Alan H. Linton, Bristol, England
All quotations are from the New King James Version
The Book of the Judges covers the period of Israel's history from the death of Joshua to the rise of Samuel, a period of 200 years. As long as Joshua's contemporaries lived, their common faith in Jehovah kept the tribes united, but after their death, general deterioration and disintegration of the nation, both politically and religiously, set in. Twice the formula for anarchy is recorded, 'Everyone did what was right in his own eyes', Judg. 17. 6; 21. 25. The Book of Judges recounts a depressing, repetitive cycle of events:- Israel sinned (idolatry) - Israel defeated by surrounding nations as divine judgement - Israel cried to God for deliverance - God raised up a saviour or judge (not a legal advisor but a military leader). Altogether twelve judges are named and, in connection with two of them (Gideon and Samson), the Lord granted theophanies; the story is recorded in Judges chapters 6 to 8.
THE SITUATION ISRAEL FACED, Judg 6. 1-10
For seven years Israel was subdued by the Miclianites and the Amalekites, both descendants of distant cousins of Israel, yet merciless foes. Using hordes of domesticated camels, these nomadic peoples invaded from the east and made deep incursions into Israeli territory, even penetrating as far as the Philistine city of Gaza, Israel was greatly impoverished and in their distress cried to the Lord. God's first response was to send an unnamed prophet to remind them that, despite Jehovah's faithfulness, they had been disobedient. Nevertheless, He listened to their cry and called Gideon to save Israel.
THE MAN GOD CALLED, Judg 6. 11-16
As has been so often the case, God called a man of unpromising material. He was of mature years (he was old enough for his first-born to be a youth, Judg. 8. 20). He is first seen nervously threshing wheat in a winepress to hide it from the marauders, and with a sense of his own crippling inadequacy (of the weakest clan in Manassseh and least in his father's family). When called, he was full of protestations (if? why? where? but!, how?). Gideon believed that God had worked for Israel in the past but was of the opinion that He had since forsaken His people; however, Gideon had a deep concern for the welfare of Israel. God always sees potential in those He calls; for instance, when Jesus called Peter, He said, 'You are . . . you shall be'.
THE NATURE OF GOD'S CALL, Judg 6. 11 24
The call of Gideon included a visible appearance of God - the sixth recorded theophany; we read, 'The Angel of Jehovah appeared to him'. The 'Angel' evidently looked like a man since there is no indication that Gideon was in any way startled by His presence. Yet the divine nature of the 'Angel' was attested by unkindled fire to consume the offering and the repeated use of God's personal name, Lord, or Jehovah. Later, when Gideon realized the nature of his visitor, he was horrified; 'Alas, O God, I have seen the Angel of the Lord face to face'. Reassured by the Lord's words, 'Peace ... you shall not die', Gideon built an altar to the Lord and called it 'The Lord is Peace' (Jehovah Shalom).
The Lord encouraged Gideon by the promise of His presence, 'The Lord is with you, you mighty man of valour. Go in this might of yours and you will save Israel from the hand of the Midianites. Have 1 not sent you?' Victory was also assured, 'You shall defeat the Midianites as one man.' Throughout history, the same promise, 'Lo, I am with you always', Matt. 28. 20, has encouraged the Lord's servants to take up the tasks appointed to them and to continue those tasks against all odds.
GIDEON'S RESPONSE, Judg 6. 17-24
Gideon faced an enormous challenge; he wanted to be absolutely sure of God's call and, therefore, his requests for confirmatory signs are understandable. The first request was that his visitor would wait for him to prepare an offering. This was granted, 'I will wait until you come back'. Here is a scene worthy of our deepest contemplation; the 'Angel' tarried in solitude by the rock whilst Gideon prepared the offering. Later, the same Son of God would grace this scene with His presence, not for a few hours but for thirty-three years in a world that did not recognize Him. The offering, presented in a manner directed by the 'Angel', was consumed by fire out of the rock and the 'Angel' departed. Gideon's offering had been accepted and, at the same time, the divine nature of the 'Angel' was revealed, much to Gideon's consternation.
THE TEST OF OBEDIENCE, Judg. 6. 25 40
Immediately, that same night, Gideon's willingness to obey was put to the test. It centred around two altars. The altar of Baal was to be broken down. Afraid to do it by day, Gideon did it by night, but he DID IT! In its place an altar to Jehovah was built. Gideon's stand for God was immediately rewarded by a revival of faith in his father, Joash.
FACING THE ENEMY Judg. 7. 1-25
A new invasion threatened, 'but the Spirit of the Lord came upon (clothed Himself with) Gideon'. Someone has written of Gideon that he became, 'Just a suit of clothes the Spirit wore that day'. The nation was called to arms but Israel was outnumbered by more than four to one. Gideon again asked two more signs to assure him that God was with him - the signs of the fleece. The first night the fleece was saturated with dew; the second night it was dry whilst the ground was covered with dew. Both signs were granted. Next, by stages, God reduced the size of Israel's army by 99%, now a ratio of 450 of the enemy to each one of Israel's reduced army, 'lest Israel claims the glory for itself. Sadly, God had to guard against the conceit of His people then, and this is often the case in His church today. With 300 chosen men armed with most unusual weaponry, God gave victory to Gideon. 'The Day of Midian, Isa. 9. 4, thus became proverbial for God's salvation without the aid of man. Many years later the prayer of King Asa demonstrated a similar faith in the power of God, 'Lord, it is nothing with You to help whether with many or with those who have no power; help us, O Lord our God, for we rest on You and in Your name we go against this multitude', 2 Chron. 14. 11. For us in this modern age the spiritual application is not far to seek; 'the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds', 2 Cor. 10. 4. The torches are symbolic of the Floly Spirit's activity, and the broken pitchers suggest lives, so broken and surrendered that the light of witness shines through. The trumpets remind us that we herald the glorious gospel of Christ to a needy world opposed to God and His purposes.
The glory of victory is entirely the Lord's - ours is the privilege of being His servants.