All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. - 2 Timothy 3:16-17

Success and Failure
Based on Judges 6–8

Once again, the tribes west of the Jordan River are suffering oppression from the various inhabitants of Canaan because they have not destroyed all the Canaanites in the land of their inheritance. Instead, they mingle with these people and largely accept their idolatrous ways. As a result, the Lord causes them to be oppressed in order to bring about repentance.

The tribes east of the Jordan have suffered little from oppression, until the Midianites invade their land for seven years. The Hebrews try to hide by living in “the dens, the caves, and the strongholds which are in the mountains.” At the time of harvest, the Midianites and Amalekites come and destroy their crops, sheep, oxen, and donkeys leaving them in extreme poverty. In desperation, the Hebrews cry out to the Lord, who sends Gideon to liberate them.

The Angel of the Lord encounters Gideon in a winepress, threshing wheat. This is a very strange place to thresh wheat, but Gideon is desperately trying to hide his little bit of grain from the Midianites. The Angel of the Lord addresses him, “The Lord is with you, you mighty man of valor.”

Gideon replies, “Oh my lord, if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? And where are all His miracles which our fathers told us about, saying, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the Lord has forsaken us and delivered us into the hands of the Midianites.”

It is interesting that the Angel of the Lord ignores his questions, and instead, orders him, saying, “Go in this might of yours, you shall save Israel from the hand of the Midianites. Have I not sent you?”

The Weakest One

Gideon feels he is nobody because his clan is the weakest in the tribe of Manasseh, and he is the least in his father’s house. In the eyes of the ancients, this means he has no authority among the people to call men to war. But the Lord looks at it differently, because humility gives Him an opportunity to act.

Gideon’s faith is not yet strong, so he asks for a sign to be sure it is the Lord who speaks with him. The sign is that the Lord must remain there until he has returned with an offering. Gideon hurries and prepares a young goat, unleavened bread, and a pot of broth. He places the goat and bread on a rock and pours the broth over them (similar to the water Elijah poured over the sacrifice on Mt. Carmel, many years later). Then the Angel of the Lord touches the offering with the end of His staff, and instantly, fire rises out of the rock, consuming the sacrifice. After fulfilling the sign, the Angel of the Lord immediately departs.

That night, the Lord instructs Gideon to tear down his father’s altar to Baal, and cut down the wooden image beside it. Next, he is to build an altar to the Lord on top of the rock where the Angel of the Lord had consumed his sacrifice. On it, he was to sacrifice a valuable seven-year-old bull, using the wood of the image to Baal as firewood. Gideon does all this by night with ten of his trusted servants, because he is afraid of his father and the men of the city.

The next morning, the men of the city see what has happened and ask who has done all this. When they find out, they intend to kill Gideon, but his idol-worshipping father defends him, saying that Baal should be able to fend for himself, if he is a god.

More Signs

The Midianites and Amalekites have now crossed over the Jordan to fight the tribes east of the river. Gideon responds in the Lord’s authority, and calls the people together for war. Thirty-two thousand men respond from his tribe of Manasseh, and the tribes of Asher, Zebulun, and Naphtali. Doubtless, other tribes surely hear the call, but do not respond—probably because they think whole endeavor is too perilous.

Gideon is still fearful and wants further assurance that the Lord will save Israel. He asks for two more signs. For the first, he puts a fleece of wool on the threshing floor and wants God to make it wet with dew, while the ground remains dry. The next morning, he finds the fleece to be wet, but the ground dry, but a doubt arises in his mind, because wool naturally absorbs moisture. So he asks for a second sign, reversing the whole procedure with the ground being wet, and the fleece dry. When this happens, Gideon is ready to go to war.

Too Many Men

However, the Lord is not yet ready for him to proceed, and says to Gideon, “The people who are with you are too many for Me to give the Midianites into their hands, lest Israel claim glory for itself against Me, saying, ‘My own hand has saved you.’” Judges 7:2. He instructs him to send everyone home who is afraid of war—and 22,000 depart. Besides diminishing their numbers, God intends to keep the fearful ones from making the others afraid.

The Lord thinks the number of soldiers is still too large with 10,000, so Gideon is instructed to take the men down to the water to drink in preparation for going to war.

Those who are relaxed and kneel down or lap the water with their tongues are to go home, but those who dip up the water in their cupped hands while remaining standing and vigilant are ready to go to war. The Lord is now pleased with the number, because only 300 remain. This will make it absolutely clear that the Lord will win the battle.

Meanwhile, the Midianites and Amalekites get wind of Gideon’s army, and gathered a huge army. They “were lying in the valley as numerous as locusts; and their camels were without number, as the sand by the seashore in multitude.” Judges 7:12. Gideon trembles at the thought of going to war with only 300 men against an army of 135,000 (see Judges 8:10). He needs to have his faith strengthened with further assurance of victory, so the Lord speaks to him during the night and instructs him to take his attendant and go immediately to the camp of the Midianites. Once there, they hear a soldier relating his dream to a companion that a loaf of barley bread tumbles into camp, hits a tent that overturns, and then collapses. The loaf of barley bread is clearly an indication that the Midianites are robbing Israel of basic food. In the ancient world, dreams are very significant, and the universal belief is that God, or the gods use this method to communicate with them.

The soldier’s companion interprets the significance of the barley loaf, “This is nothing else but the sword of Gideon the son of Joash, a man of Israel! Into his hand God has delivered Midian and the whole camp.” Judges 7:14. It is interesting to note that barley was considered the least of the grains. In this case, it represents Gideon, the least in his father’s house, and whose clan is the weakest in the tribe of Manasseh.

When Gideon hears this, he immediately worships the Lord, returns to his camp and says, “Arise, for the Lord has delivered the camp of Midian into your hand.” Clearly, the ancients understand that the battles are between the gods of each nation.

Gideon divides his soldiers into three companies of 100 each, giving each man a trumpet, and an empty pitcher with a torch inside. They gather on the hill overlooking the enemy camp in the valley below. His strategy is to position his men on three sides at the third hour of the night (about midnight), and have them do everything he does at the same time. The sequence of action is to blow the trumpets (ram’s horns), break the pitchers to let their light shine, and shout the war cry, “The sword of the Lord and of Gideon!” Judges 7:18. They are to remain in their position at the perimeter of the opposing army.

The number of trumpets and torches is unusual, since in night battles, most hands are needed for weapons and shields, and only a few carry torches or trumpets. p When the Midianites hear the blast of 300 trumpets and see so many torches, they think a massive army has come in a surprise nighttime attack.

As every soldier blows his trumpet, breaks his pitcher, and shouts, the result is “The Lord set every man’s sword against his companion throughout the whole camp; and the army fled.” Judges 7:22. Now that the initial battle is won, other men from the three of the four responding tribes join in the pursuit. Gideon sends messengers to Ephraim to guard the crossing points of the Jordan to cut off the escape of the Midianites. They capture and kill two Midianite princes, Oreb, whose name means “raven,” and Zeeb, whose name means “wolf.”

When Gideon returns after his victory, the Ephraimites angrily accost him saying, “Why have you done this to us by not calling us when you went to fight the Midianites?” Judges 8:1. Gideon surely sees through their motives, and knows that they chose not to volunteer. However, he astutely soothes their hurt pride by saying, “What have I down now in comparison with you…. God has delivered into your hands the princes of Midian, Oreb and Zeeb. And what was I able to do in comparison with you?” Judges 8:2–3.

Gideon’s war ends with the deaths of 120,000 enemy soldiers in the first battle; the capture of two kings of Midian, Zebah and Zalmunna; and doubtless other deaths among the 15,000 who are defeated. This results in 40 years of relief from Midianite and Amalekite oppression. Clearly the victory is the Lord’s, but He uses Gideon and his 300 to accomplish His plan.

Falling Into Error

In gratitude for deliverance, Gideon’s countrymen propose that he should become king and that his descendants should rule after him. Gideon firmly responds, “I will not rule over you nor shall my son rule over you, the Lord shall rule over you.” Judges 8:22. However, he falls into error by asking for many of the spoils of war, including the golden earrings and Midianite ornaments weighing 1,700 shekels (about 43 pounds) and the purple robes of the Midianite kings. From these he makes an ephod and sets it up in his city, causing Israel to be enticed into idolatry (see Judges 8:27).

After the war, Gideon dwells in his own house, marries many wives, and has 70 sons. He dies, and immediately the people forsake the Lord and return to Baal worship, no longer showing kindness to the house of Gideon.

Gideon is clearly the Lord’s appointed man to successfully free Israel from Midianite oppression. He learns that is the Lord who frees them, and that He must rule over them. But after a great victory, he is in great jeopardy to think he is very important. Gideon falls into this trap and elevates himself to priestly importance, which eventually causes his downfall, and the downfall of his house and people. Like many other men in the Bible, his story is one of success and failure.

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