March 20 Reading: Judges 6-7 Commentary
“The people who are with you are too many for Me to give the Midianites into their hands, lest Israel claim glory for itself against Me, saying, ‘My own hand has saved me.'” (Judges 7:2)
Judges 6 – God Calls Gideon to Lead
One of the darkest times for Israel in the book of Judges comes in the next cycle of sin and deliverance. Again, “Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord” (v. 1) and were delivered into the hand of the Midianites. They oppressed Israel for 7 years.
Who were the Midianites? Interestingly enough, they were distant relatives of the Israelites. They descended from Abraham through his wife Keturah (Gen. 25:1-2). They lived in the Arabian Peninsula, just southwest of Israel.
They’ve appeared in the Biblical narrative several times so far. If you recall, it was Midianite traders that bought Joseph from his brothers and sold him into slavery in Egypt (Gen. 37:25-36). Moses connected with them in the wilderness (Ex. 2:15-21) after fleeing Egypt. Additionally, it was a Midianite king Balak who hired Balaam to curse Israel (Num. 22). So in general, even though related, they were Israel’s enemies.
Here Midian joins forces with Amalek (v. 3) to harass Israel. “As numerous as locust” (v. 5) they would come up into the land from where they lived and destroy crops (v. 4). This left little food for the people and livestock leaving Israel “greatly impoverished” (v. 6). Times were so desperate that some people forced to abandon their homes to live in caves and the strongholds of the mountains (v. 2).
This time when the people cried out to God, he did not immediately send them a deliver. Instead he sent a prophet (v. 7). What was the prophet’s role? To remind the people of who God was, what he had done and that the people had not obeyed (vv. 8-10)
Enter an unlikely leader Gideon. In his own words, he was from the weakest tribe in Israel and was the “…least in my father’s house” (6:15). Not the resume you’d want in a military leader. But since when did God need a resume to use someone for his purpose?
Gideon has a unique visitor come to him while he himself is doing something unusual. He’s threshing wheat in a winepress to hide the food from the Midianites (v. 11). Usually wheat is threshed out in the open so the wind can carry away the chaff. So once again this highlights how desperate the times were for Israel.
In Judges 6:11-25, a conversation occurs between God and Gideon that sounds all too familiar. God called Gideon to do something extraordinary. And instead of accepting immediately, he has comments and questions to ask God, just like Moses did at the burning bush (Exodus 3).
While he’s doing this the “Angel of the Lord appeared to him, and said to him, ‘The Lord is with you, you mighty man of valor!'” (v. 12).
This surprises Gideon on several fronts. First, that he is called a mighty man of valor, because he doesn’t see himself as that (see v. 15). But secondly, he doesn’t think God has been with them. He notes this in verse 13 saying, “O my lord, if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all His miracles which our fathers told us about, saying, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the Lord has forsaken us and delivered us into the hands of the Midianites.” (v. 13)
God doesn’t even address the question. He simply tells Gideon “Go…and you shall save Israel…Have I not sent you?” (v. 14) And despite Gideon’s hesitancy and feelings of inadequacy (v. 15) God reassures him saying, “Surely I will be with you, and you shall defeat the Midianites as one man.” (v. 16).
Gideon’s First Task
Before fighting the Midianites, the Angel of the Lord has a smaller task in store. The Angel asked Gideon to tear down the altar of Baal and a wooden image that was beside it at his father’s house. In it’s place, the Angel told Gideon to build an altar to the Lord and offer a sacrifice on it.
Gideon obeyed but “because he feared his father’s household and the men of the city too much to do it by day, he did it by night” (v. 27).
The next day, when the men of the city saw what happened and learned Gideon had done this, they tracked him down at his father Joash’s house. They demanded that Joash bring out Gideon so that they could kill him.
However, Joash refused saying, “Would you plead for Baal? Would you save him? Let the one who would plead for him be put to death by morning! If he is a god, let him plead for himself, because his altar has been torn down!” (v. 31).
Nothing happens to Gideon. However, the armies of Midian and Amalek are gathering in the Valley of Jezreel (v. 33). Gideon sends messengers throughout Manasseh, Asher, Zebulun and Naphtali to gather military support for the upcoming battle.
Gideon’s Faith Test
Gideon still isn’t sure whether or not God made the right choice in calling him to lead Israel. Furthermore, he’s not sure God will actually save them from Midian (v. 36). So he comes up with a unique way to test God by asking him to perform a series of signs. Gideon hoped to receive confirmation that he actually was the one for the job.
What were the two tests? For starters Gideon says to God,
“If You will save Israel by my hand as You have said— look, I shall put a fleece of wool on the threshing floor; if there is dew on the fleece only, and it is dry on all the ground, then I shall know that You will save Israel by my hand, as You have said” (v. 37).
Of course, it occurred just like Gideon asked. Even so, Gideon tested God one more time, asking for the reverse to happen:
“Then Gideon said to God, ‘Do not be angry with me, but let me speak just once more: Let me test, I pray, just once more with the fleece; let it now be dry only on the fleece, but on all the ground let there be dew.'” (v. 39)
And again, it happened just as Gideon asked.
The events of Chap. 6 shine light on Gideon’s weak faith. He feels inadequate and unsure. He’s timid and fearful. You’d think Gideon would be more bold and sure, especially after the signs with the fleece.
But he’s not. He’s going to need one more assurance in Chap. 7. That sign will remove all doubt and propel him into the mighty man of valor God spoke about (v. 12).
Judges 7 – Only 300 Men
The response to Gideon’s call to arms is dramatic. 32,000 men show up from the various tribes to fight (v. 3). That was good because the armies of Midian and Amalek “were lying in the valley as numerous as locusts; and their camels were without number, as the sand by the seashore in multitude” (v. 12). Israel would need every last man available to defeat armies that size.
Except they won’t. God’s battle plans are not man’s battle plans.
God flat out tells Gideon he has too many men. How could God possibly say that considering the size of the army they were facing? Verse 2 reveals the answer: “The people who are with you are too many for Me to give the Midianites into their hands, lest Israel claim glory for itself against Me, saying, ‘My own hand has saved me.'”
It’s not that God needed the credit for an ego boost. He simply didn’t want Israel becoming proud and boastful by thinking they were responsible for the victory.
So over a series of two tests, God reduced Israel’s army down to 300 men! (vv. 3-8). If Gideon was afraid and uncertain before, he’s certainly afraid and uncertain now. Interestingly enough, one of the tests to reduce the army was to send all the men home who said they were afraid (v. 3) (in accordance with the Mosaic law – see Deut. 20:5-8).
Evidently, that directive and admission of fear did not include Gideon. He remained and did not go home. That shows courage in and of itself.
One Final Sign
How do we know Gideon was still afraid? The answer comes in verses 9-11:
“It happened on the same night that the Lord said to him, ‘Arise, go down against the camp, for I have delivered it into your hand. But if you are afraid to go down, go down to the camp with Purah your servant, and you shall hear what they say; and afterward your hands shall be strengthened to go down against the camp.'”
So Gideon went with his servant and snuck into the camp. Upon arrival they overhear a man describing a dream to another man:
“I have had a dream: To my surprise, a loaf of barley bread tumbled into the camp of Midian; it came to a tent and struck it so that it fell and overturned, and the tent collapsed. Then his companion answered and said, ‘This is nothing else but the sword of Gideon the son of Joash, a man of Israel! Into his hand God has delivered Midian and the whole camp.'” (vv. 13-14).
This dream interpretation did something dramatic for Gideon. He worshipped God (v. 15). It’s at this moment that his inadequacy, doubt and fear subsided. From there, he returns to camp and puts his battle plans in order. The worship of God changed Gideon’s heart and mind.
Gideon’s battle plan included some strategic positioning around the Midianite camp, some pitchers, some torches, their voice and a whole lot of God.
Gideon divided the men into three companies (v. 16). At the specified time, Gideon blew his trumpet and the 300 men broke the pitchers which held the torches. Simultaneously they cried out, “The sword of the Lord and of Gideon!” (v. 20).
At this surprise, the whole Midianite army “ran and cried and fled” (v. 21). Then the 300 men blew their trumpets and God did something extraordinary. He caused all the Midianite men to fight one another – “every man’s sword against his companion throughout the camp” (v. 22). Once again, it’s God doing the saving with the help of willing people.
Questions to Consider:
Sometimes God sends us to accomplish small things before he allows us to accomplish big things. So be faithful even in the small things. God is prepping you for something bigger.
Do you ever feel inadequate to accomplish something for God because of some physical characteristic, personality trait, perceived status, past events, emotions or skills?
Have you ever ask God for a sign before you commit to something you know he has asked you to do? Do you think it was right or wrong of Gideon to do that?
Gideon had problems with doubt and needed reassurance. That’s OK, we’ve all been there. God was patient and 4 times in Judges 6-7 provided a sign to encourage Gideon. It helped because in the end Gideon followed through with his mission. Do you ever have doubts about God? If so, how do you move passed them?
What other points would you want to know about in our Judges 6-7 commentary? Email us here with questions or comments.