Judges 6: Gideon Called
The meadow in our picture is a part of the plain of Esdraelon, where the army of Deborah and Barak fought with Sisera and his chariots. Now other enemies are there, wandering people, Midianites and Amalekites and children of the East, who have come across the Jordan at harvest time with their tents, and their cattle and their camels are eating up all the green things in the fields and gardens. There are tents and camels in our picture, but the strange people in the story had camels more than could be counted. They were like a great swarm of grasshoppers or locusts, which in that country come sometimes in clouds and settle down upon the land and eat up every green thing. The farmers were afraid to work in the fields. People hid themselves in dens and caves of the mountains. Then they remembered the Lord and cried to Him for help, and the Lord sent them a leader to save them from the Midianites.
Gideon was to be the leader and the Lord's angel came and called him. He was afraid, like all the people, and was "beating out wheat in the winepress to hide it from the Midianites." A winepress was a hole like a shallow bath-tub cut in the rock, where grapes were crushed for making wine. It would be a good place to hide the grain. The angel came and told Gideon that the Lord was with him. Gideon brought food for the heavenly visitor, but instead of eating it the angel touched it with the end of his staff and it was burnt like an offering on the altar. The Lord gave two other signs to make Gideon sure that He was with him and to give him courage. First, Gideon put a fleece of wool on the ground and in the night dew came only on the fleece, so that he wrung out a bowl-full of water, while all the ground was dry. Again, he put the fleece of wool on the ground and this time, as a sign, there was dew on the ground and the fleece was dry. The Lord was with Gideon, and we shall learn how the Lord helped him to drive out the strange people who had come with their cattle and their camels and were spoiling the land.
The Canaanites with their chariots of iron had troubled the people of Israel. And who were raised up as deliverers by the Lord? Now there are other enemies, the Midianites and Amalekites and children of the East, and the Lord called Gideon to be the deliverer. The Midianites had a home not far from Mount Sinai, but they were wandering people and spread through the country east of Jordan. The Amalekites were with them, another wandering people. Do you remember how they attacked the children of Israel when they came near to Mount Sinai on their journey? (Exod. 17:8-16) The Midianites and Amalekites came across the Jordan and with them other tribes from the eastern country. At what time of the year did they come? What had they with them that ate up the grain and other things in the fields? What do you know about grasshoppers or locusts in that country?
There are several valleys leading up from the Jordan into the heart of the land of Canaan. One of them is a broad valley between Mount Gilboa and Little Hermon, a branch of the great plain of Esdraelon. This was an easy way for the Midianites to come, and they came with their black tents and their camels. They spoiled the meadows at harvest time, and crossed even to the seashore plain and went as far as Gaza. You need to look again at the little map that you drew of the great triangular plain of Esdraelon. The broad valley reaching eastward is at the middle of the eastern side of the triangle. Little Hermon is on the north side of this valley, a graceful ridge running east and west. Mount Gilboa is to the south of the valley, a group of mountains rather than a single peak, and called by David, "Ye mountains of Gilboa." You must extend your map to the eastward, showing these three mountains, and the valley reaching to the Jordan. You must draw the brook running down this valley to the Jordan, and mark carefully its beginning in a great spring on the north side of Mount Gilboa. Now we think of the Midianites swarming up this valley with their countless camels and laying waste the beautiful plain. The children of Israel were in hiding. They were afraid and they "cried unto the Lord."
We will come back next week to this plain which is being destroyed by the people with their cattle and camels. But today we must visit Gideon's home, Ophrah in the tribe of Manasseh, not far from Shechem. What was Gideon doing, and why? One often finds in Palestine today, on neglected hillsides and overgrown by bushes, shallow vats cut in the rock where once grapes were trodden to make wine, the juice running off into another vat. Who came to Gideon while he was busy threshing? Notice the several things that the angel said to give Gideon courage. (Verses 12-16) Read also of the food which Gideon brought and how the angel received it. (Verses 17-24) The Lord also gave Gideon two signs to make him sure that He would be with him. (Verses 36-40) If you read verses 25-35, do they show you at all why an enemy was troubling Israel? Do they show you what evil the children of Israel were doing, mentioned in the first verse of our chapter? They were worshiping the idol Baal instead of the Lord. The grove by the altar of Baal means rude wooden images.
Gideon began to gather soldiers, and we shall learn how the Lord gave him a wonderful victory.
1. What do we learn about the Midianites in the story of Joseph? What in the story of Moses?
2. What animals of the Midianites are particularly mentioned? To what are the destroying hordes compared?
3. Who was raised up to deliver Israel from the Midianites? To what tribe did he belong?
4. Tell about the coming of the angel to Gideon. What did he say and do to encourage him?
In assigning the work of preparation to different members of the class, notice these points for spiritual study: the meaning of the Midianites, their camels, the comparison to grasshoppers and locusts; Gideon as a type of ourselves and of the Lord; the meaning of the signs.
"And the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord." What evil?
This is another grand story of deliverance, a picture of some experience in which the Lord makes us strong to drive out some evil things which are spoiling our life. The Midianites often have a good meaning, as when they gave Moses a home, and when they saved Joseph from his brethren. At the best they represent a love of truth with those who are in simple goodness. But persons in simple external states are easily deceived; they may think things are good because they are pleasant and indulge them and love false appearances which excuse them. Such Midianites are enemies of the spiritual life. (A. 3242) For the exact meaning of the Midianites, the Amalekites and the children of the East, see A. 3762 (end).
The camels are mentioned in our story, and also the camels of the Midianites and Amalekites who carried Joseph into Egypt. Read also in Isa. 60:6 of the camels and dromedaries of Midian. They are often associated in Scripture with gentile people, as with the queen of Sheba. You have learned enough of the correspondence of animals and of animals of travel to know that camels represent a power of thinking and reasoning of a natural unenlightened kind. Such understanding, literal and faithful, is meant by the camels of Midian in a good sense, and by the camel's-hair clothing of John the Baptist. In our story the camels of Midian stand for the obstinate, persistent excusing of the mind that is bent on evil. (A. 3048)
Insects, and among them locusts, represent superficial powers of thought, led hither and thither by what seems pleasant. Such simple thought directed to a good purpose is represented by the locusts which were the food of John the Baptist. Superficial thoughts which cling to appearances for the sake of perverting the real truth and excusing evil are locusts destroying the land. This is just what the Midianites in our story represent and so they are compared to locusts. (E. 543; A. 7643; R. 424)
In the story of Gideon's call we notice his sense of his own littleness and inadequacy, like that felt by Moses when the Lord called him at the bush, and we realize that we must feel our own littleness and distrust our own powers before we can receive real strength from the Lord. Strength comes (again compare the story of Moses, Exod. 3:11-12) from knowing that the Lord is surely with us. (H. 230)
Gideon before he was called was "beating out wheat in the winepress to hide it from the Midianites." It pictures a timid effort to find and preserve goodness of life. Goodness of life from a heavenly motive is also represented by Manasseh, Gideon's tribe. (E. 440) We begin to see why the Lord chose this man from this tribe and strengthened him to be the deliverer from the Midianites.
The signs given to Gideon represent the presence and power of the Lord with him. The staff of the angel with which he touched Gideon's offering represents the Divine power which would be with him. (E. 727) The dew is a type of the gentle influence of peace and refreshment from the Lord. (A. 3579) Perhaps the fleece on which the dew fell may stand for goodness such as Gideon represented, on which the Lord's blessing could rest; and the fleece on which there was no dew may stand for life which seems pleasant and attractive which was represented by the Midianites, on which no blessing could rest.