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Judges
chapter 6:1-40


Gideon
Israelites hiding in caves. Raided by Midianites. Gideon's fleece - wet/dry.


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In the previous chapter we began to look at the Judges that ruled for a while in discrete parts of Israel. So far we have looked at Othniel, Ehud, Shamgar and Deborah.


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Gideon is perhaps the best-known of Israel’s Judges but the emphasis throughout is again on the Lord.

Judges 6:1-6.

Gideon


1 The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD, and for seven years he gave them into the hands of the Midianites.


Before we feel too much sympathy for the plight of the Israelites it is important to remember that they had by now become complete Baal-worshippers and the Lord needed to teach them that their only hope of salvation was to again turn wholeheartedly to him.


2 Because the power of Midian was so oppressive, the Israelites prepared shelters for themselves in mountain clefts, caves and strongholds. 3 Whenever the Israelites planted their crops, the Midianites, Amalekites and other eastern peoples invaded the country. 4 They camped on the land and ruined the crops all the way to Gaza and did not spare a living thing for Israel, neither sheep nor cattle nor donkeys. 5 They came up with their livestock and their tents like swarms of locusts. It was impossible to count them or their camels; they invaded the land to ravage it. 6 Midian so impoverished the Israelites that they cried out to the LORD for help.


Could someone describe what it was like to live through verses 2 to 5?

(Not an easy thing to do but it will cause everyone to look at the verses and imagine for themselves what it was like.)


Judges 6:7-10.

7 When the Israelites cried out to the LORD because of Midian, 8 he sent them a prophet, who said, ‘This is what the LORD the God of Israel, says: I brought you up out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. 9 I rescued you from the hand of the Egyptians. And I delivered you from the hand of all your oppressors; I drove them out before you and gave you their land. 10 I said to you, “I am the LORD your God; do not worship the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you live.” But you have not listened to me.’


The Israelites called out to the Lord for help and he immediately answered – by sending a prophet. Verse 10 gives them the cause and effect. But the people needed more than a talking to if they were to realistically return to the meaningful worship of the Lord.


Judges 6:11.

11 The angel of the LORD came and sat down under the oak in Ophrah that belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, where his son Gideon was threshing wheat in a winepress to keep it from the Midianites.


Before we hurry on to the great story of Gideon we need to be clear in our minds about something we may have missed. Look at the first five words in verse 11:

‘The angel of the LORD’.


The word Lord is a translation of ‘Adonai’, but where it is printed as ‘LORD’ it is a translation of YHWH or Yahweh – the divine name of God. So what does the phrase ‘The angel of the LORD’ actually mean?


Before we study the next few verses I will read verses 12-18 emphasising certain phrases.


12 When the angel of the LORD appeared to Gideon, he said, ‘The LORD is with you, mighty warrior.’

13 ‘Pardon me, my lord,’ Gideon replied, ‘but if the LORD is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our ancestors told us about when they said, “Did not the LORD bring us up out of Egypt?” But now the LORD has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian.’

14 The LORD turned to him and said, ‘Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?’

15 ‘Pardon me, my lord,’ Gideon replied, ‘but how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.’

16 The LORD answered, ‘I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites, leaving none alive.’

17 Gideon replied, ‘If now I have found favour in your eyes, give me a sign that it is really you talking to me. 18 Please do not go away until I come back and bring my offering and set it before you.’

And the LORD said, ‘I will wait until you return.’


It would also be sensible to look back at Judges 2:1-5, but especially verse 1:

‘The angel of the LORD went up from Gilgal to Bokim and said, ‘I brought you up out of Egypt and led you into the land that I swore to give to your ancestors. I said, “I will never break my covenant with you,’


So who is ‘The angel of the LORD’ ?

As always, there are various interpretations but in most cases, the angel of the Lord is considered to be a theophany, an appearance of God in physical form. As the phrase is never used in the New Testament – once Jesus had come in the flesh – some consider it to be a manifestation of Jesus before his incarnation.


Now we can continue with our study – verse 11:

11 The angel of the LORD came and sat down under the oak in Ophrah that belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, where his son Gideon was threshing wheat in a winepress to keep it from the Midianites.


What was a winepress?

A cistern or waterproof hole in the ground where grapes could be crushed to release the juice.

What was ‘threshing wheat’?

Removing the kernels of wheat from the husks and straw.

It often involved beating with sticks, or dragging a threshing sledge over it pulled by animals. This was followed by winnowing where, in a windy place, the resulting mixture was thrown into the air with a winnowing fork, and the heavier grain would fall to the ground while the chaff and straw was blown away.

The best results would be achieved on higher ground where the wind was strongest – so why was Gideon doing it in a winepress?

So that the Midianites would not be attracted by the activity.


Was Gideon scared or just being sensible?


Judges 6:12-13.

12 When the angel of the LORD appeared to Gideon, he said, ‘The LORD is with you, mighty warrior.’

13 ‘Pardon me, my lord,’ Gideon replied, ‘but if the LORD is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our ancestors told us about when they said, “Did not the LORD bring us up out of Egypt?” But now the LORD has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian.’


Invariably, when an angel appears to humankind, their first words are ‘Do not be afraid’. Not so here, which suggests that Gideon is not easily frightened; but he is sensible, and is not afraid to question the angel. He has heard the stories from long ago but where is the evidence today? The angel is about to show him!


Judges 6:14-15.

14 The LORD turned to him and said, ‘Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?’

15 ‘Pardon me, my lord,’ Gideon replied, ‘but how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.’


Gideon is realistic: his tribe is not considered very great, his clan is very weak, and he is least in his family – not a good start. Not a problem says the Lord:


Judges 6:16-17.

16 The LORD answered, ‘I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites, leaving none alive.’

17 Gideon replied, ‘If now I have found favour in your eyes, give me a sign that it is really you talking to me.


Gideon had chosen that spot to winnow his grain as he would be able to see anyone approaching long before they arrived. When the angel suddenly appeared it was obvious this was no casual visitor. But Gideon required proof before he could fully trust his visitor.


Judges 6:18-19.

18 Please do not go away until I come back and bring my offering and set it before you.’

And the LORD said, ‘I will wait until you return.’

19 Gideon went inside, prepared a young goat, and from an ephah of flour he made bread without yeast. Putting the meat in a basket and its broth in a pot, he brought them out and offered them to him under the oak.


Preparing a meal for a visitor was standard practice, but Gideon had referred to it as his offering – would the Lord eat it?

Judges 6:20-21a.

20 The angel of God said to him, ‘Take the meat and the unleavened bread, place them on this rock, and pour out the broth.’ And Gideon did so. 21 Then the angel of the LORD touched the meat and the unleavened bread with the tip of the staff that was in his hand. Fire flared from the rock, consuming the meat and the bread.


Gideon’s offering had been accepted, and he now knew he had spoken with the Lord.


Judges 6:21b.

And the angel of the LORD disappeared.

Which is very strange, as Gideon still spoke to him and he still received a reply. It seems that from now on, they would converse without the need for a visible presence as Gideon now recognised the voice of God.


Judges 6:22-24.

22 When Gideon realised that it was the angel of the LORD, he exclaimed, ‘Alas, Sovereign LORD! I have seen the angel of the LORD face to face!’

23 But the LORD said to him, ‘Peace! Do not be afraid. You are not going to die.’

24 So Gideon built an altar to the LORD there and called it The LORD Is Peace. To this day it stands in Ophrah of the Abiezrites.


But that was not enough. Now Gideon would be asked to make a public stand.

Judges 6:25-26.

25 That same night the LORD said to him, ‘Take the second bull from your father’s herd, the one seven years old. Tear down your father’s altar to Baal and cut down the Asherah pole beside it. 26 Then build a proper kind of altar to the LORD your God on the top of this height. Using the wood of the Asherah pole that you cut down, offer the second bull as a burnt offering.’


The Lord was very gracious in his choice of sacrifice. The best bull would have been very valuable and may have been hard to replace. Remember verses 2-4:


2 Because the power of Midian was so oppressive, the Israelites prepared shelters for themselves in mountain clefts, caves and strongholds. 3 Whenever the Israelites planted their crops, the Midianites, Amalekites and other eastern peoples invaded the country. 4 They camped on the land and ruined the crops all the way to Gaza and did not spare a living thing for Israel, neither sheep nor cattle nor donkeys.

The second bull, already seven years old, would probably have been coming to the end of his useful life. Cows of course were all valuable for food and milk.


But the main problem of course was the major demonstration of turning against the Baals, building a proper altar for sacrifices to God Almighty, and using the broken Asherah poles as fuel for the fire.


Judges 6:27-30.

27 So Gideon took ten of his servants and did as the LORD told him. But because he was afraid of his family and the townspeople, he did it at night rather than in the daytime. (The term ‘servant’ may mean different things depending on your culture – perhaps to simply call them ‘men’ or ‘workers’ would be more accurate.)

28 In the morning when the people of the town got up, there was Baal’s altar, demolished, with the Asherah pole beside it cut down and the second bull sacrificed on the newly-built altar!

29 They asked each other, ‘Who did this?’

When they carefully investigated, they were told, ‘Gideon son of Joash did it.’

30 The people of the town demanded of Joash, ‘Bring out your son. He must die, because he has broken down Baal’s altar and cut down the Asherah pole beside it.’


Gideon’s father now had a problem. Yes he had built the altar to Baal and erected the Asherah pole beside it (v25), but would he now support his son in turning back to the one true god that his fathers had once worshipped?


Judges 6:31-32.

31 But Joash replied to the hostile crowd around him, ‘Are you going to plead Baal’s cause? Are you trying to save him? Whoever fights for him shall be put to death by morning! If Baal really is a god, he can defend himself when someone breaks down his altar.’ 32 So because Gideon broke down Baal’s altar, they gave him the name Jerub-Baal that day, saying, ‘Let Baal contend with him.’


Simply a sensible answer from a wise man!

But they had bigger problems to face – the annual raid was starting.

Now verse 33.

33 Now all the Midianites, Amalekites and other eastern peoples joined forces and crossed over the Jordan and camped in the Valley of Jezreel.


This by now was a well-established pattern. They may have waited until the harvest had been safely gathered in, then congregated to form an unassailable force, and then simply marched through the land taking whatever they wanted.


Judges 6:34-35.

34 Then the Spirit of the LORD came on Gideon, and he blew a trumpet, summoning the Abiezrites to follow him. 35 He sent messengers throughout Manasseh, calling them to arms, and also into Asher, Zebulun and Naphtali, so that they too went up to meet them.


The people had had more than enough, but this too was God’s time to show his hand. I believe that the Spirit of the Lord not only came on Gideon, but also encouraged the other tribes to join him.


So far Gideon had been quick to follow thw Lord’s instruction but he had never gone to war before, let alone led an army, and he needed reassurance.


Judges 6:36-40.

36 Gideon said to God, ‘If you will save Israel by my hand as you have promised – 37 look, I will place a wool fleece on the threshing-floor. If there is dew only on the fleece and all the ground is dry, then I will know that you will save Israel by my hand, as you said.’ 38 And that is what happened. Gideon rose early the next day; he squeezed the fleece and wrung out the dew – a bowlful of water.

39 Then Gideon said to God, ‘Do not be angry with me. Let me make just one more request. Allow me one more test with the fleece, but this time make the fleece dry and let the ground be covered with dew.’ 40 That night God did so. Only the fleece was dry; all the ground was covered with dew.


That was enough. Now to war!






Judges 6 Judges 8 NIV Copyright