This past Thursday our small group took a look at Judges chapter 6 wherein we learn of the call of Gideon. Gideon was a man who no one would have picked as the next rescuer or “Judge” of Israel. The plight of God’s people in this chapter is dire. They are suffering under cruel oppression, and their hearts are as black as can be. They have no desire for true repentance, and only seek deliverance for the sake of freeing themselves from their foreign enemies.
As the group studied the passage, we hit on three major themes in the chapter:
- True Repentance = True Freedom
- A fresh look at God’s holiness and how we encounter that today
- It is very often that God uses our weaknesses to teach us about Himself and bring Himself glory
Below are my notes from the chapter, I hope you enjoy!
Chapter 6 introduces us to Gideon, who is listed in the Hebrews 11 hall of faith along with Deborah and Barak and Sampson in the following context:
By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies.
32 And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets—33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. (Heb. 11:31-34)
Gideon is a most unlikely hero, but actually takes up a lot of space in the book of Judges – in fact, as Morris notes, 100 verses are spent detailing his story, which is more than any other Judge in the book.
The scene is set in the first few verses of the book where we find the situation for Israel is not a good one. Dale Ralph Davis comically comments about the plague of Midian:
For seven years they (midainites) left Israel no ‘sustenance’ or means of sustenance. The same scourge and terror every year: invade from the yeast, cross the Jordan, hit the bread basket in the Plan of Jezreel, sweep southwest as far as Gaza in Philistian, practicing their clean earth politic. Seven years of it. You are hungry, poor, and tired. Every year, as sure as income tax, Midian’s buzzards come.
It’s in this frustrated, beaten down state that our story begins, and where God intervenes in a way that, at first, is unusual…
6:1-2 The people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord gave them into the hand of Midian seven years. 2 And the hand of Midian overpowered Israel, and because of Midian the people of Israel made for themselves the dens that are in the mountains and the caves and the strongholds.
The cycle of sin is beginning again –isn’t this familiar! The people once again do what is evil in God’s sight, and this time they are given into the hands of Midian. Note the total sovereignty of God here. Many times in our own lives we have bad things happen to us but we say ‘this isn’t from God’ – but how do you know?
We know that God is not the author of evil, and yet we know that He uses evil people and circumstances to bring about His good will for our lives (Rom. 8:28). We know that He did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all (Rom. 8:32) in order that His glorious purpose would triumph through Christ’s death.
The Israelites, however, were not holy, righteous, or in anyway obedient to the Lord. And God punished them in order to bring them back to Himself (Heb. 12).
6:3-5 For whenever the Israelites planted crops, the Midianites and the Amalekites and the people of the East would come up against them. 4 They would encamp against them and devour the produce of the land, as far as Gaza, and leave no sustenance in Israel and no sheep or ox or donkey. 5 For they would come up with their livestock and their tents; they would come like locusts in number—both they and their camels could not be counted—so that they laid waste the land as they came in.
Note that Midian was not interested in political control of Israel, rather they were interested in simply plundering the nation of its resources. Israel became their food pantry and its inhabitants nothing more than nice in the cupboard who fled to holes in the mountain at the first sign of trouble. Indeed in the eyes of Midian, they were simply pests who needed exterminated.
6:6-10 And Israel was brought very low because of Midian. And the people of Israel cried out for help to the Lord.7 When the people of Israel cried out to the Lord on account of the Midianites, 8 the Lord sent a prophet to the people of Israel. And he said to them, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: I led you up from Egypt and brought you out of the house of slavery. 9 And I delivered you from the hand of the Egyptians and from the hand of all who oppressed you, and drove them out before you and gave you their land. 10 And I said to you, ‘I am the Lord your God; you shall not fear the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell.’ But you have not obeyed my voice.”
This is the most devastating situation Israel has ever faced. They are completely impoverished and are scratching a living off the rocks of the land (cf. Tolkein). They have been driven by their circumstances to final cry out to the Lord. But what do they get in return? They get a sermon instead of salvation (cf. Keller).
Before God will deliver them from their enemies He wants them to understand very clearly why they have been punished and “brought very low” at the hands of Midian.
It is significant that God didn’t simply raise up a judge to save them right away. Instead He wanted to make sure they heard His word and knew His heart.
This is the way it is today, is it not? We need to hear the word of God and listen to what the Spirit has to say through His inspired Word. It is the Word which is necessary for correction and rebuke and encouragement. It is our very life, as Moses was fond of saying:
And when Moses had finished speaking all these words to all Israel, 46 he said to them, “Take to heart all the words by which I am warning you today, that you may command them to your children, that they may be careful to do all the words of this law. 47 For it is no empty word for you, but your very life, and by this word you shall live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to possess.” (Deuteronomy 32:45-47)
And the author of Hebrews connects the living and active word of God to its ability to give the Christian rest and peace – but also adds a warning that it is by this word we will be judged:
Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. 12 For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13 And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account. (Hebrews 4:11-13, ESV)
In Tim Keller’s study of this book he rightly calls us to recognize that there is a difference between repentance and regret. Paul describes this in 2 Corinthians:
For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. (2 Cor. 7:10)
The difference between worldly sorrow and Godly sorrow and repentance are vast. Their outward manifestations are similar, to be sure. But the motivation for each is different. A worldly sorrow mourns over the things that have been lost by the circumstances brought about in our lives, whereas a Godly sorrow mourns over the sin itself and the dishonor and rebellion shown toward the God who saved us.
The beautiful thing about true repentance is that it allows us to get past the sin and sorrow of past failures, unlike worldly regret that lingers and places the shackling burden of guilt around our necks.
Keller says this, “When we realize that God has forgiven us and we haven’t ‘lost’ Him, we feel that earthly results are rather small in comparison. We say: I deserved far worse than what happened. The real punishment fell on Jesus, and will never come to me.”
The natural follow up question we need to ask ourselves is this: What are we sorry about and why? And do we need to truly repent of those things instead of just feeling regretful about them?
6:11 Now the angel of the Lord came and sat under the terebinth at Ophrah, which belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, while his son Gideon was beating out wheat in the winepress to hide it from the Midianites.
What we find here is that the Israelites were so fearful of the Midianites that even the common tasks of beating out wheat was done undercover. Gideon is beating out the wheat in a winepress – obviously not the most convenient place to do this task, but it was likely not the first place a Midianite would search for grain on a raid of the countryside.
6:12 And the angel of the Lord appeared to him and said to him, “The Lord is with you, O mighty man of valor.”
I think it’s pretty crucial here that we recognize that Gideon wasn’t that big of a deal. He’s probably not being modest when he later says that he’s the least of all in his father’s house. Yet the Lord says that he’s this mighty man of valor – that’s a pretty amazing title!
Wouldn’t you love to be known as a man or woman of valor? What is it in him or about him that gives the Lord reason for assessing him this title? The answer is…nothing.
As we’ll see in later chapters, the story of Gideon is the story of God using the weakness of man to accomplish His ends. Note that verse 12 says, “the Lord is with you” in conjunction with “O Mighty man of valor.” It is these two ideas that go hand in hand. The fact that the Lord is with Gideon is the very reason why he is going to be mighty in battle. Chapters 7 and 8 confirm this for us.
In addition, there is a correlation between verses 12-16 and verse 34 where we learn that God “going with” Gideon is going to be in the form of the Holy Spirit. It is God’s presence with Gideon that allows him to accomplish all that God has set before him.
Now we have the advantage of knowing what comes later, but Gideon did not, so his own lack of might is exposed (ironically) by this statement and he reacts…
6:13-16 And Gideon said to him, “Please, sir, if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all his wonderful deeds that our fathers recounted to us, saying, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the Lord has forsaken us and given us into the hand of Midian.” 14 And the Lord turned to him and said, “Go in this might of yours and save Israel from the hand of Midian; do not I send you?” 15 And he said to him, “Please, Lord, how can I save Israel? Behold, my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house.” 16 And the Lord said to him, “But I will be with you, and you shall strike the Midianites as one man.”
Gideon has made the mistake that so many of us make during out own struggles. He equates the difficulties with the Midians as meaning that God isn’t with them. This simply isn’t the case – which is both reassuring and terrifying.
We need to understand that God has sent the Midianites to plague Israel – God is meticulously sovereign here. He is using the decedents of Moses’ second wife to bring about utter destruction and calamity and He is doing it with eyes wide open. God is in that place alright, He is in Israel throughout her pains and throughout her oppression. His arm of judgment has swept through the land in an effort to bring Israel to her knees in true repentance.
We often struggle with the idea that in the worst times in our lives God is with us. It doesn’t feel like He’s with us. It doesn’t seem like He would want us to go through this evil or that trial. But the worst evil in this world cannot blink an eye or bat an eyelash without permission from the throne room of God. Think of Pilate and what Jesus said to him:
Jesus answered him, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. Therefore he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin.” (John 19:11, ESV)
Therefore God will use evil to accomplish good and use the weakest and least accomplished as His instrument to do this.
6:17-21 And he said to him, “If now I have found favor in your eyes, then show me a sign that it is you who speak with me. 18 Please do not depart from here until I come to you and bring out my present and set it before you.” And he said, “I will stay till you return.” 19 So Gideon went into his house and prepared a young goat and unleavened cakes from an ephah of flour. The meat he put in a basket, and the broth he put in a pot, and brought them to him under the terebinth and presented them. 20 And the angel of God said to him, “Take the meat and the unleavened cakes, and put them on this rock, and pour the broth over them.” And he did so. 21 Then the angel of the Lord reached out the tip of the staff that was in his hand and touched the meat and the unleavened cakes. And fire sprang up from the rock and consumed the meat and the unleavened cakes. And the angel of the Lord vanished from his sight.
It’s worth noting here that this angel of the Lord seems to be a Christophany and not simply an angel like Gabrial. The text indicates that this is “the angel of the Lord” but also says, “the Lord said to him” in verse 16. Not only this, but in verses 17-21 the angel seems to be accepting of the offering that Gideon makes. As a rule angels don’t accept offerings or worship from men.
Later on we’ll see Gideon ask God for a sign of the fleece, and I’ll just address that briefly here. Why is Gideon asking God for signs? Does this justify our asking God for signs?
First, Gideon is asking God for confirmation of His presence and of His plan. He wants to make sure that this is really God and that He will really be with him. He is asking God for divine revelation of His holy character. He isn’t putting God to the test as we commonly think of it (think Satan’s testing of Jesus in Luke’s gospel).
Dale Ralph Davis says, “Gideon shows how highly he values Yahweh’s promise by wanting to be sure it is Yahweh’s promise…Gideon proposed that his offering become the laboratory for God’s assuring sign.”
This is why we can’t ask for similar things from God. Our motivation is usually something like this (paraphrasing Tim Keller), “God I really want to get this job, so please have them call me today if it is your will that this happen.”
Gideon isn’t asking for help making decisions. He’s learning more about the character of God – he’s asking God who He is, and seeking to learn more about Him.
6:22-24 Then Gideon perceived that he was the angel of the Lord. And Gideon said, “Alas, O Lord God! For now I have seen the angel of the Lord face to face.” 23 But the Lord said to him, “Peace be to you. Do not fear; you shall not die.” 24 Then Gideon built an altar there to the Lord and called it, The Lord Is Peace. To this day it still stands at Ophrah, which belongs to the Abiezrites.
There are many parallels with Moses and Abraham here, as noted earlier, but when we read of Gideon’s reaction to the revelation of God’s presence with him, he shouts aloud something that reveals his knowledge of God from Moses’ own experience. We read in Exodus 33 the following account:
Moses said, “Please show me your glory.” 19 And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. 20 But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” (Exodus 33:18-20, ESV)
So not only does Gideon realize this, but he also understands that he has seen the Lord face to face – not in the fully revealed splendor of His glory, but in a way that even Gideon could understand. Likely He was clothed in appearance as a man.
We read time and time again in Scripture that when people encounter God their first reaction is one of woe. They immediately realize that they are sinful, unholy people and that God’s grace has come upon them. This is true for Moses, Isaiah, Peter, Mary, Paul and here we see it in Gideon.
As Davis says, “Here is an amazing paradox. Gideon must have assurance of Yahweh’s promise, but, when the assurance comes, it terrifies rather than fortifies him.” Such is the case when we encounter the holy. As Davis continues, “This sort of talk (vs. 22) is strange to us, because we have no real sense of the terror and awesomeness of God, for we think intimacy with God is an inalienable right rather than an indescribable gift. There is nothing amazing about grace as long as there is nothing fearful about holiness.”
Note also how in each case of God revealing Himself to these Godly men and women, He has a task for them and reveals to them that He is going to use them for something extraordinary – here God is revealed as a God of peace and grace. It is not that Gideon didn’t deserve to die, but that God spared him in His grace.
I wonder if we need to step back sometimes after spending some time in the Word and get a deeper understanding for the holiness of God. This is the God who is said to be “a consuming fire” who “dwells in unapproachable light.” Paul describes Him in this way:
…keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 which he will display at the proper time—he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, 16 who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen. (1 Timothy 6:14-16, ESV)
The magnificence of His presence is something we often take for granted. It is right, therefore, to spend some time in awe of who God is, and who we are. Sinners before the throne of grace, saved by blood – and saved as Gideon was for a purpose (Ephesians 2:10).
6:25-27 That night the Lord said to him, “Take your father’s bull, and the second bull seven years old, and pull down the altar of Baal that your father has, and cut down the Asherah that is beside it 26 and build an altar to the Lord your God on the top of the stronghold here, with stones laid in due order. Then take the second bull and offer it as a burnt offering with the wood of the Asherah that you shall cut down.” 27 So Gideon took ten men of his servants and did as the Lord had told him. But because he was too afraid of his family and the men of the town to do it by day, he did it by night.
So Gideon obeys the Lord and follows the commands God gave him. But he does so in the middle of the night. I think it’s interesting that he would do this. I mentioned earlier that God shows meticulous sovereignty over this situation and here is another example of that sovereignty.
God knows the character of Gideon, He knows what he will do and how he will do it. Gideon is certainly a coward for not immediately obeying God in broad daylight and he allows fear to rule his life – fear for his life actually probably kept him alive for God’s task and allowed the people in that area to see that God was moving and stir them to recognize that something was afoot.
Just as God knew that Joseph’s dreams would provoke the young man toward pride and a propensity toward annoying his older brothers and father, God also knew that Gideon would be too cowardly to cut down the Baal in broad daylight. God uses the weaknesses and sinfulness of His children to accomplish His will. He plans and ordains all things – and that means all things.
6:28-32 When the men of the town rose early in the morning, behold, the altar of Baal was broken down, and the Asherah beside it was cut down, and the second bull was offered on the altar that had been built. 29 And they said to one another, “Who has done this thing?” And after they had searched and inquired, they said, “Gideon the son of Joash has done this thing.” 30 Then the men of the town said to Joash, “Bring out your son, that he may die, for he has broken down the altar of Baal and cut down the Asherah beside it.” 31 But Joash said to all who stood against him, “Will you contend for Baal? Or will you save him? Whoever contends for him shall be put to death by morning. If he is a god, let him contend for himself, because his altar has been broken down.” 32 Therefore on that day Gideon was called Jerubbaal, that is to say, “Let Baal contend against him,” because he broke down his altar.
Isn’t it ironic how all these people get upset and want to kill Gideon for what he did in tearing down there alters? This mob was standing up for Baal, but as Joash points out, if Baal was a real powerful being he should be able to take care of himself, thank you very much.
So Joash stands up for his boy, and I find this really commendable. There seems to have been at least some honor in this family or at least in this man, despite the fact that he was a man who worshiped multiple deities!
Anyway…the irony is that God is the one who in this story has vowed to stand up for Israel. God is the one promising to be with Gideon as he leads Israel to victory of its’ enemies, and God is the one who will empower Gideon…as we’ll see soon in verse 34.
SIDE NOTE: The ESV Study Bible has a nice blurb on Asherah and what it was, “Asherah may function as both the divine name for a particular goddess or, as in these verses, refer to sacred wooden poles erected at places where she was worshiped (vv. 26, 28, 30; cf. 1 Kings 15:13; 18:19; 2 Kings 17:16). Most frequently, these sacred objects are called “Asherim” (e.g., Ex. 34:13; Deut. 7:5; 12:3; 2 Kings 17:10).
6:33-35 Now all the Midianites and the Amalekites and the people of the East came together, and they crossed the Jordan and encamped in the Valley of Jezreel. 34 But the Spirit of the Lord clothed Gideon, and he sounded the trumpet, and the Abiezrites were called out to follow him. 35 And he sent messengers throughout all Manasseh, and they too were called out to follow him. And he sent messengers to Asher, Zebulun, and Naphtali, and they went up to meet them.
Now the scene is set and things are coming into motion. We read that the Midianites and their buddies the Amalekites along with other nomads from the East are all ready to raid the breadbasket of Israel. They’ve all gathered together and are encamped in Jezreel, which is north of where Jerusalem sat, and southwest of the Sea of Galilee. This is really close to home for the Israelites, and so once again their crops and their daughters were in peril.
However, as the author is describing the situation, he bookmarks Israel’s impending doom by noting that the Spirit of the Lord had “clothed” Gideon. What does this mean, “clothed”? I think the best way to understand it is “empowered supernaturally.” As Block notes, “if anything positive happens to Israel in the book of Judges, the credit must go to God.” And so, “the same Spirit which possesses the divinely called deliverer compels the recipients of the summons to respond to his call.”
In his book ‘God’s Indwelling Presence’ Tom Schreiner (citing James Hamilton) says, “The Old Testament speaks of the Spirit “rushing upon” someone not to describe a conversion experience (e.g., the expression is not used of Abraham or Rahab), but rather the Spirit’s empowering leaders who will deliver the nation.”
6:36-40 Then Gideon said to God, “If you will save Israel by my hand, as you have said, 37 behold, I am laying a fleece of wool on the threshing floor. If there is dew on the fleece alone, and it is dry on all the ground, then I shall know that you will save Israel by my hand, as you have said.” 38 And it was so. When he rose early next morning and squeezed the fleece, he wrung enough dew from the fleece to fill a bowl with water. 39 Then Gideon said to God, “Let not your anger burn against me; let me speak just once more. Please let me test just once more with the fleece. Please let it be dry on the fleece only, and on all the ground let there be dew.” 40 And God did so that night; and it was dry on the fleece only, and on all the ground there was dew.
As I mentioned earlier, Gideon’s test of God is not like our test of God. Yes it seems that Gideon was testing God out of unbelief and probably fear (for he was not a warrior and was about to lead an army into battle). But what Gideon seems to be getting at here is a search for the character and power of God.
Gideon deeply desires to ensure the God is with him, and that God will be the one doing the fighting on their behalf. Even though it seems silly to ask God for these signs, we see Moses do the same thing in Exodus 4. One of the ways I think we can know that Gideon was asking with deeper motives was God’s gracious response toward his request. Gideon was weak, and needed to know that God would be with him, for without God there’s no way that this man would be able to conquer his enemies.
As we continue on in our study over the next several chapters, we’re going to see that one of the major themes of God’s empowering use of Gideon is His desire to use those who are weak to accomplish great things in order that He might get all the glory.
It is no different today. We need to learn that, as JI Packer says, “weakness is the way” of God, and as Paul says:
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10, ESV)