Judges 6 Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
Judges 6
Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
VI.

Judges 6:1-6. A new apostasy, punished by the oppression of Midian. Judges 6:7-10. The rebuke delivered by a prophet, Judges 6:11-14. An angel appears to Gideon and bids him deliver Israel, and (Judges 6:15-18) removes his doubts. Judges 6:19-23. The offering to the angel, and his disappearance. Judges 6:24. Gideon builds the altar Jehovah-shalom, and (Judges 6:25-27) hews down his father’s Baal and Asherah in the night. Judges 6:28-32. Joash pacifies the Abi-ezrites by appealing to them to let Baal plead his own cause. Judges 6:33-35. Gideon rouses Manasseh and northern tribes against a new Midianite invasion. Judges 6:36-40. The double sign of the fleece.

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.
(1) Did evil.Judges 2:11; Judges 3:12; Judges 4:1.

Midian.—Midian was the son of Adraham and Keturah (Genesis 25:2), and from him descended the numerous and wealthy nomadic tribes which occupied the plains east of Moab (Numbers 31:32-39). The name belongs, properly, to the tribes on the south-east of the Gulf of Akabah (1Kings 11:18). Moses himself had lived for forty years among them (Exodus 3:1; Exodus 18:1); but the Israelites had been bidden to maintain deadly hostility against the nation because of the shameful worship of Baal-peor, to which, under the instigation of Balaam, the Midianites had tempted them (Numbers 25:1-18).

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.
(2) The hand of Midian prevailed.—See Judges 3:10. This oppression is wholly different from that with which we have been dealing in the last chapter. That was the last great attempt of the old inhabitants to recover their lost country; this is a foreign invasion.

The dens which are in the mountains.—The word mineharoth, rendered dens (LXX., mandrai), occurs here only. Rashi and Kimchi render it, “caves lighted from above,” deriving it from neharah, “light” (Job 3:4). They were probably thinking of the subterranean galleries like those found by Wetzstein in the Hauran (p. 45). R. Tanchum and others take it to mean fire-signals. But the more probable derivation is nahar, “a river,” and then the meaning is “torrent-gullies,” which they easily converted into places of concealment, since the limestone hills of Palestine abound in caves. Josephus understood it to mean mines and caverns (Antt. v. 6. § 1). (Comp. 1Samuel 13:6 : “When the men of Israel saw that they were in a strait, then the people did hide themselves in caves, and in thickets, and in rocks, and in high places, and in pits.” Hebrews 11:38 : “in dens and caves of the earth.”) Three places of hiding are mentioned: (1) The mineharoth, perhaps catacombs and galleries in the rocks, which, as the article shows, were pointed out long afterwards. (2) Craggy peaks, like Rimmon, Magada, &c. (3) “Limestone caves, here first mentioned, and afterwards often used, like the Corycian cave in Greece during the Persian invasion, and the caves of the Asturias in Spain during the occupation of the Moors. It was returning to the old troglodyte habits of the Horites and Phoenicians” (Stanley, i. 340). These caves were used, long afterwards, by the brigands whom Herod and the Romans found it so hard to extirpate.

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;
(3) When Israel had sown.—The invasions of these Arab tribes were of the most crushing and irritating kind. Living in idleness and marauding expeditions, they let the Israelites sow their corn, and came themselves to reap and carry it away. They said, “Let us take to ourselves the pastures of God”—i.e., the rich, blessed pastures—“in possession” (Psalm 83:12). Alyattes, king of Lydia, treated the people of Miletus in exactly the same way, leaving their houses un-destroyed, solely that they might be tempted to return to them, and plough and sow once more (Herod. i. 17). The same thing goes on to this day. The wretched Fellahîn, neglected and oppressed by the effete and corrupt Turkish Government, sow their corn, with the constant dread that they are but sowing it for the Bedouin, who yearly plunder them, unrepressed and unpunished. Hence the squalid towns and villages of the Fellahîn abound in huge subterranean places of concealment, in which they stow away their corn, and everything else of value which they possess, to save them from these wild marauders.

The Amalekites.—See Judges 3:13; Genesis 36:12.

The children of the east.—Benî Kedem (Genesis 25:6; Job 1:3) is a general name for Arabs, as Josephus rightly calls them. From Judges 8:26 we can derive a picture of their chiefs in their gorgeous robes and golden ear-rings, mounted on dromedaries and camels, of which the necks were hung with moon-shaped ornaments of gold.

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.
(4) They encamped against them.—It is not implied that there were any battles. The Israelites were too wretched and helpless to offer any resistance. These Arabs would swarm over the Jordan, at the fords of Bethshean, about harvest-time, and would sweep away the produce of the rich plain of Jezreel and the whole Shephelah, even as far south as Gaza. (Comp. the Scythian invasion, alluded to in Zephaniah 2:5-6.)

Destroyed the increase of the earth.—“Ye shall sow your seed in vain, for your enemies shall eat it” (Leviticus 26:16). (Comp. Deuteronomy 28:30; Deuteronomy 28:51; Micah 6:15.)

No sustenance for Israel.—No support of life, or, as some render the word, “nothing alive.”

Sheep.—The margin has, “or goat.” The word means “smaller cattle.”

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.
(5) As grasshoppers.—See Judges 7:12. Rather, as locusts. The magnificent imagery of Joel 2:2-11 enables us to realise the force of the metaphor, and Exodus 10:4-6 the number of locusts, which are a common metaphor for countless hordes. Aristophanes (Ach. 150) speaks of an army so numerous that the Athenians will cry out, “What a mass of locusts is coming!” The Bedouin call the locusts Gurrud Allah, “Host of God” (Wetzstein, Hauran, p. 138).

Their camels.—These were very uncommon in Palestine, and were brought by the invaders from the Eastern deserts.

Without number.—This is Oriental hyperbole. “When Burckhardt asked a Bedouin, who belonged to a tribe of 300 tents, how many brothers he had, he flung a handful of sand into the air, and replied, ‘Equally numberless’” (Cassel).

And Israel was greatly impoverished because of the Midianites; and the children of Israel cried unto the LORD.
(6) Impoverished.—The LXX. render it, “was reduced to pauperism.” The word implies flaccidity and helplessness, “as of a door hanging loose on its hinges, or a sere leaf shaking on a tree.”

Cried unto the Lord.—See Judges 3:9; Judges 3:15; Judges 4:3; Psalm 107:13; Hosea 5:15.

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;
(8) A prophet.—He is here left nameless, but Jewish legend says that he was Phinehas, the son of Eleazar. Their Hagadah (legendary information) generally enables them to name these nameless prophets. Thus they say that the prophet who came to Bethel was Iddo (1 Kings 13), and that the young man who anointed Jehu was Jonah.

Unto the children of Israel.—Perhaps assembled at some solemn feast, like the Passover.

I brought you up.—With the prophet’s message compare Judges 2:1-3; 2Kings 17:36-38.

Out of the house of bondage.—A clear reference to Exodus 20:2. (Comp. Psalm 44:1-2.)

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.
(10) The gods of the Amorites.—See Joshua 24:15; 1Kings 21:26. As the Amorites seem to have been the highlanders of Palestine, and the most powerful of all the Canaanitish tribes, their name is sometimes used for that of all the Canaanites (Joshua 24:15). Thus Heber says:—

“As when five monarchs led to Gibeon’s fight

In rude array the harnessed Amorite.”

No deliverance can be promised till repentance has begun. When the warnings of the prophet are heeded the mission of the deliverer begins.

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.
(11) There came an angel of the Lord.—It is obviously absurd to suppose, as some have done, that a prophet is intended, like the one in Judges 6:8. There the word is Nabi, here it is Maleak-Jehovah, as in Judges 2:1. Josephus, when he says that “a phantasm stood by him in the shape of a youth,” is merely actuated by his usual desire to give the story as classical an aspect as possible for his Gentile readers.

Under an oak.—Rather, under the terebinth (haêlah):—some well-known tree beside the altar in Ophrath. (Comp. Genesis 35:4.)

Ophrah.—This Ophrah was in Western Manasseh. There was another in Benjamin (Joshua 18:23). The name means “fawn,” and the place is identified by Van de Velde with Erfai, near the north border of Ephraim.

Joash the Abi-ezrite.—Joash was the head of the family which descended from Abiezer, the son of Gilead, the son of Machir, the son of Manasseh (Numbers 26:30; Joshua 17:2).

Gideon.—The name means “hewer.”

Threshed wheat by the winepress.—Perhaps, rather, beating it out than threshing it, as in Ruth 2:17 (LXX., rhabdizōn). There would hardly be room for regular threshing in the confined space of a winepress, for wine-presses were vats sunk in the ground.

To hide it.—Literally, to make it fly (Exodus 9:20). The threshing-floors—open circular places in the fields where the corn was trodden out by oxen—would naturally be the first places where an invading enemy would come to forage, as in 1Samuel 23:1.

And the angel of the LORD appeared unto him, and said unto him, The LORD is with thee, thou mighty man of valour.
(12) The Lord is with thee, thou mighty man of valour.—Three words in the Hebrew: Jehovah immekā, Gibbor. It was once a salutation and a blessing. (Comp. Joshua 1:5; Luke 1:28). The address seems to show that Gideon had already distinguished himself by bravery in war; it can hardly refer to the vigour with which he was wielding the flail. Only the second and third of the three epochs of his life are narrated; but we see from scattered glimpses that he and his brothers had possibly taken part already in some battle on Mount Tabor—possibly even (so scanty are all our details, and so little certain is the chronology) in the struggle against the Canaanites (Judges 8:18; Judges 4:6); that he was a man of kingly presence, and had a youthful son; that he had numerous slaves, and even an armour-bearer (Judges 7:10; Judges 8:20).

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.
(13) Oh my Lord.—The title is here only one of courtesy (adoni, like kurie; “sir” in John 20:19, &c.),for Gideon only saw in the angel a stranger seated beneath the terebinth which overshadowed the rock-hewn wine-vat in which he was working.

Why then is all this befallen us?—See Deuteronomy 31:17 : “Are not these evils come upon us, because our God is not among us?” The words “all this” sound like an echo of Gideon’s gloomy thoughts—the thoughts of his country and his brothers, which had been darkening his soul amid his hard toil. “A mighty indication of God’s favour to me that I am forced to use this wine-press instead of a threshing-floor” (Jos.).

Where be all his miracles?—See Psalm 78:12; Psalm 89:49.

The Lord hath forsaken us.—See Psalm 13:1; 2Chronicles 15:2 : “If ye forsake him, he will forsake you.”

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?
(14) The Lord looked upon him.—Here, as in Genesis 18:13; Genesis 18:17; Genesis 18:20, the angel speaks as the Lord, and it has been hence inferred that this angel was no created angel, but “the angel of the covenant,” “the captain of the Lord’s host.” The only other possible conclusion is to say that the angel only speaks as the mouth of God (comp. Revelation 21:15; Revelation 22:6-7). No doubt the expression is here literal, but it involves the sense of favour and acceptance (Psalm 25:6; Vulg., respexit). The look inspired him with fresh force. The reason why the LXX. retain the phrase “the angel of the Lord” throughout is because they had the true Alexandrian dislike for all anthropomorphic expressions—i.e., for all expressions which seemed to them to lower the invisible and unapproachable majesty of the Almighty.

Have not I sent thee?—See 1Samuel 12:11 : “The Lord sent Jerubbaal.”

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.
(15) Oh my Lord.—Here our version deliberately adopts the reading adonî, as in Judges 6:13, and the reason for this reading is that Gideon does not appear to have fully recognised the angel till his disappearance (Judges 6:22). The reading of the Hebrew MSS., however, is Adonai, “Lord;” and if it be correct, we must suppose that Gideon addresses God as recognising that the message came from Him.

Wherewith shall I save Israel?—We repeatedly find this preliminary diffidence of humility in those whom God selects for His service. (Comp. Exodus 4:1-13; 1Samuel 9:21; Isaiah 6:5; Jeremiah 1:6-7, &c.)

My family.—Literally, my thousand (Exodus 18:21; 1Samuel 10:19).

Poor.—Rather, the meanest, as is shown by the article “my thousand is the mean one,” just as David is called “the little one” of his brethren (1Samuel 18:14). What had caused this depression of the house of Abiezer we do not know, but it may have been due in part to the overweening pride of Ephraim.

I am the least in my father’s house.—He was also the last of his father’s house. All his brethren had been slain.

And the LORD said unto him, Surely I will be with thee, and thou shalt smite the Midianites as one man.
(16) I will be with thee.—See Exodus 3:12; Joshua 1:5.

Smite the Midianites as one man.—See Chap’

19 1:8; Numbers 14:15.

And he said unto him, If now I have found grace in thy sight, then shew me a sign that thou talkest with me.
(17) I have found grace in thy sight.—A phrase found both in the Old and New Testament. (See Genesis 6:8; Esther 5:8.)

Shew me a sign that thou talkest with me.—Give me some clear proof that this is no mere vision, and that thy message is really from God, and portends me favour. (See Psalm 86:17; Isaiah 7:11.)

Depart not hence.—Comp. 1Kings 13:15.

My present.—My minchah. The word means first “an offering,” but specially “an offering to God,” as throughout the Book of Leviticus for the meat-offering of flour, &c. Hence the LXX. render it “the sacrifice”: “and I will sacrifice before thee.” Gideon seems, however, purposely to use a neutral word, suspecting, but not yet being convinced, that the stranger under the terebinth is something more than man. The desire to be hospitable may have mingled with his deepening sense of awe. (Comp. Judges 13:15; Genesis 18:6.)

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.
(19) Unleavened cakes.—Because these were most quickly made, as by Lot for the angels, and by the Witch of Endor for Saul (Genesis 19:3; 1Samuel 28:24).

Of an ephah of flour.—About 22½ lbs. A homer would have been sufficient, as we see from Exodus 16:16. An ephah is ten homers; but Eastern hospitality considers nothing to be too lavish.

Presented it.—See Judges 13:19. The Vatican MS. of the LXX. renders it “approached,” which is inadequate, and the other MSS. “worshipped,” which is too strong. The word has a middle sense: “offered it with respect and reverence.”

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.
(20) The angel of God.—Here alone in the chapter called “the angel of Elohim” and not “of Jehovah.”

Upon this rock.—Rather, upon yonder crag. The living rock (Exodus 20:22) served well as an altar.

Pour out the broth.—Comp. Genesis 35:14; Exodus 30:9; 1Kings 18:34. In the first of these instances the “drink offering” is used as a libation; in the last Elijah pours the sea-water on the sacrifice, to show the impossibility of any deception. In 2 Maccabees 1:20-36 Nehemiah pours the thick water,” called “Naphthai,” on the sacrifice, and when the sun shone “there was a great fire kindled, so that every man marvelled.”

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.
(21) The staff that was in his hand.—The ordinary accompaniment of an Eastern traveller (Genesis 32:10; Matthew 10:10).

There rose up fire.—The common sign of God’s presence and of His acceptance of an offering. (See Leviticus 9:24; 1Kings 18:24; 1Chronicles 21:26; 2Chronicles 7:1.) Water is brought out of the rock for the blessing of man, and fire to show the presence of God.

Departed.—It is not said, as in Judges 13:20, that he ascended in the flame.

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.
(22) When Gideon perceived.—The last sign gave him a deeper sense than before of the grandeur of the messenger who had come to him.

Alas !—There is no need to supply “I shall die” at the end of the clause, but that this was the apprehension in Gideon’s mind is shown by his cry of alarm.

For because.—Rather, for to this end. The belief that death or misfortune would be the result of looking on any Divine being was universal among the Jews. We find it in Judges 13:22; Genesis 16:13; Genesis 32:30; Exodus 20:19; Deuteronomy 5:24-25. He said, “Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live” (Exodus 33:20; Isaiah 6:5; Luke 5:8). The existence of the same belief among the heathen is shown in the legends of Semele, Actæon, Psyche, &c.; and Callimachus sings, “Whosoever, save by God’s own choice, looks on any of the immortals, sees them only to his own great cost.”

And the LORD said unto him, Peace be unto thee; fear not: thou shalt not die.
(23) The Lord said unto him.—How this intimation was given we are not told. The LXX. do not here change “the Lord” into “the angel of the Lord.”

Peace be unto thee; fear not.—Comp. Daniel 10:7-9; Daniel 10:19; Ezekiel 1:28 to Ezekiel 2:1; Mark 16:8; Luke 1:13; Luke 2:10; Revelation 1:17, &c.

Then Gideon built an altar there unto the LORD, and called it Jehovahshalom: unto this day it is yet in Ophrah of the Abiezrites.
(24) Built an altar.—Altars, like the altar Ed (Joshua 22:34), built by the Transjordanic tribes, were not always intended for purposes of sacrifices, but to witness some great event or Divine appearance (Genesis 31:48, Genesis 26:25; Exodus 17:15).

Jehovah-shalom.—“The Lord is peace.” We find similar names in Jehovah-jireh, “the Lord will provide” (Genesis 22:14); Jehovah-nissi, “the Lord my banner” (Exodus 17:15); and Jehovah-tsidkenn, “the Lord our righteousness” (Jeremiah 23:6). (Comp. Ezekiel 48:35.) See Pearson on the Creed, Art. 2.

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:
(25) The Lord said unto him.—Luther rightly observes that by such expressions we are not at all meant to understand a voice in the air. It is useless, and therefore undesirable, to speculate as to the exact manner in which the Divine intimation came to him. When God speaks it is not possible for man to mistake His voice. It was distinctly revealed to Gideon that he must be an iconoclast before he could be a deliverer.

Even the second bullock.—It has been disputed whether the true rendering is “even” or “and.” Ewald makes it mean “even,” and explains shani (second) to mean “old” (Gesch. ii.498). The LXX., the Vulgate, Luther, &c, render it “and,” as in the margin of our version. This seems to be the right rendering; for (1) the labour of two bullocks would not be too much for the task before Gideon; (2) a bullock (shor) of seven yeàrs old would hardly be called a young bullock: literally, “a heifer (par), son of an ox.”

Of seven years old.—The Chaldee renders it, “which has been fattened for seven years,” and there is very possibly an allusion to the seven years of the Midianite oppression (Judges 6:1). The law had not prescribed any fixed age for burnt offerings. Why the bullock is called the second bullock” is very uncertain, but this minute and unexplained detail shows that we are not moving in the region of legend. The first bullock is said to belong to Joash, and we must, therefore, probably suppose that the second was Gideon’s own. Possibly in this circumstance we may see an explanation of these minute directions, and the significance which they were intended to bear. The first bullock had been intended by Joash as a sacrifice to Baal, and is used in the destruction of his altar; the second had, perhaps, been reserved by Gideon as a sacrifice to the Lord when better times should come—a votive offering, which was being fattened for the longed-for day of deliverance. This bullock is sacrificed to Jehovah, and the fact that it, too, has been used for the destruction of the Canaanite idols is a sign to Gideon that the day for which he had hoped has come.

Throw down.—As commanded in Exodus 32:13; Deuteronomy 7:5.

The altar of Baal.—Rather, of the Baal, i.e., of that particular Phœnician idol which your father worships. (Comp. 1Kings 16:32.)

That thy father hath.—This shows that Joash had joined with other Israelites in the apostasy, which had provoked the Midianite oppression. The words are literally, which is to thy father, as in the previous clause; and the pointed repetition of these words tends to confirm the conjecture mentioned in the previous note. It is called especially Joash’s altar because, though used by the whole city (Judges 6:28), he was the head of the Abi-ezrites.

The grove.—Rather, the Asherah, as in Judges 3:7. Baal, the sun,” and the nature goddess Asherah—who is often confused with Astarte—were worshipped in conjunction (1Kings 16:31-32; 2Kings 13:6; 2Kings 18:16; 2Kings 24:3-6).

That is by it.—Rather, that is upon it. No mention is made of the image of Baal. Possibly the sun was worshipped at this altar without any idol, and the Asherah—perhaps a mere wooden pillar or gross emblem of phallic nature-worship—was placed upon it. It was the first law of God’s worship that He was one God and therefore “jealous” against that easy combination of idolatries which is common to all forms of Polytheism. “Baal’s altar must be overthrown before God’s altar is built.”

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.
(26) Of this rock.—The word is not selah, as in Judges 6:20, or tsor, as in Judges 6:21, but malioz, “stronghold,” probably the citadel of Ophrah. The LXX. render it as a proper name (maoz), or in some MSS., on the top of this mountain.” The word only occurs elsewhere in Hebrew poetry.

In the ordered place.—The margin reads, “in an orderly manner;” but probably neither version is quite correct. The Hebrew word is bammaarachah (comp. Leviticus 24:6; 2Chronicles 2:4); and as the particle be is used of the materials with which a thing is built in 1Kings 15:22; some here render it, “with the materials.” That the Jews themselves were not quite certain of the meaning appears from the various versions. The LXX. render it, “in the arrangement,” and the Vulg., “on which you have before placed the sacrifice.” It means “with the Asherah pillar hewed down, and split up into firewood.” The Jews point out the peculiar features of this burnt offering: (1) It was not at Shiloh; (2) it was not offered by a priest; (3) it was offered at night; and (4) the fire was kindled with the unhallowed materials of an idol. The Divine command was, of course, more than sufficient to justify these merely ritual irregularities; and, indeed, it is clear that in these rude times, when the country was in the hands of the heathen, the Levitic order of worship became, for the time, impossible in many particulars. Prophets and those directly commissioned by heaven were tacitly regarded as exempt from the strict rules of outward ritual which were necessary for the mass of the nation.

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.
(27) Ten men of his servants.—This shows Gideon’s independent position, and also that he had tried to keep his own household free from the guilt of idolatry amid the all but universal defection.

His father’s household.—The Abi-ezrites.

The men of the city.—Of whom many may have been of Canaanite race.

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.
(28) Arose early in the morning.—The habits of Orientals are early, and Baal-worship may well have involved some adoration of the rising sun.

Cast down.—They observed three things: viz., the demolished altar of Baal; the stump of the destroyed Asherah; and a new altar, with the remains of a burnt offering smoking upon it.

The second bullock.—It has been supposed that Gideon offered both bullocks, the first as a burnt offering for his family, and the second for the nation. Nothing, however, is said of the fate of the young bullock; and, apart from express direction, Gideon may have hesitated to offer to the Lord a sacrifice which may have been devoted to Baal.

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.
(29) They said.—We are not told that Gideon’s servants betrayed his secret, but suspicion would naturally fall on so brave and prominent a worshipper of Jehovah as Gideon was; and it is rarely that actions which require so much effort and so many coadjutors can be kept secret. Gideon had proved himself to be what his name signifies—“a hewer.” A man so brave and so patriotic must have stood almost alone among a cringing and apostate people.

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.
(30) The men of the city said unto Joash.—It is difficult to conceive that these could have been Israelites (see on Judges 6:27).

Bring out thy son, that he may die.—For the phrase, see Genesis 38:24; 1Kings 21:10; Luke 19:27.

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.
(31) Unto all that stood against him.—The meaning of these words is very uncertain. They may mean, “to all that stood around.”

Will ye plead for Baal?—The pronoun ye is very emphatic, being twice expressed in the Hebrew.

He that will plead for him, let him be put to death.—These words of Joash were extraordinarily bold and cunning. Possibly the brave act of his son may have roused his conscience, and Gideon may have told him that he had acted under Divine guidance. But he saves his son’s life, not by excusing his act, but by feigning such a zeal for Baal as to denounce it as a blasphemous impiety to suppose that Baal will not avenge his own insult—an impiety so monstrous, that the man who was guilty of it should be at once put to death. Thus he made Baal-worship a plea for not avenging the insult offered to Baal. He was well aware that if he thus gained time, the fact that Baal did not interfere to protect himself from such fearful outrage would weigh powerfully with all his worshippers. Among idolaters the sight of an act of open contempt for their idol often shakes their superstitious reverence. Aristophanes, Persius, and Lucían sneer at the inability of Jupiter to defend his own temple, golden locks, and golden beard. When Olaf had the huge image of Odin destroyed, and when the high priest Coifi at Saxmundham, clad in armour and mounted on horseback (two things which were forbidden to a priest), rode up to the Saxon idols and hurled them down, the people, seeing that no thunder followed, but that all went on as well as usual, were quite ready to embrace Christianity.

Whilst it is yet morning.—The Hebrew is ad habbōker (“until morning”); LXX., heōs prōi, which may mean, “before to-morrow’s sun has dawned.” (Antequan lux crastina veniat, Vulg.; as also the Syriac, Arabic, and Chaldee.) It is a much more likely rendering than that of the E.V., for it implies, “Let us wait till to-morrow, to see whether Baal will avenge himself.” Joash knew that in popular outbreaks procrastination means security.

If he be a god.—Compare the language of Elijah to the Baal and Asherah priests (1Kings 18:21; 1Kings 18:27).

Therefore on that day he called him Jerubbaal, saying, Let Baal plead against him, because he hath thrown down his altar.
(32) He called him.—Rather, people called him, he got the name of. The phrase is impersonal. (Vocatus est, Vulg.; hiess man ihn, Luther.)

Jerubbaal.—The name meant, “Let Baal strive;” but might also mean, “let it be striven with Baal,” or “Baal’s antagonist,” and this gave the name a more ready currency. It is possible that the name may have been yet more allusive, since from the Palmyrene inscriptions it appears that there was a deity named Jaribolos (Mover’s Phönizier, 1:434). If in 2Samuel 11:21 we find the name Jerubbesheth, this is only due to the fondness of the Jews for avoiding the names of idols, and changing them into terms of insult. It was thus that they literally interpreted the law of Exodus 23:13 (comp. Joshua 23:7). It was a part of that contumelia numinum with which the ancients charged them (Plin. xiii. 9). I have adduced other instances in Language and Languages, p. 232. (Longmans.) Bosheth means “shame,” i.e., “that shameful thing,” and was a term of scorn for Baal (Hosea 9:10; Jeremiah 11:13). We have two other instances of this change in the case of the sons of Saul. Whether from a faithless syncretism, or a tendency to downright apostasy, he called one of his sons Esh-baal, i.e., “man of Baal,” and another Merib-baal (1Chronicles 8:33-34); but the Jews angrily and contemptuously changed these names into Ishbosheth and Mephibosheth (2Samuel 2:10; 2Samuel 4:4). Ewald, however, and others have conjectured that both Baal and Bosheth may, at one time, have had more harmless associations (see especially 2Samuel 5:20), and it appears that there was a Baal among the ancestors of Saul (1Chronicles 8:30). The LXX. write the name Hierobalos; and Eusebius (Praep. Evang. i. 9), quoting from Philo Byblius, tells us that a Gentile historian named Sanchoniatho, of Berytus, whom he praises for his accuracy in Jewish history and geography, had received assistance “from Hierombalos, the priest of the god Iao.” Some have supposed that this is an allusion to Gideon, under the name Jerubbaal.

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.
(33) Then all the Midianites.—See Judges 6:3. They came down for their usual annual raid to get the wheat which, doubtless, thousands besides Gideon had been gathering in and threshing in secret places as soon as it was barely ripe.

In the valley of Jezreel.—As the Philistines did afterwards (1Samuel 29:1; 1Samuel 29:11). Crossing the fords near Bethshean, they were probably encamped, not in the broad part of the plain of Jezreel, but in the valley between Gilboa and Little Hermon. The word Jezreel means “God’s sowing.” (See Hosea 2:22.)

But the Spirit of the LORD came upon Gideon, and he blew a trumpet; and Abiezer was gathered after him.
(34) Came upon Gideon.—Literally, clothed Gideon. See Judges 3:10 (Othniel); Judges 11:29 (Jephthah); Judges 13:25 (Samson). This forcible figure is found also in 1Chronicles 12:18 ( Amasai); 2Chronicles 24:20 (Zechariah); Psalm 59:17; and in the New Testament, Luke 24:49 (endusēsthe); Galatians 3:27 (enedusasthe Christon); 1Peter 5:5 (enkombōsasthe).

Blew a trumpet.—See Judges 3:27. The trumpet is shophar, or ram’s horn (LXX., keratine). Gideon’s call was two-fold: the first he had already obeyed in destroying the Baal-worship at Ophrah; he now begins to obey the second, which was to deliver his country.

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.
(35) Throughout all Manasseh.—The loyalty with which his own clan, the Abi-ezrites, rallied round him gave him a right to claim still wider support.

Asher.—This tribe, by faithfulness on this occasion, partly redeemed its honour from the tarnish attached of its former defection. This time Asher did not linger on the sands of Accho or the rocks of the Tyrian Ladder. Issachar, however, as before, “bowed his shoulder to the yoke.” Perhaps the fact that the Plain of Jezreel, the battle-field of Palestine, was in the domains of this tribe, though not far from the border of Manasseh (Joshua 17:16), was unfavourable to their independence and strength. The fierce and haughty character of the tribe of Ephraim, and their jealousy of any leader who did not come from themselves, may have prevented Gideon from risking a rebuff by sending to them.

Zebulun, Naphtali.—These tribes again distinguished themselves, as in the campaign against Jabin (Judges 5:18).

And Gideon said unto God, If thou wilt save Israel by mine hand, as thou hast said,
(36) If thou wilt save Israel.—This diffidence and hesitation show the seriousness of the crisis. Gideon saw that by human strength alone he would be utterly helpless to repel the countless hosts of the marauders. He had already shown his faith, but now he needed fresh encouragement in his dangerous task.

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.
(37) A fleece of wool.—In works of art this is sometimes represented as an entire sheepskin, probably from an erroneous explanation of the Vulgate, Vellus lanae, and from Luther’s rendering, ein Fell mit der Wolle. But the English version is correct.

In the floor.i.e., on the open threshing-floor. (See Note on Judges 6:11, and comp. Psalm 1:4; Hosea 13:3.)

If the dew be on the fleece only.—The very fact that this circumstance might be a purely natural result only shows the simple truthfulness of the narrative. Gideon would hardly have asked for this sign if he had been aware that, taken alone, it would be no sign of supernatural guidance. Bishop Hervey quotes Lord Bacon, who says (Nat Hist.) that “Sailors have used every night to hang fleeces of wool on the sides of their ships towards the water, and they have crushed fresh water out of them in the morning.” Every one must have noticed flocks of wool on the hedges, sparkling with dewdrops long after the dew on the leaves around them has evaporated. In Psalm 72:6 (Prayer Book), “He shall come down like the rain into a fleece of wool,” the Hebrew word is the same as here, and the ancient version takes it in the same sense (LXX., epi plokon; Vulg., in vellus); but perhaps the true sense is there “mown grass,” as in Amos 7:1 (mowings).

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.
(38) A bowl full of water.—The word used for bowl is sêphel, as in Judges 5:25.

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.
(39) Let not thine anger be hot against me, and I will speak but this once.—The phrase is the same as in Genesis 18:32. The word rendered “anger” is literally nose. The Hebrew language is very picturesque in its metaphors, and “anger” is so often expressed by the dilatation of the nostrils, that “nose” became a graphic term for anger, as it is to this day in many Eastern languages. I have given some illustrations in my Language and Languages, p. 197, &c.

And God did so that night: for it was dry upon the fleece only, and there was dew on all the ground.
(40) It was dry upon the fleece only.—Such a result as this—not being in accordance with natural circumstances—could only have arisen from direct interposition. Besides the simple narrative, which tells us of these results as a sign granted to Gideon in accordance with his prayer, it is of course possible to allegorise the dew as the sign of God’s grace, and to say that the first sign represented Israel as replenished with God’s love when all was dry around (Hosea 14:5, “I will be as the dew unto Israel;” Micah 5:7, “Jacob shall be as the dew”); and the second, the fact that “God manifested himself in the weakness and forsaken condition of His people, while the nations were flourishing all around.” Similarly St. Ambrose (De Sp. Sanct, Prol. in 1) sees in the fleece full of dew the Hebrew nation hiding the mystery of Christ within itself, and in the dry fleece that mystery extended to all the world, but leaving the Hebrew nation dry. It would be equally possible to give a mystic significance to the threshing-floor, as a type of the universal Church (Matthew 3:12, &c.). But these allegoric applications of simple narratives are, to say the least, precarious; nor is there much value in Ewald’s comparison of the fleece to Gideon’s character, cool amid the general passion, dry amid the general damp of fear.

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

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