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Chapter 6

The Call of Gideon. The Israelites did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, who therefore delivered them into the power of Midian for seven years, so that Midian held Israel subject. From fear of Midian the Israelites made dens in the mountains, the caves, and the strongholds.(A) For it used to be that whenever the Israelites had completed sowing their crops, Midian, Amalek, and the Kedemites[a] would come up, encamp against them, and lay waste the produce of the land as far as the outskirts of Gaza, leaving no sustenance in Israel, and no sheep, ox, or donkey. For they would come up with their livestock, and their tents would appear as thick as locusts. They would be too many to count when they came into the land to lay it waste. (B)Israel was reduced to utter poverty by Midian, and so the Israelites cried out to the Lord.

When Israel cried out to the Lord because of Midian, (C)the Lord sent a prophet to the Israelites who said to them: Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: I am the one who brought you up from Egypt; I brought you out of the house of slavery. I rescued you from the power of Egypt and all your oppressors. I drove them out before you and gave you their land. 10 And I said to you: I, the Lord, am your God; you shall not fear the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are dwelling. But you did not listen to me.

11 Then the messenger of the Lord came and sat under the terebinth in Ophrah that belonged to Joash the Abiezrite. Joash’s son Gideon(D) was beating out wheat in the wine press to save it from the Midianites, 12 and the messenger of the Lord appeared to him and said: The Lord is with you, you mighty warrior! 13 “My lord,” Gideon said to him, “if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are his wondrous deeds about which our ancestors told us when they said, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt?’ For now the Lord has abandoned us and has delivered us into the power of Midian.” 14 (E)The Lord turned to him and said: Go with the strength you have, and save Israel from the power of Midian. Is it not I who send you? 15 But he answered him, “Please, my Lord, how can I save Israel? My family is the poorest in Manasseh, and I am the most insignificant in my father’s house.”(F) 16 The Lord said to him: I will be with you,[b] and you will cut down Midian to the last man. 17 He answered him, “If you look on me with favor, give me a sign that you are the one speaking with me. 18 Please do not depart from here until I come to you and bring out my offering and set it before you.” He answered: I will await your return.

19 So Gideon went off and prepared a young goat and an ephah[c] of flour in the form of unleavened cakes. Putting the meat in a basket and the broth in a pot, he brought them out to him under the terebinth and presented them. 20 (G)The messenger of God said to him: Take the meat and unleavened cakes and lay them on this rock; then pour out the broth. When he had done so, 21 the messenger of the Lord stretched out the tip of the staff he held. When he touched the meat and unleavened cakes, a fire came up from the rock and consumed the meat and unleavened cakes. Then the messenger of the Lord disappeared from sight. 22 [d]Gideon, now aware that it had been the messenger of the Lord, said, “Alas, Lord God, that I have seen the messenger of the Lord face to face!”(H) 23 The Lord answered him: You are safe. Do not fear. You shall not die. 24 So Gideon built there an altar to the Lord and called it Yahweh-shalom.[e](I) To this day it is still in Ophrah of the Abiezrites.

25 That same night the Lord said to him: Take your father’s bull, the bull fattened for seven years, and pull down your father’s altar to Baal. As for the asherah[f] beside it, cut it down 26 and build an altar to the Lord, your God, on top of this stronghold with the pile of wood. Then take the fattened bull and offer it as a whole-burnt sacrifice on the wood from the asherah you have cut down. 27 So Gideon took ten of his servants and did as the Lord had commanded him. But he was too afraid of his family and of the townspeople to do it by day; he did it at night. 28 Early the next morning the townspeople found that the altar of Baal had been dismantled, the asherah beside it cut down, and the fattened bull offered on the altar that was built. 29 They asked one another, “Who did this?” They inquired and searched until they were told, “Gideon, son of Joash, did it.” 30 So the townspeople said to Joash, “Bring out your son that he may die, for he has dismantled the altar of Baal and cut down the asherah that was beside it.” 31 But Joash replied to all who were standing around him, “Is it for you to take action for Baal, or be his savior? Anyone who takes action for him shall be put to death by morning. If he is a god, let him act for himself,(J) since his altar has been dismantled!” 32 So on that day Gideon was called Jerubbaal,[g](K) because of the words, “Let Baal take action against him, since he dismantled his altar.”

33 Then all Midian and Amalek and the Kedemites mustered and crossed over into the valley of Jezreel, where they encamped. 34 And Gideon was clothed with the spirit of the Lord,[h](L) and he blew the horn summoning Abiezer to follow him. 35 He sent messengers throughout Manasseh, and they, too, were summoned to follow him; he also sent messengers throughout Asher, Zebulun, and Naphtali, and they advanced to meet the others. 36 Gideon said to God, “If indeed you are going to save Israel through me, as you have said, 37 I am putting this woolen fleece on the threshing floor, and if dew is on the fleece alone, while all the ground is dry, I shall know that you will save Israel through me, as you have said.” 38 That is what happened. Early the next morning when he wrung out the fleece, he squeezed enough dew from it to fill a bowl. 39 Gideon then said to God, “Do not be angry with me if I speak once more. Let me make just one more test with the fleece. Let the fleece alone be dry, but let there be dew on all the ground.” 40 That is what God did that night: the fleece alone was dry, but there was dew on all the ground.

Chapter 7

Defeat of Midian. Early the next morning Jerubbaal(M) (that is, Gideon) encamped by the spring of Harod with all his soldiers. The camp of Midian was north of him, beside the hill of Moreh in the valley. The Lord said to Gideon: You have too many soldiers with you for me to deliver Midian into their power, lest Israel vaunt itself against me and say, “My own power saved me.”[i](N) So announce in the hearing of the soldiers, “If anyone is afraid or fearful, let him leave!(O) Let him depart from Mount Gilead!”[j] Twenty-two thousand of the soldiers left, but ten thousand remained. The Lord said to Gideon: There are still too many soldiers. Lead them down to the water and I will test them for you there. If I tell you that a certain man is to go with you, he must go with you. But no one is to go if I tell you he must not. [k]When Gideon led the soldiers down to the water, the Lord said to him: Everyone who laps up the water as a dog does with its tongue you shall set aside by himself; and everyone who kneels down to drink raising his hand to his mouth you shall set aside by himself. Those who lapped up the water with their tongues numbered three hundred, but all the rest of the soldiers knelt down to drink the water. The Lord said to Gideon: By means of the three hundred who lapped up the water I will save you and deliver Midian into your power. So let all the other soldiers go home. They took up such supplies as the soldiers had with them, as well as their horns, and Gideon sent the rest of the Israelites to their tents, but kept the three hundred men. Now the camp of Midian was below him in the valley.

That night the Lord said to Gideon: Go, descend on the camp, for I have delivered it into your power. 10 If you are afraid to attack, go down to the camp with your aide Purah 11 and listen to what they are saying. After that you will have the courage to descend on the camp. So he went down with his aide Purah to the outposts of the armed men in the camp. 12 (P)The Midianites, Amalekites, and all the Kedemites were lying in the valley, thick as locusts. Their camels could not be counted, for they were as many as the sands on the seashore. 13 [l]When Gideon arrived, one man was telling another about a dream. “I had a dream,” he said, “that a round loaf of barley bread was rolling into the camp of Midian. It came to a certain tent and struck it and turned it upside down, and the tent collapsed.” 14 “This can only be the sword of the Israelite Gideon, son of Joash,” the other replied. “God has delivered Midian and all the camp into his power.” 15 When Gideon heard the account of the dream and its explanation, he bowed down. Then returning to the camp of Israel, he said, “Arise, for the Lord has delivered the camp of Midian into your power.”

16 He divided the three hundred men into three companies, and provided them all with horns and with empty jars and torches inside the jars. 17 “Watch me and follow my lead,” he told them. “I shall go to the edge of the camp, and as I do, you must do also. 18 When I and those with me blow horns, you too must blow horns all around the camp and cry out, ‘For the Lord and for Gideon!’” 19 So Gideon and the hundred men who were with him came to the edge of the camp at the beginning of the middle watch,[m] just after the posting of the guards. They blew the horns and broke the jars they were holding. 20 When the three companies had blown their horns and broken their jars, they took the torches in their left hands, and in their right the horns they had been blowing, and cried out, “A sword for the Lord and for Gideon!” 21 They all remained standing in place around the camp, while the whole camp began to run and shout and flee. 22 When they blew the three hundred horns, the Lord set the sword of one against another throughout the camp, and they fled as far as Beth-shittah in the direction of Zeredah, near the border of Abel-meholah at Tabbath.

23 (Q)The Israelites were called to arms from Naphtali, from Asher, and from all Manasseh, and they pursued Midian. 24 Gideon also sent messengers throughout the mountain region of Ephraim to say, “Go down to intercept Midian, and seize the water courses against them as far as Beth-barah, as well as the Jordan.” So all the Ephraimites were called to arms, and they seized the water courses as far as Beth-barah, and the Jordan as well. 25 (R)They captured the two princes of Midian, Oreb and Zeeb, killing Oreb at the rock of Oreb and Zeeb at the wine press of Zeeb. Then they pursued Midian, but they had the heads of Oreb and Zeeb brought to Gideon beyond the Jordan.

Footnotes

  1. 6:3 Midian, Amalek, and the Kedemites: three groups of camel nomads, whose raids were a constant threat to settled peoples like the Israelites during the period of the Judges.
  2. 6:16 I will be with you: narratives telling how the Lord commissions someone for a task depict the person’s reactions of reluctance, confusion, or sense of inadequacy, and the Lord’s reassurance (“I will be with you”), sometimes accompanied by a sign (cf. Ex 3:12; Jer 1:8). Lk 1:28–37 is modeled on this pattern.
  3. 6:19 Ephah: see note on Is 5:10.
  4. 6:22 Ancient Israel thought that seeing God face to face meant mortal danger, as Ex 33:20 indicates and as Gideon’s reaction here shows. Compare the reaction of Samson’s parents (13:22–23) when they realize they have been conversing with the Lord.
  5. 6:24 Yahweh-shalom: a reference to the Lord’s words, “You are safe” (v. 23), lit., “Peace be to you!”
  6. 6:25 The asherah: see note on Ex 34:13.
  7. 6:32 Jerubbaal: similar in sound to the Hebrew words meaning, “Let Baal take action.”
  8. 6:34 Clothed with the spirit of the Lord: narratives about the selection of leaders in early Israel typically attribute their prowess to “the spirit of the Lord,” not to their own qualities (cf. v. 15). The Lord’s spirit “comes upon” them (3:10; 11:29; 13:25) or “rushes upon” them (14:6, 19; 15:14; 1 Sm 11:6), and they are transformed into effective leaders. Here, Gideon is “clothed” with the Lord’s spirit; cf. the clothing or vesture imagery in Is 59:17; 61:10; Ez 16:10–14; Jb 29:14.
  9. 7:2 My own power saved me: Deuteronomic theology constantly warns Israel against attributing success to their own efforts; cf. Dt 6:10–12; 8:17.
  10. 7:3 Mount Gilead: since the well-known highlands of Gilead were east of the Jordan River, some other hill of Gilead must be intended here. Perhaps its name is preserved in Ain Jalud (or Galud), the modern Arabic name of the spring of Harod, where Gideon’s army is encamped (v. 1). The narrator plays on the Hebrew word “fearful” (hared) and the name of the spring, harod.
  11. 7:5 The point of this selection process is clear: the battle against the nomadic raiders is going to be won not because of the numerical superiority of the Israelite troops but because of the power of the Lord.
  12. 7:13 The dream seems to foretell the victory of the agricultural Israelites (the barley loaf) over the nomadic Midianites (the tent).
  13. 7:19 At the beginning of the middle watch: at the start of the second of the three watches into which the night was divided. The sentinels were changed at the beginning of a watch, thus making the camp momentarily vulnerable.

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