Gideon part 1
by John Thomas Lowe
Gideon part 1
Facts – Things You Should know
Successor • Abimelech
Parent(s) • Joash (father)
Italics indicate individuals not explicitly described as judges
Book of Joshua
Book of Judges
First Book of Samuel
Gideon (/ˈɡɪdiən/; Hebrew: also named Jerubbaal and Jerubbesheth, was a military leader, judge, and prophet whose calling and victory over the Midianites are related in chapters 6-8 of the Book of Judges in the Hebrew Bible.
Gideon was the son of Joash, from the Abiezrite clan in the tribe of Manasseh and lived in Ephra (Ophrah). As a leader of the Israelites, he won a decisive victory over a Midianite army despite a vast numerical disadvantage, leading a troop of 300 "valiant" men. Archaeologists in southern Israel have found a 3,100 year-old fragment of a jug with five letters written in ink that appears to represent the name Jerubbaal or Yeruba'al.
• 2Biblical narrative
o 2.1Night attack
• 3Textual history
• 4Christian reception
• 5Military references
• 6See also
o 7.1Explanatory notes
o 7.3General sources
The nineteenth-century Strong's Concordance derives the name "Jerubbaal" from "Baal will contend," by the folk etymology given in Judges 6:32. According to biblical scholar Lester Grabbe (2007), Judges 6.32 gives a nonsensical etymology of his name; it means something like 'Let Baal be great.'"
Likewise, where Strong gave the meaning "hewer" to the name Gideon, Biblical scholar Simon John DeVries (1975) suggests the etymology "driver."
The "best" part of the name "Jerubbesheth" (II Samuel 11:21) means "shame," a pious editorialization of "Baal," which is also found in Saul's son and grandson Mephibosheth.
According to modern scholars, the use of both names "Gideon" and "Jerubbaal" reflects two originally independent sets of stories combined by an editor who wishes them to be seen as referring to a single character.
Like the pattern seen throughout the Book of Judges, the Israelites again turned away from Yahweh after 40 years of peace brought by Deborah's victory over Canaan. Midianites, Amalekites, and other Bedouin peoples harassed Israel for seven years. According to Louis Ginzberg's Midrash anthology, The Legends of the Jews: "Elated by the victory over Sisera, Israel sang a hymn of praise, the song of Deborah, and God, to reward them for their pious sentiments, pardoned the transgression of the people. However, they soon slipped back into the old ways, and the old troubles harassed them. Their back-sliding was due to the witchcraft of a Midianite priest named Aud. He made the sun shine at midnight and so convinced the Israelites that the idols of Midian were mightier than God, and God chastised them by delivering them into the hands of the Midianites. They worshipped their images reflected in the water, and they were stricken with dire poverty. They could not bring so much as a meal-offering, the offering of the poor. On the eve of one Passover, Gideon uttered the complaint: "Where are all the wondrous works which God did for our fathers in this night, when he slew the first-born of the Egyptians, and Israel went forth from slavery with joyous hearts?" God appeared unto him and said: "Thou who art courageous enough to champion Israel, thou art worthy that Israel should be saved for thy sake." God chose Gideon, a young man from the tribe of Manasseh, to free the people of Israel and to condemn their idolatry. The Angel of the Lord, or "the Lord's angelic messenger" (Judges 6:11), came "in the character …of a traveler who sat down in the shade of the terebinth tree to enjoy a little refreshment and repose" and entered into conversation with Gideon. The narrative has echoes of the meeting between Abraham and the visitors who came to him in the terebinths of Mamre and promised Abraham and Sarah, in their old age, that they would have a son (Genesis 18:1-15).
The Angel of the Lord greeted Gideon: "The Lord is with you, you mighty man of valor!"
Gideon requested proof of God's will by three miracles: firstly, a sign from the Angel of the Lord, in which the Angel appeared to Gideon and caused a fire to shoot up out of a rock (Judges 6:11-22), and then two signs involving a fleece, performed on consecutive nights and the exact opposite of each other. First, he woke to his fleece covered in dew, but the ground was dry. Then the following day, his fleece was dry, but the surrounding ground was covered in dew. (Judges 6:36-40).
On God's instruction, Gideon destroyed the town's altar to Baal and the symbol of the goddess Asherah beside it, receiving the byname (nickname) of Jerubbaal from his father:
Therefore on that day, he (Joash) called him Jerubbaal, saying, Let Baal plead against him because he hath thrown down his altar.
— Judges 6:32
He sent out messengers to gather together men from the tribes of Asher, Zebulun, and Naphtali, and his tribe of Manasseh, and meet an armed force of the people of Midian and the Amaleks that had crossed the Jordan River. They encamped at the Well of Harod in the Valley of Jezreel. However, God informed Gideon that the men he had gathered were too many – with so many men, there would be a reason for the Israelites to claim the victory as their own instead of acknowledging that God had saved them. God first instructed Gideon to send home those men who were afraid. Gideon invited any man who wanted to leave; 22,000 men returned home, and 10,000 remained. However, God told Gideon they were still too many and instructed him to bring them to the water. All those who lap the water with their tongues, as a dog laps, you shall put to one side; all those who kneel to drink, putting their hands to their mouths, you shall put to the other side. The number of those who lapped up the water raised to their mouths by hand was three hundred, but the rest of the troops knelt to drink water. Then the Lord said to Gideon, "With the three hundred that lapped I will deliver you, and give the Midianites into your hand. Let all the others go to their homes." (Judges 7:4–7).