Christian Churches of God
(Edition 2.0 20060422-20061214)
When the Angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon he said, "The Lord is with you, mighty warrior. Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand." This paper has been adapted from chapters 61-63 of The Bible Story Volume III by Basil Wolverton, published by Ambassador College Press. Some Scripture have been taken from The Holy Bible New International Version, Copyright 1973,1978,1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.
Christian Churches of God
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(Copyright ã 2006 Christian Churches of God, ed. Wade Cox)
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We continue here from the paper Judges for Israel (No. CB55).
For forty more years after Jabin's overthrow, Israel was free from enemies (Jdg. 5:31). But before many years had passed, another generation came into being, and a large part of Israel again fell into living in a disorderly and lawless manner, each man following his own conscience – doing what HE thought best – letting his own opinion, instead of God's Law, tell him how to live.
The Midianites again
About two hundred years previously, when Moses was the leader, Israel had almost wiped out the idolatrous nation of Midian on their border east of the Salt (Dead) Sea. Since that time the Midianites had greatly increased in numbers and, though several generations had passed since the fateful war with Israel, a fierce hatred of their victors still existed with the Midianites.
At this point God stepped in to use the Midianites to punish Israel. The result was that the Midianites were to end Israel's forty years of freedom, pleasure and sin!
The Israelites had become so disorganised and weak that the fierce Midianites chased them out of their cities and off their farms. By the thousands, the Israelites ran for safety into the mountains. They hid in caves and even in the narrow, secluded canyons – wherever they could hide themselves (Jdg. 6:1-2).
The Midianites kept on moving back and forth through all areas to defeat the Israelites and rob them of their livestock and crops. On their return to each conquered area, the Midianites would attack any Israelites who had tried to return to their homes.
Living like animals
Despite all this, the Israelites stubbornly continued to live their own way, though they had to live in caves like animals, rather than repent and obey God and have His divine protection.
Cities were taken over, farms were stripped of their produce and the invaders seized herds and flocks grazing in the valleys before the Israelites could hide them in the mountains. The numbers of the enemy were this time so great and so spread out that the Israelites had little or no opportunity to go after food. They were forced to remain in their mountain refuges on the verge of starvation (Jdg. 6:3-6).
By the time seven years had passed, Israel was in a desperate, half-starved condition.
At this time a man whose name isn't mentioned in the Scriptures was chosen by God to remind the Israelites that they had brought this calamity on themselves by their disobedience to God. The people had already been begging God for forgiveness and help (vv. 6-10).
Repentance brings divine help
The Angel of the Lord came and sat down under the oak in Ophrah that belonged to Joash, where his son Gideon was one day threshing wheat in a winepress to keep it from the Midianites. When the Angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon he said, "The Lord is with you, mighty warrior."
Gideon replied, "But if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our fathers told us about? Now the Lord has abandoned us and put us into the hand of Midian" (vv. 11-13).
The Angel of the Lord said, "Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?" (v. 14).
Gideon's divine commission
"How is it possible for me to help rescue Israel, my Lord?" asked Gideon. "My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least of my family."
The Angel answered, "I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites together" (Jdg. 6:15-16).
Gideon didn't feel that he could accept such responsibility without knowing for certain that this man was really a divine being in human form. On the other hand, he couldn't risk refusing a commission from God.
He asked the man to continue resting under the oak tree, excused himself and hurried to his house not far away to quickly prepare a sacrificial offering of food. When he returned he presented unleavened cakes, broth and a boiled young goat to the Angel of the Lord.
This was the time for the Passover, which the Israelites were not observing because they were worshipping pagan gods and following the customs of the nations around them.
"Place the meat and cakes on this flat rock and pour the broth over them," Gideon was told, and he did so.
The Angel of the Lord then touched the offering with the end of his staff. Abruptly fire shot up out of the rock, rapidly consuming the food! When Gideon turned his startled gaze up from the spectacle, the Angel had vanished! (vv. 17-21).
Through his actions here the Angel of the Lord (who later became the man Jesus Christ) was re-establishing the Passover and the Law.
Idolatry must go!
It was then that Gideon realised it was the Angel of the Lord that had visited him. He feared that he might be struck dead because he had come face to face with the Angel of the Lord.
"Do not be afraid," he heard the voice say. "You are not going to die."
Gideon was so thankful and impressed that he built an altar there and dedicated it to God (vv. 22-24). That same night the Lord told Gideon to tear down his father’s altar to the pagan god Baal and build a proper altar to God on the top of it and offer a bull as a burnt offering.
Because he was afraid of his family and the men of the town Gideon waited until night, then took ten of his servants and did as he was told. In the morning the men of the town saw Baal’s altar and their other objects of worship demolished and a bull sacrificed on the new altar. (Ten is the number of people required per household for the sacrifice of the Passover.)
When the angry crowd heard that Gideon had done this they demanded that his father (Joash) bring him out. "He is guilty of tearing down our altar! We must kill Gideon because he has broken down Baal’s altar."
Joash was irked at what Gideon presumably had done, but he didn't want to see his son fall into the hands of these wrathful people.
"Why must you demand anything for avenging Baal?" Joash asked the crowd. "If Baal is a true god, surely he will avenge himself before another day has passed. If my son is the guilty one, Baal will not let him live!" That is why Gideon was renamed Jerubbaal – which means, let Baal do his own pleading (Jdg. 6:28-32).
This advice quieted the mob. None of the worshippers of Baal wanted to say that their pagan god lacked the ability to deal with his enemies by himself. Gradually the crowd dispersed.
Heathen in fear
Meanwhile, word had leaked out to the enemy that a champion was about to lead Israel to battle against Midian. The Midianites asked the Amalekites and some Arab tribes to come and stand with them against Israel.
Soon thousands upon thousands of soldiers moved into the valley of Jezreel, the place where King Jabin's forces had met miserable defeat several years previously.
Gideon blew a trumpet to assemble the people of Abiezer, and sent messengers to the tribes of Manasseh, Asher and Naphtali to ask for men to come and fight against the Midianites (Jdg. 6:33-35).
When Gideon realised how many men were subject to his command, he began to wonder if he could successfully fulfil the tremendous task he had been given. Troubled and uncertain, he went to a private place to pray to God.
"I need assurance from you," Gideon prayed. "Please show me again that I am the one you have chosen to lead Israel against Midian. Tonight I shall spread a fleece of wool on the ground at the threshing floor. Tomorrow morning, if the wool is wet with dew and the ground is dry, then I shall know for certain that you have picked me to help save Israel."
Early next morning Gideon hurried out to examine the fleece. It was heavy with dew. In fact, Gideon took it up and squeezed out enough water to fill a good-sized bowl. At the same time he could find no sign of moisture on the ground or grass nearby.
Then Gideon said to God, "I trust you won't be angry if I ask for one more sign. Let me have one more test with the fleece. This time make the fleece dry and the ground covered with dew." That night God did so. Only the fleece was dry while the ground was covered with dew (Jdg. 6:36-40).
Gideon defeats the Midianites
Gideon no longer had any room for doubt. Next morning he ordered all the Israelite soldiers to proceed into the valley of Jezreel. They went and camped that night on the south side of the valley at the slopes of Mt. Gilboa. The camp of Midian was north of them in the valley near Moreh. The direction of the two camps has significance for the Kings of the North and South in the wars of the Last Days (see Daniel 11).
When they were numbered and organised into military units, it was found that there were thirty-two thousand of them.
God was ready to teach Gideon a much-needed lesson in faith.
Too many Israelite soldiers!
The Angel of the Lord said to Gideon, "You have too many men for me to deliver Midian into their hands. In order that Israel may not boast against me that her own strength has saved her, announce to the people that any who fear to battle the Midianites are free to leave this place".
So twenty-two thousand men withdrew from the army. This left Gideon with only ten thousand men. That meant one under-trained Israelite soldier for at least thirteen battle-trained enemy soldiers (Jdg. 7:1 -3).
But the Angel said to Gideon, "There are still too many men. Take them all to the water to drink. The manner in which they drink will determine how many men you shall take with you. I will tell you later which to choose."
Gideon led his ten thousand men to the water. There the Angel said, "Separate those who lap the water with their tongues like a dog from those who kneel down to drink". Three hundred men lapped with their hands to their mouth. All the rest got down on their knees to drink.
Then the Angel told Gideon that he would save him with the three hundred men who lapped and give the Midianites into his hands (Jdg. 7:4-6). Water is a symbol of the Holy Spirit and these living waters flow out of Christ (Jn. 4:10-11,14).
All the other soldiers – nearly ten thousand – were to be dismissed! God knew that it was difficult for Gideon to understand how a mere three hundred men could overcome such a great multitude (Jdg. 7:7-8; Zec. 4:6). Israel was Christ’s inheritance and although the force was gathered and prepared for battle He chose to use only the three hundred to go into battle with him. This is like the small army of the Church of the Last Days that spreads the word of God and warns the nations of the second coming of Messiah.
The camp of Midian lay below in the valley. During that night the Lord said to Gideon, "Get up and go down against the camp, because I am going to give it into your hands. If you are afraid to attack, go down to the camp with your servant Phurah and listen to what they are saying. When you learn of the state of mind of the enemy, you will be encouraged." So that night Gideon went with Phurah to the camp of the Midianites (Jdg. 7:9-11).
In passing one of the tents, their attention was attracted to a conversation within by two Midianite soldiers.
"I had a strange dream last night," they overheard one of the men remark. "I dreamed that a huge loaf of barley bread came tumbling into the Midianite camp. It struck the tent with such force that the tent overturned and collapsed."
His friend replied, "That can only be the sword of Gideon son of Joash, the Israelite. God has given the Midianites and the whole camp into his hands" (Jdg. 7:12-14).
Gideon didn't stay to hear more. Now he was thoroughly convinced that God would keep His promise to destroy the invaders. He thanked God for the assurance he had received. Now that Gideon had repented of his weak faith, God could use him.
He returned with his servant to the camp of Israel and called out, "Get up! The Lord has given the Midianite camp into your hands."
God fights Israel's battles!
According to God's instructions, Gideon divided the men into three groups. They silently spread out around the camp, but instead of carrying weapons in their hands, each man carried a trumpet and a pitcher, with a torch hidden in each pitcher (vv.15-16).
As soon as his men were in place, Gideon blew his trumpet. That was the signal for all the men to blow their trumpets. Then Gideon broke his pitcher and held his torch aloft for all to see. Quickly the three hundred men also broke their pitchers. Light was suddenly revealed from three hundred blazing torches! (Jdg. 7:16-20).
The abrupt light and noise from all directions confused and startled the Midianites. Even the guards were caught by surprise. In the darkness it seemed that a vast army was completely surrounding them. To add to their alarm, a multitude of shouting voices came from all around.
"THE SWORD OF THE LORD AND OF GIDEON!" were the loud words that rang over the plain from Gideon's men.
Believing that incredible numbers of armed Israelites were closing in all about them, the Midianites rushed excitedly out of their tents. It was so dark that in their frenzy the men collided with each other. Thinking that the Israelites had rushed in among them, they attacked one another. Within the next few minutes thousands of Midianites died by the hands of their own brothers. God had intervened once again for Israel! (vv. 21-22).
A little later, when it was evident that the Midianites in their panic were racing eastward in the direction of their homeland, Gideon sent messengers on to various parts of the land occupied by the Ephraimites. The messengers were to tell the men of that tribe what had happened, and that the Midianites could possibly be cut off from escaping over the Jordan if the Ephraimites would move up quickly to meet them.
At the same time Gideon sent a messenger to the thousands of men he had dismissed from battle duty only a few hours before, informing them that the enemy was fleeing to the east, and that the Israelites could be of great service by pursuing them (vv. 23-24).
So all the men of Ephraim were called out and they took the waters of the Jordan as far as Beth Barah. They also captured and killed two of the Midianite leaders, Oreb and Zeeb. Their heads were later brought to Gideon as tokens of victory (Jdg. 7:25).
"A soft answer turneth away wrath"
The elders of the tribe of Ephraim came to Gideon to angrily ask why Ephraimite soldiers hadn't been asked to in join during the first encounter with the Midianites.
"If you feel that your tribe didn't have the opportunity to do enough in this campaign," Gideon told them, "then I must remind you that your soldiers were the ones who showed up just in time to defeat most of the fleeing Midianites at the Jordan River. Without your men there, what would we have done? It was there that God delivered into the hands of your soldiers the two mighty Midianite princes, Oreb and Zeeb. This alone was a great accomplishment compared to what my men and I did!"
Gideon chose to soothe their offended feelings with a soft answer as God commands His servants to do (Pro. 15:1). When they heard Gideon praising their soldiers, they were quite pleased, and departed in a very friendly mood (Jdg. 8:1-3.)
Temporary escape for a few
"We haven't completely won the battle yet!" Gideon shouted to the Israelites. "A great part of the enemy has eluded us. We can't let them go free. I'm not asking all of you to go after them but my three hundred chosen men and I will cross the Jordan to pursue the fleeing enemy troops."
Gideon's men were exhausted, but keeping up the pursuit they came to the Jordan and crossed it. But they were becoming weary from lack of food and rest (Jdg. 8:4).
"Don't be discouraged, men!" Gideon called out. "Our Israelite brothers in the town ahead should be able to give us enough food to restore our strength!"
When they reached Succoth, Gideon told the townspeople what had happened, why they were passing through and that they were in desperate need of food (v. 5).
The leaders of Succoth said: "Do you expect us to believe you have wiped out most of the Midianite army as you claim, and that those thousands who passed by are actually fleeing from you? Do you expect us to risk our lives by giving food to your troops while the Midianites are still in control of the country?" What contempt for God's sure promise! (compare Lev. 26:3, 7-8).
After the splendid cooperation he had received from the other tribes, Gideon was shocked by this lack of brotherly concern and faith in God.
"You refuse to help the people of your own nation who are risking their lives struggling for your freedom. This is defiance of God – and all because you fear what the Midianites might do to you instead of fearing God!" Gideon said. "Your greater fear should be of the punishment you'll receive from God at our hands because of your selfishness, when we return victorious!" (Jdg. 8:6-7).
Another town rebels
Gideon's little army wearily moved on to the northeast up the Jabbok River valley to pick up the trail of the enemy. A few miles farther brought them to the town of Penuel, where there was a somewhat unusual stone tower that had long ago been built by the Moabites as a place for observation and as a fortress. The Gadites who lived there were quite proud that theirs was the only town in the territory with such a tower.
Gideon summoned the leaders of the town, related his situation to them and made a desperate plea for food for his men. But they answered the same as the men of Succoth had.
"We'll be back this way after we have taken care of the Midianites," Gideon angrily told the Gadites gathered about him. "Then you will lose that tower you are so proud of. What's more, you are very likely to lose your lives!" (Jdg. 8:8-9).
God fights another battle
As at Succoth, Gideon and his men wearily departed amid hostile expressions and unfriendly murmurs from brother Israelites. They then went up by the route of the nomads east of Nobah and Jobehah and came upon the unsuspecting army.
Zebah and Zalmunna, the two kings of Midian were there with about fifteen thousand men – all that were left of the armies of the eastern people. The kings tried to escape but Gideon went after them and captured them, routing their entire army. God had again intervened on behalf of the greatly outnumbered Israelites (Jdg. 8:11-12).
The destruction of the Midianites having been accomplished, Gideon and his men then returned from the battle by the Pass of Heres. The two Midianite kings were with them.
Gideon caught a young man of Succoth and after questioning him the young man wrote down the names of the seventy-seven officials of Succoth. Then Gideon came and said to these men, "Here are Zebah and Zalmunna about whom you taunted me and refused to give bread to my exhausted men." Gideon then took the elders of the town and taught them a lesson by punishing them with desert thorns and briers. He also pulled down the tower of Penuel and killed the men of the town (Jdg. 8:13-17).
God's swift justice
Gideon and his group then moved on to the west, crossed the Jordan River and entered the central part of their country. There Zebah and Zalmunna were brought to trial as the two chief leaders of the Midianite oppression of Israel in recent years.
In the course of the questioning, Zebah and Zalmunna admitted they had murdered several of Gideon's brothers.
"If you had spared my brothers then, I would spare you now," Gideon told them. "Since you unmercifully put to death many Israelites, including my blood brothers, you can hardly expect to escape the death penalty for murder" (vv. 18-19).
There was a rule among the Israelites that the first-born male of a family should be the one to execute anyone who murdered any of his kin. Gideon was the youngest son of his parents (Jdg. 6:15), and therefore he felt that it wasn't his place to personally execute the two Midianite kings, although their fate was more than a family matter.
Gideon's oldest son, Jether, was only a lad in his teens, but according to Israelite procedure he was the proper one to avenge the deaths of his uncles. When his father told him to draw his sword and kill these two kings Jether did not draw his sword – he was afraid.
Zebah and Zalmunna called out for Gideon to deal with them himself and put them to instant death – and so he did (Jdg. 8:20-21).
After the bodies of the two Midianite kings had been hauled away and their camels stripped of their valuable ornaments, the Israelites felt that the struggle with their ancient eastern enemy was officially over. Gideon realised, however, that the struggle to keep the people from idolatry was never over, and he continued his efforts against pagan worship.
A stumbling block looks innocent
Not long after that, a great crowd of Israelites gathered before Gideon's home. When Gideon went out to learn why so many had assembled, there were loud cheers.
"Because you have saved us from the Midianites," a spokesman for the crowd shouted, "We have come to ask you to be our ruler".
"I am not the one to rule over you!" Gideon exclaimed to the crowd. "Neither is my son nor his son. If I am chosen by God to be your leader, so be it. But your Ruler is GOD!" (Jdg. 8:22-23).
"I have a request though. Many golden earrings were recently taken from slain Midianites and I ask that each of you give me an earring from your share of the plunder."
"We will willingly give them!" they answered.
Someone spread out a coat on the ground, and each man threw a ring from his plunder onto it. Gideon made the gold into an ephod, which he placed in Ophrah, his town. Unfortunately, this thing came to be revered so highly by the people that it eventually became an object of idolatrous worship (Jdg. 8:24-27).
Readers will remember a similar incident when Aaron fashioned a golden calf out of the gold earrings that the Israelites gave him after Moses was so long on the mountain (Ex. 32:1-4).
Only forty years...
For the next forty years, as long as Gideon was their leader and law-enforcer (referred to in the Scriptures as a Judge), most of the Israelites enjoyed the blessings of peace and prosperity (vv. 28-29). Since most people don't know how to wisely use peace and prosperity, such a period can be dangerous. During that time Gideon had several wives. The practice of having more than one wife was tolerated in those times, especially by men who could afford to feed many children. The Bible doesn't state how many children Gideon had, though it speaks of his having at least seventy-two sons (Jdg. 9:5).
As soon as Gideon died, many Israelites began to abuse their prosperity and turn to idleness and ease. They immediately began to fall away from worshipping God and turn again toward the worship of Baal and Easter (Ishtar/Astarte), the pagans' chief god and goddess. That false religion had been developed into different names and forms among various nations since the ancient times of Nimrod and his mother-wife Semiramis. Soon most of the nation had lost respect for what Gideon had accomplished and what God commanded. It was evident that Israel was once more heading for a downfall, this time to plunge into the misery of civil strife (Jdg. 8:30-35).
Gideon’s Force and the Last Days (No. 22)
Seven Great Passovers of the Bible (No. 107)
NIV Study Bible (Zondervan Bible Publishers)