Gideon and the Midianites

If God Be For Us (Judges 6 to 8)

“Jehovah, the Judge, be judge this day between the children of Israel and the children of Ammon” (Judges 11:27).

by Robert Davis

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Gideon was a member of the tribe of Manasseh. Apparently given his name (Gidon: feller; that is, a warrior), and the angel initially addressing him as a “mighty man of valor,” he was established as a mighty warrior prior to the deeds recorded in the Bible.  Yet, he appeared timid and self-effacing when the angel’s great challenge to destroy the Midianites was presented to him.

Since Gideon was a brave man, he would not have been hampered by fear, but apparently exercised prudence to take on the risky missions assigned to him by God. So God gave him a miracle to validate His support for a covert action that would test his resolve and build his faith for a greater action to follow. The miracle occurred when an angel consumed Gideon’s food offering in flame with a touch, then he disappeared. Then Gideon was commanded to destroy the altar and grove of Baal worship that bore similarities to his greater victory — a night ambush with a small band of men. In the aftermath of this brave and righteous deed, Gideon was given the name Jerubbaal, meaning “Baal will contend.” In the combination of names, he was signified as a mighty warrior set to contend with Baal (Satan).

The Enemies of God

Against Gideon’s army, the enemy mustered over 135,000 (Judges 8:10), giving them a 4-to-1 advantage in manpower over Gideon’s largest force. The Midianites, Amalekites, and
the Sons of the East, were all Semitic. Midian was a son of Abraham by Keturah; Amalek was the grandson of Esau (Genesis 25:2, 36:12). The Sons of the East were one of two possibilities later discussed, both within the kinship of Shem. Their incursion was just south of the Sea of Galilee and would strike across the coastal plains of Israel because the northern and coastal lands were the most fertile areas and thus ripe for plunder.

The Midianites were nomadic people who lived in an arid region on the east side of the Gulf of Aqaba. They survived by keeping flocks, caravan trading, and banditry — this last being consistent with their part in this transgression. (Note how they trafficked in slavery, Genesis 37:28.) Being a desert culture, camels were of central importance and in abundant supply (“their camels were innumerable,” Judges 6:5).

The Amalekites were a nomadic, desert people inhabiting the Negev (Numbers 13:29). They were the constant enemies of Israel, attacking them during their wilderness journey (Exodus 17:8-13), at Hormah (Numbers 14:45), with the Moabites (Judges 3:13), and with the Midianites. Saul was commanded to destroy them — man, woman and child— particularly in retaliation for the slaughter perpetrated upon the stragglers of the Israelite exodus column; probably the women, children, and aged (Deuteronomy 25:17-19, 1 Samuel 15:2-3).

In Genesis 29:1-6, the Sons of the East were described in a region where Laban, the uncle of Jacob, lived in Padanaram near Haran (Genesis 11:31), in northwest Mesopotamia.  The term is also applied to those who pillaged Ammon (Ezekiel 25:4,10). However, the term is collectively applied to all of the invading force (Judges 8:10). Given the abundance of camels and golden earrings taken in booty, the “sons of the east” likely represented a term for all eastern, nomadic, desert tribes — far-ranging Arabs as far as the Arabian Peninsula. (It is interesting to note that the spoil of crescent ornaments in Judges 8:26 (ASV) suggests an ancient worship of the moon, which has influenced
modern Islam, with its star-and-crescent symbol. This association is hotly disavowed but is evidently plausible.)

Gideon’s Army

At Gideon’s time Israel was more fragmented, divided into tribal clans. The un-united states of Israel were each primarily interested in their own concerns. From this, we can understand the fleshly attraction to nominate a king over all Israel. Common independent states with shared ethnicity and culture have become great when competing fiefdoms united, as in the case of Greece under Alexander, and Germany in its 1870 unification. A united Israel under one head would have offered strength and stability to many Israelites. Thus, Gideon only called upon the northern tribes of Manasseh (his kinsmen), Asher, Zebulun, and Naphtali for volunteers and did not mass the full weight of Israel against the invaders (Judges 6:34-35). Perhaps it was these northern tribes that endured the greatest plundering. The initial call went out via a trumpet signal to his immediate clan, the Abiezrites, who responded enthusiastically.
From there a call to arms was sent out to the rest of Manasseh and the three other tribes.

Only 32,000 responded to the call, presumably only a portion of the total men of fighting age within the four tribes. These were courageous men, zealous to the work of defending their homeland. When the Lord called Gideon to battle, and after Gideon made his call to arms, he requested two miracles for proof that he would have providential help for such a challenging undertaking. Perhaps the request was more an act of prudence than timidity, for the Lord readily granted his request without rebuking him for having too little faith.

An army overcoming an opposing force four times larger is something not unheard of. For instance, Alexander the Great defeated proportionally larger Persian forces on several occasions.  Therefore, a victory against such odds would be considered a great accomplishment, but not beyond the ken of man’s ability. Apparently, God wanted to show both Israel and the surrounding nations that victory was accomplished by His might; so He reduced the army to 10,000 by having those who were afraid return home (Judges 7:13).

Yet even 10,000 was still too great a number to impress upon men the power of God. It reminds one of the experience of Elijah with the priests of Baal (with the same 450:1 ratio), when combustible materials were drenched with water to enhance the miracle of its ignition (1 Kings 18:34-35). This was to be a victory wrought by God that no one would gainsay.

A final separation was required. When drinking at a brook in close proximity to the enemy, Gideon was told to observe which individuals kneeled down and drank, ostensibly with their face to the water; and which ones drew water to their face, while staying on their feet, able to watch and be ready for action. Only 300 drinking in the latter way were found (Judges 7:4-6). Readiness was the condition that separated them. The 300 were observant and prepared for immediate action, while the others were less so. The focus for the 300 was for the task at hand, and the needs of the flesh were secondary. The larger group had those priorities reversed.

The Victory

Gideon again needed assurance of success for an otherwise suicidal attack. The Lord struck fear into the hearts of the enemy and made this condition apparent to Gideon. The 300 attacked in a night ambush in three companies, breaking their clay pots to reveal the light within and blowing trumpets to mark their presence.  In confusion, the three enemies mistook each other for the Israelites, likely not perceiving each other’s dress in the dark, and perhaps having poor means of communication by lacking a common language. Exhausted, confused, and in panic, the remaining force retreated south along the west side of the Jordan River.

This is probably the time the remainder of Gideon’s fresh and inspired 10,000 man force joined in the rout. Crossing to the east bank of the Jordan proved difficult for the retreating forces, hemming them in and leaving them prey for the Ephraimites, whose eastern border was along the retreat path. In the end, 135,000 of the Arab force were destroyed, and these nations would never again pose a threat to Israel (Judges 7:9-25).1

__________
(1) Editor’s note: “Three companies” suggests they may have stationed themselves upstream, downstream, and at the perpendicular road between the hills. The
enemy could likely not cross the Harod River without either disarming or sinking. Herzog and Gichon, Battles of the Bible, 1997, suggests their military perspective
on Gideon’s battle.

The Spiritual Application

Gideon’s army went through three phases of selection. Likewise, there are three levels of progress in the high calling: called, chosen, and faithful. This suggests that the first, most widespread call, is represented in the 32,000. Enthusiasm faded to fear among them. The 32,000 could represent the many sincere Christians who appreciate Christ, yet most of these balk at the commitment required to follow his sacrificial example. Their idea of a Christian walk is to improve their life on earth, more than to live a life of sacrifice in His service.

The remaining 10,000 were truly brave and dedicated men. Seeing their inferior numbers reduced, and their fellows depart in fear, must have steeled their minds towards a greater exercise of faith. Yet most of them did not have the focus for the task at hand. These are full of faith and willing to die for the Lord, but their efforts are diluted by things of the flesh. They are ones with strong faith and a desire for the water of truth. They drink it heartily but, while being absorbed with Bible study, err in understanding the enemies of God. Thus, it leaves them less prepared to confront those enemies, being less aware of the wiles of the devil. The three enemies represent the dragon, beast, and false prophet of Revelation 16 and 19,2 and make expedient our recognition of them in our day. The 9,700 could well represent the Great Company class.

(2) Of note, this story is somewhat paralleled by one found in 1 Chronicles 20, where again a force of three elements (Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir) threaten to overwhelm Israel, but a miraculous intervention of God saves them. This may be the same picture of the same future events, yet viewed from a different perspective. A similar pattern is noted here: both sets of enemies have two nations with one generalized people, those being a people from the east in one and an unclear group called Meunites from Mt. Seir in the other. Revelation groups the Dragon and Beast (two animals) with the False Prophet (a humanoid figure) in a similar pattern. A suggestion for this is that the first two represent religio-political powers, and the latter a religious influence projecting false Biblical interpretations for end time events. (Editor’s note: The proposed identification of the three unclean spirits remains to be seen. The beast and false prophet are destroyed before the dragon is, suggesting the dragon represents Satan, likely at the head of anti-religion (Revelation 19:20, 20:2, 10). For the religious two, Catholicism, Protestantism, and Islam have all been suggested.)

The final “little flock” of 300 are alert to understand the presence of God’s enemies. They attack by night (during the dark “day of the Lord,” Joel 2:1-2), breaking their clay pots (the death of their bodies) resulting in pinpoints of light (specific truths meant to destabilize a dark world, their last witness) which confuses the three enemies who self-destruct (anarchy destroys all elements of this world order). Revelation 19 shows this final event with Christ (Gideon) leading at the head of his Church (the 300) to accomplish the destruction of the dragon, beast, and false prophet.  “This honour have all the saints” (Psalms149). What joy that day!3

“The end of all things is at hand: be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer” (1 Peter 4:7).

(3) Editor’s note: Just as the 300 stood and let the enemies destroy each other, so the Christian is not to participate in the violence of this age.

 

 

 

 

 

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