1. Gideon: The Lord Is With You, Mighty Warrior (Judges 6:1-32)

by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
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Tissot, Gideon and the Angel (1896-1900)
J.J. Tissot, "The Angel Puts Fire on the Altar of Gideon" (1896-1900), watercolor. Larger image.
The story of Gideon took place in a culture long ago and far, far away, but its lessons of faith are fresh for disciples today. Seek to understand what happened in this story that took place in the Late Bronze Age (about 1200 BC), but don't forget to apply it to your life in the twenty-first century.

Moses had led the people out of Egypt. After 40 years of wandering in the desert, Joshua led them into the Promised Land of Canaan with strict instructions to be faithful to follow the Lord and not be influenced by the heathen worship around them. Nevertheless, after a generation or so, they began to worship both Yahweh and Baal, the god of the Canaanite people, the Amorites. They were now syncretists, trying to combine two very different religions. No longer did they keep the first commandment to "have no other gods before me" (Exodus 20:3). No longer did they serve the Lord only.

The Scourge of the Midianite Hordes (6:1-5)

"Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD, and for seven years he gave them into the hands of the Midianites. Because the power of Midian was so oppressive, the Israelites prepared shelters for themselves in mountain clefts, caves and strongholds. Whenever the Israelites planted their crops, the Midianites, Amalekites and other eastern peoples invaded the country. 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. They came up with their livestock and their tents like swarms of locusts. It was impossible to count the men and their camels; they invaded the land to ravage it." (Judges 6:1-5)

At this point, the Israelites had settled in the land and become farmers, with some cattle and sheep that they pastured in the hills around their villages. The Midianites, on the other hand, were nomadic herders who were descended from Abraham and his later wife Keturah (Genesis 25:2). After exile from Egypt, Moses went to live in the "land of Midian" (presumably in the Sinai peninsula) where he married the daughter of Jethro, a priest of Midian. Later the Midianites and Moabites conspired with Balaam to curse Israel. The Midianite league of tribes seemed to have had their center in northeast Arabia, east of the Gulf of Aqabah, though they ranged far and wide.1 The Amalekites, mentioned with the Midianites in 6:3, were a nomadic people from the Negev desert and an historic enemy of the Israelites.

The book of Judges describes a seasonal migration into the land of Israel at harvest time to eat off the Israelites' crops. They were ruthless in taking whatever they wanted without thought for the Israelites they were oppressing.

Prophet Explains the Oppression (6:6-10)

"Midian so impoverished the Israelites that they cried out to the LORD for help. When the Israelites cried to the LORD because of Midian, 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. I snatched you from the power of Egypt and from the hand of all your oppressors. I drove them from before you and gave you their land. 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.'" (6:6-10)

The word "impoverished" in 6:6 is Hebrew dālal, "to be low, hang down." The root connotes lowness as a state.2

Notice the connection between suffering and prayer. Often when we are suffering, our pride is broken and we are willing to turn back to God with a prayer for help. God answers with a prophet. This is the first prophet after Moses to be mentioned in the Bible, and none appears after him until Samuel. The word "prophet" (nābî΄) derives from a word (nābā΄) meaning "bubble up, boil forth," hence, "to pour forth words, like those who speak with fervor of mind or under divine inspiration, as prophets and poets." The essential idea in the word is that of an authorized spokesman.3

In verse 10, God speaks directly to the Israelites through this early prophet:

"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 word "worship" (NIV), "pay reverence to" (NRSV), or "fear" (KJV) in 6:10 is the Hebrew verb yārē΄. The root means "to fear," but derived meanings include "reverence or awe" and "formal religious worship."4

The term "Amorites" is a generic term used to refer to the original inhabitants of Palestine, particularly the hill country, when the Israelites came to conqueror the "Promised Land." The "gods of the Amorites," indeed of the entire area, were the male fertility god Baal and the female fertility goddess Asherah or Ashtoreth.

Q1. (Judges 6:7-10) According to the prophet, what is the reason for Israel's oppressed state? What commandment did they break? In what way hadn't they "listened"? In what way does this same sin affect Christians today?
http://www.joyfulheart.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=15

 

 

 

An Angel Appears to Gideon (6:11)

"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." (6:11)

Map of Jezreel Valley The location of Ophrah is uncertain, but is mentioned in relation to the Jezreel Valley and Mount Tabor. It may be identified with Affuleh,5 in a very exposed position in the center of the Jezreel Valley. (Incidentally, Oprah Winfrey's name is variant of Ophrah.)

Gideon's father, Joash, is a descendent of Abiezer, the head of one of the families of the tribe of Manasseh that settled west of the Jordan (Joshua 17:1-6). Gideon's name means "cutter down," "feller," or "hewer," and recalls his role in cutting down the Asherah pole as his first act of obedience to the Lord.

When we find him he is threshing wheat, probably about June, in a winepress, of all places. Usually threshing was done in an exposed breezy place like a hilltop to aid in winnowing the threshed grain.

A winepress wasn't the screw-driven press we might think of today. Wine was processed using a pair of square or circular pits either hewn out of rock or dug out of the ground and then lined with rocks and sealed with plaster. Grapes would be dumped into the upper winepress (Hebrew gat) where they would be trampled by bare feet. The juice then flowed through a conduit into a lower vessel, the winevat. That Gideon was threshing grain in a confined winepress indicates his fear of being seen and his grain taken by the Midianites.6

Mighty Warrior (6:12-13)

"When the angel of the LORD appeared to Gideon, he said, 'The LORD is with you, mighty warrior.'
"'But sir,' Gideon replied, 'if the LORD is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our fathers told us about when they said, "Did not the LORD bring us up out of Egypt?" But now the LORD has abandoned us and put us into the hand of Midian.'" (6:12-13)

After finding Gideon threshing in a winepress, an act of fear, it is extremely ironic that the angel calls Gideon "mighty warrior" (NIV, NRSV) or "mighty man of valor" (KJV). This is the Hebrew phrase gibbor hayil used to describe David's select warriors who had performed great exploits in battle. Gideon, may have looked around. Who? Me?

Gideon is neither a mighty warrior nor a person of great faith. When the angel says "The LORD is with you," Gideon responds, "If the LORD is with us, why has all this happened to us?" He feels abandoned by God rather than protected by God's presence. The Hebrew verb is nāṭ̣ash, "forsake, cast off, cast away, reject, leave."7

Q2. (Judges 6:13) In what way does Gideon blame God for his troubles in verse 13? Is Gideon's assessment accurate? Why or why not? Why do we blame God? What's the danger and how can we stop short of this in the future?
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Gideon's Call to Be a Deliverer (6:14-16)

God sees something in this "mighty warrior" that he doesn't see in himself -- strength.

"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?'

'But Lord,' Gideon asked, 'how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.'

The LORD answered, 'I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites together.'" (6:14-16)

"Strength" (NIV) or "might" (NRSV, KJV) is the Hebrew noun kôaḥ, "strength, power, ability, might, force, substance." The root idea is "capacity to act," used of potency, physical strength, and the general ability to cope with situations.8

Gideon protests his weakness, much like Moses did when God called him (Exodus 3:11; 4:10-17). But God gives Gideon the same answer he gave Moses: "I will be with you." Gideon's strength is not in himself, but in God who has promised to be with him. God's vision of Gideon and God's promise to be with him change Gideon's life!

Then the Lord makes a great promise: "You will strike down all the Midianites together" (6:16) -- that is, in one mighty battle, not just one at a time as a guerrilla leader might.

Notice in verse 14 that it is not the angel of the Lord, but the Lord himself that is speaking to Gideon. This kind of fluidity between the Lord and his messengers is found elsewhere, such as when three angels appear to Abraham (Genesis 18).

Q3. (Judges 6:12-16) How did God see Gideon? How did Gideon see himself? Whose self-perception is most accurate? How can our own self-perception prevent us from becoming what God has made us to be? What is God's answer to Gideon's self-image? What might be an appropriate prayer to pray in light of what God has taught you from this passage?
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Gideon's Hospitality -- and Sacrifice (6:17-21)

"Gideon replied, 'If now I have found favor in your eyes, give me a sign that it is really you talking to me. 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.'

Gideon went in, 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.

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. With the tip of the staff that was in his hand, the angel of the LORD touched the meat and the unleavened bread. Fire flared from the rock, consuming the meat and the bread. And the angel of the LORD disappeared." (6:17-21)

Gideon still isn't exactly sure who this guest is, but recognizes that he is an exalted personage. He asks for a sign that these things will come to pass and also the privilege of offering the gift of hospitality. In the same way as Abraham had prepared a meal for his three guests, Gideon asks this angel to wait while he prepares a meal for him -- required by the very strong values of showing generous hospitality to guests.

"Offering" (NIV) or "present" (KJV) in 6:18 is the Hebrew noun minḥâ, "meat offering, offering, present, gifts, oblation, sacrifice." The word is used in secular contexts of gifts to superior persons, particularly kings, to convey the attitude of homage and submission to that person.9

Building an Altar (6:22-24)

Gideon has no idea that his meal will be consumed by fire. When he sees this, he is frightened:

"When Gideon realized that it was the angel of the LORD , he exclaimed, 'Ah, Sovereign LORD ! I have seen the angel of the LORD face to face!'
But the LORD said to him, 'Peace! Do not be afraid. You are not going to die.'
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.' " (6:22-24)

Like his ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Gideon builds an altar to commemorate this appearance of the Lord (Genesis 12:7-8; 13:18; 26:24-25; 28:18).

Worship of Baal and Ashtoreth

Yahweh is the true God, but Baal worship predominated in Israel at the time. As Yahweh had said through an unnamed prophet:

"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.'" (6:10)

Baal (meaning "lord, master, husband") was pictured as a bull, the symbol of fertility, and was identified with Hadad the storm god, and considered the son of Dagon, worshipped by the Philistines. As the god of storms he was considered to control the land's rain, and thus, fertility.10

Clay image of Asherah (Astarte)
Clay figurine of Asherah (Astarte).
Asherah (also called Ashtoreth and Astarte) was a goddess worshipped throughout Syria and Canaan, where her worship sites were represented by an Asherah pole, a tree trunk or cone of stone.11 She was considered the goddess of fertility and love, and thousands of Astarte figurines made of clay have been found at most of the excavated sites of the Canaanite and Israelite periods.12

Worship of Baal and Asherah involved offering sacrifices and burning incense. And, since this was primarily a fertility religion, worship also involved sex with religious prostitutes, both male and female, at the worship site (Judges 2:17; 8:27-35).13 (See more in the appendix "Canaanite Religions and Baal Worship" (www.jesuswalk.com/joshua/canaanite-religion.htm)

Gideon's First Assignment (6:25-27)

As God's first act of deliverance for Israel, he gives as his first assignment to Gideon a command to strike at the root cause -- Baal worship. Like many assignments from God, we will never know what God can do through us until we decide to obey him the first time, and then the second.

"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. 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.' So Gideon took ten of his servants and did as the LORD told him. But because he was afraid of his family and the men of the town, he did it at night rather than in the daytime. " (6:25-27)

Gideon's "might" partly consisted in his willingness or ability to act -- to obey the Lord. Now the Lord gives him his first assignment. Before the Lord will deliver the Israelites from their enemies he requires them to forsake the false gods they have turned to instead of the true God.

Baal altar at Megiddo
Altar at Megiddo, larger picture.

Worship sites were often on hilltops or "high places" where altars were found. (See picture of an altar at Megiddo.) God tells Gideon to tear down the altars of false gods and instead establish the worship of the Lord "on the top of this height" or high place. It mentions "your father's altar to Baal," though probably Gideon's father Joash is the custodian for the community worship site which is built on his land.

Gideon's risk in tearing down the altar and Asherah pole are first from his own father and second from the community itself. But Gideon takes courage and obeys the Lord. Once he is sure that the Lord has told him to do this, he then takes action.

Q4. (Judges 6:25-27) What is the strategic significance of God's command for Gideon to tear down the Baal altar and Asherah pole? What positive thing is he to erect in their place? What risks are involved in this action? Why does Gideon do this at night? Is this night mission a sign of weakness or of faith?
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Gideon's Father Defends Him (6:28-32)

"In the morning when the men 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!

They asked each other, 'Who did this?'

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

The men 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.'

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.' So that day they called Gideon 'Jerub-Baal,' saying, 'Let Baal contend with him,' because he broke down Baal's altar." (6:28-31)

When you have ten servants in on the plot, there's no way to keep a secret. Within a few minutes inquirers have found out that Gideon is the "hewer" of the Asherah pole and Baal's altar. They demand that his father produce him for execution for desecrating their gods.

Joash can either side with the townsmen or with his son. In this culture, his fierce loyalty will be to his own family. He can side with Baal or with Yahweh. Both were worshipped in this culture, though Yahweh seems a bit out of favor, since he doesn't seem to be protecting his people from the Midianites. Joash has been vacillating between Baal and Yahweh, and has compromised himself by having the Baal altar on his own property. Gideon has put his father on the spot where he must chose between Baal or Yahweh. Joash now uncompromisingly takes the side of Gideon and Yahweh. He has taken his stand, much like Joshua did a century before:

"Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD " (Joshua 24:15)

Then, Joash threatens his fellow townsmen that any who try to take revenge on Baal's behalf against his son Gideon will be dead by the following morning. Finally, Joash defies Baal himself, saying that if Baal were a real god he could defend his own honor.

Gideon has pulled down his father's altar to Baal and the Asherah pole, and God has stood behind his actions. His father has even taken his side. But that was a tiny victory compared to the need.

Q5. (Judges 6:25-31) What kind of leader has Gideon's father Joash been up to this point? How does Gideon's action affect his father? Shouldn't Gideon have considered the impact on his father? How should this have affected Gideon's action? (See Matthew 10:34-38) In what sense is Joash a follower of Yahweh now?
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It is interesting that it took a son to set an example for the father -- a son who considered himself weak and insignificant. But what was begun here in delivering the spiritual tyranny and influence of Baal worship laid the groundwork for the military deliverance of Israel which was to follow.

Lessons for Disciples

The story of Gideon is not just an exciting account, but one which should teach us lessons of faith. Let's look at the issues revealed in this account and then apply them to ourselves.

  1. We, like Israel, can drift away from full allegiance to God. We must examine our hearts and encourage one another to resist "a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God" (Hebrews 3:12-13).
  2. God sees us differently that we can see ourselves. We can be beaten down by circumstances and cringe in fear, unable to see what God can do. God can see us as a "mighty warrior" (6:12) when we see ourselves as "the least in my family" (6:15).
  3. We sometimes blame God for troubles we bring upon ourselves. Israel was being chastised by God, but Gideon blames God for not being with them (6:13). We usually don't see the big picture.
  4. Our strength is in God's presence and leadership. When we rely on ourselves we are weak, but when we rely upon God being with us, we are "mighty" (6:14, 16).
  5. We must act with courage when we determine what we should do. At great personal risk, Gideon tears down the Baal altar and Asherah pole. He even puts his family on the spot. But he must obey. Faith without obedience is hollow.
  6. When we recognize where we have compromised, we must correct our path, even if it requires losing face. Joash showed courage to stand with Yahweh and his son Gideon, even though he had compromised in the past.
Gideon: Discipleship Lessons from the Bronze Age, by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
Available in e-book formats.

When I think of Gideon I think of courage and faith. That's how each of us would like to be remembered.

Prayer

Father, I can see my own fearfulness and indecision in Gideon. Yet you have been gracious and fill me with your might and power when I will take courage and obey you. Help me to be faithful to you. Help me not just to talk about faith but to live it out with your help. Forgive me for my apathy and lethargy. Energize me by your Spirit to be your obedient and dependable disciple. In Jesus' name, I pray. Amen.

Key Verses

"When the angel of the LORD appeared to Gideon, he said, 'The LORD is with you, mighty warrior... Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian's hand. Am I not sending you? ... I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites together.' " (Judges 6:12, 14, 16)

References

Common Abbreviations of References

  1. Thomas V. Brisco, "Midian," ISBE 3:349-351.
  2. Leonard J. Coppes, dālal, TWOT #433.
  3. Robert D. Culver, nābā΄, TWOT #1277a.
  4. Andrew Bowling, yārē΄, TWOT, #907.
  5. "Affuleh," in Avraham Negev (ed.), Archaeological Encyclopedia of the Holy Land, (Thomas Nelson, 1986), p. 16.
  6. Barry L. Bandstra, "Wine Press, Winevat," ISBE 4:1072.
  7. Marvin R. Wilson, nāṭ̣ash, TWOT #1357.
  8. John N. Oswalt, kḥḥ, TWOT #973a.
  9. G. Lloyd Carr, mnḥ, TWOT, #1214a.
  10. Kurt Gerhard Jung, "Baal," ISBE 1:377-379. R.K. Harrison, "Baal," in Edward M. Blaiklock and R.K. Harrison (editors), New International Dictionary of Biblical Archaeology (Zondervan, 1983), p. 84.
  11. Kurt Gerhard Jung, "Asherah," ISBE 1:317-318.
  12. "Astarte, Ashtoreth," in Avraham Negev (ed.), Archaeological Encyclopedia of the Holy Land, (Thomas Nelson, 1986), pp. 45-46.
  13. David W. Wead, "Harlot," ISBE 2:616-617.

Copyright © 1985-2014, Ralph F. Wilson. <pastor@joyfulheart.com> All rights reserved. A single copy of this article is free. Do not put this on a website. See legal, copyright, and reprint information.

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