Richard aspires to live and love like Christ. Among his varied other writing interests, he aims to create good Christian stories.
Text Judges 6-8
The historical setting of the story of Gideon, was a time of suffering for the nation of Israel, suffering at the hands of nations that worshiped the god Baal. Israel itself had also forsaken God in favour of this cruel idol of the Canaanites.
Baal was originally a Phoenician god whose ritual worship involved many abominable practises, most infamous being that of child sacrifice. This is the period that the book of Judges deals with, a time in Israel’s history where they frequently kept going astray and worshipping the most corrupt of the false gods of their neighbours.
In Judges 2:10-19 we read of this generation that the book deals with, a generation immediately after the one that was led by Joshua. So this is early in the occupation of Canaan, the Promised Land; though not so friendly land.
Then the sons of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD, and served the Baal’s, and they forsook the LORD, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt, and they followed other gods from among the gods of the peoples who were around them, and they bowed themselves down to them; thus they provoked the LORD to anger. So they forsook the LORD and served Baal and the Ashtaroth.
And the anger of the LORD burned against Israel, and He gave them into the hands of plunderers who plundered them; and He sold them into the hands of their enemies around them, so that they could no longer stand before their enemies. Wherever they went, the hand of the LORD was against them for evil, as the LORD had spoken and as the LORD had sworn to them, so that they were severely distressed.
Then the LORD raised up judges who delivered them from the hands of those who plundered them.
And yet they did not listen to their judges, for they played the harlot after other gods and bowed themselves down to them. They turned aside quickly from the way in which their fathers had walked in obeying the commandments of the LORD; they did not do as their fathers.
And when the LORD raised up judges for them, the LORD was with the judge and delivered them from the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge; for the LORD was moved to pity by their groaning because of those who oppressed and afflicted them.
But it came about when the judge died, that they would turn back and act more corruptly than their fathers, in following other gods to serve them and bow down to them; they did not abandon their practices or their stubborn ways.
How sad that almost every generation forgets the lessons learnt from the one before. Revealing Gods patience, that He perseveres with every generation, though they keep repeating again and again the same mistakes.
The passage above could very easily be used to summarize mankind as a whole, and his continual pursuit of things evil in Gods sight, while all the time God is calling out, protecting and even blessing those who despise him.
The Judges of Isreal
There were thirteen Judges in all, the majority of them obscure bible characters whose names most would not recognise, but there were also famous ones.
The Judges include –in order: Othniel, Ehud, Shamgar, Deborah, Gideon, Abimelech, Tola, Jair, Jephthah, Ibzan, Elon, Abdon, Samson.
Gideon, the fifth Judge, is first mentioned in the sixth chapter of the book of Judges.
Now previously, under the Judge Deborah, Israel had enjoyed a forty year peace. But after her death, as they so often did, Israel backslid into idolatry.
Then the sons of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the LORD; and the LORD gave them into the hands of Midian seven years.
— Judges 6:1
How did Israel suffer under the Midianites?
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. 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. 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.
Rather than slaughter the Israelites, the Midianites waited for them to produce resources, which they then forcefully stole from them, consuming Israel’s wealth and leaving them destitute and near starvation.
This would be like a gang of men coming into your home every time you had purchased groceries, raiding your pantry and leaving nothing for you or your family. And doing this continually for seven years.
And Israel was greatly impoverished because of the Midianites; and the children of Israel cried unto the LORD.
— Judges 6:6
God and Gideon
You know, God doesn’t force himself into people’s lives. He will leave them to reap the consequences of their own actions. If the people want to worship idols, God will allow them to learn the futility of trusting in false gods.
The startling thing is how slow the people were to see that when they worshipped Baal they had sorrow, as opposed to the blessings they received when worshipping God.
We also see that the Lord, though capable of anger, is even more capable of compassion, and He had pity. He chose to raise another judge to deliver Israel from the consequences of their own faithlessness. He went to Gideon.
Now as a young lad, Gideon had seen the land oppressed by the Midianites and Amalekites for seven years. Like invading locusts, he’d seen the roving bands camped on the land of the Israelites. He’d seen how at harvest time, they destroyed the crops and animals, and plundered the farmers houses. And seeing this, he must have daily wondered, what can I, one man, do to change this.
As young Gideon was threshing wheat, the angel of the Lord appeared with strong words of encouragement:
"The Lord is with you, you mighty man of valour... Surely, I will be with you, and you shall defeat the Midianites as one man".
— Judges 6:12,16
Gideon's Proves His Devotion
Gideon then asked the messenger for a sign that God had selected him for divine service. He prepared an offering and placed it on an altar. The angel touched the offering with his staff, and fire consumed it <6:19-21>. Gideon then recognized his personal call to serve God in a unique way.
Gideon's first assignment was to destroy his father's altar of Baal in the family's backyard <Judg. 6:25>. This act required great courage, for Gideon feared his father's house and the men of the city who must have worshiped at the altar. For this reason, Gideon and ten servants destroyed the altar of Baal and a wooden idol by night and erected an altar to the Lord. Gideon immediately presented an offering to the Lord on the altar <6:27-28>.
When the men of the town discovered that the altar to Baal had been destroyed, the household and the community were outraged. When it was learned that "Gideon the son of Joash had done this thing" <6:29>, Joash was called to account for his son's behaviour. Now to his credit, Joash defended Gideon by implying that an authentic god should require no defence. "If he (Baal) is a god, let him plead for himself" <6:31>.
It’s ironic that although the true God had for years been pleading His own case to the Israelites, they couldn’t see their present suffering as Gods pleading, but they are willing to accept that Baal should prove his authenticity by pleading his own case.
From that day on, Gideon was called Jerubbaal, meaning, "Let Baal plead" <6:25-32>.
Gideon's Shrinking Army
As the oppression of the Midianites intensified, Gideon sent out messengers to all Manasseh and the surrounding tribes to rally volunteers to Israel's cause <Judg. 6:35>. When Gideon's volunteers assembled, about 32,000 citizen soldiers stood in the ranks <Judg. 7:1>. Now although there was 135,000 Midianites camped in a nearby valley (that’s just over a 4-to-1 odds against the Israelites), God still directed Gideon to thin out the ranks.
God is going to plead His case, by proving he doesn’t need man to win His battles for Him.
So, after dismissing the fearful and afraid (22,000 men left), only 10,000 remained. Gideon's band was now outnumbered about 13 to 1.
But God told Gideon "There are still too many,” God doesn’t want any chance of victory being attributed to mans might. "Bring them down to the water, and I will test them for you there” He says <7:4>.
Those who lapped the water with their hands, never taking their eyes from the horizon, were retained in Gideon's army; those who got down on their knees to drink, forgetting to keep watch for the enemy, these were dismissed.
9700 soldiers were sent home. Now only 300 soldiers remained <Judg. 7:5-7>.
The Midianites now outnumbered Gideon's band 450 to 1!
But God and Gideon had a secret plan!
Gideon divided the army into three companies. Then he gave each man a trumpet, a pitcher, and a torch. At the appointed time, 300 trumpets blasted the air, 300 hands raised their pitchers and smashed them to bits, 300 burning torches pierced the darkness, and 300 warriors cried, "The sword of the Lord and of Gideon" <Judg. 7:19-21>.
The Midianites, all 135,000 of them, were thrown into panic. In the confusion, some committed suicide or killed their comrades. The remaining soldiers fled the field. The enemies of Israel were completely routed, and as yet not a sword had been raised against them. Israel's homeland was now secure <Judg. 7:22; 8:10>. It was a glorious victory for God and for Gideon, who became an instant hero <8:22>.
Now Gideon and his men pursued the fleeing enemy. Many of them were killed or captured by Gideon's allies. Two Midianite kings, Zebah and Zalmunna, were captured and killed for their murderous deeds <Judges 8>.
As a conquering warrior, Gideon was invited to become king <Judg. 8:22>, but he declined. Modest and devout, he was careful not to grasp at the power and glory that belonged to God.
A happy end for Israel, a glorious day for Gideon. Surely God would be thanked and worshipped!
Yet Gideon said to them, "I would request of you, that each of you give me an earring from his spoil." (For they had gold earrings, because they were Ishmaelites.)
And they said, "We will surely give them." So they spread out a garment, and every one of them threw an earring there from his spoil.
And the weight of the gold earrings that he requested was 1,700 shekels of gold, besides the crescent ornaments and the pendants and the purple robes which were on the kings of Midian, and besides the neck bands that were on their camels' necks.
And Gideon made it into an ephod, and placed it in his city, Ophrah, and all Israel played the harlot with it there, so that it became a snare to Gideon and his household.
Isn’t it incredible! God does such great things, and rather than seek to honour Him in a way He directs, they instead worship a lump of gold.
After he retired to his home, Israel was blessed with 40 years of peace under Gideon as judge <Judg. 8:28>.
What can we learn from the story of Gideon?
Lessons learnt from Gideon
Through the life and exploits of Gideon, God reveals much about Himself and the preparation that His leaders need for divine service. Gideon shows that God calls leaders from unlikely situations. Gideon was a poor farmer's son who worked with his hands, and his father was an idol worshiper <Judg. 6:15,25>. Still, he was an effective leader in God's service.
Never let us judge people by outward appearances, God may have selected them for great things regardless of their appearance or qualifications.
Gideon also teaches that God does not requires masses to accomplish his will. God can win victories with a committed minority.
Which should lead us to ask: Who would we have preferred to be, those chosen to serve Gods purposes, or those sent home?
Another leadership lesson from Gideon is that a leader's spiritual life is sustained by regular worship. Devout Gideon appears to have worshiped frequently, in times of personal crisis as well as celebration <Judg. 6:18-21; 7:15>.
Lessons learnt from Israel
We cannot reasonably expect the Lord to bless us, unless, first of all, we obey Him.
A whole peoples spiritual direction can be changed by the efforts of just one person willing to accept Gods leadership in their lives.
The whole Old Testament is full of accounts telling of how individuals fully devoted to Gods rule changed entire nations.
Never underestimate the power of your influence when God is allowed full reign in your life.
The God of heaven is not a God who cannot be touched by our distress, though it is brought about by our own foolish sins.
Yes, God gets angry, but he doesn’t lash out like a child, His anger is always controlled, directed by the higher attribute of love.
If He can show mercy even to the most obstinate of people, how much more so to the repentant!
© 2021 Richard Parr