Before we return to Moses and the Law and later consider two more Judges of Israel: Deborah and Samuel, I would like to complete my trilogy on the Judges with “Gideon – a mighty man of valour”.
As I explained earlier, “Judge” is perhaps a misnomer but that is the word used in the title of the book in the Bible that covers the period when various men and one woman led Israel after it had entered the Promised Land under Joshua and before it had its own king (Saul). We have already considered “Jephthah, possibly my favourite Bible character” and “Samson – God’s unlikely choice to deliver Israel” because, unlike the other Judges, a relative lot was written about them that was relevant and interesting. The same goes for Gideon and, like the other two, some parts may be best left out when teaching Sunday School children, although I well recall stories like the whittling down the size of Gideon’s army. As was often the case, we begin with the Israelites in a bad way because of their oppressors and their own sin, as repeatedly they turn to the Lord, who gives them a deliverer (Judge), often someone not quite fitting the bill, like Jephthah, Samson and Gideon who God used mightily.
“And the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord: and the Lord delivered them into the hand of Midian seven years. And the hand of Midian prevailed against Israel: and because of the Midianites the children of Israel made them the dens which are in the mountains, and caves, and strong holds. And so it was, when Israel had sown, that the Midianites came up, and the Amalekites, and the children of the east, even 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 for Israel, neither sheep, nor ox, nor ass. For they came up with their cattle and their tents, and they came as grasshoppers for multitude; for both they and their camels were without number: and they entered into the land to destroy it. And Israel was greatly impoverished because of the Midianites; and the children of Israel cried unto the Lord” Judges 6:1-6. But enter onto the scene Gideon:
One can only imagine his astonishment when … “And there came an angel of the Lord, and sat under an oak which was in Ophrah, that pertained unto Joash the Abiezrite: and his son Gideon threshed wheat by the winepress, to hide it from the Midianites. And the angel of the Lord appeared unto him, and said unto him, The Lord is with thee, thou mighty man of valour. And Gideon said unto him, Oh my Lord, if the Lord be with us, why then is all this befallen us? and where be all his miracles which our fathers told us of, saying, Did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt? but now the Lord hath forsaken us, and delivered us into the hands of the Midianites. And the Lord looked upon him, and said, Go in this thy might, and thou shalt save Israel from the hand of the Midianites: have not I sent thee? And he said unto him, Oh my Lord, wherewith shall I save Israel? behold, my family is poor in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house” Judges 6: 11-15.
The main story line is pretty straightforward. Gideon tried to get out of it, coming up with a string of reasons why he wasn’t God’s man, but found he couldn’t argue with God. He tested whether his calling was truly of God by laying out a fleece – if it was dry and the ground was wet or if it was wet and the ground was dry. The Lord acceded to his request and Gideon raised up an army to fight the Midianite oppressors. But God did not need 32,000 to fight the battle, nor did God need the 10000 left when the rest were sent home for not feeling up for the challenge and nor did He need the 9700 who failed the how to drink the water test (leaving 300 men), for the important lesson here was the battle was the Lord’s. It should be noted Gideon did what God asked of him and resisted on potential pain of death the idol worship prevalent around him.
Gideon’s army managed to rout and defeat the Midianites and Gideon became Judge in Israel, which enjoyed a period of quiet for forty years, not that there wasn’t some internal in-fighting with some unpleasant ramifications connected with this happening. We would normally end the story here and point to how God saw in Gideon something he did not see himself – him being a “mighty many of valour” and one which God guided and used, teaching that the battle was the Lord’s. One outcome of Gideon’s victory was the people wanted to make him their king, which he rightly declined. But he did take a gift from the people which he turned into an item of false worship: “And Gideon made an ephod thereof, and put it in his city, even in Ophrah: and all Israel went thither a whoring after it: which thing became a snare unto Gideon, and to his house” Judges 8:27. The other tragic ending was after Gideon’s death. He had 70 sons from several wives and another through a concubine, who wanted to be king and in order to do so killed all but one of the sons but came to bad end (a woman dropped a millstone on his head from a tower), along with some of those who joined his conspiracy.
While there are high spots in Judges, including in the life of Gideon, especially when defeating the Midianite army, and how he allowed himself to be used by God and God used him, but the story of Gideon, just like that of Jephthah and Samson is part of a reoccurring theme that finds the Israelites straying from God, oppressed by an enemy, calling on God for help, God taking pity typically by raising up Judges (trouble shooters) and again Israel falling back into apostacy (round and round). While Judges ends with “In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes” Judges 21:25, it should be borne in mind that the Book of Ruth follows, but which is part of the Book of Judges in the Hebrew Bible, and tells the story of a despised Moabite woman who leaves everything to follow the God of Israel. Ruth ends with her marrying a godly man Boaz and them having a son, who is a direct ancestor of Jesus, all of which is recounted in Matthew 1. If there is a final point to this, it is the Bible tells us the whole story, good and bad, and God’s purposes are never thwarted.