by Sam E. Stone
It happened over and over again! After Ehud led the people to victory, the book of Judges describes how the same cycle of sin, repentance, and deliverance was repeated. Shamgar was the next judge. Only one verse summarizes his efforts (3:31). Then came Deborah. Scripture gives much more information about her influence and exploits (4:4–5:31). “Then the land had peace 40 years.”
Once again Israel did evil, and for seven years God delivered them into the hands of the Midianties. But, when the Israelites cried out to God for help, in his mercy he answered once again (6:7). In addition to judges, God also sent prophets to Israel from time to time. One preceded Gideon and reminded the people that they had not listened to God (6:10). The angel of the Lord came to Gideon while he was threshing wheat in an out-of-the-way winepress to avoid detection by the Midianites.
Reducing the Army/Judges 7:2-4
Gideon was reluctant to trust and obey Jehovah (6:11ff). Despite the angel’s reassurance that God was with him, Gideon remained unconvinced. “If the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us?” he asked. The Lord told him, “Go in the strength you have and save Israel” (6:14). Still Gideon hesitated. He demanded signs from God. Jesus told the people in his day that it was an evil and adulterous generation that insisted on signs (Matthew 16:1-4).
Finally Gideon agreed and gathered an army. Encamped at the Spring of Harod near the Valley of Jezreel, God came to Gideon with a surprising statement: “You have too many men for me to deliver Midian into their hands.” No one must be able to say that the Israelites defeated the enemy in their own strength. It had to be evident to all that this was “a God thing.” God reduced the size of the army by 22,000 men! Still that wasn’t enough! Finally Gideon pared the group down to only 300 men. Then God sent them into the valley where the Midianites were camped.
Building their Confidence/Judges 7:13-15
Knowing Gideon’s past reluctance and doubt, the Lord gave him one more confirmation that he would be victorious. He sent Gideon down to the edge of the Midianite camp to “listen to what they are saying” (v. 11). There Gideon heard a man tell his friend about a dream he had. In it a round loaf of barley bread tumbled into the camp with such force that it overturned and collapsed the tent. When Gideon heard these men interpret the dream as an obvious message of victory for Israel, he worshiped God. Now he was ready to lead the attack!
Acknowledging the Lord/Judges 8:22-26a
Gideon’s army followed his instructions. Each carried a trumpet with a torch hidden inside a jar. At his signal they broke the jars revealing the light, blew their trumpets, and called in a loud voice, “A sword for the Lord and for Gideon.” God caused the Midianites to turn on each other with their swords and then flee. He continued to lead the people after them.
Unfortunately Gideon began to be motivated more by revenge than by God’s command. K. L. Younger, Jr. writes, “Gideon’s torturous reprisals against Succoth and Penuel were an excessive response to people who doubted Gideon’s ability to achieve the victory and feared the possible reprisals of Zebah and Zalmunna.” Even though God had been patient and merciful with Gideon when he tried to overcome his doubt and fear, he was unwilling to show the same mercy to these people (compare Matthew 18:21-35). Revenge does not appear in Judges prior to this, but it occurs later (e.g. Abimilech, Samson).
The Israelites called on Gideon to “rule over us—you, your son and your grandson.” Gideon wisely replied, “I will not rule over you, nor will my son rule over you. The Lord will rule over you.” By rejecting the idea of heading up a family dynasty, Gideon pointed the people back to Yahweh, the only ruler they needed or should follow. He did take a cut of the plunder from the Midianities however. Making an ephod out of it was not good, since it could lead to idolatry.
Rob Fleenor explains, “Gideon’s error, even though well intentioned, clearly reveals the danger of acting as a theological maverick . . . . Both regular study and regular participation in a community of faith act as safeguards against rogue theology.” Let God rule!
Sam E. Stone is the former editor of Christian Standard. He continues his writing and speaking ministry from his home in Cincinnati, Ohio.