Judges

Gideon

The Midianite oppression and Gideon's call

Chapter 6: 1 And the sons of Israel did evil in the eyes of Yahweh, and Yahweh gave them into the hands of the Midians for seven years,
2 and the hands of the Midians were oppressive over Israel; the sons of Israel prepared shelters and caves and strongholds in the mountains.
3 And when Israel planted, then the Midians and the Amalekites and other eastern peoples invaded Israel.
4 And they set up camps and the ruined the crops of the land as far as Gaza and they did not spare any living thing for Israel, neither sheep, nor cattle, nor donkeys.
5 For they, and their livestock, and their tents came up as many as a swarm of locusts, and they and their camels were innumerable; and they invaded the land to ravage it.
6 And Israel was so impoverished by Midian, that the sons of Israel called on Yahweh.
7 And when the sons of Israel called on Yahweh because of Midian,
8 then Yahweh sent a prophet to the sons of Israel, and he said this to them, he said, "I, Yahweh, the God of Israel, brought you up from Israel, and I brought you from the houses of slavery,
9 and I snatched you from the hands of the Egyptians and from the hands of all who oppressed you, and I drove them from you, and I gave you their land.
10 And I said, "I, Yahweh, am your god; you must not worship the gods of the Amorites, you, who live in their lands. But you did not listen to my voice.
11 And the angel of Yahweh came and sat under the oak tree in Ophrah that was Joash's, the Abiezrite; 1 and Gideon, his son, was threshing wheat in the winepress to keep [it] from Midian.
12 When the angel of Yahweh appeared to him, then he said to him, "Yahweh is with you, mighty gibbor." 2
13 And Gideon replied to him, "But, sir, if Yahweh is with us, the why has all this happened? And where are all his wonders that our fathers told us, saying, 'Did not Yahweh bring us out of Egypt?' But now, Yahweh has abandoned us, and Yahweh has put us in the hands of Midian."
14 Then Yahweh turned to him and said, "Go in your strength, the strength you have, and save Israel from the hands of Midian. Do I not send you?"
15 And he asked him, "Lord, how can I save Israel? See! My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in the house of my father."
16 And Yahweh answered him, "Indeed, I will be with you and you will strike down Midian as one man."
17 And he replied to him, "If now I have found favor in your eyes, then give me a sign that you are talking to me.
18 Do not go away from here until I come back to you and bring you my offering, and I set [it] before you."
19 And Gideon went in and prepared one of the young goats and from an ephah 3 of flour [he made] unleavened breads. He put meat in the basket and he put broth in the pot, and he brought [them] out to him under the oak tree and he offered [them] to him.
20 And the angel of God said to him, "Take the meat and the unleavened breads and place them on this rock and pour out the broth." And so he did.
21 And the angel of Yahweh reached out the tip of his staff that was in his hands and he touched the meat and the unleavened breads, and a fire flared up from the rock and consumed the meat and the unleavened breads. And the angel of Yahweh went away from his eyes.
22 When Gideon realized that he was the angel of Yahweh, then Gideon shouted, "Ah!, Yahweh Lord, I have seen the angel of Yahweh face to face."
23 But Yahweh said to him, "Peace to you; do not be afraid, you will not die."
24 So Gideon built there an altar to Yahweh, and he called it "Yahweh is Peace." To this day it is still in Ophrah of the Abiezrites.

Yahweh then orders Gideon to tear down his father's altar to Baal, the god of the Amorites and the Canaanites, and to cut down the pole that represents Asherah, the goddess of the Amorites and the Canaanites. He orders Gideon to use the pole to erect an altar to Yahweh and then sacrifice one of his father's bulls. Gideon, frightened of his family and the townspeople, carries out the order in the middle of the night. When the townspeople find out about the sacrilege to their gods and discover who's responsible, they march on Joash's house and ask him to throw out Gideon so he can be executed. His father, Joash, shames them by demanding that Baal fight his own battles. Gideon now assumes the nickname, "Jerub-Baal," "Let Baal fight with him."

The battle with the Midianites

33 Now all of Midian and Amalek and the peoples of the east joined forces and together they crossed [the Jordan River] and they camped in the Valley of Jezreel.
34 Then the spirit of Yahweh came upon Gideon, and he blew a trumpet, and he summoned Abiezer after him,
35 and he sent messengers through all of Manasseh and he also called them after him, and he sent messengers into Asher and into Zebulun and into Naphtali, so that they would come up and meet him.
36 And Gideon said to God, "If it is you who is saving Israel by my hands as you promised,
37 Look! I am placing a fleece of wool on the threshing floor; if there is dew on the fleece alone and dryness on the ground all around, then I will know that you will save Israel by my hands as you said."
38 And when he happened to rise the next day, then he squeezed the fleece and he wrung out the dew from the fleece; there was a bowlful of water.
39 Then Gideon said to God, "Do not let your anger burn against me, but let me ask one more thing. Let me test you one more time, and only one more time, with the fleece. May the fleece alone be dry and may all the ground around it be wet with dew."
40 And God did so that night, so that the fleece alone was dry and the ground all around it was wet with dew.
Chapter 7: 1 And Jerub-Baal, that is, Gideon, arose with all the people with him and they camped at the spring of Harod. Now the camp of Midian was by them to the north near the hill of the Moreh in the valley.
2 And Yahweh said to Gideon, "There are too many people with you for me to deliver Midian into their hands. So that Israel may not boast against me, saying, "My hands saved me,"
3 announce this now to the ears of the people, saying, "Whoever is fearful and whoever is trembling may turn back and leave the Mountain of Gilead." So twenty two thousand people left; ten thousand remained.
4 But Yahweh said to Gideon, "The people are still too many. Take them down to the waters and I will sift them for you there; and whomever I say shall go with you, he shall go with you, but whomever I say will not go with you, he will not go with you."
5 So he took the people down to the waters and Yahweh told Gideon that all who lap the waters with their tongue like dogs shall be separated from all who kneel on their knees to drink.
6 And the number of those who lapped with their hands to their mouth were three hundred men, and all the rest of the people kneeled on their knees to drink.
7 Then Yahweh said to Gideon, "With the three hundred men who lapped [the water], I will save you and I will give Midian into your hands; and all of the rest of the people you are to let them go each to their own homes.
8 So the people took their provisions and their trumpets into their hands, and he sent the rest of the men of Israel to their tents, but the three hundred men he kept. Now, the camp of Midian was by them below in the valley.
9 And it was nighttime when Yahweh said to him, "Arise! Go down against the camp [of Midian], for I give [Midian] into your hands.
10 But if you are afraid to attack, go down, you and Purah, your servant, to the camp,
11 and listen to what they say, and after that your hands will be encouraged and you will attack the camp. So he went down, he and Purah, his servant, to the outermost guardposts around the camp.
12 Now Midian and Amalek and all the peoples from the east had settled in the valley in numbers as great as the locust, and their camels were as uncountable as the sands on the shore of the sea.
13 And Gideon arrived and see! A man was telling his friend a dream, and he said, "See! I dreamed a dream! And see! A round loaf of barley [bread] tumbled into the camp of Midian, and it came to the tent and struck it so that it fell and overturned and the tent collapsed."
14 And his friend replied, and he said, "This is nothing other than the sword of Gideon, son of Joash, a man of Israel. God has given Midian and the whole of the camp into his hands."
15 And when Gideon heard the account of the dream and its interpretation, then he worshipped [Yahweh] and he returned to the camp of Israel, and he called out, "Arise! For Yahweh has given the camp of Midian into your hands!"
16 And he divided the three hundred men into three companies, and he placed trumpets into all their hands, and he gave them empty jars with torches inside the jars.
17 And he told them, "Watch me and do the same [as I do]. See! I am going to the edge of the camp and you will do just as I do.
18 When I blow on the trumpet, I and all who are with me, then you will blow on your trumpets also, you and all those around you and the camp, and shout, 'For Yahweh and for Gideon!'"
19 And Gideon and the one hundred men who were with him reached the edge of the camp after the beginning of the middle watch after the guards had changed, and they blew on the trumpets and they broke the jars in their hands,
20 And the three companies blew on the trumpets and broke the jars and they grabbed the torches in their left hands and they blew the trumpets, holding them in their right hands, and they shouted, "A sword for Yahweh and for Gideon!"
21 And they each held their position around the camp, and all the camp ran and shouted and fled.22 When the three hundred sounded the trumpets, then Yahweh caused each [member of the camp] to turn their swords on each other through the entire camp; and the army fled to Beth Shittah in the direction of Zererah as far as the border of Abel Meholah near Tabbath.
23 And every man of Israel from Naphtali and from Asher and from all of Manasseh pursued Midian,
24 And Gideon sent messengers through all of the hill country of Ephraim to say, "Come down! Go up against Midian! Seize the waters of the river Jordan ahead of them as far as Beth Barah." And so every man of Ephraim was called out and the took the waters of the Jordan as far as Beth Barah.
25 And they captured two leaders of Midian, Oreb and Zeeb, and the killed Oreb at the Rock of Oreb, and they brought Zeeb to Gideon by the banks of the Jordan.
Chapter 8: 1 Now the men of Ephraim asked him, "What is this thing? Why have you treated us this way? Why did you not call upon us when you went to fight Midian?" And they criticized him sharply.
2 But he replied to them, "What have I now accomplished compared to you? Are not the gleanings of Ephraim better than the grape harvest of Abiezer?"
3 God gave into your hands the leaders of Midian, Oreb and Zeeb, and what was I able to do compared to you?" Then their resentment against him subsided when he said this thing to them.

Gideon and his three hundred men pursue the remaining Midianite and Amalekite army, led by Zebah and Zalmunna, across the river Jordan. When Gideon arrives at Succoth, he demands bread for his army, which the men of Succoth refuse to give him. The same thing happens to him at Penuel. Gideon promises to return to Succoth and "tear your flesh with the thorns and briars of the desert," and he promises to tear down the tower of Penuel. Only fifteen thousand out of one hundred and twenty thousand men remain alive among the Midianites and Amalekites; Gideon sneaks up on this army in Karkor, surrounds them, and routes the entire army, taking Zebah and Zalmunna prisoner.

13 Then Gideon, son of Joash, returned from the battle by the Pass of Heres.
14 And he caught a youth from among the men of Succoth and he questioned them, and [the youth] wrote down for him [the names of] the officials of Succoth, a total of seventy seven elders.
15 Then he came to the men of Succoth and he said, "Here are Zebah and Zalmunna whom you taunted me with, saying, "Do you have the hands of Zebah and Zalmunna already in your hands, that we should give your exhausted men bread?"
16 And he took the elders of the town and he taught them and the men of Succoth a lesson with the thorns and the briars of the desert.
17 And he also pulled down the tower of Penuel and he killed the men of the town.
18 Then he asked Zebah and Zalmunna, "What kind of men did you kill at Tabor?" And they answered, "Like you, each one with the bearing of the son of a king."
19 And he replied, "Those were my brothers and the sons of my mother. By the life of Yahweh, if you had spared them I would not kill you."
20 And he said to Jether his oldest son, "Arise! Kill them!" But the boy did not draw his sword for he was afraid, for he was only a boy.
21 And Zebah and Zalmunna said, "You! Come! You strike us! As is the man, so is his strength!" So Gideon stepped forward and he killed Zebah and Zalmunna, and he took the ornaments from the necks of their camels.
22 And the men of Israel said to Gideon, "Rule over us, you and your sons and your sons' sons, for you have saved us from the hands of Midian."
23 But he told them, "I, Gideon, will not rule over you, my son will not rule over you; Yahweh will rule over you."

Gideon asks all the men to contribute one earring from their plunder and he makes an ephod to Yahweh (a graven image) in Ophrah; all Israel then "prostitute themselves" to the ephod and "it became a snare to Gideon and his family." Gideon lives until old age and dies with seventy sons; after his death, the Israelites again give over worship of Yahweh and adopt the gods of the Amorites and the cycle begins again.

Translated from the Hebrew by Richard Hooker (1994)

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1992, Richard Hooker
Updated 2-17-97