Lange Commentary on the Holy Scriptures
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.FOURTH SECTION
THE INCURSIONS AND OPPRESSIONS OF THE MIDIANITES. GIDEON, THE JUDGE WHO REFUSES TO BE KING
The Midianites invade the land seven years. Israel cries to Jehovah, and is an swered through a prophet, who reminds them of their sins
1And the children [sons] of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord [Jehovah]: and the Lord [Jehovah] delivered them into the hand of Midian seven years. 2And the hand of Midian prevailed [was strong] against [over] Israel: and because of the Midianites the children [sons] of Israel made them the dens [grottoes] which 3are in the mountains, and [the] caves, and [the] strong holds. And so it was, when Israel had sown [his fields], that the Midianites came up, and the Amalekites, and the children [sons] of the east, even they came up against them [and passed over them]:1 4And they encamped against [upon] them, and destroyed [ruined] the increase [produce, cf. Deut. 32:22] of the earth, till thou come unto Gaza; and left no sustenance2 for [in] Israel, neither sheep, nor ox, nor ass. 5For they came up with their cattle and their tents, and they came as grasshoppers [locusts] for multitude; for both they and their camels were without number: and they entered into the land to destroy [ruin] it. 6And Israel was greatly impoverished [reduced] because of the Midianites; and the children [sons] of Israel cried unto the Lord [Jehovah]. 7And it came to pass, when the children [sons] of Israel 8 cried unto the Lord [Jehovah] because of the Midianites, That the Lord [Jehovah] sent a prophet unto the children [sons] of Israel, which [and he] said unto them, Thus saith the Lord [Jehovah, the] God of Israel, I brought you up from Egypt [cf. 1 Sam. 10:18] and brought you forth out of the house of bondage [Ex. 13:3]; 9And 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; 10And I said unto you, I am the Lord [Jehovah] your God; fear not [ye shall not fear, i.e. reverence] the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but ye have not obeyed my voice.
TEXTUAL AND GRAMMATICAL
[1 Judges 6:3—וְעָלוּ עָלָיו: literally, “came up upon him,” or, “came up against him.” Dr. Cassel supplies שָׂרֵהוּ after זָרַע, and accordingly makes “him” refer to “field.” But although this rendering suits the connection admirably well, it cannot be supposed that the Hebrew writer would have left the accusative after זָרַע unexpressed if he had intended to refer back to it by means of a pronoun, especially when the latter could so readily be referred to another noun. ועָלוּ עָלָיו. simply adds the idea of hostility, which the preceding עָלָה left unexpressed. In like manner, עֲלֵיהֶם, in the next verse, explains that the “encamping” was “against” Israel—had hostile purposes is view.—TR.]
[2 Judges 6:4.—מִחְיָה: Dr. Cassel, Lebensmitteln, “means of life.” So also Keil: “They left no provisions (produce of the field) in Israel, and neither sheep, nor cattle, nor ass.” Dr. Cassel, in a foot-note, gives a simple reference to 2 Chron. 14:12 (13), where, however, the word unquestionably means anything “alive.” Bertheau adopts that meaning here; but cf. Judges 17:10.—TR.]
EXEGETICAL AND DOCTRINAL
Judges 6:1. And Jehovah delivered them into the hand of Midian. Of the death of Deborah and Barak, no mention is made; the peace which their great deeds procured lasted forty years. But those deeds were already forgotten again; and with them the God whose Spirit had begotten them. Then fresh bondage and misery came, and reminded the people of Him who alone can save. Numerous tribes of eastern nomads invaded, plundered, and devastated the land. The transjordanic tribes could at that time offer them no such resistance as, according to 1 Chron. 5:10, 19, they were able, at a later date, to make against the Hagarites, Jetur, Nephish, and Nodab. The present invaders are called Midian, and appear in league with Amalek and the “sons of the east.” The Midianites are wandering tribes in the desert of Sinai, in the neighborhood of the Moabites, answering both in name and manner of life to the Bedouins. In the constantly occurring interchange of מ and כ (m and b) in the Semitic dialects, the Arabic tongue seems to prefer the כ, while the Hebrew inclines to the מ (cf. Timnath and Tibneh). The Bedouin derives his name from the Arabic כאריה, the desert; an expression of which the Hebrew כָּרַר, to be desolate and waste, readily reminds one. The derivation from מִרְכָּר, formerly current, is too artificial, since the prominent idea of the term Bedouin is not a reference to pasture lands, but to the desert. The name Midian manifestly belongs to the same root—מרין3 being the same as כרין, primitive Bedawin, who, like the Towara of the present day (Ritter, xiv. 937), engaged in the carrying trade between the Euphrates and Egypt, and in general pillage. Not all desert tribes boast the same descent, as in fact the Ishmaelites and the Midianites did not belong to the same family; both, however, followed similar modes of life, and hence are sometimes designated by one and the same name (Gen. 37:25, 28; Judg. 8:22, 24). They are dwellers in tents, as contrasted with those who till the earth or dwell in cities.
Judges 6:2. And the sons of Israel made them the grottoes which are in the mountains, and the caves and the strongholds. The word for grottoes is מנְחָרוֹת, and an entirely satisfactory description of them is given by Wetzstein (Hauran, p. 45): “At some rocky, elevated, and dry place, a shaft was sunk obliquely into the earth; and at a depth of about twenty-five fathoms, streets were run off, straight, and from six to eight paces wide, in the sides of which the dwellings were excavated. At various points these streets were extended to double their ordinary width, and the roof was pierced with airholes, more or less numerous according to the extent of the place. These airholes are at present called, rôsen plural rawâsin(windows).” From this may be seen how accurately Raschi and Kimchi explained the above word, when they made it mean “caves with air-holes like windows.” The remark of R. Tanchum is likewise correct, that watchmen were employed, who gave alarm signals when the enemy approached. As soon as these were given, the ploughmen and herds hurried quickly into the earth, and were secure. Commonly, says Wetzstein, these excavations had a second place of exit; and consequently, in a region whose inhabitants are liable to constant attacks from the desert (he speaks of the Hauran), are regarded as strongholds. Quite appropriate, apparently, is the rendering of that Greek version which translates מִנְהָרָה by μάνδρα, an inclosed space, a fold, stable. In later times, eastern monks, who lived in such grottoes, called the cloister itself μάνδρα.4
Judges 6:3, 4. Till thou come unto Gaza.5 They were expeditions for plunder and devastation, such as the Bedouin tribes of the present day are still accustomed to undertake against hostile communities.6 Their general direction was towards the plain. The invaders, however, did not content themselves with ruining the growing crops from east to west, but also scoured the land towards the south. Gaza, moreover, formerly as in later times, was the great bazaar of stolen wares, brought together there by the Bedouins from their expeditions (Ritter, xiv. 924).7
Judges 6:5. As locusts (Sept. ἄκρις, cf. Il. 21. 12) for multitude: a comparison suggestive both of their numbers and of the effects of their presence. The Midianite devastation was like that by locusts. In Hauran, says Wetzstein, various plagues are found; the locust is bad, but the worst are the Bedouins (p. 43). A Bedouin said to him: “The Ruwala have become like the hosts of God,” i.e., numerous as the locusts, for these are called Gunud Allah (Hauran, p. 138).—Camels without number. In such extravagant hyperbolisms the speech of Orientals has always abounded. When Burk-hardt asked a Bedouin, who belonged to a tribe of three hundred tents, how many brothers he had, throwing a handful of sand into the air, he replied, “equally numberless.” The invaders’ object was not to gather the harvest, but only to destroy. What they needed, they had with them—cattle, tents, and camels.
Judges 6:6–10. And the sons of Israel cried unto Jehovah. When the people were brought low (וַיִּרַּל), they repented. Distress teaches prayer. With Israel repentance went hand in hand with the remembrance of their former strength. They lose themselves when they lose their God; they find themselves when they turn to Him. This the prophet sets before them. The words put into the mouth of the unknown preacher, reproduce the old penitential discourse. In various but similar forms that discourse ever reappears; for it rests on Mosaic warnings and declarations whose truth all the fortunes of Israel confirm. For the first time, however, the verb יָרֵא, to fear, elsewhere used only with reference to God, is here connected with heathen gods; but only to point out the fact that disobedient Israel has yielded to idol gods the reverence which it owed to the eternal God. When such rebukes are gladly heard by the people, deliverance is near at hand. When they believe themselves to have deserved such admonitions and punishments, they again believe God. In accepting the judge, we secure the deliverer. Such is the historical experience of all ages.
HOMILETICAL AND PRACTICAL
Israel had again apostatized, notwithstanding the victory and the song of Deborah. SAILER “When one has drunk, he turns his back upon the fountain; but it is only the ingrate who does this.” Israel was altogether as it had been formerly, but God’s judgment assumes a new form. Greater than ever was the humiliation. Israel was not simply oppressed by a tyranny like that of Sisera, who was in the land, but it was like a slave who toils for a foreign master. Had it accomplished its task? Midian came and seized the fruit. So he who falls away from God who gives, must for that very reason serve sin, which takes.—STARKE: The strongest fortress, defense, and weapon, with which in danger we can protect ourselves, is prayer.
[BP. HALL: During the former tyranny, Deborah was permitted to judge Israel under a palmtree; under this, not so much as private habitations will be allowed to Israel. Then, the seat of judgment was in sight of the sun; now, their very dwellings must be secret under the earth. They that rejected the protection of God, are glad to seek to the mountains for shelter; and as they had savagely abused themselves, so they are fain to creep into dens and caves of the rocks, like wild creatures, for safeguard. God had sown spiritual seed amongst them, and they suffered their heathenish neighbors to pull it up by the roots; and now, no sooner can they sow their material seed, but Midianites and Amalekites are ready by force to destroy it. As they inwardly dealt with God, so God deals outwardly by them; their eyes may tell them what their souls have done; yet that God whose mercy is above the worst of our sin, sends first his prophet with a message of reproof, and then his angel with a message of deliverance. The Israelites had smarted enough with their servitude, yet God sends them a sharp rebuke. It is a good sign when God chides us; his round reprehensions are ever gracious forerunners of mercy; whereas, his silent connivance at the wicked argues deep and secret displeasure; the prophet made way for the angel, reproof for deliverance, humiliation for comfort.—HENRY: Sin dispirits men, and makes them sneak into dens and caves. The day will come, when chief captains and mighty men will call in vain to rocks and mountains to hide them.—TR.]
1 Judges 6:3—וְעָלוּ עָלָיו: literally, “came up upon him,” or, “came up against him.” Dr. Cassel supplies שָׂרֵהוּ after זָרַע, and accordingly makes “him” refer to “field.” But although this rendering suits the connection admirably well, it cannot be supposed that the Hebrew writer would have left the accusative after זָרַע unexpressed if he had intended to refer back to it by means of a pronoun, especially when the latter could so readily be referred to another noun. ועָלוּ עָלָיו. simply adds the idea of hostility, which the preceding עָלָה left unexpressed. In like manner, עֲלֵיהֶם, in the next verse, explains that the “encamping” was “against” Israel—had hostile purposes is view.—TR.]
2[Judges 6:4.—מִחְיָה: Dr. Cassel, Lebensmitteln, “means of life.” So also Keil: “They left no provisions (produce of the field) in Israel, and neither sheep, nor cattle, nor ass.” Dr. Cassel, in a foot-note, gives a simple reference to 2 Chron. 14:12 (13), where, however, the word unquestionably means anything “alive.” Bertheau adopts that meaning here; but cf. Judges 17:10.—TR.]
3A Madian near the Arabian Gulf is mentioned by Abulfeda; cf. Geogr., ed. Paris, p. 86; Arnold, in Herzog’s Realencykl., i. 463.
4[KEIL: “The power of the Midianites and their confederates bore so heavily on the Israelites, that these ‘made for themselves the clefts which are in the mountains, and the caves, and the strongholds,’ those, namely, which were afterwards (at the time when our Book was written) everywhere to be found in the land, and in times of war offered secure places of refuge. This is indicated by the definite article before מִנְהָרוִת and the other substantives. The words, ‘they made for themselves,’ are not at variance with the fact that in the limestone mountains of Palestine there exist many natural caves. For, on the one hand, hey do not affirm that all the caves found in the land were made at that time by the Israelites, nor on the other does עָשׂה, to make, exclude the use of natural caves for purposes of safety, since it applies not only to the digging and laying out of new caves, but also to the fitting up of natural ones. … For the rest, these clefts, caves, and strongholds, were to serve, not merely as hiding-places for the fugitive Israelites, but much more as places of concealment and security for their property and the necessaries of life. For the Midianites, like genuine Bedouins, were more intent on plunder and pillage, and the desolation of the country, than on the destruction of the people.”—TR.]
5On Gaza, cf. the Com. on Judges 16:1.
6[See Thomson, The Land and the Book, ii. 163; Kitto Daily Bible Illustrations, Moses and the judges, p. 340, etc.—TR.]
7[BERTHEAU: “Since the expeditions of eastern tribes follow the same plan at every repetition, and since, according to Judges 6:33, they encamped in the valley of Jezreel, and moreover made their incursion with their herds and camels, it is evident that they must have entered the country by the one great connecting road between the East and Palestine, which crosses the depression of the Jordan near Bethshean, and issues into the plain of Jezreel. The extension of their inroads thence, is indicated by the fact that Gaza, at the southwestern extremity of the land, is named as the limit of their advance.” Cf. Dr. Cassel’s remarks on Judges 6:11, p. 111.—TR.]
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.The Angel of Jehovah appears to Gideon, and commissions him to deliver Israel
11And there came an angel of the Lord [Jehovah], and sat under an [the] oak which was [is] in Ophrah, that pertained unto Joash the Abi-ezrite: and his son Gideon threshed [was threshing]8 wheat by [in] the wine-press, to hide it from theMidianites. 12And the angel of the Lord [Jehovah] appeared unto him, and said unto him, The Lord [Jehovah] is with thee, thou mighty man of valour [valianthero]. 13And Gideon said unto him, O [Pray,] my Lord, if the Lord [Jehovah] 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 [Jehovah] bring us up from Egypt: but now the Lord [Jehovah] hath forsaken us, and delivered us into the hands of the Midianites. 14And the Lord [Jehovah] looked upon [turned towards] him, and said, Go in this thy might, and thou shalt save [and save thou] Israel from the hand of the Midianites: have not I sent thee? 15And he said unto him, O [Pray,] my Lord,9 wherewith shall I save Israel? behold, my family is poor [the most insignificant] in Manasseh, and I am the least [youngest] in my father’s house. 16And the Lord [Jehovah] said unto him, Surely [Nay, but] I will be with thee, and thou shalt smite the Midianites as one man. 17And he said unto him, If now I have found grace in thy sight, then shew me a sign that [it is] thou [who] talkest with me. 18Depart not hence, I pray thee, until I come [again] unto thee, and bring forth my present, and set it before thee. And he said, I will tarry until thou come again. 19And Gideon went in, and made ready a kid, and unleavened cakes of an ephah of flour: the flesh he put in a [the] basket, and he put the broth in a [the] pot, and brought it out unto him under the oak, and presented it. 20And the angel of God said unto him, Take the flesh and the unleavened cakes, and lay them upon this 21[that] rock, and pour out the broth. And he did so. Then [And] the angel of the Lord [Jehovah] 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 [And] the angel of the Lord 22[Jehovah] departed [disappeared] out of his sight. And when [omit: when] Gideon perceived that he was an angel of the Lord [Jehovah, and] Gideon said, Alas, O Lord God [Jehovah]! for because10 I have seen an angel of the Lord [Jehovah] face to face. 23And the Lord [Jehovah] said unto him, Peace be unto thee; fear 24not: thou shalt not die. Then [And] Gideon built an altar there unto the Lord [Jehovah], and called it Jehovah-shalom [Jehovah (is) Peace]: unto this day it is yet in Ophrah of the Abi-ezrites.
TEXTUAL AND GRAMMATICAL
[1 Judges 6:11.—Literally, “was beating” (חֹבֵט) sc. with a stick, ῤαβδἰζελν. The more usual word for threshing is דּוּשׁ. Threshing was generally done by treading with oxen, or by means of a drag-like machine drawn over the grain by oxen or other animals. But for small quantities, and for certain minor seeds (Isa. 28:27), a stick was used, ct. Ruth 2:17.—TR.]
[2 Judges 6:15.—אֲדֹנָי: thus pointed, this word always refers to God, and the possessive suffix (for such –ָי is most probably) is lost sight of. “From the words in Judges 6:15 Gideon perceived that he who talked with him was not a mere man. Hence, he now no longer says: ‘Pray, my lord’ (אַדֹנִי, Judges 6:13), but, ‘Pray, Lord’ (אֲדֹכָי, God the Lord).” So Keil. Dr. Cassel apparently points the text here as in Judges 6:13, for he translates “My Lord.” Compare what he says on Judges 6:17.—TR.]
[3 Judges 6:22.—בִּי־עַל־בֵּו: “for therefore,” “for on this account.” Dr. Cassel renders it here by also, “so then” (illative). But the phrase regularly indicates the ground or reason for what goes before, cf. Gen. 18:5; 19:8; 33:10; etc.; and Ewald, Gram. 353 a. Gideon’s thought is: “Woe is me! for therefore—scil. to give me cause for my apprehension of danger—have I seen,” etc. Cf. Bertheau and Keil. The E. V. would be rendered accurate enough by striking out either “for” or “because.”—TR.]
EXEGETICAL AND DOCTRINAL
Judges 6:11. In Ophrah. The place is expressly designated as belonging to the family of Abiezer, to distinguish it from another Ophrah in Benjamin (Josh. 18:23). Abiezer was a son of Manasseh, whose seats were on this side the Jordan (Josh. 17:2). To the western half tribe of Manasseh, belonged also Beth-shean (Scythopolis), Jibleam, Taanach, Megiddo, the fertile districts of the plain of Jezreel. Manasseh therefore suffered especially, when the Midianites crossed the Jordan near Beisan, in order to desolate the land. From Judges 6:33–35 it may be inferred that Ophrah was situated in the northwestern part of the plain, in the direction of Dora, which likewise belongs to Manasseh. Since the enemy, after crossing the Jordan, encamped in Jezreel, and Gideon invoked assistance against them from Asher, Naphtali, and Zebulun, this inference may be considered tolerably certain. That Asher was called on, shows that Ophrah was in the West, and the appeal to Naphtali and Zebulun indicates that it lay to the north; since otherwise the army of Midian would have prevented a junction. Ophrah was inhabited by a branch of the family of Abiezer, at whose head Joash stood; but among them dwelt others (אַנְשֵׁי הָעִיר, “the men of the city,” Judges 6:27), who were probably of the original inhabitants whom Manasseh had suffered to remain.
Under the oak, תַּחַת הָאֵלָה. Septuagint; τερέμινθος (interchangeable with τερέβινθος), the terebinth. The Targums have בּוּטְמָא, oak. אֵלָה and אַלּוֹן are evidently different species of the same stately tree, and probably differ from each other as the quercus and ilex. The oak and terebinth are too little alike to make it probable that they had almost the same name. Ilex is clearly a cognate term. Böttiger’s remarks about an “ancestral terebinth,” and a “sacred tree” under which “Jehovah appears” (Baumkultus der Hellenen, p. 521), have no support in the passages in which those trees are mentioned. The magnificent tree afforded a grateful shade, and therefore invited persons to sit and rest beneath it. Whoever knows the East, knows also how to estimate the value of shade;11 though indeed everywhere a large tree near a homestead or in a village, becomes the meeting and resting-place of the inhabitants as well as the traveller. Besides, the tree in Ophrah has nothing whatever to do with what farther happens. The whole section in Böttiger’s book is a misunderstanding. The tree is mentioned here only to make it appear natural that a stranger could seat himself under it without drawing special attention and exciting surprise.
And his son Gideon was threshing wheat in the wine-press. In German, also, “wine-press” (Kelter) sometimes stands for the place in which the pressing is done, as well as for the vat into which the wine flows. The same is the case in Hebrew. While גַּת is the press-house or place, יֶקֶב stands for the vat; but they are frequently interchanged. Here it is of course the place, of which Gideon makes use to thresh wheat; threshing on exposed threshing-floors being avoided on account of the pillaging propensities of the Midianites. Here that had again come to pass which Deborah lamented, and the cure of which she had celebrated in her song—there was no פְּרָזוֹן, no open country, in the land.
Judges 6:12, 13. And the Angel of Jehovah appeared unto him. Hitherto מַלְאַךְ יְהוָֹה always signified a human messenger of God (cf. Judges 2:1; 5:23). Here it is otherwise. The mention of a “prophet of Jehovah” in Judges 6:8, already indicated that the מַלְאַךְ now spoken of, is not a human messenger. That hint is now rendered plain and unmistakable by the phrase ויֵּרָא אֵלָי, there “appeared” to him, which is only used when the invisible divine nature becomes visible. As Gideon looked up, a stranger stood before him,—who, while exhibiting nothing unusual in his outward appearance, must yet have had about him that which commanded reverence. This stranger greeted him.
Jehovah (is) with thee, thou valiant hero. Gideon cannot have referred this greeting merely to heroic deeds of war. It is much rather the evident pleasure of the stranger in the nervous energy and vigor with which he threshes, to which with a sense of shame he replies. True, indeed, he is conscious of strength and energy; but of what avail are they? Is it not matter of shame that he cannot even thresh his wheat on the threshing-floor? Hence his respectfully spoken answer: No, my lord; God is not with me; for were He with us, would such things come upon us? would I be driven to thresh wheat in the wine-press? But this answer shows that he believed God; from the greeting (יְהוָֹה) he had perceived that he stood in the presence of one of the friends and confessors of God. It shows, also, that his courageous heart had long demurred against Israel’s dishonor. The national tradition of Israel’s ancient glory was not yet extinct. The deliverance from Egypt was the beginning of Israel’s nationality and freedom. Doubtless, says the strong man, then, as our fathers tell us, God was with Israel, and freed us from Egypt; but now—we are unable to defend ourselves against the pillaging Bedouins! The doubt which he thus utters, does not spring from an unbelieving and pusillanimous soul. He gladly believed and delighted in what was told of other days. His lament is that of a patriot, not of a traitor. Because such is his character, he has been found eligible to become the deliverer of Israel. The Angel therefore comes to him, and says:—
Judges 6:14–16. Go thou in this thy strength12. … do not I send thee? The difference between Gideon’s call and that of former heroes, must be carefully observed. Of Othniel it is said, that the “Spirit of Jehovah” was with him; Ehud is “raised up” to be “a deliverer;” Barak is called through the prophetess. The latter hero does not immediately proceed to victory. He refuses to go, unless Deborah go with him. In Gideon’s case much more is done. An angel of God assumes the human form in order to call him. He condescends to work miracles before him. How much more, apparently, than Deborah had to contend with, must here be overcome by the angel! The grounds of this difference have been profoundly indicated in the preceding narrative. What was the all-important qualification demanded of one who should be a deliverer of Israel? Decided and undivided faith in God. Faith in God was the root of national freedom in Israel. Whatever energy and enthusiasm the love of country called out among the Greeks and Romans; that, faith in God called out in Israel. Israel existed in God, or not at all. The hero, therefore, who would fight for Israel, must thoroughly believe in God. This faith, undivided, unwavering, not looking to earthly things, and unconcerned about life or danger—a perfect unit with itself in devotion to God, and therefore hostile to the idol gods, the representatives of the enemies—this faith the call must find in him whom it selected for the work of deliverance. The men hitherto called did not come from the same tribes. Othniel was of Judah; Ehud of Benjamin. In these tribes, the worship of the true God was less mixed with that of the false gods, because here the old inhabitants had been obliged to yield. Barak was of Naphtali, where idolatry, though existing in many places along side of the true worship, did certainly not prevail as in Manasseh. Precisely those places which constituted the richest portion of this half tribe, and which consequently suffered most from the inroads of Midian, namely, the cities of the plain, had never, as the narrator expressly recorded, been vacated by the original inhabitants. They had continued to dwell in Beth-shean, Taanach, Megiddo, Jibleam and Dor (Judges 1:27). Here altars of Baal raised themselves everywhere, fully authorized and perfectly unrestrained. Amid such surroundings, the position of the faithful is a difficult one at all times, but especially in evil days, when Baal seems to triumph. Their hearts become saddened; and the contrast between the former glory, in which they so gladly believe, and the present impotence, unmans and confuses them. If the modest soul of Gideon is to be prepared for bold hazards in behalf of the truth of God, he must first be fully convinced that God is still what He was anciently in Israel; that He still works wonders, and in them reveals his love for the nation. In his home and in his city he is surrounded by idolatry. He, the youngest, is to assume an attitude of authority towards all. That he may do this boldly and condently, the heavenly visitant must inspire him with a divine enthusiasm which shall rise superior to the suggestions of common prudence. [The way to this is opened by the promise, “But I will be with thee!” which is at the same time a challenge to test the speaker.—TR.] The narrative could not, in so few sentences, teach the love of God, which will thus be tested, more beautifully. Gideon is no presumptuous doubter. It is his humility that requires the miracle. He builds no expectations on his personal strength. If God will show that He is truly “with him,” he is ready to do everything. He asks much, because he deems himself altogether insufficient.
Judges 6:17. Then give me a sign that thou art He who talketh with me. The angel appeared to Gideon as man; otherwise he could neither have seen him, nor offered him food. His appearance must have been venerable; for Gideon always addresses him deferentially and humbly, with the words בִּי אֲדֹנִי, “Pray, my lord.” Now, when this stranger says, “I send thee—I will be with thee,” and that without adding who He is, Gideon could hardly fail to conclude that He who addressed him was a supernatural being; especially as these words were used in answer to his own, “if Jehovah were with us.” It is, therefore, very instructive that the doubtful Gideon asks for a sign to know “whether thou art he who speaks with me,” i.e., whether thou art one who can say, “I am with thee,” and not to know “whether thou art God,” a thought which he is not yet prepared to entertain.
Judges 6:18–20. Depart not hence, I pray thee, until I come again unto thee. Gideon is not yet convinced; but nevertheless the word that has been spoken burns within him. The remark in Judges 6:14, “וַיִּפֶך, and Jehovah turned towards him,” was doubtless intended to intimate that the heavenly visitant turned his face, beaming with the light of holiness, full upon Gideon. Gideon feels the breath of divinity,—but certain he is not. Should the apparition now depart, he would be in twofold dread. He will gladly do whatever is commanded—but, is the commander God? He thinks to solve this question by means of the duties of hospitality which devolve on him. Hence he prays him to remain, until he has entertained him. He is not so poor, but that he can offer a kid and something more to a guest. Flocks of goats still form a considerable part of Palestinian wealth, and find excellent pasturage in the plain of Jezreel. Time permits Gideon to prepare only unleavened cakes; but the supply is bountiful, for he uses apephah (i.e., a measure containing about 1994, according to others 1985, or only 1014, Par. cubic inches, cf. Böckh, Metrologische Untersuchungen, p. 261) of flour in their preparation. That which appears singular, is the statement that he put the flesh in the basket (סַל). Wherever else this word occurs, it denotes a bread-basket. The explanation is, that Gideon was unwilling to call a servant, and hence used the basket for both bread and meat. He requires, however, a separate “pot” for the broth, which the basket cannot hold. He thinks now that by this meal he will learn to know his guest. Celestials, according to popular belief, took no earthly food. The angel who appears to Manoah, says (Judges 13:16): “I will not eat of thy bread.” True, of the angels who came to Abraham (Gen. 18:8), it is said, “and they did eat;” but the Targum explains, “they seemed to him to eat.”13 This belief has no resemblance to the Homeric conception, according to which the gods, though they eat not bread or drink wine (Iliad, v. 341), do nevertheless, like mortals, stretch forth their hands after ambrosia and nectar. The angels, like all that is divine in the Bible, have their spiritual abode in heaven, with nothing earthly about them, consequently with no corporeal wants. The explanation of Ps. 78:25, as if לֶחֶם אַבִּירִים meant bread such as angels feed on, is erroneous (unhappily, it has been again put forth by Böhmer, in Herzog’s Realencykl. iv. 20); the words have long since been properly explained (by Hengstenberg and Delitzsch) of the manna, which came from heaven, i.e., from on high. Hence, as late as the author of Tobias, the angel is made to say (Tob. 12:19): “I have neither eaten nor drunk, but ye have seen an apparition.” Nor did Gideon err in his expectations. His guest does not eat. In verse 20, מַלִאַךְ הָאֱלֹהִים once takes the place מַלְאַךְ יִהוָֹה; but the rule that in the Book of Judges Jehovah stands regularly for the God of Israel, Elohim for the gods of the heathen, is not thereby destroyed. This is shown by the article prefixed to Elohim. The reason for the interchange in this passage lies in the fact that the nature of the angel, as a divine being, here begins to declare itself. In order to describe the angel who speaks to Gideon as the messenger of that unity from which the multitude of the angels proceeds (hence אֶלֹהִים), the narrator introduces the term הָאֱלֹהִים. He thereby explains how the angel in his individual appearance, can nevertheless contain in himself the power of God. The Angel of Jehovah, he means to say, is none other than an angel of the Elohim; hence, He, the messenger, speaks as Jehovah.
Judges 6:21–24. And the Angel of Jehovah put forth the end of his staff. The angel, like a traveller, but also like the prophets, like Moses and Elijah, carried a staff. They also used it, as he does, to work miracles. Among the Greeks likewise, the staff, in the hands of Æsculapius and Hermes, for instance, is the symbol of the divine power to awaken and subdue.14 The angel touches the flesh and bread, and they ascend in fire. What was brought as a gift to the guest, is accepted by fire as a sacrifice. Fire is the element in which divine power and grace reveal themselves. A flame of fire passed between the parts of Abraham’s sacrifice (Gen. 15:17). Fire came down on the offerings of Solomon, when he had made an end of praying, and consumed them (2 Chron. 7:1). Fire fell from heaven in answer to Elijah’s prayer that the Lord would make it manifest that He was God in Israel, and consumed the sacrifice before the eyes of the rebellious people (1 Kgs. 18:38). To give a similar sign, the angel now touched the flesh and cakes. By the fire which blazed up, and by the disappearance of his visitor, Gideon perceived that his guest was actually a celestial being, who had called down fire from above. He was perfectly convinced. No doubt could any longer maintain itself, and in place of it fear seized upon him.
And Gideon said, Ah Lord Jehovah! Gideon makes this exclamation, because, like Manoah (Judges 13:22), he thinks that he must die; for he has seen what ordinarily no living man does see. This view is deeply rooted in the Israelitish idea of God, and directly opposed to Hellenic conceptions. In fact, heathenism, as pantheism, knows of no real partition-wall between the individual gods and men (cf. Nägelsbach, Homer. Theologie, p. 141); but between the God who inhabits the invisible and eternal, and man who dwells in the world of sense, there was seen to be an absolute difference. Every human being is too sinful, and too much under the dominion of sense, to endure the immediate glory of the Incomprehensible. He cannot see God, to whom “to see” means to receive the light of the sun into eyes of flesh. When, therefore, Moses, notwithstanding that he spake with God, as friend converses with friend (Ex. 33:11), would see his glory, the answer was (Judges 6:20): “Thou canst not see my face; for no man sees me, and continues to live.” It is implied in this idea, that only the living man cannot see God, that to see Him is to die. That, therefore, the dead can see Him, is an inference close at hand, and important for the O. T. doctrine concerning the soul and immortality.—Gideon, however, has no cause for lamentation, for after all he has only seen the man. Jacob’s life also was preserved, for his wrestling had been with “the man” (Gen. 32:24, 31 (30). “No man hath seen God at any time” (John 1:18). When, therefore, Philip says, “Show us the Father,” Jesus answers: “He that hath seen me, hath seen the Father” (John 14:9). Hence, a voice is heard—the voice of the now unseen God—saying: “Fear not; thou shalt not die!” It was for the very purpose that Gideon might live, that the angel had not appeared as God. The wife of Manoah wisely draws this same conclusion herself (Judges 13:23). And God speaks “Peace” to him. Where peace is, there is no occasion for fear; for peace is the fruit of reconciliation. The divine messenger did not come to punish Israel still further, but to bring them help. When He comes to save, He must have previously forgiven. This forgiveness is the “peace.” So Gideon understands it, when he builds an altar, and calls it יהוָֹה שַׁלוֹם, God-Peace, i.e., the Peace of God. Humility and penitence prompt him to this. Above, in Judges 6:13, when he was not yet certain that God had appeared to him, he had said nothing to indicate that, was Israel’s own fault that God was not with them. Of this he becomes conscious while standing in the presence of the divine messenger. The fear that to see God involves death, rests first of all on the moral ground of conscious sinfulness. Undoubting faith is ever followed by true repentance, namely, love for truth. Gideon builds his altar to the Peace of God, i.e., to his own reconciliation with God, and salvation from the judgment of God.15 The narrator seizes on this penitential feeling of Gideon’s, to which he joyfully consecrated his altar, and by means of it continues the thread of his story. The altar was known to the author as still extant in his time.
HOMILETICAL AND PRACTICAL
Israel repented, and God’s compassion renewed itself. Manifold as nature is the help of God. It is not confined to one method; but its wonders become greater as Israel’s bondage becomes more abject. It was a great thing to select a woman to be the deliverer of Israel. This woman, however, had grown up in the Spirit of Jehovah; she was a prophetess already, accustomed to counsel the people. The choice of Gideon was therefore still more extraordinary. He was not only the youngest in the least family, but he belonged to a city in which the heathen had for the most part remained. Idolatry prevailed, invading even his father’s house. God took him like a brand from the fire, to make him the deliverer of his people.
So God converted his Apostle, from amidst the multitude of enemies and their plots, on the way to Damascus. So Luther went forth from his cloister to preach the gospel of freedom. God calls whoever He will, and no school, faculty, or coterie, limits the field of his election.
STARKE: When we think that God is farthest from us, that in displeasure He has entirely left us, then with his grace and almighty help He is nearest to us.—THE SAME: Even in solitude the pious Christian is not alone, for God is always near him.
God does not err in his calling. Gideon was the right man, though he himself did not believe it. He desires a sign, not from unbelief, but humility. He who thus desires a miracle, believes in miracles. He desires it not to be a proof of God, but of himself. To him the censure of Jesus does not apply: “Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will not believe;” for those wished them as grounds of faith in Jesus, Gideon as evidence that himself was the right man. Gideon’s humility was evidence of his strength.—HEDINGER: Conceit and pride do not lead man to God, but humility and lowliness do.
Thus Gideon believed the angel whom he beheld vanishing toward heaven; the Jews did not believe Jesus, when He wrought miracles and rose from the dead. But Gideon’s eye was the humility with which he looked at himself. When Christians do not believe, it is because of pride which does not see itself. It is not for want of a theophany that many do not believe; for all have seen angels, if their heart be with God. “For the angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear Him, and delivereth them” (Ps. 34:8).
STARKE: Even the strongest faith has always something of weakness in it.—LISCO: From Judges 6:14 Gideon seems already to have perceived who it was that spake with him. His answer is the language not so much of unbelief as of modesty.—GERLACH: His prayer was not dictated by unbelief, but by a childlike, reverential acknowledgment of the weakness of his faith, as in the case of Abraham.
[BP. HALL (Judges 6:11): What shifts nature will make to live! O that we could be so careful to lay up spiritual food for our souls, out of the reach of those spiritual Midianites! we could not but live in despite of all adversaries.—THE SAME (Judges 6:13): The valiant man was here weak, weak in faith, weak in discourse, whilst he argues God’s absence by affliction, his presence by deliverances, and the unlikelihood of success by his own inability—all gross inconsequences.—SCOTT: Talents suited for peculiar services may for a time be buried in obscurity; but in due season the Lord will take the candle from “under the bushel,” and place it “on a candlestick,” to give light to all around; and that time must be waited for, by those who feel their hearts glow with desires of usefulness which at present they have no opportunity of executing.—TR.]
8[Judges 6:11.—Literally, “was beating” (חֹבֵט) sc. with a stick, ῤαβδἰζελν. The more usual word for threshing is דּוּשׁ. Threshing was generally done by treading with oxen, or by means of a drag-like machine drawn over the grain by oxen or other animals. But for small quantities, and for certain minor seeds (Isa. 28:27), a stick was used, ct. Ruth 2:17.—TR.]
9[Judges 6:15.—אֲדֹנָי: thus pointed, this word always refers to God, and the possessive suffix (for such –ָי is most probably) is lost sight of. “From the words in Judges 6:15 Gideon perceived that he who talked with him was not a mere man. Hence, he now no longer says: ‘Pray, my lord’ (אַדֹנִי, Judges 6:13), but, ‘Pray, Lord’ (אֲדֹכָי, God the Lord).” So Keil. Dr. Cassel apparently points the text here as in Judges 6:13, for he translates “My Lord.” Compare what he says on Judges 6:17.—TR.]
10[Judges 6:22.—בִּי־עַל־בֵּו: “for therefore,” “for on this account.” Dr. Cassel renders it here by also, “so then” (illative). But the phrase regularly indicates the ground or reason for what goes before, cf. Gen. 18:5; 19:8; 33:10; etc.; and Ewald, Gram. 353 a. Gideon’s thought is: “Woe is me! for therefore—scil. to give me cause for my apprehension of danger—have I seen,” etc. Cf. Bertheau and Keil. The E. V. would be rendered accurate enough by striking out either “for” or “because.”—TR.]
11Clearly and charmingly apparent in Gen. 18:1–4.
12[KEIL: “In this thy strength, i.e., in the strength which thou now hast, since Jehovah is with thee. The demonstrative ‘this’ refers to the strength now imparted to him through the divine promise.”—TR.]
13The same explanation is adopted by Josephus and Philo, and is not to be rejected as Delitzsch (Genesis, p. 383) and others have done. Genesis 18. to Judges 6:12 speaks only of “men.” But as they only seemed to be men, so they only seemed to eat The instance of the risen Saviour is not to be adduced, for angels before Christ were not born like Christ.
14On the subversion of the staff as a symbol of blessings into an instrument of sorcery, cf. my Eddischen Studien, p. 76.
15[KEIL: “The design of this altar .… is indicated in the name given to it. It was not to serve for sacrifices, but as a memorial and witness of the theophany vouchsafed to Gideon, and of his experience that Jehovah is Peace, i.e., does not desire to destroy Israel in his wrath, but cherishes thoughts of peace.” Cf. Hengstenberg, Diss. on Pent. 2. p. 34.—TR.]
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:Gideon destroys the altar of Baal, and builds one to Jehovah. His father, Joash, defends him against the idolaters. His new name, Jerubbaal
25And it came to pass the same [that] night, that the Lord [Jehovah] said unto him, Take thy father’s young [ox] bullock, even [and]16 the second bullock of seven years old, and throw [pull] down the altar of Baal that thy father hath, and cut down the grove [Asherah] that is by [upon] it: 26And build an altar unto the Lord [Jehovah] thy God upon the top of this rock [fortification], in the ordered place,17 and take the second bullock, and offer a burnt-sacrifice with the wood of the 27grove [Asherah] which thou shalt cut down. Then [And] Gideon took ten men of his servants, and did as the Lord [Jehovah] 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.18 28And when the men of the city arose early in the morning, behold, the altar of Baal was cast down, and the grove [Asherah] was cut down that was by [upon] it, and the second bullock was offered upon the altar that was built. 29And they said one to another, who hath done this thing? And when [omit: when] they inquired and asked [searched], [and] they said, Gideon the son of Joash hath done this thing. 30Then 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 [Asherah] that was by 31[upon] it. And Joash said unto all that stood against [about] him, Will ye plead [contend] for Baal? will ye save him? he that will plead [contendeth] for him, let him be put to death whilst it is yet morning;19 if he be a god, let him plead [contend] for himself, because one [he] hath cast down his altar. 32Therefore on that day he [they] called him Jerubbaal, saying, Let Baal plead [contend] against him, because he hath thrown down his altar.
TEXTUAL AND GRAMMATICAL
[1 Judges 6:25.—Bertheau and Wordsworth also find two bullocks in the text. “The original text,” says the latter, “seems clearly to speak of two bullocks, and the ancient versions appear to distinguish them (see Sept., Vulg., Syriac, Arabic).” De Wette and Bunsen, too, render “and,” not “even.” Keil argues, that “if God had commanded Gideon to take two bullocks, He would surely also have told him what he was to do with both.” But does He not tell him plainly enough in the words, “and pull down the altar of Baal?” See the commentary, below.—TR.]
[2 Judges 6:26.—בַּמַּצֲרָכָה. Our author’s translation of this word, “on the forward edge,” is too precarious to allow of its introduction into the text. It probably means: “with the arrangement of wood” (cf. below). On the use of בְּ in this sense, see Ges. Lex., s. v., B. 2, a.—TR.]
[3 Judges 6:27.—The E. V. is singularly awkward here. Dr. Cassel: “and as, on account of the house of his father and the men of the city, he feared to do it by day, he did it by night.”—TR.]
[4 Judges 6:31.—Dr. Cassel translates the foregoing clause thus: “he that contendeth for him, let him die! Wait till morning;” etc. Keil interprets similarly.—TR.]
EXEGETICAL AND DOCTRINAL
Judges 6:25. And it came to pass that night. “Ye have honored false gods instead of the eternal God,” the prophet had said above, “and therefore are come under the yoke.” For apart from its God, the maintenance of Israel’s nationality is an unnecessary thing. If they attach themselves to the gods of the nations, they must also wear their fetters. Only when they believe the Eternal is freedom either necessary or possible. The war against the oppressors, must begin against the gods of the oppressors. Gideon, fully convinced of the truth of Israel’s God, cannot summon to battle against the enemy, while an altar of Baal stands in his father’s own village. Israel’s watchword in every contest is, “God with us;” but before that word can kindle the hearts of the people, it must have been preceded by another—“Down with Baal!” This truth God himself enunciates in the valiant soul of Gideon. For now, being wholly filled with divine fire, he will delay no longer. But, only he who fears not Baal will find confidence among the people. The vigorous blows of his axe against the Asherah are the clearest proofs of his own faith. Such a faith kindles faith. Accordingly, Gideon must begin the liberation of Israel in his own house. Whoever will be truly free, must commence with himself and by his own fire-side—that is truth for all ages.
Take the ox-bullock, etc. Under divine inspiration, Gideon is as energetic as he is prudent. He neither delays, nor hastens overmuch. He chooses night for what he has to do, not from cowardice, but to insure a successful issue. By day, an outcry and contest would be inevitable, and would terrify the undecided. An accomplished fact makes an impression, and gives courage. His task is a twofold one: he must first tear down, then build up. The abominations of Baal must be thrown down. The altars of Baal, as the superior sun-god, were located on heights or elevated situations. They were built of stone, sometimes also of wood or earth (2 Kgs. 23:15), and were of considerable massiveness. Erected upon them, “planted” (לֹאתִפַּע, Deut. 16:21), stood a tree, or trunk of a tree, covered with all manner of symbols. This was consecrated to Astarte, the fruitful, subordinate night-goddess. Such an image was that of Artemis in Ephesus, black (like the earth), fastened to the ground, and full about the breasts, to symbolize the fostering love of the earth. In other places, where the Greeks met with similar figures, Sparta, Byzantium, and elsewhere (cf. Gerhard, Griech. Mythol. § 332, 4, vol. i. p. 343), they were dedicated to Artemis Orthia, or Orthosia. In this name (ὀρθός, straight), that of the Asherah (from אַשֵׁר, to be straight) was long since recognized (cf. Zorn, Biblioth. Antiquar., p. 383). Asherah was the straight and erect idol of Astarte; the symbol of her sensual attributes. Its phallic character made it the object of utter abhorrence and detestation to the pure and chaste worship of Jehovah. And in truth the worship at Sparta (Paus. iii. 16, 7) did not differ essentially from that on Mt. Carmel (1 Kgs. 18:28). This idol was a common ornament of the altars of Baal,20 by means of which these represented the worship of nature in its completeness. Hence it is, that we find Baal and Astarte joined together, as well as Baal and Asherah. Accordingly, Asherah and Astarte are not indeed altogether identical, as was formerly supposed; but neither are they, as Movers thought (Phoeniz. i. 561, etc.), different divinities. Asherah was the Astarte Orthia, the image which expressed the ideas represented by the goddess; but it was not, and need not be, the only image of the goddess. Without adducing here the many passages of Scripture in which Asherah and Astarte occur, the foregoing observations may suffice to explain every one of them. It will be found, upon reviewing them, that while persons could indeed worship Astarte, it was only Asherah which they could make for themselves, and again destroy. In form and idea, Baal and Astarte presented the perfect contrast to the living and creative God. Gideon, therefore, if he is to build up Israel anew, must begin with the overthrow of their idols. But this was not so slight an undertaking as to be within his own sole powers of execution. He needs men and carts for the purpose. He must wrench the altar of Baal out of its grooves, and throw it down; tear out the Asherah, and cut it to pieces. In their place (this is expressed by the הַוֶּה, “this,” of Judges 6:26), he is to erect an altar to the Eternal God. For this he cannot use the polluted fragments of the altar of Baal. He must bring pure earth and stones with him, out of which to construct it. Hence he uses ten servants to assist him, and a cart.
Take the ox-bullock which belongs to thy father, etc. The altar of Baal had been erected on his father’s estate. The guilt of his father’s house must be first atoned for. Therefore his cattle are to be taken. פַּר הַשּׁוֹר, ox-bullock, is not a young bullock, and does not answer to בֶּו בָּקָר. It is rather the first bullock of the herd, the “leader;” for even the second, being seven years old, is no longer young. Hesiod advises agriculturists to provide themselves two plough-bullocks of nine years old (Works and Days, 447). In Homer, bullocks of five years are offered and slaughtered (Il. ii. 403; Odyss. xix. 420). Down to the present day, the bullock of the plain of Jezreel and the Kishon surpasses, in size and strength, the same animal in the southern parts of the land (cf. Ritter, xvi. 703). This first bullock, this head of the herd, answers in a sense to the head of the family, which is Joash; it must help to destroy the altar which belongs to the latter. But as Gideon is not simply to destroy, but also to build up, the second bullock must also be taken, to be offered upon the new altar, in a fire made of the wood of the Asherah. The flames for which the idol must furnish the material—and we may thence infer how considerable a log of wood it was,—must serve to present an offering to the Eternal God.21
Judges 6:26–29. On the top of the fortification, on the forward edge, עַל רֹאשׁ הַפָּעוֹז: not the rock, near which God first appeared to Gideon. It was stated at the outset, that Israel made themselves grottoes, caves, and fortifications against the enemy. Some such place of protection and defense we are here to understand by the term מצוֹז. Upon this, the altar of Baal, the helper who could not help, had reared itself. In its place, an altar of the true Helper, the Eternal God, was now built, and placed בַּמַּצַרָכָה., on the forward edge. This word occurs repeatedly in the first book of Samuel, in the sense of “battle-array.” It answers to the Latin acies, and indicates that attitude of armies in which they turn their offensive sides toward each other; so that we are told (1 Sam. 17:21) that Israel and the Philistines had arranged themselves מַצֲרָכָה לִקְרַאת מַצֲרָכָה. Now, as acies came to signify battle-array because of the sharp side which this presented, so מַצֲרָכָה, as here used of the fortification, can only signify its forward edge.22 The place where Gideon had to work was within the jurisdiction of Joash, but at some distance from the city, since otherwise the inhabitants would scarcely have remained ignorant of his proceedings till the next morning.
Judges 6:30. And the men of the city said unto Joash. Although the altar belonged to Joash, the people of the city nevertheless think themselves entitled to sit in judgment on the insult offered to Baal. Baal worshippers are not tolerant. The disposition of Joash however, seems even before this to have been similar to that of Gideon. For when it is said that Gideon feared to do his work by day, among all those whom he considers, his father is not mentioned, though he must be the most directly concerned. The same inference may be drawn from the energetic and ironical answer which he gives the men of the city. There is nothing to support Bertheau’s conjecture that Joash held the office of a judge. He is the head of the family; as such, he is required to deliver up Gideon, guilty of crime towards Baal. Joash is not merely indisposed to do this, but even threatens to use violence against any one who takes the cause of Baal upon himself. A few such forcible words were enough to quiet the people of the city. Israel had fallen into such deep torpidity and self-oblivion, that their enemies dared to demand of a father the life of his son, because he had done that which it was the duty of every Israelite to do. The first energetic resistance changes the position of parties, and puts the enemy to flight.
Judges 6:31. And Joash said, Will ye contend for Baal? In a similar manner,23 Lucian ridicules the heathenism of his day, by representing Jupiter as laughed at for letting the sacriligious thieves depart from Olympia, untouched by his thunderbolts, although they had cut from his statue the golden locks of hairs, each of which weighed six minæ (in Jupiter Tragoedus). It lies in the nature of heathenism to identify God and the symbol which represents Him, since in general whatever testifies of God, every sensible manifestation of Deity, is made Deity itself by it. Joash ridicules the idea of his heathen neighbors, that the destruction of his altar is an insult to Baal. On the principles of heathenism, Baal’s protection of his altar, or the contrary, will demonstrate whether he is or is not. If he is able to take care of his own altar, Joash mockingly argues, it is an insult for another to undertake it for him. In this case, not he who injures, but he who would defend his altar, denies his deity. The latter first deserves to die. Many expositors have connected צַד חַבֹּקֶר, “till morning,” with יו·מת, “let him die,” which is against the sense of Joash’s speech. As to the destroyer of the altar, he says, we know not yet whether he has deserved death; wait till morning, and let us see whether Baal himself will do anything. But he who would take Baal’s place, and put the other to death, he deserves punishment at once; for he denies that Baal has any power at all, and by consequence that he exists. Wait till morning, if he be a god, he will contend for himself, because he hath cast down his altar. Joash denies that the altar belonged to him, although Judges 6:25 states that it did. The altar, he says, belongs to its god: let him see to it. The result of these words must have been, to make it evident to the men of the city that Joash and his house would have nothing more to do with Baal. For this they knew full well, that their Baal would do nothing to Gideon. It is one of the characteristic illusions of heathenism in all ages, that it does not itself believe in that for which it spends its zeal.
Judges 6:32. And at that time they named him Jerubbaal, that is, Baal will contend with him, for he hath thrown down his altar. Why expositors have not been content with this significant explanation, it is impossible to see.24 It sets forth the utter impotence of Baal, and the mockery which it excited. Had Gideon been named “Contender with Baal,” it would have implied the existence of Baal. But if he was called, “Baal will contend with him, avenge himself on him,” and thus by his life, presence, and prosperity, strikingly manifested the impotence of the idol-god, who could not take vengeance on him, then his name itself was full of the triumph of the Israelitish spirit over its opponents. Baal can do nothing, Baal will do nothing, when his altars are overthrown. Baal is not: Israel has no occasion to fear. The superstition that he will avenge himself on his enemies, is idle. Of that, Jerubbaal affords living proof. In vain did Baal’s servants wait for vengeance to overtake Gideon—it came not; the hero only becomes greater and more triumphant. The name is therefore of greater ethical significance, than has been generally supposed. This fact secured its perpetuation and popular use. Even believers in the eternal God are deeply imbued with superstitious fear of Baal, which forbids them to do anything against him. How idle this fear is, Gideon shows. Samuel in his farewell address speaks of Gideon as Jerubbaal (1 Sam. 12:11); while Joab, speaking of Abimelech, calls him “son of Jerubbosheth” (2 Sam. 11:21). בּשֶׁת is a term of reproach for Baal (Hos. 9:10).25 Any connection between the name Jerubbaal and that of a god Jaribolos, discovered on Palmyrene inscriptions, is not to be thought of. First, for the self-evident reason, that no heathen god can possibly be called Jerubbaal; and secondly, because the like-sounding Jar can be better explained from יָרֵחַ, the moon, thus suggesting a moon-baal (cf. Corpus Insc. Grœc. iii. n. 4502, etc.; Ritter, xvii. 1531, etc.). It is interesting to notice that Gideon’s proper name, גּדְעוֹן, appropriately expresses the act with which he began his career. נָדַצ is equivalent to the Latin caedere, to fell. Deut. 7:5 says: “Their altars ye shall throw down, .… their asherahs ye shall fell (תְּגַדֵּעוּן, cf. Deut. 12:3. The same word is used (2 Chron. 14:2; 31:1) of the felling of the Asherah, and Isa. 9:9, of the felling of trees. Gideon, therefore, is the Feller, (Cæsar).
HOMILETICAL AND PRACTICAL
After the miracle of his election, Gideon enters on his calling. Othniel begins his official career in battle, Gideon in his own house. He must test at home his courage against foes abroad. Before he can proclaim the call of God against the enemies of Israel, who are inflicted on account of the prevalent idolatry, he must throw down the altar of Baal in his father’s house. The most difficult battle is to be fought first. Nearest neighbors are the worst adversaries. But he dares it because he believes God, and wins. So, when preachers of the gospel reap no fruit and gain no victory, it is often because they have not yet overthrown the altars in their own houses. The road to the hearts of the congregation, is over the ruins of the minister’s own Baal.—STARKE: Christian friend, thou also hast a Baal in thine own heart, namely, evil concupiscence. Wilt thou please the Lord, first tear that idol down.
But Gideon must not merely tear down, but also build up; not only destroy the old altar, but also sacrifice on the new. Tearing down is of itself no proof of devotion; for an enemy’s enemy is not always a friend. The spirit that only denies, is an evil spirit. Divine truth is positive. Building involves confession; hence, to build up (edify) is to proclaim our confession and to preach the gospel of Him who is Yea and Amen. So did the Apostle not merely undermine the idolatry of Diana, but build up the church in Ephesus. Boniface, the Apostle of the Germans, not only cut down the oaks of heathenism, but founded churches. All churches are Gideon-altars, dedicated to Him who overthrew death, that He might build up the New Jerusalem.—STARKE: He who would truly reform, must not only abolish, but put something better in its place.
Gideon’s sacrifice was to be consumed by the wood of the idol-image. The sole use which can be made of wooden gods, is to kindle a sacrifice to the true God. The wood was not unholy, but only the heart that fashioned it into an idol-image. The mountains on which the people worshipped were not unholy, but only the people who erected idols upon them. All sacrificial flames arise from the wood of idols previously worshipped. So the Apostle consumed his zeal as persecutor in the burning zeal of love. When the heart burns with longings after its Saviour, the flames consume the worldly idols which it formerly served. When prayer rises like the smoke of sacrifice, it springs from penitence in which old sins are burned to ashes.
Gideon is obedient to every direction, and is crowned with success. Notwithstanding apparent danger, obedience to God conducts only to happy issues. The most painful injunction is laid on Abraham; he obeys, and it turns to salvation. The enemies seek to slay Gideon; but they are sent home with derision. Gideon not only threw down the altar in his father’s house, but also won his father’s heart for God. So, confession of Christ often draws after it the hearts of parents. It is salvation, even if the first be last. However late, if at last men only come to God!—LISCO: The father had evidently derived new courage from his son’s bold exploit of faith, and declares war to the idolaters, if they touch his son.—GERLACH: The bold deed, of the son inspired the father also with new faith and courage. Hence, in this strife, Joash dared to judge as faith demanded.
And Gideon was called Jerubbaal. The hero is the wonderful type of the militant church: militant, that is, against unbelief, not engaged in internal warfare. His name proclaimed that Baal is nothing and can do nothing; but that God’s word is irresistable. Hence, it is a symbol of encouragement for all who confess the truth. He who fears and hesitates, does not love; but for him who has courage, Baal is vanished. Gideon threw down his altar, and built another for God, not for the stones’ sake, but for Israel’s benefit. Every Christian is a Jerubbaal, so long as instead of self-righteousness, he gives a place in his heart to the Cross. Thus, many in our days, who have more fear of man than courage in God, are put to shame by Jerubbaal. They exercise discretion, regard their position, look to their income, defer to superiors, and wish to please all,—but only he who seeks to please God alone, loses nothing and gains all.—STARKE: As names given to men in memory of their good deeds are an honor to them, so to their adversaries they are a disgrace.—GERLACH: Henceforth the life and well-being of Gideon became an actual proof of the nothingness of idolatry; hence he receives the name Jerubbaal from the mouth of his father.
[BP. HALL: The wood of Baal’s grove must be used to burn a sacrifice unto God. When it was once cut down, God’s detestation and their danger ceased. The good creatures of God that have been profaned to idolatry, may, in a change of their use, be employed to the holy service of their Maker.—WORDSWORTH: The Parthenons and Pantheons of heathen antiquity have been consecrated into Basilicas and Churches of Christ.—HENRY: Gidson, as a type of Christ, mast first save his people from their sins, then from their enemies.—THE SAME: It is good to appear for God when we are called to it, though there he few or none to second us, because God can incline the hearts of those to stand by us, from whom we little expect it.—TR.
16[Judges 6:25.—Bertheau and Wordsworth also find two bullocks in the text. “The original text,” says the latter, “seems clearly to speak of two bullocks, and the ancient versions appear to distinguish them (see Sept., Vulg., Syriac, Arabic).” De Wette and Bunsen, too, render “and,” not “even.” Keil argues, that “if God had commanded Gideon to take two bullocks, He would surely also have told him what he was to do with both.” But does He not tell him plainly enough in the words, “and pull down the altar of Baal?” See the commentary, below.—TR.]
17[Judges 6:26.—בַּמַּצֲרָכָה. Our author’s translation of this word, “on the forward edge,” is too precarious to allow of its introduction into the text. It probably means: “with the arrangement of wood” (cf. below). On the use of בְּ in this sense, see Ges. Lex., s. v., B. 2, a.—TR.]
18[Judges 6:27.—The E. V. is singularly awkward here. Dr. Cassel: “and as, on account of the house of his father and the men of the city, he feared to do it by day, he did it by night.”—TR.]
19[Judges 6:31.—Dr. Cassel translates the foregoing clause thus: “he that contendeth for him, let him die! Wait till morning;” etc. Keil interprets similarly.—TR.]
20 הָאֲשׁרָח אֲשֶׁר צָלָיו. Hence they always occur together, cf. 1 Kgs. 14:23; 16:33; 2 Kgs. 17:16; 21:8; 23:15.
21[WORDSWORTH: “Gideon, though not a priest, was made a priest for the occasion—as Manoah afterwards was (Judges 13:19)—by the special command or God, who shows his divine independence and sovereign authority by making priests of whom he will, and by ordering altars to be built where he will. Cf. Hengst., Pentateuch, ii: 48.”—TR.]
22[KEIL; “בַּמַּצֲרָכָה, ‘with the preparation (zurüstung).’ The explanation of this word is doubtful. Since בָּבָח is used (1 Kgs. 15:22) with בְּ of the building material, Studer and Bertheau understand מַצֲרָכָה of the materials of the overthrown Baal-altar, out of which Gideon was to build the altar to Jehovah—Studer applying the word more particularly to the stone of the altar itself, Bertheau to the materials, especially the pieces of wood, lying on the altar, ready to be used in offering sacrifices. But they are certainly wrong; for neither does מַצֲרָכָה mean building material or pieces of wood, nor does the definite article, which here precedes it, point to the altar of Baal. The verb צָרַדְ occurs not only quite frequently of the arrangement of the wood upon the altar (Gen. 22:9; Lev. 1:7, and elsewhere), but also of the preparation of the altar for the sacrifice (Num. 23:4). Accordingly, מַצֲרָכָה can scarcely be understood otherwise than of the preparation of the altar to be built for the sacrificial action, in the sense: ‘Build the altar with the preparation (equipment) required for the sacrifice.’ According to what follows, this preparation consisted in piling up the wood of the Asherah on the altar to consume the burnt-offering of Gideon.”—TR.]
23The same idea underlies the Jewish legends of Abraham’s destruction of the idols in his father’s house. Cf. Beer, Leben Abraham’s, Leipzig, 1869, p. 10.
24Keil has come back to it.
25On the names Ishbosheth and Mephibosheth, compare for the present my article on Ishbosheth in Herzog’s Realencykl. vii:83, where, however, the printer has erroneously put קרי מבצל for מריב בצל.
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.The Midianite marauders being encamped in the Plain of Jezreel, the Spirit of Jehovah takes possession of Gideon. The double sign of the fleece
33Then [And] all the Midianites, and the Amalekites, and the children [sons] of the east were gathered together, and went over, and pitched [encamped] in the 34valley [plain] of Jezreel. But [And] the Spirit of the Lord [Jehovah] came upon Gideon, and he blew a [the] trumpet; and Abi-ezer was gathered after him. 35And 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.26 36And Gideon said unto God, If thou wilt save Israel by my hand, as thou hast said, 37Behold, I will [omit: will] put a fleece of wool in the [threshing] floor: and if the dew [shall] be on the fleece only, and it be dry upon all the earth [ground] besides, then shall I know that thou wilt save Israel by my hand, as thou hast said. 38And it was so: for [and when] he rose up early on the morrow, and [he] thrust [pressed27] the fleece together, and wringed2 the [omit: the] dew out of the fleece, a [the28] bowl-full of water. 39And Gideon said unto God, Let not thine anger be hot [kindled] against me, and I will speak but this once: let me prove [try], 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. 40And God did so that night: for [and] it was dry upon the fleece only, and there was dew on all the ground.
TEXTUAL AND GRAMMATICAL
[1 Judges 6:35.—לִקְרָאתָם, “to meet them,” i.e., Gideon and the Manassites already in the field. Dr. Cassel (De Wette, also) substitutes “him.” The LXX. change the number at the other end of the sentence, probably because they thought that the mountaineers of Asher and Naphtali, descending into the plain, did not make a good subject for צָלָה, to go up, and render: καὶ ἀνέβη εἰς συνάντηιν αὐτῶν. As to what may be called the “military” meaning of צָלָה, cf. the Com. on Judges 1:1, p. 26.—TR.]
[2 Judges 6:38.—The words rendered “thrust together” and “wringed” by the E. V., are וַיָּזַר (from זוּר) and ניִּמֶצ (from מָצָה). Dr. Cassel translates the first by “wringing,” the second by “pressing.” The difference between them seems to be slight, if any. In the text, one clause expresses the action, the other the result. The primary idea of זוּר, according to Gesenius, is “to straiten, to bring into a narrow compass;” that of מָצָה, “to suck.” The action of wringing, though likely enough to be used by Gideon, is not expressed by either term. However, it lies nearer זוּר than מָצָה. De Wette: Er druckte die Wolle aus, und presste Thau aus der Schur, etc.—TR.]
[3 Judges 6:38.—הַסֵּפֶל, “the bowl,” namely, the one he used to receive the water. On the “bowl,” compare our author’s remarks on Judges 5:25.—TR.]
EXEGETICAL AND DOCTRINAL
Judges 6:33–35. It was high time that a new spirit bestirred itself in Israel. The Bedouin hordes already pressed forward again from the desert regions beyond the Jordan, and were settling down, like a heavy cloud, on the plain of Jezreel. Gideon, by his bold deed against Baal, and because the idol-god did nothing whatever to avenge the insult to its altar, had acquired authority and distinction among his people. As now the enemy who oppressed and plundered Israel was near, the Spirit of God filled him, literally, “put him on.” What he had done against the altar of Baal in his father’s house, that he would attempt against the enemy in the open field. He sounds the trumpet on the mountains. Though the youngest in his family, and that the least in Manasseh, the people obeyed his call, and ranged themselves under him (אַהֲוָייו)—such power is there in one courageous deed, in the vigorous resolution of one man in a servile age. Even Asher, who had held back from Barak, furnished men. Nor were the brave sons of Zebulun and Naphtali wanting on this occasion. In a short time Gideon stood at the head of a not inconsiderable army.
Judges 6:36. And Gideon said unto God. The success thus far enjoyed by Gideon, has not lifted him up. He cannot yet believe that he is called to conduct so great an undertaking. He is aware also of the dangers to which he exposes his house and country. True, the divine manifestation which roused his soul, is still acting on him. But time, even a few eventful days, envelops such memories in shadowy dimness. In his humility, he is seized by a longing for renewed certainty. He desires to be assured, whether it was indeed destined for him to become the deliverer. He has recourse to no superstitious use of the lot. He turns in prayer to the God who has already shown his wonders to him, and who, as angel, has conversed with him. Now, as in Judges 6:20, where the angel manifests his supernatural character, the narrator used Elohim, with the article, because from Jehovah alone, who is the true Elohim, the only one to whom this name justly belongs, angels proceed; so here again, when Gideon asks for a new sign, he makes him pray to “the Elohim,” and continues to employ this term as long as he speaks of the miracle.
Judges 6:37–40. Behold, I put a fleece of wool in the threshing-floor. The sign he asks for is such as would naturally suggest itself to a person in rural life. The holy land is favored with heavy, fertilizing dews, which impart to its fields that beautiful and juicy verdure, by which it forms so grateful a contrast with the dry and dewless steppes on which nothing but the palm grows (cf. Ritter, xv. 157; xvi. 42, etc. [Gage’s Transl. ii: 164]). Wool, spread on the open threshing-floor, especially attracts the dew. Gideon proposes to consider it a divine affirmative sign, if only the wool absorb dew, while the ground around be dry. It takes place. He finds the wool wet; after wringing (וַיָּזַר, from צוּר = זוּר) the fleece, and pressing it (וַיִּמֶצ, from מָצַצ = מָצָה), he can fill a whole bowl full with the water; the ground round about is dry. Though very remarkable, he thinks nevertheless, that it may possibly be explained on natural principles. Perhaps the dew, already dried up from the ground, was only longer retained by the fleece. In his humility and necessity for assurance, and in the purity of his conscience, which is known to God, he ventures once more to appeal to God. If now the reverse were to take place, leaving the wool dry and the ground wet, there could be no doubt that God had wrought a miracle. No other explanation would be possible. This also comes to pass, and Gideon knows now beyond all doubt, that God is with him. The naïveté of an uncommon depth of thought reveals itself in this choice of a sign for which the hero asks. Faith in God’s omnipotence lies at its base. Such a request could only be made by one who knew that the whole creation was in the hands of God. Relying on the grace and power of God, he casts lots with the independent laws of nature. The childlike faith which animates him, sounds the depths of an unfathomable wisdom. Hence, in the ancient church, his miraculous sign became the type of the highest and most wonderful miracle known to the church, the birth of Jesus from the Virgin Mary. Origen already speaks of the advent of the Son of God as the fall of the divine dew. The development of this type in pictures and customs, I have elsewhere attempted to trace, whither I must here refer the reader (Weihnachten, p. 248, etc.).
HOMILETICAL AND PRACTICAL
GERLACH: Gideon does not “put on” the Spirit of the Lord, but the Spirit puts him on. He clothes him, as with a suit of armor, so that in his strength he becomes invulnerable, invincible.
[BP. HALL: Of all the instruments that God did use in so great a work, I find none so weak as Gideon, who yet of all others was styled valiant. THE SAME: The former miracle was strong enough to carry Gideon through his first exploit of ruinating the idolatrous grove and altar; but now, when he saw the swarm of the Midianites and Amalekites about his ears, he calls for new aid; and, not trusting to the Abiezrites, and his other thousands of Israel, he runs to God for a further assurance of victory. The refuge was good, but the manner of seeking it savors of distrust. There is nothing more easy than to be valiant when no peril appeareth; but when evils assail us upon equal terms, it is hard, and commendable, not to be dismayed. If God had made that proclamation now, which afterwards was commanded to be made by Gideon, “Let the timorous depart,” I doubt whether Israel had not wanted a guide: yet how willing is the Almighty to satify our weak desires! What tasks is He content to be set by our infirmity!—KEIL: Gideon’s prayer for a sign sprang not from want of faith in God’s promise of victory, but from the weakness of the flesh, which paralyzes the faith and energy of the spirit, and often makes the servants of God so anxious and timorous that God must assist them by miracles. Gideon knew himself and his own strength, and that for victory over the enemy this would not suffice.—SCOTT: Even they who have the Spirit of God, and by the trumpet of the gospel call others to the conflict, cannot always keep out disquieting fears, in circumstances of peculiar danger and difficulty. In this struggle against involuntary unbelief, the Lord himself, the Author and Finisher of his people’s faith, is their refuge; to Him they make application, and He will help them; and when they are encouraged, they will be enabled to strengthen their brethren.—BUSH: The result went, 1. To illustrate the divine condescension. God, instead of being offended with his servant, kindly acceded to his request. A fellow creature who had given such solemn promises, would have been quite indignant at finding his veracity seemingly called in question.… 2. To show the efficacy of prayer. It was prayer that prevailed in this instance. With great humility and much tenderness of spirit, Gideon besought the divine interposition.—TR.]
26[Judges 6:35.—לִקְרָאתָם, “to meet them,” i.e., Gideon and the Manassites already in the field. Dr. Cassel (De Wette, also) substitutes “him.” The LXX. change the number at the other end of the sentence, probably because they thought that the mountaineers of Asher and Naphtali, descending into the plain, did not make a good subject for צָלָה, to go up, and render: καὶ ἀνέβη εἰς συνάντηιν αὐτῶν. As to what may be called the “military” meaning of צָלָה, cf. the Com. on Judges 1:1, p. 26.—TR.]
27[Judges 6:38.—The words rendered “thrust together” and “wringed” by the E. V., are וַיָּזַר (from זוּר) and ניִּמֶצ (from מָצָה). Dr. Cassel translates the first by “wringing,” the second by “pressing.” The difference between them seems to be slight, if any. In the text, one clause expresses the action, the other the result. The primary idea of זוּר, according to Gesenius, is “to straiten, to bring into a narrow compass;” that of מָצָה, “to suck.” The action of wringing, though likely enough to be used by Gideon, is not expressed by either term. However, it lies nearer זוּר than מָצָה. De Wette: Er druckte die Wolle aus, und presste Thau aus der Schur, etc.—TR.]
28[Judges 6:38.—הַסֵּפֶל, “the bowl,” namely, the one he used to receive the water. On the “bowl,” compare our author’s remarks on Judges 5:25.—TR.]