The Israelites served God all the days of Joshua and all the days of the elders who outlived him. But in time a new generation arose that had not seen Gods power and works. They forsook God and turned to Baal worship (Judges 2:7, 10-11). According to the punishment God promised, they were sold into the hands of their enemies. This happened a number of times with generations that followed. In due time the Israelites would repent, and God would then deliver them by the hands of a champion. The book of Judges is a history of these events. While there were others that came before him, the Bible contains a more detailed account of Gideon. The related account is fascinating. Gideon was commissioned to deliver Israel from the hand of Midian.
Because of their sins the Israelites were subjected to Midianite rule. They were severely oppressed.
And the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD: and the LORD delivered them into the hand of Midian seven years . . . . And Israel was greatly impoverished because of the Midianites; and the children of Israel cried unto the LORD. And it came to pass, when the children of Israel cried unto the LORD because of the Midianites, That the LORD sent a prophet unto the children of Israel, which said unto them, Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, I brought you up from Egypt, and brought you forth out of the house of bondage. (Judges 6:1, 6-8)
After the prophet testified to them, making the Israelites aware of what had led them to this bondage, God moved to deliver them. He appeared to a man named Gideon from the tribe of Manasseh, located west of the Jordan River. Manasseh was divided into two tribes, one located on the west side of the Jordan, the other on the east.
And there came an angel of the LORD, and sat under an oak which was in Ophrah, that pertained unto Joash the Abiezrite: and his son Gideon threshed wheat by the winepress, to hide it from the Midianites. And the angel of the LORD appeared unto him, and said unto him, The LORD is with thee, thou mighty man of valour. And Gideon said unto him, Oh my Lord, if the LORD be with us, why then is all this befallen us? and where be all his miracles which our fathers told us of, saying, Did not the LORD bring us up from Egypt? but now the LORD hath forsaken us, and delivered us into the hands of the Midianites. And the LORD looked upon him, and said, Go in this thy might, and thou shalt save Israel from the hand of the Midianites: have not I sent thee? (Judges 6:11-14)
Notice his reply:
“And he said unto him, Oh my Lord, wherewith shall I save Israel? behold, my family is poor in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house” (Judges 6:15).
Gideon did not have an exalted opinion of himself. But it is unlikely God would select a champion who was not already proven. But notice also, Gideon had a patriotic zeal for his nation and a great reverence and respect for God. In effect, he was saying, “Who am I to be doing this?” But God told him, “. . . Surely I will be with thee, and thou shalt smite the Midianites as one man” (Judges 6:16).
Gideon wanted to be fully assured. He asked God for a sign.
And he said unto him, If now I have found grace in thy sight, then shew me a sign that thou talkest with me. Depart not hence, I pray thee, until I come unto thee, and bring forth my present, and set it before thee. And he said, I will tarry until thou come again. And Gideon went in, and made ready a kid, and unleavened cakes of an ephah of flour: the flesh he put in a basket, and he put the broth in a pot, and brought it out unto him under the oak, and presented it. And the angel of God said unto him, Take the flesh and the unleavened cakes, and lay them upon this rock, and pour out the broth. And he did so. Then the angel of the LORD put forth the end of the staff that was in his hand, and touched the flesh and the unleavened cakes; and there rose up fire out of the rock, and consumed the flesh and the unleavened cakes. Then the angel of the LORD departed out of his sight. And when Gideon perceived that he was an angel of the LORD, Gideon said, Alas, O Lord GOD! for because I have seen an angel of the LORD face to face. And the LORD said unto him, Peace be unto thee; fear not: thou shalt not die. Then Gideon built an altar there unto the LORD, and called it Jehovahshalom: unto this day it is yet in Ophrah of the Abiezrites. (Judges 6:17-24)
The Angel of the Lord who appeared to him was YHVH (vv. 22-23). That same night Gideon was instructed to destroy his father’s image of Baal, as well as the grove next to it. Because he had some fear of blood shed , Gideon destroyed these idolatrous sites at night, but it did not take long for the people to realize who had done this. They demanded that Gideon’s father punish him, however his father refused. He defended his son and put a stop to their plans. Gideon was soon to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Midianites, but God first required that idolatry be banished.
Not long after that the Midianites, Amalakites, and the children from the east began their annual pillage and looting in the land of Israel. “Then all the Midianites and the Amalekites and the children of the east were gathered together, and went over, and pitched in the valley of Jezreel. But the Spirit of the LORD came upon Gideon, and he blew a trumpet; and Abiezer was gathered after him. And he sent messengers throughout all Manasseh; who also was gathered after him: and he sent messengers unto Asher, and unto Zebulun, and unto Naphtali; and they came up to meet them” (Judges 6:33-35).
Gideon needed further assurances from God.
And Gideon said unto God, If thou wilt save Israel by mine hand, as thou hast said, Behold, I will put a fleece of wool in the floor; and if the dew be on the fleece only, and it be dry upon all the earth beside, then shall I know that thou wilt save Israel by mine hand, as thou hast said. And it was so: for he rose up early on the morrow, and thrust the fleece together, and wringed the dew out of the fleece, a bowl full of water. And Gideon said unto God, Let not thine anger be hot against me, and I will speak but this once: let me prove, I pray thee, but this once with the fleece; let it now be dry only upon the fleece, and upon all the ground let there be dew. And God did so that night: for it was dry upon the fleece only, and there was dew on all the ground. (Judges 6:36-40)
Gideon went beyond asking for only one sign. He asked for another. Notice, God did not become angry and view this as a lack of faith. He wanted Gideon to be fully prepared in his mind and heart to take up this task. He knew Gideon had to have full confidence in His promise. This second sign was the most significant. This is because a fleece left outside would naturally collect moisture, but if it were completely dry, that would absolutely prove divine intervention.
Gideon’s army numbered 32,000. But God told Gideon this was too many. He wanted the number reduced because He did not want the Israelites to take the credit for the victory that was to follow. So, Gideon asked those who were fearful to go home. The army was now reduced to 10,000 men, but God said this was too large also. He now instructed Gideon to cull the army down to the size He wanted.
And the LORD said unto Gideon, The people are yet too many; bring them down unto the water, and I will try them for thee there: and it shall be, that of whom I say unto thee, This shall go with thee, the same shall go with thee; and of whomsoever I say unto thee, This shall not go with thee, the same shall not go. So he brought down the people unto the water: and the LORD said unto Gideon, Every one that lappeth of the water with his tongue, as a dog lappeth, him shalt thou set by himself; likewise every one that boweth down upon his knees to drink. And the number of them that lapped, putting their hand to their mouth, were three hundred men: but all the rest of the people bowed down upon their knees to drink water. And the LORD said unto Gideon, By the three hundred men that lapped will I save you, and deliver the Midianites into thine hand: and let all the other people go every man unto his place. (Judges 7:4-7)
Gideon had no reservations that God was carrying out His plan to destroy the invaders. Those who got down on their knees were dismissed. Those who drank after filling their cupped hands with water were retained. They were the ones prepared and ready to fight in an instant.
Then once again God bolstered Gideon’s confidence in a pronounced manner.
And it came to pass the same night, that the LORD said unto him, Arise, get thee down unto the host; for I have delivered it into thine hand. But if thou fear to go down, go thou with Phurah thy servant down to the host: And thou shalt hear what they say; and afterward shall thine hands be strengthened to go down unto the host. Then went he down with Phurah his servant unto the outside of the armed men that were in the host. And the Midianites and the Amalekites and all the children of the east lay along in the valley like grasshoppers for multitude; and their camels were without number, as the sand by the sea side for multitude. And when Gideon was come, behold, there was a man that told a dream unto his fellow, and said, Behold, I dreamed a dream, and, lo, a cake of barley bread tumbled into the host of Midian, and came unto a tent, and smote it that it fell, and overturned it, that the tent lay along. And his fellow answered and said, This is nothing else save the sword of Gideon the son of Joash, a man of Israel: for into his hand hath God delivered Midian, and all the host. And it was so, when Gideon heard the telling of the dream, and the interpretation thereof, that he worshipped, and returned into the host of Israel, and said, Arise; for the LORD hath delivered into your hand the host of Midian. (Judges 7:9-15)
Gideon now began the attack.
And he divided the three hundred men into three companies, and he put a trumpet in every man’s hand, with empty pitchers, and lamps within the pitchers. And he said unto them, Look on me, and do likewise: and, behold, when I come to the outside of the camp, it shall be that, as I do, so shall ye do. When I blow with a trumpet, I and all that are with me, then blow ye the trumpets also on every side of all the camp, and say, The sword of the LORD, and of Gideon. So Gideon, and the hundred men that were with him, came unto the outside of the camp in the beginning of the middle watch; and they had but newly set the watch: and they blew the trumpets, and brake the pitchers that were in their hands. And the three companies blew the trumpets, and brake the pitchers, and held the lamps in their left hands, and the trumpets in their right hands to blow withal: and they cried, The sword of the LORD, and of Gideon. And they stood every man in his place round about the camp: and all the host ran, and cried, and fled. And the three hundred blew the trumpets, and the LORD set every man’s sword against his fellow, even throughout all the host: and the host fled to Bethshittah in Zererath, and to the border of Abelmeholah, unto Tabbath. (Judges 7:16-22)
The tribes of Naphtali, Asher, and Manasseh soon joined the fray. The Ephraimites held the fords of the Jordan river and killed many of the fleeing enemy. It was a disaster for the invaders and a great victory for Israel. But the Ephraimites were offended because they were not invited to join in the initial attack. “And the men of Ephraim said unto him, Why hast thou served us thus, that thou calledst us not, when thou wentest to fight with the Midianites? And they did chide with him sharply” (Judges 8:1). But notice Gideon’s answer. He was a master of diplomacy. “And he said unto them, What have I done now in comparison of you? Is not the gleaning of the grapes of Ephraim better than the vintage of Abiezer? God hath delivered into your hands the princes of Midian, Oreb and Zeeb: and what was I able to do in comparison of you? Then their anger was abated toward him, when he had said that” (vv. 2-3).
Gideon pursued the fleeing Midianites and their allies, who had crossed the Jordan River and were heading eastward. He came to the cities of Succoth and Penuel, located in the territory of Gad, and asked for food for his army. They refused. Fearful that the Israelite army would not be completely successful in their pursuit, they feared the future consequences. “And the princes of Succoth said, Are the hands of Zebah and Zalmunna now in thine hand, that we should give bread unto thine army?” (Judges 8:6). They had no faith in God, and no confidence in Gideon. In reality, their conduct was contemptuous toward God. Gideon warned them that he would punish them when he returned in victory. He had no doubt that God would deliver the entire enemy host into his hands. He said, ” . . . Therefore when the LORD hath delivered Zebah and Zalmunna into mine hand, then I will tear your flesh with the thorns of the wilderness and with briers. And he went up thence to Penuel, and spake unto them likewise: and the men of Penuel answered him as the men of Succoth had answered him. And he spake also unto the men of Penuel, saying, When I come again in peace, I will break down this tower” (vv. 7-9).
What, then, happened to the Midianites? “And Gideon went up by the way of them that dwelt in tents on the east of Nobah and Jogbehah, and smote the host: for the host was secure. And when Zebah and Zalmunna fled, he pursued after them, and took the two kings of Midian, Zebah and Zalmunna, and discomfited all the host” (Judges 8:11-12). He executed the two kings for their atrocities.
Then said he unto Zebah and Zalmunna, What manner of men were they whom ye slew at Tabor? And they answered, As thou art, so were they; each one resembled the children of a king. And he said, They were my brethren, even the sons of my mother: as the LORD liveth, if ye had saved them alive, I would not slay you. And he said unto Jether his firstborn, Up, and slay them. But the youth drew not his sword: for he feared, because he was yet a youth. Then Zebah and Zalmunna said, Rise thou, and fall upon us: for as the man is, so is his strength. And Gideon arose, and slew Zebah and Zalmunna, and took away the ornaments that were on their camels’ necks. (Judges 8:18-21)
Gideon now had to deal with Succoth and Penuel.
And Gideon the son of Joash returned from battle before the sun was up, And caught a young man of the men of Succoth, and enquired of him: and he described unto him the princes of Succoth, and the elders thereof, even threescore and seventeen men. And he came unto the men of Succoth, and said, Behold Zebah and Zalmunna, with whom ye did upbraid me, saying, Are the hands of Zebah and Zalmunna now in thine hand, that we should give bread unto thy men that are weary? And he took the elders of the city, and thorns of the wilderness and briers, and with them he taught the men of Succoth. And he beat down the tower of Penuel, and slew the men of the city. (Judges 8:13-17)
Gideon dealt harshly with both Succoth and Penuel. Perhaps it was the disrespect and tone in their answer that brought on this punishment. The NKJV translates “upbraid” in verse 15 as “ridiculed.” That he tore down the tower of Penuel, indicates they continued to resist him after he returned from the victory. Commentators are varied in their opinions as to the meaning of “taught the men of Succoth.” In the Hebrew, the word “taught” means “to cause to know.” Most likely it means Gideon caused the men of Succoth to know the punishment he had promised.
The Israelites wanted to make Gideon their king, but he refused. “Then the men of Israel said unto Gideon, Rule thou over us, both thou, and thy son, and thy son’s son also: for thou hast delivered us from the hand of Midian. And Gideon said unto them, I will not rule over you, neither shall my son rule over you: the LORD shall rule over you” (Judges 8:22-23). His answer was both noble and self-effacing. His decision was based on the fact that his reverence for God far exceeded his desire for power. Gideon was the judge over Israel for the next 40 years, and peace prevailed. From the gold booty taken in the battle with the Midianites, Gideon made an ephod.
And Gideon said unto them, I would desire a request of you, that ye would give me every man the earrings of his prey. (For they had golden earrings, because they were Ishmaelites.) And they answered, We will willingly give them. And they spread a garment, and did cast therein every man the earrings of his prey. And the weight of the golden earrings that he requested was a thousand and seven hundred shekels of gold; beside ornaments, and collars, and purple raiment that was on the kings of Midian, and beside the chains that were about their camels’ necks. And Gideon made an ephod thereof, 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. (Judges 8:24-27)
An ephod is a decorated robe worn by a priest or magistrate. More than likely it was made to commemorate God’s power and blessing in vanquishing the Midianites. Whatever the reason, the ephod began to be worshipped. It should have been placed in the Tabernacle, but instead Gideon placed it in his city. The worship of the ephod was the beginning for another cycle of idolatry, and became a curse for Gideon and his family.
Like many prosperous men of his time, Gideon was a polygamist. He had many wives. Later, this too had disastrous consequences. Soon after his death the children of Israel returned to their idolatrous ways. They failed to remember God’s kindness and mercy, and the faith Gideon had exercised to deliver them.
The Bible does not hesitate to point out the sins and shortcomings of the leaders of Israel. In spite of his mistakes, Gideon was a great man of the Old Testament. He was certainly humble, but did not hesitate to be decisive when necessary. He was an able strategist, also tactful and diplomatic when the need was called for. He obeyed God in all the instruction given him. He was a man of justice and demanded it for those who deserved punishment. Rather than be king, he placed Israel under God’s authority. But Gideon was also human and made mistakes- mistakes that would come back to haunt his family and his nation. In spite of this, the faith chapter says, “And what shall I more say? for the time would fail me to tell of Gedeon, and of Barak, and of Samson, and of Jephthae; of David also, and Samuel, and of the prophets” (Heb. 11:32). Gideon was indeed a great man of the Old Testament.