Who was Gideon in the Bible?
Gideon was a judge and a mighty man of war in Israel. He was the youngest of a poor family from the tribe of Manasseh. God called him to deliver Israel from the oppression of the Midianites (Judges 6:14-16).
Gideon’s story is found in the book of Judges from chapters 6 to 8. He is the second judge after Samson, whose story takes up about three chapters.
Let’s see why the story of Gideon was given such emphasis and what God wants us to learn from it.
What does Gideon mean?
The name Gideon has Hebrew origin, meaning a feller of trees, a hewer or a great warrior (Judges 1:12).
Israel was oppressed by the Midianites
The Israelites were not supposed to be like the surrounding nations in Canaan. God had commanded them to be different. And not to “bow down to their gods, nor serve them, nor do according to their works; but.. (to)...utterly overthrow them and completely break down their sacred pillars.” (Exodus 23:24).
However, after the death of Joshua, the Israelites stopped fighting. They worshipped the local’s Idols, and God delivered the Israelites into their enemy’s hands (Judges 2:13,14).
The surrounding nations started oppressing them. But God did not forsake His people entirely. He raised deliverers or judges for the Israelites. But once the deliverer died, the Israelites went back to idol worship, and God forsook them again.
This cycle continued until the time of the Midianites’ oppression. The Midianites were almost wiped out during the time of Moses (Numbers 31:7-18). But by the time of Gideon, they had grown to become a powerful nation.
And since God’s protection was no longer on Israel, the Midianites seized the opportunity for revenge. They came to Israel as soon as harvest time began and remained there until the harvest had ended.
The Midianites took away all the harvest that the Israelites had worked for, robbing and mistreating them. So the Israelites hid in walled cities, fortresses and even caves.
After seven years of oppression, the Israelites confessed their sin and sought God’s intervention. God answered by giving them another deliverer.
The call of Gideon
Gideon the son of Joash was the man whom God chose to deliver Israel. During the wheat harvest, Gideon hid in a winepress to remove the wheat from its husks because he feared the Midianites.
As Gideon was threshing wheat, the Angel of the Lord appeared to him and commissioned him to go and fight the Midianites. The Lord said unto him, “Go in this might of yours, and you shall save Israel from the hand of the Midianites” (Judges 6:14).
Gideon tried to give excuses saying: “O my Lord, how can I save Israel? Indeed my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house.”
But God assured him saying: “Surely I will be with you, and you shall defeat the Midianites as one man” (Judges 6:15,16).
Gideon could not believe what he was hearing. That a man as weak as he was, timid, from the weakest family, and of the smallest tribe in Israel could be chosen as a deliverer of his nation.
So, Gideon asked for a sign to confirm that the Lord had indeed chosen him.
Gideon asks for a sign
He told God, “show me a sign that it is You who talks with me.” The sign that Gideon requested was that the Lord would accept his sacrifice. He quickly prepared a young goat and some unleavened bread and placed it on a rock as guided by the Angel (Judges 6:17).
The angel of the Lord touched the sacrifice using the tip of his staff, and the sacrifice was consumed. After this assurance, the angel left Gideon to perform his duty.
Why was Gideon called Jerubbaal?
Gideon’s family was as idolatrous as the rest of Israel. So as his first task, God commanded Gideon to destroy the altar of Baal that belonged to his father. Then he was to build an altar to God on the rock on which he had offered his sacrifice that was consumed by fire.
Because Gideon feared the people who were so loyal to Baal, he decided to destroy the idol at night. In the morning, when the people realized what he had done, they were very angry at him.
That’s when Joash, Gideon’s father, stood in defense of his son and convinced the people that if Baal could not defend his own altar, then they could not defend him.
This led to Joash renaming Gideon, Jerubbaal, meaning, “Let Baal contend against him, because he has thrown down his altar” (Judges 6:32).
The test of the fleece
Even after all these encounters with God, Gideon was still timid and unsure of his calling. Gideon still needed assurance that God was going to save Israel through him.
Gideon asked for another sign. He asked that the Lord make a fleece wet overnight while the ground remained dry, the Lord did it.
But since the fleece naturally absorbs water in the air at night, he decided to ask God to make the ground wet and the fleece dry. And our patient Lord did it again. All doubts having been cleared, Gideon’s timidity turned to courage. He was ready for battle.
How did Gideon choose his army?
It was a law in Israel that some men were to be excluded from war, this included those who were fearful (Deuteronomy 20:5-8). However, those who were fearful made up the majority of those who had joined Gideon.
Gideon feared to exclude anyone because the army of the Midianites was so large, probably over 1 million soldiers. However, God asked Gideon to tell the fearful men to go home and 22,000 left his army.
As if this was not enough, God gave the warriors a water-drinking test which only 300 men passed (Gideon 7:5,6).
How did Gideon defeat the Midianites with only 300 army men?
At this point, Gideon could only trust in the guidance and power of the Lord. By all standards, the 300 men in his forces were very small compared to the great army of their enemies. The Amalekites and Midianites were, “as the sand by the seaside for multitudes” (Judges 7:12).
Despite the odds, God gave Gideon encouragement for the coming victory. On a night visit to the enemy’s camp, Gideon overheard an enemy guard’s dream that he was going to win the battle (Judges 7:13-15).
So he quickly went back to camp and organized his army. Gideon didn’t have any sophisticated weapons, but he instilled in his warriors the belief that the battle was the Lord’s.
Gideon then ordered his men to battle. The army surrounded the Midianites and blew their trumpets shouting “the sword of the LORD, and of Gideon!” (Judges 7:18).
And in Israel’s complete dependence on God, “the LORD set every man’s sword against his fellow, even throughout all the host: and the host fled...” (Judges 7:22). The children of Israel came from all corners and fought against them till the enemy was defeated and their kings killed.
“Thus was Midian subdued… and the country was in quietness forty years in the days of Gideon” (Judges 8:28).
What can we learn from Gideon?