The Book of Judges is a book that is filled with patterns of disobedience, judgment, and deliverance, time and time again. Every time the children of Israel disobeyed God’s commands, He would send judgment to correct their sin. He would also raise “judges” to deliver them from their enemies. These judges were not people who sat in courtrooms, and they were not sophisticated at all. They were ordinary people, like us, but God specifically chose them to protect and deliver the Israelites. We can think of them as “warriors” that mainly carried out the duties of a “general” in battle. First, let’s look back at the ending of the Book of Joshua before moving forward into the Book of Judges. The Book of Joshua ended with the children of Israel living in the Promise Land and making a covenant to obey the Lord and serve Him only.
Joshua 24:24, "And the people said to Joshua, ‘The Lord our God we will serve, and His voice we will obey.‘”
At first, the Israelites were obeying God’s laws, and they were blessed by God because of it.
Judges 2:7, “So the people served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua, who had seen all the great works of the Lord which He had done for Israel."
However, after Joshua died, instead of obeying and serving the Lord, they lost their spiritual commitment and obedience to the Lord.
Judges 21:25, “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes."
This disobedience caused the Israelites to enter into some of the dark years of their history. Moses warned them in Deuteronomy 30:15-20, “See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil, in that I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in His ways, and to keep His commandments, His statutes, and His judgments, that you may live and multiply; and the Lord your God will bless you in the land which you go to possess. BUT, if your heart turns away that you do not hear, and are drawn away, and worship other gods and serve them, I announce to you today that you shall surely perish; you shall not prolong your days in the land which you cross over the Jordan to go in to possess. I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live; that you may love the Lord your God, that you may obey His voice, and that you may cling to Him, for He is your life and the length of your days; and that you may dwell in the land which the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give them.”
In the Book of Judges, the Israelites continued to disobey the Lord and His commandments time and time again.
Judges 2:11-12, "Then the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord, and served the Baals (idols); and they forsook the Lord God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt; and they followed other gods from among the gods of the people who were all around them, and they bowed down to them; and they provoked the Lord to anger."
Each time the Israelites rebelled, turned to idols, married pagan women, and other immoralities, God would send judgment their way so they would repent and turn back to Him.
Judges 2:1-3, “Then the Angel of the Lord came up from Gilgal to Bochim, and said,”I led you up from Egypt and brought you to the land of which I swore to your fathers; and I said, ‘I will never break My covenant with you. And you shall make no covenant with the inhabitants of this land; you shall tear down their alters.’ But you have not obeyed My voice. Why have you done this? Therefore I also said,’ I will not drive them out before you; but they shall be thorns in your side, and their gods shall be a snare to you.”
As we see, God always remembers His promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (*Just like He does today and will forever). He did not allow the Israelites to be destroyed, but punished them through the deeds of the “inhabitants of the land,” by allowing them to be “thorns” in their sides.
Exodus 2:24-25, “So God heard their groaning, and God remembered His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God looked upon the children of Israel, and God acknowledged them."
God never breaks His unconditional promises because He is sovereign, holy, and righteous. Ultimately, the Book of Judges is about God’s promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and His protection of the Israelites in order to preserve the nation that would soon produce the Savior of the world, Jesus Christ. In each period of disobedience, God would raise a “judge,” to deliver them from their punishment, and show His ultimate love, mercy, forgiveness, and mighty hand.
Judges 2:16, "Nevertheless, the Lord raised up judges who delivered them out of the hand of those who plundered them.”
Judges 2:18, "And when the Lord raised up judges for them, the Lord was with the judge and delivered them out of the hand of their enemies all those who oppressed them and harassed them.”
Hebrews 11:32-34, "And what more shall I say? For the time would fail me to tell of Gideon and Barak and Samson and Jephthah, also of David and Samuel and the prophets; who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of the foreigners."
The story of Gideon, in the Book of Judges, begins with the children of Israel being under the rule of the Midianites for seven years.
Judges 6:1-2, “Then the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord. So the Lord delivered them into the hand of Midian for seven years, and the hand of Midian prevailed against Israel. Because the power of Midian was so oppressive, the Israelites prepared shelters for themselves in mountain clefts, caves and strongholds. Whenever the Israelites planted their crops, the Midianites, Amalekites and other eastern peoples invaded the country. They camped on the land and ruined the crops all the way to Gaza and did not spare a living thing for Israel, neither sheep nor cattle nor donkeys."
Judges 6:7-10, "When the Israelites cried out to the Lord because of the Midianites, 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. 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. 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.”
The Israelites disobeyed and turned from the Lord, so He sent judgment to them so they would turn their lives back to Him. The judgment lasted 7 years, and then the Lord remembered His promise to the Patriarchs, and He raised up Gideon to deliver them from the Midianites. Gideon was an ordinary man, who did not have strong faith and thought himself inadequate for the job God wanted him to do.
Judges 6:11-16, "The angel of the Lord came and sat down under the oak in Ophrah that belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, where his son Gideon was threshing wheat in a winepress to keep it from the Midianites. When the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon, he said, ‘The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.’ “Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “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.” The Lord turned to him and said, “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?” “Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.” The Lord answered, “I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites, leaving none alive.”
The Angel of the Lord came to Gideon while he was in a winepress. In those days, they would normally thresh the wheat on top of a hill so the wind would carry away the chaff. So why was Gideon in a winepress? He was there because the Midianites and Amalekites would see him on a hill and steal his wheat, so he chose to hide from them in the winepress. This is the first sign of Gideon’s lack of faith. We have to remember that Gideon and his generation did not witness the great miracles performed in the Book of Exodus (Exodus 7-14) by the Almighty, nor were they alive to see the Jordan River parting (Joshua 3). Therefore, after the Angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon and called him a “mighty warrior,” Gideon began complaining instead of trusting and obeying. What Gideon failed to realize was that the Israelites brought this judgment upon themselves. A lot of times we respond to God’s calling with complaining about our current circumstances, or fearing the unknown when God is wanting us to trust Him and obey His commands. Like Gideon, sometimes we don’t take personal responsibility for our own actions. We see that the Angel of the Lord responded to Gideon with a command, not an answer, “Go in strength and save Israel.” He did not answer Gideon’s complaints, but instead gave him another command and confirmed the Lord was with him. After the command, Gideon’s fear and lack of faith still caused him to question the Angel of the Lord, although the Angel was telling Gideon, “I will be with you.” Throughout the Holy Bible people have feared, or have been reluctant to do a job the Lord wanted them to do. Sometimes we have those same fears and doubts, but we need to remember what the Lord has commanded us. We need to have faith in the Lord and through Him, in our weakness and in His Strength, we can accomplish His will.
Joshua 1:9, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
Matthew 28:20, “And lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age."
Even though the Angel commanded Gideon to “save Israel” and promised him, “I will be with you,” he still asked the Angel for a sign.
Judges 6:17-23, Gideon replied, “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.” And the Lord said, “I will wait until you return.” Gideon went inside, prepared a young goat, and from an ephah of flour he made bread without yeast. Putting the meat in a basket and its broth in a pot, he brought them out and offered them to him under the oak. The angel of God said to him, “Take the meat and the unleavened bread, place them on this rock, and pour out the broth.” And Gideon did so. Then the angel of the Lord touched the meat and the unleavened bread with the tip of the staff that was in his hand. Fire flared from the rock, consuming the meat and the bread. And the angel of the Lord disappeared. When Gideon realized that it was the angel of the Lord, he exclaimed, “Alas, Sovereign Lord! I have seen the angel of the Lord face to face!” But the Lord said to him, “Peace! Do not be afraid. You are not going to die.”
He said this to Gideon because the Israelites believed if you saw God you would die, and they believed the same thing about seeing an angel. This fear came from Exodus 33:20, “God said, ‘You cannot see My face; for no man shall see Me and live.” So the Angel told Gideon, he would not die. However, Gideon’s faith was still wavering, and he asked for a sign.
Deuteronomy 6:16, "You shall not tempt the Lord your God.”
Luke 4:12, “It has been said, ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God.‘”
Even though we are not to test the Lord, the Angel acknowledged his request and proved to Gideon, without question, He was sent by the Almighty. How many times have we asked God for a sign? After confirmation from the Angel of the Lord, Gideon was told to destroy the alter of the ancient pagan idol Baal.
Judges 6:25-32, “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. 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.” So Gideon took ten of his servants and did as the Lord told him. But because he was afraid of his family and the townspeople, he did it at night rather than in the daytime. In the morning when the people of the town got up, there was Baal’s altar, demolished, with the Asherah pole beside it cut down and the second bull sacrificed on the newly built altar! They asked each other, “Who did this? When they carefully investigated, they were told, “Gideon son of Joash did it.” The people of the town demanded of Joash, “Bring out your son. He must die, because he has broken down Baal’s altar and cut down the Asherah pole beside it.” But Joash replied to the hostile crowd around him, “Are you going to plead Baal’s cause? Are you trying to save him? Whoever fights for him shall be put to death by morning! If Baal really is a god, he can defend himself when someone breaks down his altar.” So because Gideon broke down Baal’s altar, they gave him the name Jerub-Baal that day, saying, “Let Baal contend with him.”
God’s first duty for Gideon was to destroy the pagan idol Baal, because in Exodus 20:3, God clearly commands, “You shall have no other gods before Me.” God knew what the reaction of the people would be once Gideon destroyed it, so He was testing Gideon’s faith and commitment to His will. Although Gideon was afraid and did it at night, nevertheless, He obeyed God’s command. Whenever we are conflicted between following God’s laws or the world’s laws, we are commanded by God to follow His laws since He is the Judge of the Universe. He will bless us with enough grace to get us through whatever we are facing from the opposition. God gave Joash, Gideon’s father, the words that brought calmness at that moment. These people were Israelites who wanted to kill him. This shows how far they had fallen in their apostate lifestyle.
2 Corinthians 9:8, “God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have abundance for every good work."
Judges 6:33-40, “Now all the Midianites, Amalekites and other eastern peoples joined forces and crossed over the Jordan and camped in the Valley of Jezreel (Armageddon). Then the Spirit of the Lord came on Gideon, and he blew a trumpet, summoning the Abiezrites to follow him. He sent messengers throughout Manasseh, calling them to arms, and also into Asher, Zebulun and Naphtali, so that they too went up to meet them. Gideon said to God, “If you will save Israel by my hand as you have promised— 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.” And that is what happened. Gideon rose early the next day; he squeezed the fleece and wrung out the dew—a bowlful of water. 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.” That night God did so. Only the fleece was dry; all the ground was covered with dew.”
The Valley of Jezebel was a major agriculture area as the soil was rich and fertile, and many trade routes converged there. Many great battles were fought there, and the Valley of Jezreel will be the place where the final Battle of Armageddon will be fought. As Gideon and his people were about to battle the Midianites, Amalekites, and others, Gideon’s lack of faith and testing of the Almighty asked for not one, but two signs, due to his reluctance to accept God’s instructions. After God performed the 1st sign for Gideon, Gideon knew he was in the wrong testing God and asking God to perform another sign for him. Gideon’s lack of faith and fear are prominent in these verses, but the Almighty obliged his requests and performed the signs for him. When we demand extra signs, like Gideon, it is a clear indication that our faith is weak and wavering. If God gives us a clear path with His blessing, we should take action and not be reluctant.
Judges 7:1-25, “Early in the morning, Jerub-Baal (that is, Gideon) and all his men camped at the spring of Harod. The camp of Midian was north of them in the valley near the hill of Moreh. The Lord said to Gideon, “You have too many men. I cannot deliver Midian into their hands, or Israel would boast against me, ‘My own strength has saved me.’ Now announce to the army, ‘Anyone who trembles with fear may turn back and leave Mount Gilead.’” So twenty-two thousand men left, while ten thousand remained. But the Lord said to Gideon, “There are still too many men. Take them down to the water, and I will thin them out for you there. If I say, ‘This one shall go with you,’ he shall go; but if I say, ‘This one shall not go with you,’ he shall not go.” So Gideon took the men down to the water. There the Lord told him, “Separate those who lap the water with their tongues as a dog laps from those who kneel down to drink.” Three hundred of them drank from cupped hands, lapping like dogs. All the rest got down on their knees to drink. The Lord said to Gideon, “With the three hundred men that lapped I will save you and give the Midianites into your hands. Let all the others go home.” So Gideon sent the rest of the Israelites home but kept the three hundred, who took over the provisions and trumpets of the others.”
This is incredible! Who tells a “general” to decrease the “army” for battle? No one, other than God Almighty. The Lord knew that if it wasn’t obvious that His mighty hand had won the battle, the Israelite’s hearts would boast with pride and arrogance, and turn away from Him. This is a great lesson, because God hates pride and arrogance.
Proverbs 8:13, “The fear of the Lord is to hate evil; Pride and arrogance and the evil way and the perverse mouth I hate.”
God shows us His superior glory, and His amazing victories, so that we will acknowledge that He is in control over everything. He tells Gideon to reduce the size of the army. So, 22,000 people retreated and 10,000 people remained to fight the battle. God wanted Gideon and the Israelites to understand that He is in total control, and he wanted to leave no doubt whatsoever who had won this battle. So He commands Gideon to reduce the army to 300 people and wage war against 15,000 people. This is incredible! After the army was reduced to 300 people, the Almighty confirms to Gideon that He will “give the Midianites into your hands.” Wow! With an army this small, God left no doubt that this victory was from His mighty hand. We can only be confident of victory, if we put our faith in the Lord and not ourselves.
“Now the camp of Midian lay below him in the valley. During that night the Lord said to Gideon, “Get up, go down against the camp, because I am going to give it into your hands. If you are afraid to attack, go down to the camp with your servant Purah and listen to what they are saying. Afterward, you will be encouraged to attack the camp.” So he and Purah his servant went down to the outposts of the camp. The Midianites, the Amalekites and all the other eastern peoples had settled in the valley, thick as locusts. Their camels could no more be counted than the sand on the seashore. 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.” 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.” When Gideon heard the dream and its interpretation, he bowed down and worshiped. He returned to the camp of Israel and called out, “Get up! The Lord has given the Midianite camp into your hands.” Dividing the three hundred men into three companies, he placed trumpets and empty jars in the hands of all of them, with torches inside. “Watch me,” he told them. “Follow my lead. When I get to the edge of the camp, do exactly as I do. When I and all who are with me blow our trumpets, then from all around the camp blow yours and shout, ‘For the Lord and for Gideon.’” Gideon and the hundred men with him reached the edge of the camp at the beginning of the middle watch, just after they had changed the guard. They blew their trumpets and broke the jars that were in their hands. The three companies blew the trumpets and smashed the jars. Grasping the torches in their left hands and holding in their right hands the trumpets they were to blow, they shouted, “A sword for the Lord and for Gideon!” While each man held his position around the camp, all the Midianites ran, crying out as they fled. When the three hundred trumpets sounded, the Lord caused the men throughout the camp to turn on each other with their swords. The army fled to Beth Shittah toward Zererah as far as the border of Abel Meholah near Tabbath. Israelites from Naphtali, Asher and all Manasseh were called out, and they pursued the Midianites. Gideon sent messengers throughout the hill country of Ephraim, saying, “Come down against the Midianites and seize the waters of the Jordan ahead of them as far as Beth Barah.” So all the men of Ephraim were called out and they seized the waters of the Jordan as far as Beth Barah. They also captured two of the Midianite leaders, Oreb and Zeeb. They killed Oreb at the rock of Oreb, and Zeeb at the winepress of Zeeb. They pursued the Midianites and brought the heads of Oreb and Zeeb to Gideon, who was by the Jordan.”
After the army was reduced to 300, there is no doubt Gideon was afraid. God recognized his fear, and He sent Gideon to overhear a conversation of the enemy. The enemy soldier told his fellow men that he dreamed that the barley was tumbling into the camp. All of the soldiers knew this dream was a bad omen, because as everyone knew, barely grain was inferior to wheat, thus causing barley to be half the value of wheat. Once Gideon heard their concern from the dream, it gave Gideon courage for the battle. We can tell from the scriptures that Gideon was filled with faith and confidence in the Lord. Although Gideon’s 300 men only had trumpets, torches, and empty jars, Gideon gave the Lord’s command, and it sent the Midianites into a confused, disordered retreat. Their confusion was such that Gideon and his army never fought or drew a sword, because the Midianites killed each other. God wanted to demonstrate to the Israelites that victory is not achieved though strength or massive armies, but only through Him. We are to trust, obey, and commit to the Lord, and He will fight our battles for us.
Judges 8:1-32, “Now the Ephraimites asked Gideon, “Why have you treated us like this? Why didn’t you call us when you went to fight Midian?” And they challenged him vigorously. But he answered them, “What have I accomplished compared to you? Aren’t the gleanings of Ephraim’s grapes better than the full grape harvest of Abiezer? God gave Oreb and Zeeb, the Midianite leaders, into your hands. What was I able to do compared to you?” At this, their resentment against him subsided. Gideon and his three hundred men, exhausted yet keeping up the pursuit, came to the Jordan and crossed it. He said to the men of Sukkoth, “Give my troops some bread; they are worn out, and I am still pursuing Zebah and Zalmunna, the kings of Midian.” But the officials of Sukkoth said, “Do you already have the hands of Zebah and Zalmunna in your possession? Why should we give bread to your troops?” Then Gideon replied, “Just for that, when the Lord has given Zebah and Zalmunna into my hand, I will tear your flesh with desert thorns and briers.” From there he went up to Peniel and made the same request of them, but they answered as the men of Sukkoth had. So he said to the men of Peniel, “When I return in triumph, I will tear down this tower.” Now Zebah and Zalmunna were in Karkor with a force of about fifteen thousand men, all that were left of the armies of the eastern peoples; a hundred and twenty thousand swordsmen had fallen. Gideon went up by the route of the nomads east of Nobah and Jogbehah and attacked the unsuspecting army. Zebah and Zalmunna, the two kings of Midian, fled, but he pursued them and captured them, routing their entire army. Gideon son of Joash then returned from the battle by the Pass of Heres. He caught a young man of Sukkoth and questioned him, and the young man wrote down for him the names of the seventy-seven officials of Sukkoth, the elders of the town. Then Gideon came and said to the men of Sukkoth, “Here are Zebah and Zalmunna, about whom you taunted me by saying, ‘Do you already have the hands of Zebah and Zalmunna in your possession? Why should we give bread to your exhausted men?’” He took the elders of the town and taught the men of Sukkoth a lesson by punishing them with desert thorns and briers. He also pulled down the tower of Peniel and killed the men of the town. Then he asked Zebah and Zalmunna, “What kind of men did you kill at Tabor?” “Men like you,” they answered, “each one with the bearing of a prince.” 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.” Turning to Jether, his oldest son, he said, “Kill them!” But Jether did not draw his sword, because he was only a boy and was afraid. Zebah and Zalmunna said, “Come, do it yourself. ‘As is the man, so is his strength.’” So Gideon stepped forward and killed them, and took the ornaments off their camels’ necks."
From the beginning of Gideon’s calling until the end, we can see how God shaped Gideon’s faith and taught him to trust in Him. Once Gideon did as God commanded, he saw how God took care of everything else. It is obvious that Gideon’s faith strengthened over time, so much that after the battle he chased the Midianites into the desert. The Gideon at the beginning of the story would have been reluctant to do such a thing! However, God kept building Gideon’s faith until finally He became the “general” God called him to be. He became the “mighty man of valor,” that the Angel had proclaimed him to be in Judges 7:9. Gideon became bolder after the “last sign,” and he became the faithful leader of the Israelites as they dwelled for 40 years in peace and safety.
Judges 8:22-23, "Then the men of Israel said to Gideon, ‘Rule over us, both you and your son, and your grandson also, for you have delivered us from the hand of the Midian.’ But Gideon said to them,’I will not rule over you, nor shall my sons over you; the Lord shall rule over you.” Judges 8:28,32,” During Gideon’s lifetime, the land had peace forty years. Gideon son of Joash died at a good old age and was buried in the tomb of his father Joash in Ophrah of the Abiezrites."
Although Gideon received fame and prominence from the Israelites, he never lost sight that the victory was from God alone, and nobody else. He put God first and gave Him all of the credit. Despite Gideon’s lack of faith in the beginning of the story, He protected and delivered the Israelites from the hands of the Midianites, as the Almighty told him he would. God molded him into a faithful “judge” of his time.
The story of Gideon teaches us how God uses ordinary people to accomplish great things for His kingdom. Gideon, an ordinary, fearful man, was turned into a “mighty man of valor.” At first, we do not see those qualities in Gideon, but God did. God kept molding Gideon’s faith time and time again, until Gideon was ready to do His calling. Gideon made excuses, challenged the Lord, and asked for signs, but God kept working on him. Like Gideon, our lack of faith and trust in the Lord has appeared at times in our life. So often we focus on the obstacles, or the size of the army, as Gideon did, instead of focusing on obeying and trusting the Almighty. Like Gideon, God works on our faith, day by day, until our faith is where it needs to be to accomplish His will. Our faith will always be challenged, but just like Gideon, it will continue to strengthen over our lifetime. Many times, God wants us to trust and have faith in Him, and watch His mighty hand accomplish His will for us. Ultimately, God changed Gideon’s weaknesses into strengths, just as He will change our weaknesses into strengths for His purposes in life. Amen, Amen, and Amen