The story of Gideon
When we get to Judges 6, Israel has been enjoying a time of peace and relative ease. As the tendency is when life is pleasant and people are not so reminded of their need for God, Israel forgets God and follows their own desires. 6:1 begins with a common refrain throughout the book of Judges. “Then the sons of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the LORD…” We’ll find they’ve fallen back into idolatry again.
So what did God do? Well, God did the very thing He said He would do in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28 if they forsook Him for other gods. “The LORD gave them into the hands of Midian seven years.” Midianites were old relatives of the Israelites who lived south of them. Verse 2, “The power of Midian prevailed against Israel. Because of Midian the sons of Israel made for themselves the dens which were in the mountains and the caves and the strongholds. 3 For it was when Israel had sown, that the Midianites would come up with the Amalekites and the sons of the east and go against them. 4 So they would camp against them and destroy the produce of the earth as far as Gaza and leave no sustenance in Israel as well as no sheep, ox, or donkey. 5 For they would come up with their livestock and their tents, they would come in like locusts for number, both they and their camels were innumerable; and they came into the land to devastate it.” So it seems that for 7 years there was this annual invasion of the Midianites and their allies. They would come in like a swarm of locusts from the east. The people of Israel would flee into dens and caves and strongholds in the mountains with what provisions they could carry. This swarm would cross the Jordan River and go all the way across the land, almost to the Mediterranean Sea, desolating the land as they went, eating, stealing, or destroying the produce and livestock, leaving no sustenance in Israel. Can you imagine? And they came every year for 7 years. And so verse 6, “So Israel was brought very low because of Midian…” They became poverty-stricken, destitute and desperate.
The last bit of verse 6 is another common occurrence in the book of Judges whenever the people were brought very low and greatly distressed. It says, “and the sons of Israel cried to the LORD.” They cried to YHVH, because Baal and Asherah, the pagan gods they were worshiping, weren’t delivering them. The LORD, YHVH, who brought them out of Egypt, was their last resort.
God made sure that they knew why things were so difficult for them. Verse 7, “Now it came about when the sons of Israel cried to the Lord on account of Midian, 8 that the Lord sent a prophet [an unnamed prophet] to the sons of Israel, and he said to them, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘It was I who brought you up from Egypt and brought you out from the house of slavery. 9 I delivered you from the hands of the Egyptians and from the hands of all your oppressors, and dispossessed them before you and gave you their land, 10 and I said to you, “I am the LORD your God; you shall not fear the gods of the Amorites in whose land you live. But you have not obeyed Me.” “The problem is not your lack of military strength. It’s not that you haven’t fortified the land enough. It’s not a political problem or your tax system or an economic problem or anything like that. The problem is that this nation has repaid God’s goodness and faithfulness to them with ingratitude and disobedience and unfaithfulness.”
And yet, though they deserve their misery, though the only reason they’re turning and crying out to God is because He’s their last resort, amazingly God has compassion and mercy on them and decides to deliver them.
Verse 11 says, “Then the angel of the Lord came…” who is an interesting figure in the OT, because when you look at the many occasions where “the angel of the LORD” appears in the OT, He doesn’t appear to be just an angel. He often assumes the prerogatives of God, He speaks as God, He says sometimes to those He appears to “remove the sandals from your feet for the ground on which you are standing is holy ground,” He accepts worship and is referred to, as He will be in this story, as God. Isaiah 63:9 calls Him “the angel of God’s presence.” He appears to be a theophany, a human-like manifestation of God, seems to me.
Anyway, He “came and sat under the oak that was in Ophrah, which belonged to Joash the Abiezrite [Abiezrites were a family in the tribe of Manasseh in Israel.] as his son Gideon was beating out wheat in the wine press in order to save it from the Midianites.” That’s a terrible place to beat out wheat. Normally you would want to thresh wheat out in the open field, maybe up on a hill, where there’s a breeze, so that after you thresh it and knock the chaff off the grain, with a winnowing fork you can toss it up in the air and the wind would blow the chaff away and the denser kernels of grain would fall to the floor. But Gideon can’t do that because if the Midianites see that he has grain they’re going to come take it. So he has to go down into a wine press in the ground. And he tosses the wheat up down there, the chaff just gets all over him. Have you ever hauled hay and stacked it up above your head and it gets all over you and you’re sweaty and itchy and angry? That’s how I picture Gideon in this wine press. He’s defeated. He’s hiding. He’s frustrated. And then here’s this stranger who says, “The LORD is with you, O valiant warrior.” And I imagine Gideon looked around, and not seeing anybody else around, saying, “Are you talking to me?”
Verse 13, “Then Gideon said to him, “O my lord, if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us?…” You wonder, did he get the message from the prophet God sent, because he explained why all this had happened to them? It was because of their sin. But Gideon’s ignorant it seems. “And where are all His miracles which our fathers told us about, saying, ‘Did not the LORD bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the Lord has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian.” Which is true, but Gideon doesn’t understand why. He’s apparently not very familiar with his Bible, because in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28, God promised that if they forsake Him for idols He would give them into the hands of their enemies.
Verse 14, “The Lord looked at him and said, ‘Go in this your strength [I think “this your strength” refers to God’s promise that He just gave him that He’s with him. That’s Gideon’s strength. That’s his courage, the promise of God’s helping presence.] and deliver Israel from the hand of Midian. Have I not sent you?’ 15 He said to Him, ‘O Lord, how shall I deliver Israel? Behold, my family is the least in Manasseh, and I am the youngest in my father’s house.’” Sounds a lot like Moses when he was called, doesn’t he? “Lord, I think You’ve called the wrong number.” Gideon is thinking “To deliver Israel I’ve got to summon a great army. How would I possibly do that? I’m of a little, undistinguished family in my tribe, and I’m the youngest, least distinguished guy in my little family. Nobody will follow me. I can’t call an army.” Verse 16, “But the Lord said to him, ‘Surely I will be with you, and you shall defeat Midian as one man.‘“ In other words “The army of Midian will be like a single fella and you can whoop him, since I’m with you.” God plus one weakling is always a majority in any battle.
Gideon realizes this guy is claiming to be God. But he is skeptical as I think we would be also. Verse 17, So Gideon said to Him, “If now I have found favor in Your sight, then show me a sign that it is You who speak with me. Please do not depart from here, until I come back to You, and bring out my offering and lay it before You.” So Gideon asks this strange man to do two things. One, give him some confirmation that He really is the LORD. And second, to hang out for a bit that He might bring him a gift. “And He said, “I will remain until you return.” Then Gideon went in and prepared a young goat and unleavened bread from an ephah of flour; he put the meat in a basket and the broth in a pot [which was quite a gift, considering how poor the Israelites were at the time], and brought them out to him under the oak and presented them. 20 The angel of God said to him, “Take the meat and the unleavened bread and lay them on this rock, and pour out the broth.” [That is, I think “pour out the broth on the offering on the rock. Get it all soaking wet.”] And he did so. 21 Then the angel of the Lord put out the end of the staff that was in his hand and touched the meat and the unleavened bread; and fire sprang up from the rock and consumed the meat and the unleavened bread [like what happened when Aaron and his sons offered the first sacrifices at the tabernacle, fire came out from the presence of the LORD and consumed the sacrifices]. Then the angel of the Lord vanished from his sight. 22 When Gideon saw that he was the angel of the Lord, he said, “Alas, O Lord God! For now I have seen the angel of the Lord face to face.” [He’s convinced, and he’s scared for his life, because it was understood in that day that God does not permit Himself to be seen. It was believed if a man sees God he won’t be allowed to live.] 23 The Lord said to him [I guess now by a voice in Gideon’s mind], “Peace to you, do not fear [“Chill,” in other words]; you shall not die.” 24 Then Gideon built an altar there to the LORD and named it [YHVH shalom] The LORD is Peace. To this day it is still in Ophrah of the Abiezrites.”
So now God has one ignorant weakling who is willing to trust and obey Him. Now, look what God does with him. Verse 25 He gives him his first assignment, “Now on the same night the Lord said to him, “Take your father’s bull and a second bull seven years old, and pull down the altar of Baal which belongs to your father, and cut down the Asherah that is beside it; 26 and build an altar to the Lord your God on the top of this stronghold in an orderly manner, and take a second bull and offer a burnt offering with the wood of the Asherah which you shall cut down.” Baal was believed to be the chief deity of the land. His female consort was called Asherah. And she was apparently represented with a wooden pole of some sort. Gideon is to essentially go into his dad’s backyard and tear down these idols of his father, and use the material from the idols to build an altar and offer a sacrifice to the one true and living God. “Gideon, I want you to love me more than your own dad. And I want you to take these actions to help your family and others see what is false and what is true.”
Well, I find verse 27 very encouraging, because it doesn’t say that “Gideon leaped to his feet and raced to his dad’s backyard, while he was having a BBQ on the back porch with the neighbors, and in the sight of all, just commenced to tearing and bashing and destroying the altar of Baal and the pole of Asherah.” What it says Gideon did sounds like what I probably would have done. It says, “Then Gideon took ten men of his servants and did as the Lord had spoken to him; and because he was too afraid of his father’s household and the men of the city to do it by day, he did it by night.” Gideon trusts God enough to be obedient, but not enough to eliminate his fears. God said, “Gideon, you will defeat Midian and deliver Israel.” If He completely 100% believed that, I don’t think he would have been afraid. But he was struggling with a little bit of doubt. Yet he trusted enough to be obedient, to follow God’s guidance though it scared him.
And look what God causes to happen through his scared obedience. Verse 28 says, “When the men of the city arose early in the morning, behold, the altar of Baal was torn down, and the Asherah which was beside it was cut down, and the second bull was offered on the altar which had been built. 29 They said to one another, “Who did this thing?” And when they searched about and inquired, they said, “Gideon the son of Joash did this thing.” 30 Then the men of the city said to Joash, “Bring out your son, that he may die, for he has torn down the altar of Baal, and indeed, he has cut down the Asherah which was beside it.” But Joash said to all who stood against him, “Will you contend for Baal, or will you deliver him? Whoever will plead for him shall be put to death by morning. [Baal won’t want you pleading for him as though he’s powerless to defend himself.] If he is a god, let him contend for himself, because someone has torn down his altar.” 32 Therefore on that day he named him Jerubbaal [Baal will contend], that is to say, “Let Baal contend against him,” because he had torn down his altar.” And the days went by and nothing happened to Gideon. Apparently Baal is nobody to be feared.
Verse 33, “Then all the Midianites and the Amalekites and the sons of the east assembled themselves; and they crossed over and camped in the valley of Jezreel.” Their enemies are back for their annual ravaging of the land. Verse 34, “So the Spirit of the LORD came upon Gideon [apparently to give him the courage and boldness to do this]; and he blew a trumpet, and the Abiezrites [that’s his clan, his family] were called together to follow him. He sent messengers throughout Manasseh, and they also were called together to follow him; and he sent messengers to Asher, Zebulun, and Naphtali, and they came up to meet them.” News of what Gideon did to Baal’s altar without any consequence had spread. That combined with the fact that the idols whom they’d served had not delivered them for 7 years, plus the message of the unnamed prophet, all these things had converted Gideon’s family and much of the nation. And Gideon had gone from beating out wheat in a winepress to chief of the nation.
Verse 36, then Gideon said to God, “If You will deliver Israel through me, as You have spoken, 37 behold, I will put a fleece of wool on the threshing floor. If there is dew on the fleece only, and it is dry on all the ground, then I will know that You will deliver Israel through me, as You have spoken.” Now, God already did the miracles for him of consuming the offering on the rock and the rallying of the men of Israel to him. But Gideon wants more confirmation. He believes, but there’s a bit of doubt still. And so he sets up this test for God to again prove that He’s with him. I don’t think this is something to emulate. I don’t think God likes to be tested like this, to be “fleeced.” Deuteronomy 6:16 said, “You shall not put the LORD your God to the test, as you tested Him at Massah.” Massah the nation had no water and they tested the Lord saying “Is the LORD among us, or not?” And they were demanding water as proof that He was with them. And God gave them water, but that didn’t mean He approved of them testing him. It seems to me that Gideon is doing that. But Gideon was ignorant of God’s word and struggling with faith. And yet God is very patient with him here and gives him this confirmation he wanted. Verse 38, “And it was so. [The ground dry; the fleece dewy.] When he arose early the next morning and squeezed the fleece, he drained the dew from the fleece, a bowl full of water.” Maybe his thought was, “Well, fleece is absorbent and retains water. Maybe it somehow attracted water last night and the ground didn’t. Maybe that was just a coincidence. But if the fleece could be dry and the ground dewy, then that would be definitely miraculous.” So verse 39, as if it’s not bad enough to fleece God once, “Then Gideon said to God, “Do not let Your anger burn against me that I may speak once more; please let me make a test once more with the fleece, let it now be dry only on the fleece, and let there be dew on all the ground.” “God, please don’t hit me. Can we do this again, but just let it be the other way around this time, dry fleece, wet ground?” “God did so that night; for it was dry only on the fleece, and dew was on all the ground.”
We won’t read chapter 7 for time’s sake. But Gideon has an army of 32,000 and they’re out numbered even then. Their enemies number 135,000. And yet God tells Gideon, “You’ve got too many men.” Why? “Because I know the hearts of the people of Israel, and if I let you deliver Israel with 32,000, they’re going to say, ‘We did it. Our own power has delivered us.’ So we’ve got to send home a few. Tell the men, ‘Whoever is afraid and trembling, go home.’“ Gideon does and 66% of his army leaves. He’s down to 10,000. Then God says “You’ve still got too many, Gideon. We’ve got to send a few more home. Bring them down to the creek and watch them drink. And separate the ones that kneel down and put their face to the water to drink from the ones who scoop the water in their hands and lap the water like a dog.” 9,700 knelt down and put their face to the water to drink. 300 scooped it and lapped it like a dog. And the LORD said, “Gideon, send the 9700 home.” So Gideon has lost over 99% of his original army. He’s down to 300 guys and he’s going against an army of 135,000. That’s 450 to 1.
And God knows that Gideon is struggling with faith again and scared. And God says to him, “Gideon if you’re still scared take your servant Purah with you and sneak down to the camp of Midian tonight and hear what they say and it will give you strength.” Gideon snuck down to the edge of their camp and he heard a man telling his dream to a friend. The man said, “Behold, I had a dream; a loaf of barely bread was tumbling into the camp of Midian, and it came to the tent [that is the kings’ tent] and struck it so that it fell and turned it upside down so that the tent lay flat.” He friend replied, “This nothing less than the sword of Gideon the son of Joash, a man of Israel; God has given Midian and all the camp into his hand.” When Gideon heard the account of the dream and its interpretation, he bowed in worship. He returned to [the 300] and said, “Arise, for the LORD has given the camp of Midian into your hands.” Now Gideon is full of faith. Now he sounds like the valiant warrior as the angel of the Lord called him when he was threshing out wheat in a wine press. I’ll let you read the rest of the story later, how God defeated 135,000 with 300.
God is awesome! And this story illustrates many of God’s characteristics and behaviors that make Him so. Notice 4 things that we see in this account about God. First of all, as the first 10 verses of chapter 6 illustrates, like a good father will do for his kids when they rebel…
God will chastise us to turn us back to Him and the way that we need to be living for our own good.
Israel was brought low because of disobedience. And we find that’s not just how God dealt with Israel. We find that’s how God deals with nations in general. Proverbs 14:34, “Righteousness exalts a nation, But sin is a disgrace to any people.” Sin is what brings nations down. It’s how you see God dealing with nations all through Scripture. I love the picture in Jeremiah 18. Jeremiah is told to go down to the potter’s house, and there he sees a potter making something on the wheel. Then he sees the potter decide to destroy the vessel he is making with his hands, and then make the clay into something else. He just makes the clay into whatever pleases him. Then God said to Jeremiah, “That’s the nations in My hands. At one moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to uproot, to pull down, or to destroy it; if that nation against which I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent concerning the calamity I planned to bring on it. Or at another moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to build up or to plant it; if it does evil in My sight by not obeying My voice, then I will think better of the good with which I had promised to bless it.” Nations are like clay in God’s hands. And what He does with them is determined by their obedience to His ways. He will discipline nations to turn them back to Him. As soon as I get invited up to the White House to speak, here’s my message. Our problem is not social, it is not economic, it is not political, it is not health care, it is not immigration issues, it is not terrorists. Those are not really the problems. The problem is we’ve turned from God, we’ve been increasingly disobedient to the God who made us and prospered us.
But we’re also told that God in His love will also discipline us as individuals when we’ve strayed. God will use tough times to get out attention. God did it with the Corinthian church (I Corinthians 11:30-32) because there was jealousy and strife among them and sinful attitudes toward each other. “For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep. 31 But if we judged ourselves rightly, we would not be judged. 32 But when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord so that we will not be condemned along with the world.” Now, that doesn’t mean that every experience of hardship in our individual lives is because we’re in error in some way. We see in the case of Job and others that great hardship can come though you’re completely faithful and obedient to God. So don’t necessarily feel like you’re not right with God if you’re going through a tough time. But do consider, “Is God trying to get my attention? Is there something I need to change in my heart and life?” because it appears that if He needs to get our attention and motivate us to make some changes, often God will use tough times to do that.
Another amazing thing about God illustrated here is…
His willingness to accept people back who have only turned to Him because they’ve been brought very low and He’s their last resort.
Even when the only reason they’re coming to Him is because they’re desperate, He still welcomes them! It’s amazing. He is the Father of that prodigal son, that ungrateful kid who demanded his share of the inheritance, and then went off with his father’s wealth and wasted it on prostitutes and alcohol until he had nothing left and had to sell himself to a pig farmer. And only then when he was desperate, did he come back to the Father. And yet that Father, when he saw him coming home, didn’t turn his back on him, didn’t scold him, didn’t spit in his face as he deserved. He ran to him and embraced him and kissed him and honored him with a robe on his back and a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet and a celebration. That is our God toward anyone who repents, no matter what it has taken to bring them to repentance.
Another awesome thing about God illustrated here:
God is patient and accepting of us though we struggle with faith.
You saw how Gideon came to faith when God gave him enough evidence for faith. But there was still a bit of uncertainty. He trusted enough to be obedient, but not quite enough to eliminate his fears.
Do you ever question your faith? Do you have a bit of doubt sometimes about God, about the promises in this book, about the afterlife, about God’s presence with you? I have. I do. I know intellectually the abundant evidence; the confirmation God has given me that makes belief more reasonable than unbelief. Yet sometimes there’s still a little bit of uncertainty in my heart. I’m encouraged by the story of Gideon. It illustrates that as long as we’re not letting go of God, as long as we’re hanging on to enough faith to be obedient, to be faithful, God is very patient and accepting of us even in that struggle with faith.
John the Baptist is another Bible character that assures me of that. The gospels tell us when he was imprisoned by Herod, he sent a couple of his disciples to Jesus to ask this question for him, “Are You the Expected One, or do we look for someone else?” John the Baptist, who had earlier pointed at Jesus and said, “Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,” now a year or two later I think, was struggling with a little bit of doubt. Things hadn’t gone as John expected. He was imprisoned. And I think John probably had some of the Jewish misconceptions about the coming Messiah. And Jesus wasn’t quite what He was expecting. But Jesus sent a message of reassurance back to John and then spoke some very favorable words about John to the people and even said, “Among those born of women there is no one greater than John.” But even he struggled a bit with his faith.
One more awesome thing we see illustrated about God.
God makes heroes out of nobodies when those nobodies are willing to trust Him enough to be obedient.
I don’t know what God will do with you or me if we trust Him enough to just give ourselves to Him and His cause in the world. I don’t know how many lives He’ll use us to change, what impact He will honor us to have on the world. But I think that God loves to honor those who give themselves to Him by doing big things with them.
Another passage outside of Gideon’s story for that is Revelation 3:8; some words of Jesus to the good church in Philadelphia for whom Jesus had no criticism. The Lord said to that church, “I know your deeds. Behold, I have put before you an open door which no one can shut, because you have a little power, and have kept My word, and have not denied My name.” What’s He mean “I’ve put before you an open door”? The language of an open door in the NT usually has reference to having some kind of opportunity, especially an opportunity to spread the gospel, to lead souls to Christ. I Corinthians 16:8-9, “But I will remain in Ephesus until Pentecost; for a wide door for effective service has opened to me...” II Corinthians 2:12, “Now when I came to Troas for the gospel of Christ and when a door was opened to me in the Lord…” He means an opportunity to spread the gospel. Colossians 4:3, “pray… for us as well, that God will open up to us a door for the word, so that we may speak forth the mystery of Christ…” I think the Lord was promising the church in Philadelphia the privilege and honor and opportunity to be instrumental in furthering the kingdom. I think the next verses further explain it. Verse 9, “Behold, I will cause those of the synagogue of Satan, who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie — I will make them come and bow down at your feet, and make them know that I have loved you.” In other words, many of the Jews in their community would turn to Christianity. I think the Lord was going to use this church to reach many of their Jewish neighbors. And why? Because though they had little power, maybe they were a little church, maybe a poor church, maybe they didn’t have much for talent or education, though they were a “Gideon”, not too impressive in and of himself, they trusted God enough to be obedient. They were faithful. And so the Lord was going to use them to do something big.
Well seems to me, God likes to do that kind of thing, do big things with nobodies who trust Him enough to be obedient. Let’s just trust him enough to do His will, even in our own “dad’s backyard.” Jesus said for us, “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.” And He’s called us to not hide our light under a basket, even among our unbelieving family, to in kindness and love and tactfulness tear down the false images of God that they have set up in their minds and put truth in its place, to get the message across, “Mom, Dad, brother, sister, daughter, son, I love you, will you look at this with me? Will you consider this? This is who God is and this is who God is not and this is how I know that.” Let’s trust Him enough to do what He calls us to do in our homes, in our relationships, with our money, with our time, and see what He uses us to do.
– James Williams