October 14, 2018
Judges 6:1 Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD , and for seven years he gave them into the hands of the Midianites.
After the events detailed in the account of Deborah, there was peace in the land for forty years. When the Israelites returned to worshiping Canaanite idols, God allowed the Midianites to oppress them. The Midianites were particularly brutal, allying themselves with the Moabites, Amalekites and "other eastern peoples", they started a campaign to starve the Israelites off of the land. During this time, the descendants of Jacob are having to shelter in the clefts and caves of the mountains while the Midianites burn their crops and slaughter their animals. The bible likens the Midianites with their tents and camels "like swarms of locusts."
The Midianites were the descendants of Midian, a son of Abraham with his second wife Keturah (Genesis 25.) Ishmaelites would be from Ishmael, also a son of Abraham, but the names are used interchangeably; in Genesis when Joseph's brothers sell him into captivity and in Judges after Gideon defeats them.
- In Judges 6:7-10, when the Israelites call out to the Lord, he sends a prophet to them to recount how they got in this condition. The prophet is not named, but this is a recurring scene (Judges 2:1-4 and Judges 10:11-14) where God succinctly points out the spiritual infidelity that has led to Israel's oppression.
- Gideon is introduced in verse 11 when an angel comes and sits beside him under a tree while he is threshing wheat in a winepress. Normally you would thresh wheat in open air where the wind could carry away the chaff, but here is Gideon threshing in a winepress to keep the Midianites from discovering his wheat. The angel appears and speaks to Gideon, "The Lord is with you mighty warrior."
Gideon's response to being told that the Lord is with him is typical. It's kind of like when we are going through the fire and someone assures us that "God loves you". "Well, I ain't feeling it! If God loves me, how come I'm broke, sick, tired and worried?" Gideon response is basically, "If the Lord is with me, where is he?"
- Despite Gideon's reservations, the angel assures victory because God will be with him. Gideon asks for time to prepare an offering of meat, bread, and broth and the angel waits under the same tree. Gideon is directed to put the meat and bread on a rock under the tree and pour out the broth. The angel then touches the meat and bread with a staff he was holding and they are immediately consumed with fire. This convinces Gideon that the angel is from God and he builds an alter to God on the spot.
- That night, God instructs Gideon to tear down an alter to Baal that Gideon's father had built and to cut down the Asherah pole beside it. Afterward he is to build a proper alter to Yahweh and sacrifice his father's bull on the new alter as a burnt offering using the wood of the Asherah pole. Gideon takes ten of his servants and complies with God's commands but he does it at night because he is worried about the townspeople.
Gideon has been tasked with saving Israel from the Midianite's oppression, but his first action is to tear down the Baal alter and cut down an Asherah pole. This is exactly the same directive given to all of Israel when they entered into Canaan; they were told to take out the trash. They didn't do it, and it has caused them all kinds of trouble.
- Reaction to the destruction of the alter was predictable and the men of the town wanted Gideons head. Israelites were prepared to execute one of their own to appease Baal, but Joash, Gideon's father, intervenes with the argument that they should let Baal fight his own battles. The crowd mockingly name Gideon "Jerub-Baal". Baal contends. The name sticks, however.
- As the Midianites and their allies gather in the Jezreel Valley, the "Spirit of the Lord came upon Gideon" and he blew a trumpet summoning the Abiezrites (his people) to follow him. He sent messengers and called to arms soldiers from Manasseh, Asher, Zebulun, and Naphtali. All together Gideon amassed about 32,000 troops.
After the army is assembled, Gideon's appears to second guess himself and presents a test to God. If God will make the dew fall only on a fleece placed on the ground and leave the ground dry then Gideon can know that Israel will be victorious by his hand. When this happens, Gideon asks God to not be angry but do it in reverse and leave the fleece dry and the ground wet with dew. God patiently obliges.
- God doesn't want Gideon going into battle with so many men because he knows Israel will think they defeated the Midianites under their own strength. God directs Gideon to send home anyone who "trembles with fear" and so twenty-two thousand depart for home, leaving ten thousand soldiers. This is still too many, so God tells Gideon to have the men go down to the water to drink. The ones that cup their hands and lap like a dog are separated from those who kneel down to drink. The three hundred lappers are going into battle, the ninety-seven hundred kneelers are going home.
God knows that Gideon is still having doubts — especially now that he's only got 300 guys with him and they all drink funny.
Judges 7:9-11 9. During that night the LORD said to Gideon, "Get up, go down against the camp, because I am going to give it into your hands. 10. If you are afraid to attack, go down to the camp with your servant Purah 11. and listen to what they are saying. Afterward, you will be encouraged to attack the camp." So he and Purah his servant went down to the outposts of the camp.
- Gideon goes to the Midian camp and overhears them discussing a dream which they interpret as a sign that Israel will be successful against them. Newly encouraged, Gideon divides his men into three companies, one hundred men each, and equips them with torches inside jars and trumpets. At his signal, they are to blow the trumpets and break the jars revealing the torches. When the three hundred trumpets sound, God routes the Midianites with confusion and they turn on each other. The surviving Midianites flee south along the Jordan river toward Ephraim's land. Gideon sends messengers ahead to Ephraim to secure the waters of the Jordan and capture the Midianites.
Just like they would do with Jephthah, the Ephraimites are incensed at being left out of the plans. Gideon answers the Ephramites with political diplomacy. Jephthah would go on to kill a bunch of them.
Judges 8:1 Now the Ephraimites asked Gideon, "Why have you treated us like this? Why didn't you call us when you went to fight Midian?" And they criticized him sharply.
- Gideon and his three hundred pursue the remaining Midianites about twenty miles down the Jordan before crossing over. Arriving at Succoth, the exhausted troops are denied food because the people there feared the Midianite kings, Zebah and Zalmunna. They got the same treatment at Peniel about three miles away. (Peniel is where Jacob wrestled God.)
- One hundred and twenty thousand Midianites had been killed by the Israelites. When Gideon catches up with Zebah and Zalmunna they are down to fifteen thousand men. Gideon descends on the unsuspecting army, routing them and capturing their kings. He then takes the Midian kings back to Succoth and punishes the elders (thorns and briers) for how he was treated and then takes them to Peniel and tears down the tower and kills the men of the town as punishment for their treatment.
- Gideon is victorious. The Israelites ask Gideon to rule over them but he refuses to set up a monarchy.
Judges 8:23 But Gideon told them, "I will not rule over you, nor will my son rule over you. The LORD will rule over you."
- Gideon makes a request of the Israelites for a gold earring from each of them from their share of the spoils. The Ishmaelites were big on gold earrings. Gideons take equals about forty-three pounds — seventeen hundred shekels — which he takes an makes a golden ephod (priestly garment.)
- Gideon places the ephod in his home town of Ophrah and...
Judges 8:27 Gideon made the gold into an ephod, which he placed in Ophrah, his town. All Israel prostituted themselves by worshiping it there, and it became a snare to Gideon and his family.
KJV says 8:27 And Gideon made an ephod thereof, and put it in his city, even in Ophrah: and all Israel went thither a whoring after it: which thing became a snare unto Gideon, and to his house.
THE ISRAELITES STARTED WORSHIPING A GARMENT! "Went a-whoring after it", apparently. Just saying...
- With the Midianites defeated and while Gideon was alive, the land had peace for forty years. Gideon had seventy sons with many wives. His concubine bore him a son named Abimelech who will be something of an anti-judge. Gideon died at "a good old age" and was buried in Ophrah.
- The Israelites IMMEDIATELY returned to worshiping the Baals.
Judges 8:33-35 33. No sooner had Gideon died than the Israelites again prostituted themselves to the Baals. They set up Baal-Berith as their god and 34. did not remember the LORD their God, who had rescued them from the hands of all their enemies on every side. 35. They also failed to show kindness to the family of Jerub-Baal (that is, Gideon) for all the good things he had done for them.
Baal-Berith ironically means "lord of the covenant".
- Abimelech, the son of Gideon's "slave girl" goes to his mother's clan in Shechem (Shechem is where Jacob's daughter Dinah was raped by a guy named Shechem) and convinces them to promote him to king. Gideon had told the Israelites that neither he, nor his sons would rule over them, but Abimelech intentionally misrepresented himself to his people, "Since I am one of you, wouldn't it be better for me to rule instead of one of Jerub-Baal's seventy sons?" The Shechemzens (not a word) took seventy shekels of silver from the Baal-Berith temple and gave it to Abimelech as a show of support.
- Encouraged, Abimelech returns to Ophrah and murders Gideon's seventy sons on a rock. Gideon's youngest son Jotham gets away. Back in Shechem, Jotham climbs a hill close by and curses Shechem with a parable (Judges 9:7-20), "If you have acted honorably, good for you, if not, may fire come out of Abimelech and consume you." Jotham then fled and Abimelech rules the Israelites for three years.
Judges 9:22-24 22. After Abimelech had governed Israel three years, 23. God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the citizens of Shechem, who acted treacherously against Abimelech. 24. God did this in order that the crime against Jerub-Baal's seventy sons, the shedding of their blood, might be avenged on their brother Abimelech and on the citizens of Shechem, who had helped him murder his brothers.
- The "evil spirit" manifest itself in distrust and bitterness.
- A guy named Gaal and his brothers moved to Shechem and started trash-talking Abimelech, sowing discord. Zebul, the governor of Shechem informs Abimelech and they set up an ambush. Abimelech will come at night and attack Gaal when he is unprepared. Abimelech and Zebul drive Gaal out of Shechem. The next day, as the people of the city came out into the field, Abimelech divided his men into three companies and ambushed them all day until he had killed all who had come out. He then destroyed Shechem and scattered salt all over it.
- There were still citizens in the tower of Shechem. When they heard what Abimelech had done, they took shelter in the stronghold of the temple of El-Berith (god of the covenant.) Abimelech and his men cut branches from trees, piled them at the base of the stronghold and burned it with the people inside. About a thousand died and this effectively fulfills Jotham's curse.
- Abimelech then goes to Thebez (about ten miles north west of Shechem) and lays siege to it. There is a strong tower there and Abimelech aims to burn it too, but as he approaches a woman locked in the tower drops an "upper millstone" on his head, cracking his skull. Abimelech gets his armor-bearer to run him through so they can't say, "a woman killed him." (a well-known social loop-hole.) When the Israelites see that he is dead, they go home.
Judges 9:56-57 56. Thus God repaid the wickedness that Abimelech had done to his father by murdering his seventy brothers. 57. God also made the men of Shechem pay for all their wickedness. The curse of Jotham son of Jerub-Baal came on them.