The Book of Judges (8)
After the exploits of Deborah and Barak, Israel had peace and plenty in
their land for forty years. The people worshipped Jehovah, their God and their
Deliverer, under these faithful leaders.
After their death, however, such is the strength of sin, the pull of the
world, and the wickedness of the flesh, that we read in verse 1 of this chapter:
'And the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord:
and the Lord delivered them into the hand of Midian seven years'.
This nation that had before smarted so sorely for their idolatry and neglect of
God, upon a little respite of His judgment, return to the worship of the idols of
the heathen nations around them, and forget the One Who had so richly blessed
them. The providence of God will not change the hearts and lives of sinners. It
is the absence of God's Presence and Power, and the consequent suffering and
misery, that brings repentance and the realization by men and women of their
hopeless condition without God in the world. So God withdrew Himself from His
people Israel, and the Midianites prevailed against them.
Midian was the son of Abraham by Keturah, whom he married after the death
of Sarah. Her name means 'fragrance'. The Midianites became a nomadic tribe
roaming the Sinai peninsula. Moses fled to this wild country and took shelter
with Jethro, who was a priest of Midian, and he married Jethro's daughter
Zipporah. In the time when Joseph was a lad, his older brothers, envious of his
ability, sought to kill him. Instead they sold him to the Midianites. They were
a wild, ruthless and savage band of cut-throats in the main, and God allowed them
to subdue the nation of Israel.
This oppression was quite different to the tyranny of the Canaanites
during the time of Deborah. That was the last great attempt of the old
inhabitants to recover their lost country, but this was an invasion. Completely
terrified by the fierceness of the Midianites, the Israelites left their homes
and fled to remote caves in the rocks and to craggy peaks in the mountains. The
Midianites plundered the land, took their crops, and burnt everything which could
not be carried off.
Israel, separated by sin from God, had not the spirit to fight against
them. The sloth and luxury of forty years made them easy prey, and they crept
into dens and caves. They had sown the ground, but towards harvest hordes of
their enemies descended upon them and seized everything. For seven years somehow
they lived through it. There were no pitched battles, the Israelites were too
wretched to offer any resistance. These Arabs would swarm over the Jordan at the
ford below Jericho, sweep across the rich plain of Jezreel and into the heart of
'And Israel was greatly impoverished because of the Midianites;
and the children of Israel cried unto the Lord' (verse 6).
As a result of this cry, the Lord sent them a prophet, his name withheld,
a man who speaks in His name: 'Thus saith the Lord God of Israel ...'. He reminds
them of their deliverance from the bondage, the living death of Egypt, of the way
God fought for them in their gaining possession of their land.
'And I said unto you, I am the Lord your God; fear not the gods
of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but ye have not obeyed My voice' (verse
Here was the malignity of all their sin. This was the reason, the root, the
cause, for their calamitous condition, and the appearance of the prophet seems to
indicate the failure of the priesthood. This is borne out by the history of the
times. Surely we find here a type and shadow of the greatest of all the
prophets, John the Baptist. He was the forerunner of the Saviour of the world.
'And there came an angel of the Lord, and sat under an oak which
was in Ophrah, that pertained unto Joash the Abi-ezrite: and his son Gideon
threshed wheat by the winepress, to hide it from the Midianites' (verse 11).
We read that after the prophet, an angel of the Lord came with the
intention of delivering Israel. The original Hebrew is 'an angel of Jehovah',
giving the name that is the covenant God of Israel. In verse 14, however, we
read 'And the Lord looked upon him, and said ...'. Was this the Angelic Being who
came to Joshua when he was seeking to plan how to capture the city of Jericho?
That One revealed Himself as the Captain of the Host of the Lord, Whose command
was 'Loose thy shoe from off thy foot; for the place whereon thou standest is
holy'. Here was revealed the same One Who appeared to Moses in the bush that
burned with fire, and yet was not consumed. It could well have been the Lord
Himself, therefore, Who came to give deliverance to His people.
This Ophrah mentioned in verse 11 was in western Manasseh, and the name
means 'a fawn'. It lay on the north border of Ephraim. Joash was the head of
the family which descended from Abiezer, the son of Gilead, the son of Machir the
eldest son of Manasseh, who was the son of Joseph. He was therefore a prince in
Israel, but now impoverished owing to the ruthless cruelty of the Midianites.
The Lord however did not visit him, but his son Gideon, who threshed wheat by the
winepress to hide it from the invaders. There would hardly be room to thresh
wheat properly in the confined space of a winepress, for winepresses were vats
sunk in the ground. Threshing floors were open circular places in the fields
where the corn was trodden out by oxen, but this could not be done because of the
invading hordes of their enemy. The only chance the Israelites had of keeping
any corn for themselves was to beat it out under cover, and then hide it.
In verse 12 the greeting of this Angelic Being was a salutation and a
blessing: 'The Lord is with thee, thou mighty man of valour'. This could hardly
be attributed to his strength with the flail as he beat the corn from the wheat.
Gideon means 'hewer' or 'cutter down', and he was of big and powerful build, a
man of kingly presence, as we find from the narrative. The Lord, however, refers
to his courage, his valour. Surely this could refer to his refusal to bow the
knee to Baal.
While the great majority of men around him had forsaken Jehovah and
completely forgotten and cast Him out of their hearts and minds, and worshipped
the idols of the heathen nations about them, Gideon remained adamant in his
refusal to join with them. His father, probably the head, the ruling prince of
this western tribe of Manasseh at this time, had his own altar to worship Baal,
and his own image to worship Asherah. Yet Gideon remained faithful to the One
True God, and undoubtedly this must have cost him dear. As we shall see, this
was undoubtedly the reason why the Lord came to this young man with such a
All of us can earn a greeting such as this. We are exhorted to take the
armour of God, that equipment, that panoply, which He has provided, and to stand
in His strength while we walk through this pilgrim journey. Faithfulness is
required in each of His children in the midst of all the ignorance and darkness
and folly of those who have no desire for the things of the Spirit.
When the Lord came to Gideon, he was evidently alone. God often
manifests Himself to His people when they are out of the noise and bustle of this
world. It is a good thing to have a quiet time set aside each day in order to
read His Word and study it, and speak to Him in prayer. With all the things of
work and play taking up so much of our time, we can so easily miss the best He
has to offer us. In verse 13 Gideon evidently recognized that he was in the
presence of a Divine Person, for in verse 14 we read:
'And the Lord looked upon him, and said, Go in this thy might,
and thou shalt save Israel from the hand of the Midianites: have not I sent
Here indeed are the words of the Captain of the Host of the Lord -- 'have not I
sent thee?'. Gideon's reply is now addressed to 'Jehovah', for the word
translated Lord' here, in the original Hebrew is indeed 'Jehovah'.
'And the Lord looked upon him'. It makes one wonder what was in that
look! It seems to have made this strapping young giant realize his total
insignificance, his utter unworthiness, as he stands in this Presence. The Lord
had given him a commission that he was to save Israel from the oppression of
their enemies, and that the mighty Jehovah would enable him to do it. Gideon's
question was -- 'Where is the God that brought our fathers out of Egypt?'
Jehovah's answer was -- 'Here He is, now speaking to you; and you are to be the
deliverer of the people from the hand of their oppressors. As I was with your
fathers, so I will be with you'.
'And the Lord looked upon Gideon'. Those words remind us of the incident
after the arrest of the Lord Jesus Christ by the soldiers, and His detention in
the house of the high priest. Peter had managed to gain admittance, and stood in
the great hall and warmed himself at the fire with those who were the enemies of
his Lord. Three times they fiercely accused him of being one of the Prisoner's
friends and three times Peter hotly denied he had anything to do with Him. Then
the Lord turned and looked upon him. What was in that look? Sadness? Strength?
Resolve? Forgiveness? Love? We can only surmise, but surely there was love.
How dangerous it is to keep the wrong company! How careful we should be of the
friends we make, and of the folk we go around with!
What was in the look that the Lord gave to Gideon? There was something
there that reduced this man to abject humility, for see his reply to this great
'And he said unto Him, Oh my Lord, wherewith shall I save Israel?
behold, my family is poor in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father's house'
Gideon realized his unworthiness in this great and generous offer and sought to
step down in order that a man better fitted should be given the honour.
'Let this mind be in you', wrote the apostle Paul to the Philippians, and
then speaks of the lengths the Lord Jesus Christ was willing to go to in order to
redeem mankind. Lowliness of mind and true humility are the hall-marks of a
Christian. They must be if we understand what Christ has done for us.