This Bible Study is part of the "Survey of the Former Prophets" series. See other Bible Studies which are part of this series
Deborah was the prophetess God used to reveal His message to Barak. Barak had led the Israelites, and now the Canaanite tribes that had been oppressing Israel have been subdued. Deborah had to act as though she was a mother in Israel, as we read in the seventh verse of Chapter 5. The land had rest once again for a little while.
This is John Ogwyn. We are continuing our survey of the Former Prophets. Last time we read, in Chapters 4 and 5, that section of Scripture commonly called the "Song of Deborah," or the "Song of Deborah and Barak." Deborah was the prophetess God used to reveal His message to Barak. Barak had led the Israelites, and now the Canaanite tribes that had been oppressing Israel have been subdued. Deborah had to act as though she was a mother in Israel, as we read in the seventh verse of Chapter 5. The land had rest once again for a little while.
Then the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD. So the LORD delivered them into the hand of Midian for seven years, and the hand of Midian prevailed against Israel. Because of the Midianites, the children of Israel made for themselves the dens, the caves, and the strongholds which are in the mountains.
The Midianites oppressed the Israelites. Terrorist raids were quite frequent, and many of the Israelites were forced into hiding in dens, or in the mountains, or in caves. They were scared. The Midianites and the Amalekites came up against Israel and they devastated much of the land and destroyed many of their crops.
Judges 6:6, 8-10
So Israel was greatly impoverished because of the Midianites, and the children of Israel cried out to the LORD. The LORD sent a prophet to the children of Israel, who said to them, "Thus says the LORD God of Israel: I brought you up from Egypt and brought you out of the house of bondage; and I delivered you out of the hand of the Egyptians. Also I said to you, 'I am the LORD your God; do not fear the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But you have not obeyed My voice.'"
Israel had many problems. These various curses came on them because they were not obeying the terms of the covenant.
At this point we are introduced to one of the well-known characters of this period, a man by the name of Gideon. As we pick up the story in Judges 6, verse 11, Gideon is hiding behind a wine press, threshing wheat. He was trying to hide the wheat from the Midianites. Wheat was normally winnowed in a large open area, usually on a hilltop where there would be a breeze. The process of threshing causes the grain of wheat to be actually separated from the head. All the bits of straw, chaff, as it is called, are blown away because the chaff is very light and the head of wheat is much heavier. Normally, one would throw, by the basket-full, the wheat up in the air to be threshed and the wind would blow the chaff away and the wheat itself would come down in a pile and be gathered.
However, Gideon was not on a hilltop. He was hiding behind his father's wine press and he was winnowing his wheat, just a handful at a time. He was sort of throwing it up and blowing on it. He spent all day trying to get just enough to eat by doing this.
An angel appeared to Gideon and said, "The LORD is with you, you mighty man of valor!" Gideon looked around to determine who was talking because he was out there alone, hiding. God said, through the angel, "The Lord is with you." Gideon said, "O my lord, if the LORD is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all His miracles which our fathers told us about, saying, 'Did not the LORD bring us up from Egypt?' But now the LORD has forsaken us and delivered us into the hands of the Midianites." Judges 6:13. Gideon was told that he was the one God was going to use to deliver the nation of Israel. Gideon might have said, "Surely not me! Why, my family is poor and I am just a small farmer and we do not have a whole lot and surely I am not the one!"
God chooses the ones through whom He will work. Gideon is listed in Hebrews 11, the Faith Chapter, as a mighty man of faith. You know, individuals of faith do not necessarily start out that way. Gideon was frightened and hiding. But as God began to reveal Himself to Gideon, and enabled Gideon to come to know Him (because to know God is to have confidence in Him, and to trust Him--that is the basis of faith), God began to do mighty works through Gideon.
Gideon asked God to show him a sign. The first sign God sent was to miraculously consume a sacrifice that Gideon prepared. Gideon built an altar there to commemorate the occasion.
Gideon was instructed by the angel to destroy the altar of Baal in the town of Ophrah. Gideon wanted to obey God and follow the instructions, but he was frightened. As you read through chapter 6, Gideon decided to go there late at night, perhaps in the wee hours of the morning, to tear down the altar of Baal and destroy it. He did it when no one else was around, and he figured no one would know who had done it. Sooner or later word gets out. They found out Gideon had done this and people were upset.
Gideon asked God to give him some more signs, because God had told Gideon that He wanted him to gather an army to drive out the Midianites. Gideon asked God, "If you are really going to save Israel by my hand, please give me a sign to enable me to know you are really with me. I am going to take this fleece and lay it on the ground." Gideon placed a fleece of wool on the ground. He told God that if there was just dew on the fleece and not on the ground, then "I will know it is You." That happened and he was able to wring the dew out of the fleece. Gideon said, "Lord, please do not get angry, but could you give me just one more sign? What about this time let there be dew EVERYWHERE else and the fleece remain dry?" God did that. (See Judges 6:36-40.)
Gideon gathered the people together because he had been instructed by God to call for an army to fight the Midianites. As Gideon surveyed his army, we find that God told Gideon, "The people who are with you are too many for Me to give the Midianites into their hands, lest Israel claim glory for itself against Me, saying, 'My own hand has saved me.' (Judges 7:2) What He is saying is, "The army you have is too big. It will never do. If I let you take an army that size out to help fight the Midianites, the next thing I know you will be thinking that you are the one who is a successful general. The reality is I am the one who will give you the victory."
Perhaps you have heard the story of the Alamo. Colonel William B. Travis, commander of the besieged garrison in what is now San Antonio, Texas, drew a line in the sand with his sword and said, "Everyone who is prepared to stand with me and will defend the Alamo, step over here." He crossed the line, and everyone else crossed the line, except perhaps one man.
Gideon did the equivalent of that. Under God's instruction he called his army together and said, "Everybody who wants to stay here and fight the Midianites, come over here with me. Anybody who is afraid can go home." Well, it did not work for Gideon like it worked for Colonel Travis at the Alamo, because when Gideon said that, two-thirds of his army, 22,000 fighting men, disappeared! You can imagine Gideon's heart began to sink. He did not think his army was too big to begin with. God had said, "I want you to tell everybody that is afraid to go home"-- and Gideon had only one-third of the army left.
Gideon was told by God, "Your army is still too big. I want you take them down to the river and have them get a drink of water and you stand back and observe how they drink. As they watched, God told Gideon, "You see, there are about three hundred people down there and they are drinking water by lapping it up and drinking it like a dog." He said, "That's your army, send the rest of them home. I AM GOING TO SAVE ISRAEL BY THE THREE HUNDRED MEN THAT LAPPED WATER LIKE A DOG." (See Judges 7:2-7)
Gideon was feeling a little bit overwhelmed by this. So God told Gideon, (Paraphrased) "I am going to encourage you. I have delivered the Midianites into your hand." He told Gideon, "You are afraid of the Midianites. Tonight I want you to sneak down to the camp. I want you to overhear what they are saying."
Gideon overheard one man telling another man his dream. He had dreamed as though a great barley loaf came tumbling down into the camp and destroyed it. He did not know what that meant. The other man said, "This is nothing else but the sword of Gideon the son of Joash, a man of Israel! Into his hand God has delivered Midian and the whole camp." (Verse 14) Gideon overheard the telling of the dream (verse 15) and he was encouraged, so he went back and got his three hundred men together. They took lamps, or torches, and put clay pitchers over them, to hide the light. They also took trumpets and they spread out on the mountains round about the valley where the Midianites were camped. When Gideon sounded his trumpet and broke his pitcher, all three hundred men, at the same time, smashed their clay pitchers. What those camped in the valley of Moreh saw was the instantaneous appearance of three hundred lights all around them. The trumpets were blown and a shout was made-THE SWORD OF THE LORD AND GIDEON! God used that circumstance to throw the Midianites into absolute pandemonium. They fell upon one another and killed one another and those who survived fled.
God had delivered the Israelites through Gideon.
The eighth chapter of Judges tells us the story of some of the Ephraimites who got their feelings hurt because they had not been allowed to be part of Gideon's army. Some of the cities that had not been cooperative and supportive of Gideon's effort and some of the leaders of those cities were disciplined.
Then the men of Israel said to Gideon, "Rule over us, both you and your son, and your grandson also; for you have delivered us from the hand of Midian."
But Gideon said to them, "I will not rule over you, nor shall my son rule over you; the LORD shall rule over you."
Gideon asked for a reward because many of the men who were slaughtered in battle that day were Ishmaelites. The Ishmaelite men were noted for wearing earrings--it was not something the Israelites did. They were easily identified as Ishmaelites, as it mentions in verse 24, because they wore earrings. The earrings were taken and given to Gideon and melted down. The Midianites were subdued before the children of Israel and were no longer able to disturb the land. Gideon had quite a number of children and he judged Israel for many years.
What happened after the death of Gideon?
So it was, as soon as Gideon was dead, that the children of Israel again played the harlot with the Baals, and made Baal-Berith their god. Thus the children of Israel did not remember the LORD their God, who had delivered them from the hands of all their enemies on every side;
Gideon had many wives and 70 sons. In Judges 9, one of his sons, Abimelech, born to Gideon's concubine, a woman from Shechem, expressed his desire to be king. He used subterfuge to get his brothers together and then he destroyed them and made himself king. (It is at this point by the way, with the death of Gideon, that Israel, as a centrally administered nation during the time of the Judges, came to an end. In the aftermath of Gideon's death, the nation basically fractured into three divisions, the east and the north and the south.)
The men of Israel saw that Abimelech was dead, they departed, every man to his place. Thus God repaid the wickedness of Abimelech, which he had done to his father by killing his seventy brothers.
We read some of the records of some of the other Judges in Chapter 10. The first two verses of this chapter refer to Tola, and Jair is mentioned in verse 3. We learn that Israel abandoned the LORD. God's anger was hot against them, and they were sold into the hands of the Philistines (verse 7). The Philistines and the Ammonites and others began to oppress Israel. Fighting continues in various sections of Israel beginning in Judges 11, as we will see.