- An Angel Appears
- Gideon's Army
- So Many People
- Time for the Battle
- Internal Disputes
- The Ephramites
- The Men of Succoth and Penuel
- On a Personal Note
- References and Footnotes
- Other Pages to View
The next period of oppression lasts 7 years. This time, the oppressor is Midian. During this time, the Israelites take to living in the caves of the mountains. The Midianites and the Amalekites destroy all of the crops and livestock Israel has cultivated, causing the Israelites to become poor. When this happens, they cry out to God and as promised, He delivers them. However, He does remind them that after all He has done for them, they still refuse to obey His commands.
The judge raised up by God in the next few chapters is much like Barak. He has little faith in God's plan and needs much encouragement to follow through with God's instructions.
An Angel Appears
We are introduced to the next judge, a man named Gideon, when an angel appears to him under an oak tree in Orphah. Gideon is the son of Joash and is from the tribe of Manasseh. Gideon says that he is from a poor family (though later he manages to round up 10 servants to assist him). He also believes that he is unworthy of the task and that the Lord is not with Israel.
Notice the stark contrast between Gideon and previous judge Othniel, or Noah. Noah and Othniel were quick to obey God; they knew His voice and they knew if He told them to do something, they could do it. They were men of exceptional faith. Now take notice of the similarities between Moses and Gideon. Gideon and Moses were doubters. Moses doubted himself, not God (which is an important distinction). Once God was able to get Moses to realize it was God who would do all the heavy lifting, Moses became one of the most faithful men known to us. Gideon's doubt is quite different than Moses' doubt however. The Bible shows us that we are all weak in different areas, but that doesn't mean we can't be called on or used by God. These chapters give us reason to reflect on how we respond to God's call. Are we quick like Noah and Othniel? Do we need a minute to remember it isn't us that will make things happen, like Moses? Or do we dally?
11 And the Pharisees came forth, and began to question with him, seeking of him a sign from heaven, tempting him. 12 And he sighed deeply in his spirit, and saith, Why doth this generation seek after a sign? verily I say unto you, There shall no sign be given unto this generation.
Gideon was a dallier. Most people in the Bible know when they've encountered an angel of God. Any doubt that they express seems to be more about their own worth than the identity of God; of course, in doubting themselves they indirectly doubt God. Gideon asks for multiple signs from God before completing his task. Gideon needed to be absolutely sure he was dealing with God and that he was carrying out God's Will—or he was afraid to carry out the task because he had low faith. Jesus doesn't seem so keen on signs in Mark 8:11-12 (echoed in Luke 11:29 and Matthew 12:38-39).
From a believer's perspective, I get why Gideon would ask the angel for a sign. There have been plenty of times when I wasn't sure what God wanted me to do and I asked for a sign. However, as I read the passage, I felt annoyed with Gideon. Gideon wants proof that the angel is actually a messenger from God, but even after acquiring this proof, He requests two more signs from God.
Luckily for Gideon, God is patient. The angel commands Gideon to bring an offering, so Gideon retrieves the meat of a young goat, broth, and unleavened cakes for the angel. He places the items on a rock before the angel, who reaches out his staff and performs a magnificent sign. After confirming his identity, the angel leaves. In the text this occurs so abruptly that it read like a "drop the mic" moment to me. Of course, I know that the Angel of the Lord would not be so arrogant. After this, Gideon knows that he was dealing with One and Only God of Abraham.
Upon realizing the truth Gideon calls out to the Lord in shock. God further reassures that him he will not die—another piece in the seeing God face-to-face puzzle. In reverence, Gideon builds an altar to the Lord and names it Jehovah-shalom, which means "Jehovah is peace."
God instructs Gideon to dismantle the altar to Baal and sacrifice a bull on the new altar. Gideon takes ten of his servants during the night to commit the act. On the one hand, God's instructions to Gideon come at night, so one could argue Gideon was quick to act on God's command. However, we are told that he "could not do it by day" because he was afraid of those in his father's house and the men of the city. In life, it is very possible to do the right thing for the wrong reason. We have to remember that God will always know our reason. We also have to remember that it is better to be outcasted by men to gain God's favor than to be outcasted by God to gain men's favor.
Of course, just as Gideon feared, the people were very upset when they found the altar destroyed. Someone—likely one of Gideon's servants—tells that it was Gideon who destroyed the altar. With this knowledge, they converge at Joash's house seeking to kill Gideon. When Joash confronts the men, he stands up for his son, stating that Baal should be able to fight his own battles. When the Israelites defiled God's law, He sent punishment as He saw fit—remember when Aaron's sons offered "strange fire" to God in the tabernacle? The Israelites found them dead; they didn't have to defend God's altar because He did that on his own! Baal on the other hand had no power.
When the Midianite troops begin to gather, the Spirit of God prompts Gideon to form an army for the Israelites. The Spirit of God is likely a reference to the Holy Spirit. Gideon follows God's instruction by sending messengers to the tribes of Naphtali, Asher, and Zebulun to build the army.
Despite taking the first step, Gideon still doubted and asks for a sign (the second sign he's asked for since his first encounter with the angel). This time he is specific about what the sign should be. Gideon places a fleece on the ground and asks God to let dew fall on the fleece but not the ground. As requested, God performs the sign, but Gideon still isn't convinced. Gideon asks for the inverse as a sign. God performs this sign as well.
It was interesting to read this passage because I know I've done this before. When I did this, I knew that if I asked for a specific sign, I wouldn't have to guess about what God was telling me. I can't remember if I ever asked for more that one sign about the same situation, but reading about Gideon's reaction, I felt guilty. Perhaps the first sign was to confirm that he heard God correctly, but the second time he asked for a sign, it was because he didn't like the outcome of the first. Clearly it wasn't coincidence. I know, because I've done that before. When we want to do something (or don't want to do something in this case), we try to bend everything to fit our own goals. We will try to convince ourselves that God approves of our way, even if He is loud and clear about His disapproval. When we feel the need to question what God has spoken, we should reevaluate our own feelings about the situation to ensure they aren't clouding our thoughts about what God has said. Fellowship with other believers may help us to see our own stubbornness as well.
So Many People
God must have been with Gideon, and Gideon must have had quite an influence over the people, because once his army has assembled, God declares it's too large! It seems counterintuitive to decrease the army size, after all the more people you have the more likely you are to win. In World War II, one of the major factors of the Soviet Union's success was that they had so many soldiers; they suffered more casualties than any other army, but still won.
In Gideon's case, however, the aim wasn't particularly about the victory (which was guaranteed by God); it was about proclaiming God as the sovereign ruler of Israel (and the world). If they won with such a large army, the credit would go to the men of the army and their leader. With a small army, however, people would have to recognize God's hand in the matter. In situations like these, God's presence is only visible to us when the underdog wins.
God instructs Gideon to release those who are fearful and afraid. After Gideon's announcement that they may leave, 22,000 men leave! With 10,000 men staying, that's a little over half that were afraid God wouldn't deliver on His promises. Even so, the 10,000 that remained were still too many for God's plan. To dwindle the army further, God instructs Gideon to take the men to the water and divide them by how they drink. Some bowed to drink, while others lapped the water like dogs. The men who lapped by placing their hand to their mouth were the only people kept for the army. This left Gideon with 300 men. This a much smaller number that would afford God the glory.
This is an interesting passage for two reasons. First, can you imagine the reaction of the 10,000 men when they say that they were being separated by drinking habits (if they caught on), or when they learned that Gideon only needed 300 in battle? People probably thought he had lost his mind. The second interesting element is the number 300. Centuries later, Leonidas would keep only 300 men into the battle of Thermopylae. Why do I find that interesting? The tale of Leonidas and the 300 Spartans is far more popular than that of Gideon. On top of that, despite Leonidas' life and victory only being recorded by one person (like Gideon), many of those who believe Leonidas accomplished this do not believe the Bible. What makes Herodotus, who wasn't even born when Leonidas was king, a more reliable source in people's minds? Relatedly, Hollywood has convinced us that Leonidas only took 300 men to battle, when in reality about 7,000 men went into battle. When they were betrayed, the army was dismissed and 300 spartans stayed to defend the retreat. Along with those 300 Spartans were men from other Greek city-states. Most of the men, including Leonidas, died.
This makes Gideon's victory all the more impressive! We are told of no casualties, but even if a few men did die, Gideon marched in to battle outnumbered with only 300 men and walked out with a victory.
Time for the Battle
Gideon gets cold feet before the battle (even after his 3 signs...), so God tells him to sneak in to the enemy camp to listen to their thoughts. Gideon takes a servant with him and discovers that the soldiers of the Midianite army have been having dreams about Gideon's victory. God was doing everything in his power to give Gideon courage despite Gideon's doubt. This is one way we know that God will make sure His Will is carried out. We may try to resist His plan, but He's going to steer us to carry out the action He wants. Our freewill gives us the option of whether we willingly go or if he has to force our hand. That's not to say we are doomed if we have to be forced into making a move. Only God knows a person's heart to determine that outcome. Perhaps it takes that long for the person to find God and when they do, they truly believe. Perhaps, since hindsight is 20/20, the person repents after realizing how stubborn they had been. We do not know, so we cannot say for certain how God views each person's delayed reaction.
What we do know is that God knows exactly what we need to hear and the knowledge that the enemy thought Gideon would win gave Gideon the courage to lead his troops to battle. So much so, that he lead them to battle weaponless! They marched in equipped with only a horn, an empty pitcher, and a lamp. Again, can you imagine the soldiers' reaction when Gideon commanded this? They had to have faith in God to follow this plan. Outnumbered and unarmed?
Gideon divides the men into 3 companies and instructs them to surround the greater army in the night. Seeming to surround the army, Gideon's men make noise and blow their horns on his command. This strategy, along with God's divine help, causes fear and confusion to erupt in the enemy's army. They turn on each other, completing the Israelites' mission for them, and then flee toward the Jordan River. As expected, God's plan didn't require the Israelites to have weapons.
Strangely, Gideon reacts to his victory by calling upon more men. Responding to Gideon's call, the men of Ephraim join them and they pursue the fleeing army. In this continuation of the battle the Ephraimites kill two princes of Midian.
After his victory, Gideon has a series of disputes with his own people.
Despite coming to aid Gideon, the Ephraimites were offended that they had not originally been called upon to help. I'm not sure if they knew the original size of the army and dismal of most of the soldiers, or if they thought only the 300 men with Gideon had been called. Whatever the reasoning behind their offense, Gideon smooths over the hard feelings by reminding them that it is the Ephramites who were given a great victory in killing the two princes. This reduces their anger.
The Men of Succoth and Penuel
Without instruction from God, Gideon announces that he is going after two kings of Midian. Since Midian was a confederation, the kings were likely kings of their individual tribes. Gideon travels to Succoth and Penuel in pursuit, but is denied aid by his fellow Israelites. They are doubtful that he can defeat the Midianites. People, especially non-believers will always doubt us when we follow God, even our fellow believers will often cast doubt. However, we are not to let them shake our faith and continue to be an example for those viewing our situation. Instead, Gideon let's his anger overcome him and threatens to destroy their cities. Gideon moves on with his plan and captures the two kings by defeating their army of 15,000.
Judges 8:10 tells us that 120,000 men fell during the weaponless battle. That's right, God led 300 men to defeat 120,000 without weapons. According to Judges 8:4 these same 300 men were the only ones to join Gideon in the second battle agains the 15,000 man army. Thats 5,000 men per soldier! Despite God not being mentioned anywhere in the decision to pursue the army, he had to have a hand in this victory. Likely, God was pleased that Gideon had finally grown a spine and some faith to take the lead in flushing out the Midianites.
Upon his victory, Gideon returns to Succoth and Penuel to make good on his threats. He learns the names of the leaders then kills them. He also destroys their tower as he had threatened. Basically, Gideon attacks his own people. The action is not specifically condemned with in Judges 8, but we see throughout he Bible where God commands us not to be so easily offended or angered. I'm quite convinced that God was not pleased with this action. Earlier in Judges 6, when Gideon destroys the altar, Baal's weakness is highlighted in his inability to defend himself. Even earlier in Judges, we see God curse a city of men for not joining Deborah and Barak in battle. Thus, if God's anger had been kindled against the men of Succoth and Penuel for their unwillingness to help Gideon, he would have handled the situation.
On a Personal Note
21 Ye have heard that it was said of them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: 22 But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.
As someone who is prone to outbursts of anger, this passage meant a lot to me. In many ways I could see my similarities to Gideon, which made me want to fix them sooner rather than later. While I can't imagine that I would be so angry I came back to kill someone, I can see me having a lot to say about the situation. Jesus tells us not to be angry without a cause in Matthew 5, but as a person with a short temper, I can say that not everything we feel is a cause is actually a cause. When I was younger and had less control over my temper, I would often look back and think "Why was I even mad about that?"; this is what Jesus means when He says angry without cause. Similarly, people hold grudges even after someone has apologized; since we are commanded to forgive as Jesus forgives us, this too is anger without cause. Whether or not Gideon had cause to be angry is between him and God; I would wager that it rests on whether his anger stemmed from the men doubting him (vanity and arrogance) or the men doubting God's ability to lead him to victory. Nonetheless, I never want to be that angry.
After all if this, the people of Israel ask Gideon and his line to rule over them, but in a surprising display of humility, Gideon refuses. Gideon announces that God should (and will) rule over them. However, Gideon does ask for riches from the people. These riches cause his own house to fall into idolatry. Gideon has 71 sons. Obviously these sons are by many different women, something that was forbidden of a ruler (Deuteronomy 17:17). Perhaps Gideon's reason for refusing the offer to rule was his love for women and treasure. One of his sons, Abimelech, is featured in the next chapters. While we are told that Israel experiences 40 years of peace after Gideon's victory, it seems that they never turn away from sin during this period.
References and Footnotes
- History.com Staff. "Leonidas". History.com, A+E Networks. 2009
- "Battle of Thermopylae". Wikipedia. 2016
- Holman Bible Publishers. Holman KJV Study Bible, pg. 423. 2014