The Israelites again do evil, and are delivered into the hands of the Midianites, by whom they are oppressed seven years, Judges 6:1, Judges 6:2. Different tribes spoil their harvests, and take away their cattle, Judges 6:3-5. They cry unto the Lord, and he sends them a prophet to reprehend and instruct them, Judges 6:6-10. An angel appears unto Gideon, and gives him commission to deliver Israel, and works several miracles, to prove that he is Divinely appointed to this work, Judges 6:11-23. Gideon builds an altar to the Lord, under the name of Jehovah-shalom; and throws down the altar of Baal, Judges 6:24-27. His townsmen conspire against him; he expostulates with them, and they are pacified, Judges 6:28-32. The Midianites and Amalekites gather together against Israel; Gideon summons Manasseh, Asher, Zebulun, and Naphtali, who join his standard, Judges 6:33-35. The miracle of the fleece of wool, Judges 6:36-40.
And the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD: and the LORD delivered them into the hand of Midian seven years.Delivered them unto the hand of Midian - The Midianites were among the most ancient and inveterate of the enemies of Israel. They joined with the Moabites to seduce them to idolatry, and were nearly extirpated by them; Numbers 31:1-12. The Midianites dwelt on the eastern borders of the Dead Sea, and their capital was Arnon.
And the hand of Midian prevailed against Israel: and because of the Midianites the children of Israel made them the dens which are in the mountains, and caves, and strong holds.Made them the dens which are in the mountains - Nothing can give a more distressing description of the state of the Israelites than what is here related. They durst not reside in the plain country, but were obliged to betake themselves to dens and caves of the mountains, and live like wild beasts, and were hunted like them by their adversaries.
And so it was, when Israel had sown, that the Midianites came up, and the Amalekites, and the children of the east, even they came up against them;Children of the East - Probably those who inhabited Arabia Deserta, Ishmaelites.
And they encamped against them, and destroyed the increase of the earth, till thou come unto Gaza, and left no sustenance for Israel, neither sheep, nor ox, nor ass.Encamped against them - Wandering hordes of Midianites, Amalekites, and Ishmaelites came, in the times of harvest and autumn, and carried away their crops, their fruit, and their cattle. And they appear to have come early, encamped in the plains, and watched the crops till they were ready to be carried off. This is frequently the case even to the present day.
Till thou come unto Gaza - That is, the whole breadth of the land, from Jordan to the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. Thus the whole land was ravaged, and the inhabitants deprived of the necessaries of life.
For they came up with their cattle and their tents, and they came as grasshoppers for multitude; for both they and their camels were without number: and they entered into the land to destroy it.They came up with their cattle and their tents - All this proves that they were different tribes of wanderers who had no fixed residence; but, like their descendants the Bedouins or wandering Arabs, removed from place to place to get prey for themselves and forage for their cattle.
And Israel was greatly impoverished because of the Midianites; and the children of Israel cried unto the LORD.
And it came to pass, when the children of Israel cried unto the LORD because of the Midianites,
That the LORD sent a prophet unto the children of Israel, which said unto them, Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, I brought you up from Egypt, and brought you forth out of the house of bondage;The Lord sent a prophet - The Jews say that this was Phinehas; but it is more likely that it was some prophet or teacher raised up by the Lord to warn and instruct them. Such were his witnesses, and they were raised up from time to time to declare the counsel of God to his rebellious people.
And I delivered you out of the hand of the Egyptians, and out of the hand of all that oppressed you, and drave them out from before you, and gave you their land;
And I said unto you, I am the LORD your God; fear not the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but ye have not obeyed my voice.
And there came an angel of the LORD, and sat under an oak which was in Ophrah, that pertained unto Joash the Abiezrite: and his son Gideon threshed wheat by the winepress, to hide it from the Midianites.There came an angel of the Lord - The prophet came to teach and exhort, the angel comes to confirm the word of the prophet, to call and commission him who was intended to be their deliverer, and to work miracles, in order to inspire him with supernatural courage and a confidence of success.
Ophrah - Or Ephra, was a city, or village rather, in the half tribe of Manasseh, beyond Jordan.
His son Gideon threshed wheat - This is not the only instance in which a man taken from agricultural employments was made general of an army, and the deliverer of his country. Shamgar was evidently a ploughman, and with his ox-goad he slew many Philistines, and became one of the deliverers of Israel. Cincinnatus was taken from the plough, and was made dictator and commander-in-chief of the Roman armies. There is a great similarity between his case and that of Gideon.
Threshed wheat by the winepress - This was a place of privacy; he could not make a threshing-floor in open day as the custom was, and bring either the wheel over the grain, or tread it out with the feet of the oxen, for fear of the Midianites, who were accustomed to come and take it away as soon as threshed. He got a few sheaves from the field, and brought them home to have them privately threshed for the support of the family. As there could be no vintage among the Israelites in their present distressed circumstances, the winepress would never be suspected by the Midianites to be the place of threshing corn.
And the angel of the LORD appeared unto him, and said unto him, The LORD is with thee, thou mighty man of valour.The Lord is with thee - "The Word of the Lord is with thee, thou mighty man of valor." - Targum. It appears that Gideon had proved himself, on former occasions, to be a man of courage and personal prowess; and this would naturally excite the confidence of his countrymen. God chooses for his work those instruments which, in the course of his operations in nature and providence, he has qualified for his purpose. The instruments thus chosen are generally unlikely, but they will be ever found the best qualified for the Divine employment.
And Gideon said unto him, Oh my Lord, if the LORD be with us, why then is all this befallen us? and where be all his miracles which our fathers told us of, saying, Did not the LORD bring us up from Egypt? but now the LORD hath forsaken us, and delivered us into the hands of the Midianites.And Gideon said unto him - This speech is remarkable for its energy and simplicity; it shows indeed a measure of despondency, but not more than the circumstances of the case justified.
And the LORD looked upon him, and said, Go in this thy might, and thou shalt save Israel from the hand of the Midianites: have not I sent thee?Go in this thy might - What does the angel mean? He had just stated that Jehovah was with him; and he now says, Go in This thy might, i.e., in the might of Jehovah, who is with thee.
And he said unto him, Oh my Lord, wherewith shall I save Israel? behold, my family is poor in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father's house.Wherewith shall I save Israel? - I have neither men nor money.
Behold, my family is poor in Manasseh - הנה אלפי הדל, Behold, my thousand is impoverished. Tribes were anciently divided into tens, and fifties, and hundreds, and thousands; the thousands therefore marked grand divisions, and consequently numerous families; Gideon here intimates that the families of which he made a part were very much diminished. But if we take אלפי alpey for the contracted form of the plural, which is frequently in Hebrew nouns joined with a verb in the singular, then the translation will be, "The thousands in Manasseh are thinned;" i.e., this tribe is greatly reduced, and can do little against their enemies.
And the LORD said unto him, Surely I will be with thee, and thou shalt smite the Midianites as one man.Thou shalt smite the Midianites as one man - Thou shalt as surely conquer all their host as if thou hadst but one man to contend with; or, Thou shalt destroy them to a man.
And he said unto him, If now I have found grace in thy sight, then shew me a sign that thou talkest with me.Show me a sign - Work a miracle, that I may know that thou hast wisdom and power sufficient to authorize and quality me for the work.
Depart not hence, I pray thee, until I come unto thee, and bring forth my present, and set it before thee. And he said, I will tarry until thou come again.And bring forth my present - My minchah; generally an offering of bread, wine, oil, flour, and such like. It seems from this that Gideon supposed the person to whom he spoke to be a Divine person. Nevertheless, what he prepared and brought out appears to be intended simply as an entertainment to refresh a respectable stranger.
And Gideon went in, and made ready a kid, and unleavened cakes of an ephah of flour: the flesh he put in a basket, and he put the broth in a pot, and brought it out unto him under the oak, and presented it.Made ready a kid - the flesh he put in a basket, and he put the broth in a pot - The manner in which the Arabs entertain strangers will cast light on this verse. Dr. Shaw observes: "Besides a bowl of milk, and a basket of figs, raisins, or dates, which upon our arrival were presented to us to stay our appetite, the master of the tent fetched us from his flock according to the number of our company, a kid or a goat, a lamb or a sheep; half of which was immediately seethed by his wife, and served up with cucasoe; the rest was made kab-ab, i.e., cut to pieces and roasted, which we reserved for our breakfast or dinner next day." May we not suppose, says Mr. Harmer, that Gideon, presenting some slight refreshment to the supposed prophet, according to the present Arab mode, desired him to stay till he could provide something more substantial; that he immediately killed a kid, seethed part of it, and, when ready, brought out the stewed meat in a pot, with unleavened cakes of bread which he had baked; and the other part, the kab-ab, in a basket, for him to carry with him for some after-repast in his journey. See Shaw's and Pococke's Travels, and Harmer's Observations.
Brought it out unto him under the oak - Probably where he had a tent, which, with the shade of the oak, sheltered them from the heat of the sun, and yet afforded the privilege of the refreshing breeze. Under a shade in the open air the Arabs, to the present day, are accustomed to receive their guests.
And the angel of God said unto him, Take the flesh and the unleavened cakes, and lay them upon this rock, and pour out the broth. And he did so.Take the flesh, etc. - The angel intended to make the flesh and bread an offering to God, and the broth a libation.
Then the angel of the LORD put forth the end of the staff that was in his hand, and touched the flesh and the unleavened cakes; and there rose up fire out of the rock, and consumed the flesh and the unleavened cakes. Then the angel of the LORD departed out of his sight.The angel - put forth the end of the staff - He appeared like a traveler with a staff in his hand; this he put forth, and having touched the flesh, fire rose out of the rock and consumed it. Here was the most evident proof of supernatural agency.
Then the angel - departed out of his sight - Though the angel vanished out of his sight, yet God continued to converse with him either by secret inspiration in his own heart, or by an audible voice.
And when Gideon perceived that he was an angel of the LORD, Gideon said, Alas, O Lord GOD! for because I have seen an angel of the LORD face to face.Alas, O Lord God! for because I have seen - This is an elliptical sentence, a natural expression of the distressed state of Gideon's mind: as if he had said, Have mercy on me, O Lord God! else I shall die; because I have seen an angel of Jehovah face to face. We have frequently seen that it was a prevalent sentiment, as well before as under the law, that if any man saw God, or his representative angel he must surely die. On this account Gideon is alarmed, and prays for his life. This notion prevailed among the heathens, and we find an instance of it in the fable of Jupiter and Semele. She wished to see his glory; she saw it, and was struck dead by the effulgence. See the notes on Exodus 33:20. We find that a similar opinion prevailed very anciently among the Greeks. In the hymn of Callimachus, Εις Λουτρα της Παλλαδος, ver. 100, are these words: -
Κρονιοι δ' ὡδε λεγοντι νομοι·
Ὁς κε τιν' αθανατων, ὁκα μη θεος αυτος ἑληται,
Αθρησῃ, μισθῳ τουτον ιδειν μεγαλῳ.
"The laws of Saturn enact, that if any man see any of the immortal gods, unless that god himself shall choose it, he shall pay dearly for that sight."
And the LORD said unto him, Peace be unto thee; fear not: thou shalt not die.Fear not: thou shalt not die - Here the discovery is made by God himself: Gideon is not curiously prying into forbidden mysteries, therefore he shall not die.
Then Gideon built an altar there unto the LORD, and called it Jehovahshalom: unto this day it is yet in Ophrah of the Abiezrites.Gideon built an altar - and called it Jehovah-shalom - The words יהוה שלום Yehovah shalom signify The Lord is my peace, or The peace of Jehovah; and this name he gave the altar, in reference to what God had said, Judges 6:23, Peace be unto thee, שלום לך shalom lecha, "Peace to thee;" which implied, not only a wish, but a prediction of the prosperous issue of the enterprise in which he was about to engage. It is likely that this is the altar which is mentioned in Judges 6:26, and is spoken of here merely by anticipation.
And it came to pass the same night, that the LORD said unto him, Take thy father's young bullock, even the second bullock of seven years old, and throw down the altar of Baal that thy father hath, and cut down the grove that is by it:Take thy father's young bullock, even the second bullock - There is some difficulty in this verse, for, according to the Hebrew text, two bullocks are mentioned here; but there is only one mentioned in Judges 6:26, Judges 6:28. But what was this second bullock? Some think that it was a bullock that was fattened in order to be offered in sacrifice to Baal. This is very probable, as the second bullock is so particularly distinguished from another which belonged to Gideon's father. As the altar was built upon the ground of Joash, yet appears to have been public property, (see Judges 6:29, Judges 6:30), so this second ox was probably reared and fattened at the expense of the men of that village, else why should they so particularly resent its being offered to Jehovah?
And build an altar unto the LORD thy God upon the top of this rock, in the ordered place, and take the second bullock, and offer a burnt sacrifice with the wood of the grove which thou shalt cut down.With the wood of the grove - It is probable that אשרה Asherah here signifies Astarte; and that there was a wooden image of this goddess on the altar of Baal. Baal-peor was the same as Priapus, Astarte as Venus; these two impure idols were proper enough for the same altar. In early times, and among rude people, the images of the gods were made of wood. This is the case still with the inhabitants of the South Sea Islands, with the Indians of America, and with the inhabitants of Ceylon: many of the images of Budhoo are of wood. The Scandinavians also had wooden gods.
Then Gideon took ten men of his servants, and did as the LORD had said unto him: and so it was, because he feared his father's household, and the men of the city, that he could not do it by day, that he did it by night.He feared his father's household - So it appears that his father was an idolater: but as Gideon had ten men of his own servants whom he could trust in this matter, it is probable that he had preserved the true faith, and had not bowed his knee to the image of Baal.
And when the men of the city arose early in the morning, behold, the altar of Baal was cast down, and the grove was cut down that was by it, and the second bullock was offered upon the altar that was built.The second bullock was offered - It appears that the second bullock was offered because it was just seven years old, Judges 6:25, being calved about the time that the Midianitish oppression began; and it was now to be slain to indicate that their slavery should end with its life. The young bullock, Judges 6:25, is supposed to have been offered for a peace-offering; the bullock of seven years old, for a burnt-offering.
And they said one to another, Who hath done this thing? And when they inquired and asked, they said, Gideon the son of Joash hath done this thing.Gideon the son of Joash hath done this thing - They fixed on him the more readily because they knew he had not joined with them in their idolatrous worship.
Then the men of the city said unto Joash, Bring out thy son, that he may die: because he hath cast down the altar of Baal, and because he hath cut down the grove that was by it.The men of the city said - They all felt an interest in the continuance of rites in which they had often many sensual gratifications. Baal and Ashtaroth would have more worshippers than the true God, because their rites were more adapted to the fallen nature of man.
And Joash said unto all that stood against him, Will ye plead for Baal? will ye save him? he that will plead for him, let him be put to death whilst it is yet morning: if he be a god, let him plead for himself, because one hath cast down his altar.Will ye plead for Baal? - The words are very emphatic "Will ye plead in earnest תריבן for Baal? Will ye תושיען really save him? If he be God, אלהים Elohim, let him contend for himself, seeing his altar is thrown down." The paragogic letters in the words plead and save greatly increase the sense. Joash could not slay his son; but he was satisfied he had insulted Baal: if Baal were the true God, he would avenge his own injured honor. This was a sentiment among the heathens. Thus Tacitus, lib. i., c. 73, A.U.C. 768, mentioning the letter of Tiberius to the consuls in behalf of Cassius and Rubrius, two Roman knights, one of whom was accused of having sold a statue of Augustus in the auction of his gardens; and the other, of having sworn falsely by the name of Augustus, who had been deified by the senate; among other things makes him say: Non ideo decretum patri suo coelum, ut in perniciem civium is honor verteretur. Nec contra religiones fieri quod effigies ejus, utalia nu minum simulachra, venditionibus hortorum et domuum accedant. Jusjurandum perinde aestimandum quam si Jovem fefellisset: deorum injuriae diis curae - "That Divine honors were not decreed to his father (Augustus) to lay snares for the citizens; and if his statue, in common with the images of the gods in general, was put up to sale with the houses and gardens, it could not be considered an injury to religion. That any false oath must be considered as an attempt to deceive Jupiter himself; but the gods themselves must take cognizance of the injuries done unto them." Livy has a similar sentiment, Hist. lib. x., c. 6, where, speaking of some attempts made to increase the number of the augurs out of the commons, with which the senators were displeased, he says: Simulabant ad deos id magis, quam ad se pertinere; ipsos visuros, ne sacra sua polluantur. - "They pretended that these things belonged more to the gods than themselves; and that they would take care that their sacred rites were not polluted."
Therefore on that day he called him Jerubbaal, saying, Let Baal plead against him, because he hath thrown down his altar.He called him Jerubbaal - That is, Let Baal contend; changed, 2 Samuel 11:21, into Jerubbesheth, he shall contend against confusion or shame; thus changing baal, lord, into bosheth, confusion or ignominy. Some think that Jerubbaal was the same with Jerombalus, who, according to Sanchoniatho and Porphyry, was a priest of Jevo. But the history of Sanchoniatho is probably a forgery of Porphyry himself, and worthy of no credit.
Then all the Midianites and the Amalekites and the children of the east were gathered together, and went over, and pitched in the valley of Jezreel.Then all the Midianites - Hearing of what Gideon had done, and apprehending that this might be a forerunner of attempts to regain their liberty, they formed a general association against Israel.
But the Spirit of the LORD came upon Gideon, and he blew a trumpet; and Abiezer was gathered after him.The Spirit of the Lord came upon Gideon - He was endued with preternatural courage and wisdom.
And he sent messengers throughout all Manasseh; who also was gathered after him: and he sent messengers unto Asher, and unto Zebulun, and unto Naphtali; and they came up to meet them.
And Gideon said unto God, If thou wilt save Israel by mine hand, as thou hast said,If thou wilt save Israel - Gideon was very bold, and God was very condescending. But probably the request itself was suggested by the Divine Spirit. On the miracle of the fleece, dew, and dry ground, Origen, in his eighth homily on the book of Judges, has many curious and interesting thoughts, I shall insert the substance of the whole: - 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. The fleece on the threshing-floor, the Jewish people in the land of Judea, winnowed, purged, and fanned by the Gospel. The dew wrung out into the bowl, the doctrines of Christianity, extracted from the Jewish writings, shadowed forth by Christ's pouring water into a basin, and washing the disciples' feet. The pious father concludes that he has now wrung this water out of the fleece of the book of Judges, as he hopes by and by to do out of the fleece of the book of Kings, and out of the fleece of the book of Isaiah or Jeremiah; and he has received it into the basin of his heart, and there conceived its true sense; and is desirous to wash the feet of his brethren, that they may be able to walk in the way of the preparation of the Gospel of peace. - Origen, Op. vol. ii., p. 475, edit. Benedict. All this to some will doubtless appear trifling; but it is not too much to say that scarcely any pious mind can consider the homily of this excellent man without drinking into a measure of the same spirit, so much sincerity, deep piety, and unction, appear throughout the whole: yet as I do not follow such practices, I cannot recommend them. Of dealers in such small wares, we have many that imitate Benjamin Keach, but few that come nigh to Origen.
Behold, I will put a fleece of wool in the floor; and if the dew be on the fleece only, and it be dry upon all the earth beside, then shall I know that thou wilt save Israel by mine hand, as thou hast said.
And it was so: for he rose up early on the morrow, and thrust the fleece together, and wringed the dew out of the fleece, a bowl full of water.
And Gideon said unto God, Let not thine anger be hot against me, and I will speak but this once: let me prove, I pray thee, but this once with the fleece; let it now be dry only upon the fleece, and upon all the ground let there be dew.
And God did so that night: for it was dry upon the fleece only, and there was dew on all the ground.