Battle of Gideon against the Midianites- Nicolas Poussin 1626
We now move on to our next Judge - Gideon. Today we will cover the following Judges - Gideon, Abimeleh, Tola and Jair.
The Book of Judges
1. Incomplete Conquest and Apostasy
2. Oppression and Deliverance
3. Religious and Moral Disorder
The Weekly Outlook - Aug 18, 2013
Saturday, Aug 24 - Judges 6 - 12 (Revised 6 - 10)
The saga with Israelites continued - they did evil in the eyes of the LORD, and this time He handed them over to the Midianites. The Midianites were defeated by Moses earlier. The Midianites oppressed the Israelites to the extend the Israelites wanted to get away from them and were hiding in caves. Whenever the Israelites planted new crops, the Midianites swarmed over the country like locusts and destroyed them. Now the Israelites cried out to the LORD for help, and He sent them a prophet.
LORD spoke to them through the prophet:
Judges 6: 7 When the Israelites cried out to the Lord because of Midian,Notice that two Amorite kings were defeated by Israelites under the leadership of Moses, and five by Joshua (Deuteronomy 31:4 and Joshua 10:10).
8 he sent them a prophet, who said, “This is what the LORD the God of Israel, says: I brought you up out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
9 I rescued you from the hand of the Egyptians. And I delivered you from the hand of all your oppressors; I drove them out before you and gave you their land.
10 I said to you, ‘I am the LORD your God; do not worship the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you live.’ But you have not listened to me.”
Worshiping those gods of Amorites also means following their temple rituals and even erecting idols at homes - similar to how we preserve portraits of Jesus in our homes.
Gideon and the Angel
Gideon, a humble and timid man, was threshing wheat in a wine-press to stay away from the Midianites. LORD sent an Angel to Gideon, and told him that the LORD was with him. Gideon, however, found it hard to believe that God was with the Israelites. The following conversation took place:
Angel: “The LORD is with you, mighty warrior.”
Gideon: “Pardon me, my LORD, but if the LORD is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our ancestors told us about when they said, ‘Did not the LORD bring us up out of Egypt?’ But now the Lord has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian.”
Angel: "Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?”
Gideon: “Pardon me, my LORD, but how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.”
Angel: “I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites, leaving none alive.”
Gideon: “If now I have found favor in your eyes, give me a sign that it is really you talking to me. Please do not go away until I come back and bring my offering and set it before you.”
Angel: “I will wait until you return.”
Gideon gets his first sign
Gideon was not convinced at all; he was not sure this was even the LORD speaking. Hence he asked for a sign to prove it was LORD. Gideon went out and prepared a goat and make some bread without yeast. He brought them back to the waiting Angel. The Angel asked him to set it up on a rock. He then touched it with his staff. Tadaa - a fire blazed up from the rock and consumed the meat and the bread. Poof! The Angel of the LORD disappeared!
He built an altar for the LORD. But that night, LORD spoke to him:
Judges 6: 25 That same night the LORD said to him, “Take the second bull from your father’s herd, the one seven years old. Tear down your father’s altar to Baal and cut down the Asherah pole beside it.Gideon was scared to do so; but did it the night, using ten servants so that nobody would witness it. In the morning people saw their Baal altar destroyed and stormed towards Gideon's house to kill him. His father responded that Baal can defend himself whenever someone broke his altar.
26 Then build a proper kind of altar to the LORD your God on the top of this height. Using the wood of the Asherah pole that you cut down, offer the second bull as a burnt offering.”
People were furious and resorted to 'name calling' and gave Gideon a new name 'Jerub-Baal' meaning, “Let Baal contend with him.” They did not stop there. The Midianites gathered Amalekites and other eastern people, crossed river Jordan and came to fight against Gideon and his men. They are about one hundred twenty thousand (120,000) strong.
The Spirit of the LORD came upon Gideon and he blew a trumpet, summoning the Israelites to follow him. Gideon is still not convinced that he is the chosen one. He devised a test to confirm that.
Judges 6: 36 Gideon said to God, “If you will save Israel by my hand as you have promised -
37 look, I will place a wool fleece on the threshing floor. If there is dew only on the fleece and all the ground is dry, then I will know that you will save Israel by my hand, as you said.”
38 And that is what happened. Gideon rose early the next day; he squeezed the fleece and wrung out the dew - a bowlful of water.
39 Then Gideon said to God, “Do not be angry with me. Let me make just one more request. Allow me one more test with the fleece, but this time make the fleece dry and let the ground be covered with dew.”
40 That night God did so. Only the fleece was dry; all the ground was covered with dew.
Gideon soaking his woolen fleece in water
Gideon checking his woolen fleece
Gideon gathered about thirty thousand (30,000) men and went to battle the enemy. LORD felt that he should not let the Israelites should feel they won the war on their own. Hence LORD does some layoffs.
Gideon asked whoever "trembled with fear" could go home. Twenty thousand men left; leaving only ten thousand (10,000) men.
This is not enough for the LORD; He wants to do further layoffs. LORD and sent them to a river to drink water. Gideon then sorted out people based on how they drank the water from the river. Many drank the water by bringing their face to the water and drinking like how dogs drink water; others cupped their hands, took water and brought it to their mouth. Whoever drank water like dogs were laid off.
Second round of layoff - Gideon's Army while at the river
Out of the 10,000 now there were only 300 left to face those 120,000 Midianites. LORD assured Gideon that with this three hundred strong army, he will deliver the Midianite army into his hands. Gideon is petrified to the extend he is almost frozen with fear. Logically thinking, the ratio is 1:400 that is, every Gideon's soldier will have to beat 400 enemy soldiers to gain victory. This is where faith comes into play!
LORD told Gideon to take his servant Purah, and sneak down to the Midianite camp. They do so during early morning.
Judges 7:13 Gideon arrived just as a man was telling a friend his dream. “I had a dream,” he was saying. “A round loaf of barley bread came tumbling into the Midianite camp. It struck the tent with such force that the tent overturned and collapsed.”Gideon is all pumped up with confidence - he thanked LORD and divided his three hundred men into three groups, gave all his men trumpets, empty jars, and torches. They lit their torches, and put them inside the jars. When they arrived near the Midianite camp, all of them blew their trumpets, broke their jars, exposing the torches, and cried out “A sword for the LORD and for Gideon!”
14 His friend responded, “This can be nothing other than the sword of Gideon son of Joash, the Israelite. God has given the Midianites and the whole camp into his hands.”
Gideon's 300 men marching towards an army of 120,000 Midianites
The Midianite army is thrown into a tizzy! Apart from running and crying around, in confusion they started slaying each other with their swords, and finally fled. Gideon called out his 'laid off army' and together they chased the Midianites, and killed two of their leaders - Oreb and Zeeb.
Zebah and Zalmunna
After their victory, the criticism started. Ephramites asked Gideon, "Why didn't you call us when you went to fight Midian?"
Gideon answered in a humble manner, "It was with your help that Oreb and Zeeb were killed. What was I able to do compared to you?"
Hearing this answer, the Ephramites placated and their resentment against him subsided.
Gideon and his three hundred men continued their pursuit. They were now going after two Midianite kings Zebah and Zalmunna. He crossed river Jordan and his troops were exhausted while at a place called Succoth (a pagan community). He asked for some food for his men. The locals did not have faith in Gideon's team. Moreover, they were afraid of the Midianite army and feared their reprisal. He moved on to another place called Peniel (another pagan community) and they too refused to help on similar grounds. By the way, Peniel was the place where Jacob wrestled with an Angel. Disappointed, Gideon told them that he'll tear down their tower when he returned triumphantly.
Both Midianite kings, Zebah and Zalmunna were in Karkor with an army of about fifteen thousand men. Gideon in a clever manner, unleashed a surprise attack and captured both Zebah and Zalmunna. He then decided to return to his home via Peniel and Succoth.
He then caught hold of a local Succoth man and obtained the names of their elders and leaders. He whipped those elders and leaders using a whip made out of thorny plants. The tower of Peniel was torn down and their leaders were killed as well.
Gideon then interrogated his captives - Zebah and Zalmunna. He asked them about the kind of men they killed at Tabor. He was referring to those Israelites who were murdered while they hid in caves, fearing those Midianites (Judges 6:2). They answered that the men they killed were like Gideon. In fact, the ones they killed were Gideon's own brothers.
Judges 8:19 Gideon replied, “Those were my brothers, the sons of my own mother. As surely as the Lord lives, if you had spared their lives, I would not kill you.”In those days, it was necessary to distinguish between full brothers and half brothers as men often had several wives.
He then asked his eldest son, Jether, to kill those two kings - Zebah and Zalmunna, because dying at the hands of a boy or a woman was considered a disgrace. Jether was only a boy and was afraid to draw his sword. The kings challenged him to be a 'real man' and do it himself; so Gideon stepped forward and killed both of them.
The story of Gideon is taking a bizarre turn. The Israelites show their gratitude by asking Gideon to be their ruler as he has saved them from the Midianites. Gideon politely turned down the offer.
Judges 8:23 But Gideon told them, “I will not rule over you, nor will my son rule over you. The LORD will rule over you.”Refusing the crown was a wonderful thought. He had served them in the capacity of a Judge, but the idea of being anointed as a king had to come from the LORD; not from the people. Another way of looking at this verse is in a prophetical manner. Soon we will see that after Gideon's death, Jether, his son will not rule over Israel as well.
Gideon had now become a valiant warrior and valiant warriors were compensated royally. He had now fallen prey to the snares of temptation. With a glimmer in his eye for finer things in life, Gideon asked them for the earrings of those slain Ishmaelites. It was an Ishmaelite custom to wear one gold earring, and they willfully and cheerfully obliged. He collected over 40 pounds of gold in a purple robe - the color of royal garments. On top of it, was gold worn by the camels.
Judges 8:27 Gideon made the gold into an ephod, which he placed in Ophrah, his town. All Israel prostituted themselves by worshiping it there, and it became a snare to Gideon and his family.Ephod was a sacred garment worn by the high priest, indicating he was going to provide spiritual leadership for Israelites. Ophrah, Gideon's hometown, was not supposed to be the spiritual powerhouse. Whatever his motive was, the LORD had not asked him to do so. Too bad that this action of Gideon led entire Israelites to prostitution by worshiping it and this became a snare to Gideon and his family.
Israel had peace for forty years. He took several wives in marriage and took at least one concubine who lived in Shechem. He had seventy (70) sons of his own, and the concubine bore him a son named Abimelech - who will be in the limelight soon. Gideon died at a "good age."
Judges 8:33 No sooner had Gideon died than the Israelites again prostituted themselves to the Baals. They set up Baal-Berith as their godGideon's final years remind me those of king Solomon, whom we'll meet soon.
34 and did not remember the Lord their God, who had rescued them from the hands of all their enemies on every side.
35 They also failed to show any loyalty to the family of Jerub-Baal (that is, Gideon) in spite of all the good things he had done for them.
Israelites have already slipped into idol worship. Baal-Berith was set up just twelve miles south of Shiloh, where the LORD's Tabernacle was situated. See more on Baal-Berith in additional Info, below.
AbimelechWe have now entered an action packed section; don't go away yet for your popcorn refills. This section serves valuable lessons for those who are power hungry and aspire becoming future leaders. They should watch the end as well.
The son of Gideon's concubine at Shechem, heard about the crown being offered to his father and had been waiting for an opportunity to grab it for himself. After Gideon's death, he approached those same men and persuaded them to let him lead them. He bribed them some money taken out of the temple of Baal-Berith, as ancient temples served as depositories of personal and civic funds (instead of banks). He also moved around with a bunch of ruthless mercenaries, spreading the message, 'might is right.'
In order to claim the crown, and to nullify any opposition or oppression, he murdered those legitimate sons of Gideon - all seventy of them, in a ritualistic manner on a stone of sacrifice. It is said that this was done in broad daylight in the plain sight of everyone - to inflict terror. The youngest son, Jotham, escaped the execution as he hid himself. Now, the leaders at Schechm gathered together and crowned Abimelech the king. Technically, he was the first king of Israel, but not the entire land; he just controlled those western parts - Shechem, Beth-Millo, Arumah, and Thebez.
The people of Shechem gathered under the great oak tree at Shechem to crown Abimelech. By the way, this place should be familiar to all of us on this 'guided tour.' This was the same place where Jacob hid the idols in Genesis 35 (link provided to refresh your memory). This was the very spot where Joshua renewed the covenant at Shechem and proclaimed, "But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD" (link provided). Finally, this is where the Israelites buried Joseph after carrying his casket around for forty years.
Young Jotham, battling adversity went the extra mile, to prove that 'blood is thicker than water.' I am going to quote everything he said, while he rebuked those Shechemites:
Judges 9:7 When Jotham was told about this, he climbed up on the top of Mount Gerizim and shouted to them, “Listen to me, citizens of Shechem, so that God may listen to you.Jotham predicted that there will be rift between Abimeleh and the people of Shechem will rue the day they decided to join forces. He then ran away to safety, as he was afraid of Abimeleh.
8 One day the trees went out to anoint a king for themselves. They said to the olive tree, ‘Be our king.’
9 “But the olive tree answered, ‘Should I give up my oil, by which both gods and humans are honored, to hold sway over the trees?’
10 “Next, the trees said to the fig tree, ‘Come and be our king.’
11 “But the fig tree replied, ‘Should I give up my fruit, so good and sweet, to hold sway over the trees?’
12 “Then the trees said to the vine, ‘Come and be our king.’
13 “But the vine answered, ‘Should I give up my wine, which cheers both gods and humans, to hold sway over the trees?’
14 “Finally all the trees said to the thornbush, ‘Come and be our king.’
15 “The thornbush said to the trees, ‘If you really want to anoint me king over you, come and take refuge in my shade; but if not, then let fire come out of the thornbush and consume the cedars of Lebanon!’
16 “Have you acted honorably and in good faith by making Abimeleh king? Have you been fair to Jerub-Baal and his family? Have you treated him as he deserves? 17 Remember that my father fought for you and risked his life to rescue you from the hand of Midian. 18 But today you have revolted against my father’s family. You have murdered his seventy sons on a single stone and have made Abimelek, the son of his female slave, king over the citizens of Shechem because he is related to you. 19 So have you acted honorably and in good faith toward Jerub-Baal and his family today? If you have, may Abimeleh be your joy, and may you be his, too! 20 But if you have not, let fire come out from Abimeleh and consume you, the citizens of Shechem and Beth Millo, and let fire come out from you, the citizens of Shechem and Beth Millo, and consume Abimeleh!”
In just three years of Abimeleh's reign, the words of Jotham found it's mark. By now, the Shechemites were plotting schemes to get rid of him. While things were getting heated up, Zebul, the governor of Shechem, secretly sided with Abimelech. Using spy-work, he learned about a conspiracy and advised Abimelech to march against Shechem with his army. As per Zebul's cunning scheme, Gaal, the leader of the rebels, marched his followers against Abimelech. Rebels were completely crushed in the ensuing battle. Abimelech unleashed his anger upon the city, putting everyone to the sword. The Tower of Shechem, which sheltered 1,000 people, was flamed. The next agenda on Abimelech's mind was to besiege the city of Thebez. People locked themselves inside a strong tower. While he was storming it, and setting it ablaze, a woman dropped a millstone on his skull and crushed it.
Death of Abimelech
Abimelech, while bleeding heavily, ordered his armor-bearer to draw his sword and kill him - to save him from the insult of saying, "he died by the hand of a woman."
Abimelech requests to be killed by his Armor-bearer
So much is recorded about Abimelech in the Bible as a Judge, who went down like a lead balloon. It is interesting to note that the deeds of our next two judges are hardly mentioned in the bible, and am combining them.
Tola and Jair
After the death of Abimelech, there lived the judges Tola, of the tribe of Issachar, who ruled for twenty-three years, and Jair, the Gileadite, who served as a judge for twenty-two years. Apparently, Jair is remembered for having thirty (30) sons, controlled thirty (30) towns and rode thirty (30) donkeys.
The story of Jephthah is posted in a different posting titled, Judges 11 - 12. Click here to reach there.
WARNING: Some of the actions performed in this book are dangerous and should only be attempted by professionals familiar with the action in question.
How Not to Study the Bible
Once upon a time, there was an old lady who had a strange way of studying the Bible, which she abandoned later. Early in the morning, she flipped through the pages of the Holy Bible with her eyes closed, until her finger stopped on a particular verse. That very verse served as an inspiration to her the entire day. One morning, her finger stopped at Matthew 27:5, which she read, "Then he went away and hanged himself." This was not acceptable, hence she tried again. This time, her finger hit the verse on Luke 10:37, which read, “Go and do likewise.” Perplexed, she gave one final try with all her concentration and this time she read John 13:27, “What you are about to do, do quickly.”
This story may sound hilarious, but I admit that I myself used to read the Bible likewise, once upon a time, with no guidance.
Bible Study is profitable.
Not just that we should know,
But that we might grow!
So True! Let me share with you - I've started seeing numerous positive changes taking effect within myself, ever since I took up this 'guided tour assignment.' Thank You, God.
-------------------------------------Additional Info 1
Baal-Berith means "lord of a covenant" or the "god who enters into a covenant with his worshipers. In ancient times, an alliance between two tribes would frequently be cemented by a common worship ceremony. The continued practice of this worship ceremony kept the agreement intact. Israel entered into a number of these political-religious alliances and it led them into idolatry.
Either the Shechemites or the Israelites built a temple for him at Shechem (Judges 9:46). Bible scholars believe that the Jews imitated their religious rituals of LORD with this new god in his temple.
Remains of Baal-Berith temple
Remains of Baal-Berith temple
-----------------------------------------Additional Info 2
The victory of Gideon over Midianites serves as a testimony for people like you and I, who are too timid or scared to do something for the LORD.
Moral of Gideon's story: If we have faith in the LORD that LORD can help us, if we ask LORD for help, LORD will be right there with us.-----------------------------------------Additional Info 3
Self Reminder on Gideon's Ephod
I spent quite some time figuring out what happened to Gideon during those final years of his life. Am sure many, those who journeyed through the scripture, had the exact same question. Gideon may have made the Ephod with all good intentions, but without consulting with the LORD. One explanation which I came across was by John Hunter, which I am jotting down for my own sake:
"In some ways we can be like this. Great men and women can be used of the Lord. They can then start organizations, societies, or denominations, to commemorate and extend the glory of God in their work. These can function wonderfully as planned - to begin with. But then as the vision goes, so does the response of those who follow those leaders (Proverbs 29:18). This can deteriorate until the purpose of the organization, society, or denomination becomes simply to maintain its own entity. So we find people dedicated to keep a certain movement in existence, regardless of whether the Lord is purposing to use it or not. Their "ephod" takes their allegiance and true effort away from the living Lord to a dead society." ~ John Hunter
Note to myself: We should not allow anything to take our eyes off our loving and holy LORD, else it will lead all of us astray.-------