by the Rev. Martin Emmrich
1The people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, and the LORD gave them into the hand of Midian seven years. 2And the hand of Midian overpowered Israel, and because of Midian the people of Israel made for themselves the dens that are in the mountains and the caves and the strongholds. 3For whenever the Israelites planted crops, the Midianites and the Amalekites and the people of the East would come up against them. 4They would encamp against them and devour the produce of the land, as far as Gaza, and leave no sustenance in Israel and no sheep or ox or donkey. 5For they would come up with their livestock and their tents; they would come like locusts in number—both they and their camels could not be counted—so that they laid waste the land as they came in. 6And Israel was brought very low because of Midian. And the people of Israel cried out for help to the LORD.
7When the people of Israel cried out to the LORD on account of the Midianites, 8the LORD sent a prophet to the people of Israel. And he said to them, "Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: I led you up from Egypt and brought you out of the house of bondage. 9And I delivered you from the hand of the Egyptians and from the hand of all who oppressed you, and drove them out before you and gave you their land. 10And I said to you, 'I am the LORD your God; you shall not fear the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell.' But you have not obeyed my voice."
11Now the angel of the LORD came and sat under the terebinth at Ophrah, which belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, while his son Gideon was beating out wheat in the winepress to hide it from the Midianites. 12And the angel of the LORD appeared to him and said to him, "The LORD is with you, O mighty man of valor." 13And Gideon said to him, "Please, sir, if the LORD is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all his wonderful deeds that our fathers recounted to us, saying, 'Did not the LORD bring us up from Egypt?' But now the LORD has forsaken us and given us into the hand of Midian." 14And the LORD turned to him and said, "Go in this might of yours and save Israel from the hand of Midian; do not I send you?" 15And he said to him, "Please, Lord, how can I save Israel? Behold, my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house." 16And the LORD said to him, "But I will be with you, and you shall strike the Midianites as one man." 17And he said to him, "If now I have found favor in your eyes, then show me a sign that it is you who speak with me. 18Please do not depart from here until I come to you and bring out my present and set it before you." And he said, "I will stay till you return."
19So Gideon went into his house and prepared a young goat and unleavened cakes from an ephah of flour. The meat he put in a basket, and the broth he put in a pot, and brought them to him under the terebinth and presented them. 20And the angel of God said to him, "Take the meat and the unleavened cakes, and put them on this rock, and pour the broth over them." And he did so. 21Then the angel of the LORD reached out the tip of the staff that was in his hand and touched the meat and the unleavened cakes. And fire sprang up from the rock and consumed the meat and the unleavened cakes. And the angel of the LORD vanished from his sight. 22Then Gideon perceived that he was the angel of the LORD. And Gideon said, "Alas, O Lord GOD! For now I have seen the angel of the LORD face to face." 23But the LORD said to him, "Peace be to you. Do not fear; you shall not die." 24Then Gideon built an altar there to the LORD and called it, The LORD Is Peace. To this day it still stands at Ophrah, which belongs to the Abiezrites.
25That night the LORD said to him, "Take your father’s bull, and the second bull seven years old, and pull down the altar of Baal that your father has, and cut down the Asherah that is beside it 26and build an altar to the LORD your God on the top of the stronghold here, with stones laid in due order. Then take the second bull and offer it as a burnt offering with the wood of the Asherah that you shall cut down." 27So Gideon took ten men of his servants and did as the LORD had told him. But because he was too afraid of his family and the men of the town to do it by day, he did it by night.
28When the men of the town rose early in the morning, behold, the altar of Baal was broken down, and the Asherah beside it was cut down, and the second bull was offered on the altar that had been built. 29And they said to one another, "Who has done this thing?" And after they had searched and inquired, they said, "Gideon the son of Joash has done this thing." 30Then the men of the town said to Joash, "Bring out your son, that he may die, for he has broken down the altar of Baal and cut down the Asherah beside it." 31But Joash said to all who stood against him, "Will you contend for Baal? Or will you save him? Whoever contends for him shall be put to death by morning. If he is a god, let him contend for himself, because his altar has been broken down." 32Therefore on that day Gideon was called Jerubbaal, that is to say, "Let Baal contend against him," because he broke down his altar.
33Now all the Midianites and the Amalekites and the people of the East came together, and they crossed the Jordan and encamped in the Valley of Jezreel. 34But the Spirit of the LORD clothed Gideon, and he sounded the trumpet, and the Abiezrites were called out to follow him. 35 And he sent messengers throughout all Manasseh, and they too were called out to follow him. And he sent messengers to Asher, Zebulun, and Naphtali, and they went up to meet them.
36Then Gideon said to God, "If you will save Israel by my hand, as you have said, 37behold, I am laying a fleece of wool on the threshing floor. If there is dew on the fleece alone, and it is dry on all the ground, then I shall know that you will save Israel by my hand, as you have said." 38And it was so. When he rose early next morning and squeezed the fleece, he wrung enough dew from the fleece to fill a bowl with water. 39Then Gideon said to God, "Let not your anger burn against me; let me speak just once more. Please let me test just once more with the fleece. Please let it be dry on the fleece only, and on all the ground let there be dew." 40And God did so that night; and it was dry on the fleece only, and on all the ground there was dew.
In 6:13 Gideon addresses Yahweh with the all-important question, "Why?" "Why has this happened, if the Lord is with us?" Gideon had already forgotten that Israel was responsible for the present crisis (6:1), with the result that God becomes his scapegoat. Gideon is a telling example of those who know what God has done for his people in the past, who have memorized the confession and recite the creed, but find it irrelevant in a time of crisis. Trouble is knocking on the door, and the first thought is usually not, "Well, let us see what God will do in my life in this situation. God has delivered me in the past, surely he knows the answer." Instead, we may feel forsaken. This, at least, is what Gideon affirms in so many words. To him and the Israelites things would have looked that way, and there are adversities in our lives that may pose as severe challenges of our faith. But we ought to recognize them for what they are: challenges, nothing more, and nothing less. But the Word of God remains, "I will never leave you nor forsake you." We must walk by faith, not by sight.
In the end, the book of Judges has good things to say about Gideon. But this judge too should not serve as our role model. The tug of war within Gideon reflects the tensions and divided loyalties within many of us who seek to be faithful and yet feel pulled in the opposite direction. We struggle to demolish the shrines of the idols of our hearts and worship only God, but we continue to wrestle with God in certain areas of our lives. Paul also knew of this civil war within his own heart: "I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do" (Rom. 7:19).
Still, if we walk according to the Spirit, God will deliver us from this body of death through our Lord Jesus Christ. If you believe this, do not let sin have dominion over you, as you are to live to God. How much we need our Lord Jesus who leads us into the true worship of God and saves his people from their sins!
The author of these devotionals, the Rev. Martin Emmrich, is an ordained OPC minister (Westminster OPC, Corvallis, Oregon) as well as the author of Pneumatological Concepts in the Epistle to the Hebrews, a book on the teaching of Hebrews on the Holy Spirit. We are happy to make these devotionals on Ecclesiastes and other passages of Scripture available to you.