Harry Whittaker
Judges And Ruth

6. The Call of Gideon (6:1-32)

Once again the children of Israel had treated lightly the covenant of their God, going off into idolatry. Once again retribution came on them, but of a different character from the previous occasion when all the northern tribes had groaned under the iron tyranny of Sisera.

Ravaged by Midianites

This time they were sorely tried by seasonal incursions of Bedouin tribes from the Arabian desert. These swarmed into the country in their thousands at harvest time. “They came in as locusts for multitude” (Jud. 6:5RV), and the effect was about the same. These Midianites had long memories. It had never been forgotten among them how drastic was the treatment they had received at the hands of Israel in former times (Num. 31:8-11).

Now, wherever they went, they left devastation and impoverishment, for, whereas locusts eat only that which is green and growing, these “left no sustenance for Israel, neither sheep, nor ox, nor ass”.

Thus Israel was brought very low and brought also to the acknowledgement of their apostasy, although — as will be seen by and by — that repentance was kindled in the hearts of only a small minority in the first instance; and this in spite of the lesson of their hardship being driven home to them by a prophet of the Lord, probably at the time of Passover. The prophet was probably Phinehas the high priest, or his son. They were given a blunt reminder of God’s past deliverances and how they owed to Him a faithfulness such as they had not shown (6:8-10).

The Angel of the Lord

It was about this time that the angel of the Lord appeared unrecognised to a young man of the tribe of Manasseh some miles south of the plain of Jezreel, which was invariably a chief target of Midianite forays.

Gideon, the son of Joash the Abiezrite, belonged to the senior family of the Gileadites (Josh. 17:1,2; 1 Chron. 7:17,18), whose inheritance was on the east side of Jordan. But evidently the inroads of the Bedouin had driven them to seek safer homes with the other branch of the tribe of Manasseh, possibly in the Manassite enclave in Issachar (Josh. 17:11).

Gideon was attempting the frustrating and well-nigh impossible task of threshing corn in a wine-press. He had brought out a few bushels of wheat from the cave where it had been stowed away from the depredations of the enemy, and even as he worked, he feared lest he should be surprised by them in the very act.

Threshing called for a high level rock platform, exposed to all the breezes of heaven. What bigger contrast could there be with the place Gideon had chosen — a small, restricted hollow dug in the side of a wadi. How irksome such a task must have been! But at all costs the precious grain must be preserved.

Fearful Gideon

“The Lord is with thee, thou mighty man of valour.” In place of the usual “Shalom”, the angel used what was a familiar greeting of the lord of the harvest (Ruth 2:4; Psa. 129:7,8; 2 Thes. 3:16). It sounded ironically in Gideon’s ears. So, too, did the description of himself as “a mighty man of valour”, for if ever there was a man who lacked confidence in himself it was Gideon (6:11,15,27,39; 7:10). Before very long he was to learn that such are the men through whom God prefers to work, and through whom God can work best. He was to learn, too, that the harvest greeting was a prophecy of Heaven’s bounty soon to come upon them again.

But at the moment Gideon felt discouraged, and said so: “Oh my lord, if Jehovah be with us (mark here the change of pronoun showing how completely Gideon put first the well-being of the people, and thought little of his own prosperity), 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?” Here, surely, he was referring to the prophetic message lately communicated.

The reply to this was first a steadfast and penetrating gaze from the angel, and then: “Go in this thy might (the might thus imparted; cp. Luke 22:43,61) and save Israel from the hand of Midian; have not I sent thee?” These imperatives should surely have told Gideon the identity of the stranger, but this young man was too much obsessed with his own inadequacy: “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.”

The words were not true. This was an eloquent, because unstudied, expression of the character of the one who spoke. So, further assurance was now given him: “Surely I will be with thee, and thou shalt smite the Midianites as one man” (v. 16), that is, by one decisive stroke.

There is here an echo of the angel’s words (the same angel? Exod. 3:12,20) to Moses at the burning bush. The earlier allusion to deliverance from Egypt suggests that Gideon’s mind had been running on this very matter. He recognised the angel’s allusion in a flash and, quickly comparing his own circumstances now with those of Moses then, he asked for a sign. Had not signs been given to reluctant Moses? Then why not to himself? His suspicions were growing that this unknown visitant was no mortal man.

A dedicated Gideon

The sign that he sought was the acceptance of a sacrifice, such as he now felt to be necessary, for — without direct rebuke — the apostasy of his people was being brought home to him. With as little delay as possible he produced a young goat as a peace-offering. Perhaps he had also in mind that a kind of the goats was the prescribed sin-offering of a ruler of the people (Lev. 4:22,23).

He brought, in addition, a meal-offering of exceptional quantity — an ephah of flour (more than half a hundred weight!) baked into cakes, and this, at a time when kid and meal alike could hardly be spared.

Thus in these offerings he expressed, without a word spoken, his consciousness of the need for expiation of sin, his earnest seeking for fellowship with God, and his desire (symbolized by the meal-offering) to dedicate the work of his life to God.

So perhaps he was not altogether surprised when commanded to place both offerings on a nearby rock and to drench them in the broth of the sacrifice. A touch of the angel’s rod, and all was consumed in a roar on divine fire. It was an anticipation of Elijah’s experience on Mount Carmel. Sin-offering, peace-offering, meal-offering — all were become an instantaneous burnt-offering, a sweet savour unto the Lord, symbolizing that, from now on, Gideon was to be wholly and entirely given to the holy work of his God and to the deliverance of the people of his God.

Thus Gideon had the sign he craved. With it his inkling became a certainty, and he shrank away aghast that he in his sins had talked face to face with an archangel from the very presence of Omnipotence. He had neither covered his eyes nor removed the sandals from his feet. Then how could he expect to live?

These surging doubts were quickly silenced by a firm angelic assurance, and his mind was quickly diverted to the work that lay before him — immediate drastic action against the canker of idolatry. Baal’s altar must remain no longer, and the foul phallic symbol of all the beastly practices associated with that cult must be utterly destroyed. Chickens-hearted Gideon, thou might man of valour, see thou to it!

And the angel departed.


But how to begin? How was he to set himself against the vested interests of so many and against the public opinion of all the town? Yet the angel’s instructions brooked no delay. A stewardship was committed unto him. So all the rest of that day, fearing to act openly, Gideon brooded on the problem. Then, when night fell, he went to work in great trepidation, yet goaded on by his sense of duty and by the memory of the angel’s commandment and of the fire of the Lord consuming his offering.

Secretly gathering ten of the family servants he went forth and directly the demolition of the pagan altar and of the Asherah beside it, doing no small part of the work himself, both out of enthusiasm for the job and also to quell the misgivings of his helpers.

Thus did Gideon justify his name: “he who cuts down” (s.w. Deut. 7:5; 12:3). A few days more, and it was to be fulfilled in other ways also.

Gideon’s father, Joash, being the leading man in the town, was ex officio priest of Baal also. Not that he had any real enthusiasm for Baal-worship, but he lacked the energy or strength of character to set himself against the tide of public opinion. The altar just cut down was hard by his house, and tethered there were two bullocks destined to be sacrifices to Baal. These Gideon now took and offered to the Lord, this time not on his own behalf but on behalf of the people — the young bullock for a sin-offering (see Lev. 4:13,14), and the other bullock for a burnt-offering (Num. 15:24). His reformation of his people had begun, and the process had already brought him not only the office of reformer but also that of priest!

Reformation resisted

Not a few people in the town must have been aware that something was going on, but presumably they assumed that these were extra-zealous devotions at the sanctuary of Baal.

Next morning, when they learned differently, there was uproar. Joash, informed by Gideon of the angelic commission, now knew that he must help this new movement, though he was not the sort to throw himself enthusiastically into any cause. A public enquiry quickly fixed the blame for the desecration of Baal’s holy place on Gideon. “Bring forth thy son that he may die,” demanded the men who “stood against him”. But Joash, quick witted and sardonic, was equal to the occasion: “Will ye plead for Baal? Will ye save him?....if he be a god, let him plead for himself.” Once again there are resemblances to Elijah on Mount Carmel. And the logic is unanswerable: Does almighty Baal need mortal helpers? Cannot he deal with those who blaspheme his name? “Let be until morning” (RVm), and see what Baal will do.” Then he made a sudden ominous appeal to the lapsed law given by Moses: “If there arise among you a prophet....saying, Let us go after other gods....that prophet shall be put to death” (Deut. 13:1-5). So he declared: “He that will plead for Baal, let him be put to death.”

The threatening situation passed. It became known and accepted that the Spirit of the Lord had clothed itself with Gideon (RVm). From now on, under his new sardonic nickname Jerubbaal (“Let Baal plead for himself”), Gideon was recognised as judge of Manasseh and the neighbouring tribes.


When Israel had sown. What a contrast with Joshua 24:13!
Not inappropriately this verse echoes the introduction to the Ten Commandments, the Covenant: Exod. 20:2.
Delivered you. Contrast Exod. 18:9.
Ophrah. Not the Benjamite Ophrah; Josh. 18:23.
This angel of the Lord is called “the Lord” (v. 14), on the simple theophany principle that those through whom God operates are called by His Name.
Hebrew text implies: If indeed the Lord is with us. Note Deut. 31:17.
This thy might. Cp. Isa. 40:29-31; 2 Cor. 12:9,10; Heb. 11:32,34 (last 3 phrases).
Compare this and 7:16 with 1 Sam. 9:21; 11:11 — Saul’s hero-worship and conscious imitation of Gideon.
Gideon, in turn, was comparing his own experience to that of Moses in Exod. 3. Note here v. 8,13,14,15,16,17,21.
Here and in v. 36-40, the name of God is Elohim; contrast v. 11,12,21,22.

This rock. Exod. 20:14-26.
Divine fire to indicate God’s acceptance: 13:19,20; 1 Chron. 21:26; 2 Chron. 7:1,3; 1 Kgs. 18:24,38; Gen. 4:4 (Heb. 11:4); Lev. 9:24; 2 Sam. 22:9,13; Psa. 20:3.
appear to belong in the middle of v. 21, after the word “cakes”; or did the angel appear again?
Jehovah-shalom. Thoughts of peace, and not of evil; Jer. 29:11. But there is double meaning: Jehovah is repaying (the Midianites? Baal?).
The same night, in a vision.

Seven years; v. 1.

Cut down. An allusion to the meaning of “Gideon”, but using a different Hebrew verb.
The men of the city. Canaanite enthusiasts for Baal?
Stood against him. A legal expression; cp. Psa. 109:6,7; Zech. 3:1.

Let Baal plead. A very different attitude from v. 25. Did Elijah build his own faith on Gideon’s experience? Not only in this detail, but also v. 20,21.

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