Judges 6:1 The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord, and for seven years he gave them into the hands of the Midianites.
The Midianites were so oppressive that Israel was forced to live in caves just to survive. They systematically destroyed Israel’s crops, and slaughtered or stole their livestock. In their misery, Israel remembered God, and cried out to him for help.
About that time, the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon. He was threshing wheat in secret, to keep it from the Midianites. The Lord is with you, mighty warrior (Judges 6:12), said the angel. Gideon did not look like a mighty warrior, nor was he behaving like one. But the angel of the Lord saw what Gideon could become, and commissioned him to save the nation. When Gideon objected, the Lord answered, I will be with you (Judges 6:16).
This is God’s response whenever we are given a task that is too big for us. It could be saving a nation, leading a ministry, or raising a difficult child. It could be starting a church, or taking final exams. After he commissioned his disciples to evangelize the world Jesus said, surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age (Matthew 28:20). God’s presence gives us the courage and strength to do what we could not do on our own.
Judges 6:17 Gideon replied, If now I have found favor in your eyes, give me a sign that it is really you talking to me.
Gideon wanted to be sure the angel of the Lord was not the product of his imagination, so he asked for a sign. When Gideon prepared a meal, 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 6:21).
The Lord told Gideon to tear down his father’s altar to Baal. Since this was a dangerous task, Gideon did it when it was dark. When the people discovered what he had done, they wanted Gideon dead. But his father said, If Baal really is a god, he can defend himself (Judges 6:31). Gideon’s life was spared, but this event shows how apostate God’s people had become. They were willing to kill Gideon for opposing a false god.
Judges 6:36-37 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.
The weakness of Gideon’s faith is a little surprising. God gave him a sign, but then he wanted another. He proposed leaving some wool on the ground overnight. If the ground was dry in the morning, but the wool was wet, that would be a sign that God would do what he said. The sign was fulfilled, but Gideon feared it might be a coincidence. So he asked God to give him the opposite sign the following day. Then the ground was covered with dew, but the wool was completely dry.
Gideon’s lack of faith is not commendable, and his way of testing God’s will is not recommended. But we should understand that Gideon did not have a Bible, and was about to risk his life. He simply wanted assurance that he was doing the right thing. Many have followed Gideon’s example, but the best way to know God’s will is to learn the Bible thoroughly, and apply it wisely. Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path (Psalm 119:105), wrote the Psalmist.
Judges 7:1 Early in the morning [Gideon] and all his men camped at the spring of Harod.
Gideon had gathered an army of thirty-two thousand men. But God told Gideon to send some away, so Israel would not take credit for the victory. Gideon must have gasped when twenty-two thousand men walked away, leaving him with only ten thousand soldiers. But God thought that was still too many, so Gideon reduced the troops to only three hundred. Now the odds of victory were so remote that all the credit would go to God.
Judges 7:8-9 Now the camp of Midian lay below him in the valley. During that night the Lord said to Gideon, Get up, go down against the camp, because I am going to give it into your hands.
But Gideon was afraid, so God told him to go and listen to what the Midianites were saying. Gideon arrived just as a man was telling a friend his dream. . . . A round loaf of barley bread came tumbling into the Midianite camp. It struck the tent with such force that the tent overturned and collapsed. His friend responded, This can be nothing other than the sword of Gideon son of Joash, the Israelite. God has given the Midianites and the whole camp into his hands (Judges 7:13-14), he said.
Judges 7:15 When Gideon heard the dream and its interpretation, he bowed down and worshiped. He returned to the camp of Israel and called out, Get up! The Lord has given the Midianite camp into your hands.
Gideon gave each of his three hundred soldiers a torch, concealed by a clay jar, and also a trumpet. When the Israelites surrounded the Midianite camp, they blew their trumpets, revealed their torches, and gave a mighty shout. Three hundred torches and trumpets gave the illusion of thousands of soldiers. The Midianites panicked, and in the darkness, began to kill each other.
Here we see that God’s trumpets and torches are better than the swords of his enemies. It is not the mighty who win in the end, but the weak who put their trust in Christ. God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him (1 Corinthians 1:27-29), wrote Paul. God’s people win in the end, not because they are mighty, but because their God is mighty.
Judges 8:22 The Israelites said to Gideon, Rule over us—you, your son and your grandson—because you have saved us from the hand of Midian.
Gideon declined their request but asked for gold, from which he made a religious item. This became an idol, and All Israel prostituted themselves by worshiping it (Judges 8:27). This is a sad conclusion to Gideon’s story. The man who won the war against idolatry, led God’s people back into it.
God wants to be first in our lives, and whatever we put ahead of him is an idol—even if it is something good. Gold is good, but it can become an idol if we put it ahead of God. The same is true of health, family, pleasure and position. Without due caution, today’s devoted Christian may be tomorrow’s idolater. Dear children, keep yourselves from idols (1 John 5:21), wrote John.
Reflection and Review
Why does obeying God require courage?
How can Christians know God’s will?
How do Christians become idolaters?