But, the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD. Now, we move into the next cycle, the 4th apostasy, and Gideon, who is raised up as the sixth judge.
Scripture says “These things were written for us as examples so that we would not fall into the same errors.” This story is one of man’s failure to keep covenant with God, man’s failure to heed the warnings of God. It is the story of the tragedies that befall a person who turns their back on God and begins to worship and serve other gods. In today’s society, the gods would include the gods of materialism, the gods of knowledge, the gods of pleasure, the gods of money, and the gods of power. If these become the gods of your life, if you turn from serving the true and living God, then you are flirting with disaster. Your life will go into bondage. You will become a slave to your possessions, to your knowledge, to your own pleasure. These scriptures are written, so that we might be warned against the dangers of turning our backs on God, so that we might live for God and serve God will all of our hearts, with all of our souls, with all of our mind, and with all of our strength.
In the 5th chapter of Judges, we read the song of Deborah that rose out of the victory that God had given to Israel over Jabin, the king of Hazor, and the captain of his army, Sisera. The 5th chapter ends with, “And the land had rest forty years.”
Chapter 6 begins with the words “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.”
We see the becoming of the pattern. This is the fourth apostasy and the fourth servitude that Israel has gone into as the result of their apostasy.
The hand of Midian prevailed against Israel: and because of the Midianites the children of Israel made dens in the mountains, and caves, and strong holds. And so it was, when Israel had planted, that the Midianites came up, and the Amalekites, and the children of the east, even they came up against them; and they encamped against them, and they destroyed the increase of the earth, till you come unto Gaza.
Gaza is in the south coastal area of the land. So, the Midianites would be coming from the north, so they really took the entire land, all the way from the north down south as far as Gaza. The Midianites were nomadic, so they did not build cities, they lived in tents. They moved from area to area. This was also true of the Amalekites. These folks pretty much just moved in and invaded the land, ripping off the harvest of the crops planted by Israel.
They encamped against them, destroyed the increase of the land, all the way to Gaza, they left no sustenance for Israel, neither sheep, nor ox, nor donkey.
They had completely devastated all of the crops and all of the animals.
They came up with their cattle and their tents, and they came as grasshoppers for multitudes; for both they and their camels were without number: and they entered into the land to destroy it.
They came like a plague of locusts, covering the ground. We know that just from the forces of Midian there were 135,000 men, who were killed as part of the army, those who were able to draw a bow. So, the total number had to be into the hundreds of thousands that came into the land.
Israel was greatly impoverished because of the Midianites; and the children of Israel cried unto the LORD.
Here is that pattern, again. God blesses them, they turn their backs on God, God turns His back on them, and they are oppressed by their enemies. Finally, they cry to the LORD, and God delivers them. They serve the LORD and prosper. They forget the LORD and go back into captivity.
And so they cried unto the LORD. And it came to pass, when the children of Israel cried unto the LORD because of the Midianites, that the LORD sent a prophet unto the children of Israel, which said unto them, Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, I brought you up from Egypt, and brought you forth out of the house of bondage; and I delivered you out of the hand of the Egyptians, and out of all that oppressed you, I drove them out from before you, and gave you their land; and I said unto you, I am the LORD your God; fear not the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell: but you have not obeyed my voice.
Here, we see the people crying to the Lord, and God sent a prophet to rebuke them for breaking the covenant with God. The prophet declared to them that their calamity had come because they had not walked in the way of God.
As we look at our own lives, we find that this is so often true. Our calamity comes, because we forsake the Lord. Whether we admit it or not, we begin to worship other gods, whether that be material things, sexual perversions, knowledge, or other things. We get into all kinds of problems and, in our difficulties, we cry to the Lord.
Here, in the scripture, the Lord is rebuking them through the prophet, calling their attention to the reason why they’re experiencing their calamity. It is interesting that God doesn’t just rebuke us. He is so good that He tries to instruct us. He tries to teach us through these things. It makes you wonder, why don’t we learn?
There came an angel of the LORD, and sat under an oak which was at Ophrah, that pertains to Joash the Abiezrite: and his son Gideon threshed wheat by the winepress, to hide it from the Midianites.
Gideon is the son of Joash, an Abiezrite, which is the family name of the tribe of Manasseh.
And the angel of the LORD appeared unto Gideon, and said unto him, The LORD is with you, you mighty man of valour. And Gideon said unto him, Oh my Lord, if the LORD is with us, why then is all of this befallen us? and where are all of the miracles which our fathers told us about, saying, Did not the LORD bring us up from Egypt? but now the LORD hath forsaken us, and has delivered us into the hands of the Midianites.
The beginning of this conversation, between Gideon with the angel, is really quite interesting. The angel call him a mighty man of valour. I know Gideon did not perceive himself that way, but that’s how the Lord looked upon him. The Lord’s perception of him was better than his own.
It would be nice to realize just how valuable we were in the sight of God. Many times, I think we deprecate ourselves, we put ourselves down.
Yet, the Lord places such tremendous value on us.
When Paul wrote to the church at Ephesus, he told them how he prayed for them. One of his prayers for them was that they might know His exceeding rich inheritance in the saints. In other words, he was telling them, ‘If you only knew how much God prized and valued you.’
God looked at Gideon and said ‘You are a mighty man of valor.’ Gideon said ‘Hey, now, I’m nobody.’ Yet, that was how the LORD perceived him.
The second part of the conversation that I find interesting is the fact that Gideon was arguing with the angel. The angel told him “The LORD is with you.” Gideon replied ‘Hey man, if the LORD was with us, then why are we having all of this trouble? where are the miracles that our fathers told us about? He wanted to see the miracles of God to deliver them from the oppression under the Midianites.
So the LORD looked upon him, and said, Go in this your might, and you will save Israel from the hand of the Midianites: have I not sent you? And he said unto him, Oh my Lord, wherewithal shall I save Israel? behold, my family is poor in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house.
God has the hardest time getting men to do His work. When God called Moses at the burning bush, Moses felt he couldn’t do it, because he was not eloquent in speech. When God called Jeremiah, Jeremiah felt he was too young, and folks wouldn’t listen to him. Gideon is doing the same thing. He feels his family is poor, and he is the least in the family.
When Samuel instructed Saul that God had chosen him as the first king of Israel, he made similar comments. It is obvious that God, many times, chooses a man who is humble to do His work. It is probably this very attitude of humility that God looks for, when He is seeking a servant to go out and to do His work. Looking at this from the back side, the level of pride in many of the television evangelists today, could lead one to believe that they may be self-chosen, and not truly selected by God. On the other hand, we are all selected of God, to do what is in His plan for our lives and the lives of others, even when that role is just a minor one.
The LORD said unto him, Surely I will be with you,
This is God’s answer to his cry of weakness, “I will be with you.” That is all I need. If God is for us, who can be against us?
I will be with you, Surely you will smite the Midianites as one man. And he said unto him, If I have really found grace in your sight,
Gideon was asking the Lord if this was for real, or if it was just his imagination. Then he asked God to wait a minute, so he could go get a sacrifice.
Let me go get a present for you. And he said, I will wait. And so Gideon went in, and he made ready a little goat, and unleavened cakes (no time to let the dough rise) out of an ephah of flour: the flesh he put in a basket, and he put the broth in a pot, and he brought it out unto him under the oak, and he presented it. And the angel of God said unto him, Take the flesh and the unleavened cakes, and lay them upon the rocks,
So, Gideon came out with this basket, and a shish kabob from the little goat, and the unleavened cakes, and the broth, and God tells him to set them on the rocks and then tells him ‘and then he said, pour the broth over it.’
This turned out to be a burnt offering and a peace offering. The cakes were a meal offering which was a peace offering. The burnt offering was the goat. The drink offering was the broth, to be poured over the offerings. “pour the broth over it.”
And so he poured the broth over it. And the angel of the LORD put forth the end of the staff that was in his hand, and he touched the flesh and the unleavened cakes; and there arose up a fire out of the rock, and consumed the flesh and the unleavened cakes. Then the angel of the LORD departed out of his sight.
This was quite a manifestation, causing Gideon to recognize that he was with an angel of the Lord. Gideon wanted proof, and he got it.
And when Gideon perceived that it was an angel of the LORD, and he said, Alas, O Lord GOD! because I have seen an angel of the LORD face to face. And the LORD said unto him, Peace be unto thee; fear not: you will not die.
All through scripture, both Old and New Testaments, God shares the message “Peace be unto you!” All through scripture, God tells us to “Fear not!” We need to take heed to these words from the Lord in our daily lives. We’re fearful of the uncertainty of our future, God is saying to us ‘Fear not. Peace be unto you!’
Then Gideon built an altar there unto the LORD, and he called it Jehovah-shalom: unto this day it is yet in Ophrah of the Abiezrites.
Gideon picked up on the statement from God, and he called the altar Jehovah-shalom, which means “Jehovah is our peace.” Gideon has been drafted to go to war. In fact, he has been called to lead the people of God against the Midianites. So, by faith in the promise from God, he built the altar and called it ‘Jehovah-shalom.’ He looked beyond the war to the peace that God would bring, after the fighting was ended.
Gideon’s whole experience is one of faith, as he looks beyond the conflict that is coming to the peace that God gives. By faith, he called the altar, in faith, ‘Jehovah-shalom.’
And it came to pass the same night, that the LORD said unto him, Take your father’s young bullock, even the second bullock of seven years old, and throw down the altar of Baal that your father has, and cut down the grove that is by it:
The grove was the pillar to the goddess Astharoth, who is the female counterpart to Baal. Gideon is told to take this bullock, and to break down his father’s altar unto Baal, and the grove that was by it.
And build instead an altar unto Jehovah your God upon the top of this rock, in the ordered place, and take the second bullock, and offer a burnt sacrifice with the wood of the grove thou shalt cut down.
So, this wooden pillar that was worshipped as a monument to Astharoth was to be used to kindle the fire on the altar.
And Gideon took ten men of his servants, and did as the LORD had said unto him: and so it was, because he feared his father’s household, and the men of the city, he could not do it by day, so he did it by night.
It seems the folks were pretty heavy into the worship of Baal. They were committed to this idolatry. They were so committed to it that had Gideon tried to do this during the day, there would have been one big confrontation and probably a battle. So, Gideon decided to do it at night, while they were all asleep.
So when the men of the city arose early in the morning, and behold, the altar of Baal was cast down, and the grove was cut down that was by it, and the second bullock was offered upon the altar that was built. They said one to another, Who has done this thing? And they asked around, and they said, It was Gideon the son of Joash who has done it. So the men of the city said unto Joash, Bring out your son, that he may die: because he has cast down the altar of Baal, and because he has cut down the grove that was by it. And Joash said unto them that stood against him, Will you plead for Baal? will you save him?
Do you have a god that you have to rescue? Isn’t your god able to take care of himself?
He that will plead for him, let him be put to death
This really demonstrates just how deeply entrenched was the worship of Baal in the hearts of these people. They are ready to kill Gideon because he broke down the altar of Baal.
while it is yet morning: if he is a god, let him plead for himself, because one has cast down his altar.
In other words, ‘let him defend himself.’ I think how many times we find ourselves foolishly caught in the position of trying to defend God as though God needs defense. We don’t have to defend God, He’s perfectly capable of defending Himself. And, this was the same logic of Joash, Gideon’s father: if Baal is a god, let him defend himself.
Therefore on that day he called Gideon Jerubbaal, saying Let Baal plead for himself, [Jerubbaal literally means, ‘let Baal plead’] because he has thrown down his altar. Then all the Midianites and the Amalekites and the children of the east were gathered together, and they went over, and they pitched in the valley of Jezreel.
Jezreel is the valley between Mount Gilboa and Mount Moreh. It is in the eastern part of the valley of Megeddo. It is known as the valley of Jezreel, the valley of Megeddo. They all more or less run together. It begins at Bethshemesh, which is just up out of the Jordan river at the northern end of the Mount Gilboa range. The valley is about 15 miles long and 12 miles wide, and it is extremely fertile. It is the valley where the final battle will be fought, the battle of Armageddon.
Coming up from Bethshemesh is the natural way to invade the land of Israel, if you’re coming from the north. It’s a natural pass into the valley, and it goes all the way to Haifa on the Mediterranean.
Here, we see the Midianites, the Amalekites, and these people from the east had come into this valley of Jezreel.
But the Spirit of the LORD came upon Gideon, and he blew a trumpet; and Abiezer was gathered after him.
We need to take notice here that the Spirit of the Lord came upon Gideon. Throughout Judges, we will be reading about this, as God’s Spirit begins to move upon these men, the judges of Israel.
And he sent messengers throughout all of Manasseh; who also was gathered after him: and he sent messengers unto the tribes of Asher, to Zebulun, to Naphtali; and they came up to meet him.
So, Gideon sent messengers to all the tribes that were in the northern section. There is no mention of messages down to Judah, or Simeon, or Benjamin, or even Ephraim, only those that were in the northern portion.
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 in the floor; and if the dew is on the fleece only, and it is dry upon all of the earth around it, then I will know that you will save Israel by my hand, as you have said.
So, Gideon has a second test to insure that it is God talking to him. The first was the sacrifice. Evidently, Gideon is still uncertain if God is really in this. So, Gideon put the fleece out on the ground.
And on the next day, he thrust the fleece together, he wrung out the dew out of the fleece, and there was a bowl full of water.
At this point, Gideon probably thought that there might be some rule of physics, of which he was not aware, that caused the dew to gather on the fleece and not on the ground. So, he wanted one more chance, and this time they would reverse the process.
in the morning let the ground be covered with dew, and let the fleece be dry.
So, the next morning, the ground was covered with dew and the fleece was dry. From this, Gideon determined that God had called him, and would deliver the Midianites into his hands.
Because of Gideon’s putting out this fleece, a practice was instituted by a lot of folks, where a kind of fleece was used to attempt to ascertain the will of the Lord, or the plan of God.
Even in the New Testament they sought the will of God by casting lots, to determine which of the two disciples should take the place of Judas Iscariot, whether it would be Barnabas or Mathias. When they cast the lots, the lot fell on Mathias and he was numbered with the twelve.
We do not read of this practice taking place in the New Testament after the day of Pentecost. There is no further mention of people seeking to ascertain the will of God by the casting of lots, or by drawing straws, or by any other method. God’s Spirit began to direct the early church.
“And the Spirit spake and said, Separate unto me Paul and Barnabas for the ministry wherein I have called them.” There began to be a more direct leading of the Spirit that they understood, with the elimination of the need to check or test to see the will of God.
It is vital to any Christian to know where God stands on an issue, and the best way to do that is to pray, trust God to answer that prayer, and to not force the issue. Jesus said “Ask, and ye shall receive; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.” So, we should ask, knock on a few doors, and see which one opens.
We need not try to force doors open. Many times, we get something in our minds, and we act and push for what, in our own mind, we believe is the right thing for us. This is a mistake. If we are in God’s will, they right door will open. As the Lord said to the church of Philadelphia, “I have set before thee an open door that no man can shut.” If God is in it, God is going to bless it.
Whether we are trying to make something happen, or if we are trying to keep something moving, if God is not in it, or if God is trying to kill it, we can really mess things up. If a system in the church cannot support itself, without artificial support, it needs to die. We can’t force things to keep something alive, when God wants it gone. God will open or close doors, as he sees fit. We need not push.
God is able to take care of things. It is when we get into forcing issues that we can easily get out of God’s will.
I don’t use fleeces, I just pray, trust God, and get out of His way.
Don D. Stephens
(Photo credit to Colm Verhoeff)