Explaining the Book

Bible Study Guide

Judges

Judges 6 Commentary

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 Commentary
Verses 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 Commentary
Verses 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 Commentary
Verse 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 Commentary
Verse 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 Commentary
Verse 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 Commentary
Verse 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 Commentary
Verse 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 Commentary
Verse 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 Commentary
Verses 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 Commentary
Verses 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 Commentary
Verses 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 Commentary
Verses 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.

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