Scriptures

Judges 6

Introduction

“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. 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.” Judges 6:1-5

In the previous two chapters, we saw how Deborah and Barak delivered Israel from the oppression of Sisera and his Canaanite coalition and Judges 5:31 ends by telling us that the Jewish nation and ‘the land had peace forty years.’

There’s a saying that we could use for the time period of the Book of Judges which is still very much true of today and that is, ‘actions have consequences.’

In the Book of Judges we see people living lawlessly and doing whatever they like and even today we see the same attitude continuing.

Remember that God appointed judges or deliverers to provide an appearance of order, restraint and accountability. These judges time and time again brought Israel back into obedience and fellowship with God after periods of rebellion. God tells them through His judges, that He wants them to live one way but they’re determined to live the way of the Canaanites.

And as we read in this chapter, we see from the very first verse that things weren’t going to remain peaceful for very long. Once again, during this time of peace, the Israelites were lulled into complacency and lured towards idolatry. They abused their standing as a holy nation by turning from God to Baal worship, Proverbs 14:34.

This time the consequences for Israel’s sin turned out to be severe oppression from the Midianites and Amalekites. The text tells us that the enemy strategy wasn’t to conquer and occupy the Jewish territory. But it was a military strategy of burning or destroying crops or other resources that might be of use to an invading enemy force.

It’s kind of what happens in the world today when a world leader of a country gets out of line. The United Nations step in and put sanctions in place where no one buys anything from that country or sells anything to that country. And that brings a great economic stress upon the country which is being sanctioned.

The Midianites and the Amalekites plundered the Israelite’s harvest and livestock, leaving the land and the people desolate. In other words, they wanted to starve the Israelites out of existence. And so, once again God’s people are brought to their knees to the point where ‘Midian so impoverished the Israelites that they cried out to the LORD for help.’

Notice what happens next, God heard their cries but He didn’t deliver them straight away.

“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

God didn’t deliver them straight away but what He did do, was send a stern message to His people through an unnamed prophet. And this prophet reminds the people of how the Lord brought them out of Egypt, and then he stresses that repentance must come before salvation.

The reason God sent a prophet first is because there’s no mention of the Jews repenting, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 / Revelation 21:8. God not only delivered them from Egyptian bondage, but He also delivered them from the hands of their oppressors and drove them all out of the land for them. He warned them not to get involved in idolatry but they didn’t listen to Him, Exodus 20:3.

This new generation of Israelites, didn’t listen to God and they broke that command again. And Israel is now paying the consequences for their sinful behaviour.

And so after using this unnamed prophet to tell the people to repent, God is going to use another unlikely person to deliver His people once again, a man named Gideon.

As we study Gideon, we find him at first struggling to obey God, it’s not until the next chapter, do we read about him finally obeying God.

Gideon

“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. The LORD is with you, mighty warrior.” Judges 6:11-12

The angel of the Lord appears to Gideon the farmer and comes to him while he’s working hard threshing wheat in a wine press. Under normal conditions in order to separate wheat from the chaff, farmers would select an open, elevated location where the grain could be pitched up, so that the wind could blow away the useless chaff.

But here we find Gideon cowering, maintaining a low profile, labouring in a secluded place, due to the threat of invasion. And it’s while he’s protecting his crop that the angel appears to him.

Think about what Gideon must have thought to himself when the angel of the LORD spoke to him. We can almost hear Gideon thinking to himself, ‘wait a minute, I’m a simple farmer trying to survive here and you’re telling me I’m a mighty warrior and God has chosen me to deliver His people from our enemy?’

Gideon appears cynical, even rude before the angel of the LORD, and in doing so, revealing his ignorance. And so, he goes on to complain and question God.

“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

Basically, he’s asking, why is God letting His people suffer? Remember that Israel had reverted to idolatry and were subsequently attacked by their enemies. Yes, God done wonderous things when He brought them out of Egypt. But what did Israel expect?

What did Gideon expect God to say, ‘it was OK to worship other gods’? Did the Israelites expect God to say that, ‘you’ve all left Me and My ways but that’s OK’?

When we run after the same goals as non-believers, we shouldn’t be surprised when trials come and God doesn’t intervene or answer our prayers as we might expect. We need to listen to God because if we don’t, then He simply won’t listen to us, Isaiah 59:1-2.

And so with a tremendous lack of faith or ignorance, Gideon blames God for the consequences of Israel’s sin. God isn’t having any of this from Gideon, despite his protests. He tells him he will be a mighty warrior but Gideon still needs some assurance.

“Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?” “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 6:14-16

It’s very evident that God didn’t select a born leader, Gideon appears to be far from what we would call a hero. He’s quick to jump in to tell God that he’s far from being qualified to do the task God has asked of him. He is a last-born, from an insignificant family and tribe.

Gideon isn’t acting very courageous, but God is going to prepare him to gradually grow into his courageous role. The angel tells him, ‘go with the strength you have’.  Just like many Christians today, Gideon didn’t know his own strength. And when God looks at us, He sees strength in each of us, that we don’t see in ourselves.

God will never ask us to do something that we’re not equipped to do, but He will ask to use the strength we have, Philippians 2:13. But Gideon still needs some reassuring.

“Gideon replied, “If now I have found favour 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.” 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 6:17-21

Rather than taking God at His word, Gideon asks for a sign, some tangible evidence, that it’s really God who is speaking to him. Gideon knew that the message came from God, that he was to lead this army against the Midianites. But he wanted both assurance for himself and for those who came in response to his call.

He humbly asked for a sign that went against the laws of nature and this was a specific sign for Gideon who needed reassurance not only for himself but for the whole nation of Israel. Remember he’s a framer with little strength and he’s about to lead the Israelites into battle.

“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. 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 6:22-24

When Gideon finally realises that he’s talking to a heavenly being, he thinks he’s going to die. Almost every time in the Scriptures when an angel appears, the first words which come from their mouth is, ‘do not be afraid.’ Why? Well, it was a popular misconception among the Jews, that if you saw an angel, it meant you were going to die.

Gideon thought he was being visited by an angel because he’s about to die but he’s assured otherwise, and builds an altar to the Lord, which he calls ‘the Lord is Peace’. Which tells us that Gideon’s main concern was to live in 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.” 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. 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.” 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 6:25-32

To prepare Gideon to lead Israel, he’s directed to destroy a nearby pagan altar. And straight away we can see that if God is to be Israel’s Saviour, then Baal must go.

Gideon’s own family worshiped the deities of Canaan and so before he can be used by God, Gideon needs to destroy the idolatry in his own household first.

The text tells us that Gideon and his servants worked through the night, under the cover of darkness, tearing down the altar to Baal and Asherah. Gideon’s name means ‘hewer’ or ‘hacker’, which basically means, one who cuts down, which is very appropriate to what he was doing here.

The text tells us that the idol worshippers didn’t neglect their morning devotions, and they soon discover the damage. And it doesn’t take them long to identify the culprit, and so Gideon hides behind his father Joash’s protection. Joash, the custodian of the altar, tells his angry neighbours that if Baal is so powerful, he should have been able to defend himself.

The town gives Gideon the nickname Jerubbaal, meaning, ‘let Baal plead his case’, which was a reminder of God’s power and Baal’s weakness. Gideon, who tested God, cleaned up his neighbourhood and passed God’s test.

‘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

We’re told that both sides assemble forces to prepare for battle and we’re also told that ‘the Spirit of the Lord came upon Gideon’. The actual Hebrew text literally says, ‘the Spirit of the Lord clothed Himself with Gideon.’ In other words, God’s Holy Spirit selected, anointed, and empowered Gideon.

And Gideon was going great guns, he was getting rid of all the Baal altars and slowly driving out the idolatry from Israel. But, once again he needed a little more reassurance from God.

“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. 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 6:36-40

In spite of an encouraging recruitment response from the tribes of Israel, Gideon again asks God for reassurance, he asks for another visible sign.

Should Christians be asking God for ‘signs’? Because many people take the example of Gideon completely out of context to justify asking God for a sign. Most people who ask God for a sign are usually trying to make a decision about a personal matter.

They’re usually asking things like, ‘I wonder if I should move to another city to find a job.’ ‘I wonder if she is the girl I should marry.’ And so they’re starting out with a question that comes from man and not a statement that came from God.

Many people who cite Gideon’s example often make up coincidences to ‘confirm’ their own question. They justify it in their heads by saying things like, ‘if the next call is from her, then I know God wants me to marry her.’ ‘If my home sells within a week, then I know God has a job waiting for me in another city.’ The ‘signs’ that these people are requesting aren’t ‘signs’, they’re ordinary events.

And since they’re ordinary events, how can a person be certain that it was really God behind those events? What people typically do today, when they’re faced with a decision, they try to force God into giving them an answer.

But, when we try to force God to do anything, that’s what the Bible describes as putting God to the test, which according to Deuteronomy 6:16 is sinful because we shouldn’t be making any demands from God.

Even within the church, I’ve heard Christians talking about doing the ‘fleece test.’ It’s the idea of asking God for some tangible indication of His will, asking for proof but that’s not faith. The so called ‘fleece tests’ of today have nothing to do with determining God’s will, after all, God had already clearly told Gideon what to do.

Gideon’s fleece, if it shows us anything, it shows his doubt and fear and lack of trust. Now that may well be the way the Israelites had come to treat Baal, but this isn’t the way to treat the One, True God of Israel.

Gideon should’ve trusted God instead of demanding a sign. God spoke to him, and God’s words don’t require any outward confirmation.

And so after showing this sign, Gideon then goes ahead and asks God for a reversal of the conditions. He wants God to turn the fleece from a wet fleece and dry ground, to a dry fleece and wet ground.

We can only be impressed with the remarkable patience God has with Gideon. He understands Gideon’s insecurity and He understands our insecurities.

We’re going to look at what happens when Gideon is finally ready to obey God in the next chapter.

Go To Judges 7

DAILY BIBLE VERSE

"I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me."

Galatians 2:20

MENU