Gideon was Israel’s fifth judge. He was of the family of Abiezer, the tribe of Manasseh, and was probably a farmer on Ophrah. He was called to lead Israel out of Midianite oppression while he was grinding grain besides a winepress in fear of the enemy.
As he was grinding the grain out of sight of the Midianites, an angel of the Lord came to Gideon with a greeting that shocked him. The angel called him “a mighty man of valour”. This must have sounded laughable to him since he knew that he was far from being a mighty man, in fact he considered himself to be the weakest person in his tribe. How could he be a mighty man of valour if he is doing women’s work while hiding from the Midianites? Gideon appears to have had very little faith in God at this point, not that he did not believe that there was a God, but that He did not work miracles any more.
His Commission (6:16-24)
The angel did not reply directly to Gideon’s question / unbelief, but seemed to be saying, “You will deliver Israel from bondage just like Moses delivered Israel from Egyptian dominion” .In fact, Gideon’s response was very similar to that of Moses when he received his call from God. God made Gideon aware that he would not be delivering His people by his power alone, but that the Lord Himself would be there with him.
Gideon still could not accept what he was hearing so requested a sign as evidence that it was true. This sign may reveal his unbelief, but may just simply be that he wanted to know that miracles still happen. He brought an offering of a young goat, soup and bread before the angel (it is possible that this angel was a theophany – Christ in a pre-incarnate form). Gideon was commanded to place all the food on a rock and with the tip of his staff touch the food. As he did so a flame of fire shot up from the rock and consumed the entire offering. He had received his sign but then thought he was about to die, since he had taken upon himself to question God about His power to save. The Lord calmed his fears and assured him that he would not die but actually do exactly what He called him for. As a sign of his commitment to God Gideon built an altar and called it “Jehovah our peace”.
Gideon’s first act of faith (6:25-32)
God commanded Gideon to destroy the altar of Baal and to build one to Him in its place. On this altar he was to sacrifice his father’s second bullock. Gideon did this at night with a small group of other men. When the townspeople saw the destruction of Baal’s shrine the following morning they seemed to immediately know who was responsible. They wanted him put to death for this, but Joash, Gideon’s father, defended his son by saying that if Baal was truly God then let him punish Gideon. The people took this advice, probably expecting him to be destroyed at any moment. Because of this he was given the nickname “Jerubbaal” meaning “let Baal plead against him”.
Gideon’s Fleece (6:33-40)
The Midianites, Amalekites and other of Israel’s enemies came once again to oppress them. The Holy Spirit came upon Gideon and he called for able bodied men of Manasseh and the surrounding tribes to come together against their enemies. This has to be the power of God upon him since he suddenly changes from being a weakling to a man of valour. Yet he still needed reassurance and so asked God for a sign that it was God’s will to go out against those seeking to destroy Israel. This sign was given over two nights at the request of Gideon. The first night he wanted to see the dew falling on the fleece and the ground completely dry. The following night he reversed it, asking that the dew be on the ground but not on the fleece. These signs convinced him that God was really with him.
The Battle (Chapter 7)
Gideon arose early the next morning. As he looked upon the thirty-two thousand men that had come to assist him in the battle with the enemy the Lord spoke to him. God did not want this number of men to fight His battle otherwise they would say that the victory was won because of the size of the army. The Midianite army was actually one hundred and fifty thousand strong, but God wanted to reveal that He was able to deliver His people with the least number of men so that they would give all the glory to Him.
Gideon was instructed to send home twenty-two thousand men that were in fact frightened about fighting with the enemy. But still there were too many men. To reduce the number to three hundred he was shown by God to choose only the men that lifted water in their hands to drink from the stream. Nine thousand seven hundred were sent home. Gideon must have been amazed at this since he was having the very foundations of human strength dragged out from beneath him.
With his servant Phurah he descended Mount Moreh were they were encamped that night. God had shown him that if he would visit the enemies camp he would receive yet another sign to prove that what He had been promised was absolute truth. He did hear a Midianite soldier recounting a dream to a fellow soldier. He told the man that he believed that the Midianites would be destroyed by Gideon. This dream was probably a result of the fear that was in the camp about Gideon. They must have heard about how he had destroyed their god Baal without any harm coming to him. Somehow they had come to believe that he was a great military man come to defend Israel. This is the likely reason why they had come with such a huge number of fighting men. The dream must have played on their suspicious minds. When Gideon’s three companies of one hundred men appeared blowing trumpets, shouting, breaking containers to reveal glowing lights all along the top of the mount, the Midianites were thrown into mass hysteria and terror. The shout went up “The sword of the LORD and of Gideon” as the Israelites approached the enemy camp. The Midianites were so frightened that they began to kill one another. Those who were left from their self-destruction were slaughtered by Gideon and his men. At the sound of victory the men of Naphtali, Asher, and Manasseh joined in the battle. Gideon sent messengers to Ephraim calling them to come and join in the glory. He commanded them to go down to the Jordan and execute Oreb and Zeeb the two Midianite princes for their crimes against Israel.
Gideon realised that he needed to be thorough regarding the destruction of the enemy so that they would have no further opportunity to oppress Israel. But very quickly jealousy and pride caused divisions between some of the tribes and Gideon. Ephraim was the first to resist him, but, through diplomacy, he was able to calm the situation down.
When he came to Succoth with his army in pursuit of those who had escaped the initial battle he requested food for his men. The inhabitants of the town refused to oblige Gideon. He promised to deal with these people on his return trip from pursing the enemy. When Gideon arrived back in the town a short time later he demolished the tower of Penuel and slew the elders of the town.
Eventually Gideon captured the Midianite kings Zebah and Zalmunna. He would have spared their lives until he heard that they were responsible for murdering his brothers.
The people try to crown Gideon king of Israel (8:22-23)
Because of his great victories the people thought that Gideon would make a perfect king. He declined the invitation because he knew that God was the one that deserved all the glory and that He alone was Israel’s true King. Later, as we see in chapter nine, they did crown one of Gideon’s son king, but God quickly saw to it that he was destroyed.
Gideon’s Mistakes (8:24-35)
Gideon was a man of humility, understanding, and faith in God, but he made errors of judgement in his life. His greatest mistake was requesting Israel to make a gold and silver ephod for him to wear during his civil duties (maybe something like a chain of office). Though he was innocent of any idolatrous intent, the people did begin to worship this ephod after his death. For some reason the ephod took on a religious significance. This is more likely to be because of Baalism; the gold, silver and precious stones may have come as a result of the destruction of the images. If this is not the case then it is probable that the ephod became a holy relic of a great man of God. It is not long after Gideon’s death that Israel quickly slid back into idolatry and the worship of false gods. They had forgotten the victories that God had won for them through Gideon.
This was an avoidable mistake. He must have thought he deserved some glory and evidence of his outstanding work for the nation. His other mistakes were also avoidable. He did not need to multiply wives and concubines. If he could have seen into the future and what would happen to his seventy sons he would never have done this.
Gideon is one of the best known of the judges and one the greatest. Though he does not at first seem to have what is needed to be a great man of God – “a mighty man of valour”, through God’s power he become of one Israel’s finest leaders. Probably his greatest spiritual problem was his constant need for confirmation and reassurance from God. He needed proof to convince him before he would act according to the word of God. Yet, once involved in the job he had no difficulty in standing firm in his faith in God. The God who met him “Jehovah-Shalom” not only brought peace to Israel but put confidence in the heart of His servant.
Though he was not a man of selfish ambition, he did act foolishly in his request for the ephod. This event casts a black mark on Gideon’s life, faithfulness, and leadership. But we cannot forget that the apostle Paul ranks Gideon amongst the great men and women of faith in Hebrews 11:32.