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Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament

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JUDGES 6

V. GIDEON (Judg. 6--8)

THE CALL AND COMMISSION OF GIDEON;

THE ISRAELITES CRY UNTO JEHOVAH

{"And the children of Israel did that which was evil in the sight of Jehovah: and Jehovah delivered them into the hand of Midian seven years. And the hand of Midian prevailed against Israel; and because of Midian the children of Israel made them the dens which are in the mountains, and the caves, and the strongholds. And so it was when Israel had sown, that the Midianites came up, and the Amalekites, and the children of the east; they came up against them; and they encamped against them, and destroyed the increase of the earth, till thou come unto Gaza, and left no sustenance in Israel, neither sheep, nor ox, nor ass. For they came up with their cattle and their tents; they came in as locusts for multitude; both they and their camels were without number: and they came into the land to destroy it. And Israel was brought very low because of Midian; and the children of Israel cried unto Jehovah."}

{"And the children of Israel did evil"} (Judges 6:1). The cycle which we have come to expect in Judges is repeated. The land had rest for forty years after the defeat of the Canaanites, but a new generation of the Chosen People repeated the mistakes of their fathers. They turned to the seductive pleasures of the pagan fertility gods, and, again, God delivered the people into the hands of their enemies. This time, it was the Midianites who defeated and oppressed Israel, and for the first time in history, there was a widespread use of camels by the invading forces.

{"And the hand of Midian prevailed"} (Judges 6:2). The oppression had been going on for seven years when the events of this chapter unfolded. "The genealogy of the Midianites reached all the way back to Abraham and his son Midian by his second wife Keturah,"F1 making them kinsmen of the Israelites.

"{Israel made them dens ... and caves ..."} (Judges 6:2). The severity of Israel's oppression under Midian is indicated by the fact that many Israelites resorted to hiding in dens and caves, a phenomenon of the limestone ridges in Palestine, but the text indicates that Israel prepared large numbers of these dwellings as hiding places from their enemies, and also, as being more easily defended against attack.

{"When Israel had sown ... they came up against them"} (Judges 6:3). When the Israelites attempted to raise crops for the support of themselves and their flocks and herds, the Midianites and their allies, which included the Amalekites and the "children of the east," came up against them, bringing vast numbers of their own herds and cattle as well as countless camels, pasturing and feeding them on the defenseless crops of the Israelites, and robbing the Israelites of whatever stores of grain and other produce they might have attempted to hide. The situation was absolutely pitiful.

{"Amalekites ... children of the east"} (Judges 6:3). The Amalekites were historical enemies of Israel, and they would have seized upon every opportunity to raid the Chosen People, allying themselves here with Midian. "`The children of the east' is a general description of the nomads of the Syrian desert."F2

{"They left no sustenance in Israel"} (Judges 6:4). The ruthless invaders with their myriads of armed men with their flocks, herds and camels were literally taking over the central region of Palestine, and the Israelites were sorely pressed even to make a living.

{"They came in as locusts ... they and their camels were without number ... they came into the land to destroy it"} (Judges 6:5). (See my commentary on Joel for a description of the mid-east locust plagues.) Their numbers in flight sometimes even hid the sun itself. One thing that had greatly aided the Midian invasion was the availability of camels for transporting supplies and equipment. "A new wave of immigration into Midian from Eastern Anatolia and Northern Syria had brought to Midian the domesticated camel, thus presenting a whole new military configuration."F3 Of course, camels are referred to in Gen. 24:10ff, but, "This is the first reference to an organized raid in which camels were used."F4

{"Israel was brought very low ... they cried unto Jehovah"} (Judges 6:6). Israel's punishment by the Lord, following their excursions into idolatry had the same effect over and over. Apparently, the only lesson that Israel had learned thus far in their history, was that when things became unbearable, they always called upon Jehovah and He rescued them.

The Midianites had been thoroughly defeated by the Israelites under Moses (Num. 31), but at this time, "After an interval of 200 years, they had recovered their strength, and God used them as a rod of chastisement for His rebellious people."F5

GOD SENDS ISRAEL A PROPHET

{"And it came to pass, when the children of Israel cried unto Jehovah, because of Midian, that Jehovah sent a prophet unto the children of Israel: and he said unto them, Thus saith Jehovah the God of Israel, I brought you up from Egypt, and brought you forth out of the house of bondage; and I delivered you out of the hand of the Egyptians, and out of the hand of all that oppressed you, and drove them out from before you, and gave you their land; And I said unto you, I am Jehovah your God; ye shall not fear the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell. But ye have not hearkened unto my voice."}

"These words summarize once more the injunctions of Exo. 34:10-16 and Deut. 7:lff."F6 We have frequently noted that the entire O.T. (following the Pentateuch) is written in the shadow of the Five Books of Moses, providing undeniable certainty for the Biblical chronology of its 39 books. Satan's lie to Eve, stating that, "Ye shall not surely die," is no greater falsehood than the unbelieving denials alleging a so-called late date for the Pentateuch!

We are not given the name of the prophet who thus reminded Israel that their shameful humiliation was the very result that they should have expected because of their disobedience of the Divine injunctions.

THE ANGEL OF JEHOVAH APPEARS TO GIDEON

{"And the Angel of Jehovah came, and sat under the oak which was in Ophrah, that pertained unto Joash the Abiezrite; and Gideon his son was beating out wheat in the winepress, to hide it from the Midianites. And the angel of Jehovah appeared unto him, and said unto him, Jehovah is with thee, thou mighty man of valor. And Gideon said unto him, Oh, my lord, if Jehovah is with us, why then is all this befallen us? and where are all his wondrous works which our fathers told us of, saying, Did not Jehovah bring us up from Egypt? but now Jehovah hath cast us off and delivered us into the hand of Midian. And Jehovah looked upon him, and said, Go in this thy might and save Israel from the hand of Midian: Have not I sent thee? And he said unto him, Oh, Lord, wherewith shall I save Israel? behold, my family is the poorest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father's house. And Jehovah said unto him, Surely I will be with thee, and thou shalt smite the Midianites as one man. And he said unto him, If now I have found favor in thy sight, then show me a sign that it is thou that talkest with me. And he said unto him, Depart not hence, I pray thee, until I come unto thee, and bring forth my present and lay it before thee. And he said, I will tarry until thou come again."}

{"Ophrah ... Abiezrite ... Joash ... Gideon"} (Judges 6:11). "The name `Gideon' means `feller,' or `hewer.' He was the youngest son of Joash of the clan of Abiezer in the tribe of Manasseh. Their home was in Ophrah."F7 Ophrah has been supposedly connected with half a dozen different locations, but J. P. U. Lilley of Oxford stated that , "The most likely location was that eight miles from Beth-shan toward Mount Tabor."F8 A prominent shrine of the Canaanite god Baal was located at Ophrah, and Joash, Gideon's father, was apparently the leader of a group in that area who had syncretized the worship of Jehovah with that of Baal. This was also the place where Gideon built that altar to Jehovah-shalom (Jehovah-Peace), after destroying the shrine of Baal.

{"Gideon ... beating out wheat in the winepress to hide it"} (Judges 6:11). "He was probably doing this with a rod or staff as often used for small quantities of grain."F9 The winepress with its buildings provided the means of keeping the operation secret from the Midianites.

{"Where are all his wondrous works ...?"} (Judges 6:13). This was Gideon's response to the greeting of the Angel of Jehovah who had said, "Jehovah is with thee" (Judges 6:12), indicating that all Israelites were thoroughly familiar with all the wonders that God had wrought upon their behalf when He brought them up out of the land of Egypt. (See also under Judg. 6:10 above.)

{"Go in this thy might, and save Israel from the hand of Midian; have not I sent thee?"} (Judges 6:14). This was Gideon's commission from God Himself to deliver Israel, but Gideon, like many another great man who has been called to some tremendous task, hesitated from a strong feeling of humility and unworthiness. "Such humility is the usual companion of true greatness."F10 Both Jeremiah and Moses expressed similar feelings of unworthiness and inadequacy when called to their mighty work.

{"If I have found favor ... then show me a sign"} (Judges 6:17). "This demand by Gideon was a calculated reminiscence of the initial negotiations with Moses in Exo. 3:1--4:23."F11 Again, this is evidence of the universal consciousness in the nation of Israel of the Five Books of Moses.

In our own times, we cannot ask God for a sign as did Moses and Gideon, because we have the "perfect" revelation from God already certified unto us in the sacred pages of the Holy Bible. "That which is perfect" indeed has come.

Having at this point in the theophany recognized that it was a Divine Person who visited him, Gideon desired to worship Him, and he sought and received permission to take time to prepare the offering. The Angel of Jehovah promised to wait until he returned.

GIDEON'S SACRIFICE WAS MIRACULOUSLY ACCEPTED, THEN HE BUILT JEHOVAH-SHALOM

{"And Gideon went in and made ready a kid, and unleavened cakes of an ephah of meal: the flesh he put in a basket, and he put the broth in a pot, and brought it out unto him under the oak, and presented it. And the angel of God said unto him, Take the flesh and the unleavened cakes, and lay them upon this rock, and pour out the broth. And he did so. Then the angel of Jehovah put forth the end of the staff that was in his hand, and touched the flesh and the unleavened cakes; and there went up fire out of the rock, and consumed the flesh and the unleavened cakes; and the angel of Jehovah departed out of his sight. And Gideon saw that he was the angel of Jehovah; and Gideon said, Alas, O Lord Jehovah forasmuch as I have seen the angel of Jehovah face to face. And Jehovah said unto him, Peace be unto thee; fear not: thou shalt not die. Then Gideon built an altar there unto Jehovah, and called it Jehovah-shalom: unto this day it is yet in Ophrah of the Abiezrites."}

{"There went up fire out of the rock"} (Judges 6:21). This miracle must have astounded Gideon, leaving him no room whatever to doubt the identity of his celestial visitor.

{"And the angel of Jehovah departed out of his sight"} (Judges 6:21). "In a very similar case of the angel who appeared to Manoah (Judges 13:15-20), the angel ascended in the flame of fire from the altar. It is probable that he did so in the present instance, though it is not expressly stated how he disappeared."F12

{"And Gideon saw that he was the angel of Jehovah"} (Judges 6:22). Only the power of God could have wrought the wonder which Gideon had just witnessed, and the full realization of what had happened swept over him chilling his heart with fear. Gideon was familiar with the Five Books of Moses (Yes, they most certainly existed when Samuel wrote the Book of Judges), and the passage in Exo. 33:20 came instantly to mind: "No man shall see me (God) and live." The fear that clutched at Gideon's heart came from the knowledge that no man could see God and live.

{"Alas, O Lord Jehovah, forasmuch as I have seen the angel of Jehovah face to face"} (Judges 6:22). "Gideon feared that the theophany, was an omen of his impending death."F13 However, the Lord reassured him at once,

{"Jehovah said unto him, Peace be unto thee; fear not: thou shalt not die"} (Judges 6:23). Gideon's response to this assurance was to erect an altar there to Jehovah, which he called Jehovah-shalom. [~Shalowm] is the Hebrew word for "Peace."

GIDEON'S FIRST ASSIGNMENT

{"And it came to pass the same night, that Jehovah said unto him, Take thy father's bullock, even the second bullock seven years old, and throw down the altar of Baal that thy father hath, and cut down the Asherah that is by it; and build an altar unto Jehovah thy God upon the top of the stronghold, in the orderly manner, and take the second bullock, and offer a burnt-offering with the wood of the Asherah which thou shalt cut down. Then Gideon took ten men of his servants, and did as Jehovah had spoken unto him: and it came to pass, because he feared his father's household and the men of the city, so that he could not do it by day, that he did it by night."}

{"Jehovah said unto him"} (Judges 6:25). We are not told exactly how God spoke to Gideon, but it might very well have been by the angel of Jehovah who had previously spoken to him.

{"Take thy father's bullock, even the second bullock seven years old"} (Judges 6:25). The word "even" should be read "and," according to the marginal reference; and F. F. Bruce states that, "The evidence of the versions indicates that the word `second' here is actually `fat.'"F14

What is commanded here is that Gideon should take two bullocks (which would be required in the work of demolition and in the building of the altar to Jehovah), including the FAT one, which was probably being reserved for a sacrifice.

Significantly, the very first assignment for Gideon was that of cleaning up his own residence. His father had violated God's will by sponsoring the altar to Baal and the abominable Asherah that stood by it, and it was a stroke of God's own magnificent genius that ordered the Asherah cut up and used to fuel a burnt-offering to Jehovah!

"Regarding the Asherah, she was a mother-goddess, the consort of Baal in the O.T. The word also stands for an image of this goddess. Scholars reject the idea that `an Asherah' was merely a post, and would translate `Asherah-image,' instead of `Asherah.'"F15

As Bruce said, "We are here confronted with a situation in which the worship of Jehovah has been syncretized with Baalism, Jehovah perhaps being considered as one of the Baalim."F16 It cried out to God for the very destruction that Gideon executed upon it!

Before leaving this paragraph, it should be noted that Gideon seems to have had more power and resources than his earlier profession of insufficiency would indicate.

{"In the orderly manner"} (Judges 6:26). The marginal reference here reads, "with that pertaining to it," indicating that whatever was necessary to identify the altar as "unto Jehovah" would be included in Gideon's building of it.

THEY DEMAND THE DEATH OF GIDEON

{"And when the men of the city arose early in the morning, behold the altar of Baal was broken down, and the Asherah was cut down that was by it, and the second bullock was offered upon the altar that was built. And they said one to another, Who hath done this thing? And when they inquired and asked, they said, Gideon the son of Joash hath done this thing. Then the men of the city said unto Joash, Bring out thy son that he may die, because he hath broken down the altar of Baal, and because he hath cut down the Ashera that was by it. And Joash said unto all that stood against him, Will ye contend for Baal, or will ye save him? he that will contend for him, let him be put to death whilst it is yet morning: if he be a god, let him contend for himself, because one hath broken down his altar. Therefore on that day he called him Jerubbaal, saying Let Baal contend against him, because he hath broken down his altar."}

This is one of the great paragraphs of the O.T. Joash appears here as the head of the community of Ophrah, and the indignation of the citizens of that place over the destruction of Baal's altar suggests that Joash had gone along with the community in the matter of Baal-worship and that he actually had no confidence whatever in Baal as any kind of a deity.

When the irate citizens inquired as to who had done it, they quickly learned that it was Gideon. As Cundall said, "A secret known to ten men is no secret."F17

When the citizens demanded that Gideon be put to death, Joash's answer was the ultimate in common sense:

"What nonsense is this? he says. You are contending for a so-called god. If he cannot help himself, how on earth could he be of any help to you? A god is supposed to save us, and here you are proposing to save Baal. Do you think that I will allow you to put Gideon to death? The answer is NO! If you want to put somebody to death, bring out the idiots who wish to contend for Baal and let's put them to death right this very minute!"

That reply, which I have paraphrased, certainly cooled off the citizens of Ophrah, and we hear no more of their wishing to put someone to death.

{"Therefore on that day he called him Jerubbaal, Let Baal contend against him, because he hath broken down his altar"} (Judges 6:32). This is a plain declaration of God's Word that Joash gave Gideon a new name that very day, as proved by the words, `on that day.' We must therefore disagree with Boling who wrote that, "Gideon's Baal-name, of course, was given to him at birth,"F18 a view which was apparently also held by Bruce who explained Jerubbaal as merely, "The new significance"F19 of an old name, that is, a name given to Gideon at birth. If that is the truth, how did it happen that the only name ever heard of for this Biblical character is Gideon (until the events of this chapter which resulted in the new name)?

{"On that day he called him Jerubbaal"} (Judges 6:32). We are simply astonished at the various meanings assigned by reputable scholars to this name.

`May Baal give increase' ... Cundall (Tyndale's O.T. Commentary, p. 106).

`Let-Baal-Sue' ... (Boling, The Anchor Bible, p. 237).

`Let-Baal-strive' ... (Yates, The Wycliffe Bible Commentary, p. 246).

`Let-Baal-Plead' ... (Hervey, The Pulpit Commentary, p. 67).

`Let-Baal-Contend' ... (Bruce, The New Bible Commentary, Revised, p. 263)

`Baal founds' ... (J. G. G. Norman, The New Bible Dictionary, p. 468).

`Discomfiter of Baal' ... (Lockyer, All the Men of the Bible, p. 127).

`Adversary of Baal' ... (Moore, International Critical Commentary, p. 195).

`Baal Fighter' ... (C. F. Keil, Vol. 2, p. 338).

It is this writer's opinion that NONE of these names could possibly have been given to Gideon "at the time of his birth," by a father who was tolerating, and in some measure supporting, Baal-worship in Ophrah.

The `nickname' Jerubbaal, as Hervey noted, was something like `Coeur de Lion,' which was the `nickname' of England's King Richard.F20 This name appears later as Jerubbesheth (the equivalent of Jerubbosheth), thus using the word `shame' in the place of `Baal.' See 2 Sam. 2:8 and 1 Chr. 8:33. Another name compounded from the word `Baal' which underwent the same change is that of Eshbaal, which became Ishbosheth.

GIDEON RALLIES ISRAEL AGAINST THE MIDIANITES

{"Then all the Midianites and the Amalekites and the children of the east assembled themselves together, and they passed over, and encamped in the valley of Jezreel. But the Spirit of Jehovah came upon Gideon; and he blew a trumpet; and Abiezer was gathered together after him. And he sent messengers throughout all Manasseh; and they were gathered together after him: and he sent messengers unto Asher, and unto Zebulun, and unto Naphtali; and they came up to meet him."}

It is not known why only a few of the tribes of Israel were included in this call to arms, but it was probably some kind of a mistake due to the inexperience of Gideon. The omission of Ephraim would later on confront Gideon with a problem.

{"And they passed over"} (Judges 6:33). This is a reference to the hordes of the invasion crossing over the Jordan River. Their encamping in the valley of Jezreel was due to the fertility of that region and the prospect of stealing all of the crops of the Israelites. However, God had a great surprise in store for them!

Bruce was of the opinion that it was during the initial phase of this invasion that, "The Midianites killed Gideon's brothers at Tabor (Judges 8:18)."F21

{"The Spirit of Jehovah came upon Gideon"} (Judges 6:34). This clause in the Hebrew is literally, "The Spirit of the Lord clothed himself with Gideon, an expression repeated in 1 Chr. 12:18 and in 2 Chr. 24:20. It denotes complete possession. Thus, Gideon became the garment of the Spirit of God and thus enters the succession of Israel's charismatic leaders."F22

THE SIGN OF THE FLEECE

{"And Gideon said unto God, If thou wilt save Israel by my hand, as thou hast spoken, behold I will put a fleece of wool on the threshing-floor; if there be dew on the fleece only, and it be dry upon all the ground, then shall I know that thou wilt save Israel by my hand, as thou hast spoken. And it was so; for he rose up early on the morrow, and pressed the fleece together, and wrung the dew out of the fleece, a bowlful of water. And Gideon said unto God, Let not thine anger be kindled against me, and I will speak but this once: let me make trial, I pray thee, but this once with the fleece; let it now be dry only upon the fleece, and upon all the ground let there be dew. And God did so that night: for it was dry upon the fleece only, and there was dew on all the ground."}

This supernatural evidence that God was indeed with Gideon and that God would deliver Israel by his hand was more than sufficient, and the subsequent chapters will report the amazing events of that deliverance.

Boling has the following interesting paragraph on the "sign of the fleece."

With the physical properties of fleece lying overnight exposed on a bare rock, the differentials of condensation and evaporation are entirely understandable. Fishermen living on one of the streamless and springless desert islands have obtained sufficient water for their livelihood by spreading out fleece in the evening and wringing dew from them in the morning (S. Tolkowsky, Journal of the Palestine Oriental Society., 3, 1923, pp. 197-199). The true miracle is the REVERSE of the process, and that is what young Gideon required.F23


Footnotes for Judges 6
1: Wycliffe Bible Commentary, Old Testament, p. 245.
2: The New Bible Commentary, Revised, p. 263.
3: The Anchor Bible Commentary, p. 122.
4: Wycliffe Bible Commentary, op. cit., p. 245.
5: Keil-Delitzsch, Old Testament Commentaries, Vol. 2-A, p. 328.
6: The New Bible Commentary, Revised, p. 263.
7: C. E. Schenk, in the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, p. 1226.
8: J. P. U. Lilley in The New Bible Dictionary, p. 912.
9: The New Bible Commentary, Revised, p. 263.
10: The Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 3-C, p. 61.
11: The Anchor Bible Commentary, p. 132.
12: The Pulpit Commentary, op. cit.. p. 61.
13: The New Bible Commentary, Revised, p. 263.
14: Ibid.
15: The New Bible Dictionary.
16: The New Bible Commentary, Revised, p. 263.
17: The Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, Vol. 7, p. 107.
18: The Anchor Bible Commentary, Judges, p. 134.
19: The New Bible Commentary, Revised, p. 263.
20: The Pulpit Commentary, op. cit., p. 67.
21: The New Bible Commentary, Revised, p. 264.
22: Ibid.
23: The Anchor Bible Commentary, Judges. p. 141.

Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Judges 6". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". <http://classic.studylight.org/com/bcc/view.cgi?book=jud&chapter=006>. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.  

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