The Word Made Fresh
1Soon, however, the people relapsed into their evil ways, and the LORD turned them over to the Midianites for seven years. 2The Midianites were so oppressive that the Israelites hid in caves and mountain hideaways. 3When they planted their crops they were raided by the Midianites and Amalekites and others 4who camped out and ruined the crops all the way to Gaza. They left nothing for Israel, not even sheep and oxen and donkeys. 5They would bring their livestock and pitch their tents and cover the ground like a swarm of locusts. There were so many of them, and so many camels with them, that they stripped the land as they moved along. 6Israel was in dire straits because of Midian, and they finally called out to the LORD to help them.
7When they cried out to the LORD, 8the LORD sent a prophet to them, who said, “This is what the LORD the God of Israel has to tell you: I brought you out of Egypt and rescued you from slavery. 9I saved you from the Egyptians and have protected you ever since. I drove the people of this land out and gave the land to you. 10I warned you then not to revere the Amorite gods, but you haven’t paid any attention to me.”
11Then the angel of the LORD came and sat under the oak at Ophrah which belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, whose son Gideon was beating wheat stalks into a wine press to hide it from the Midianites. 12The angel said to him, “The LORD is with you, mighty soldier!”
13“Really?” said Gideon. “If that is so, why have all these terrible things been happening to us? Where have we seen any of the LORD’s great actions our ancestors boasted of? ‘Didn’t the LORD bring us out of Egypt?’ they would say. But now the LORD has tossed us away and given us to Midian.”
14Then the LORD said, “You are strong enough to rescue Israel from Midian. I am giving you that ability.”
15Gideon said, “But sir, how can you expect me to do that? My family is the weakest in the tribe of Manasseh, and I’m just a nobody.”
16“But I’ll be with you,” said the LORD, “and you will certainly defeat all the Midianites.”
17Gideon replied, “If that is true, give me some proof that the LORD is actually speaking with me. 18Stay here until I have time to bring you an offering.”
“I’ll be here,” said the LORD.
19Gideon entered his house, and there he prepared a kid and unleavened flatbread from a gallon of flour meal. He put the meat and bread in a basket and some broth in a pot and brought them to the oak and gave it to the LORD.
20The angel of God said, “Put the meat and flatbread on this rock and pour out the broth.” Gideon did so. 21Then, with the tip of the staff he held in his hand the angel of the LORD touched the meat and flatbread, and fire lit up from the rock and burned up the food. Then the angel of the LORD disappeared!
22Gideon realized that it was indeed the angel of the LORD. He prayed, “Dear God, save me! I have come face to face with the angel of the LORD!”
23The LORD responded, “Peace! Don’t be afraid. You’re not going to die.”
24Gideon built an altar there and called it, “The LORD is peace.” It is still there at Ophrah, which belongs to the Abiezrite clan.
25That same night the LORD said to Gideon, “Take the second bull that belongs to your father, the one that is seven years old, and pull down the altar to Baal that your father owns. Cut down the pole dedicated to the goddess Asherah that stands next to it. 26Then I want you to build a proper altar to the LORD your God at the highest point and offer the second bull as a burnt offering, using the wood from the Asherah pole.”
27Gideon took ten of his workers and did as the LORD said, but he was afraid of his own family and the people in the town, so he did it at night.
28The next morning the people arose and discovered everything Gideon had done. 29“Who did this?” they wanted to know. They began to ask around, and finally learned that Gideon son of Joash was responsible. 30They went to Joash and demanded that he turn Gideon over to them. “Bring him out!” they said. “He has to die for destroying the altar to Baal and the pole devoted to Asherah.”
31Joash said to them, “Are you defending Baal? If you fight for him, he’ll be insulted, and you’ll be dead by morning! If he is a god, let him fight for himself. It’s his altar, not yours.”
32From then on Gideon was called Jerubaal, which means ‘let Baal defend himself’, because he had pulled down the altar.
33The Midianites and Amalekites and the eastern people joined forces. They crossed the Jordan and camped in the valley of Jezreel. 34But the spirit of the LORD entered Gideon, and he blew a trumpet to summon the Abiezrite clan. 35He also sent runners to Manasseh and called them out too. Other runners were sent to Asher, Zebulun and Naphtali, and they sent men to him.
36Gideon said to God, “You said you will use me to save Israel. 37I am placing a fleece of wool on the threshing floor. If in the morning the fleece is wet with dew but the ground around it is dry, I will know that you will use me to rescue Israel.” 38The next morning he wrung a bowl full of water from the fleece. 39Then he said to God, “Don’t be angry with me, but just to be sure, I’ll put the fleece out again, and this time let it be dry while the ground around it is wet with dew.”
40That night God made it happen. The ground was wet with dew, but the fleece was dry as a bone.
1-10: Midianites move into the land in great numbers and overwhelm the local economy. The Israelites call out to God, but this time God, through a nameless prophet, tells them they deserve what they got.
11-24: Still, it is God’s nature to respond to God’s people in distress. The “angel of the Lord” appears to Gideon, of the clan of Abiezer, tribe of Manasseh (see Josh. 17:2). The “angel of the Lord” is a way of referring to God’s physical appearances in the Old Testament — see, in verse 14 it is no longer the “angel,” but the Lord who is speaking to Gideon. Gideon is hesitant. He demands a sign. God gives him one, by providing fire to cook a meal. But we will see that Gideon is not wholly convinced.
25-32: God tells Gideon, perhaps in a dream, to pull down the altar of Baal and the Asherah (the physical representation of a female god, or ‘baal’, the Canaanite word for god — a sort of totem pole). Gideon does so, but at night. He is a timid leader at first, isn’t he? The next day an inquiry reveals him as the culprit, but his father Joash defends him successfully by saying that the Baal ought to be able to defend itself.
So, Gideon’s family, certainly his father, is caught up in the local cult. See Deuteronomy 31:15-18 for God’s prediction this would happen.
33-40: Gideon’s actions nevertheless stir some alarm from the Midianites, who put together an invasion force. At this point Gideon, inspired by God’s Spirit, becomes a more effective leader. He summons help from Manasseh, Asher, Zebulun, and Naphtali, and they respond. Still, Gideon is not convinced, and demands another sign involving a fleece set out overnight to catch the morning dew. And, true to character, he has to repeat the experiment and demand a different outcome before he’s ready to go.
God often calls the unlikely, the unprepared, the most hesitant, to perform an important work. Do you recognize yourself here?