Chapter 6

JUDGES CHAPTER 6

Midian Oppresses Israel

        • The Israelites did what was evil in Yahweh’s sight, and Yahweh handed them over to the Midianites for seven years. The Midianites were so oppressive that the Israelites made hiding places for themselves in the mountains, caves, and strongholds. Whenever the Israelites planted crops, the Midianites, Amalekties, and the people of the east would attack them. They would camp against them and destroy the produce of the land all the way to Gaza. They left no produce, sheep, ox, or donkeys in Israel. They, their livestock, and their tents would come in like a huge swarm of locusts. They and their camels numbered too many to count, and they came into the land to devastate it. Midian brought Israel so low that the Israelites cried out to Yahweh.

          • NLT Illustrated Study Bible writes, “After forty years of peace, religious syncretism had brought about political instability, and marauding nomads had reduced the Israelites to living as fugitives. The Midianites were once thought to be a purely nomadic tribe centered in northwest Arabia, but they are now understood to have built cities and for a time to have dominated much of the Arabian peninsula and southern Transjordan (the area east of the Jordan). They are joined here by Amalekites (who earlier were part of a Moabite coalition…and the mysterious people of the east (cp 1 Kings 4:30; Ezekiel 25:4, 10). The pattern of attack was seasonal but devastating.”

        • The same source adds, “Camels, known in some contexts from as early as 3000 BC, are frequently associated with the eastern nomads and their raids. This may be one of the first recorded instances of camels being used in a large military force.”

          • HCSB answers an often proposed question, “How could there have been Midianites ‘without number’ when, according to Nm 31:7, Moses had killed every Midianite male?…Midian was not a nation under God’s full edict of destruction, whereby every person was to have been destroyed (Dt 20:16-18). When Moses ‘killed every male’ he would have killed only those who had fought in battle against Israel. Sufficient time had passed since Moses’ day for the people of Midian to repopulate their army…”

          • The NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible mentions, “The archaeological site of Qurayya has yielded evidence of walls and a citadel, and distinctive pottery known as ‘Qurayya ware,’ or ‘Midianite ware.’ This pottery has been dated to the thirteenth and twelfth centuries BC, which fits the context of Jdg 6-8.”

Image via biblicalarchaeology.com

        • When the Isaelites cried out to Yahweh because of Midian, He sent them a prophet. The prophet told them, “Yahweh, the God of Israel says, ‘I brought you out of Egypt and out of slavery. I rescued you from Egypt and from all those who oppressed you. I drove your enemies out before you and gave you their land. I told you: I am Yahweh your God. Don’t be afraid of the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you’re living. But, you did not obey Me.’”

          • NLT Illustrated Study Bible notes, “This unnamed prophet and Deborah are the only prophets to appear in Judges. This prophet rebuked Israel’s apostasy in language familiar from Deuteronomy onward.”

        • Guzik writes, “Israel thought the problem was the Midianites, but the real problem was Israel. It is human nature to blame others for problems that we cause…The message of the prophet also shows that when Israel cried out to the LORD, they didn’t understand that they were the problem. Their cry to God for help did not mean that they recognized or repented of their sin.”

Yahweh Calls Gideon

        • The Angel of Yahweh came and sat under the oak tree at Ophrah, which belonged to Joash from the clan of Abiezer. Gideon, Joash’s son, was threshing wheat in the winepress in order to hide it from the Midianites. The Angel of Yahweh appeared to him and said, “Yahweh is with you, mighty warrior.”

          • The ESV Archaeology Study Bible sets the scene, “…Threshing was done on hilltops or windblown slopes, where the grain and chaff were tossed in the air. The wind would blow away the chaff, leaving the grain to fall to the ground. Winepresses were carved out of the bedrock with two shallow pools/depressions- one to trample the grapes, the other to collect the liquid through a conduit. Gideon could not use the threshing floors for fear that the Midianites would see and confiscate the wheat.”

        • Gideon responded to Him, “My lord, if Yahweh is with us, why has all of this happened? Where are all of His wonderful deeds that our ancestors told us about, saying, ‘Didn’t Yahweh bring us out of Egypt?’ But now Yahweh has abandoned us and handed us over to the Midianites.”

          • Guzik says, “Gideon heard about the great works of God in the past, yet he wondered why did not see the same great works in his day. Gideon thought the problem was with God (now the LORD has forsaken us) – not with him and with the nation of Israel as a whole. In truth, Israel forsook God – God did not forsake Israel.”

        • Yahweh turned to him and said, “Go in the strength that you have and rescue Israel from Midian. Am I not sending you?” Gideon replied, “Please, Lord, how can I rescue Israel? Look, my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the youngest in my family.” Yahweh answered, “But I will be with you and you will defeat Midian as if they were only one man.”

          • NLT Illustrated Study Bible says, “Gideon…was the son of Joash, from the tribe of Manasseh. Gideon described his clan as the least powerful in Manasseh and himself as the least important in the clan. His story tells how God can take a weak person and use him for great purposes.”

          • Guzik remarks, “Gideon had might to go forth in, but he could not see himself as someone who could do great things for God. He thought of himself as insignificant, from the smallest clan in his tribe, and that he was the least in his own family…At the same time, Gideon was correct: he could not save Israel. But a great God could use a small and weak Gideon to rescue Israel…God’s assurance to Gideon was not to build up his self confidence, but to assure him that God was indeed with him. Gideon did not need more self-confidence, he needed more God-confidence…It is important to know that God has sent us but it is even greater to know that He is with us. This was the same assurance God gave to Moses (Exodus 3:12) and that Jesus gave all believers (Matthew 28:20).”

        • Then Gideon said to Him, “Please, if I have found favor in your sight, then show me a sign that it is You speaking to me. Please don’t leave this place until I come back with my gift and set it before You.” And He said, “I will stay until you return.”

        • So Gideon went and prepared a young goat and unleavened bread from a half bushel of flour. Carrying the meat in a basket and the broth in a pot, he brought them to Him under the oak and presented them to Him.

        • The Angel of God told him, “Place the meat and the unleavened bread on this rock and pour the broth over them.” Gideon did this. Then the Angel of Yahweh extended the tip of the staff in His hand, touched the meat and unleavened bread with it, and fire sprang up from the rock and consumed the meat and unleavened bread. Then, the Angel of Yahweh disappeared from his sight.

        • When Gideon realized that He was the Angel of Yahweh, he said, “Alas my lord Yahweh! For I have seen the Angel of Yahweh face to face!”

        • Guzik writes, “This demonstrates that before this, Gideon believed that this person was simply a man. The appearance of the Angel of the LORD was completely human in its character…Once Gideon realized the identity of the Angel of the LORD, he was terrified. The Angel of the LORD brought this comforting word to the terrified Gideon.”

        • But Yahweh said to him, “Peace to you. Don’t be afraid, you will not die.” So Gideon built an altar to Yahweh there and he called it: Yahweh Shalom. To this day it still remains at Ophrah, which belongs to the Abiezerites.

          • NLT Illustrated Study Bible notes that Yahweh Shalom means Yahweh “is peace.”

          • Guzik adds, “Gideon did this as an act of worship and consecration unto the LORD, whom he had just encountered face-to-face. He was no longer terrified of God, as demonstrated by the title given to the altar: The-LORD-Is-Peace.”

        • This entire section of Scripture is an amazing attestation to the identity of the Angel of Yahweh. Guzik includes the following in his commentary:

          • When the Angel of the LORD appeared to Gideon, we recognize this is as a theophany – an Old Testament appearance of Jesus Christ, in human, bodily form, but before His incarnation in Bethlehem…The description of the encounter with the Angel of the LORD shows that this is not merely an angel speaking on behalf of God. It shows that God himself, appearing in human form, spoke to Gideon”:

            • Then the LORD turned to him and said (Judges 6:14).

            • And the LORD said to him (Judges 6:16).

            • Since no man has seen God the Father at any time (John 1:18, John 5:27) and by nature the Holy Spirit is a spirit without bodily form, it is reasonable to see this as an appearance of the Second Person of the Trinity, as an appearance of God the Son. However, this is not the incarnation in the same sense that Jesus was as a baby in Bethlehem. At Bethlehem Jesus was truly and fully human (while also being truly and fully God). Here, it is more likely that Jesus took the mere appearance of humanity, doing so for a specific purpose.”

Gideon Destroys a Baal Altar

        • That same night, Yahweh told Gideon, “Take your father’s bull, the second bull that is seven years old. Tear down your father’s altar to Baal and cut down the Asherah that is beside it. Then build an altar to Yahweh here on the hilltop, laying the stones in proper order. Take the second bull and offer it as a burnt offering using the wood of the Asherah that you will cut down.”

          • Comparing the renderings of verse 25, it appears that there is some ambiguity regarding whether one bull is to be taken from his father’s herd, and a second bull that is seven years old, or one bull- the second bull from his father’s herd, which is seven years old. I have sided with the latter interpretation since, if the text intends two bulls, it never says what to do with the first one. Therefore, in my opinion, the context seems to support the latter. However, Guzik cites Clarke in his commentary with the reasoning for the former view, “It seems that two bulls were to be offered; one as a sin offering, and the other as a consecration offering. ‘It appears that the second bullock was offered, because it was just seven years old, Judges 6:25, being calved about the time that the Midianitish oppression began; and it was now to be slain to indicate that their slavery should end with its life.’”

          • Guzik adds, “In Gideon’s community, Baal was worshipped right along side of Yahweh. God called Gideon to get his own house in order first.”

        • So, Gideon took ten men from his servants and did just as Yahweh had commanded him. However, he did it at night because he was too afraid of his father’s family and of the men of the city to do it during the day.

          • Guzik adds, “Gideon probably did this at night and under the cover of secrecy because he feared that his father’s household and the men of the city would prevent him from doing what needed to be done.”

        • Early the next morning when the men of the city arose, they saw that the altar to Baal had been torn down and the Asherah beside it had been cut down. A new altar had been built and the second bull had been offered on it. They asked one another, “Who did this?” After asking around and making a search, they said, “Joash’s son Gideon did this.”

        • Then the men told Joash, “Bring out your son. He must die for tearing down the altar to Baal and cutting down the Asherah beside it.” But Joash said, “Will you contend for Baal, will you rescue him? Whoever contends for Baal will be put to death by morning. If he is a god let him contend for himself because his altar has been torn down.” Therefore, that day Gideon was called Jerub-baal, which means “let Baal contend against him” because he tore down his altar.

        • Some commentaries seem to see Joash’s response as a clear siding with Gideon. For example, the NLT Illustrated Study Bible notes, “The first person to follow Gideon’s inspired act of leadership and abandon Baal for the Lord was Gideon’s father Joash, who was, ironically the keeper of the Baal shrine.” Ironic indeed, if that is the correct interpretation. The NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible offers an alternative, and less ironic, understanding:

          • Ancient Near Easterners perceived deities to be present in the images that represented them. By an elaborate process, an object made with human hands was transformed into a representative of the god, indwelled by his spirit/breath. Once an object had been transformed into a god, it should have been able to defend itself. The NIV’s insertion of ‘really’ may suggest to some that Gideon’s actions have tested Baal’s divinity, and that Joash’s rhetorical question anticipates a negative answer: ‘No, Baal is not a god.’ However, it seems quite unlikely that the sponsor of the Baal installation at Ophrah would have conceded this so quickly. When desecration takes place, it is the role of the deity to defend itself (Lev 10:1-3; 1 Sa 6:19; 2 Sa 6:7). Joash is declaring that anyone who takes retribution into their own hands will be considered guilty of bloodshed and subject to clan retribution.”

          • Guzik writes in his commentary, “This is similar to what happened during a great move of God in the South Seas in the 19th Century. One tribal chief was converted to Christianity and he gathered up all the idols of his people. He told the idols he was going to destroy them, and then he gave them the chance to run away. He destroyed all the ones that sat there like dumb statues.”

The Sign of the Fleece

        • All the Midianites, Amalekites, and people of the east joined together, crossed the Jordan River, and camped in the Valley of Jezreel. The Spirit of Yahweh clothed Gideon, he blew the ram’s horn, and the Abiezerites were called to follow him. He sent messengers throughout Manasseh, Asher, Zebulun, and Naphtali, and they were called to follow him.

          • NLT Illustrated Study Bible says, “The nomadic coalition (6:1-6) set up camp at the eastern end of the valley of Jezreel, which divided Israel’s central tribes from the Galilean hills.”

        • Then Gideon said to God, “If You are going to rescue Israel by my hand, as You have said, show me with the following. I will place a fleece of wool on the threshing floor. If there is dew only on the fleece and the ground all around it is dry, then I will know that You will rescue Israel by my hand as You have said.”

        • NLT Illustrated Study Bible writes, “The fleece incident was not a confirmation of God’s intention to use Gideon (which had already been established, 6:17-24), but God’s indulgence in responding to the reluctant hero’s uncertainty.”

        • And that is what happened. Early the next morning when he got up, he squeezed the fleece and wrung a bowlful of dew out of it.

        • Then Gideon said to God, “Please don’t let Your anger burn against me, but let me speak again and make one more test with the fleece. This time, let the fleece remain dry, and the ground surrounding it be wet with dew.” That night God did as Gideon had asked: only the fleece was dry, but dew was all over the ground.

        • Guzik writes:

          • Gideon showed that he had a weak, imperfect faith. For such a bold, life-endangering mission, one might understand (and encourage) his request for one sign (fulfilled in Judges 6:17-21). But asking for second and third signs showed that his faith was weak…The test was wrong because it was essentially a trick, and it had nothing to do with fighting the Midianites. Gideon probably didn’t understand that he was actually dictating his terms to God. Sometimes God shows His displeasure with such requests. In Luke 1:18, when Zechariah, John the Baptist’s father, asked for a confirming sign, the LORD made him mute until the birth of his son… Gideon also did not keep his word. God fulfilled the sign once, and Gideon said that would be enough for him. But he went back on his word after God fulfilled the first sign. Yet the LORD was still merciful and gracious to Gideon…Yet before being too critical of Gideon, we should consider the challenge that was ahead of him. Many of us would immediately refuse such a call, without even considering allowing God to confirm it. Gideon’s weak faith was still greater than no faith. For this reason, Gideon is rightly included in the register of great men and women of faith (Hebrews 11:32).”

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