And Joash said unto all that stood against him, Will ye plead for Baal? ... if he be a god, let him plead for himself, because one hath cast down his altar. Therefore on that day he called him Jerubbaal, saying, Let Baal plead against him, because he hath thrown down his altar (verses 31,32).
There came a time in Israel's history when they would not so much as mention or write down the name 'Baal'. In 2 Samuel 11:21 we find Jerubbesheth written for the name Jerubbaal. They changed the name of this heathen idol to an insulting term, meaning 'that shameful thing'. Also we may recall that Saul named two of his sons Esh-baal and Merib-baal, and these names were changed by the Israelites into Ish-Bosheth and Mephibosheth (2 Sam. 2:8 and 4:4).
Here, this man became a challenge to all the worshippers of Baal, and the fact that he was not struck down but remained free of any harm, enhanced his name not only among the people of his tribe, but in all Israel. No doubt those that secretly worshipped Jehovah, the faithful few, would be greatly strengthened by this deed.
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 (verse 33).
The Midianites were descendants of Midian the son of Abraham and Keturah. The Amalekites were not descendants of Amalek, the son of Eliphaz and grandson of Esau, as we read of the Amalekites in the days of Abraham in Genesis chapter 14. They were a fierce and ruthless people, constantly waging war with Israel until the days of David, when they disappear from the pages of Scripture. The children of the east are put for Arabs in general. This vast army crossed the Jordan unopposed and made their base camp in the valley of Jezreel, that most fertile land in the whole of Canaan.
In the very heart of Canaan, this land was occupied by the tribe of Manasseh, not many miles away from the city where Gideon lived. The word Jezreel means, 'God's sowing', 'the seed of God', which brings to mind the words of Hosea 2:20-23:
... and thou shalt know the Lord ... and they shall hear Jezreel. And I will sow her unto Me in the earth; and I will have mercy upon her that had not obtained mercy; and I will say to them which were not My people, Thou art My people; and they shall say, Thou art my God.
The new Israel! Glorious words!
It was the time of harvest, and thousands of Israelites beside Gideon had been hastily gathering in the wheat as soon as it was barely ripe, and threshing it in secret places. Storing the precious grain in hiding, they endeavoured to keep it from the savage hordes that now threatened to rob them of every grain they possessed.
But the Spirit of the Lord came upon Gideon, and he blew a trumpet; and Abi-ezer was gathered after him (verse 34).
The words 'came upon' literally meant 'clothed' Gideon, the same word that is used concerning Othniel, Jephthah and Samson. The Lord clothed him as with a robe to put honour upon him, and as with a coat of mail, to put defence upon him. God had promised to equip him for the job He had given him to do, and it is the same today, for the Lord's arm is not shortened although He works in a different way. Gideon blew a trumpet, or ram's horn, that instrument of inspiration that reminded this people of God's hand in the victory at Jericho. God had made sure it was the means of gathering together an army in Israel who would acknowledge Gideon as their leader. In fact, the very men who before had condemned him to death as a criminal for destroying their altars to Baal and Asherah, now rallied to his call. This loyalty from his own clan gave Gideon a claim for wider support:
And he sent messengers throughout all Manasseh; who also was gathered after him: and he sent messengers unto Asher, and unto Zebulun, and unto Naphtali; and they came up to meet them (verse 35).
Asher, Zebulun and Naphtali -- these were neighbouring tribes, and the tremendous part played by Zebulun and Naphtali in the uprising under Deborah and Barak, makes them an obvious choice. Asher, however, on that previous occasion, refused to join and remained then within her own borders. By faithfulness here this tribe partly redeemed its honour from the tarnish attached from that occasion. Although Ephraim was adjacent to Manasseh, because of their haughty character and their jealousy of any leader in Israel who did not come from their own tribe, this could well have been the reason that prevented Gideon from seeking their help. The men he needed came.
And Gideon said unto God, If Thou wilt save Israel by mine hand, as Thou hast said, Behold, I will put a fleece of wool in the floor; and if the dew be on the fleece only, and it be dry upon all the earth beside, then shall I know that Thou wilt save Israel by mine hand, as Thou hast said (verses 36,37).
"If Thou wilt save Israel". Gideon would have received the news of the vast numbers of the enemy that opposed him. The hosts of Midian, Amalek and the children of the east we read were as grasshoppers for multitude, and their camels 'were without number'. They were as the sand by the seaside for multitude, a term that reminds us not only of the tribulation and blessings of the children of Israel that lie ahead, but also of the vast number of those from the nations of the earth who are deceived by Satan after his restraint during the millennium.
This request by Gideon shows the seriousness of the crisis. He saw obviously that by human strength alone victory was out of the question. He could well have needed a booster for his faith, fresh encouragement in this daring task, but did he ask this for himself? The request that Gideon made could well have been done in order to prove beyond a shadow of doubt to the men that had rallied to him, that God had really called and commissioned him. They too would have heard of the strength of the enemy, but they had had no word from the Lord. Evidence to them that Gideon was indeed the servant of the Lord God of Israel would allay any doubts or fears, and strengthen their hearts, so that they would give their loyal and willing allegiance and follow him against all odds.
And it was so: for he rose up early on the morrow, and thrust the fleece together, and wringed the dew out of the fleece, a bowl full of water (verse 38).
This, however, was not enough. Some sceptic could say that was not much of a miracle. It is well known that wool, if ever so little moisture falls, drinks it in and retains it. It was quite common practice for sailors to hang fleeces of wool over the sides of their ships at night when in tropical waters. In the morning they could ring buckets of fresh water from them.
And Gideon said unto God, Let not Thine anger be hot against me, and I will speak but this once: let me prove, I pray Thee, but this once with the fleece; let it now be dry only upon the fleece, and upon all the ground let there be dew. And God did so that night: for it was dry upon the fleece only, and there was dew on all the ground (verses 39,40).
Here was a miracle no one could gainsay. To Gideon and to those who had rallied to his call, proof was given of the power that would be with them. Gideon's commission was vindicated, for such a sign as this -- not being in accordance with natural circumstances -- could only have come about by direct Divine interposition.
So the hand of Gideon was strengthened in the sight of the people, as they recognized in him a successor to Moses, Joshua, Othniel, Ehud, Deborah and Barak. Some commentators seek to allegorize this miracle, and see in this gracious revelation of God's mercy, love and power, things that were never intended. They see the dew as the sign of God's grace and say that the first sign represented Israel as replenished with God's love when all was dry around. The second, since the rejection of the Lord Jess Christ and His gospel, Israel are the dry fleece and the nations today are as a watered garden. Reading these things into this narrative seems highly speculative.
We have the words of Scripture, however, spoken by the Lord through His servant Hosea concerning Israel, '... your goodness is as a morning cloud, and as the early dew it goeth away' (Hos. 6:4), yet when this nation does repent and turn back to their God, His words are, 'I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely: for Mine anger is turned away from him. I will be as the dew unto Israel: he shall grow as the lily, and cast forth his roots as Lebanon' (14:4,5).
That glorious promise will assuredly be fulfilled when the nation of Israel acknowledge the Lord Jesus Christ as the Son of God, their Messiah.