Gideon – A Judge and a General
by John C. Westervelt
Beginning with Joseph, the Hebrews lived and multiplied in Egypt for four hundred and thirty years before they departed under the leadership of Moses. The Israelites wandered in the wilderness for the next forty years. When Moses died, God told Joshua to lead the people into the Promised Land. Joshua spent most of his life capturing the city-states of Canaan. In his old age, Joshua divided the Promised Land among the twelve tribes of Israel.
One of Joshua’s final acts was to gather the tribes in Shechem for a state of the union message. Joshua told the people, “Choose for yourselves today whom you will serve; but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
Following Joshua’s death, judges ruled over Israel for 350 years until the monarchy was established with Saul followed by David. One of these judges was Gideon.
Throughout their history, the Hebrew people vacillated between worshiping idols and repenting of their sin and worshiping the Lord. When Gideon was a young man, the Hebrews were worshiping Baal. God allowed the people of Midian (a land east of the Sinai Peninsula across the Gulf of Aqaba) to come like a swarm of locusts to plunder Israel each year for seven years.
Finally, the Israelites cried out to the Lord, asking for relief from the Midianites. The Lord responded by sending an angel to appear before Gideon, saying, “The Lord is with you, O valiant warrior.”
The Lord told Gideon to pull down the altar of Baal, cut down the Asherah (a wooden female deity), and build a fire with the wood to sacrifice a bull to the Lord. Gideon took ten servants with him in the middle of the night to carry out the Lord’s instructions, for he didn’t want to be seen by his father Joash and the others who worshiped Baal.
Soon after daybreak, the townspeople discovered that Gideon had pulled down their god. They came to Joash asking him to bring out Gideon so they could kill him. Joash reasoned that a god that could not save itself was no god at all, so he refused to hand over his son.
The Midianites were joined by the Amalekites for a raid on Israel. They crossed the Jordan River and camped in the valley of Jezreel (15 miles SSW of the Sea of Galilee).
When Joshua had divided the land among the twelve tribes, he had given one half of Joseph’s part to each of his sons, Manasseh and Ephraim. Manasseh’s son was Abiezer. Gideon’s people were known as Abiezrites. After being empowered by the Spirit of the Lord, Gideon called the Abiezrites to arms. Next he sent messengers to Manasseh, Asher, Zebulun, and Naphtali telling them about the impending battle. The Israeli army grew to 32,000.
The Lord told Gideon that He wanted the people to know that the victory would be from the Lord, so the army was reduced to three hundred men. Gideon gave each man a ram’s horn trumpet and an earthenware pitcher with torches inside. Gideon told his men, “When we come to the outskirts of the enemy camp, do as I do.”
It was the beginning of the middle watch (10:00 PM) when Gideon’s small band surrounded the camp. Following Gideon’s lead, they all blew their trumpets and broke the pitchers. They held the torches in their left hands and the trumpets in their right hands for continual blowing.
Frightened by the sudden appearance of the circle of light and confused by the blaring trumpets, the Midianites began killing each other as they fled. Gideon then called for the men throughout the hill country of Ephraim to take up the chase. After all the fighting was over about 120,000 Midianites and Amalekites had been killed.
Following Gideon’s military success, the men of Israel said to him, “Rule over us, both you and your son, also your son’s son, for you have delivered us from the hand of Midian.”
But Gideon said to them, “I will not rule over you, nor shall my son rule over you; the Lord shall rule over you.” There was peace in Israel for forty years during the days of Judge Gideon.
Copyright 2004 by John C. Westervelt
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