Even the second bullock.--It has been disputed whether the true rendering is "even" or "and." Ewald makes it mean "even," and explains shani (second) to mean "old" (Gesch. ii.498). The LXX., the Vulgate, Luther, &c, render it "and," as in the margin of our version. This seems to be the right rendering; for (1) the labour of two bullocks would not be too much for the task before Gideon; (2) a bullock (shor) of seven years old would hardly be called a young bullock: literally, "a heifer (par), son of an ox."
Of seven years old.--The Chaldee renders it, "which has been fattened for seven years," and there is very possibly an allusion to the seven years of the Midianite oppression (Judges 6:1). The law had not prescribed any fixed age for burnt offerings. Why the bullock is called "the second bullock" is very uncertain, but this minute and unexplained detail shows that we are not moving in the region of legend. The first bullock is said to belong to Joash, and we must, therefore, probably suppose that the second was Gideon's own. Possibly in this circumstance we may see an explanation of these minute directions, and the significance which they were intended to bear. The first bullock had been intended by Joash as a sacrifice to Baal, and is used in the destruction of his altar; the second had, perhaps, been reserved by Gideon as a sacrifice to the Lord when better times should come--a votive offering, which was being fattened for the longed-for day of deliverance. This bullock is sacrificed to Jehovah, and the fact that it, too, has been used for the destruction of the Canaanite idols is a sign to Gideon that the day for which he had hoped has come.
Throw down.--As commanded in Exodus 32:13; Deuteronomy 7:5.
The altar of Baal.--Rather, of the Baal, i.e., of that particular Ph?nician idol which your father worships. (Comp. 1 Kings 16:32.)
That thy father hath.--This shows that Joash had joined with other Israelites in the apostasy, which had provoked the Midianite oppression. The words are literally, which is to thy father, as in the previous clause; and the pointed repetition of these words tends to confirm the conjecture mentioned in the previous note. It is called especially Joash's altar because, though used by the whole city (Judges 6:28), he was the head of the Abi-ezrites.
The grove.--Rather, the Asherah, as in Judges 3:7. Baal, "the sun," and the nature goddess Asherah--who is often confused with Astarte--were worshipped in conjunction (1 Kings 16:31-32; 2 Kings 13:6; 2 Kings 18:16; 2 Kings 24:3-6).
That is by it.--Rather, that is upon it. No mention is made of the image of Baal. Possibly the sun was worshipped at this altar without any idol, and the Asherah--perhaps a mere wooden pillar or gross emblem of phallic nature-worship--was placed upon it. It was the first law of God's worship that He was one God and therefore "jealous" against that easy combination of idolatries which is common to all forms of Polytheism. "Baal's altar must be overthrown before God's altar is built."
that the Lord said unto him; perhaps in a dream, since it was in the night: take thy father's young bullock: or "the bullock, the ox" (p); a bullock which was a large grown ox, and was not only his father's property, but what his father designed and set apart for the service of Baal; and though it was his father's, yet having a divine warrant for it, it was sufficient for him to take it without his leave, and especially as it was designed for such an ill use:
even the second bullock of seven years old; which, according to Hesiod (q) is in its prime and full strength at nine years old, and lives much longer. In Homer (r), one of five years old is said to be sacrificed: this further describes what he was to take, the second that stood in the stall of the bullocks, or that drew in the second row at plough, or the second in age and value, or the second that was set apart for the service of Baal; though the words may be rendered, "and the second bullock" (s); besides that of his father's, he was to take another, which perhaps belonged to the people, and was the second in birth or age with respect to the former, being seven years old; or, as the Targum is, that had been fatted seven years, and had been so long preparing for the sacrifice of Baal; which was as long as the tyranny of the Midianites over them, and was occasioned by the idolatry of the people of Israel; and such a bullock was ordered to be taken with respect to that, and to show that it would end with the sacrifice of this creature:
and throw down the altar of Baal that thy father hath; upon his ground, in some part of his possessions, and perhaps built at his own expense, though for public use:
and cut down the grove that is by it; or "about it", as the Vulgate Latin version; it being usual with the Heathens to plant groves near or around their altars and temples where religious worship was performed; partly to make them more pleasant and venerable, and partly for the commission of deeds which would not bear the light; or "over it", for they were commonly tall trees which grew over the altar they erected. Some render it, "upon it" (t), and understand by it an idol placed on it: so the Arabic version is,"cut down the female idol Asira (perhaps the same with Astarte), which is upon the same altar;''and so the Syriac version to the same purpose, which calls it the idol Estere, set upon the altar.
(p) "juvencum bovem", Drusius; "juvencum adultiorem", Junius & Tremellius. (q) Opera & dies, l. 2. ver. 54. 55. (r) Iliad. 2. ver. 403. & Iliad. 7. ver. 35. (s) "et juvencum alium", Tigurine version; "et alterum taurum", V. L. "et juvencum secundum", Pagninus, Montanus. (t) , Sept. "super illud", Montanus, Junius & Tremellius.