issues from the rock on which the offering lies and consumes it. Gideon is now convinced that it was the ‘Angel of the Lord’ who had been speaking to him, and at Jahweh’s † [Note: On this apparent identity between Jahweh and His ‘Angel,’ see the art. Angel of the Lord.] command he destroys the altar of Baal in Ophrah and builds one to Jahweh, to whom he also offers sacrifice. This act embitters Gideon’s fellow-townsmen against him; they are, however, quieted down by the boldness and shrewdness of Gideon’s father.

Gideon’s victory , Judges 7:23 Judges 7:23 , Judges 8:4-14 : Allegiance to Jahweh being thus publicly acknowledged, the Israelites are once more in a position to assert their political independence; so that when the Midianites again invade their land, Gideon raises an army against them, being moreover assured by the miracle of the dew on the fleece that he will be victorious. At the command of Jahweh his army is twice reduced, first to ten thousand men, and then to three hundred. At the command of Jahweh again, he goes with his servant, Purah, down to the camp of the Midianites, where he is encouraged by overhearing a Midianite recounting a dream, which is interpreted by another Midianite as foreshadowing the victory of Gideon. On his return to his own camp Gideon divides his men into three companies; each man receives a torch, an earthen jar, and a horn; at a given sign, the horns are blown, the jars broken, and the burning torches exposed to view, with the result that the Midianites flee in terror. Gideon pursues them across the Jordan; he halts during the pursuit, both at Succoth and at Penuel, in order to refresh his three hundred followers; in each case food is refused him by the inhabitants; after threatening them with vengeance on his return, he presses on, overtakes the Midianite host, and is again victorious; he then first punishes the inhabitants of Succoth and Penuel, and next turns his attention to the Midianite chiefs, Zebah and Zalmunna. From this part of the narrative it would seem that Gideon’s attack upon the Midianites was, in part, undertaken owing to a blood-feud; for, on his finding out that the murderers of his brethren at Tabor were these two Midianite chiefs, he slays them in order to avenge his brethren.

The offer of the kingship , Judges 8:22-28 : On the Israelites offering to Gideon and his descendants the kingship, Gideon declines it on theocratic grounds, but asks instead for part of the gold from the spoil taken from the Midianites; of this he makes an image ( ephod ), which he sets up at Ophrah, and which becomes the cause of apostasy from Jahweh. The narrative of Gideon’s leadership is brought to a close by a reference to his offspring, and special mention of his son Abimelech; after his death, we are told, the Israelites ‘went a whoring after the Baalim.’

In the section Judges 8:22-35 there is clearly a mixing-up of the sources; on the one hand Israel’s apostasy is traced to the action of Gideon, on the other this does not take place until after his death. Again, the refusal of the kingship on theocratic grounds is an idea which belongs to a much later time; moreover, Gideon’s son, Abimelech, became king after slaying his father’s legitimate sons; it is taken for granted ( Judges 9:2 ) that there is to be a ruler after Gideon’s death. This, together with other indications, leads to the belief that in its original form the earliest source gave an account of Gideon as king .

The section Judges 7:24 to Judges 8:3 is undoubtedly ancient; it tells of how the Ephraimites, at Gideon’s command, cut off part of the fugitive Midianite host under two of their chiefs, Oreb and Zeeb, whom the Ephraimites slew. When the victorious band with Gideon joins hands with the Ephraimites, the latter complain to Gideon because he did not call them to attack the main body of the enemy; Gideon quiets them by means of shrewd flattery. This section is evidently a fragment of the original source, which presumably went on to detail what further action the Ephraimites took during the Midianite campaign; for that the Midianite oppression was brought to an end by this one battle it is impossible to believe.* [Note: Cf. the Philistine campaign under Saul.]

W. O. E. Oesterley.


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Gideon'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdb/g/gideon.html. 1909.

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Wednesday, December 11th, 2019
the Second Week of Advent
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