JUDGES CHAPTER 6
1 The Israelites for their sin are oppressed by Midian. 8 A prophet rebuketh them. 11 An angel sendeth Gideon for their deliverance. 17 Gideon’s present is consumed with fire. 25 Gideon destroyeth Baal’s altar, and offereth a sacrifice upon the altar Jehovah-shalom. 28 Joash defendeth his son, and calleth him Jerubbaal. 33 Gideon’s army. 36 Gideon’s signs.
1. Midian. The Midianites were a nomadic people who ranged from the southern part of the peninsula of Sinai (Ex. 3:1) northward to the Gulf of Aqabah (1 Kings 11:18) and as far as the plains east of Moab (Gen. 36:35; Num. 22:4; 25:1, 6; Joshua 13:21). They were kinsmen of the Hebrews inasmuch as Midian was a son of Abraham by his second wife, Keturah (Gen. 25:1–6). The father of Moses’ wife was called the priest of Midian (Ex. 2:15–21).
So strong were the influences of their heathen neighbors, and so weak were their own religious convictions, that the Israelites soon forgot God’s wonderful intervention in their behalf on Mt. Tabor and turned to their former evil ways. In a further effort to awaken the people to their sin, the Lord again allowed their territory to be overrun, this time by the Midianites.
2. Dens. for self-preservation the Hebrews left their homes and lived in mountain hide-outs and caves.
3. When Israel had sown. Inasmuch as the Midianites were nomadic tribes, they did not conquer the land and settle down permanently. Like the Bedouins today, they preferred that the settled peoples should do the work of sowing. Then in a series of raids they would sweep over the land, confiscating the crops and driving off all the farm animals they could find. According to custom, they left the houses undestroyed in order that the farmers would be tempted to return and sow the fields once more.
Amalekites. Also nomadic peoples of the deserts south of Palestine (Ex. 17:8).
Children of the east. Literally, “the children of Kedem.” “Kedem” means “east,” but here, apparently, it should be considered a proper name designating the great Syrian Desert to the east of Moab and Ammon. Chapter 8:26 pictures the chiefs of the people of this region in gorgeous robes and golden earrings, mounted on dromedaries and camels, the necks of which were hung with moonshaped ornaments of gold. Inasmuch as the incursions described here were made by quite a number of different tribes, it is thought likely that this was a general movement of nomads caused by a lack of rain in their own districts.
4. Unto Gaza. The route of the plunderers was probably the following: after crossing the Jordan at the fords of Beth-shan at harvesttime these marauding bands would devastate the rich plain of Jezreel and the whole Shephelah as far south as Gaza, which, being a walled town (ch. 16:3), stopped them.
5. As grasshoppers. A pertinent comparison, for the marauders swiftly swept over the land, leaving it stripped and bare (see on Ex. 10:4–15).
6. Cried unto the Lord. After losing their harvest for seven successive years, the Israelites were on the verge of starvation. In this desperate plight they remembered God’s help in decades past and called upon Him for assistance. Although they had grievously neglected God and refused to call upon Him until driven to do so by extremity, God still heard their cries. This shows how ready God is to forgive and how inclined He is to hear prayer. Such mercy on God’s part should be a great encouragement for sinners to repent and turn to Him.
In all these circumstances the distinction should be borne in mind between God’s dealings with the nation of Israel and His relationship to the individual Israelite. National calamity and judgment did not mean the rejection of the individuals comprising the nation. The guilt that brought the disaster rested upon the individual Israelite only in so far as he personally had been a participant in the apostasy. Despite national rejection, the door of mercy stood as wide open for personal salvation as before. Many, no doubt, found their God during these perilous times, and their individual acceptance was in nowise dependent upon the restoration of the nation to divine favor. In other words, the relationship of a nation to God is a matter quite distinct from the personal relationship of the individual citizen to his God, except in so far as God’s attitude toward the nation may be determined by the number of individuals in the nation who are seeking to follow out the divine program.
8. A prophet. Whether this prophet spoke to the people when they were assembled at some great religious festival, or traveled from town to town and village to village, we do not know. His message must have met a favorable response, for soon afterward God sent deliverance. His message chided the people for their ingratitude to God, who had done so much for them. However, there is encouragement in God’s chidings. They are far better than silence. They remind the recipient that God is still thinking about him, and suggest that His reproofs are designed to bring men back to Him, not to drive them away.
10. Amorites. See on ch. 1:34 (see Joshua 24:15; 1 Kings 21:26).
11. Under an oak. Literally, “under the terebinth.” The Hebrew word used here designates the terebinth, or turpentine tree, which resembles the oak when leafless, except that it grows singly and not in clusters. This terebinth was the property, we are told, of Gideon’s father.
Ophrah. Although the exact site of this city is unknown, it seems, from the narrative of ch. 9, that it must have been in the vicinity of Shechem. It belonged to the clan of Abiezerites (ch. 6:24), who were of the tribe of Manasseh (Joshua 17:2).
By the winepress. The usual location of threshing floors was in the open fields. But such locations were too vulnerable to attack (1 Sam. 23:1). To avoid detection, Gideon resorted to a wine press, a vat dug out of the ground, hoping that the wandering groups of Midianites would not search in such an unlikely place. Working thus in the wine press, he would be able to thresh only a little at a time.
Mighty man of valour. These words may suggest that Gideon had already distinguished himself by bravery in war. In the statement of ch. 8:18 there is a hint of some earlier clash with the Midianites on Mt. Tabor. Gideon, at this time, was probably nearing middle age, inasmuch as he had a son in his teens (ch. 8:20). He may also have been a man of means as indicated by the fact that he had many servants and even a personal attendant, or armorbearer (ch. 7:10). But the fact that he may have been a person of means and reputation did not make him feel that the performance of the menial tasks of a farmer was beneath him. It is worthy of note that when God appears to men to call them to a task, or to give them a message from heaven, He generally calls on those who are busy, perhaps with their common everyday tasks, such as the apostles at fishing, or the shepherds keeping their flocks. A person employed in honest business is more likely to receive heavenly visitors than one who spends his time in idleness, for God cannot use lazy men in His cause.
13. All this befallen us. Gideon was not only a man of valor and means but a thinking man. It is apparent that he had been reflecting on the inability of the Israelites to defend their country, and trying to formulate plans to drive the invaders out. No doubt that is why the heavenly messenger chose to open the conversation with the words, “The Lord is with thee,” as if to say, “God is with you in your brave projects, Gideon.” “If God is with us,” Gideon asks ironically, “why am I forced to beat out a little wheat in a wine press, when I should be threshing an abundant harvest in the fields?”
Where be all his miracles? The Exodus from Egypt was always the glorious starting point in a recital of God’s mighty works in behalf of the Israelites. “At that time,” Gideon says, “God was with us, but apparently He is not now, or the same miracles would be wrought to help us.” Gideon recognized that the sins of the people had caused God’s presence to leave the nation, but his faith did not seem to grasp the truth that when the people cry out to God, He gladly returns to held them.
It was difficult for Gideon to reconcile painful circumstances with the messenger’s statement of God’s presence. His faith was weak. He wanted to see miracles without launching out by faith. The angel tried to build up his faith by assurances of God’s presence. Similarly today many give a false interpretation to events in their lives. “The Lord hath forsaken us,” Gideon declared, “and delivered us into the hands of the Midianites.” The fact is that neither of these statements was entirely true. God had not forsaken His people, but they had forsaken Him. Furthermore, Israel’s own weakness, resulting from their willful departure from the source of their strength, had delivered them into the hands of the Midianites. It is true that God did not work a miracle to keep the Midianites away, but God is limited in the extent to which He can interfere in the affairs of men. He never coerces the will, and when men choose a course contrary to His plan, He does not prevent the natural consequences of such a course. Men have no right in such circumstances to blame God for not intervening in their behalf. On the other hand, when men choose to work with God, He is again able to work in their behalf and accomplish great things for them.
14. This thy might. That is, use the might now being expended in threshing wheat, the abilities exercised in eluding the Midianites, yea, the sum total of your human abilities, for the noble task of delivering your people. God will be with you, and supply the enabling power.
15. Poor. The word may also be translated “weak” or “small.” These meanings seem to fit the context better (see on v. 12). Literally, then, the passage may read, “my family is the weak one,” that is, of all the families of the tribe. Repeatedly we find a similar humility and diffidence in those whom God calls to His service (see Ex. 4:10; Jer. 1:6).
The least. Gideon probably meant that he was the youngest son in the family, and doubted that it would be prudent for him to assume leadership in the expedition above older brothers or others.
16. As one man. Gideon was to destroy the Midianites by one powerful encounter, just as effectually as if the enemy were only one person.
17. Shew me a sign. It seems from v. 22 that Gideon may not have been fully convinced that his visitor was a heavenly being. His request, then, was for a miracle to demonstrate that the messenger had power and authority sufficient to back up his assertion that the Midianites could be destroyed.
Present. The word may mean either “offering” “present.” It is used in the latter sense in ch. 3:15, 17, although its more common use is for an offering made to God. Gideon may have purposely intended to be vague. He may have used this ambiguous word, suspecting, but not yet convinced, that the stranger under the terebinth was more than human. If his visitor were merely a man, he would eat the food provided; if he were a heavenly being, he would accept it as a sacrificial offering and not as food.
A kid. In v. 6 it was stated that all Israel was impoverished by the Midianite incursions. The fact that Gideon provided his guest with a roasted kid, and cakes made from more than half of a bushel (our equivalent of an ephah) of flour shows that he sensed the importance of his visitor, and from his scant store he wished to provide a bountiful meal. The cakes were unleavened because they could be made quickly. Even at that, an hour or two may have been required for this preparation.
20. Upon this rock. The rock served as a temporary altar.
22. Have seen an angel. The miracle immediately dispelled Gideon’s doubt, and he recognized that his visitor was a heavenly messenger. Now fear and consternation swept over him. He probably remembered the words of God to Moses, “There shall no man see me, and live” (Ex. 33:20), and feared that death would be the result of looking on the divine being (see Judges 13:22; Gen. 32:30; Deut. 5:24; Heb. 12:29).
24. Jehovah-shalom. To commemorate God’s words of favor to him, Gideon built that night an altar which he named “the Lord is peace,” or “the Lord spoke peace.” The name was an allusion to the words of an angel in v. 23. The altar was intended not alone for the purpose of sacrifice but also to memorialize the divine appearance (see Gen. 33:20; Gen. 35:7; Ex. 17:15). The building of the altar is described in vs. 25–27.
Yet in Ophrah. When the author wrote the book of Judges several centuries later, the altar was still standing to witness to the fact that the Lord speaks peace to those who love and serve Him.
25. Said unto him. We are not told by what means God spoke to Gideon, but Gideon recognized the divine voice. No doubt up till this moment he had been pondering what course to pursue.
Grove. Heb. ’asherah, a sacred pole set up beside the altar (see on ch. 3:7). First, Baal’s altars must be destroyed. God would not honor a sacrifice to Himself until the idols were overthrown. So it is today. Every idol must be removed from the heart if we would claim God’s blessing today.
26. Build an altar. The following statement gives the reason why God could issue a command contrary to His previous solemn charge (Lev. 17:8, 9): “The offering of sacrifice to God had been committed to the priests, and had been restricted to the altar at Shiloh; but He who had established the ritual service, and to whom all its offerings pointed, had power to change its requirements” (PP 547).
Ordered place. Perhaps better as in the margin, “orderly manner.”
27. By night. Gideon was as prudent as he was energetic. He chose to do this deed by night, not because he was cowardly, but because he feared he would not be able to complete the task if he essayed to do it by day. During the daylight hours an outcry and a contest would have been inevitable. This would terrify the undecided. An accomplished fact makes an impression and gives courage. His task was not only to tear down Baal’s altar, which may have been massive, but to erect on the rock where the sacrifice had been consumed an ordered, dignified altar to the Lord. This task may have taken most of the night.
Although Gideon was cautious, he did not allow prudence to deter him from doing the will of God even though he knew the consequences might be disastrous to himself. In this respect Gideon put to shame many in our day who allow the fear of man to deter them from doing bold exploits for God.
29. Who hath done this thing? We do not know who betrayed his secret. Suspicion might naturally fall upon Gideon, whose tendencies toward the true worship of God may have been well known.
30. He may die. It is difficult to understand how Israelites could become so attached to Baal worship that they were willing to execute a fellow Israelite who courageously destroyed the altar of Baal and built an altar of the Lord in its place. The altar of Baal belonged to Gideon’s father (v. 25), yet the men of the village felt entitled to sit in judgment on the insult offered to this heathen deity. They demanded that the father himself deliver up Gideon to them so they could slay him without incurring a deadly feud.
31. Will ye plead for Baal? Gideon’s father, who had been told of the angel’s visit (PP 547), had been inspired with courage by his son’s daring act. Now he fearlessly took Gideon’s part. “If Baal is indeed a deity, he can take care of himself,” he reasoned with the angry mob. “Why do you poor villagers have to take Baal’s part? You have worshiped him as the Lord of heaven. Is he not able to take care of himself? By taking his part you would indicate that Baal has no power of himself; so by your own reasoning you are the ones that should be put to death. As for my son who destroyed Baal’s altar, grant Baal a little time for an opportunity to avenge himself.” With this reasoning Gideon’s father persuaded the men to wait and see what Baal would do. He knew that in popular outbreaks like this the intense feeling would die down and the opposition vanish if a little time could be gained. He was probably fully convinced that Baal was powerless to harm his son. His stratagem worked. Popular feeling, which is so changeable, soon swung to the side of Gideon, and he was justified and accepted as a leader in Manasseh.
32. Jerubbaal. Literally, “let Baal fight,” or, “let Baal be an adversary” (see ch. 7:1). The name was a standing rebuke and challenge to Baal worship, for Gideon’s continued life and prosperity was a daily witness to the impotence of the heathen deity to avenge himself. It showed that fear of Baal was groundless. A later writer calls him Jerubbesheth, literally, “let shame contend” (2 Sam. 11:21).
33. All the Midianites. They and the other desert tribes “went over,” that is, the Jordan, perhaps for their usual annual raid to steal the wheat that thousands besides Gideon were doubtless threshing in secret places as soon as it was barely ripe, but probably also because news of an uprising headed by Gideon had reached their ears. Crossing the Jordan at the fords near Bethshan, they encamped, not in the wide plain west of Jezreel, but in the valley east of Jezreel leading from the Jordan between Mt. Gilboa and the Hill of Moreh up to the broad, fertile plain of Esdraelon. This valley and the broad plain into which it leads divide the central highlands of Palestine from the hills of Galilee.
34. Came upon. Literally, “clothed.” Gideon did not begin the campaign “clothed” only in the armor of soldiers, but “clothed” with God’s power. Whom God calls to do His work He also qualifies for it.
Blew a trumpet. Since destroying the altar of Baal, Gideon had, no doubt, been pondering the instructions of the angel to smite the Midianites. Now that the enemies of Israel had entered the country, the Spirit of the Lord moved upon Gideon’s heart to begin the struggle to deliver his people. Taking a shophar, or ram’s horn, he sounded the battle signal, and sent messengers throughout his tribe of Manasseh and three other tribes, Asher, Zebulun, and Naphtali, urging them all to join him in the fight against the common enemy. Strong forces from all of these tribes assembled; and Gideon’s own clan, the Abiezerites, backed him to the full.
36. If thou wilt save. Gideon recognized that by human strength alone the Israelites would be unable to repel the large host of marauders. He had already demonstrated his faith by calling the Israelites to battle, but now he needed fresh encouragement. One can hardly censure Gideon for desiring reassurance, and yet he had the word of the heavenly messenger, and that attested by a miracle. A mature faith would not have asked for another sign. The experience of the Roman centurion stands over against this experience of Gideon. This heathen soldier asked for no miracle on which to rest his faith. Concerning him, Jesus declared, “I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel” (Luke 7:9). If Gideon had possessed such an experience, he would not have asked for an additional sign after having received convincing evidence in the fire that sprang from the rock. However, God makes use of the best instruments available, and when those who are weak in faith ask for a sign He often honors the request. However, as faith develops, God expects men to take Him at His word and depend less and less upon confirmatory signs. Many have spoiled their religious experience by persistently following chance methods of guidance (see on Joshua 7:14).
39. Let me prove. The first sign that Gideon asked was granted. The fleece gathered water, and the ground around it was dry. After thinking it over, Gideon felt that this was, after all, what one would expect, since wool naturally draws water. Hence it might not be a sign at all. He may thus have felt as uncertain as before.
Gideon’s experience is frequently reproduced today. There are some who are continually deciding great issues, not on the basis of the teaching of the Bible or of what is logical and reasonable, but on the basis of signs that they themselves set up. Often the sign asked for may be explainable as a coincidence, rather than as an undeniable miracle. Then men begin to doubt. This was the case with Gideon. He feared that this might be so in his case, so he asked that the sign might be reversed. Recognizing Gideon’s limited faith, the Lord condescended to work a miracle to give him the sign for which he asked. How much better it would have been if Gideon had confidently done what God had asked him to do without hesitation.
ELLEN G. WHITE COMMENTS
1–40 PP 545-548
1 PP 545
2–13 PP 546
11–16 GW 333
12 PP 555
14, 17–21 PP 547
22, 23 1T 410
25–31 PP 547
33–40 PP 548