In 2764 AM, after the death of Deborah, Israel had slid back into sin. So God allowed the Midianites to oppress national Israel. The Midianites practiced a kind of brigandage: instead of occupying and administering the land, they simply stole its produce, including all crops and livestock. The Israelites, unable to defend their land, hid themselves in caves and fortresses in the mountains.
At first, when the people cried out to God on account of this oppression, an unnamed prophet said that they had, quite simply, disobeyed God by following after local customs and religions, a thing that God had specifically commanded them not to do. (Judges 6:1-10 )
One day, Gideon was threshing wheat in a wine press in order to keep the Midianites from stealing it. Then the Angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon and told him to take courage, because he would be the one to deliver national Israel. Gideon protested that he was his father's youngest son and a member of the lowest-ranking clan of the tribe of Menashe, but God insisted that Gideon was His choice. To confirm this, Gideon placed an offering of meat, unleavened bread and broth on a rock, and watched as fire broke out and consumed the offering. Gideon built an altar to commemorate this event. (Judges 6:11-24
Gideon convicts the people
At first God gave Gideon an assignment that was simple, direct, and to-the-point: to pull down an altar to Baal that his father had built, cut down the Asherah pole that stood next to it, build a new altar to God on the site of the old one, and sacrifice a seven-year-old bull on this altar, using the wood of the Asherah pole for fuel. The age of the bull corresponded to the length of the oppression.
Gideon selected ten of his father's servants to help him. They carried out the task at night to avoid interference. On the next day, the men of a nearby city saw what had been done and launched an investigation. When that investigation implicated Gideon, they demanded that his father surrender him for execution. His father refused, and furthermore threatened to kill anyone who tried to take Gideon. Then he said that if Baal was truly a god, then he could defend his own altars instead of having his human acolytes do the job for him. From this incident Gideon got his second name: Jerubbaal, meaning "Baal will contend." (Judges 6:25-32 )
War of Liberation
A combined Midianite and Amalekite force camped in the valley of Jezreel, probably on yet another mission to steal produce. Gideon began to recruit an army. His clan rallied to him immediately, the other Manassite clans responded shortly thereafter, and the tribes of Zebulun, Asher, and Naphtali responded after that. Gideon had a few lingering doubts, so he asked for two more signs. First he placed a fleece on the ground and asked God to let the fleece collect dew while the ground around it stayed dry. It happened as he asked, and so the next night Gideon asked God to reverse the process, and He did. (Judges 6:33-40 )
But then God insisted that Gideon march with a much smaller force, in order to make the victory all the more memorable. Gideon began with a force of 32,000. First he dismissed anyone who was afraid to fight, and 22,000 men left the ranks. Then God ordered Gideon to have all the remaining 10,000 men come to the water and order them to take a drink. Those who lapped up the water like dogs would be allowed to remain, and Gideon was to hold the rest home.
Lapping up water means specifically scooping it up by hand to one's mouth. Typically a man can do this with one hand, and leave the other hand free to draw his weapon. Three hundred men drank this way. Those were the men whom Gideon chose. (Judges 7:1-8 )
Gideon went with his servant to spy on the enemy. The enemy outnumbered them greatly, as usual, but they were actually afraid of Gideon. In fact, one of them had had a dream of a loaf of barley bread tumbling into a tent and knocking it flat.
Gideon returned to his camp fully confident of victory. He divided his force into three companies of 100 men each, and equipped each man with a trumpet, a pitcher, and a torch. He ordered each men to carry his torch inside his pitcher to keep it hidden. He deployed his companies to surround the enemy camp at night and ordered them to break open their pitchers, hold their torches high, and sound their trumpets when he gave his signal.
The operation produced the exact psychological effect that Gideon intended. The enemy soldiers ran into one another and started to kill one another in the dark. Those who didn't die in the confusion broke and ran.
Now the full forces of Manasseh, Asher and Naphtali chased the enemy across the land. Gideon sent for the Ephraimites to cut off the enemy retreat. They did, and also captured and executed two ranking Midianite generals. In all, the enemy suffered 120,000 casualties. (Judges 7:9-25 )
The Ephraimites protested that Gideon had not summoned them at the first stage of the campaign. Gideon calmed them by reminding them that they had the capture and execution of the two Midianite leaders to their credit. (Judges 8:1-3 )
The rest of the campaign was more difficult. Gideon and his original 300 men pursued two other Midianite leaders through Succoth and Penuel. The leaders of those two towns refused even to feed his men until those two specific leaders were captured. Gideon promised to discipline the men of Succoth with briars and to destroy the tower of Penuel when he returned. Gideon did capture the two other Midianite leaders, and then he carried out his promises. Finally he executed the two Midianites, after his firstborn son refused to strike them. (Judges 8:4-21 )
When the war was over, the people of Israel offered to allow Gideon to rule as king and establish a hereditary dynasty. Gideon declined, but asked each man to give him the gold earrings and other jewels they had taken from the enemy. Gideon had these objects melted down and made an ephod of them. This was a mistake, because the ephod became an object of worship. (Judges 8:22-27 )
Gideon continued to administer justice in Israel for thirty-three years. (Judges 8:28 ) But when he died, Israel slid into sin again, and showed no appreciation either to God or to Gideon or his family. (Judges 8:33-35 )
King David (Psalms 82:12 ) and the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 10:26 ) both mention the Gideon narrative and recall some of its details. In addition, the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews remembers Gideon as one of several men whose faith was strong enough to conquer kingdoms. (Hebrews 11:32-33 )
So-called higher critics of the Bible allege that the story of Gideon is a composite of three separate narratives from three separate sources.
|VacantTitle last held bysuccessor of::Deborah||Member of::Judge
Flourit::2771 AM–Died::2804 AM
|VacantTitle next held bysucceeded by::Tola|
- Blank, Wayne, "Gideon," Daily Bible Study, n.d. Accessed December 18, 2008
- Jones, Floyd M., The Chronology of the Old Testament, Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2004, p. 278
- Schenk CE. "Entry for Gideon," James Orr, MA, DD, general editor. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, 1915.
- Gigot, Francis. "Gideon." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 6. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1909. Accessed December 18, 2008
- Gideons International
- Hirsch EG, "Gideon," The Jewish Encyclopedia, n.d. Accessed December 18, 2008.