Jephthah

Open your Bibles to Judges chapter 10. This is our 9th lesson in this book. And we’re in the 10th chapter of the book of Judges.

And the last three lessons have covered Gideon and then his son Abimelech. And in those lessons we saw some shocking things. From Gideon we saw fearfulness and faithlessness. Remember the fleece and the pagan dream that Gideon overheard? We saw in-fighting amongst God’s people. Remember the Ephraimites, the men of Succoth, and the men of Penuel? And in these cases we saw some amount of brutality. There was also idolatry in Gideon’s day. Remember the ephod that Gideon made and which Israel then worshipped? But we also saw some amount of faith. I mean – Gideon did battle the Midianites – even if it took a lot of coaxing by the Lord.

However, when we came to the story of Abimelech we saw nothing positive. Abimelech himself seems to have played the role of the oppressor of God’s people. His story was marked by selfish vengeance and cruelty. The bit of brutality that we saw in his father was only magnified in the son, Abimelech. But he finally dies and we’re all relieved for that.

Now, remember – in the book of Judges we’re seeing the Progressive Caananization of Israel. Israel is God’s people. They’re being Canaanized – or becoming like the wicked godless pagans around them. And this is a progressive process. Israel is getting worse and worse.

Judges 10:1-5

With that in mind we’ll read about two minor judges in 10:1-5. Remember – they’re minor because there isn’t much written about them – not because they’re unimportant or were a different kind of judge. So, let’s read about these two…

[KJV Judges 10:1 ¶ And after Abimelech there arose to defend Israel Tola the son of Puah, the son of Dodo, a man of Issachar; and he dwelt in Shamir in mount Ephraim. 2 And he judged Israel twenty and three years, and died, and was buried in Shamir. 3 ¶ And after him arose Jair, a Gileadite, and judged Israel twenty and two years. 4 And he had thirty sons that rode on thirty ass colts, and they had thirty cities, which are called Havothjair unto this day, which are in the land of Gilead. 5 And Jair died, and was buried in Camon.]

Our time is short and our lesson is long. So I’m not going to say much about these two men.

I’ll just point out a few interesting notes. Tola is from Issachar. But where was he buried? Mount Ephraim. That’s unusual. Usually we see Bible characters buried in their own tribal inheritance. Why did he move? I don’t know. But we’ll continue on.

Now, Jair – our second minor judge – is from Gilead – which is east of the Jordan River. And he actually sounds like he has kingly aspirations. He’s got all these children riding on donkeys and ruling these cities in Gilead. That’s a little alarming. It hearkens back to Abimelech.

And to wrap up our consideration of these two minor judges – I’ll just point out that these two areas – Ephraim and Gilead – are prominent in the story of Jepthah. So, these two minor judges get our minds thinking about these two geographic regions.

Judges 10:6

Alright. Now, judges come and judges go. These two minor judges came and went. And when judges go in this book the children of Israel go right back to doing evil. We see that happening in verse 6.

[6 ¶ And the children of Israel did evil again in the sight of the LORD, and served Baalim, and Ashtaroth, and the gods of Syria, and the gods of Zidon, and the gods of Moab, and the gods of the children of Ammon, and the gods of the Philistines, and forsook the LORD, and served not him.]

That’s a lot of gods. The text mentions seven groups of deities that Israel was serving. And of course within those seven groups there would likely be scores of deities. And this kind of promiscuity with these false deities leaves God – the true God – out of the equation. And this really is promiscuity. God had entered into a covenant with Israel at Mount Sinai. They were to be his and his alone. But they refused. And so God is justifiably angry.

Judges 10:7-9

And we see what his anger leads him to do in verses 7 through 9.

[7 And the anger of the LORD was hot against Israel, and he sold them into the hands of the Philistines, and into the hands of the children of Ammon. 8 And that year they vexed and oppressed the children of Israel: eighteen years, all the children of Israel that were on the other side Jordan in the land of the Amorites, which is in Gilead. 9 Moreover the children of Ammon passed over Jordan to fight also against Judah, and against Benjamin, and against the house of Ephraim; so that Israel was sore distressed.]

Isn’t it amazing that the very people whose gods Israel is worshiping are the ones who come and oppress them? The nations that come to oppress them are listed as the Ammonites and the Philistines. In the story of Jepthah we hear about the Ammonites. And in the story of our next and last judge we hear about the Philistines.

Now, these Ammonites oppress and vex the Israelites living in Gilead – which was the home of Jair the minor judge. But the Ammonites don’t stop there. They move on over the Jordan to the west and terrorize Judah, Benjamin, and Ephraim – all the southern tribes of Israel.

Judges 10:10

And as a result of this Israel has nowhere else to turn but to the Lord. The deities they’ve been serving are apparently too busy fighting for their own nation – Ammon to be precise – to have any concern for Israel. Israel’s mindset seems to be – “When all else fails, turn to Yahweh. He’ll bail us out.” And so that’s what they do in verse 10.

[10 ¶ And the children of Israel cried unto the LORD, saying, We have sinned against thee, both because we have forsaken our God, and also served Baalim.]

Judges 10:11-14

Alright, now, at the beginning of this book we’d see God immediately send a judge when the people cried to him. Then with our last major judge – Gideon – God sent a prophet to rebuke the people. But he sent a deliverer anyway. But this time is a little different. God is a little more severe – and even sarcastic – this time. We see God’s response to Israel’s cry in verses 11 through 14.

[11 And the LORD said unto the children of Israel, Did not I deliver you from the Egyptians, and from the Amorites, from the children of Ammon, and from the Philistines? 12 The Zidonians also, and the Amalekites, and the Maonites, did oppress you; and ye cried to me, and I delivered you out of their hand. 13 Yet ye have forsaken me, and served other gods: wherefore I will deliver you no more. 14 Go and cry unto the gods which ye have chosen; let them deliver you in the time of your tribulation.]

God keeps delivering Israel when they cry to him. The Lord lists seven nations from which he delivered his people when they cried to him. And so God says that he’s had it. He’s done delivering Israel. Let me ask you – have you ever had it in your mind that sarcasm is always evil? Like, sarcasm is never called for in any situation? Well, if that’s your mindset – what do you make of verse 14? God is being downright sarcastic with Israel.

Judges 10:15-16

Now, with Gideon, when God sent a prophet to rebuke the people – we had no record of the people responding. But they do this time. And we see their response in verses 15 and 16.

[15 And the children of Israel said unto the LORD, We have sinned: do thou unto us whatsoever seemeth good unto thee; deliver us only, we pray thee, this day. 16 And they put away the strange gods from among them, and served the LORD: and his soul was grieved for the misery of Israel.]

So, this is some improvement. The people actually put away the false gods. But don’t be too encouraged. Idols that are discarded in times of distress are pretty easy to pick back up in times of ease. And Israel will pick them back up.

But notice that it wasn’t necessarily the putting away of idols that grieved and moved the Lord to take action anyway. It was Israel’s 18 years of misery – not even their repentance: genuine or not – that stirred God. That’s God’s heart. He can’t stand the misery of his people – even when they’re involved in awful sin.

Judges 10:17-18

OK, so the people cry and God is moved by their misery. I’m expecting to see a judge. And so are you. And actually so was Israel. We see their expectation for a deliverer in verses 17 and 18.

[17 ¶ Then the children of Ammon were gathered together, and encamped in Gilead. And the children of Israel assembled themselves together, and encamped in Mizpeh. 18 And the people and princes of Gilead said one to another, What man is he that will begin to fight against the children of Ammon? he shall be head over all the inhabitants of Gilead.]

Judges 11:1-11

Yes, indeed – what man is he? We’re dying to know. The land of Israel east of the Jordan River needs a judge. Someone mighty. A warrior! We’re introduced to him in verse 1 of chapter 11.

11:1 ¶ Now Jephthah the Gileadite was a mighty man of valour, [Oh, good! He sounds like a prime candidate to deliver Israel from her enemies!] and [Or “but”] he was the son of an harlot: [Oh, that’s not so attractive, is it? Well, let’s hear a little more about him.] and Gilead begat Jephthah. 2 And Gilead’s wife bare him [Gilead] sons; and his wife’s sons grew up, and they thrust out Jephthah, and said unto him, Thou shalt not inherit in our father’s house; for thou art the son of a strange woman. 3 Then Jephthah fled from his brethren, and dwelt in the land of Tob: and there were gathered vain men to Jephthah, and went out with him. [Got that so far? Jephthah is mighty. But he’s an illegitimate child. And his brothers chase him away so that he won’t receive an inheritance with them. So, he’s somewhat of a reject. But he’s not alone. Some vain or worthless men gather around him in the land of his exile. But those same brothers who chased Jepthah away will be wanting him back soon enough. Now,…]

4 ¶ And it came to pass in process of time, that the children of Ammon made war against Israel. [OK, so back to the story – in other words. Verses 1-3 were sort of an aside to bring us up to speed on the man whom Gildead would call to lead them. Now, let’s listen in on Jepthah’s calling by these very elders who chased him away years ago.] 5 And it was so, that when the children of Ammon made war against Israel, the elders of Gilead went to fetch Jephthah out of the land of Tob: 6 And they said unto Jephthah, Come, and be our captain, that we may fight with the children of Ammon. 7 And Jephthah said unto the elders of Gilead, Did not ye hate me, and expel me out of my father’s house? and why are ye come unto me now when ye are in distress? 8 And the elders of Gilead said unto Jephthah, Therefore we turn again to thee now, that thou mayest go with us, and fight against the children of Ammon, and be our head over all the inhabitants of Gilead. 9 And Jephthah said unto the elders of Gilead, If ye bring me home again to fight against the children of Ammon, and the LORD deliver them before me, shall I be your head? 10 And the elders of Gilead said unto Jephthah, The LORD be witness between us, if we do not so according to thy words. 11 Then Jephthah went with the elders of Gilead, and the people made him head and captain over them: and Jephthah uttered all his words before the LORD in Mizpeh.

There’s a very interesting parallel here in this part of the story. Notice the events between Jepthah and Gilead. Gilead rejects Jephthah. Then Gilead needs Jephthah. Then Gilead says to Jephthah: “We need you.” Jephthah: “You rejected me. Why are you calling on me now after you rejected me?” Gilead: “We’re in trouble. We need you back.” Does that kind of conversation sound familiar? It actually mirrors the dyanmics of Israel and the Lord. Can you see that? And, just like the Lord relented to Israel’s pleas, so does Jepthah.

Judges 11:12-13

Now, let’s watch him deliver Israel.

12 ¶ And Jephthah sent messengers unto the king of the children of Ammon, saying, What hast thou to do with me, that thou art come against me to fight in my land? [That’s interesting. Jepthah starts by talking. He doesn’t just immediately go into battle. He wants to discuss the situation with the enemy. Let’s see how the enemy responds.]

13 And the king of the children of Ammon answered unto the messengers of Jephthah, Because Israel took away my land, when they came up out of Egypt, from Arnon even unto Jabbok, and unto Jordan: now therefore restore those lands again peaceably.

Judges 11:14-22

So now, the question becomes – is the king of Ammon right? Did Israel indeed take land from Ammon when they came up out of Egypt? Have you ever thought about that? Well, let’s see what Jepthah thinks.

14 And Jephthah sent messengers again unto the king of the children of Ammon: 15 And said unto him, Thus saith Jephthah, Israel took not away the land of Moab, nor the land of the children of Ammon: [By the way, Moab and Ammon descend from Lot’s two daughters.] 16 But when Israel came up from Egypt, and walked through the wilderness unto the Red sea, and came to Kadesh; 17 Then Israel sent messengers unto the king of Edom, saying, Let me, I pray thee, pass through thy land: but the king of Edom would not hearken thereto. And in like manner they sent unto the king of Moab: but he would not consent: and Israel abode in Kadesh. 18 Then they went along through the wilderness, and compassed the land of Edom, and the land of Moab, and came by the east side of the land of Moab, and pitched on the other side of Arnon, but came not within the border of Moab: for Arnon was the border of Moab. 19 And Israel sent messengers unto Sihon king of the Amorites, the king of Heshbon; and Israel said unto him, Let us pass, we pray thee, through thy land into my place. 20 But Sihon trusted not Israel to pass through his coast: but Sihon gathered all his people together, and pitched in Jahaz, and fought against Israel. 21 And the LORD God of Israel delivered Sihon and all his people into the hand of Israel, and they smote them: so Israel possessed all the land of the Amorites, the inhabitants of that country. 22 And they possessed all the coasts of the Amorites, from Arnon even unto Jabbok, and from the wilderness even unto Jordan. [Which is the territory that the king of Ammon just mentioned as belonging to his people.]

Wow. That’s a lot of words. Jephthah rehearses Israel’s history as it relates to their coming to take the land of the Amorites.

And I’ll ask now what I asked about the king of Ammon and his statement – is Jephthah right? Who’s speaking the truth here?

There are some complications to this series of events and the retelling of them by these two men. First, we know from Deuteronomy 2:19 that God did not want Israel to take the Ammonites’ land. God said that he reserved that land for the sons of Lot – of whom the Ammonites were descendants. But then in Joshua 13:24-25 we learn that Moses gave the tribe of Gad half of the land of the Ammonites. So at first it sounds like Moses did wrong. Israel wasn’t supposed to take the land. But Moses and Israel took the land. Is that really what happened?

Actually, no. What really happened is this. Israel took the land of the Amorites. Remember – Sihon and Og were Amorites not Ammonites. But then — how does the author of Joshua say that Moses gave Gad half the land of Ammon? It’s because the land of Sihon and Og originally belonged to Ammon. But here’s what happened. Before Moses came up from the wilderness, the Amorites attacked the Ammonites and took part of their their land. This is actually recorded in the secular history of that time.

So, was Jephthah right? Yeah, I think he was. Was the king of Ammon right? Well, there’s no doubt that his people lost that land that became the Amorites’ possession and now for the past 300 years by this point had belonged to the Israelites. That land was theirs. But Israel didn’t take it from the Ammonites. The Amorites did. And then Israel took it from the Amorites.

Judges 11:23-31

Now, after giving this history lesson, Jephthah has some applications he wants the king of Ammon to make. He says…

23 So now the LORD God of Israel hath dispossessed the Amorites from before his people Israel, and shouldest thou possess it? 24 Wilt not thou possess that which Chemosh thy god giveth thee to possess? So whomsoever the LORD our God shall drive out from before us, them will we possess. [Now, I really don’t like Jephthah’s argument here. He’s basically putting Chemosh and Yahweh on the same level. Like – hey Ammon – your god gave you some land. Go ahead and possess it. And our God gave us some land. So we’re going to posses what he’s given to us.” Chemosh shouldn’t even enter the equation! He’s a false god. Forget about Chemosh. And besides, Chemosh isn’t even the god of Ammon. He’s the god of Moab! Milcom or Molech was the god of Ammon. So maybe Jephthah isn’t very well versed in Ammonite mythology. Now, Jephthah continues applying his message…] 25 And now art thou any thing better than Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab? did he ever strive against Israel, or did he ever fight against them, 26 [w]hile Israel dwelt in Heshbon and her towns, and in Aroer and her towns, and in all the cities that be along by the coasts of Arnon, three hundred years? why therefore did ye not recover them within that time? 27 Wherefore I have not sinned against thee, but thou doest me wrong to war against me: the LORD the Judge be judge this day between the children of Israel and the children of Ammon. [OK, so that last statement of Jephthah was probably the best. May the Lord be the judge between us. So, here’s what I gather from this. Jephthah knows his Torah. He knows the stories of what God did for his people. And he can even teach others about it. I imagine that was a rare thing in the days of the judges. So, I think that’s commendable. Now, the king of Ammon gets this letter from Jephthah and here’s his reaction…] 28 Howbeit the king of the children of Ammon hearkened not unto the words of Jephthah which he sent him. [No response. So, the talking is over and now it’s time for Jephthah to fight to deliver God’s people.]

29 ¶ Then the Spirit of the LORD came upon Jephthah, and he passed over Gilead, and Manasseh, [That’s the ½ tribe of Manasseh east of the Jordan.] and passed over Mizpeh of Gilead, and from Mizpeh of Gilead he passed over unto the children of Ammon. [Again, Ammon is east of Gilead, which is east of the Jordan.] 30 And Jephthah vowed a vow unto the LORD, and said, If thou shalt without fail deliver the children of Ammon into mine hands, 31 Then it shall be, that whatsoever [Or actually “whosoever” – it’s the male gender] cometh forth of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the children of Ammon, shall surely be the LORD’S, and I will offer it [Or literally “him” – again male grammatical gender] up for a burnt offering.

Wait, what did Jephthah just do? Why did he make this vow? What or whom is he expecting to meet him when he returns? Maybe you think “a dog”. Well, any kosher Israelite isn’t going to have dogs. A cat maybe? Probably not. What other kind of animal would meet his owner? Cows probably wouldn’t. Would sheep or goats? Even if they would, would they really be living in Jephthah’s house? Would they be coming out his doors? They’re not domesticated. No, I think Jephthah is making a rash unreasonable dangerous vow. His vow to sacrifice whatever or whomever comes to meet him can probably include animals or humans. But why would he even take the chance? Maybe it’ll be a human and not an animal! Why make this vow to the Lord? Couldn’t he have just kept his mouth shut and delivered Israel? And he knows his Torah. He knows the books of Moses. He knows that a vow to the Lord must be kept.

Judges 11:32-33

Well, the battle ensues.

32 ¶ So Jephthah passed over unto the children of Ammon to fight against them; and the LORD delivered them into his hands. 33 And he smote them from Aroer, even till thou come to Minnith, even twenty cities, and unto the plain of the vineyards, with a very great slaughter. Thus the children of Ammon were subdued before the children of Israel.

Wow, that was short. Then apparently, the writer didn’t want to focus on the battle itself. Well, what does he want to focus on?

Judges 11:34-40

Let’s keep reading.

34 ¶ And Jephthah came to Mizpeh unto his house [And we’re mindful of his vow and dreading what or who is going to come out to meet him.], and, behold, his daughter came out to meet him with timbrels and with dances: and she was his only child; beside her he had neither son nor daughter. [Oh no. His only daughter. With her dies Jepthah’s lineage. She comes out to greet him. She’s happy for her father and comes out to celebrate the victory God gave him. But he certainy isn’t happy to see her.] 35 And it came to pass, when he saw her, that he rent his clothes, and said, Alas, my daughter! thou hast brought me very low, and thou art one of them that trouble me: for I have opened my mouth unto the LORD, and I cannot go back. 36 And she said unto him, My father, if thou hast opened thy mouth unto the LORD, do to me according to that which hath proceeded out of thy mouth; forasmuch as the LORD hath taken vengeance for thee of thine enemies, even of the children of Ammon. 37 And she said unto her father, Let this thing be done for me: let me alone two months, that I may go up and down upon the mountains, and bewail my virginity, I and my fellows. 38 And he said, Go. And he sent her away for two months: and she went with her companions, and bewailed her virginity upon the mountains. 39 And it came to pass at the end of two months, that she returned unto her father, who did with her according to his vow which he had vowed: and she knew no man. And it was a custom in Israel, 40 That the daughters of Israel went yearly to lament the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite four days in a year.

So, the question on everyone’s mind is – “did we really just see a judge in Israel sacrifice his daughter as a burnt offering?” As best I can tell, the answer is “Yes”. Some argue that Jephthah’s vow allowed for him to just dedicate his daughter to the Lord’s service. But if that were the case, why would she need two months to lament the fact that she wasn’t going to be married? Couldn’t she have done her lamenting after she was dedicated to the Lord’s service? No, I think what we see here is – in very discreet terms – Jephthah offering his daughter as a sacrifice.

That’s shocking. That couldn’t happen in Israel! That sounds like something the Canaanites would do – offer their children to their gods. Yes, and do you remember what we’re seeing in this book? The Progressive Canaanization of Israel. Through Jephthah’s ridiculous vow he ends up engaging in one of the most abhorrent actions of the Canaanites around Israel – child sacrifice. But couldn’t Jephthah have backed out of his vow? The law doesn’t allow for it. Making a vow to the Lord is serious and breaking it could result in equally serious consequences. But surely God didn’t approve of this! I know he wouldn’t have. But did you notice his silence? He doesn’t say a word as Jephthah makes and then carries out his unreasonable vow. So, God doesn’t approve of this. And at the same time I think we need to remember that there’s not much that God approved of in the days of the Judges.

Judges 12:1-7

And the tragedy involving speech doesn’t end with Jephthah’s vow. For the sake of time I’m just going to summarize 12:1-7. The Ephraimites make an appearance again. Remember when they came and contended with Gideon? Well they do the same to Jephthah. Gideon was very conciliatory to Ephraim’s proud complaining. But Jephthah has none of it. He gathers his men to fight Ephraim. Then Jephthah’s men station themselves at the crossing of the Jordan River. The Ephramites can’t pronounce this Hebrew word Shibboleth. They say Sibboleth. And all who can’t pronounce it right, Jephthah’s men kill. And they end up killing 42,000 Ephraimites.

So, moral of the story? Jephthah knew the Law. He could probably be teaching this Sunday School class if he were here. He knew the stories. He knew about the rules concerning vows. But his tongue gets him in trouble. With his tongue, he seals the death of his own daughter and brings his lineage to an end in Israel. And he’s not the only one with tongue troubles. The Ephraimites seal their own doom by not being able to pronounce the Hebrew Shin.

So, that’s Jephthah’s story. Are you ready for our last major judge? We’ll be talking about Samson next week.

Abimelech

Open your Bibles to the 8th chapter of the book of Judges.

We’re going to be talking about Abimelech today. And if I were to take a poll here today I imagine that most of us don’t know very much about this character – Abimelech – or his story.

When we study Bible stories you and I might struggle with finding the significance of a particular story. You generally understand what is being said. But you might not understand why.

This story today is a little different, though. Determining the significance is just as difficult as it is anywhere else in the Bible. But the story about Abimelech is even difficult to figure out what’s going on and who’s doing what and where. Forget about struggling with the significance – we just need to know what’s actually going. So, hopefully we’ll figure out what’s going on this morning as we study this story.

In order to get to the story of Abimelech though, we need to put it in context. At the beginning of the book of Judges, Joshua passes off the scene and so do the elders who outlived him. Then there arises a new generation that doesn’t know the Lord personally. And as a result they don’t conquer the land that God had given them. That’s chapter 1.

Well, why did they not conquer the land? Chapter 2 tells us – well, actually the Lord himself tells Israel – that he’s not delivering the Canaanites into their hands anymore. Why? Because they had forsaken him by marrying pagans and worshiping their new spouses’ false deities. And so from chapter 3 onward we’ve seen several judges – some major like Othniel, Ehud, Barak, and Gideon and some minor like Shamgar. These judges are charged with saving or delivering God’s people from their enemies.

Well, where do these enemies come from anyway? Why are they around? Remember – it’s actually the Lord himself who sends the enemies to his people. Israel sins. And so God chastens them by sending enemies to oppress them. Why? – Because he’s mean and unloving? No – just the opposite. God wants his people to turn back to him with all their heart. Israel won’t turn to God when times are good and it looks like their idols are serving them well. So God needs to shake them up so that they’d see that these gods of theirs can’t deliver them. Only the Lord can. And the Lord does deliver Israel through these saviors – these deliverers – these judges.

And these judges start off pretty good. We have Othniel who was related to Caleb the faithful man of Judah. Then we had Ehud. And as we read through the stories of these two judges it was hard to find fault with them.

But then we got to the next judge – Deborah. Oh wait, no, I mean Barak. It was hard to tell which of them was the judge, wasn’t it? That’s because Barak didn’t seem real excited about being a judge. Deborah – on God’s behalf – called him to save God’s people. But Barak refused to go unless a lady went with him. That was kind of embarrassing for him.

And then our last two lessons have focused on this judge called Gideon. He’s not emboldened to judge Israel by the presence of a woman. He’s not even emboldened by God promises to be with him. Gideon wasn’t even encouraged by the fleece incident. He needed to overhear the dream of a pagan Midianite in order to go into battle.

So Gideon was a fearful man. Hebrews 11 tells us he had faith – and, my, how small was that faith. And yet it was faith – Gideon went into battle facing overwhelming opposition – 300 men to 135,000 Midianites. But the Lord delivered Israel through Gideon and his 300 men.

And you wish that was the whole story. But it isn’t. Gideon showed his tendency to deliver Israel only when it was in his interest – especially when personal vengeance was involved. So, he doubted and feared whenever God told him to do something. But when Gideon had the opportunity to avenge himself for wrongs done to his own person then he was bold as a lion. But even in his boldness he showed weakness and fear.

Judges 8:30-32

Nevertheless, Gideon did deliver Israel from the massive army of Midian. And the Israelites understandably wanted to make him their king. They said they wanted him, his son, and his son’s son to rule over them. But Gideon refused. Instead – astoundingly – he made an ephod which all Israel worshipped. And then he did something equally as bizarre. Let’s read about it in chapter 8 verses 30 through 32.

KJV Judges 8:30 And Gideon had threescore and ten sons of his body begotten: for he had many wives. 31 And his concubine that was in Shechem, she also bare him a son, whose name he called Abimelech. 32 And Gideon the son of Joash died in a good old age, and was buried in the sepulchre of Joash his father, in Ophrah of the Abiezrites.

Well, having 70 sons is a little bizarre. So is having so many wives. But that’s not what I was thinking. What’s strangest to me is the name that Gideon gave to the son of his concubine. Gideon named that son Abimelech. Abi means “my father”. OK – so the name of Gideon’s boy is going to say something about the boy’s father – Gideon. And catch this – melech means “king”. “My father the king” or “my father is the king”. But I thought Gideon didn’t want to be a king. Why would he give his boy a name like that? Maybe Gideon thought that by having this ephod with all Israel coming to it he could sort of be like a king without actually having the troublesome responsibility of leading God’s people and bearing with their troubles.

Judges 8:33-35

Whatever the case, Gideon eventually dies. And when that happens, things go from not too bad to worse in verses 33 through 35.

33 ¶ And it came to pass, as soon as Gideon was dead, that the children of Israel turned again, and went a whoring after Baalim, and made Baalberith their god. 34 And the children of Israel remembered not the LORD their God, who had delivered them out of the hands of all their enemies on every side: 35 Neither shewed they kindness to the house of Jerubbaal, namely, Gideon, according to all the goodness which he had shewed unto Israel.

So, Gideon dies and the people go right back to the Baals. They choose one of them – Baal-Berith – to be their god. And the Israelites are accused of two great evils in this passage.

First, they forgot God. It’s obvious that they didn’t forgot the name Yahweh. They didn’t forget the names of all the enemies that the Lord delivered them from in times past. They acted in such a way that – if you didn’t know better – would make you think that they truly didn’t know a thing about the God of Israel.

That’s a problem. But it’s not Israel’s only problem. They’re also accused of not showing kindness to Gideon. By the way – don’t let Gideon’s other name throw you — Jerubbaal. It’s the name his father gave him after Gideon pulled down Baal’s altar.

Alright, so Israel is accused of not showing kindness to Gideon. But what do you think about that? I mean the fact that Israel went a whoring after Baal-Berith doesn’t really indicate to me that they had done wrong to Gideon’s memory.

So, here’s the secret – the end of chapter 8 here shows us how Israel did wrong to God. And it’s then in chapter 9 where we see the evil that Israel does to Gideon’s household.

Judges 9:1-2

Now, I’ll say one last thing about this section that we just read. Gideon – the judge – is dead. And now the people again do evil in the sight of the Lord. This pattern sounds familiar, doesn’t it? What would we expect next? Judge dies. People rebel against God. Then God does what? God would send an oppressor. And he does that in this story, too! But what were oppressors like up to this point? They were foreigners. They were external to Israel and brought in by the Lord. But now, the oppressor is internal. The oppressor is an Israelite. The oppressor is… Gideon’s son. Let’s read about him in chapter 9 verses 1 and 2.

9:1 ¶ And Abimelech the son of Jerubbaal went to Shechem unto his mother’s brethren, and communed with them, and with all the family of the house of his mother’s father, saying, 2 Speak, I pray you, in the ears of all the men of Shechem, Whether is better for you, either that all the sons of Jerubbaal, which are threescore and ten persons, reign over you, or that one reign over you? remember also that I am your bone and your flesh.

So, Abimelech goes to Shechem. Shechem is a city in Manasseh – fairly close to Ophrah, the city of Gideon. Abimelech goes to Shechem and starts campaigning to be a king. The people had wanted to make his father, Gideon, a king. Instead Gideon opted for something like the role of a priest. But his son now is actively pursuing being a king.

He talks to his mother’s kinfolk. Remember, Abimelech’s mother is from Shechem. She was the concubine of Gideon.

And Abimelech puts out this warning to the men of Shechem. First, if they don’t make him king then they’ll be ruled by 70 men. That’s a stretch, by the way. Who’s to say that Gideon’s 70 sons would want to be king and rule over Israel? Well, that’s what Abimelech insists will happen. And in that case, they would do well to have just one man to rule over them rather than 70. And by the way – Abimelech points out – I am your relative. So, go tell the men of Shechem this message, Abimelech insists.

Judges 9:3

And so they do in verse 3

3 And his mother’s brethren spake of him in the ears of all the men of Shechem all these words: and their hearts inclined to follow Abimelech; for they said, He is our brother. 4 And they gave him threescore and ten pieces of silver out of the house of Baalberith, wherewith Abimelech hired vain and light persons, which followed him.

So, you and I are still trying to figure Abimelech out. He wants to be king. Maybe that’s OK. And the people of Shechem start following him. Maybe that’s alright. Then the men of Shechem give him money. OK. But the money is from the temple of this Baal-Berith – Israel’s new god. Not OK. And with that money, Abimelech hires vicious scoundrels to follow him. Again, not good.

Judges 9:5

And the picture we have of Abimelech doesn’t get any better from here on out. Read verse 5.

5 And he went unto his father’s house at Ophrah, and slew his brethren the sons of Jerubbaal, being threescore and ten persons, upon one stone: notwithstanding yet Jotham the youngest son of Jerubbaal was left; for he hid himself.

So, Abimelech kills 70 of his brothers on a single stone. Imagine the blood. Imagine the anguish these men – some young men no doubt – experienced. Imagine the screams and cries. And for what? What had these men done? Not a thing. Abimelech is an unfeeling self-seeking man. He’ll stop at nothing to get his way. Even if it means murdering scores of his own brothers to get it. He has truly been Canaanized.

Judges 9:6

You might think that this kind of unbridled brutality and cruelty might make the men of Shechem rethink their decision to make Abimelech their king. But it doesn’t. They go ahead with the proceedings in verse 6

6 And all the men of Shechem gathered together, and all the house of Millo, and went, and made Abimelech king, by the plain of the pillar that was in Shechem.

So, it looks like evil has won. Abimelech is king. The 70 sons of Gideon are dead. Might made right and that’s all there is to it… Or is it? Remember Jotham? He’s the youngest of Gideon’s sons. He escaped. And he’s got a message for the men of Shechem.

Judges 9:7

Let’s read the start of it in verse 7.

7 ¶ And when they told it to Jotham, he went and stood in the top of mount Gerizim, and lifted up his voice, and cried, and said unto them, Hearken unto me, ye men of Shechem, that God may hearken unto you.

Now, Mount Gerizim is to the south of Shechem. It’s ironically the place from which half the tribes of Israel issued the blessings for keeping the Law of Moses back in Joshua’s day. And isn’t it interesting that Jotham is now about to issue – not a blessing – but a curse. A curse for these men who are not keeping the Law of Moses.

Judges 9:8-15

But Jotham is going to introduce this curse with a fable in verses 8 through 15. He says…

8 The trees went forth on a time to anoint a king over them; and they said unto the olive tree, Reign thou over us. 9 But the olive tree said unto them, Should I leave my fatness, wherewith by me they honour God and man, and go to be promoted over the trees?

10 And the trees said to the fig tree, Come thou, and reign over us. 11 But the fig tree said unto them, Should I forsake my sweetness, and my good fruit, and go to be promoted over the trees?

12 Then said the trees unto the vine, Come thou, and reign over us. 13 And the vine said unto them, Should I leave my wine, which cheereth God and man, and go to be promoted over the trees?

14 Then said all the trees unto the bramble, Come thou, and reign over us. 15 And the bramble said unto the trees, If in truth ye anoint me king over you, then come and put your trust in my shadow: and if not, let fire come out of the bramble, and devour the cedars of Lebanon.

So, what is this fable saying? The trees – fictitiously, of course, this didn’t actually happen – but the trees go out looking for a king. Sounds like the men of Israel. So, they go to the olive tree, but he’s too busy producing fatness. The fig tree – a little smaller than the olive – can’t do it either. He’s busy making fruit. Then the trees kind of lower their sights. They go to the vine. He’s not actually a tree – but hey, the trees really want a king. But not even the vine will rule over them. He’s busy producing wine.

Let’s notice a pattern in these royal candidates so far. Olives, figs, grapes. These are the things produced by these three trees. But the next candidate doesn’t produce anything. He’s a bramble. Good enough only to be burned.

Judges 9:16-21

OK… so what does this mean? Listen to Jotham’s explanation in verses 16 through 21.

16 ¶ Now therefore, if ye have done truly and sincerely, in that ye have made Abimelech king, and if ye have dealt well with Jerubbaal and his house, and have done unto him according to the deserving of his hands; [and then Jotham has enough with pretending as if the men of Shechem acted out of sincerity and truth] 17 (For my father fought for you, and adventured his life far, and delivered you out of the hand of Midian: 18 And ye are risen up against my father’s house this day, and have slain his sons, threescore and ten persons, upon one stone, and have made Abimelech, the son of his maidservant [catch that – Abimelech isn’t even the son of a wife. he’s the sons of a concubine – a woman who was a slave but could have sexual relations with her master], king over the men of Shechem, because he is your brother;) [that’s the only reason – he’s your brother – your relative] 19 If ye then have dealt truly and sincerely with Jerubbaal and with his house this day [which we now know is not the case], then rejoice ye in Abimelech, and let him also rejoice in you: 20 But if not, let fire come out from Abimelech [the bramble in the fable], and devour the men of Shechem, and the house of Millo; and let fire come out from the men of Shechem, and from the house of Millo, and devour Abimelech. 21 And Jotham ran away, and fled, and went to Beer, and dwelt there, for fear of Abimelech his brother.

And that’s Jotham’s curse on Abimelech and the men of Shechem and this place called Beth-Millo or the House of Millo – which I imagine was a fortress within or close by Shechem.

Judges 9:22-29

And now what we’re going to see for the rest of the chapter is this curse working itself out. We’ll also see more and more of Abimelech’s brutality and vengeful spirit. So, we’ll read with comments here and there. There’s a lot of action and details. It can be confusing. So hold on and we’ll figure this out. Let’s start reading verse 22.

22 ¶ When Abimelech had reigned three years over Israel, 23 Then [after those three years] God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the men of Shechem; and the men of Shechem dealt treacherously with Abimelech: [Here’s why God made this happen] 24 That the cruelty done to the threescore and ten sons of Jerubbaal might come, and their blood be laid upon Abimelech their brother, which slew them; and upon the men of Shechem, which aided him in the killing of his brethren. [So, there’s no question as to how God felt about Abimelech’s actions. He hated it.] 25 And the men of Shechem set liers in wait for him [Abimelech] in the top of the mountains, and they robbed all that came along that way by them: and it was told Abimelech.

OK, next we see a new guy come to town right as Shechem has pretty much cut ties with Abimelech.

26 ¶ And Gaal the son of Ebed came with his brethren, and went over to Shechem: and the men of Shechem put their confidence in him. [Now, we don’t know this guy, but it seems like he’s a descendant of Hamor, the father of Shechem. We’ll see that later on.] 27 And they went out into the fields, and gathered their vineyards, and trode the grapes, and made merry, and went into the house of their god, and did eat and drink, and cursed Abimelech. 28 And Gaal the son of Ebed [Who is now probably filled with wine…] said, Who is Abimelech, and who is Shechem, that we should serve him? is not he the son of Jerubbaal? and Zebul his officer? serve the men of Hamor the father of Shechem: for why should we serve him? 29 And would to God this people were under my hand! then would I remove Abimelech. And he said to Abimelech, Increase thine army, and come out.

Let me just explain a little. As I mentioned I believe Gaal is a descendant of Hamor, Shechem’s father. Remember? Shechem is the one who loved Jacob’s daughter. But to confuse matters, there’s a son of Manasseh whose name was Shechem. And he settled in Shechem. So apparently Abimelech descends from this Israelite Shechem – not the son of Hamor. So, Gaal is saying – let’s serve the real Shechem, not these Jewish occupiers.

Judges 9:30-57

30 ¶ And when Zebul the ruler of the city heard the words of Gaal the son of Ebed, his anger was kindled. [That’s because Gaal in his apparent drunkenness belittled Zebul. And Zebul was on Abimelech’s side.] 31 And he [Zebul] sent messengers unto Abimelech privily, saying, Behold, Gaal the son of Ebed and his brethren be come to Shechem; and, behold, they fortify the city against thee. 32 Now therefore up by night, thou and the people that is with thee, and lie in wait in the field: 33 And it shall be, that in the morning, as soon as the sun is up, thou shalt rise early, and set upon the city: and, behold, when he and the people that is with him come out against thee, then mayest thou do to them as thou shalt find occasion.

34 ¶ And Abimelech rose up, and all the people that were with him, by night, and they laid wait against Shechem in four companies. 35 And Gaal the son of Ebed went out, and stood in the entering of the gate of the city: and Abimelech rose up, and the people that were with him, from lying in wait. 36 And when Gaal saw the people, he said to Zebul, Behold, there come people down from the top of the mountains. And Zebul said unto him, Thou seest the shadow of the mountains as if they were men. [He acts like nothing’s wrong.] 37 And Gaal spake again and said, See there come people down by the middle of the land, and another company come along by the plain of Meonenim. [And Zebul can’t hold his secret any longer.] 38 Then said Zebul unto him, Where is now thy mouth, wherewith thou saidst, Who is Abimelech, that we should serve him? is not this the people that thou hast despised? go out, I pray now, and fight with them. 39 And Gaal went out before the men of Shechem, and fought with Abimelech. 40 And Abimelech chased him, and he fled before him, and many were overthrown and wounded, even unto the entering of the gate. 41 And Abimelech dwelt at Arumah: and Zebul thrust out Gaal and his brethren, that they should not dwell in Shechem.

OK, Abimelech faced Gaal and chased him away. Gaal and his people are out of Shechem now. So you might think Abimelech might relent concerning fighting the city. But that’s not what we see next…

42 ¶ And it came to pass on the morrow, that the people [of Shechem] went out into the field; and they told Abimelech. 43 And he took the people [His people, that is], and divided them into three companies, and laid wait in the field, and looked, and, behold, the people were come forth out of the city; and he rose up against them, and smote them. 44 And Abimelech, and the company that was with him, rushed forward, and stood in the entering of the gate of the city [So as to cut off the men of Shechem from retreating into the city]: and the two other companies ran upon all the people that were in the fields, and slew them. 45 And Abimelech fought against the city all that day; and he took the city, and slew the people that was therein, and beat down the city, and sowed it with salt.

[Now, perhaps while this was happening or just afterwards…] 46 ¶ And when all the men of the tower of Shechem heard that, they entered into an hold of the house of the god Berith. [Remember? The god whom Israel had chosen.] 47 And it was told Abimelech, that all the men of the tower of Shechem were gathered together. 48 And Abimelech gat him up to mount Zalmon, he and all the people that were with him; and Abimelech took an axe in his hand, and cut down a bough from the trees, and took it, and laid it on his shoulder, and said unto the people that were with him, What ye have seen me do, make haste, and do as I have done. 49 And all the people likewise cut down every man his bough, and followed Abimelech, and put them to the hold, and set the hold on fire upon them; so that all the men of the tower of Shechem died also, about a thousand men and women. [They burned alive. Men and women. Abimelech is a vicious man.]

And with Shechem destroyed you might think Abimelech’s vengeance would be satisfied. But it’s not. He stays on his rampage…

50 ¶ Then went Abimelech to Thebez [which was a city less than 10 miles from Shechem], and encamped against Thebez, and took it. 51 But there was a strong tower within the city, and thither fled all the men and women, and all they of the city, and shut it to them, and gat them up to the top of the tower. 52 And Abimelech came unto the tower, and fought against it, and went hard unto the door of the tower to burn it with fire. [Hey – if it worked in Shechem it’ll work in Thebez, too!] 53 And a certain woman [Just some nameless woman] cast a piece of a millstone upon Abimelech’s head, and all to brake his skull. [So, lying on the ground with a fractured cranium…] 54 Then he called hastily unto the young man his armourbearer, and said unto him, Draw thy sword, and slay me, that men say not of me, A woman slew him. And his young man thrust him through, and he died. 55 And when the men of Israel saw that Abimelech was dead, they departed every man unto his place. [No mourning. No concern. Was there even a burial? We don’t know.]

But here’s the point of the whole story that we just read…

56 Thus God rendered the wickedness of Abimelech, which he did unto his father, in slaying his seventy brethren: 57 And all the evil of the men of Shechem did God render upon their heads: and upon them came the curse of Jotham the son of Jerubbaal.

And isn’t that what we just saw? Abimelech did wickedly in slaying his 70 brothers. One of those brothers escaped and issued a curse on Abimelech and the men of Shechem who strengthened him to commit these murders. And for most of this chapter we’ve seen this curse unfold. Fire – metaphorically speaking – has come out from Abimelech and consumed the men of Shechem and vice versa.

Now, what does this story teach us? Several things. I’ll mention a few.

1) Abimelech takes the bad elements that we saw in Gideon – like personal vengeance and brutality – and he raises it to the Nth degree. Fathers and Mothers here – may the Lord help us to walk in the Spirit and not produce the deeds of the flesh. You and I both know that our children will only magnify those sins.

2) God sees and knows everything. Isn’t it funny that Abimelech asks the young man to slay him so that no one knows that a woman actually killed him? Well, anyone who knows this story knows the facts. We weren’t fooled by Abimelech. We know what happened because God reported it. And he alone knows and sees all.

3) Things are getting worse and worse in Israel. Gideon definitely had his faults. But he did have some faith and God used him to deliver his people. Gideon’s son wasn’t even a judge and he didn’t deliver God’s people – he oppressed them. The people are still serving false gods. Things are getting worse, not better. And next time we’ll continue on this downward spiral with the story of Jephthah, the son of a prostitute who may have actually sacrificed his own daughter. We’ll see next time.

Gideon: A Fearful Man Brings a Snare

Let’s open our Bibles to the 6th chapter of the book of Judges.

We’ve been through the double introduction to the book. We’ve seen now one minor judge and three major judges. And now today we’ll see the 4th of the 6 major judges that are chronicled in this book. He’s a fearful man. And at the end of his life he brings a snare to Israel. Now, you’ve heard the proverb “the fear of man brings a snare.” So I’ll give this lesson the title “A Fearful Man Brings a Snare.” OK, so let’s get to the text.

Judges 6:1-6

Before we can get to this particular judge, we need some background on how he got to be a judge anyway. Why was he needed? What were circumstances like in his day? We have answers to those questions in verses 1 through 6 of chapter 6.

We won’t read word-for-word. I’ll just summarize some points. Israel did evil in God’s site. And so we see God again delivering his people over to their enemy. God’s not content to let his people get away with enjoying their sin. The way of a transgressor is hard, after all. And that’s what Israel experienced.

In particular, God gave Israel over to the Midianites. And this group’s activity toward Israel is detailed for us to an unusual degree. Maybe that’s because they seem to be unusually cruel toward Israel. The Midianties were set on Israel’s destruction. They weren’t happy to simply tax Israel and rule over them. No, these Midianites – according to verse 4 – would come during the harvest and destroy everything that the Israelites had – crops and animals. Notice I said they destroyed everything Israel had. They didn’t take it. The Midianites didn’t just devour Israel’s crops and animals to feed themselves and their families. They just ruined everything and left.

This would seem to be especially humiliating to Israel. How dispiriting and discouraging this would have been. This goes on for 7 years. And Israel reacts to this continual devastation by crying out to the Lord. They need someone to save them.

Now, we’ve seen this pattern before, haven’t we? Israel sins, God sends oppressors, Israel cries out to God – and then what does God do? He sends a savior – a deliverer. Right away, as far as we can tell. But he doesn’t do that this time. He doesn’t send a savior right away.

Judges 6:7-10

What does he do? In verses 7 through 10 God sends not a deliverer, but a prophet. You can sense that God’s patience is wearing a little thin. He’s incredibly patient with his sinful people. He’s been sending saviors right away when they cry out. But now he feels the need to rebuke them. And he reminds Israel that he delivered them from Egypt. He drove out the Canaanites – or at least for as long as they walked with him. And his only command was to not fear the false gods of the Amorites. But – last few words of verse 10 – “ye have not obeyed my voice.”

This is the second rebuke that God has issued in this book. His first rebuke came from an angel or messenger in chapter 2. And there’s a lot of similarity between these two divine rebukes. They follow the same lines generally. But one thing is noticeably absent here that was present in the first rebuke. When the angel rebuked Israel before how did the people react? They wept. But this time? No such reaction. Do you suppose that this indicates that the people are generally growing colder and colder to God’s rebukes and chastenings? I think so.

Judges 6:11

Well, whether the people are reacting properly to God’s rebukes or not, God indeed calls a savior to save his people from the results of their sin. Now that we see the need for him to arise and deliver his people, we can get acquainted with him. His name is Gideon. He lives in Ophrah with his father Joash. And the end of verse 11 tells us that Gideon “threshed wheat by the winepress, to hide it from the Midianites”. What do you typically do with a wine press? Is it meant for threshing wheat? No, it’s meant for stomping grapes. You thresh wheat on a threshing floor. But remember, they can’t do that because the Midianites will come and destroy it. So Gideon is hiding in a wine press threshing wheat. It’s a pathetic picture we have.

Judges 6:12

But now an angel appears to him and gives him this curious greeting in verse 12 – “The LORD is with thee, thou mighty man of valour”. Do you think that’s a bit of an overstatement? What was the angel trying to say to Gideon? Was he mocking Gideon? That wouldn’t seem right, so no, I don’t think he was mocking. Well, was the angel stating the fact – that Gideon indeed is a naturally mighty man of valour? I think we’ll see time and again in this story that Gideon is really not naturally inclined toward bravery and feats of daring. So, I don’t think the angel is stating the facts. I think what’s happening here is this. The angel is telling Gideon what he will be if only Gideon follows the Lord.

Do you know what it is to feel yourself completely incapable of doing something – until the Lord calls you to do it? Jesus called the man with the withered hand to stretch it out. But you can’t stretch out a withered hand! Oh, but you can – if the Lord commands you to do it. The Lord Jesus commanded Peter to walk on water. But a man cannot walk on water! Oh yes he can – if God commands him to. Gideon is not naturally mighty. Don’t believe me? Then you’ll hear it from his mouth in a few verses. He’ll argue with the Lord that he’s weak. But God sees what he can do with Gideon if Gideon just follows him.

But sort of anti-climatically, Gideon argues with the Lord. The Lord is ready to make him a mighty man of valor. But Gideon wants to take issue with the Lord on both of his statements.

Judges 6:13

First, Gideon argues that the Lord is definitely not with him or with his people Israel. In verse 13 Gideon points to the calamity that Midian brings constantly to this nation. If the Lord is with Israel then why is this happening? Gideon says that he’s been told of the wonderful things God did in delivering Israel from Egypt. But he hasn’t seen it. He doesn’t know it. And remember — that new generation that arose didn’t know the Lord or his mighty deeds. Gideon apparently is a son of that generation.

What’s interesting to note is that the Lord explained all of this through his prophet just a few verses ago. The Lord laid it out very clearly why calamity had befallen Israel. Did Gideon not hear about that word of rebuke from the prophet? Or did he hear it and was just now airing frustration with the way the Lord was dealing with his people?

Judges 6:14

Now, the Lord’s response is noteworthy. The first few words of verse 14 – “The Lord looked upon him.” What was the Lord’s expression? What was his countenance like? Was he astonished that Gideon didn’t remember the explanation he gave as to why Israel was being oppressed? At any rate, the Lord proceeds and issues his call to Gideon to deliver Israel from the very enemy whose presence Gideon points to as a sign that the Lord – the one he’s speaking with – is not with him. And God promises Gideon that he indeed is the one sending him off to battle.

Judges 6:15

That should settle matters. But it doesn’t. And this is where Gideon’s second objection comes in. First, He objected to God’s call based on God’s apparent abandonment of his people. And now he objects based on his own weakness and insignificance. In verse 15 Gideon claims to be from a poor family in Manasseh. And even worse – he’s the youngest member of this poor family.

Judges 6:16

But does God only work through rich people? Does he favor only those are firstborns in their family? Of course not. So God responds with assurance. The strength that Gideon will have is the Lord himself. “Surely, I will be with thee” the Lord says in verse 16.

Judges 6:17-24

OK, so the Lord responds to both of Gideon’s objections. That should settle it. But it doesn’t. Gideon now asks for a sign in verse 17. Gideon asks God if he can bring an offering to him. The Lord consents. Gideon goes and returns with the sacrifice. God causes the sacrifice to burn up and then he immediately disappears from Gideon’s sight. This causes Gideon to fear that he’ll die because now he knows he saw the Lord. But God simply responds in verse 23 “Peace unto thee. Fear not. Thou shalt not die.” And Gideon builds an altar in response to this interaction.

Thus ends the section outlining God’s calling of Gideon. He seems a bit reluctant to accept God’s call. Even when the angel of the Lord – whom I understand to be the Lord himself appearing physically – issues the call to Gideon he’s finding objections and excuses. Finally he gives in but really wants to make sure that it’s the Lord. He wants verification. He does this kind of thing with the fleece as well later on. So I think we can say that Gideon is generally slow to accept God’s call and commands.

Judges 6:25-32

Alright, so that’s Gideon’s call. And that very night in which he was called, Gideon received another order from the Lord in verses 25 through 32.

His father – according to verse 25 – had an altar that was dedicated to the Canaanite god Baal. God tells Gideon to go and take his father’s one ox and another ox from somewhere else and pull down that idolatrous altar. Gideon agrees to do it. That’s a step in the right direction. No objections. Just action. Great. But… Gideon actually ends up pulling down the altar at night. Well, what’s the big deal with that? We get his motivation for doing it by night in the middle of verse 27 – “he feared his father’s household and the men of that city.” So he couldn’t do it by day. I thought this guy was supposed to be a valiant warrior. God kept talking about his strength. What’s going on? He’s afraid to tear down an idolatrous altar. Well, get used to it – we’re going to see more of this kind of behavior. And the only strength and might and valor that Gideon really has is the Lord himself.

But Gideon does ultimately tear down the altar. And when the men of the city wake up the next morning they’re angry. They come to Gideon’s dad and tell him to bring out his son. From this, I imagine that Gideon was still living at home with his father. But at any rate, his father actually stands up for his son and won’t let the people put him to death. His rationale – end of verse 31 – “if [Baal] be a god, let him plead for himself.” Baal can punish Gideon if he’s real. I think Gideon’s father’s reaction is interesting. Joash is the one who had that altar. I kind of thought he would be angry. But he’s not. Here’s what I take from this. Gideon obeyed the Lord’s command to pull down the altar. But he feared the repercussions of that obedience. But look how his father reacts anyway! He doesn’t kill Gideon. He doesn’t even punish him in any way. He actually almost seems to recognize the senselessness of his idolatry. Why? Because of one simple faithful – though fearful – act of his own child. Gideon obeys, fearing the consequences. But that very obedience affects his father and maybe even opens his eyes to see that Baal is no god at all.

Have you ever experienced something like that? You knew God wanted you to do something. But the possible effects of that obedience terrified you? You and I just never really know what the Lord will do if we just take him at his word and obey him.

Judges 6:33-35

So, this episode with the altar is just the beginning of Gideon’s judging of Israel. We see his role as judge really start to take form in verses 33 through 35. We’ll read verse 33 to set the stage – “Then all the Midianites and the Amalekites and the children of the east were gathered together, and went over, and pitched in the valley of Jezreel.” Then the Spirit of the Lord comes upon Gideon and he gathers a number of tribes to him – namely, his own tribe Manasseh, Asher, Zebulun, and Naphtali. And they come.

Judges 6:36-40

Well, that sounds good. Gideon is looking pretty brave and faithful now. Ah, but not so fast. Verses 36 through 40 tell us about the infamous fleece incident. Gideon says to God in verse 36 – “If thou wilt save Israel by mine hand, as thou hast said, Behold I will put a fleece of wool in the floor…” And then he gives his scheme involving the fleece and the dew whereby he basically tests the Lord. And he is testing the Lord. Let me call attention to his wording. “If” – like there’s a question about whether God will do as he promised. So “if” God will do as he promised. And then “as thou hast said.” So, Gideon is recognizing that God has already promised him something. But Gideon just really needs to verify that God will indeed keep his promise. This just seems like a complete lack of faith on Gideon’s part. And you and I could rightfully expect God to not honor such a request to put dew on the fleece but not on the ground and then the next day to do the opposite. God wouldn’t have to answer this zany request. But you know what? God does answer it. He does just as Gideon requested. He condescends to Gideon’s fear and faithlessness.

Do we ever do something like this? By the way, we shouldn’t. OK? This is not normative behavior for believers. But do we practice this kind of “putting out the fleece” as they say? Maybe you know something to be God’s will. But you just really, really need to make sure. OK. It’s fine and good to make sure that you’re understanding God’s word in order to make sure you’re doing according to what he commands and such. But really at some point are you just stalling? Don’t do that. Gideon did it and he’ll do it again in this story. But Gideon is not your example in this respect. So don’t imitate him.

Judges 7:1

OK, so God does encourage Gideon to keep going and doing his will. So in verse 1 of chapter 7 we see Gideon and his army camping near a spring. It’s called the well of Harod. It’s actually a place in the modern day where Israeli youth go to remember the military accomplishments of Gideon as they’re preparing to enter into the armed services there. And it’s elevated above the valley on the north where the Midianites are.

Judges 7:2-8

Now, God comes to Gideon again and tells Gideon – verse 2 – that “The people that are with thee are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hands, lest Israel vaunt themselves against me, saying, Mine own hand hath saved me.” So it’s clear that God wants everyone to know – Gideon and all Israel – that when Israel wins, it’s not because of the natural strength of any man or group of men. The Lord wants everyone to know that he brought about the victory against Midian. So God proceeds to whittle down the number of folks on Israel’s side. They start off with about 33,000 men. Then God says in verse 3 that Gideon should dismiss anyone who is afraid. And about 2/3 of the men gathered return. It’s a good sign that Gideon didn’t leave when that option was offered. So there are about 10,000 men left to fight. Is that a small enough number to fight the numberless hoards of Midianites? God didn’t think so. So, he develops a seemingly arbitrary standard to weed out more men. It’s all based on how a man drinks water at the spring of Harod. One group drank one way. The other group drank another way. And the smaller group – consisting of 300 men – was chosen. The other 9,700 men left. Can you imagine how they would have reacted? What if Gideon let them know why they were being let go? Sorry – you drink funny. Or you didn’t drink funny enough! What does that have to do with war? Nothing. That’s the point. This war wasn’t about human might. God was going to show his strength and his salvation through some really weak means.

Do you think God does this kind of thing today still? I’m no prophet. I have no direct communication from God on the matter. But do you suppose that God was caught off-guard by the small attendance this morning with folks working at camp and summer camp staff being gone? Are you discouraged? Please don’t be. God’s still in control. We can trust him to help us worship him and build each other up no matter how many we have.

Judges 7:9-11

Now, verse 9 starts telling us about some other event that happened the night of the choosing of the army. End of verse 9 – God says to Gideon “Arise, get thee down unto the host; for I have delivered it into thine hand.” Oh boy. I can guess how Gideon is going to react. Will he bring out that old fleece again? Will he get another offering for the Lord to set on fire and prove himself again? What other test can he muster in order to verify that God is faithful? Well, it’s funny. The Lord anticipates this kind of thing from Gideon. So this time the Lord preemptively offers verification to poor fearful Gideon. Look at verse 10 – “But if thou fear to go down, go thou with Phurah thy servant down to the host: 11 And thou shalt hear what they say; and afterward shall thine hands be strengthened to go down unto the host.”

Judges 7:12-14

So God condescends to Gideon. How does Gideon respond? I could imagine someone hearing that from the Lord and saying “Oh no, I’ll take you at your word. Let’s do this!” But Gideon goes right down to the camp of the Midianites to take God up on his offer. When Gideon and his servant come down to the camp of the enemy under the cover of night they see Midianites, Amalekites, and all sorts of groups from the east like a huge swarm of grasshoppers. They have numberless camels. And I’ll summarize what happens in verses 13 and 14. Gideon comes and just happens to hear a Midianite telling his fellow Midianite about a dream that he had. Here’s the dream. A loaf of bread rolled down the hill into a Midianite tent. The tent completely flips over and lays flat. Now, the other guy hears the dream and says basically “that means that Gideon is coming and will completely destroy us Midianites! And God’s on Gideon’s side.” And this “chance” happening is what it took for Gideon to stop fearing! No, God’s promises weren’t enough. He had to hear the interpretation of the dream of a pagan enemy of Israel in order to be encouraged to trust God’s promise.

Judges 7:15-18

But that’s just what it took and the Lord graciously allowed that to happen. So, Gideon returns to camp pumped up! Starting in verse 15 he starts dividing the company of 300 men into 3 units. Each man gets a trumpet, a pitcher, and a torch. He instructs them to do as he does.

Judges 7:19

In verse 19 we have the men surrounding the camp of Midian in the middle of the night. They smash the pitchers, hold the torches, and blow the trumpets.

Now, come on. 300 men blowing trumpets is going to do anything against the host of Midian? Well, with God all things are possible. The Midianites awake to blowing trumpets, torches and light dancing off the broken shards of the pitchers. And they run. And then the Lord steps in and sets the Midianites against each other in their confusion. We’ll find out later that 120,000 Midianites die in this battle. Can you imagine – 300 vs. over 120,000… and the 300 win! Only with the Lord. That’s something like 400 Midianites for every one Israelite. Incredible.

Well, as Midian is fleeing, some men from Naphtali, Asher, and Manasseh come out and pursue them. I wonder if any of these guys were the ones who went back at the spring of Harod. Then Gideon sends for Ephraim to come and cut off the fleeing Midianites by the Jordan River. The Ephraimites capture two leaders of Midian – Oreb and Zeeb – and slay them. Then they bring their heads to Gideon.

By the way, it’s interesting that Gideon calls Ephraim. It seemed like the Lord really wanted the victory to go to those 300 men. That’s strange. But God doesn’t say anything about it, so maybe it’s OK. You just hate to have to wonder, though. Did Gideon do this out of fear? Was he again not trusting God’s promise? We can’t say for sure. But what we do know is that the Ephraimites end up causing Gideon some problems in the very next section in chapter 8.

But, we’re going to stop here for now. Next time, Lord-willing we’ll finish the story of Gideon and also cover the story of his wicked son Abimelech.