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Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature
Gid´eon (destroyer), surnamed Jerubbaal or Jerubbesheth, fifth Judge in Israel, and the first of them whose history is circumstantially narrated. He was the son of Joash, of the tribe of Manasseh, and resided at Ophrah in Gilead beyond the Jordan.
The Midianites, in conjunction with the Amalekites and other nomad tribes, invaded the country every year, at the season of produce, in great numbers, with their flocks and herds. They plundered and trampled down the fields, the vineyards, and the gardens; they seized the cattle, and plundered man and house, rioting in the country, after the manner which the Bedouin Arabs practice at this day. After Israel had been humbled by seven years of this treatment, the Lord raised up a deliverer in the person of Gideon. He was threshing corn by stealth, for fear of its being taken away by the Midianites, when an angel of God appeared before him, and thus saluted him:—'the Lord is with thee, thou mighty man of valor.' Gideon expressed some doubt whether God was still with a people subject to such affliction, and was answered by the most unexpected commission—'Go in this thy might, and thou shalt save Israel from the hand of the Midianites: have not I sent thee?' Gideon still urged, 'Wherewith shall I save Israel? Behold my family is poor in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father's house.' The 'Wherewith' was answered by 'Surely I will be with thee.' He then demurred no more, but pressed his hospitality upon the heavenly stranger, who, however, ate not of what was set before him, but directing Gideon to lay it out upon the rock as upon an altar, it was consumed by a supernatural fire, and the angel disappeared. Assured by this of his commission, Gideon proceeded at once to cast down the local image and altar of Baal; and, when the people would have avenged this insult to their false god, their anger was averted through the address of his father, who, by dwelling on the inability of Baal to avenge himself, more than insinuated a doubt of his competency to protect his followers. This was a favorite argument among the Hebrews against idolatry. It occurs often in the prophets, and was seldom urged upon idolatrous Israelites without some effect upon their consciences.
Gideon soon found occasion to act upon his high commission. The allied invaders were encamped in the great plain of Jezreel or Esdraelon, when he blew the trumpet, and thus gathered round him a daily increasing host, the summons to arms which it implied having been transmitted through the northern tribes by special messengers. The inquietude connected with great enterprises is more sensibly felt some days before than at the moment of action; and hence the two miraculous signs which, on the two nights preceding the march, were required and given as tokens of victory. The first night a fleece was laid out in the middle of an open threshing-floor, and in the morning it was quite wet, while the soil was dry all around. The next night the wonder was reversed, the soil being wet and the fleece perfectly dry (Judges 7).
Encouraged by these divine testimonies, Gideon commenced his march, and advanced to the brook Harod, in the valley of Jezreel. He was here at the head of 32,000 men; but, lest so large a host should assume the glory of the coming deliverance, which of right belonged to God only, two operations, remarkable both in motive and procedure, reduced this large host to a mere handful of men. First, by divine direction, proclamation was made that all the faint-hearted might withdraw; and no fewer than 22,000 availed themselves of the indulgence. The remaining 10,000 were still declared too numerous: they were therefore all taken down to the brook, when only those who lapped the water from their hands, like active men in haste, were reserved for the enterprise, while all those who lay down leisurely to drink were excluded. The former numbered no more than 300, and these were the appointed vanquishers of the huge host which covered the great plain ().
The overheard relation of a dream, by which Gideon was encouraged (), and the remarkable stratagem, with pitchers and torches, by which he overcame (), are well known.
The routed Midianites fled towards the Jordan, but were pursued with great slaughter, the country being now roused in pursuit of the flying oppressor. The Ephraimites rendered good service by seizing the lower fords of the Jordan, and cutting off all who attempted escape in that direction, while Gideon himself pursued beyond the river those who escaped by the upper fords. Gideon crossed the Jordan a little below where it leaves the lake of Gennesareth, in pursuit of the Midianitish princes Zeba and Zalmunna. On that side the river, however, his victory was not believed or understood, and the people still trembled at the very name of the Midianites. Hence he could obtain no succor from the places which he passed, and town after town refused to supply even victuals to his fatigued and hungry, but still stout-hearted troop. He denounced vengeance upon them, but postponed its execution till his return; and when he did return, with the two princes as his prisoners, he by no means spared those towns which, like Succoth and Penuel, had added insult to injury ().
In his days captives of distinction taken in war were almost invariably slain. Zeba and Zalmunna had made up their minds to this fate; and yet it was Gideon's intention to have spared them, till he learned that they had put to death his own brothers under the same circumstances; upon which, as the avenger of their blood, he slew the captives with his own hand ().
Among the fugitives taken by the Ephraimites were two distinguished emirs of Midian, named Oreb and Zeeb, whom they put to death. They took their heads over to Gideon, which amounted to an acknowledgment of his leadership; but still the always haughty and jealous Ephraimites were greatly annoyed that they had not in the first instance been summoned to the field; and serious consequences might have followed, but for the tact of Gideon in speaking in a lowly spirit of his own doings in comparison with theirs (; , sq.).
Gideon having thus delivered Israel from the most afflictive tyranny to which they had been subject since they quitted Egypt, the grateful people, and particularly the northern tribes, made him an offer of the crown for himself and his sons. But the hero was too well acquainted with his true position, and with the principles of the theocratical government, to accept this unguarded offer: 'I will not rule over you,' he said, 'neither shall my son rule over you: Jehovah, he shall rule over you.' He would only accept the golden earrings which the victors had taken from the ears of their slaughtered foes [EARRINGS] and a cloth being spread out to receive them, the admiring Israelites threw in, not only the earrings, but other ornaments of gold, including the chains of the royal camels, and added the purple robes which the slain monarchs had worn, being the first indication of purple as a royal color. The earrings alone weighed 1700 shekels, equal to 74 pounds 4 ounces, and worth, at the present value of gold, about 3300 l. ] With this 'Gideon made an ephod, and put it in his city, even in Ophrah; and all Israel went thither a whoring after it; which thing became a snare unto Gideon and to his house.' An ephod, at least that of the high-priest, was an outer garment like a sleeveless tunic, to which was attached the oracular breastplate, composed of twelve precious stones set in gold, and graven with the names of the twelve tribes. Another plainer description of ephod was worn by the common priests. The object of Gideon in making an ephod with his treasure is not very clear. Some suppose that it was merely designed as a trophy of Israel's deliverance: if so, it was a very strange one. It is more probable that as Gideon had, on his being first called to his high mission, been instructed to build an altar and offer sacrifice at this very place, he conceived himself authorized, if not required, to have there a sacerdotal establishment—for at least the tribes beyond the river—where sacrifices might be regularly offered. In this case the worship rendered there was doubtless in honor of Jehovah, but was still, however well intended, highly schismatical and irregular. Even in his lifetime it must have had the effect of withdrawing the attention of the people east of the Jordan from the Tabernacle at Shiloh, and thus so far tended to facilitate the step into actual idolatry, which was taken soon after Gideon's death. The probability of this explanation is strengthened when we recollect the schismatical sacerdotal establishments which were formed by Micah on Mount Ephraim, and by the Danites at Laish (; ).
The remainder of Gideon's life was peaceable. He had seventy sons by many wives, and died at an advanced age, after he had 'ruled Israel' (principally the northern tribes and those beyond the river) for forty years: B.C. 1249 to 1209. He is mentioned in the discourse of Samuel (), and his name occurs in , among those of the heroes of the faith.
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Gideon'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature". https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/kbe/g/gideon.html.