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.
Verse 1. - Midian. In Numbers 22:7 we read of the Midianites as allied with the Moabites in their hostility to the children of Israel, and we find them willing agents of Balaam s iniquitous counsels (Numbers 25:6, 17, 18; Numbers 31:7, 8), and suffering a terrible chastisement from the Israelites in consequence. An abiding national feud was the natural consequence; and this, added to their love of plunder, no doubt led to the present invasion in company with the Amalekites (Judges 3:13, note). Observe the contrast between the victory described in Numbers 31. and the defeat narrated in this chapter.
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.
Verse 2. - The dens... and caves. In the writer's time certain hiding-places called by the above names were traditionally known as the places where the Israelites took refuge during the terrible Midianite invasion. The limestone hills of Palestine abounded in such caves.
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;
Verse 3. - Children of the east. We first find this term in Genesis 29:1, where it is applied to the people of Haran. Comparing the analogous phrases, "the east country" (Genesis 25:6), the mountains of the east (Numbers 23:7), "the men of the east" (Job 1:3), "the east" (Isaiah 2:3; Matthew 2:1), we gather that the country lying to the east of Palestine as far as the river Euphrates was called the east country, and that the various tribes of Arabs and others who peopled that desert were called "the children of the cast" (see ver. 33 and Judges 7:12; Judges 8:10).
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.
Verse 4. - Left no sustenance, etc., i.e. neither grass, nor corn, nor fruit. It is added, neither sheep, nor ox, nor ass. These all either died for want of food or were seized by the Midianites. The next verse explains that the enormous multitudes of their cattle and camels consumed the whole produce of the ground.
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.
Verse 5. - As grasshoppers. See the striking description of the destruction caused by locusts in Joel 3. I have heard travellers in India describe the sudden darkening of the sky by a flight of locusts.
And Israel was greatly impoverished because of the Midianites; and the children of Israel cried unto the LORD.
And it came to pass, when the children of Israel cried unto the LORD because of the Midianites,
That the LORD sent a prophet unto the children of Israel, which said unto them, Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, I brought you up from Egypt, and brought you forth out of the house of bondage;
Verse 8. - A prophet. Literally, a man, a prophet, just as Deborah was described as a woman, a prophetess (Judges 4:4). It is interesting to observe the flow of the spirit of prophecy in those early days between Moses and Samuel, before the dispensation of the prophets had risen to its height. I brought you up from Egypt. Note the constant reference to the exodus as a fixed point in their national and religious life (see ver. 13; Judges 2:1).
And I delivered you out of the hand of the Egyptians, and out of the hand of all that oppressed you, and drave them out from before you, and gave you their land;
And I said unto you, I am the LORD your God; fear not the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but ye have not obeyed my voice.
And there came an angel of the LORD, and sat under an oak which was in Ophrah, that pertained unto Joash the Abiezrite: and his son Gideon threshed wheat by the winepress, to hide it from the Midianites.
Verse 11. - An angel, etc. Rather, the angel of the Lord, otherwise called "the angel of his presence" (Isaiah 63:9). In vers. 14, 16, 23, for the angel of the Lord we have simply the Lord (see Judges 2:1, note). An oak. Rather the oak, or terebinth, as it should be rendered. It was doubtless a well-known tree still standing in the writer's time (see ver. 19). Compare the mention of the oak (terebinth) at Shechem (Genesis 35:4); the great oak (terebinth) in which Absalom was caught (2 Samuel 18:9); Deborah's palm tree (Judges 4:5, where see note). Observe the simple way in which the ministration of the angel is introduced, as if it were a matter of course in the eyes of him who is the Lord of the millions of the heavenly host, those ministers of his who do his pleasure. Human scepticism, the twin sister of human selfishness, would blot out all creation except itself. To hide it, etc. These graphic touches give a lively picture of the straits to which the Israelites were reduced by the Midianite occupation.
And the angel of the LORD appeared unto him, and said unto him, The LORD is with thee, thou mighty man of valour.
Verse 12. - Appeared. Angels were not always visible when present (see Numbers 22:31; 2 Samuel 24:17; 2 Kings 6:19, etc.).
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.
Verse 13. - If the Lord be with us, etc. The utter dejection caused by the Midianite oppression breathes in every word spoken by Gideon. But how reassuring the angel's words were. Which our fathers told us cf. This is a distinct reference to the national traditions, which are elsewhere alluded to (cf. Exodus 12:26, 27; Psalm 44:1; Psalm 78:3-5; Jeremiah 16:14).
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?
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.
Verse 15. - Wherewith shall I save Israel? etc. Compare the unwillingness of Moses (Exodus 3:11; Exodus 4:10, 13), of Saul (1 Samuel 10:21, 22), of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:6), of Amos (Amos 7:14, 15), and of St. Peter (Luke 5:8). Also in ecclesiastical history that of Ambrose, Gregory the Great, and others. The least fit are usually the most forward, the most fit the most backward, to undertake great offices (Judges 9:8-15). True humility is the usual companion of true greatness (see 2 Corinthians 2:16; 2 Corinthians 3:5).
And the LORD said unto him, Surely I will be with thee, and thou shalt smite the Midianites as one man.
And he said unto him, If now I have found grace in thy sight, then shew me a sign that thou talkest with me.
Verse 17. - A sign that thou talkest with me - that it is indeed thou thyself that speakest to me, even God, and that there is no illusion.
Depart not hence, I pray thee, until I come unto thee, and bring forth my present, and set it before thee. And he said, I will tarry until thou come again.
Verse 18. - My present. Minehah means sometimes a present made to man, as in Judges 3:18; but it more commonly means a sacrificial offering (Genesis 4:3 5), which seems to be its meaning here, as explained vers. 19, 20. When coupled with zevach, the animal sacrifice, minchah means the meat and drink offering.
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.
Verse 19. - Unleavened cakes (Genesis 19:3; 1 Samuel 28:24). The necessary haste gave no time for the use of leaven, which is one explanation of the unleavened bread at the passover (Exodus 12:33, 34, 39). Presented it. A word specially used of sacrifices and offerings (Amos 5:25).
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.
Verse 20. - Lay them upon this rock, as upon an altar, and pour out the broth, as a drink offering or a libation (see Judges 13:19).
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.
Verse 21. - There rose up fire, etc. The consuming of the sacrifice by fire from heaven was the token of its being accepted (cf. Judges 13:20, 23; also 1 Kings 18:23, 33, 38; 1 Chronicles 21:26). The angel of the Lord departed, etc. In the very similar case of the angel who appeared to Manoah (Judges 13:15-20), the angel ascended in the flame of the altar. It is probable that he did so in the present instance, though it is not expressly stated how he disappeared (cf. Acts 8:39).
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.
Verse 22. - Gideon perceived, etc. Gideon's suspicious were now turned into a certainty. It was indeed God that had spoken to him by his angel (ver. 17). Alas, etc. Gideon speaks thus in terror of the death which he thought must be the penalty of seeing the angel of the Lord (see Judges 13:22, and note). Because. Rather, therefore, or to this end, viz., that I should die.
And the LORD said unto him, Peace be unto thee; fear not: thou shalt not die.
Verse 23. - Peace, etc. Cf. Daniel 10:19, and John 20:21, 26; Luke 24:36-39. Hence the name of the altar, Jehovah-shalom - "The Lord is peace," is at peace with me.
Then Gideon built an altar there unto the LORD, and called it Jehovahshalom: unto this day it is yet in Ophrah of the Abiezrites.
Verse 24. - For naming altars built in commemoration of particular events see Genesis 22:14; Genesis 31:47-49; Genesis 33:20; Joshua 22:34, etc.
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:
Verse 25. - The grove. See Judges 3:7. The size of the asherah is indicated by the order in ver. 26 to use it for the altar fire.
CHAPTER 6:25-32 Verse 25. - The same night, etc. The iron was hot; it was time to strike. As regards what follows, there are two ways of understanding the verse. One, that of the A.V., supposes that only one bullock is spoken of, and that "the young bullock" belonging to Joash is further described as "even the second bullock of seven years old;" to which it is objected that a bullock of seven years old is not "a young bullock," "the bullock of an ox," as the Hebrew phrase is, and that there is no explanation of the meaning of "the second bullock;" and that the Hebrew manifestly describes two bullocks:
(1) Joash's young bullock, and
(2) the bullock of seven years old.
The other supposes two bullocks, and instead of has the more natural rendering and. The only objection to this, by far the most natural rendering, is that Gideon is not told what to do with the first bullock. But it is a simple explanation that the two bullocks were used in the laborious work of demolishing the altar of Baal, and removing the earth and the stone to build the altar of the Lord, and that when the work was finished one of the bullocks - the seven-year-old - was sacrificed. For the grove see Judges 3:7, note.
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.
Verse 26. - This rock. Rather, the keep or stronghold of Ophrah, where also the high place was; just as the temple was in the stronghold of Zion, and the hold of the house of Baal-Berith at Shechem was in the citadel of the place (Judges 9:46). In the ordered place. The meaning of this phrase is uncertain. It may either be rendered as in the A.V., meaning on the levelled ground ordered and prepared for the building of the altar; or it may more probably be rendered with the arranged material, i.e. the stones which were laid in order at the bottom, and the wood which was laid in order upon the top of the altar (cf. Genesis 22:9). The material may either refer to that taken from the altar of Baal, which had been thrown down, and which was then ordered to be used in building the altar of the Lord, or to its own arranged material or superstructure, the wood of the asherah.
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.
Verse 27. - Then, i.e. the next night. He would have done it the next day; but even his father's household, as well as the men of Ophrah generally, were so infected with the idolatry of the times, that he was afraid of being interrupted by violence.
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.
Verse 28. - The grove. See ver. 25. The second bullock. There must be some special meaning in this description, the second. Can it refer to his place in the team, the young bullock being the leader, the first, and the seven-year-old the wheeler, the second?
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.
Verse 29. - They said, Gideon hath, etc. No doubt one of the ten servants (ver. 27) employed by him had spoken about it.
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.
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.
Verse 31. - Stood against him. The words describe their hostile, menacing, attitude, clamouring to have Gideon brought out that they might kill him. Will ye plead, etc. The emphasis is on the ye. Joash met and silenced their pleading by threatening death to any that should plead for Baal. Baal shall plead for himself. Joash's courage was rising under the influence of his son s brave deed.
Therefore on that day he called him Jerubbaal, saying, Let Baal plead against him, because he hath thrown down his altar.
Verse 32. - Jerubbaal, i.e. Jarov Baal, let Baal plead. In Judges 7:1; Judges 8:29, 35; Judges 9:1, etc., Jerubbaal is used as the synonym of Gideon, just as in English history Coeur de Lion is used as a synonym for Richard. The name Jerubbaal appears as Jerubbesheth; besheth or bosheth, meaning shame, i.e. a shameful idol, being substituted for Baal, as in the name Ishbosheth, for Eshbaal (see 2 Samuel 2:8; 1 Chronicles 8:33).
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.
Verse 33. - The Midianites, etc. See ver. 3, note. The valley of Jezreel. Rather, the plain, "the great plain of Esdraelon," as the Book of Judith styles it (Judith 1:8; see Judges 4:13, note). The great plain of Jezreel, or Esdraelon (which is the Greek form of the name), through which the Kishon flows, is eight hours in length from east to west, and five hours (twelve miles) in breadth from north to south. It is described as "a very extensive and fertile plain shut in between the mountain ranges of Samaria and Mount Carmel on the south, and of Galilee on the north," and extending from the Mediterranean at the Gulf of Caipha, or Haipha, to the valley of the Jordan. The access to it from the fords of Jordan in the neighbourhood of Bethshan (or Beishan, called by the Greeks Scythopolis) made it the natural place for invasion by the wild tribes east of Jordan, as it is to this day. Particular parts of this great plain are called "the valley, of Megiddo" and "the plain of Samaria." For a full account of the plain of Esdraelon see Stanley, 'Sinai and Palestine,' ch. 9. Went over, i.e. crossed the Jordan. It appears from vers. 3-5 that these invasions were repeated at certain seasons. When they had plundered all they could get, and eaten up all the produce of the land, they would go back for a while to their own country east of Jordan, and then return again. So they did now, but they met with a different reception this time.
But the Spirit of the LORD came upon Gideon, and he blew a trumpet; and Abiezer was gathered after him.
Verse 34. - The Spirit of the Lord, etc. See Judges 3:10; Judges 11:29; Judges 13:25; Judges 14:6, 19; cf. Isaiah 11:2; Isaiah 61:1; John 20:22; Acts 13:2; Acts 20:28; and 1 Corinthians 12:4. Abi-ezer. His own family (ver. 11; see Joshua 17:2). In Numbers 26:30 the name appears as Jeezer, by a very defective transliteration - Aiezer represents the Hebrew letters. The b has probably fallen out by accident. Here we have the immediate fruit of Gideon s daring in the cause of God. The whole family of Abi-ezer, numbering probably thousands, sprang to his side.
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.
Verse 35. - He sent messengers, etc. Manasseh, Asher, Zebulun, and Naphtali were the adjacent tribes - Manasseh (i.e. the half tribe of Manasseh, west of Jordan) on the south, Asher on the west, and Zebulun and Naphtali on the north. Three of these were the very tribes who had fought under Barak, and it is pleasing to see Asher now joined with them instead of abiding in his breaches. This ready compliance with the call was the consequence of the Spirit of the Lord being upon Gideon. Came up. No doubt Gideon was eneamped upon one of the southern hills that overlooked the plain, probably Gilboa, just as Barak was on Mount Tabor (see ch. 8:8-12). To meet them, i.e. Gideon and the Abi-ezrites.
And Gideon said unto God, If thou wilt save Israel by mine hand, as thou hast said,
Verse 36. - If thou wilt save, etc. There is something touching in Gideon's diffidence of himself, even now that he found himself at the head of a large force. The thought that he was "the least in his father's house" seems still to possess him, and he can hardly believe it possible that he is to save Israel. In his humility he craves a sign that he is indeed chosen and called.
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.
Verses 37-40. - It is difficult to guess what led to this somewhat quaint sign which Gideon asked. Possibly the dews were usually heavy upon the hill of Gilead (Judges 7:3, note) where Gideon was encamped, as they seem to have been on Mount Gilboa (2 Samuel 1:21) and on Hermon (Psalm 133:3), and sheep-skins may have been a common protection against the cold nights, as in Afghanistan; and he may have noticed how often in the morning both the skin that covered him, and the ground around, was wet with the heavy dew. And this may have suggested the double test, by which his faith was, through God's condescending mercy, confirmed and established.
And it was so: for he rose up early on the morrow, and thrust the fleece together, and wringed the dew out of the fleece, a bowl full of water.
And Gideon said unto God, Let not thine anger be hot against me, and I will speak but this once: let me prove, I pray thee, but this once with the fleece; let it now be dry only upon the fleece, and upon all the ground let there be dew.
And God did so that night: for it was dry upon the fleece only, and there was dew on all the ground.