Good morning! Today in Judges 6-8 we read of Gideon, a meek man whom God uses to deliver Israel from the oppressive Midianites, and whose success then leads him to take on idolatrous power for himself.
When we meet Gideon in Judges 6, it’s at a time when Midian’s occupying forces devastate the land of Israel (and a prophet declares this is because of Israel’s worship of foreign gods). An angel of the Lord comes to Gideon under the oak at Ophrah. Their subsequent encounter has echoes of Abram and Sarai hosting an angel of the Lord at the oaks of Mamre in Genesis 18. Commissioned to deliver Israel, Gideon protests that he’s least in his family, of the weakest clan in the small, divided tribe of Manasseh. In keeping with the Genesis stories of God working through weaker outsiders, we should expect that God would especially like to work through one such as Gideon. At God’s command, Gideon destroys his father’s shrines to other gods and replaces them with an altar to God, sacrificing his father’s bull. (Note that there is no sense of untouchable priestly piety here, nor of the centrality of one shrine, or the need to be a descendant of Aaron to make a sacrifice.) Gideon does so at night for fear of being discovered, but when these actions are traced back to him, his father comes to his defense. Powerful Midianites and others interpret this as rebellion and gather together against him. Gideon now has found his fighting spirit and sounds the trumpet of battle, calling together warriors from the surrounding tribes to fight and gaining reassurance with supernatural signs that God would be with the forces of Israel.
The already-outnumbered forces of Israel still aren’t sufficiently weak in God’s eyes, and so might think that the coming victory by God’s hand is actually through their own power. Therefore, in Judges 7 Gideon winnows out the great majority of troops who have arrayed to fight for Israel, leaving only 300 men against over a hundred thousand (if we are to believe the account here). Bolstered by a dream prophesying the success of his little band against the Midianite multitude, Gideon takes advantage of the nighttime to surround the enemy camp and make it sound like a great army was attacking. The Midianite army flees in terror, while pursuing Israelites chase them and kill their two captains.
Judges 8 gives us “the rest of the story”, after Gideon’s success in battle puffs him up a bit. He takes vengeance on two towns that denied food to his solders. We learn in subsequent conversation with the two captured Midianite kings that they killed Gideon’s brothers, and then Gideon tries to make his young son kill them, finishing the job when the boy is unable. Israel names Gideon their ruler, and though he declares God as their only rightful ruler some of his power must have gone to his head. He takes gold from the vanquished enemies and makes a sleeveless garment (an ephod, originally worn only by the high priest). It becomes an idol for Gideon and all Israel, who bow down to it in Gideon’s home town.
One theme I take away from this account is that God words best in those who don’t know their own strength. Humility and vulnerability are fertile states for God to manifest deliverance. This is a broader biblical theme, emerging regularly in both testaments. Other themes are the corrupting influence of power and the ongoing attraction of idols. (Upon Gideon’s death, the fickle Israelites go back to their worship of other gods.) What else do you find of interest in these chapters? Happy reading!
Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. The passage for tomorrow is Judges 9-11. Thanks for reading!