Monday, September 04, 2006

JUDGES 6 GIDEON

6:1-6 Midian Oppresses Israel

6:1 The people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord gave them into the hand of Midian seven years. 2 And the hand of Midian overpowered Israel, and because of Midian the people of Israel made for themselves the dens that are in the mountains and the caves and the strongholds. 3 For whenever the Israelites planted crops, the Midianites and the Amalekites and the people of the East would come up against them. 4 They would encamp against them and devour the produce of the land, as far as Gaza, and leave no sustenance in Israel and no sheep or ox or donkey. 5 For they would come up with their livestock and their tents; they would come like locusts in number—both they and their camels could not be counted—so that they laid waste the land as they came in. 6 And Israel was brought very low because of Midian. And the people of Israel cried out for help to the Lord.

Israel had 40 years of peace after the defeat of Jabin, King of the Canaanites, according to the last verse of Judges 5. Then, the people began to do evil in the sight of the Lord. Verse 10 of chapter 6 indicates they returned to the worship of Baal and the other Canaanite deities. The Lord gave them over to the Midianites for 7 years. (The Midianites were descendants of Abraham and Keturah according to Genesis 25:2. They were allied with the Amalekites, the descendants of Esau according to Genesis 36:12. The people of the east may have been Arab tribes.)These were the people who led Israel astray in the book of Numbers, and which the Israelites defeated. Yet, 200 years later, God has brought them back to haunt Israel.

Again we see the working of the conditional covenant of Sinai. When the people turned from God, God withdrew his protection and brought them adversity. They are, in effect, in exile in their own land.

This seven years was really bad. The country was overrun by Midianites and Amalekites. They came from the east and went all the way to the western coast, where Gaza is (a Philistine city). The Israelites were hiding in caves. When they planted crops, the enemy came and took them, as well as their livestock. People were starving, their homes and villages were destroyed, so they were homeless, and they faced death constantly. Verse 6 says they were brought very low. The curses of Deuteronomy 28 had come upon them.

The irony is that they worshipped Baal in order to secure bountiful crops and livestock. Yet, that very worship caused them to lose their crops and livestock. God is demonstrating to them the folly of their idolatry, but they are not understanding it. Later in the history of Israel, God says it to them again. In Hosea 2:8-9, he said:
And she (Israel) did not know that it was I who gave her the grain, the wine, and the oil, and who lavished on her silver an gold, which they used for Baal. Therefore, I will take back my grain in its time, and my wine in its season, and I will take away my wool and my flax, which were to cover her nakedness.
In contrast, when Israel kept the covenant, God let them reap where they did not sow. See Joshua 24:13.

6:7-10 The Word of the Prophet

7 When the people of Israel cried out to the Lord on account of the Midianites, 8 the Lord sent a prophet to the people of Israel. And he said to them, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: I led you up from Egypt and brought you out of the house of bondage. 9 And I delivered you from the hand of the Egyptians and from the hand of all who oppressed you, and drove them out before you and gave you their land. 10 And I said to you, ‘I am the Lord your God; you shall not fear the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell.’ But you have not obeyed my voice.”

When things got bad enough, the people of Israel cried out to the Lord. Baal just wasn’t cutting it. In response, the Lord did something a different. Instead of just raising up a judge, he first sent a prophet with a message to the nation. In chapter 2, he did this with an angel, but here, with a prophet.

This message reminded Israel of the covenant. It began with a historical recitation of God’s deliverance of Israel from Egypt. This is exactly how the covenant began. Look at Exodus 20:1-2. God began the covenant with a description of what he had done for Israel. After that, he told them what they must do. They must honor the Lord as god and not have any other gods. The prophet repeated that requirement here in Judges 6:10. This is a summary of the covenant. God told what he had already done and explained what they must do.

Then the prophet told them they had broken the covenant. They had not obeyed God’s voice. He even reiterated that he had delivered them from all that oppressed them (verse 9), to remind them it was not the lack of power on his part that was the problem, it was their lack of obedience.

Why did the Lord send a prophet when the people were asking for a deliverer? Because the Lord was not going to deliver them until they repented and returned to him. The cried out for relief, but not for repentance. The Lord required repentance. Deuteronomy 30:2, required that they “return to the Lord your God, you and your children, and obey his voice in all that I command you today, with all your heart and with all your soul…”

This is the constant message of the prophets throughout the Old Testament. Their job is to tell Israel that it has violated the covenant. Often, they also tell Israel what the future consequences will be if they do not repent, and call them to repentance. Here, the consequences are already in play, so the prophet has no need to spell them out. But, notice that the prophet does not tell the people that deliverance is on its way.

But, it is.


6:11-12 The Call of Gideon

11 Now the angel of the Lord came and sat under the terebinth at Ophrah, which belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, while his son Gideon was beating out wheat in the winepress to hide it from the Midianites. 12 And the angel of the Lord appeared to him and said to him, “The Lord is with you, O mighty man of valor.”

In verse 11, the scene shifts from the call to repentance to God’s deliverance. He is calling a deliverer. He has the person picked out and he sent the angel of the Lord to do the calling.

The deliverer is Gideon. He is living with his dad, who is the head of the family, within the tribe of Benjamin, and probably owns the town of Ophrah where this tree is. He had managed to grow some wheat and harvest it without having it stolen by the Midianites. He is hiding from the Midianites in the winepress, so they will not see him threshing grain and take it. This is probably a tub sunk into the ground, and Gideon is down in it hitting the grain with a stick. This is not an impressive looking individual so far.

The angel came and sat down under a tree. He watched Gideon threshing down in the winepress. It is almost as if the angel is having a hard time believing this is the guy who God has chosen as the deliverer. But it is, so the angel addressed him as such. He said ‘The Lord is with you, O mighty man of valor.” These are great theological and prophetic words. If God is with Gideon, he is empowered to accomplish the task God gives him. He will become the valiant man God has chosen him to be.

Gideon, like Moses, had some reservations.

6:13-18 Gideon’s Doubts

13 And Gideon said to him, “Please, sir, [1] if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all his wonderful deeds that our fathers recounted to us, saying, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the Lord has forsaken us and given us into the hand of Midian.” 14 And the Lord [2] turned to him and said, “Go in this might of yours and save Israel from the hand of Midian; do not I send you?” 15 And he said to him, “Please, Lord, how can I save Israel? Behold, my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father's house.” 16 And the Lord said to him, “But I will be with you, and you shall strike the Midianites as one man.” 17 And he said to him, “If now I have found favor in your eyes, then show me a sign that it is you who speaks. with me. 18 Please do not depart from here until I come to you and bring out my present and set it before you.” And he said, “I will stay till you return.”

Gideon’s first question is whether the Lord was actually with Israel. He has twisted the tale a bit, as the angel said the Lord was with Gideon, and Gideon responds asking if the Lord is with the nation. Clearly, the Lord was not with the nation and that was the point of their suffering. Gideon called attention to this by bringing up the wonderful deeds the Lord did in delivering them from Egypt, as he had heard from his elders. He did not mention the covenant, or Israel’s sin. But, he did realize that the Lord had indeed given them over to the Midianites.

The angel of the Lord then made it clear to Gideon that he was calling him as the deliverer of Israel. He told him to go and save Israel. Again, you see a similarity to the call of Moses, whom the Lord told to go and deliver Israel. He asked him a rhetorical question, “do I not send you?” He said, in other words, Gideon, you are going, because I am sending you.

He also referred again to Gideon’s might, which has not been displayed. “Go in this might of yours” would sound sarcastic, but instead, I think the Lord is telling him he will have might from the Lord to accomplish this deliverance.

Notice that the speaker is referred to the second time as “the Lord”, not the angel of the Lord. It seems to be another appearance of the pre-incarnate Christ.

Gideon’s second question deals not with the Lord’s presence, but with Gideon’s insufficiency. He is the youngest son in the smallest clan of the tribe. This again sounds like Moses making excuses. The Lord was not taking excuses that day, though, and answers Gideon as he answered Moses, that God would be with him.

Gideon absorbed these statements from the Lord, but did not trust that this indeed was the Lord. He wanted a sign. He intended to bring an offering. The Lord agreed to that.

6:19-24 Gideon’s Offering

19 So Gideon went into his house and prepared a young goat and unleavened cakes from an ephah [3] of flour. The meat he put in a basket, and the broth he put in a pot, and brought them to him under the terebinth and presented them. 20 And the angel of God said to him, “Take the meat and the unleavened cakes, and put them on this rock, and pour the broth over them.” And he did so. 21 Then the angel of the Lord reached out the tip of the staff that was in his hand and touched the meat and the unleavened cakes. And fire sprang up from the rock and consumed the flesh and the unleavened cakes. And the angel of the Lord vanished from his sight. 22 Then Gideon perceived that he was the angel of the Lord. And Gideon said, “Alas, O Lord God! For now I have seen the angel of the Lord face to face.” 23 But the Lord said to him, “Peace be to you. Do not fear; you shall not die.” 24 Then Gideon built an altar there to the Lord and called it, The Lord is Peace. To this day it still stands at Ophrah, which belongs to the Abiezrites.

Gideon prepared a gift which he hoped the angel would accept and after which the angel would give him a sign. It was a meal consisting of a young goat and unleavened cakes of bread. The Lord accepted the offering and consumed it by fire. Then, the Lord disappeared. Gideon saw all this as a sign that he had indeed been in the presence of the Lord and, therefore, the Lord was with him as the chosen deliverer of Israel.

He was afraid he would die, for no one may look on the Lord and live. But, the Lord assured him he would live. Gideon built an altar to the Lord on that spot, calling it “the Lord is peace” or “YWHW shalom”. He has acknowledged the Lord as God and has worshipped him.


6:25-27 Restoring Proper Worship

25 That night the Lord said to him, “Take your father's bull, and the second bull seven years old, and pull down the altar of Baal that your father has, and cut down the Asherah that is beside it 26 and build an altar to the Lord your God on the top of the stronghold here, with stones laid in due order. Then take the second bull and offer it as a burnt offering with the wood of the Asherah that you shall cut down.” 27 So Gideon took ten men of his servants and did as the Lord had told him. But because he was too afraid of his family and the men of the town to do it by day, he did it by night.

In Gideon’s second encounter with God, the Lord gives Gideon his first assignment. That assignment is to destroy the altar to Baal, along with the accompanying Asherah pole, then to build an altar to the Lord and sacrifice upon it. Gideon is too afraid to do it in daylight, but he does do it, only at night. This is a clear proclamation that the Lord is superior to Baal and that he is to be worshipped instead of Baal.

6:28-32 Resistance to True Worship
28 When the men of the town rose early in the morning, behold, the altar of Baal was broken down, and the Asherah beside it was cut down, and the second bull was offered on the altar that had been built. 29 And they said to one another, “Who has done this thing?” And after they had searched and inquired, they said, “Gideon the son of Joash has done this thing.” 30 Then the men of the town said to Joash, “Bring out your son, that he may die, for he has broken down the altar of Baal and cut down the Asherah beside it.” 31 But Joash said to all who stood against him, “Will you contend for Baal? Or will you save him? Whoever contends for him shall be put to death by morning. If he is a god, let him contend for himself, because his altar has been broken down.” 32 Therefore on that day Gideon [4] was called Jerubbaal, that is to say, “Let Baal contend against him,” because he broke down his altar.

The men of the town got up the next morning to find the altar of Baal missing and the Asherah pole removed. In addition, a new altar was present, with the remains of the offering of a bull upon a fire built of the Asherah pole. They were very unhappy, maybe even expecting retribution from Baal if they did not defend his honor. Upon finding out that Gideon did it, they seek him to kill him.

Gideon’s father joined the fight, however, even prophesying that anyone who contended for Baal would die by the next morning. The fact that his altar had been broken down and replaced by an altar to the Lord seemed to be a sign of Baal’s defeat by the Lord, so they left Gideon alone.

6:33 The Midianites Attack

The Midianites and their allies came again into Israel. They crossed the Jordan River and camped in the Valley of Jezreel.

This is fitting, for 2 reasons. First, this big valley is a fertile land where grain would be grown. Its name actually means “God sows”. We know from the beginning of this chapter that the Midianites came at harvest time with all their animals and devoured or destroyed the crops. We know Gideon had harvested some grain, because he was secretly threshing it when the Angel of the Lord approached him.

The second reason is that the valley spreads out to the north and east from Mount Carmel and is the most convenient passage for people crossing the country. Many battles were fought here. It was the only east-west access between the coast and the Jordan Valley. The Way of the Sea, or the Via Maris, ran from Egypt through this valley. There is a hill on the northern boundary called Megiddo, where a fortress was built. 1 Kings 9:15 tells us Solomon built a fortress there. Jehu defeated the army of Jezebel on the plain, according to 2 Kings 9, and King Josiah was killed there according to 2 Kings 23:29. So much blood was shed in these plains that both Jezreel and Megiddo became symbols of violence and judgment. See Hosea 1:4-5. The Mountain of Megiddo, in Hebrew, is har Megiddo, which has been anglicized into Armageddon. The Bible speaks of the gathering of armies in this valley at the place of Armageddon.

So, the enemy was gathered and God was ready to act.

6:34-40 Gideon Gets Ready

You can tell God was ready to act, because the Spirit of the Lord came upon Gideon. Without the Spirit, Gideon was neither a leader nor a warrior.

First, Gideon summoned support. He blew the trumpet to summon his own tribe, the Abiezrites. He also sent messengers to the tribes of Manasseh, Asher, Zebulun and Napthali. Manasseh was the tribe that was allotted most of the plain, and Gideon was a member of that tribe. Asher and Zebulun border the plain on the north. Napthali is further north. However, Gideon did not summon Issachar, although it directly borders the plain on the north. Neither did he summon any of the tribes to the south of the plain.

Gideon not only sought help from the other tribes, he sought reassurance from God. He had already been told he was chosen of God to deliver Israel from Midian and that God would be with him. He spoke with the Angel of the Lord. He was given a sign in the consuming of the meal by fire. Yet, here he still seeks another sign.

This is where the saying about putting out the fleece comes from. Gideon did it not just once, but twice. He even seemed to sense he was pushing it, as he asked the Lord not to be angry with him. The Lord did give him the sign both times. Gideon should have been ready to go.
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