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-JUDGE AND WARRIOR-
Gideon was the fifth major Judge of twelfth century Israel. He was the son of Joash of the tribe of Manasseh, one of the sons of Joseph. He judged Israel for forty years. (Judges 6:11-8:35). Gideon belonged to the upper class, born into aristocracy. Gideon was a married man, but the youngest member of wealthy but an unimportant family line. God raised up Gideon to Judge over Israel and deliver the nation.
The people of Israel had given up on God and had turned away from Him. It was an age when mankind lost the profound significance of God's presence and there was moral corruption, every one followed their own instinct and acted upon what they thought was right.
In 1162 B.C. the Israelites found themselves entrenched in pagan religions. They began to worship other gods, and God allowed their enemies to harass them for seven years. The people had actually brought calamity upon themselves for they rejected God. Each spring, the tents of the herdsmen would appear scattered on the hills and fields of the farming districts. The marauding bandits who invaded were so cruel and hostile against the farming communities, the Israelis took to the mountains, living in caves and dens. They would get so overwhelmed, they deserted their homes to hide during the seasonal harvesting months. When they planted their crops, marauders from Midian, Amalek, other neighbouring nations and any tribe of herdsmen from the east, came and destroyed their produce fields, plundered the countryside, leaving nothing to eat and taking away all their sheep, oxen, and donkeys. The bandits came when they wanted, stayed as long as they wished and left at their own pleasure. Those who had control of the Valley of Jezreel, had control of the wealth.
The enemy hordes arrived in droves of camels too numerous to count and stayed until the land was completely devastated, stripped of grain and cattle. Conflicts were inevitable between the life of the herdsmen and the way of life for a farmer. The armies of Midian, Amalek, the Ishmaelites and other neighbouring nations united in one vast alliance against Israel. Israel was reduced to degrading poverty because of the nomad herdsmen.
The people became discouraged and disheartened,
and began to cry out to the Lord for help. However, the Lord's reply came
through the prophet He sent to them. The people's disobedience was condemned
by the man of God, a true and responsible servant who rebuked Israel for
forgetting the Lord God. He reminded them that God had warned not to worship
pagan idols, which was the cause of their oppression. The prophet was a
forerunner who prepared the hearts of the people ready for the task to
be given to Gideon.
The Angel of the Lord came and sat beneath the oak tree at Ophrah, on the farm of Joash. Joash's family were idol worshipers. His son, Gideon, had been threshing wheat by hand in the bottom of a grape press for he was hiding from the raiding bandits. Although already a mature warrior, he was also a farmer. Gideon was trying to obtain food for his family, and being resourceful, he turned a wine-pressing pit into a threshing floor. If Gideon threshed the grain in the open, he would have been an easy target for the bandits. This was a safe place to keep the crops of wheat.
The Angel of the Lord appeared to him. Gideon asked The Angel of The Lord about miracles performed by God years ago, through Moses to deliver His people. Gideon was challenged by The Angel of The Lord. Gideon, who was not a willing volunteer, was given the task of delivering the Israelites from the desert nomads who repeatedly raided the country. He had little faith and not much hope. Their use of the camels allowed them to ride in, settle, destroy crops, take plunder, and then escape back into the desert with such speed, if the Israelites tried to catch them. Gideon roasted a young goat and baked some unleavened bread and presented it to the Angel, who was beneath the oak tree. The Angel touched the meat and bread with his staff, and fire flamed up from the rock and consumed them! Gideon's offering was accepted. And suddenly the Angel was gone. A supernatural fire attested to the fact that it was God who called Gideon and that it was His will for Gideon to deliver Israel from their oppressors. Gideon built an altar to God there and named it "The Lord is Peace", 'Jehovah-Shalom', for that is what God had spoken to him, for he was afraid he was going to die after gazing upon the holy face of The Lord's Angel. The presence of a messenger of God can be fearful to mortal mankind. God promised to give Gideon the strength he needed to overcome the opposition.
A test of faith was given to Gideon. The Lord told Gideon to hitch his father's best ox to the family altar of Baal (pagan idol) and pull it down, to cut down the wooden idol of the goddess Asherah that stood nearby and replace it with an altar to God the Almighty, Creator of all. Gideon did as the Lord had commanded, but he did it at night for fear of the other members of his father's household, and for fear of the men of the city. Such an attack was to be an offense to the government who supported that idol. Their altar was destroyed and replaced with another which put Gideon's life in peril. Gideon proved faithful and committed in his first task as warrior for the Lord, but his actions infuriated the men of the city who were determined to kill him, but his father's quick wittedness saved his son. Gideon's personal responses alternated between faith and fear. It took courage to tear down their pagan idol and erect an alter to God.
The Judge of Israel was the leader, divinely appointed to deliver and lead God's people. The Judicial boundaries at times were slight but was one of the aspects of the position. Gideon was humble, teachable but still wanted reassurance. He proposed a series of tests with a fleece of wool and asked God to accommodate him by making the fleece be wet with dew and not the surrounding ground. God did this. Gideon's second request that the ground be wet with dew and the fleece dry. This did God also. Gideon had strengths and weaknesses that God was able to use for His glory, but he was unable to see himself as such a person. Gideon used the fleece to continue to determine God's will. Although he knew the will of God, twice he laid out the fleece in what seems an effort to avoid the will of God by imposing impossible natural conditions. After asking for this miraculous proof from God and witnessed by Gideon, yet he still doubted his ability. He delayed his obedience waiting for steadfast reassurance of God's will. Gideon hesitated because he thought he could not accomplish the task given him. God met his conditions both times so Gideon then set out in faith a strategy that would help guarantee victory for Israel.
The Spirit of the Lord came upon Gideon, and he blew a trumpet as a call to arms, and thirty two thousand men answered. The response to Gideon's call for war was a sign of his influence. He also sent messengers throughout Manasseh, Asher, Zebulun, and Naphtali, summoning their fighting forces, and all of them responded. The Lord said to Gideon there were too many men, for the people of Israel would boast that they saved themselves by their own strength. To reduce their number, two tests were given to the 32,000 men in Gideon's army. Men who were fainthearted were sent home. So twenty-two thousand of them left, and only ten thousand remained who were willing to fight. So Gideon assembled them at the stream to drink. Only three hundred of the men drank from their hands, all the others drank with their mouths to the waterway. Those who were casual and who drooped down to get a drink of water were chosen to go home. This was done that Israel could not claim victory by any other means than continued dependence upon God. As supreme God, the Lord reduced the army so that Israel would know that the victory was by His power, and not theirs.
After Gideon had collected all the clay jars and trumpets the men had among them, he sent them home, leaving only three hundred men with him. Gideon was filled with supernatural faith empowered by God. The three hundred soldiers who were alert were given the pitchers, torches, and trumpets, and placed on high ground around the enemy encampment. The Spirit of The Lord empowered Gideon and acted through him. When it was dark, Gideon crept up to one of the enemy's tent, just as a man inside had wakened from a nightmare and was telling his tent-mate about it. When Gideon heard the dream and the interpretation giving victory to the Israelites, all he could do was just stand there worshipping God. Gideon was provided with encouragement for the battle. Filled with God's spirit, Gideon's trust in God's help grew stronger.
The strategy was one of terror, he divided the three hundred men into three groups of one hundred, gave each man a trumpet and a clay jar with a torch in it. As soon as Gideons's group blew their trumpets, the others were to blow theirs and shout. At Gideon's signal the clay pitchers were broken, the torches then became visible, the trumpets sounded, and the men shouted giving the enemy the impression they were surrounded. In the confusion, the Lord God caused the enemy troops to begin fighting and killing their own men from one end of the camp to the other, and in panic many fled into the night. Gideon's men just stood and watched as the whole vast enemy began rushing around in a frenzy, shouting and fleeing in a disorderly retreat. Gideon sent for the troops of Naphtali, Asher, and Manasseh and told them to come and chase and destroy the fleeing enemy. Gideon also sent messengers throughout the hill country of Ephraim summoning troops. Two Kings were captured and killed. The tribal leaders of Ephraim were violently angry with Gideon, but he assured them that their actions at the end of the battle were more important than ours at the beginning, so they calmed down. The other tribes were not happy until Gideon praised them. Pride caused their need of recognition.
Gideon continued to pursue more of the fleeing army and crossed the Jordan River with his three hundred men. They were very tired, but still chasing the enemy. By this time only two Kings were left with a remnant of fifteen thousand troops. That was all that was left of the allied armies of the east, for one hundred twenty thousand had already been killed. Gideon chased the Kings and captured them, with their leaders killed, Gideon's men overthrew their entire force and the oppression was brought to an end. God delivered His people when they cried out for His help, even though they had abandoned Him. The men of Israel wanted Gideon to be their king and all his descendants to be their rulers, but Gideon refused.
The hero of faith refused the people's offer to crown him king, testifying that only God was King. However, Gideon had one request, for all the golden earrings collected from fallen foes. He spread out a sheet for everyone to throw in the golden earrings they had gathered and taken as war spoil. Their value was estimated at $25,000.00, not including the crescents and pendants, or the royal clothing of the kings, or the chains around the camels' necks. Gideon returned home to his family, he had many sons. He also had a household servant/concubine from Shechem, who presented him with a son named Abimelech. However, he made an ephod from the gold and put it in Ophrah, his hometown. He made a symbol of an ephod, a priestly garment out of the gold and because of the ephod's beauty it became an idol of worship to the people. Gideon probably had good motives for making the ephod of gold, a memorial of the victory under God's leadership.
The land was at peace for forty years, all during Gideon's lifetime. Even though Gideon had felt inadequate to the great task God had asked of him, he obeyed eventually. He had the potential that God needed to enhance to help His people. Throughout his life Gideon did grow spiritually. God instructed Gideon, guided him and helped his progress. Gideon discovered God was able to deliver the people and strengthen his weaknesses. Even though he evoked memories of God and Moses, He struggled to make his commitment with God. He had many talents, was resourceful and courageous, but was afraid to trust God. He failed to influence his large family to worship only God and to follow after His ways.
Gideon displayed self-control when confronted with the anger of his people's noted men. He was willing to go to great lengths to set things right with his fellow countrymen. This showed Gideon's wisdom which is an element of spiritual growth. Gideon also persevered greatly to complete the task given to him. He continued relentlessly when others had failed. His persistence opened a new life of freedom for Israel until the people returned to the bondage of pagan religions after Gideon's death.
As Israel's Judge, he had feared his own limitations when God did not. However once convinced of God's will and help he was committed and acted accordingly. God helped Gideon's feelings about doubting his call. Gideon finally died, an old, old man, and was buried in the tomb of his father, Joash, in Ophrah. As soon as Gideon was dead, the Israelis began to worship pagan idols again. Abimelech killed his step-brothers, except for one who escaped. Abimelech reigned as King for three years and caused many deaths during that time and was killed attempting to gain victory over rebellion from his own people.
Gideon, who was authorised by God became a mighty hero for his nation, and a powerful man for God. Nothing is accomplished by mere human ability. Facing overwhelming odds, Gideon was afraid, but became confident of victory when he put his trust in God and not in himself.
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