Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
2. The Times of Gideon and His Family, and of the Judges Tola and Jair - Judges 6-10:5
In this second stage of the period of the judges, which did not extend over an entire century (only ninety-five years), Israel was only punished for its apostasy from the Lord, it is true, with a seven years' oppression by the Midianites; but the misery which these enemies, who allied themselves with Amalekites and other Arabian hordes, brought upon both land and people, so far surpassed the pressure of the previous chastisements, that the Israelites were obliged to take refuge from the foe in ravines, caves, and strongholds of the mountains. But the more heavily the Lord punished His rebellious nation, the more gloriously did He set forth His nearness to help, and also the way which would lead to a lasting peace, and to true deliverance out of every trouble, in the manner in which He called and fitted Gideon to be its deliverer, and gave him the victory over the innumerable army of the hostile hordes, with only 300 chosen warriors. But the tendency to idolatry and to the worship of Baal had already become so strong in Israel, that even Gideon, that distinguished hero of God, who had been so marvellously called, and who refused the title of king when offered to him from genuine fidelity to the Lord, yielded to the temptation to establish for himself an unlawful worship, in a high-priestly ephod which had been prepared for his use, and thus gave the people an occasion for idolatry. For this reason his house was visited with severe judgments, which burst upon it after his death, under the three years' reign of his son Abimelech; although, notwithstanding the deep religious and moral depravity which was manifested in the doings of Abimelech, the Lord gave His people rest for forty-five years longer after the death of Abimelech under two judges, before He punished their apostasy with fresh hostile oppressions.
The history of Gideon and his family is related very fully, because the working of the grace and righteousness of the faithful covenant God was so obviously displayed therein, that it contained a rich treasure of instruction and warning for the church of the Lord in all aGes. The account contains such an abundance of special notices of separate events and persons, as can only be explained on the supposition that the author made use of copious records which had been made by contemporaries and eye-witnesses of the events. At the same time, the separate details do not contain any such characteristic marks as will enable us to discover clearly, or determine with any certainty, the nature of the source or sources which the author employed. The only things peculiar to this narrative are the use of the prefix שׁ for אשׁר, not only in reports of the sayings of the persons engaged (Jdg 6:17), but also in the direct narrative of facts (Jdg 7:12; Jdg 8:26), and the formula לבשׁה יהוה רוּח (Jdg 6:34), which only occurs again in Ch1 12:18; Ch2 24:20. On the other hand, neither the interchange of ha-Elohim (Jdg 6:36, Jdg 6:39; Jdg 7:14) and Elohim (Jdg 6:40; Jdg 8:3; Jdg 9:7, Jdg 9:9,Jdg 9:13, Jdg 9:23, Jdg 9:56-57) with Jehovah, nor the use of the name Jerubbaal for Gideon (Jdg 6:32; Jdg 7:1; Jdg 8:29; Jdg 9:1-2, Jdg 9:5,Jdg 9:16, Jdg 9:19, Jdg 9:24, Jdg 9:28), nor lastly the absence of the "theocratical pragmatism" in Judg 9, contains any proof of the nature of the source employed, or even of the employment of two different sources, as these peculiarities are founded upon the contents and materials of the narrative itself.
(Note: Even Bertheau, who infers from these data that two different sources were employed, admits that ha-Elohim in the mouth of the Midianites (Jdg 7:14) and Elohim in Jotham's fable, where it is put into the mouth of the trees, prove nothing at all, because here, from the different meanings of the divine names, the author could not have used anything but Elohim. But the same difference is quite as unmistakeable in Jdg 8:3; Jdg 9:7, Jdg 9:23, Jdg 9:56-57, since in these passages, either the antithesis of man and God, or the idea of supernatural causality, made it most natural for the author to use the general name of God even it did not render it absolutely necessary. There remain, therefore, only Jdg 6:20, Jdg 6:36, Jdg 6:39-40, where the use of ha-Elohim and Elohim instead of Jehovah may possibly have originated with the source made use of by the author. On the other hand, the name Jerubbaal, which Gideon received in consequence of the destruction of the altar of Baal (Jdg 6:32), is employed with conscious reference to its origin and meaning, not only in Jdg 7:1; Jdg 8:29, Jdg 8:35, but also throughout Judg 9, as we may see more especially in Jdg 9:16, Jdg 9:19, Jdg 9:28. And lastly, even the peculiarities of Judg 9 - namely, that the names Jehovah and Gideon do not occur there at all, and that many historical circumstances are related apparently without any link of connection, and torn away from some wider context, which might have rendered them intelligible, and without which very much remains obscure, - do not prove that the author drew these incidents from a different source from the rest of the history of Gideon, - such, for example, as a more complete history of the town of Shechem and its rulers in the time of the judges, as Bertheau imagines. For these peculiarities may be explained satisfactorily enough from the intention so clearly expressed in Jdg 8:34-35, and Jdg 9:57, of showing how the ingratitude of the Israelites towards Gideon, especially the wickedness of the Shechemites, who helped to murder Gideon's sons to gratify Abimelech, was punished by God. And no other peculiarities can be discovered that could possibly establish a diversity of sources.)
Renewed Apostasy of the Nation, and Its Punishment. - Jdg 6:1. As the Israelites forsook Jehovah their God again, the Lord delivered them up for seven years into the hands of the Midianites. The Midianites, who were descendants of Abraham and Keturah (Gen 25:2), and had penetrated into the grassy steppes on the eastern side of the country of the Moabites and Ammonites (see at Num 22:4), had shown hostility to Israel even in the time of Moses, and had been defeated in a war of retaliation on the part of the Israelites (Num 31). But they had afterwards recovered their strength, so that now, after an interval of 200 years, the Lord used them as a rod of chastisement for His rebellious people. In Jdg 6:1, Jdg 6:2, Jdg 6:6, they alone are mentioned as oppressors of Israel; but in Jdg 6:3, Jdg 6:33, and Jdg 7:12, the Amalekites and children of the east are mentioned in connection with them, from which we may see that the Midianites were the principal enemies, but had allied themselves with other predatory Bedouin tribes, to make war upon the Israelites and devastate their land. On the Amalekites, those leading enemies of the people of God who had sprung from Esau, see the notes on Gen 36:12 and Exo 17:8. "Children of the east" (see Job 1:3) is the general name for the tribes that lived in the desert on the east of Palestine, "like the name of Arabs in the time of Josephus (in Ant. v. 6, 1, he calls the children of the east mentioned here by the name of Arabs), or in later times the names of the Nabataeans and Kedarenes" (Bertheau). Hence we find in Jdg 8:10, that all the enemies who oppressed the Israelites are called "children of the east."
The Oppression of Israel by Midian and Its Allies. Their power pressed so severely upon the Israelites, that before (or because of) them the latter "made them the ravines which are in the mountains, and the caves, and the strongholds," sc., which were to be met with all over the land in after times (viz., at the time when our book was written), and were safe places of refuge in time of war. This is implied in the definite article before מנהרות and the following substantives. The words "they made them" are not at variance with the fact that there are many natural caves to be found in the limestone mountains of Palestine. For, on the one hand, they do not affirm that all the caves to be found in the land were made by the Israelites at that time; and, on the other hand, עשׂה does not preclude the use of natural caves as places of refuge, since it not only denotes the digging and making of caves, but also the adaptation of natural caves to the purpose referred to, i.e., the enlargement of them, or whatever was required to make them habitable. The ἁπ. λεγ. מנהרות does not mean "light holes" (Bertheau), or "holes with openings to the light," from נהר, in the sense of to stream, to enlighten (Rashi, Kimchi, etc.), but is to be taken in the sense of "mountain ravines," hollowed out by torrents (from נהר, to pour), which the Israelites made into hiding-places. מצדות, fortresses, mountain strongholds. These ravines, caves, and fortresses were not merely to serve as hiding-places for the Israelitish fugitives, but much more as places of concealment for their possessions, and necessary supplies. For the Midianites, like genuine Bedouins, thought far more of robbing and plundering and laying waste the land of the Israelites, than of exterminating the people themselves. Herodotus (i. 17) says just the same respecting the war of the Lydian king Alyattes wit the Milesians.
When the Israelites had sown, the Midianites and their allies came upon them, encamped against them, and destroyed the produce of the land (the fruits of the field and soil) as far as Gaza, in the extreme south-west of the land ("till thou come," as in Gen 10:19, etc.). As the enemy invaded the land with their camels and flocks, and on repeated occasions encamped in the valley of Jezreel (Jdg 6:33), they must have entered the land on the west of the Jordan by the main road which connects the countries on the east with Palestine on the west, crossing the Jordan near Beisan, and passing through the plain of Jezreel; and from this point they spread over Palestine to the sea-coast of Gaza. "They left no sustenance (in the shape of produce of the field and soil) in Israel, and neither sheep, nor oxen, nor asses. For they came on with their flocks, and their tents came like grasshoppers in multitude." The Chethibh יבאוּ is not to be altered into וּבאוּ, according to the Keri and certain Codd. If we connect ואהליהם with the previous words, according to the Masoretic pointing, we have a simple asyndeton. It is more probable, however, that ואהליהם belongs to what follows: "And their tents came in such numbers as grasshoppers." כּדי, lit. like a multitude of grasshoppers, in such abundance. "Thus they came into the land to devastate it."
The Israelites were greatly weakened in consequence (ידּל, the imperf. Niphal of דּלל), so that in their distress they cried to the Lord for help.
But before helping them, the Lord sent a prophet to reprove the people for not hearkening to the voice of their God, in order that they might reflect, and might recognise in the oppression which crushed them the chastisement of God for their apostasy, and so be brought to sincere repentance and conversion by their remembrance of the former miraculous displays of the grace of God. The Lord God, said the prophet to the people, brought you out of Egypt, the house of bondage, and delivered you out of the hand of Egypt (Exo 18:9), and out of the hand of all your oppressors (see Jdg 2:18; Jdg 4:3; Jdg 10:12), whom He drove before you (the reference is to the Amorites and Canaanites who were conquered by Moses and Joshua); but ye have not followed His commandment, that ye should not worship the gods of the Amorites. The Amorites stand here for the Canaanites, as in Gen 15:16 and Jos 24:15.
Call of Gideon to Be the Deliverer of Israel. - As the reproof of the prophet was intended to turn the hearts of the people once more to the Lord their God and deliverer, so that manner in which God called Gideon to be their deliverer, and rescued Israel from its oppressors through his instrumentality, as intended to furnish the most evident proof that the help and salvation of Israel were not to be found in man, but solely in their God. God had also sent their former judges. The Spirit of Jehovah had come upon Othniel, so that he smote the enemy in the power of God (Jdg 3:10). Ehud had put to death the hostile king by stratagem, and then destroyed his army; and Barak had received the command of the Lord, through the prophetess Deborah, to deliver His people from the dominion of their foes, and had carried out the command with her assistance. But Gideon was called to be the deliverer of Israel through an appearance of the angel of the Lord, to show to him and to all Israel, that Jehovah, the God of the fathers, was still near at hand to His people, and could work miracles as in the days of old, if Israel would only adhere to Him and keep His covenant. The call of Gideon took place in two revelations from God. First of all the Lord appeared to him in the visible form of an angel, in which He had already made himself known to the patriarchs, and summoned him in the strength of God to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Midianites (Jdg 6:11-24). He then commanded him, in a dream of the night, to throw down his father's altar of Baal, and to offer a burnt-offering to Jehovah his God upon an altar erected for the purpose (Jdg 6:25-32). In the first revelation the Lord acknowledged Gideon; in the second He summoned Gideon to acknowledge Him as his God.
Appearance of the Angel of the Lord. - Jdg 6:11. The angel of the Lord, i.e., Jehovah, in a visible self-revelation in human form (see Pentateuch, pp. 106ff.), appeared this time in the form of a traveller with a staff in his hand (Jdg 6:21), and sat down "under the terebinth which (was) in Ophrah, that (belonged) to Joash the Abi-ezrite." It was not the oak, but Ophrah, that belonged to Joash, as we may see from Jdg 6:24, where the expression "Ophrah of the Abi-ezrite" occurs. According to Joash Jdg 17:2 and Ch1 7:18, Abiezer was a family in the tribe of Manasseh, and according to Jdg 6:15 it was a small family of that tribe. Joash was probably the head of the family at that time, and as such was the lord or owner of Ophrah, a town (Jdg 8:27; cf. Jdg 9:5) which was called "Ophrah of the Abi-ezrite," to distinguish it from Ophrah in the tribe of Benjamin (Jos 18:23). The situation of the town has not yet been determined with certainty. Josephus (Ant. v. 6, 5) calls it Ephran. Van de Velde conjectures that it is to be found in the ruins of Erfai, opposite to Akrabeh, towards the S.E., near the Mohammedan Wely of Abu Kharib, on the S.W. of Janun (Me. pp. 337-8), close to the northern boundary of the tribe-territory of Ephraim, if not actually within it. By this terebinth tree was Gideon the son of Joash "knocking out wheat in the wine-press." חבט does not mean to thresh, but to knock with a stick. The wheat was threshed upon open floors, or in places in the open field that were rolled hard for the purpose, with threshing carriages or threshing shoes, or else with oxen, which they drove about over the scattered sheaves to tread out the grains with their hoofs. Only poor people knocked out the little corn that they had gleaned with a stick (Rut 2:17), and Gideon did it in the existing times of distress, namely in the pressing-tub, which, like all wine-presses, was sunk in the ground, in a hole that had been dug out or hewn in the rock (for a description of cisterns of this kind, see Rob. Bibl. Res. pp. 135-6), "to make the wheat fly" (i.e., to make it safe) "from the Midianites" (הנים as in Exo 9:20).
While he was thus engaged the angel of the Lord appeared to him, and addressed him in these words: "Jehovah (is) with thee, thou brave hero." This address contained the promise that the Lord would be with Gideon, and that he would prove himself a mighty hero through the strength of the Lord. This promise was to be a guarantee to him of strength and victory in his conflict with the Midianites.
But Gideon, who did not recognise the angel of the Lord in the man who was sitting before him, replied doubtingly, "Pray, sir, if Jehovah is with us, why has all this befallen us?" - words which naturally recall to mind the words of Deu 31:17, "Are not these evils come upon us because our God is not among us?" "And where," continued Gideon, "are all His miracles, of which our fathers have told us? ... But now Jehovah hath forsaken us, and delivered us into the hands of the Midianites." Gideon may have been reflecting, while knocking the wheat, upon the misery of his people, and the best means of delivering them from the oppression of the enemy, but without being able to think of any possibility of rescuing them. For this reason he could not understand the address of the unknown traveller, and met his promise with the actual state of things with which it was so directly at variance, namely, the crushing oppression of his people by their enemies, from which he concluded that the Lord had forsaken them and given them up to their foes.
"Then Jehovah turned to him and said, Go in this thy strength, and deliver Israel from the hand of Midian. Have not I sent thee?" The writer very appropriately uses the name Jehovah here, instead of the angel of Jehovah; for by his reply the angel distinctly manifested himself as Jehovah, more especially in the closing words, "Have not I sent thee?" (הלא, in the sense of lively assurance), which are so suggestive of the call of Moses to be the deliverer of Israel (Exo 3:12). "In this thy strength," i.e., the strength which thou now hast, since Jehovah is with thee-Jehovah, who can still perform miracles as in the days of the fathers. The demonstrative "this" points to the strength which had just been given to him through the promise of God.
Gideon perceived from these words that it was not a mere man who was speaking to him. He therefore said in reply, not "pray sir" (אדני), but "pray, Lord" (אדני, i.e., Lord God), and no longer speaks of deliverance as impossible, but simply inquires, with a consciousness of his own personal weakness and the weakness of his family, "Whereby (with what) shall I save Israel? Behold, my family (lit., 'thousand,' equivalent to mishpachah: see at Num 1:16) is the humblest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father's house (my family)."
To this difficulty the Lord replies, "I will be with thee (see Exo 3:12; Jos 1:5), and thou wilt smite the Midianites as one man," i.e., at one blow, as they slay a single man (see Num 14:15).
As Gideon could no longer have any doubt after this promise that the person who had appeared to him was speaking in the name of God, he entreated him to assure him by a sign (אות, a miraculous sign) of the certainty of his appearance. "Do a sign that thou art speaking with me," i.e., that thou art really God, as thou affirmest. שׁאתּה, or אתּה אשׁר, is taken from the language of ordinary life. At the same time he presents this request: "Depart not hence till I (go and) come to thee, and bring out my offering and set it before thee;" and the angel at once assents. Minchah does not mean a sacrifice in the strict sense (θυσία, sacrificium), nor merely a "gift of food," but a sacrificial gift in the sense of a gift presented to God, on the acceptance of which he hoped to receive the sign, which would show whether the person who had appeared to him was really God. This sacrificial gift consisted of such food as they were accustomed to set before a guest whom they wished especially to honour. Gideon prepared a kid of the goats (עשׂה is used to denote the preparation of food, as in Gen 18:7-8, etc.), and unleavened cakes of an ephah (about 221/2 lbs.) of meal, and brought the flesh in a basket and the broth in a pot out to the terebinth tree, and placed it before him.
The angel of the Lord then commanded him to lay the flesh and the cakes upon a rock close by, and to pour the broth upon it; that is to say, to make use of the rock as an altar for the offering to be presented to the Lord. When he had done this, the angel touched the food with the end of his staff, and fire came out of the rock and consumed the food, and the angel of the Lord vanished out of Gideon's sight. "This rock," i.e., a rocky stone that was lying near. The departure of the angel from his eyes it to be regarded as a sudden disappearance; but the expression does not warrant the assumption that the angel ascended to heaven in this instance, as in Jdg 13:19-20, in the flame of the sacrifice.
In this miracle Gideon received the desired sign, that the person who had appeared to him was God. But the miracle filled his soul with fear, so that he exclaimed, "Alas, Lord Jehovah! for to this end have I seen the angel of the Lord face to face." יהוה אדני אההּ is an exclamation, sometimes of grief on account of a calamity that has occurred (Jos 7:7), and sometimes of alarm caused by the foreboding of some anticipated calamity (Jer 1:6; Jer 4:10; Jer 32:17; Eze 4:14, etc.). Here it is an expression of alarm, viz., fear of the death which might be the necessary consequence of his seeing God (see Exo 20:16-19, and the remarks on Gen 16:13). The expression which follows, "for to this end," serves to account for the exclamation, without there being any necessity to assume an ellipsis, and supply "that I may die." כּי־על־כּן is always used in this sense (see Gen 18:5; Gen 19:8; Gen 33:10, etc.).
But the Lord comforted him with the words, "Peace to thee; fear not: thou wilt not die." These words were not spoken by the angel as he vanished away, but were addressed by God to Gideon, after the disappearance of the angel, by an inward voice. In gratitude for this comforting assurance, Gideon built an altar to the Lord, which he called Jehovah-shalom, "the Lord is peace." The intention of this altar, which was preserved "unto this day," i.e., till the time when the book of Judges was composed, is indicated in the name that was given to it. It was not to serve as a place of sacrifice, but to be a memorial and a witness of the revelation of God which had been made to Gideon, and of the proof which he had received that Jehovah was peace, i.e., would not destroy Israel in wrath, but cherished thoughts of peace. For the assurance of peace which He had given to Gideon, was also a confirmation of His announcement that Gideon would conquer the Midianites in the strength of God, and deliver Israel from its oppressors.
The theophany here described resembles so far the appearance of the angel of the Lord to Abram in the grove of Mamre (Gen 18), that he appears in perfect human form, comes as a traveller, and allows food to be set before him; but there is this essential difference between the two, that whereas the three men who came to Abraham took the food that was set before them and ate thereof - that is to say, allowed themselves to be hospitably entertained by Abraham - the angel of the Lord in the case before us did indeed accept the minchah that had been made ready for him, but only as a sacrifice of Jehovah which he caused to ascend in fire. The reason for this essential difference is to be found in the different purpose of the two theophanies. To Abraham the Lord came to seal that fellowship of grace into which He had entered with him through the covenant that He had made; but in the case of Gideon His purpose was simply to confirm the truth of His promise, that Jehovah would be with him and would send deliverance through him to His people, or to show that the person who had appeared to him was the God of the fathers, who could still deliver His people out of the power of their enemies by working such miracles as the fathers had seen. But the acceptance of the minchah prepared for Him as a sacrifice which the Lord himself caused to be miraculously consumed by fire, showed that the Lord would still graciously accept the prayers and sacrifices of Israel, if they would but forsake the worship of the dead idols of the heathen, and return to Him in sincerity. (Compare with this the similar theophany in Judg 13.)
Gideon Set Apart as the Deliverer of His People. - In order to be able to carry out the work entrusted to him of setting Israel free, it was necessary that Gideon should first of all purify his father's house from idolatry, and sanctify his own life and labour to Jehovah by sacrificing a burnt-offering.
"In that night," i.e., the night following the day on which the Lord appeared to him, God commanded him to destroy his father's Baal's altar, with the asherah-idol upon it, and to build an altar to Jehovah, and offer a bullock of his father's upon the altar. "Take the ox-bullock which belongs to thy father, and indeed the second bullock of seven years, and destroy the altar of Baal, which belongs to thy father, and throw down the asherah upon it." According to the general explanation of the first clauses, there are two oxen referred to: viz., first, his father's young bullock; and secondly, an ox of seven years old, the latter of which Gideon was to sacrifice (according to Jdg 6:26) upon the altar to be built to Jehovah, and actually did sacrifice, according to Jdg 6:27, Jdg 6:28. But in what follows there is no further allusion to the young bullock, or the first ox of his father; so that there is a difficulty in comprehending for what purpose Gideon was to take it, or what use he was to make of it. Most commentators suppose that Gideon sacrificed both of the oxen-the young bullock as an expiatory offering for himself, his father, and all his family, and the second ox of seven years old for the deliverance of the whole nation (see Seb. Schmidt). Bertheau supposes, on the other hand, that Gideon was to make use of both oxen, or of the strength they possessed for throwing down or destroying the altar, and (according to Jdg 6:26) for removing the מערכה and the האשׁרה עצי to the place of the new altar that was to be built, but that he was only to offer the second in sacrifice to Jehovah, because the first was probably dedicated to Baal, and therefore could not be offered to Jehovah. But these assumptions are both of them equally arbitrary, and have no support whatever from the text. If God had commanded Gideon to take two oxen, He would certainly have told him what he was to do with them both. But as there is only one bullock mentioned in Jdg 6:26-28, we must follow Tremell. and others, who understand Jdg 6:25 as meaning that Gideon was to take only one bullock, namely the young bullock of his father, and therefore regard שׁ שׁ השּׁני וּפר as a more precise definition of that one bullock (vav being used in an explanatory sense, "and indeed," as in Jos 9:27; Jos 10:7, etc.). This bullock is called "the second bullock," as being the second in age among the bullocks of Joash. The reason for choosing this second of the bullocks of Joash for a burnt-offering is to be found no doubt in its age (seven years), which is mentioned here simply on account of its significance as a number, as there was no particular age prescribed in the law for a burnt-offering, that is to say, because the seven years which constituted the age of the bullock contained an inward allusion to the seven years of the Midianitish oppression. For seven years had God given Israel into the hands of the Midianites on account of their apostasy; and now, to wipe away this sin, Gideon was to take his father's bullock of seven years old, and offer it as a burnt-offering to the Lord. To this end Gideon was first of all to destroy the altar of Baal and of the asherah which his father possessed, and which, to judge from Jdg 6:28, Jdg 6:29, was the common altar of the whole family of Abiezer in Ophrah. This altar was dedicated to Baal, but there was also upon it an asherah, an idol representing the goddess of nature, which the Canaanites worshipped; not indeed a statue of the goddess, but, as we may learn from the word כּרת, to hew down, simply a wooden pillar (see at Deu 16:21). The altar therefore served for the two principal deities of the Canaanites (see Movers, Phnizier, i. pp. 566ff.). Jehovah could not be worshipped along with Baal. Whoever would serve the Lord must abolish the worship of Baal. The altar of Baal must be destroyed before the altar of Jehovah could be built. Gideon was to build this altar "upon the top of this stronghold," possibly upon the top of the mountain, upon which the fortress belonging to Ophrah was situated. בּמּערכה, "with the preparation;" the meaning of this word is a subject of dispute. As בּנה occurs in Kg1 15:22 with בּ, to denote the materials out of which (i.e., with which) a thing is built, Stud. and Berth. suppose that maaracah refers to the materials of the altar of Baal that had been destroyed, with which Gideon was to build the altar of Jehovah. Stud. refers it to the stone foundation of the altar of Baal; Bertheau to the materials that were lying ready upon the altar of Baal for the presentation of sacrifices, more especially the pieces of wood. But this is certainly incorrect, because maaracah does not signify either building materials or pieces of wood, and the definite article attached to the word does not refer to the altar of Baal at all. The verb ערך is not only very frequently used to denote the preparation of the wood upon the altar (Gen 22:9; Lev 1:7, etc.), but is also used for the preparation of an altar for the presentation of sacrifice (Num 23:4). Consequently maaracah can hardly be understood in any other way than as signifying the preparation of the altar to be built for the sacrificial act, in the sense of build the altar with the preparation required for the sacrifice. This preparation was to consist, according to what follows, in taking the wood of the asherah, that had been hewn down, as the wood for the burnt-offering to be offered to the Lord by Gideon. האשׁרה עצי are not trees, but pieces of wood from the asherah (that was hewn down).
Gideon executed this command of God with ten men of his servants during the night, no doubt the following night, because he was afraid to do it by day, on account of his family (his father's house), and the people of the town.
But on the following morning, when the people of the town found the altar of Baal destroyed and the asherah upon it hewn down, and the bullock sacrificed upon the (newly) erected altar (the bullock would not be entirely consumed), they asked who had done it, and soon learned that Gideon had done it all. The accusative חשּׁני הפּר את is governed by the Hophal העלה (for העלה see Ges. s. 63, Anm. 4), according to a construction that was by no means rare, especially in the earlier Hebrew, viz., of the passive with את (see at Gen 4:18). "They asked and sought," sc., for the person who had done it; "and they said," either those who were making the inquiry, according to a tolerably safe conjecture, or the persons who were asked, and who were aware of what Gideon had done.
But when they demanded of Joash, "Bring out (give out) thy son, that he may die," he said to all who stood round, "Will ye, ye, fight for Baal, or will he save him? ('ye' is repeated with special emphasis). "whoever shall fight for him (Baal), shall be put to death till the morning." עד־הבּקר, till the (next) morning, is not to be joined to יוּומת, in the sense of "very speedily, before the dawning day shall break" (Bertheau), - a sense which is not to be found in the words: it rather belongs to the subject of the clause, or to the whole clause in the sense of, Whoever shall fight for Baal, and seek to avenge the destruction of his altar by putting the author of it to death, shall be put to death himself; let us wait till to-morrow, and give Baal time to avenge the insult which he has received. "If he be God, let him fight for himself; for they have destroyed his altar," and have thereby challenged his revenge. Gideon's daring act of faith had inspired his father Joash with believing courage, so that he took the part of his son, and left the whole matter to the deity to decide. If Baal were really God, he might be expected to avenge the crime that had been committed against this altar.
From this fact Gideon received the name of Jerubbaal, i.e., "let Baal fight (or decide," since they said, "Let Baal fight against him, for he has destroyed his altar." ירבּעל, is formed from ירב = ירב or יריב and בּעל. This surname very soon became an honourable title for Gideon. When, for example, it became apparent to the people that Baal could not do him any harm, Jerubbaal became a Baal-fighter, one who had fought against Baal. In Sa2 11:21, instead of Jerubbaal we find the name Jerubbesheth, in which Besheth = Bosheth is a nickname of Baal, which also occurs in other Israelitish names, e.g., in Ishbosheth (Sa2 2:8.) for Eshbaal (Ch1 8:33; Ch1 9:39). The name Jerubbaal is written Ἱεροβάαλ by the lxx, from which in all probability Philo of Byblus, in his revision of Sanchuniathon, has formed his Ἱερόμβαλος, a priest of the god Ἰεύω.
Equipment of Gideon for the Battle. - When the Midianites and their allies once more invaded the land of Israel, Gideon was seized by the Spirit of God, so that he gathered together an army from the northern tribes of Israel (Jdg 6:33-35), and entreated God to assure him by a sign of gaining the victory over the enemy (Jdg 6:36-40).
The enemy gathered together again, went over (viz., across) the Jordan in the neighbourhood of Beisan (see at Jdg 7:24 and Jdg 8:4), and encamped in the valley of Jezreel (see at Jos 17:16). "And the Spirit of Jehovah came upon Gideon" (לבשׁה, clothed, i.e., descended upon him, and laid itself around him as it were like a coat of mail, or a strong equipment, so that he became invulnerable and invincible in its might: see Ch1 12:18; Ch2 24:20, and Luk 24:49). Gideon then blew the trumpet, to call Israel to battle against the foe (see Jdg 3:27); "and Abiezer let itself be summoned after him." His own family, which had recognised the deliverer of Israel in the fighter of Baal, who was safe from Baal's revenge, was the first to gather round him. Their example was followed by all Manasseh, i.e., the Manassites on the west of the Jordan (for the tribes on the east of the Jordan took no part in the war), and the neighbouring tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali on the north, which had been summoned by heralds to the battle. "They advanced to meet them:" i.e., to meet the Manassites, who were coming from the south to the battle, to make war upon the enemy in concert with them and under the guidance of Gideon. עלה is used to denote their advance against the enemy (see at Jos 8:2), and not in the sense of going up, since the Asherites and Naphtalites would not go up from their mountains into the plain of Jezreel, but could only go down.
But before Gideon went into the battle with the assembled army, he asked for a sign from God of the success of his undertaking. "If Thou," he said to God, "art saving Israel through my hand, as Thou hast said, behold, I lay this fleece of wool upon the floor; if there shall be dew upon the fleece only, and dryness upon all the earth (round about), I know (by this) that Thou wilt save," etc. הצּמר גּזּת, the shorn of the wool; i.e., the fleece, the wool that had been shorn off a sheep, and still adhered together as one whole fleece. The sign which Gideon asked for, therefore, was that God would cause the dew to fall only upon a shorn fleece, which he would spread the previous night upon the floor, that is to say, upon some open ground, and that the ground all round might not be moistened by the dew.
God granted the sign. "And so it came to pass; the next morning, Gideon pressed the fleece together (יזר from זוּר), and squeezed (ימץ from מצה) dew out of the fleece a vessel full of water" (מלוא as in Num 22:18, and ספל as in Jdg 5:25). So copiously had the dew fallen in the night upon the fleece that was exposed; whereas, as we may supply from the context, the earth all round had remained dry.
But as this sign was not quite a certain one, since wool generally attracts the dew, even when other objects remain dry, Gideon ventured to solicit the grace of God to grant him another sign with the fleece, - namely, that the fleece might remain dry, and the ground all round be wet with dew. And God granted him this request also. Gideon's prayer for a sign did not arise from want of faith in the divine assurance of a victory, but sprang from the weakness of the flesh, which crippled the strength of the spirit's faith, and often made the servants of God so anxious and despondent, that God had to come to the relief of their weakness by the manifestation of His miraculous power. Gideon knew himself and his own strength, and was well aware that his human strength was not sufficient for the conquest of the foe. But as the Lord had promised him His aid, he wished to make sure of that aid through the desired sign.
(Note: "From all these things, the fact that he had seen and heard the angel of Jehovah, and that he had been taught by fire out of the rock, by the disappearance of the angel, by the vision of the night, and by the words addressed to him there, Gideon did indeed believe that God both could and would deliver Israel through his instrumentality; but this faith was not placed above or away from the conflict of the flesh by which it was tested. And it is not strange that it rose to its greatest height when the work of deliverance was about to be performed. Wherefore Gideon with his faith sought for a sign from God against the more vehement struggle of the flesh, in order that his faith might be the more confirmed, and might resist the opposing flesh with the great force. And this petition for a sign was combined with prayers for the strengthening of his faith." - Seb. Schmidt.)
And "the simple fact that such a man could obtain the most daring victory was to be a special glorification of God" (O. v. Gerlach). The sign itself was to manifest the strength of the divine assistance to his weakness of faith. Dew in the Scriptures is a symbol of the beneficent power of God, which quickens, revives, and invigorates the objects of nature, when they have been parched by the burning heat of the sun's rays. The first sign was to be a pledge to him of the visible and tangible blessing of the Lord upon His people, the proof that He would grant them power over their mighty foes by whom Israel was then oppressed. The woollen fleece represented the nation of Israel in its condition at that time, when God had given power to the foe that was devastating its land, and had withdrawn His blessing from Israel. The moistening of the fleece with the dew of heaven whilst the land all round continued dry, was a sign that the Lord God would once more give strength to His people from on high, and withdraw it from the nations of the earth. Hence the second sign acquires the more general signification, "that the Lord manifested himself even in the weakness and forsaken condition of His people, while the nations were flourishing all around" (O. v. Gerl.); and when so explained, it served to confirm and strengthen the first, inasmuch as it contained the comforting assurance for all times, that the Lord has not forsaken His church, even when it cannot discern and trace His beneficent influence, but rules over it and over the nations with His almighty power.