Gideon and how God worked with him
The Bible and especially the Old Testament is full of records that show us the way that God worked with various men. One of these records, that of Gideon, will be examined in this issue.
1. The background
Regarding the time of our story, we are in the period where Israel was governed by judges. The last judge (before Gideon) was Deborah, a woman of God through whom "the land had rest for forty years" (Judges 5:31). However, this rest did not last forever. Judges 6:1-6 tell us:
"And THE CHILDREN OF ISRAEL DID EVIL IN THE SIGHT OF THE LORD. And the Lord delivered them into the hand of Midian for seven years. And the hand of Midian prevailed against Israel. Because of the Midianites, the children of Israel made for themselves the dens which are in the mountains, and the caves, and the strong holds. So it was, whenever Israel had sown, Midianites would come up; also Amalekites and the people of the east would come up against them; They would encamp against them and destroy the produce of the earth as far as Gaza, and leave no sustenance for Israel, neither sheep nor ox nor donkey. For they would come up with their livestock and their tents, coming in as numerous as locusts; both they and their camels were without number: and they would enter the land to destroy it. SO ISRAEL WAS GREATLY IMPOVERISHED BECAUSE OF THE MIDIANITES."
After forty years of rest, Israel, because of the Midianites, was under great oppression. As the text tells us, they destroyed their property to such a degree that "no sustenance, neither sheep, nor ox, nor donkey" was left for them (Judges 6:4). However, all these calamities did not happen accidentally. Judges 6:1 give us their reason:
"AND THE CHILDREN OF ISRAEL DID EVIL IN THE SIGHT OF THE LORD: and the Lord delivered them into the hand of Midian for seven years."
"The children of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord". This was the reason of their oppression1 which nonetheless had also a positive result. Really, Judges 6:6 tells us:
"So Israel was greatly impoverished because of the Midianites AND [as a result of their oppression] THE CHILDREN OF ISRAEL CRIED OUT TO THE LORD."
Because of their oppression, the Israelites cried out to the Lord. Again, this was not the first time that they acted like this. Really, though many times they did evil in God's sight, worshipping other false gods, when the calamities started falling on them, they used to turn and seek again the true God2. Verses 7-10 tell us how God responded to their calling:
"And Israel was greatly impoverished because of the Midianites and the children of Israel cried out to the Lord. And it came to pass, when the children of Israel cried out to the Lord because of the Midianites, that the Lord sent a prophet to the children of Israel, who said to them, "Thus says the Lord God of Israel: I brought you up from Egypt, and brought you out of the house of bondage; And I delivered you out of the hand of the Egyptians, and out of the hand of all who oppressed you, and drove them out before you, and gave you their land; And I said to you, "I am the Lord your God; do not fear the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell:" but you have not obeyed my voice."
As a response to Israel's calling, God sent a prophet who gave them His word, reproving them for what they had done. Obviously, God neither kept silent nor he continued to be angry with them. Instead, despite the fact that many times they had forsaken Him, worshipping woods and stones, when they returned to Him, He was there, ready to deliver them again. In our case, His first step was to sent a prophet who reproved them, giving them His Word. However, this was only the beginning. In the sections that follow, we will see what else He did to deliver them.
2. God and Gideon: the beginning
After God sent a prophet reproving Israel, His second step was to approach a man called Gideon. Judges 6:11-12 tells us:
"And there came an angel of the Lord, and sat under an oak which was in Ophrah, which belonged to Joash the Abiezrite: and his son Gideon threshed wheat by the winepress, to hide itfrom the Midianites. And the angel of the Lord appeared to him, and said to him, "The Lord is with you, you mighty man of valour."
When we read that an angel appeared to Gideon, let us not imagine a blond white-dressed being, flapping in the air with two big white wings. That an angel is like this is nothing else but myths and imaginations. Really, the Bible no-where says that the angels have wings, or wear white cloths or that they are blond. What the Bible says is that they are "ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation" (Hebrews 1:14) and therefore as such should be considered.
Returning to our subject, see how God saluted Gideon. He called him a "mighty man of valour". And yet, he was a poor man that threshed wheat, to hide it from the Midianites. However, for God He was a mighty man of valour, a man that, as we will see, believed and followed God, executing obediently all that He commanded him to do. The verses that follow gives us Gideon's reply, to the angel's salutation:
"And Gideon said to him, "O my lord, if the Lord is with us, why then 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. And the Lord looked upon him, and said, Go in this your might, and you shall save Israel from the hand of the Midianites. Have not I sent you?"
Gideon questioned how God was with them, when all these calamities had fallen on them. Nevertheless, it was not God that was not with them, BUT THEY that were not with God. As a response to Gideon's questions, God told him to move ahead, assuring him that he would be the one that would deliver Israel. "Have not I sent you?" He told him. Really, it was God that sent him. This mission was not something that Gideon made up. He was there threshing wheat to hide it from the Midianites. Most probably, he may never had thought that he could ever be the one that would deliver Israel from the Midianites. However, from what the angel said we can say with surety that he now had many reasons to start thinking about this prospect seriously. Verses 15-16 give us Gideon's reply:
"And he said to him, "Oh my Lord, how can I save Israel? behold, my family is poor in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father's house. And the Lord said to him, Surely I will be with you, and you shall smite the Midianites as one man."
People easily follow someone that they know that he is a leader, as for example a king, a general etc. But Gideon? Who would follow him? He was an unknown man. Nevertheless, for one more time God assured him that HE would be with him. "Surely I WILL BE WITH YOU, and you shall smite the Midianites as one man", He said. That's why Gideon had no reasons to fear. However, sometimes God promises something that because it is extremely good we are slow to believe it. We wonder "will really this wonderful thing happen to me?", "will God really give me this?". Such thoughts had also Gideon. Verses 17-24 tell us:
"Then he said to him, "If now I have found favour in your sight, then show me a sign that it is you who talk with me. Do not depart from here, I pray, until I come to you, and bring out my offering, and set it before you. And he said, I will wait until you come back. And Gideon went in, and prepared a young goat, and unleavened bread from an ephah of flour: the meat he put in a basket, and he put the broth in a pot; and he brought them out to him under the oak, and presented them. And the angel of God said to him, "Take the meat and the unleavened bread, and lay them on this rock, and pour out the broth." And he did so. Then the angel of the Lord put out the end of the staff that was in his hand, and touched the meat and the unleavened bread; and fire rose out of the rock, and consumed the meat and the unleavened bread. And the angel of the Lord departed out of his sight. Now when Gideon perceived that he was an angel of the Lord, Gideon said, Alas, O Lord God! for I have seen an angel of the Lord face to face." And the Lord said to him, Peace be with you; do not fear: you shall not die." Then Gideon built an altar there to the Lord, and called it Jehovahshalom [Jehovahshalom: that is, The Lord is peace]"
This is the first time that we read that Gideon asked and obtained a sign from God. However, it is not the only one. There are more that we will see as we read on. Among them is also the well known one with the fleece. We will reserve therefore our commends about the signs that Gideon asked and generally the practice of asking for signs, for later. For the moment, it is enough to say that before asking for a sign, Gideon knew the will of God about the situation. He did not ask the sign in order to determine the will of God through it. Instead, he asked it to confirm what God had already told him, and which therefore was the will of God. To this petition of Gideon, God responded positively, giving him what he asked for.
Though as it is obvious this day was spiritually very active for Gideon, this activity did not stop but continued at night as well. Verses 25-27 tells us:
"And it came to pass the same night, that the Lord said to him, "Take your father's young bull, the second bull of seven years old, and throw down the altar of Baal that your father has, and cut down the grove that is by it: And build an altar to the Lord your God on top of this rock, in the ordered place, and take the second bull, and offer a burnt sacrifice with the wood of the grove which you shall cut down. Then Gideon took ten men of his servants, and did as the Lord had said to him: but because he feared his father's household, and the men of the city, that he could not do it by day, he did it by night."
God told Gideon to throw down the altar of Baal and cut down the grove that was there. The existence of the altar and the grove and the reaction of the people who, as it can be seen by reading further, were angry when they saw them destroyed (see Judges 6:28-30), confirms that the evil that Israel did in the sight of the Lord was the idol's worship. It also shows that only a part of Israel turned to the Lord and not all of them. Yet, because of this part, God would deliver ALL the nation.
3. God and Gideon: the battle with the Midianiates
Having seen how God appeared to Gideon, after the Israelites cried out to Him, and how He made known to him that he would be the one that would deliver Israel, let's now move ahead to see what happened next, starting from verse 33:
"Then all the Midianites and the Amalekites and the people of the east, gathered together, and went over, and encamped in the valley of Jezreel. But the Spirit of the Lord came upon Gideon, and he blew a trumpet; and Abiezer was gathered behind him. And he sent messengers throughout all Manasseh; who also gathered behind him: and he sent messengers to Asher, Zebulun, and Naphtali; and they came up to meet them."
It seems that the time for the execution of Gideon's mission had arrived. The enemies of Israel, "the Midianites and the Amalekites and the children of the east" were all gathered together in one place. At this time, God prompted Gideon to send messengers calling the Israelites to be gathered behind him. See here that it was GOD that moved Gideon to arrive at the decision to start the fight at this time, prompting him to call the people. This shows that God was the planer of the fight while Gideon was the executor of God's plan. Without God telling him what to do, Gideon was impossible to know what God wanted him to do. Without Gideon believing what God had told him, so that to act upon it, the will of God would remain unexecuted. Therefore, the success of the whole operation was dependent on the cooperation between God, the commander, and Gideon the executor of what God said. It was not Gideon who decided and executed, but God who decided and Gideon who executed. This principle is the same, anytime we want to follow the will of God: God is the one that has to make known to us His will - which He does, through His written Word or by revelation - and we are the ones that have to walk on this will. This is the only way that guarantees success in everything we do.
Returning to Gideon, God not only told him what to do but He also helped him to believe and do it. Really, as we saw previously when Gideon asked God for a sign, God gave it to him. However, He did not stop there. Instead, He went further as Gideon really needed more help. So after Israel was gathered behind Gideon, he again asked God for a sign. Verses 36-38 tells us:
"And Gideon said unto God, "If you will save Israel by my hand, AS YOU HAVE SAID, behold, I will put a fleece of wool on the floor; and if there is dew on the fleece only, and it isdry on all the ground, then I shall know that you will save Israel by my hand, as you have said." And it was so: for he rose up early on the morrow, and squeezed the fleece together, he wrung the dew out of the fleece, a bowlful of water."
Moreover, see what he did next:
"And Gideon said to God, "Do not be angry with me, but let me speak just once more: let me prove, I pray, just once more with the fleece; let it now be dry only on the fleece, but on all the ground let there be dew. And God did so that night: for it was dry on the fleece only, but there was dew on all the ground."
The above passages that describe what is known as the "fleece of Gideon" have unfortunately been greatly misunderstood, as many people use this passages, putting various signs by which they want to determine the will of God. So some, decide what is the will of God by throwing a coin. Others through the......"Bible bingo" (it is the opening of the Bible to a random page) and others through other similar ways. Nevertheless, any connection of such practices with the "Gideon's fleece" is totally unbased. The reason is that by the sign Gideon did not seek to determine the will of God. Instead he wanted TO CONFIRM WHAT HE ALREADY KNEW, BY REVELATION, THAT IT WAS GOD'S WILL. Really, verse 36 tells us: "And Gideon said to God, If you will save Israel by my hand, AS YOU HAVE SAID,.................". The phrase "as you have said" shows that Gideon already KNEW God's will3. Thus, he did not ask the sign in order to determine the will of God by it. Instead, he asked it to confirm what HE ALREADY KNEW AS THE WILL OF GOD. Regarding signs, something else that should also be pointed out is that nowhere the Word of God obliges God to give us a sign, when He already has made known to us His will, through His written Word or by revelation. When we do not know the will of God, we try to learn it. We study the Bible, and pray to God to reveal it to us, if of course He has not already revealed it in the Bible. We should not put restrictions to God or predetermine the time and type of God's answer. The Word of God does not oblige God to give us the answer that we like most or to give us the answer when we want it to be given to us. Instead, God is obliged by His very nature as God of love and care, to give us the BEST answer at the time that HE THINKS as BEST. Regarding the practice of asking for signs, what we can say with surety based on His Word, is that God will CERTAINLY help us to follow His will (if of course we want to follow it). However, no-one can restrict Him in the way that He will help us. He will do what He thinks as best. When something is God's will, God will support it to the full extent, even if this means to keep a fleece dry when all the other land is dew, or to give a supporting passage in the...........................Bible bingo or to do whatever else is required to help us believe and do His will. No one says that God does not use signs to help us follow His will. HOWEVER, when these are given they are not given as substitutes to the Word of God but as supportive ways to believe what is the already declared will of God.
Going the discussion further, I believe that the greatest sign about whether something comes from God or not is the way it flows. Everything that comes from God flows smoothly and is continuously in harmony with the Word of God. As Proverbs 10:22 tells us:
"The blessing of the LORD, makes one rich, and he adds no sorrow with it."
Also as Ephesians 3:20 tells us about God:
"[He] is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think"
Moreover James 1:16-17 adds:
"Do not err, my beloved brethren. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning."
Everything that comes from God is a PERFECT GIFT. It is more than what we ask or think. THERE IS NO SORROW IN IT. It is perfect in the short term in the mid-term and in the long term. In contrast, what comes from the devil, will sooner or later end up in the exact opposite from what comes from God, i.e. in tears, pain and wounds4.
Returning to our case, after the miracle with the fleece, Gideon was certainly strengthen, which was what God wanted by answering his petition. However, this is not the end of the story. Really, after the gathering of the Israelites and despite the fact that they were facing a vastly great army, God suggested to Gideon to reduce the army. The verses that follow tells us:
"Then Jerubbaal, who is Gideon, and all the people who were with him, rose up early, and encamped beside the well of Harod, so that the camp of the Midianites was on the north side of them, by the hill of Moreh in the valley. And the Lord said 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 me."
God wanted to show to the Israelites that HE IS GOD, a God able to deliver irrespective of the magnitude of the enemy. So He commanded Gideon to reduce the army. Judges 7:3-8 tell us:
"Now therefore proclaim in the hearing of the people, saying, "Whoever is fearful and afraid, let him turn and depart at once from mount Gilead." And twenty two thousand of the people returned, and ten thousand remained. And the Lord said to Gideon, The people are still too many; bring them down to the water, and I will test them for you there. Then it will be, that of whom I say to you, "This one shall go with you", the same shall go with you; and of whomever I say to you, "This one shall not go with you", the same shall not go. So he brought the people down to the water: and the Lord said to Gideon, Everyone who laps from the water with his tongue, as a dog laps, you shall set apart by himself; likewise every one who gets down on his knees to drink. And the number of those who lapped, putting their hand to their mouth, was three hundred men: but all the rest of the people got down on their knees to drink. And the Lord said to Gideon, By the three hundred men that lapped I will save you, and deliver the Midianites into your hand. Let all the other people go, every man to his place. So the people took provisions and their trumpets in their hands: and he sent away all the rest of Israel, every man to his place, and retained those three hundred men. And the host of Midian was beneath him in the valley."
Finally, after God's selection, only 300 men remained. Through them God would defeat the great army of the Midianites and their allies. The fact that despite the great difference in numbers the fight would be victorious for Israel, was absolutely sure from what God said to Gideon. Really as He told him "By the three hundred men........will I save you, and deliver the Midianites into your hand" (Judges 7:7). It was therefore certain, that if Gideon believed and followed God's instructions, the fight would be victorious for Israel, for God had promised it. However, not only God gave His assurance for the victorious of the fight but he also helped Gideon to believe this promise, and move ahead. Judges 7:9-14 tell us:
"And it happened on the same night, that the Lord said to him, "Arise, go against the camp, for I have delivered it into your hand. But if you are afraid to go down, go down to the camp with Purah your servant, and you shall hear what they say; and afterward your hands shall be strengthened to go down against the camp. Then he went down with Phurah his servant to the outpost of the armed men that were in the camp. And the Midianites and the Amalekites and all the children of the east were lying in the valley as numerous as locusts; and their camels were without number, as the sand by the seashore in multitude. And when Gideon had come, behold, there was a man telling a dream to his companion, and said, "Behold, I have had a dream and, lo, a loaf of barley bread tumbled into the camp of Midian; it came to a tent and struck it so that it fell and overturned, and the tent collapsed. And his companion answered and said, "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."
God not only made known to Gideon His will but He also helped him to believe it. And see the wonderful way that He did it: He sent him to the enemies' camp to hear by his own ears someone to describe his victory against the Midianites!!!! The result of this help is shown in verse 15. There we read:
"And so it was, when Gideon heard the telling of the dream and its interpretation, that he worshipped, and returned to the camp of Israel, and said, "Arise, for the Lord has delivered the camp of Midian into your hand."
As soon as Gideon heard the dream and its interpretation, he became sure that the Lord had delivered the enemies' camp into his and the 300 men hands.
"And he divided the three hundred men into three companies, and he put a trumpet into every man's hand, with empty pitchers, and torches inside the pitchers. And he said to them, "Look at me and do likewise: watch and when I come to the edge of the camp, you shall do as I do. When I blow the trumpet, I and all that are with me, then you also blow the trumpets on every side of the whole camp, and say, "The sword of the Lord, and of Gideon". So Gideon, and the hundred men that were with him, came to the outpost of the camp in the beginning of the middle watch, just as they had posted the watch: and they blew the trumpets, and broke the pitchers that were in their hands. And the three companies blew the trumpets, and broke the pitchers - they held the torches in their left hands, and the trumpets in their right hands for blowing - and they cried, "The sword of the LORD, and of Gideon". And every man stood in his place all around the camp: and the whole army ran and cried out and fled. And the three hundred blew the trumpets, and the Lord set every man's sword against his companion, throughout the whole camp: and the whole army ran and cried out and fled"
Gideon following a daring plan and going to fight against a great host with only 300 men, armed with .....................trumpets, lamps and pitchers, finally bit this great army. Now, if one asks why he decided to fight the Midianites with such means, the obvious answer is because GOD TOLD HIM SO. Really, as we may remember it was God that told him that he would deliver Israel. It was also God that told him to gather Israel for the fight and it was He Who from the host of the Israelites finally chose only 300 men. It was thus also God that told Gideon to follow the plan that was finally followed that night. The result was a tremendous victory for the Israelites. As the text says: "and the LORD set every man's sword against his fellow, even throughout all the host. and the host fled to Bethshittah in Zererath, and to the border of Abelmeholah, unto Tabbath". Verses 23-25 give us the final part of this great victory of the Israelites:
"And the men of Israel gathered together from Naphtali, Asher, and all Manasseh, and pursued the Midianites. And Gideon sent messengers throughout all mount Ephraim, saying, Come down against the Midianites, and seize from them the watering places as far as Beth Barah and the Jordan". Then all the men of Ephraim gathered together, and seized the watering places as far as Beth Berah and the Jordan. And they captured took two princes of the Midianites, Oreb and Zeeb; and they slew Oreb upon the rock Oreb, and Zeeb they slew at the winepress of Zeeb, and pursued Midian, and brought the heads of Oreb and Zeeb to Gideon on the other side of the Jordan."
As it can be seen, the final phase of the battle assumed the contribution of the other Israelites as well. Verse 28 of the eighth chapter give us the magnitude of the triumph and the deliverance that God gave to Israel through Gideon:
"Thus Midian was subdued before the children of Israel, so that they lifted up their heads no more. And the country was in quietness for forty years in the days of Gideon."
When the Israelites did evil in the sight of the Lord, forsaking Him and worshipping other false gods the result was affliction and great poverty. However, when they returned and sought His deliverance, He sent to them a prophet who reproved them by His Word. Moreover, He raised up Gideon to be their leader. He, though he was a poor and unknown man, was willing to do what God wanted him, and God in turn helped him all the way through to carry out the mission of Israel's deliverance. The result was a great deliverance for Israel and quietness for all the years that Gideon was alive. Gideon of course was also greatly blessed. As Judges 8:29-32 tells us:
"And Jerubbaal (Gideon) the son of Joash went and dwelt in his own house. And Gideon had seventy sons who were his own offspring, for he had many wives. And his concubine thatwas in Shechem, also bore him a son, whose name he called Abimelech. Now Gideon the son of Joash died at a good old age, and was buried in the tomb of Joash his father, in Ophrah of the Abiezrites."
He also had a quite and long life, no more trying to hide the wheat from the enemy but living with his family in peace.
To conclude therefore: the departure from the Lord the only that brings is oppression and calamities. However, even if it is done, God is always there ready to forgive and deliver everyone that returns to Him.
Apart from this, something else that is also taught from the records that we read is that when God says something He is also willing to help us to carry it out. Such things as signs when they come from God have to be in accordance to the Word of God, and support what is the already declared will of God. God has given us His Word and the manifestations of the spirit to make known to us His will. If we now need help on the way, we should be sure that we will have this help. I do not know what kind of help this will be. What I do know however is that it will be enough to support us all the way through exactly as it was enough for Gideon as well.
1. Unfortunately, this is not the only place where the phrase "the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord" occurs in the Bible. There are many more (see for example Judges 2:11-15 4:1-2, 10:6, 13:1, I Kings 11:6, Nehemiah 9:28) that additionally show us that the evil that Israel did was the idol's worship and the subsequent abandonment of God. Also, as a look at these records makes clear, this evil was always followed by destruction, calamities and oppression.
2. See for example Judges 3:7-9, 3:12-15, 4:3, 10:10, Nehemiah 9:28.
3. We saw in verses 11-24 how the angel made it known to him.
4. The devil can also produce signs, but false ones that aim to lead us into his traps. That's why we should be very careful with signs. Our guide is not the signs but the Word of God. Whatever is in accordance with the Word comes from God. Whatever, is in contrast to this Word comes from the devil. Signs are valid when support a situation that flows in complete harmony with the Word. Otherwise, they have NO validity.