Monday, April 14, 2008

Judges 6

Judges 6: Gideon tests the LORD

Synopsis

In this chapter we are introduced to Gideon, who is one of the more famous of the judges. However, in this case, he’s famous more for his timidity and tests than for what he actually did.

Once again, the Israelites do evil in the eyes of the LORD, and He hands them over to the Midianites. The Midianites oppress the Israelites so badly that they begin hiding in mountain caves to get away from the Midianites. Every time the Israelites plant crops, the Midianites swarm over the country like locusts and destroy them.

So the Israelites cry out to the LORD for help, and in response, He sends them a prophet.

When the Israelites cried to the LORD because of Midian, he sent them a prophet, who said, “This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: I brought you up out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. I snatched you from the power of Egypt and from the hand of all your oppressors. I drove them from before you and gave you their land. I said to you, ‘I am the LORD your God; do not worship the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you live.’ But you have not listened to me.” (verses 7–10)

This makes it sound like the LORD isn’t going to help them. However, in the next verse, the Angel of the LORD appears to a man named Gideon, and tells him that the LORD is with him. (Much is made of the fact that the Angel of the LORD finds Gideon threshing wheat in a winepress, so as to hide it from the Midianites. Some say that this proves Gideon’s timidity, although it seems like a pretty smart idea, to me. Not that I’m saying Gideon is not timid; that will be shown later on in the passage.) Gideon, however, finds it hard to believe that God is with the Israelites:

“But sir,” Gideon replied, “if the LORD is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our fathers told us about when they said, ‘Did not the LORD bring us up out of Egypt?’ But now the LORD has abandoned us and put us into the hand of Midian.” (verse 13)

But the LORD—and it specifically says “the LORD,” in verse 14, not “the Angel of the LORD”—turns to Gideon and tells him to go in the strength he has, and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Gideon doesn’t think this will be possible, since he is the least in a weak tribe, but the LORD tells Gideon that He will be with him, and they will strike the Midianites down together.

But Gideon is not convinced. In fact, he’s not sure that it’s really even the LORD that he is talking to. So he asks for a sign that it really is God he’s talking to; he’s going to bring an offering, and set it before Him. The LORD agrees to this, and Gideon goes off to prepare a goat and make some bread without yeast. He brings them back out to where the LORD is waiting.

God tells him to prepare the food, and put it on a particular rock. He then touches the food with His staff, and fire blazes up from the rock, and consumes the meat and the bread—and then the Angel of the LORD disappears! This is enough proof for Gideon; he realizes that he has seen the Angel of the LORD face to face, and is now scared of what is going to happen to him. But the LORD tells Gideon to have peace, because he is not going to die. (Note that the Angel of the LORD has disappeared, but the LORD is still speaking with Gideon. Is this a disembodied voice? I don’t know. It’s one of the mysteries (for me) of how the LORD communicated in the Old Testament.) So Gideon builds an alter, and names it The LORD Is Peace.

That night, the LORD commands Gideon to take a bull from his father’s herd, and to tear down his father’s altar to the god Baal, and his Asherah pole. In their place, Gideon is to build an altar to the LORD—and he is to use the wood from the Asherah pole to burn the bull as a burnt offering.

Gideon takes ten of his servants, and does as the LORD commanded, but he does so at night, instead of in the day, because he’s afraid of the people. So the next morning, the people of his town wake up to find their Baal altar demolished, and their Asherah pole gone, along with the newly sacrificed bull on a brand new altar. They quickly realize that it was Gideon who did this, and decide to kill him, for destroying their altars.

Gideon’s father, however, talks them out of it:

But Joash replied to the hostile crowd around him, “Are you going to plead Baal’s cause? Are you trying to save him? Whoever fights for him shall be put to death by morning! If Baal really is a god, he can defend himself when someone breaks down his altar.” So that day they called Gideon “Jerub-Baal,” saying, “Let Baal contend with him,” because he broke down Baal’s altar. (verses 31–32)

According to the footnotes, “Jerub-Baal” means “let Baal contend.”

After this, the Midianites and a bunch of other people join forces, and come into Israel, presumably to do battle with the Israelites. But the Spirit of the LORD comes upon Gideon, and he blows a trumpet to summon his fellow Israelites together.

However, even with the Spirit of the LORD, Gideon is still not convinced that the LORD is going to win this battle for him. He devises a test for the LORD: He will take a wool fleece, and place it on the threshing floor. The next morning, if the fleece is wet with dew, but the rest of the ground is dry, then he will trust God to save Israel by Gideon’s hand. He does so, and the next morning, although the ground is dry, the fleece is wet with dew—so wet that he is able to wring out a bowlful of water.

But Gideon still isn’t quite convinced. He devises a second test for God (although he asks God not to be angry with him, for this constant testing): He is going to do the same thing, but this time, he wants God to make the ground wet with dew, but the fleece dry. So he performs the same test, and, just as he’d asked God to do, the fleece is dry the next morning, while the ground is covered in dew.

So this should be enough to convince Gideon that it’s really God he’s talking to, and God will really do as He had said. Unfortunately, we’ll have to wait until the next passage to see what happens…

Thoughts

Gideon’s initial response to the Angel of the LORD sums up the problem that the Israelites have been having, ever since Joshua died: Instead of acknowledging that they’ve been disobeying the LORD—and that their problems are punishment for that disobedience—they have instead decided that He has abandoned them. “Woe is us,” they cry, as they’re standing beside their altar to Baal, “the LORD is no longer with us!” That being said, though, the Angel of the LORD doesn’t correct Gideon, when he says that the LORD has abandoned the Israelites. In a way, He has—it’s just the reason why that the Israelites don’t always understand.

As mentioned above, there is a being in this chapter who is being referred to as both “the Angel of the LORD,” and “the LORD.” So I think that answers the question as to who this is; I think this means that it’s Jesus. (If you disagree, I’m not going to try and argue the point.)

I’m sure this will come up again and again, but an “Asherah pole” is some kind of a symbol of the goddess Asherah. They’re very common in the Old Testament; we’ll be seeing them all over the place. But, since Gideon is using the wood from one to build a burnt offering, they must be pretty big.
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