Points of Interest:
- ‘The Israelites’—the Israelites is the name the descendants of Isaac and Jacob took for themselves after they left Egypt. Israel was Jacob’s nickname, given him by God. This passage takes place a couple of hundred years after the time of Moses, after the Israelites had settled into the land of Canaan, just as God had promised Abraham.
- ‘them into the hands of the Midianites’—we’ve run into the Midianites a couple of times now; perhaps it’s worth explaining who they are. The Midianites are a nomadic group of herders who lived in the wilderness areas on the edge of Canaan. They are the descendants of
- ‘Midian so impoverished the Israelites that they cried out to the LORD for help’—apparently, it took seven years of being taken advantage of by these Midianite raiders before it occurred to the Israelites, ‘Maybe we should pray, and ask God for help.’
- ‘Gideon was threshing wheat in a winepress’—wheat was usually threshed in an open place; someplace high up and exposed to the wind was preferred. The wind helped separate the lighter chaff from the kernel, the good part of the wheat. Grapes, on the other hand, were pressed in something bowl-shaped, where the wine could collect. Gideon is in a hole in the ground, doing what’s usually done in a wide open space, to better hide from the Midianites. It makes the job harder, but at least the profit isn’t stolen from him when he’s done. Gideon may be prudent, but he’s not terribly brave. So, when the angel calls him, ‘Mighty Warrior,’ he’s either being sarcastic, or he sees something in Gideon that Gideon doesn’t yet see in himself.
- “’Pardon me, my lord,’ Gideon replied, ‘but if the LORD is with us’”—the angel had said, ‘The LORD is with you (singular).’ Gideon replies with skepticism about the LORD being with ‘us.’ Either it totally escapes him that God is speaking to him personally and specifically, or he’s trying to deflect attention away from himself and toward what he thinks is the real problem. Either way, he doesn’t seem to realize that God has selected him to be the answer to his own complaint. God plans to do exactly the same kind of wonders through Gideon that he did earlier through Moses.
- ‘give me a sign that it is really you’—clearly, Gideon is a little discombobulated, and what he says comes out wrong. He doesn’t really mean, ‘Prove that you are you.’ I think he means, ‘Prove you are who you say you are.’
- ‘Fire flared from the rock’—as with Moses, God is not reluctant to use a little fireworks to get someone’s attention.
- ‘You are not going to die’—now, the downside of Gideon’s caution becomes apparent. He doesn’t want to do something foolish on the advice of someone who turns out to be a fake angel. That makes sense as far as it goes. But Gideon doesn’t fully reckon with the possibility that he’s just been sarcastic and skeptical toward a genuine heavenly being. He’s been hiding from the Midianites, but impudent and insulting toward God. Thankfully, the angel doesn’t take offense.
- ‘Tear down your father’s altar to Baal and cut down the Asherah pole’—Baal and Asherah were the primary deities of surrounding nations. Apparently, the thing the Israelites had done to anger the LORD God was to decide that they’d rather have different gods. In that light, the Midianite raids are less a punishment and more a bet: let’s see if Baal and Asherah can rescue you from the Midianites as well as I could.
- ‘the Spirit of the LORD came on Gideon’—Gideon is inspired. Gideon is only this brave on his own by accident (facing down an angel). But with God’s power, he suddenly does become a mighty warrior—at least for the moment.
- ‘look, I will place a wool fleece on the threshing floor’—after blowing the trumpet, Gideon loses his nerve again. And once again, he becomes inarticulate. He has to break into the middle of his own sentence to beg for further reassurance from God.
- ‘Allow me one more test with the fleece’—God performs the sign just as Gideon requests, but in the morning Gideon has more doubts. It’s easy enough, after all, for someone to pour water on a fleece. So, he asks for a do-over, this time with the fleece dry and the ground wet. I’m very grateful that God good-naturedly humors him. God seems very willing to give all the assurance anyone asks.
Taking It Home:
- For you: Just as the angel reminded Gideon that the Lord was with him, take a moment to ask God to remind you that he is in fact with you. If there are any specific situations you feel somewhat anxious about, ask him for peace and the assurance of knowing his presence in those circumstances.
- For your six: Do you get the sense that any of your six feel like they are weakest or smallest of the clan and that they don’t have much to offer to others? Pray that your six would grow in their understanding of their purpose in the world, and that God would help them see the unique ways that they contribute to the world around them.
- For our church: Gideon is a strange combination of bold and timid. He hides in a winepress, but then talks back to an angel. He cuts down his father’s altar, but at night. He summons an army, but then asks God for multiple signs that he should lead that army into battle. Pray that we would be as bold as Gideon, and not as timid, in pursuing our unique place in the world—and also pray that God would give us reassuring signs when we really need them.