Judges 6-8 - Gideon and the 300

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Judges 6-8

The 300

Introduction

 

There are several themes within these two chapters namely:

  1. How to trust God with insurmountable odds against you

  2. When little faith still achieves Gods objective

  3. It is God who wins battles and not us.

  4. God’s grace and forgiveness

  5. Human nature

 

Character - Gideon

His name in Hebrew means “destroyer” and he is mentioned in the Hall of Faith when it talks about the heroes of old and trusting in things we do not see.

Hebrews 11:32 And what more shall I say? For the time would fail me to tell of Gideon and Barak and Samson and Jephthah, also of David and Samuel and the prophets.

Gideon throughout nearly three chapters of Judges, was constantly testing God and questioning him. One of the first examples is where he complains to the angel in.

Judges 6:17 And he said unto him, If now I have found grace in thy sight, then shew me a sign that thou talkest with me.

Here Gideon tests the angel to see if his meal will burst into flames from a bare rock.

Another example is earlier in the book of Judges, when he was asked to destroy an image of Baal he waited until dark to cut down this offensive idol in God’s eyes. The question many commentators see him as obeying this command but questioning why he did it under cover of the night? The pagan god Baal was worshipped at the time by Gideon’s father and it still shows Gods grace in the blessing of the Israelites in the face of worshipping other false gods. As a side note he was given nickname by the Israelites – “Jerub-Baal” which means something like “the one Baal contends with.”

 

Character - Midianites

The Midianites originated from East shore of Gulf of Aqaba, which is now Jordan and according to Genesis, the Midianites were the descendants of Midian, who was a son of Abraham through his wife Keturah. The Midianites were aggressive bullies and had given the Israelites problems for about seven years and destroyed their stocks and living things and forced them to live in the mountains. They had murdered Gideon’s brothers on Mount Tabor, hence Gideon would not have liked them very much.

There are other references in scripture.

  • Joseph, in Genesis was sold by the Midianites who came across him and they then sold him to the Ishmaelites.

  • Midianite women's seductions of Israelites to their idol Baal-Peor (or Baal-phegor) is described Numbers twenty-five as the cause of offense to God.

  • Israelites under Moses killed every Midianite male, including Zur and four other named chiefs, and brought back the women and children as prisoners of war

  • They oppressed the Israelites in Numbers twenty-two.

  • Their tactics in war was to swarm, devour and carry off the fruits of the ground, and not only rob but destroy their owners.

 

Where did the battle take place?

The battle took place in the Spring of Harod on the Hill of Moreh (This is South East of Sea of Galilee)

 

Pre-Battle selection Judges 6:36 – 40

Gideon in order to see if he was the chosen one to lead them into battle had already tested the angel (which was in fact God as mentioned earlier) a number of times as we read about earlier.

He had tested both scenarios dew on the fleece and dew on the ground and what this indicates is both a lack of faith as well as a hardness of heart to question God in the first place. Some commentaries see that the small fleece represented Gideon and the dew God and the ground the earth as it related to God’s covenant with the Israelites.

 

The Selection (7:1-8)

One of the potential reasons for the two reductions in the army were to stop the Israelites being puffed up with pride as in.

Deuteronomy 8:17-18 (CJB) you will think to yourself, 'My own power and the strength of my own hand have gotten me this wealth.'  

18  No, you are to remember ADONAI your God, because it is he who is giving you the power to get wealth, in order to confirm his covenant, which he swore to your ancestors, as is happening even

today.

 

If you look at the test in chapter six, there were two fleece tests hence this relates to the two tests of army strength by cutting it down in size for the attacking army. It is worth remembering that these soldiers who were not picked were sent back to base camp and would fight later. They were asked to leave at dawn hence there was no humiliation in front of their army and Gideon quotes the following verse as to not demoralise the men.

Deuteronomy 20:8 And the officers shall speak further unto the people, and they shall say, What man is there that is fearful and fainthearted ? let him go and return unto his house, lest his brethren's heart faint as well as his heart.

The test itself was to cup your hands and keep upright in order watch their surroundings and not take their eyes off where they were or the fact, they were about to enter battle. They had to be ready for an emergency hence this test reduced the number of men by those who were careless.

Some commentators also see a reference that they did not bow down to idols and if they did lie to the floor and drink, then they had bowed to idols in the past. One of the reasons which is explained is that God wanted to humiliate the force was a sign to show that there was no other God and worshipping false gods resulted in defeat.

 

The reconnaissance (v 9-14)

God had given a promise to Gideon in verse nine, but he was still fearful, this was God giving Gideon assurance that he was doing the right thing. The large number of the Midianites and their sheer wealth of provisions meant they could go on fighting and posed a real threat to the Israelites.

The dream by the Midianite again re-assures Gideon that they were being told that they were going to lose. The Barley bread represented the following.

  • Israel was made poor by famine by the Midianites as barley was poor man’s bread.

  • That barley is used as an Omer offering and signifies that God was in control of Gideon’s men.

  • Gideon’s sword and his three hundred men.

  • The word “roasted” translates as “emptied” which may indicate that the Israelites were spiritually low due to their worshipping of other gods.

 

The Battle Preparation & Strategy (v 15-18)

Gideon was now encouraged that he would defeat the Midianites and the men were split again into three groups as they would come in from three sides and then would leave one exit for the Midianites to get out as an escape route.

The weapons used were trumpets made from animal horn, empty pitchers to hide the light from the torches and finally torches and more importantly no swords or any kind of weapon. The strategy was to surround the Midianite camp in three groups and show the torches and blow on the trumpets to cause panic amongst the sleeping men which is similar to cattle rustlers who would herd cattle into a specific direction. They also attacked in the middle watch which is middle of the night when guards are most groggy and would tend to panic as they do not have their senses about them.

The dual nature of the trumpets and the shouting would have deceived the Midianites into thinking they were a large army and the plan was in this order; A blast of the trumpets followed by the crashing of the pitchers covering the lamps, these lights were exposed which illuminated the area and then there were alternating shouts and trumpets blasts.

 

The Battle / Aftermath

Due to the darkness and the onset of the night watch by the Midianites ,the newly guarding soldiers would not have become used to the dark yet and probably similar to when you walk into the cinema and you fall over someone’s legs or walk into the wall. Again, we see God at work as he fought the battle as the Israelites had both hands occupied. The Israelites did not have swords and only when the Midianites turned on each other in confusion they stabbed anything they could namely each other.

Gideon and his men now had access to weapons from the dead and the Israelites did not even have to enter the camp. Then the Midianites fled the camp down to the Jordan river and in verse twenty three there was a call to arms which called upon the rest of the army who pursued the remainder of the Midianites (i.e. those sent back from the 2 rounds of whittling down the men)

In verse 24 there was the call to the Tribe of Ephraim to join in to block the exiting Midianites as the Midianites needed to cross the River Jordan to get back to their land and finally the two Midianite leaders killed. These men were Princes and were called Zeeb which means wolf and Oreb which means Raven. They were killed at separate places which were named after them as a double warning to Israel’s enemies and are mentioned in Isaiah and David’s “list of enemies” in Psalm 83.

Psalm 83:11 - Make their nobles like Oreb, and like Zeeb: yea, all their princes as Zebah, and as Zalmunna:

 

What does this message mean for us?

This story in the bible shows God’s patience with Gideon and again it is God’s grace that the Israelites as a people were not wiped out thousands of years ago in the Old Testament.

Gideon may have been ashamed of God as in the taking down of the statue at night and we must ask ourselves are we ashamed of him? God is always willing to forgive and we confess to him and move on, his grace is enough, and he is eager to forgive us.

It is also a story of weak faith which God can use; he did not punish Gideon even after Gideon tested him. This has overtones of the story of Thomas and Jesus, who did not rebuke him after questioning if this really was Jesus in front of him, but Christ encouraged him to touch his wounds.

God gave the Midianites into the Israelites hand and it was not their own fighting prowess which caused them to overcome the Midianites. We must ask ourselves how often do we in life attribute our own successes to ourselves? Always give God the victory for anything good in your life and thank him.

This whole story is of a man of weak faith and idolatrous people the Israelites with small number of warriors fighting a well versed and stocked army.

If you continue on into Judges chapter 8, Pride surfaces within Gideon who sinned against God by; refusing to become Israel’s king and he became almost priest or king like by asking for people to give him gold and making a golden suit or statue wearing it (an Ephod) and he took worship away from God’s appointed Tabernacle. This ultimately resulted in his slaughter of all but 2 of his sons of whom one died later in battle.

Gideon gave the Ephramites also in Chapter 8 too much praise and not enough to God and he went on to torture and kill the townsfolk of Peniel for not helping him.

It is interesting that as soon as Gideon died, the Israelites started to worship Baal again so all we do in life if not built upon God, can come back to fault us.

Many commentators see him as idolatrous but I think its harsh but he was instrumental in wiping out some of Israel’s most troublesome foes so one of the most important points is that God can still use you even if you do make mistakes.

1 John 1:9: If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

 

Amen