by Malcolm Radcliffe, N. Ireland
There are four things that characterise the Book of Judges:
- Rebellion against the Word and Ways of God
- Retribution from God
- Repentance toward God
- Recovery and Restoration to God
Rebellion against the Word and Ways of God
Not long before Israel entered the land of Canaan, God commanded Moses to issue the following command to the people: “When ye are passed over Jordan into the land of Canaan; then ye shall drive out all the inhabitants of the land from before you, and destroy all their pictures, and destroy all their molten images, and quite pluck down all their high places: and ye shall dispossess the inhabitants of the land, and dwell therein: for I have given you the land to possess it … But if ye will not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you; then it shall come to pass, that those which ye let remain of them shall be pricks in your eyes, and thorns in your sides, and shall vex you in the land wherein ye dwell” Num.33.51-55. Years before, at Sinai, He had warned them: “Take heed to thyself, lest thou make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land whither thou goest, lest it be for a snare in the midst of thee: but ye shall destroy their altars, break their images, and cut down their groves: for thou shalt worship no other god: for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God: lest thou make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, and they go a whoring after their gods, and do sacrifice unto their gods, and one call thee, and thou eat of his sacrifice; and thou take of their daughters unto thy sons, and their daughters go a whoring after their gods, and make thy sons go a whoring after their gods” Ex.34.12-16.
So, God’s people were in no doubt that, when God gave them the Land, they were to drive out the inhabitants, they were to have no tolerance whatsoever of the idolatry of those people, and they were not to intermarry with them. Joshua reminded them of these solemn responsibilities, and of the consequences of disobedience to them, before he died; see for example Josh.23.11-13.
Sadly, however, we do not have to go far into the Book of Judges to see that they failed in all these areas, as demonstrated, for example, in Judg.3.5-7:
They did not drive them out, but allowed them to remain with them: “And the children of Israel dwelt among the Canaanites, Hittites, and Amorites, and Perizzites, and Hivites, and Jebusites”;
They intermarried with them: “and they took their daughters to be their wives, and gave their daughters to their sons”;
They copied their ways and worshipped their pagan gods: “and served their gods. And the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord, and forgat the Lord their God, and served Baalim and the groves”.
Retribution from God
God will not allow His people to live in a dishonouring way. He had warned them of what would happen if they did: “But if ye will not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you; then it shall come to pass, that those which ye let remain of them shall be pricks in your eyes, and thorns in your sides, and shall vex you in the land wherein ye dwell” Num.33.55. In Judg.2.1-3 an “angel of the Lord” came and reminded them of the warning that had been given. Divine retribution was inevitable, and in Judg.2.14 we read, “And the anger of the Lord was hot against Israel, and He delivered them into the hands of spoilers that spoiled them, and He sold them into the hands of their enemies round about, so that they could not any longer stand before their enemies.”
The enemy into whose hands they were delivered at the time of Gideon was threefold: “the Midianites … and the Amalekites, and the children of the east”, who impoverished the people of God, Judg.6.3,4.
Repentance toward God
After that came repentance. In Gideon’s time we read that “the children of Israel cried unto the Lord. And it came to pass, when the children of Israel cried unto the Lord because of the Midianites …” Judg.6.6,7. Repentance is always the golden road to blessing. The necessity of repentance is impressed upon five of the seven golden lampstands in Revelation chapters 2 and 3: Rev.2.5,16,22; 3.3,19.
Recovery and Restoration to God
After repentance God raised up a saviour, a judge, to bring them back to Himself and to blessing: “Nevertheless the Lord raised up judges, which delivered them out of the hand of those that spoiled them … And when the Lord raised them up judges, then the Lord was with the judge, and delivered them out of the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge” Judg.2.16,18.
As is stated in Judges chapter 2, and as we observe on reading through the Book, we find these things like a circle, repeating themselves over and over again. “And it came to pass, when the judge was dead, that they returned, and corrupted themselves more than their fathers, in following other gods to serve them, and to bow down unto them; they ceased not from their own doings, nor from their stubborn way” Judg.2.19. And so the cycle continued: rebellion, retribution, repentance, recovery and restoration, rebellion. It has been said that “the only thing we seem to learn from history is that we never learn from history”. That is one of the many ways in which we can see that the Bible is so up-to-date: sadly, we often find ourselves repeating the failures of others before us. It ought not to be so. May we learn the vital lessons from these people of long ago, and ever seek to be consistent in devotion to God and separate from the present evil world system.
Having looked at the background to the Book, we now turn to chapter 6. In this chapter, the Lord will call and raise up Gideon to bring the people of God back to blessing. Gideon is marked by a fourfold exercise:
- Exercise to Preserve Something for Himself: by the Winepress – vv.11-16
- Exercise to Present Something to God: at the Rock – vv.20,21
- Exercise to Put up Something for God: at his Father’s House – vv.25-32
- Exercise to Prove that God is with Him: at the Floor – vv.36-40
The enemy may act to rob God’s people of food, the details of which we read in vv.3-6. However, we see that, in the midst of this shortage of food, Gideon is exercised to preserve food for himself: “Gideon threshed wheat by the winepress” v.11.
The first lesson we learn is that the persons God will call to His work are already busy. We see this with:
- Moses – “Now Moses kept the flock of Jethro his father in law” Ex.3.1;
- David – “There remaineth yet the youngest, and, behold, he keepeth the sheep” 1Sam.16.11;
- Elisha – “So he departed thence, and found Elisha the son of Shaphat, who was ploughing with twelve yoke of oxen before him, and he with the twelfth” 1Kgs.19.19;
- Amos – “I was a herdman, and a gatherer of sycomore fruit: and the Lord took me as I followed the flock” Amos 7.14,15;
- Simon and Andrew – “as He walked by the sea of Galilee, He saw Simon and Andrew his brother casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers” Mk.1.16;
- James and John – “when He had gone a little further thence, He saw James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, who also were in the ship mending their nets” Mk.1.19.
God has no time for idleness or laxness. Paul wrote to Timothy about “a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” 2Tim.2.15. “Thresh[ing] wheat” would speak of effort. May we too be marked by diligent study of our Bible, so that our souls will be fed.
We observe that Gideon was not threshing barley, but wheat, which was a more valuable product (“A measure of wheat for a penny, and three measures of barley for a penny” Rev.6.6). In threshing wheat, Gideon was going for the best, for that which speaks of Christ. He is “the finest of the wheat” Ps.147.14. He, speaking of Himself could say, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit” Jn.12.24. He is the One typified in the “fine flour” of the meal offering, Leviticus chapter 2. Let us give ourselves to studying the Scriptures, that we might obtain the very best of food for our souls: the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. How sad it would be for us to be like the boy who “would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat” Lk.15.16: to be feeding on the ‘empty husks’ of the world; or to be like the people of Ephraim, of whom it is written: “Ephraim feedeth on wind” Hos.12.1, which is empty, and provides nothing of sustenance.
God was observing Gideon, and He had a message for him: “The Lord is with thee, thou mighty man of valour” v.12. At this point, Gideon had not raised a sword, but God could see potential in him. The same description is used of Boaz in Ruth 2.1, where it is rendered “mighty man of wealth”. Where did Gideon get his “valour” and “wealth” from? By threshing wheat: it was not easy work, and especially so in light of the enemies around, so that valour was required, and it provided him with resources, despite widespread impoverishment in the land. There is a lesson for us in this: it is by the reading and studying of our Bible that we will grow strong, and enjoy spiritual enrichment.
We see Gideon’s reply to this greeting in v.13: “Oh my Lord, if the Lord be with us, why then is all this befallen us? and where be all His miracles which our fathers told us of, saying, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt?’ but now the Lord hath forsaken us, and delivered us into the hands of the Midianites.” The angel had said, “The Lord is with thee [singular]”, but Gideon in his reply does not say, ‘… if the Lord be with me’ but “… if the Lord be with us [plural]”. The remainder of his statement too is about “us”: the nation as a whole, its glorious history and its present distress. His burden is: why are we in such a sorry state? In all this, he is not thinking primarily of himself; he has the good of others in mind. This reminds us of Paul’s exhortation to the assembly in Philippi: “Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others” Phil.2.4, an attitude which is perfectly seen in our Lord Jesus Christ.
In response to Gideon, “the Lord looked upon him”. This is not a look of scorn, but of compassion. God understands how he feels, and He says, “Go in this thy might, and thou shalt save Israel from the hand of the Midianites: have not I sent thee?” v.14.
However, Gideon has another question: “Oh my Lord, wherewith shall I save Israel?” His argument is, “Behold, my family is poor [‘the poorest’ R.V., J.N.D.] in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house” v.15. Was Gideon’s family really the poorest? We see from v.19 that he was able to gather up a substantial amount of food, and from vv.25-28 that they had two bullocks, and at least ten servants, when others had nothing, v.4. It has been said that “excuses are just the first cousins to lies”. Also, ‘little I’ is a bigger hindrance in the work of God than ‘big I’. If I have an inflated idea of myself, God can ‘burst my bubble’ overnight, but hiding behind ‘little I’ is a more devious matter.
God’s answer to all Gideon’s questions is in His promise in v.16: “Surely I will be with thee”, and we have the same promise: “Lo, I am with you alway” Matt.28.20.
Gideon’s request for “a sign” vv.17,18, is not an evidence of unbelief, but shows his desire to know for sure that what he had just heard was from God Himself. The Lord granted his request.
The Lord Jesus said to the woman of Samaria, “But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship Him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth” Jn.4.23,24. God does indeed desire our worship, and the example of Gideon, who longed that this Visitor would wait for his present, Judg.6.18, is instructive to us in this.
The one who has spent time threshing wheat will have something for God, and what a variety Gideon has to present! His “present” v.18, included “a kid” and “unleavened cakes” v.19, and these words are all suggestive of freewill offerings to the Lord: the word “present” is usually translated “offering” in Scripture, and is used often of offerings in general, and of the meal offering in particular. The use of “unleavened” cakes also links with the meal offering, for example, “No meat offering, which ye shall bring unto the Lord, shall be made with leaven: for ye shall burn no leaven, nor any honey, in any offering of the Lord made by fire” Lev.2.11. The “kid” is also associated with the offerings; for example, we read later in Judges that Manoah “took a kid with a meat offering, and offered it upon a rock unto the Lord” Judg.13.19. Gideon’s gifts to the Lord picture the spiritual sacrifices that we offer up to Him. “By Him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to His name” Heb.13.15.
Gideon is told to put his present on the rock, v.20. There are three words for “rock” in Judges chapter 6 (vv.20,21,26). This one, v.20, means an elevated rock, and reminds us that our blessed Lord Jesus Christ is
risen and exalted. How good it is to present our spiritual sacrifices to God in all the value of the risen Christ, of Whom this elevated rock would speak.
“Then the angel of the Lord put forth the end of the staff that was in his hand, and touched the flesh and the unleavened cakes; and there rose up fire out of the rock, and consumed the flesh and the unleavened cakes” v.21. The fact that fire rose out of the rock and consumed Gideon’s gift indicated that it was all acceptable to God, as was seen at the inauguration of the Levitical sacrificial system: “And there came a fire out from before the Lord, and consumed upon the altar the burnt offering and the fat: which when all the people saw, they shouted, and fell on their faces” Lev.9.24.
Gideon understands that he has been in the presence of God, and that it is God Who is speaking to him. He is afraid: “Alas, O Lord God! for because I have seen an angel of the Lord face to face” v.22. In this, he is like Jacob, many years before at Bethel: “And Jacob awaked out of his sleep, and he said, ‘Surely the Lord is in this place; and I knew it not.’ And he was afraid, and said, ‘How dreadful is this place! this is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven’” Gen.28.16,17.
The Lord brought to His servant Gideon words of calm assurance: “Peace be unto thee; fear not: thou shalt not die” v.23. Through this experience Gideon came to know the Lord as Jehovah-shalom. With so many problems and difficulties around, he longed to experience peace, and so he “built an altar there unto the Lord, and called it Jehovah-shalom” v.24. It reminds me of the words of Paul to those at Philippi: “Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” Phil.4.6,7.
After this meeting, God did not keep Gideon waiting long, for we next read, “And it came to pass the same night, that the Lord said unto him …” v.25. See also 7.9, where we read these words again: “And it came to pass the same night, that the Lord said unto him …” The next stage of Gideon’s preparation for service was about to take place.
- In vv.11-17, we see Gideon as the worker;
- In vv.18-24, we see him as the worshipper;
- In vv.25-35, we will now see him as the witness.
In his exercise to witness for God, we observe where Gideon began: at home, at his father’s house: “Take thy father’s young bullock … throw down the altar of Baal that thy father hath” v.25. We see this in the man of Gadara: “Jesus sent him away saying, ‘Return to thine own house, and shew how great things God hath done unto thee.’ And he went his way, and published throughout the whole city how great things Jesus had done unto him” Lk.8.38,39. The Lord Himself set the perfect example of this principle: “And He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up: and, as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and stood up for to read” Lk.4.16.
We also observe when Gideon began: it was “the same night” that the Lord instructed him, v.25, and that night he “did as the Lord had said unto him” v.27. He wasted no time in obeying God, taking a clear stand against what his own father had stood for and done.
The name Gideon means ‘cutter down’, and God’s instruction shows that He wants him to live in the good of the meaning of his name: “throw down the altar of Baal that thy father hath, and cut down the grove that is by it” v.25. In chapter 7 Gideon will cut down the Midianites, but he must first start at home, to cut down what is not of God. It is also necessary for him to cut down that which does not honour God (the grove) before he can put up that which will honour God (the altar): “cut down the grove that is by it: and build an altar unto the Lord thy God” vv.25,26.
Gideon is instructed to take “the second bullock” vv.25,26, and to offer it on the altar that he will build. This “second bullock” is a picture of the Lord Jesus Christ, the “second man”: “The first man is of the earth, earthy: the second man is the Lord from heaven” 1Cor.15.47. The bullock was “of seven years old” v.25, which was the length of time for which the Midianites had overrun the land: “And the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord: and the Lord delivered them into the hand of Midian seven years” v.1. The fact that the bullock, which would be used in the worship of God, had been there throughout the time of their affliction illustrates that the answer to their problem had been there all the time, right from when the oppression commenced: to turn away from the worship of Baal, and return to worshipping the true God.
Gideon was wise in doing this work at night, for it would not have been possible for him to accomplish it during the day. It was a major operation, for which the help of ten able-bodied men was required. It would have been impractical to attempt to carry out all that they had to do openly, against the opposition of members of his father’s household and the men of the city, v.27.
Gideon’s father, Joash, did not show the expected response when the men of the city told him, “Bring out thy son, that he may die: because he hath cast down the altar of Baal, and because he hath cut down the grove that was by it” v.30. Rather than acceding to their request, he replied, “Will ye plead for Baal? will ye save him? he that will plead for him, let him be put to death whilst it is yet morning: if he be a god, let him plead for himself, because one hath cast down his altar” v.31. It appears that Joash was Gideon’s first convert. God immediately honoured Gideon for the stand that he had taken in his own home, and surely this would have been a big encouragement to him.
We now come to Gideon’s fourth exercise. The enemies have gathered against Israel, and Gideon has called fellow-Israelites from several tribes to meet him, vv.33-35. He wants to prove that God is going to save Israel by his hand, as He had said He would, v.36.
We read the first test in v.37: “Behold, I will put a fleece of wool in the floor; and if the dew be on the fleece only, and it be dry upon all the earth beside, then shall I know that Thou wilt save Israel by mine hand, as Thou hast said.” While this was actual dew on an actual fleece, it has spiritual significance, for dew is a symbol of blessing: “As the dew of Hermon, and as the dew that descended upon the mountains of Zion: for there the Lord commanded the blessing, even life for evermore” Ps.133.3. Gideon wants the blessing to rest on him (pictured in the dew on the fleece) even though the nation (pictured in the ground all around) is dry.
He asks for something else for the next morning: “let me prove, I pray Thee, but this once with the fleece; let it now be dry only upon the fleece, and upon all the ground let there be dew” v.39. I judge that this was asking for an even greater thing than the first request: even if he were dry, he wants the nation to receive the blessing of God. This was the desire of Moses and of Paul. Moses was prepared to be blotted out that Israel may be blessed: “And Moses returned unto the Lord, and said, ‘Oh, this people have sinned a great sin, and have made them gods of gold. Yet now, if Thou wilt forgive their sin—: and if not, blot me, I pray Thee, out of Thy book which Thou hast written’” Ex.32.31,32. Paul would be prepared to be accursed from Christ so that his kinsmen may be blessed: “For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh” Rom.9.3. A servant rises to a great height when he is prepared for this.
Is not Christ symbolised in the fleece? “He is … as a lamb … and as a sheep” Isa.53.7. The nation was dry: “He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground” Isa.53.2; but every day He was here you could have, in the words of Judg.6.38, “wringed the dew out of the fleece, a bowl full of water”. However, there was one day when it was different, when He was prepared to be “dry”: “My strength is dried up like a potsherd; and My tongue cleaveth to My jaws; and Thou hast brought Me into the dust of death” Ps.22.15. How dry He was prepared to be, that the blessing of God may be upon us!
The fourfold exercise of Gideon in private fits him for his service in public, which is recorded in Judges chapter 7. May God grant that our consideration of these exercises might be a help to each of us, as we seek to be those who will be used of Him in whatever sphere of service He has for us.