Who Is Gideon?

Who is Gideon? He was an early war hero for Israel. He defeated an army, numbered like locusts with only 300 men. Judges like Gideon were the leaders before the age of kings.

After Moses had led the children of Israel out of Egypt and close to the Promised Land, he passed the torch of leadership on to Joshua. The Book of Joshua recounts the invasion of Canaan and the battles won in capturing cities and sometimes obliterating their populations. The new lands, including conquered territories, were parceled into twelve districts for the twelve tribes.

As Joshua ages and approaches death, he warns the people to be very careful not to associate with the natives and especially not to be influenced by their gods. He advises them that if they follow God's laws, they will continue to receive blessings and especially, victory in war. As we enter the Book of Judges, the 12 tribes are attacking various settlements as tribes and not as Israel. Joshua dies and we enter the time of the Judges.

These are not judges in the legal sense, but leaders. These leaders would rise up from time to time to face threats to one or more tribe's existence. They would not have a king; YHWH was their king. The nation would not have a king because these 12 tribes were autonomous. They would not willingly submit to the sovereignty of an "outside" national leader. So, the Book of Judges spans the era from Joshua to the time of the kings. Samuel was the last judge and Saul was the first king.

In the interim the twelve tribes settled into their allotted territories and attempted to survive as mini nations. After the death of Joshua in Judges 2, we are told that his whole generation also died and "the next generation forgot the Lord and what he had done for Israel". (Judges 2: 10) Before long, "Then the people of Israel sinned against the Lord and began to serve the Baals". (Judges 2: 11)

Of course, they run into all kinds of trouble for this. Their enemies and raiders began to attack them and overpower them. God would raise up leaders (judges) to lead them out of their troubles. As long as the leader lived, the people would behave. When the leader died, they would go back to their old ways. The Bible tells us that God left some nations around the Israelites to test them.

There is a string of judges named in the book, starting with Othniel, and continuing on to Ehud, Shamgar and Deborah. Gideon comes next. The scene is a familiar one by now. "Once again the people of Israel sinned against the Lord, so he let the people of Midian rule them for seven years." (Judges 6: 1) The Midianites would come and destroy all of the crops on Israeli farms. The people would run and hide in caves until they left.

Gideon was minding his own business in his home city of Ophrah. He was threshing wheat in a winepress, hiding from the Midianites. An angel appeared to him there and said, "The Lord is with you, brave and mighty man". (Judges 6: 12) Gideon is skeptical and asks the angel a question. If God is with us, why are we under this oppression all the time? This time God speaks and orders Gideon, "Go with all your great strength and rescue Israel from the Midianites. I myself am sending you." (Judges 6: 14)

Gideon tries to get out of it. "My clan is the weakest in the tribe of Manasseh and I am the least important member of my family." God promises to help but Gideon is still not convinced. He asks the angel of the Lord to wait until he brings an offering. Gideon returns with a goat, bread and some broth and places them on a stone. The angel touches them and they are consumed by fire. Gideon believes and builds an altar to the Lord right there.

Gideon's own father had an altar to Baal and an Asherah pole. God asked Gideon to remove them, which he did. The people of the town were upset with Gideon for this and wanted to kill him. Joash, Gideon's father, convinced the people to leave Gideon alone. He said, "If Baal is a god let him defend himself." (Judges 6: 31)

The Midianites, the Amalekites and other desert tribes were gathering across the Jordan River. Gideon blew the trumpet and summoned soldiers from all over the territory to defend Israel against the gathering armies. Gideon still had his doubts. He wasn't convinced that God wanted to use him as the savior of Israel. Gideon put out a "fleece", sheep's wool, overnight. He asked God to wet the fleece and keep the dew off the ground as a sign that God was sure He wanted him. God came through. Gideon asked for the reverse the next night. "Let the wool be dry, and the ground be wet." (Judges 6: 39) It happened just as Gideon had requested so he took the cue and prepared for battle.

God had a lesson for Gideon, lest he should think that the might of his army was a deciding factor. God told Gideon that his army was too big and told him to send anyone home that was afraid. Twenty two thousand men went home and ten thousand stayed to fight. God said, you still have too many men. He said, take your army down to the river to drink, "Separate everyone who laps up the water with his tongue like a dog from everyone who gets down on his knees to drink". (Judges 7: 5) Three hundred men lapped their water and these Gideon was ordered to keep. The rest were sent home but left their weapons and supplies.

The Lord instructed Gideon to sneak up on the enemy and listen to what they were saying. The Midianites and their allies were spread out "like a swarm of locusts" and had as many camels as grains of sand. He heard one of their soldiers' recount a dream about a barley loaf rolling into camp and toppling a tent. The soldier's companion interpreted the dream to mean that Israel would win the battle. Gideon was encouraged.

Gideon separated his men into three groups of a hundred. Each man took a torch, hidden in a jar, and a trumpet. They surrounded the enemy camp at night and Gideon ordered them to wait for his signal. He told them to wait for his group to sound the trumpet and then all were to break their jars and blow their trumpets too. They were to shout simultaneously, "For the Lord and for Gideon!" (Judges 7: 18) The enemy soldiers fell into such a panic, they turned on each other and then fled.


The Good News Bible, American Bible Society, 1992

William Neil's One Volume Bible Commentary, Hodder and Stoughton, 1962

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