The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord, and for seven years he gave them into the hands of the Midianites. Because the power of Midian was so oppressive, the Israelites prepared shelters for themselves in mountain clefts, caves and strongholds. Judges 6:1-2
After the death of Deborah and Barak, during whose lifetime the Israelites kept to the pure worship of God, Israel’s sin was renewed and Israel’s troubles were repeated.
The Midianites were an Arabian people who descended from Midian; one of the sons of Abraham and his wife Keturah. They principally inhabited the desert north of the peninsula of Arabia. The peninsula of Sinai was the pasture-ground for their flocks. They were virtually the rulers of Arabia, being the dominant tribe. Like all Arabians, they were a nomadic people.
After the Exodus, the Midianites were friendly to the Israelites, so long as they traversed only their outlying pasture-ground on the west of the Arabah. But when the Israelites passed the southern end of Edom and entered into the land of Midian, the Midianites joined with Balak, the king of Moab, in a conspiracy against them (Numbers 22:4-7).
Balak, the king of Moab, employed Balaam, a diviner from Mesopotamia, to try to manipulate the God of Israel so that He will curse the Israelites, rather than bless them. His hope was to weaken the nation Israel militarily, so that the Moabites and Midianites might defeat them in battle and drive them out of the land. Balaam, who had been sent for to curse Israel, could only bless them in accordance to Yehovah’s will.
But Balaam devised a devious plan. He would cause the Israelite soldiers to disobey their God and place themselves under a curse by seducing them with the Moabite women. This plan was to put a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit sexual immorality.
While Israel was staying in Shittim, the men began to indulge in sexual immorality with Moabite women, who invited them to the sacrifices to their gods. The people ate the sacrificial meal and bowed down before these gods. So Israel yoked themselves to the Baal of Peor. And the LORD’s anger burned against them. Numbers 25:1-3
During the time of Moses, the Israelite army was unable to be defeated by the military strength of Moab and Midian nor was Balaam able to place a curse on them. But the men of Israel were seduced by Moabite and Midianite women and Yehovah burned with anger and sent a plague through the camp.
Then an Israelite man brought into the camp a Midianite woman right before the eyes of Moses and the whole assembly of Israel while they were weeping at the entrance to the tent of meeting. When Phinehas son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, the priest, saw this, he left the assembly, took a spear in his hand and followed the Israelite into the tent. He drove the spear into both of them, right through the Israelite man and into the woman’s stomach. Then the plague against the Israelites was stopped; but those who died in the plague numbered 24,000. Numbers 25:6-9
The Midianites so fiercely oppressed the Israelites that they hid in mountain clefts, and caves and sought refuge in strongholds.
Ironically, the Midianites who had seduced the Israelites during the time of Moses and caused them to sin are now being used to chastise the Israelites during the time of Gideon for their sinful idolatrous practices.
Do not worship any other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God. Exodus 34:14
The Israelites failed to learn from their own history that Yehovah will not tolerate spiritual adultery.
Whenever the Israelites planted their crops, the Midianites, Amalekites and other eastern peoples invaded the country. They camped on the land and ruined the crops all the way to Gaza and did not spare a living thing for Israel, neither sheep nor cattle nor donkeys. They came up with their livestock and their tents like swarms of locusts. It was impossible to count them or their camels; they invaded the land to ravage it. Midian so impoverished the Israelites that they cried out to the Lord for help. Judges 6:3-6
The invasions of these Arab tribes were overwhelming and totally devastating. They preferred looting and pillaging to sowing and reaping. They let the Israelites do the work of plowing the fields, sowing their crops, and tending to their animals. When the harvest was ripe, hoards of marauders came to reap and carry away their produce and livestock.
When the Israelites cried out to the Lord because of Midian, he sent them a prophet, who said, “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 6:7-10
After seven years of cruel oppression by the Midianites, the desperate Israelites cried out to Yehovah who answered them by sending them a prophet. The prophet delivered a message from the God of Israel and reminded them that it was Yehovah who delivered them from the bondage they suffered in Egypt and gave them the land of the Canaanites. Yet, the Israelites persisted in disobeying their God and worshipping the gods of the Amorites.
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
A threshing sledge was usually made of logs and had sharp flints embedded in the under surface. First, cut stalks of grain were spread on the threshing floor and a threshing sledge was pulled over the stalks by oxen. When the oxen dragged the sledge over the stalks of wheat on the threshing floor, the stones ripped the husk away from the grain. Threshing the wheat could also be accomplished by having the oxen walk over the stalks or by beating the stalks of wheat with heavy sticks.
Wheat is usually threshed on a hill top or mountain because of breeze. The grain is heaped and then winnowed. The winnowing fork is a several-pronged pitchfork and is used to toss wheat against the breeze to free it from chaff and crushed straw. Since the grain is heaviest it falls straight to the ground. The straw is blown a short distance and collects in another heap, while the chaff is completely scattered by the wind.
Gideon was threshing the wheat in a wine press where ordinarily the grapes would be trodden. It was a tank or trough excavated in the rock, and connected by a drain with the wine vat into which the juice ran. The threshing-floor was situated in an exposed place and Gideon would have been seen from a distance. Instead he threshed the wheat by hand in a winepress under a tree.
The pre-incarnate Messiah appeared to Gideon. He called Gideon a mighty warrior and told him that Yehovah was with him.
“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
Gideon had not forgotten the mighty works that Yehovah had performed when He delivered His people from their bondage in Egypt. But Gideon wondered why would the miracle working God of Israel allow His people to be severely oppressed by the Midianites?
The Lord turned to him and said, “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?” Judges 6:14
Note that Yehovah did not answer Gideon’s question but ordered Gideon to lead the Israelites in battle against their enemy.
“Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.”
The Lord answered, “I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites, leaving none alive.” Judges 6:15-16
Although the angel of Yehovah called Gideon a mighty warrior, Gideon confessed of the weakness of his clan and the lowliness of his position in his family. Gideon understood that in his own strength he could not accomplish such a great feat.
Gideon was not the only prominent figure in the Bible that spoke to God about his inability to perform the task God had chosen him for; nor was God taken by surprise of the shortcomings of the person whom He had selected to perform the task.
Moses said to the LORD, “Pardon your servant, Lord. I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.” Exodus 4:10
“Alas, Sovereign LORD,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am too young.” Jeremiah 1:6
The protestations of Gideon, Moses and Jeremiah evidenced their humility.
Therefore he says, God resists the proud, but gives grace unto the humble. James 4:6b
Their natural inabilities would be a testimony to the power and presence of God in their lives.
But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 1 Corinthians 1:27
God is not selecting us for our natural ability when He puts a call on our life. He is not seeking our ability but our availability. If we are obedient to the call, He will provide the strength, wisdom and resources for us to fulfill His call.
Gideon replied, “If now I have found favor in your eyes, give me a sign that it is really you talking to me. Please do not go away until I come back and bring my offering and set it before you.”
And the Lord said, “I will wait until you return.” Judges 6:17-18
Gideon asked for a sign to prove that he was actually speaking with Yehovah.
Gideon went inside, prepared a young goat, and from an ephah of flour he made bread without yeast. Putting the meat in a basket and its broth in a pot, he brought them out and offered them to him under the oak.
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 6:19-21
The wondrous sign that proved that the person speaking with Gideon was no ordinary man or ordinary angel was fire that flared out from a rock and consumed the offering.
For our God is a consuming fire. Hebrews 12:29
When Gideon realized that it was the angel of the Lord, he exclaimed, “Alas, Sovereign Lord! I have seen the angel of the Lord face to face!”
But the Lord said to him, “Peace! Do not be afraid. You are not going to die.” Judges 6:22-23
The only person in Israel who could come before God’s presence in the Most Holy Place was the High Priest. He only went behind the veil once a year at Yom Kippur after He took the lit altar of incense from the Holy Place and placed it behind the curtain into the Holy of Holies. The High Priest also needed to offer acceptable blood sacrifices or he would die. Gideon understood that when he saw the angel of Yehovah face to face, he saw the face of God and could die.
Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? John 14:9
The angel of Yehovah, who is also referred to as the angel of God, is the pre-incarnate Messiah. Although Gideon said that he saw the face of the angel of Yehovah, it was Yehovah that said, “Peace! Do not be afraid. You are not going to die.”
So Gideon built an altar to the Lord there and called it The Lord Is Peace. To this day it stands in Ophrah of the Abiezrites. Judges 6:24
Yehovah Shalom is the Prince of 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
Gideon, who had refrained from threshing his wheat on a high hill for fear of the Midianites, was commanded to tear down his father’s altar to Baal, cut down his Asherah pole and then build an altar and sacrifice to Yehovah on the same high place.
So Gideon took ten of his servants and did as the Lord told him. But because he was afraid of his family and the townspeople, he did it at night rather than in the daytime. Judges 6:27
Gideon was obedient to God’s command but he used discretion and was able to complete the task unhindered by waiting until nighttime.
In the morning when the people of the town got up, there was Baal’s altar, demolished, with the Asherah pole beside it cut down and the second bull sacrificed on the newly built altar!
They asked each other, “Who did this?”
When they carefully investigated, they were told, “Gideon son of Joash did it.”
The people of the town demanded of Joash, “Bring out your son. He must die, because he has broken down Baal’s altar and cut down the Asherah pole beside it.” Judges 6:28-30
The townspeople were so furious at Gideon for destroying Baal’s altar and cutting down the Asherah pole beside it that they wanted to kill him. Gideon’s name is from the Hebrew root word, “gada” which means to hew or cut down. Gideon who became a warrior judge of Israel fulfilled his prophetic name and cut down his father’s Asherah pole.
But Joash replied to the hostile crowd around him, “Are you going to plead Baal’s cause? Are you trying to save him? Whoever fights for him shall be put to death by morning! 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
Joash, who had succumbed to idolatrous practices, was not angry with Gideon but staunchly defended his son actions. He proclaimed, “If Baal really is a god, he can defend himself when someone breaks down his altar.”Joash also fulfilled his prophetic Hebrew name, “Yoash” which means “Yah is strong.” Joash understood that only Yehovah is really God who needs no one to defend Him.
Now all the Midianites, Amalekites and other eastern peoples joined forces and crossed over the Jordan and camped in the Valley of Jezreel. Then the Spirit of the Lord came on Gideon, and he blew a trumpet, summoning the Abiezrites to follow him. He sent messengers throughout Manasseh, calling them to arms, and also into Asher, Zebulun and Naphtali, so that they too went up to meet them. Judges 6:33-35
After the enemies of Israel crossed over the Jordan and camped in the Valley of Jezreel, Gideon was empowered by the anointing of the Spirit to muster troops from his own clan, his tribe of Manasseh, which occupied territory on both sides of the Jordan, as well as from the northern tribes of Asher, Zebulun and Naphtali.
Gideon said to God, “If you will save Israel by my hand as you have promised—look, I will place a wool fleece on the threshing floor. If there is dew only on the fleece and all the ground is dry, then I will know that you will save Israel by my hand, as you said.” And that is what happened. Gideon rose early the next day; he squeezed the fleece and wrung out the dew—a bowlful of water. Judges 6:36-38
Gideon was bold and asked God for reassurance by showing him a sign before going into battle. God was gracious and did what Gideon had asked. But a wool fleece absorbing water around it is not an unusual phenomenon.
Then Gideon said to God, “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
The second test was no doubt miraculous with the ground covered with dew but the fleece remaining dry.
He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.” Matthew 15:24
Origen was an early Christian theologian who was born and spent the first half of his career in Alexandria. Origen’s main lifework was on the text of the Greek Old Testament and on the exposition of the whole Bible. In his eighth homily on the book of Judges Origen writes of the symbolic significance of the tests of the two fleeces:
The fleece is the Jewish nation. The fleece covered with dew, while all around is dry, the Jewish nation favored with the law and the prophets. The fleece dry, the Jewish nation cast off for rejecting the Gospel. All around watered, the Gospel preached to the Gentiles and they converted to God.
For if their rejection brought reconciliation to the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? Romans 11:15
Because of the rejection of the gospel by the Jews, salvation was preached to the Gentiles. But there is a day coming when their acceptance will be life from the dead.
I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers and sisters, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in, and in this way all Israel will be saved. As it is written:“The deliverer will come from Zion; he will turn godlessness away from Jacob.” Romans 11:25-26
When the full number of Gentiles has accepted Yeshua as Messiah, the dead will rise to meet the Lord in the air. Then all those from the nation of Israel who have survived the Great Tribulation shall be saved when Yeshua returns to Zion.
For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17