called also Jerubbaal (Jg 6:29,32), was the first of the judges whose history is circumstantially narrated (Jg 6-8). His calling is the commencement of the second period in the history of the judges. After the victory gained by Deborah and Barak over Jabin, Israel once more sank into idolatry, and the Midianites (q.v.) and Amalekites, with other "children of the east," crossed the Jordan each year for seven successive years for the purpose of plundering and desolating the land. Gideon received a direct call from God to undertake the task of delivering the land from these warlike invaders. He was of the family of Abiezer (Jos 17:2; 1Ch 7:18), and of the little township of Ophrah (Jg 6:11). First, with ten of his servants, he overthrew the altars of Baal and cut down the asherah which was upon it, and then blew the trumpet of alarm, and the people flocked to his standard on the crest of Mount Gilboa to the number of twenty-two thousand men. These were, however, reduced to only three hundred. These, strangely armed with torches and pitchers and trumpets, rushed in from three different points on the camp of Midian at midnight, in the valley to the north of Moreh, with the terrible war-cry, "For the Lord and for Gideon" (Jg 7:18, R.V.). Terror-stricken, the Midianites were put into dire confusion, and in the darkness slew one another, so that only fifteen thousand out of the great army of one hundred and twenty thousand escaped alive. The memory of this great deliverance impressed itself deeply on the mind of the nation (1Sa 12:11; Ps 83:11; Isa 9:4; 10:26; Heb 11:32). The land had now rest for forty years. Gideon died in a good old age, and was buried in the sepulchre of his fathers. Soon after his death a change came over the people. They again forgot Jehovah, and turned to the worship of Baalim, "neither shewed they kindness to the house of Jerubbaal" (Jg 8:35). Gideon left behind him seventy sons, a feeble, sadly degenerated race, with one exception, that of Abimelech, who seems to have had much of the courage and energy of his father, yet of restless and unscrupulous ambition. He gathered around him a band who slaughtered all Gideon's sons, except Jotham, upon one stone. (See Ophrah.)
("a hewer"), i.e. warrior, or the hewer down of Baal (Isa 10:33). Of Manasseh; youngest son of Joash, of the Abiezrite family at Ophrah (Jg 6:11,15). Fifth of the judges of Israel, called by the angel of the Lord to deliver Israel from the seven years' yoke of the Midianite hosts, which like swarming locusts consumed all their produce except what they could hide in caves and holes (Jg 6:2,5-6,11). There they fled, and "made" artificial caves besides enlarging natural caves for their purpose, God permitting them to be brought so low that their extremity might be His opportunity. Midian had long before with Moab besought Balaam to curse Israel, and through his counsel, by tempting Israel to whoredom with their and the Moabite women, had brought a plague on Israel, and had then by God's command been smitten sorely by Israel (Nu 25:17-18; 31:1-16, etc.).
But now after 200 years, in renewed strength, with the Amalekite and other plundering children of the E. they were used as God's instrument to chastise His apostate people. Crossing Jordan from the E. they spread themselves from the plain of Jezreel to the sea coast of Gaza. Affliction led Israel to crying in prayer. Prayer brought first a prophet from Jehovah to awaken them to a sense of God's grace in their former deliverances and of their own apostasy. Next the Angel of Jehovah came. i.e. Jehovah the Second Person Himself. Former judges, Othniel, Ehud, Barak, had been moved by the Spirit of God to their work; but to Gideon alone under a terebinth in Ophrah, a town belonging to Joash, Jehovah appeared in person to show that the God who had made theophanies to the patriarchs was the same Jehovah, ready to save their descendants if they would return to the covenants.
His second revelation was in a dream, commanding him to overthrow his father's altar to Baal and to erect an altar to Jehovah and offer a burnt sacrifice with the wood of the Asherah ("grove") or idol goddess of nature, probably a wooden pillar (De 16:21). (See ASHTORETH) In the first revelation Jehovah acknowledged Gideon, in the second He commanded Gideon to acknowledge Him. As God alone, Jehovah will not be worshipped along with Baal (1Ki 18:21; Eze 20:39). Gideon at the first revelation was knocking out (habat) with a stick wheat in the winepress, sunk in the ground or hewn in the rock to make it safe from the Midianites; for he did not dare to thresh upon an open floor or hardened area in the open field, but like poor gleaners (Ru 2:17) knocked out the little grain with a stick. The address, "Jehovah is with thee thou mighty man," seemed to Gideon, ruminating on the Midianite oppression which his occupation was a proof of, in ironical and sad contrast with facts.
If Jehovah be with us why is all this befallen us? alluding to De 31:17. But God's words guarantee their own accomplishment. JEHOVAH (no longer under His character. "Angel of Jehovah," but manifested as JEHOVAH) replied, "Go in this thy might (the might now given thee by ME, Isa 40:29), and thou shalt save Israel from the hand of the Midianites; have not I sent thee?" Then followed the requested "sign," the Angel of the Lord with the end of the staff in His hand consuming with fire Gideon's "offering" (minchah), not a strict sacrifice but a sacrificial gift), the kid and unleavened cakes (compare Genesis 18, the theophany to Abraham very similar). Compare and contrast the conduct of the angel and the acceptance of Manoah's sacrifice in Jg 13:20. Gideon in gratitude built an altar and called it "Jehovah Shalom," a pledge of "Jehovah" being now at "peace" with Israel again (Jer 29:11; 33:16).
The "second" in age of Joash's bullocks, "seven years old," was appointed in the dream for an offering to Jehovah, to correspond to Midian's seven years' oppression because of Israel's apostasy. Gideon with ten servants overthrew Baal's altar and Asherah in the night, for he durst not do it in the day through fear of his family and townsmen. Joash, when required to bring out his son to die for the sacrilege, replied, "Will ye plead for Baal? .... he that will plead for him shall be put, to death himself, let us wait until the morning (not 'shall be put to death while it is yet morning') and see whether Baal, if he be a god, will plead for himself." So Gideon got the surname "Jerubbaal," "Let Baal fight," i.e. vindicate his own cause on the destroyer of his altar; and as the Jews in contempt changed Baal in compounds to besheth, "Jerubbesheth," "Let the shameful idol light." Then the Spirit of God "clothed" Gideon as his coat of mail (1Ch 12:18; 2Ch 24:20; Lu 24:49; Isa 61:10).
His own clan the Abiezrites, Manasseh W. of Jordan, Zebulun, and Naphtali followed him. At his prayer the sign followed, the woolen fleece becoming saturated with dew while the earth around was dry, then the ground around being wet while the fleece was dry. Dew symbolizes God's reviving grace: Israel was heretofore the dry fleece, while the nations around were flourishing; now she is to become filled with the Lord's vigor, while the nations around lose it. The fleece becoming afterward dry while the ground around was wet symbolizes Israel's rejection of the gospel while the Gentile world is receiving the gracious dew. Afterward Israel in its turn shall be the dew to the Gentile world (Mic 5:7). Gideon pitched on a height at the foot of which the fountain Harod ("the spring of trembling," now perhaps Ain Jahlood) sprang (2Sa 23:25). Midian pitched in the valley of Jezreel (Jg 6:33).
The timid were first thinned out of Gideon's army (De 20:8). In Jg 7:3, "whosoever is fearful let him return from mount Gilead," as they were then W. of Jordan, the mount in eastern Palestine cannot be meant; but the phrase was a familiar designation of the Manassites. To take away still further all attribution of the victory to man not God, the army was reduced to 300 by retaining those alone whose energy was shown by their drinking what water they lifted with their hands, not delaying to kneel and drink (compare as to Messiah Ps 110:7). Then followed Gideon's going with Phurah his servant into the Midianite host, and hearing the Midianite's dream of a barley cake overturning the tent, that being poor men's food, so symbolizing despised Israel, the "tent" symbolizing Midian's nomadic life of freedom and power. The Moabite stone shows how similar to Hebrew was the language of Moab, and the same similarity to the Midianite tongue appears from Gideon understanding them.
Dividing his 300 into three attacking columns, Gideon desired them in the beginning of the middle watch, i.e. at midnight (this and the morning watch dividing the night into three watches in the Old Testament), after him to blow the trumpets, break the pitchers, and let the lamps in their left hand previously covered with. the pitchers (a type of the gospel light in earthen vessels, 2Co 4:6-7), suddenly flash on the foe, and to cry "the sword of Jehovah and of Gideon," and to stand without moving round about the Midianite camp. A mutual slaughter arose from panic among the Midianites (a type of Christ's final overthrow of antichrist, Isa 9:4-7), each trumpet holder seeming to have a company at his back. The remnant fled to the bank of the Jordan at Abelmeholah, etc. (See ABELMEHOLAH.)
Then the men of Asher, Naphtali, and all Manasseh, who had been dismissed, returned to join in the pursuit. Gideon requested Ephraim to intercept the fleeing Midianites at the waters of Bethbarah and Jordan, namely, at the tributary streams which they would have to cross to reach the Jordan. A second fight ensued there, and they slew Oreb (the raven) and Zeeb (the wolf). Conder (Palestine Exploration, July, 1874, p. 182) observes that the nomadic hordes of Midian, like the modern Beni Suggar and Ghazawiyeh Arabs, come up the broad and fertile valley of Jezreel; their encampment lay, as the black Arab tents do now in spring, at the foot of the hill March (Nebi Dahy) opposite to the limestone knoll on which Jezreel (Zer'ain) stands. The well Harod, where occurred the trial which separated 300 men of endurance from the worthless rabble, was the Ain Jalud, a fine spring at the foot of mount Gilboa, issuing
The son of Joash, a Manassite; he dwelt in Ophrah, a place hitherto unidentified, which belonged to the clan of the Abiezrites. Gideon has also the names of Jerubbaal (Jg 6:32) and Jerubbesheth (2Sa 11:21). After the victory of the Israelites, under the guidance of Deborah, over the Canaanites, the land had rest for forty years (an indefinite period). Apostasy from Jahweh again resulted in their being oppressed, this time by the neighbouring Bedouin tribes, the Midianites and Amalekites. The underlying idea is that, since the Israelites did not exclusively worship their national God, He withdrew His protection, with the result that another nation, aided by its national god, was enabled to overcome the unprotected Israelites. A return to obedience, and recognition of Jahweh the national God, ensures His renewed protection; relief from the oppressor is brought about by some chosen instrument, of whom it is always said that Jahweh is 'with him'; this is also the case with Gideon (Jg 6:18).
The sources of the story of Gideon, preserved in Jg 6:1 to Jg 8:35, offer some difficult problems, upon which scholars differ considerably; all that can be said with certainty is that the narrative is composite, that the hand of the redactor is visible in certain verses (e.g. Jg 6:20; 7:6; 8:22-23), and that the sources have not always been skilfully combined; this comes out most clearly in Jg 7:24 to Jg 8:3, which breaks the continuity of the narrative. Disregarding details, the general outline of the history of Gideon is as follows:
Introduction, Jg 6:1-10 : For seven years the Israelites suffered under the Midianite oppression; but on their 'crying unto the Lord' a prophet is sent, who declares unto them the reason of their present state, viz. that it was the result of their having forsaken Jahweh and served the gods of the 'Amorites' is a general name for the Canaanite nations, see Am 2:9-10
The call of Gideon, Jg 6:11-14 : The 'Angel of the Lord' appears to Gideon and tells him that the Lord is with him, and that he is to free Israel from the Midianite invasion. Gideon requires a sign: he brings an offering of a kid and unleavened cakes, the Angel touches these with his staff, whereupon fire issues from the rock on which the offering lies and consumes it. Gideon is now convinced that it was the 'Angel of the Lord' who had been speaking to him, and at Jahweh's command he destroys the altar of Baal in Ophrah and builds one to Jahweh, to whom he also offers sacrifice. This act embitters Gideon's fellow-townsmen against him; they are, however, quieted down by the boldness and shrewdness of Gideon's father.
Gideon's victory, Jg 6:33 to Jg 7:23; 8:4-14 : Allegiance to Jahweh being thus publicly acknowledged, the Israelites are once more in a position to assert their political independence; so that when the Midianites again invade their land, Gideon raises an army against them, being moreover assured by the miracle of the dew on the fleece that he will be victorious. At the command of Jahweh his army is twice reduced, first to ten thousand men, and then to three hundred. At the command of Jahweh again, he goes with his servant, Purah, down to the camp of the Midianites, where he is encouraged by overhearing a Midianite recounting a dream, which is interpreted by another Midianite as foreshadowing the victory of Gideon. On his return to his own camp Gideon divides his men into three companies; each man receives a torch, an earthen jar, and a horn; at a given sign, the horns are blown, the jars broken, and the burning torches exposed to view, with the result that the Midianites flee in terror. Gideon pursues them across the Jordan; he halts during the pursuit, both at Succoth and at Penuel, in order to refresh his three hundred followers; in each case food is refused him by the inhabitants; after threatening them with vengeance on his return, he presses on, overtakes the Midianite host, and is again victorious; he then first punishes the inhabitants of Succoth and Penuel, and next turns his attention to the Midianite chiefs, Zebah and Zalmunna. From this part of the narrative it would seem that Gideon's attack upon the Midianites was, in part, undertaken owing to a blood-feud; for, on his finding out that the murderers of his brethren at Tabor were these two Midianite chiefs, he slays them in order to avenge his brethren.
The offer of the kingship, Jg 8:22-28 : On the Israelites offering to Gideon and his descendants the kingship, Gideon declines it on theocratic grounds, but asks instead for part of the gold from the spoil taken from the Midianites; of this he makes an image (ephod), which he sets up at Ophrah, and which becomes the cause of apostasy from Jahweh. The narrative of Gideon's leadership is brought to a close by a reference to his offspring, and special mention of his son Abimelech; after his death, we are told, the Israelites 'went a whoring after the Baalim.'
In the section Jg 8:22-35 there is clearly a mixing-up of the sources; on the one hand Israel's apostasy is traced to the action of Gideon, on the other this does not take place until after his death. Again, the refusal of the kingship on theocratic grounds is an idea which belongs to a much later time; moreover, Gideon's son, Abimelech, became king after slaying his father's legitimate sons; it is taken for granted (Jg 9:2) that there is to be a ruler after Gideon's death. This, together with other indications, leads to the belief that in its original form the earliest source gave an account of Gideon as king.
The section Jg 7:24 to Jg 8:3 is undoubtedly ancient; it tells of how the Ephraimites, at Gideon's command, cut off part of the fugitive Midianite host under two of their chiefs, Oreb and Zeeb, whom the Ephraimites slew. When the victorious band with Gideon joins hands with the Ephraimites, the latter complain to Gideon because he did not call them to attack the main body of the enemy; Gideon quiets them by means of shrewd flattery. This section is evidently a fragment of the original source, which presumably went on to detail what further action the Ephraimites took during the Midianite campaign; for that the Midianite oppression was brought to an end by this one battle it is impossible to believe.* [Note: Cf. the Philistine campaign under Saul.]
W. O. E. Oesterley.
Son of Joash, of the tribe of Manasseh, one of the judges of Israel. An angel of the Lord appeared to him while he was threshing wheat to hide it from the Midianites, and said, "The Lord is with thee, thou mighty man of valour." Thus addressed, the true though weak faith that was in Gideon was manifested, and he said to the Lord, "If the Lord be with us, why is all this befallen us? And where be all his miracles which our fathers told us of ?" Jehovah added, "Go in this thy might, and thou shalt save Israel from the hand of the Midianites: have not I sent thee?" Gideon pleaded that his family was poor, and that he was the least in his father's house. He was further encouraged. The first thing he was bid to do was to throw down the altar of Baal, and erect an altar to Jehovah, and offer an offering thereon. Gideon obeyed, but he did it by night, for he feared to do it by day. The men of the city desired his death, but his father protected him, saying, Let Baal plead for himself, and symbolically named Gideon JERUBBAAL, 'Let Baal plead.' In 2Sa 11:21 it is JERUBBESHETH, 'Let the shameful thing plead,' meaning the same, without mentioning the name of Baal: cf. Jer 11:13; Ho 9:10.
Obedience led to strength: the Spirit of the Lord came upon him, and he blew a trumpet, and sent messengers to the tribes of Manasseh, Asher, Zebulun, and Naphtali. But his small though true faith wanted a sign from God that He would save Israel by him. God graciously responded by the moisture and then by the dryness of the fleece of wool. God declared that Gideon's followers were too many: they would take the glory to themselves, and say, "mine own hand hath saved me." So he bade all that were fearful and afraid to return, and more than two-thirds went back, leaving but 10,000: proving that the mass of the people were unfit to fight the battles of the Lord. Still the people were too many, and they are tested at the water: those that fell on their knees to drink were sent away, and only three hundred men remained, those who had lapped a little water from the hand, as satisfied with a hasty refreshment.
God then told Gideon to go down to the host, for He had delivered it into his hand; but if he was afraid, he could first go with his servant and hear what the enemy said. He was still faint-hearted and therefore went to listen, and there he heard himself compared to 'a cake of barley bread,' but that God would deliver Midian into his hand. Gideon at once arranged his men into three companies, each man having a trumpet, and a lamp inside a pitcher. When they reached the camp, the trumpets were blown, and the pitchers broken. The Midianites were dismayed and some of them in the confusion and terror killed one another, and the others fled, pursued by the tribes before named, and by Ephraim. Ephraim proudly found fault with Gideon for not calling them to the battle at first; but a modest answer appeased their wrath. The conquest was complete, and the men of Succoth and Penuel were punished for not aiding Gideon with bread when he was faint.
Israel desired Gideon to rule over them, but he refused, saying, "The Lord shall rule over you." He requested of the army the golden earrings taken from the enemy. With these he made an ephod, and placed it in his city, and all Israel went in idolatry after it, and it became a snare to Gideon and his house. Alas, the man of faith, who had thrown down the altar of Baal, was now led astray with a golden ephod! A memorial of God's intervention is not present faith in the God who has intervened. The time of victory is a time of peculiar danger, when many being off their guard have fallen. During the life-time of Gideon Israel dwelt in peace during forty years, but at his decease the people turned to idols and were ungrateful to the house of Gideon. Jg 6:11
(he that cuts down), youngest son of Joash of the Abiezrites, an undistinguished family who lived at Ophrah, a town probably on the west of Jordan,
in the territory of Manasseh, near Shechem. He was the fifth recorded judge of Israel, and for many reasons the greatest of them all. When we first hear of him he was grown up and had sons,
and from the apostrophe of the angel, ch.
we may conclude that he had already distinguished himself in war against the roving bands of nomadic robbers who had oppressed Israel for seven years. When the angel appeared, Gideon was threshing wheat with a flail in the wine-press, to conceal it from the predatory tyrants. His call to be a deliverer, and his destruction of Baal's altar, are related in Judges 6. After this begins the second act of Gideon's life. Clothed by the Spirit of God,
comp. 1Chr 12:18; Luke 24:49 he blew a trumpet, and was joined by Zebulun, Naphtali and even the reluctant Asher. Strengthened by a double sign from God, he reduced his army of 32,000 by the usual proclamation.
comp. 1 Macc. 3:56. By a second test at "the spring of trembling the further reduced the number of his followers to 300.
seq. The midnight attack upon the Midianites, their panic, and the rout and slaughter that followed are told in
... The memory of this splendid deliverance took deep root in the national traditions.
After this there was a peace of forty years, and we see Gideon in peaceful possession of his well-earned honors, and surrounded by the dignity of a numerous household.
It is not improbable that, like Saul, he owed a part of his popularity to his princely appearance.
In this third stage of his life occur alike his most noble and his most questionable acts viz., the refusal of the monarchy on theocratic grounds, and the irregular consecration of a jewelled ephod formed out of the rich spoils of Midian, which proved to the Israelites a temptation to idolatry although it was doubtless intended for use in the worship of Jehovah.
GIDEON, the son of Joash, of the tribe of Manasseh; the same with Jerubbaal, the seventh judge of Israel. He dwelt in the city of Ophra, and was chosen by God in a very extraordinary manner to deliver the Israelites from the oppression of the Midianites, under which they had laboured for the space of seven years. See Jg 6:14-27; 8:1-24, &c.