Again the Israelites returned to their old ways and God gave them into the hands of the Midianites. The Midianites devoured the land to the extent that they did not spare either cattle or crops for the sustenance of the Israelites as the people hid in caves to save their lives. The Midianite raiders are described as swarms of locusts who invaded the land on their fast-moving camels and left a trail of destruction as they moved from town to town. The state of the people was so dire that they finally cried out to God for help. Hearing the cry of His people, God sent a prophet to deliver His message to let His people know the reason for their suffering.
This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: I brought you up out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. I rescued you from the hand of the Egyptians. And I delivered you from the hand of all your oppressors; I drove them out before you and gave you their land. I said to you, ‘I am the LORD your God; do not worship the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you live.’ But you have not listened to me.Judges 6:8-10 (NIV)
This is the first instance in this book where we are let in on the conversation between God and His chosen deliverer. Gideon, the son of Joash, was to deliver Israel from their latest round of self-inflicted misery but he needed a lot of assurances before embarking on the path of God. Though we did not have the details on how Ehud and the others were recruited by God, we can assume those conversations to also be on similar lines.
The angel of the LORD came and sat down under the oak in Ophrah that belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, where his son Gideon was threshing wheat in a winepress to keep it from the Midianites. When the angel of the LORD appeared to Gideon, he said, “The LORD is with you, mighty warrior.Judges 6:11-12 (NIV)
This appearance of the Angel of the LORD is similar to the ones we read about in the book of Genesis and years later, when He appeared to Manoah, the father of another infamous deliverer of Israel. This is one of the rare occasions where God revealed Himself in a physical form. Whenever the scripture mentions the appearance of the Angel of the LORD, we know that it is God in human form or what some call the pre-incarnate Christ. Jesus did not come into existence when He was born in a manger some two thousand years ago but He is another earthly form that God chose to come into our midst and make Himself approachable.
Jesus declared, “Before Abraham was born, I am!”John 8:58 (BSB)
Gideon Questions God
“Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but if the LORD is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our ancestors told us about when they said, ‘Did not the LORD bring us up out of Egypt?’ But now the LORD has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian.”Judges 6:13 (NIV)
Gideon felt the need to air out his grievances for the suffering that he and his family had gone through over the past seven years. He would have heard tales of wonder as to how Israel was delivered from their slavery in Egypt by the powerful hand of God. He could not fathom why the same God of mercy could abandon His people during their time of need. Remember that at this point, Gideon doesn’t realise that he is speaking to the LORD but is only being visited by an angel.
We often question God for the heartaches and grief in our lives without fully understanding His will. God wants us to come to Him with these questions rather than festering them up in our minds and fading away from His presence. Gideon was right to ask God for a reason for his misfortunes but he was also ready to accept God’s solution. Many a time we crib to God about our plights but seldom do we act on His guidance to come out of our problems.
The LORD answered, “I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites, leaving none alive.”Judges 6:16 (NIV)
The LORD revealed to Gideon, the way out of the latest misery that Israel had brought upon themselves with Gideon being the deliverer sent from God. Gideon, who had grown up with idols in his house did what he knew best when he presented the deity with an offering of bread and meat. God knew that Gideon’s faith was still not strong and gave him a sign to help him overcome his unbelief.
The angel of God said to him, “Take the meat and the unleavened bread, place them on this rock, and pour out the broth.” And Gideon did so. Then the angel of the LORD touched the meat and the unleavened bread with the tip of the staff that was in his hand. Fire flared from the rock, consuming the meat and the bread. And the angel of the LORD disappeared.Judges 6:20-21 (NIV)
Seeing what had unfolded and how the Angel of The LORD vanished right before his eyes, Gideon finally realised that he had been visited by the God of Heavens and the Earth. He realized that he had seen the LORD face to face and from what he had been told, that would mean he had to die. But the LORD spoke to Gideon and reassured him that he had been chosen to deliver His people. Gideon built an altar in Ophrah and called it The LORD is Peace.
That same night the LORD said to him, “Take the second bull from your father’s herd, the one seven years old. Tear down your father’s altar to Baal and cut down the Asherah pole beside it. Then build a proper kind of altar to the LORD your God on the top of this height. Using the wood of the Asherah pole that you cut down, offer the second bull as a burnt offering.Judges 6:25-26 (NIV)
Baal and asherah were deities of fertility and given the current man-made famine and the lack of fighting men, the Israelites perhaps learned to depend on these idols and valued them more than their Creator. The Israelites were always quick to adopt the cultures of the world and their dependence on these idols was more than just a backup policy but their continued reliance on the ways of the world. God wanted to show this small town of Ophrah that they need not depend on anyone else for sustenance. The ways of the world though may seem wise but are powerless in comparison to our God.
Gideon did as the LORD commanded but was afraid of what his family and townspeople would do to him if they found out that he had destroyed their altar. So he chose to carry out this act in the dark of the night as he thought he could please both God and man. He took ten of his servants and demolished the altar of baal and chopped down the asherah pole.
The next morning the people saw the demolished pieces of their altar and as Gideon predicted, were furious and seeking his blood (perhaps to offer to their deity as an offering). Since Gideon did not adhere to God’s instructions and took ten other accomplices with him, it was not hard for the townspeople to figure out who was behind this act. They went to Joash and demanded that he bring out his son so that they could publically kill him for his treacherous deed.
But Joash replied to the hostile crowd around him, “Are you going to plead Baal’s cause? … If Baal really is a god, he can defend himself when someone breaks down his altar.” So because Gideon broke down Baal’s altar, they gave him the name Jerub-Baal that day, saying, “Let Baal contend with him.”Judges 6:31-32 (NIV)
Though we don’t see God intervene and save Gideon, he very well could have given his father Joash the courage to confront the worshippers of baal. Gideon did not put his trust in God completely, as he tried to be in the good books of his relatives, while still showing to God that he was ready to carry out His will. God has not called us out to be lukewarm believers who prioritise pleasing the people of this world over Him.
Gideon Tests God
The Midianites were torturing Israel for seven years and now they were joining forces with the Amalekites and the other eastern people to attack the Israelites. Then the Spirit of the LORD came on Gideon and he summoned the Abiezrites to follow him. He even recruited people from the neighbouring tribes of Manasseh, Asher, Zebulun and Naphtali. However, Gideon still needed assurances from God and in one of the rarest occurrences in the Bible, we see a man testing God not once but twice to ascertain His support.
“Do not be angry with me. Let me make just one more request. Allow me one more test with the fleece, but this time make the fleece dry and let the ground be covered with dew.” That night God did so. Only the fleece was dry; all the ground was covered with dew.Judges 6:39-40 (NIV)
The thought of facing the union of armies that had gathered against Israel would have been terrifying. Not long ago, his townsmen were chomping at the bit to kill him and now he has to align with those same men to face the enemy. So, Gideon tests whether it was actually God sending him out as he feared the Midianites. At the start of the chapter, we see him hiding out in his father’s winepress. Even though he was filled with the Spirit of God, his faith was still lacking. We also do that sometimes, at least in our hearts, when we question God. God still chooses to accomplish His will through imperfect men and women for the greater good of His people.
- Was it an angel or the LORD who appeared to Gideon?
- Is it right for us to question God for the sufferings that we face?
- Why would God command Gideon to tear down the altar to baal?
- Why did God not intervene when the townspeople were after Gideon’s blood?
- Why did Gideon feel the need to test God one more time even after receiving His Spirit?