Judges 6:1-6. A new apostasy, punished by the oppression of Midian. Judges 6:7-10. The rebuke delivered by a prophet, Judges 6:11-14. An angel appears to Gideon and bids him deliver Israel, and (Judges 6:15-18) removes his doubts. Judges 6:19-23. The offering to the angel, and his disappearance. Judges 6:24. Gideon builds the altar Jehovah-shalom, and (Judges 6:25-27) hews down his father’s Baal and Asherah in the night. Judges 6:28-32. Joash pacifies the Abi-ezrites by appealing to them to let Baal plead his own cause. Judges 6:33-35. Gideon rouses Manasseh and northern tribes against a new Midianite invasion. Judges 6:36-40. The double sign of the fleece.
Midian.—Midian was the son of Adraham and Keturah (Genesis 25:2), and from him descended the numerous and wealthy nomadic tribes which occupied the plains east of Moab (Numbers 31:32-39). The name belongs, properly, to the tribes on the south-east of the Gulf of Akabah (1 Kings 11:18). Moses himself had lived for forty years among them (Exodus 3:1; Exodus 18:1); but the Israelites had been bidden to maintain deadly hostility against the nation because of the shameful worship of Baal-peor, to which, under the instigation of Balaam, the Midianites had tempted them (Numbers 25:1-18).
The dens which are in the mountains.—The word mineharoth, rendered dens (LXX., mandrai), occurs here only. Rashi and Kimchi render it, “caves lighted from above,” deriving it from neharah, “light” (Job 3:4). They were probably thinking of the subterranean galleries like those found by Wetzstein in the Hauran (p. 45). R. Tanchum and others take it to mean fire-signals. But the more probable derivation is nahar, “a river,” and then the meaning is “torrent-gullies,” which they easily converted into places of concealment, since the limestone hills of Palestine abound in caves. Josephus understood it to mean mines and caverns (Antt. v. 6. § 1). (Comp. 1 Samuel 13:6 : “When the men of Israel saw that they were in a strait, then the people did hide themselves in caves, and in thickets, and in rocks, and in high places, and in pits.” Hebrews 11:38 : “in dens and caves of the earth.”) Three places of hiding are mentioned: (1) The mineharoth, perhaps catacombs and galleries in the rocks, which, as the article shows, were pointed out long afterwards. (2) Craggy peaks, like Rimmon, Magada, &c. (3) “Limestone caves, here first mentioned, and afterwards often used, like the Corycian cave in Greece during the Persian invasion, and the caves of the Asturias in Spain during the occupation of the Moors. It was returning to the old troglodyte habits of the Horites and Phoenicians” (Stanley, i. 340). These caves were used, long afterwards, by the brigands whom Herod and the Romans found it so hard to extirpate.
The Amalekites.—See Judges 3:13; Genesis 36:12.
The children of the east.—Benî Kedem (Genesis 25:6; Job 1:3) is a general name for Arabs, as Josephus rightly calls them. From Judges 8:26 we can derive a picture of their chiefs in their gorgeous robes and golden ear-rings, mounted on dromedaries and camels, of which the necks were hung with moon-shaped ornaments of gold.
Destroyed the increase of the earth.—“Ye shall sow your seed in vain, for your enemies shall eat it” (Leviticus 26:16). (Comp. Deuteronomy 28:30; Deuteronomy 28:51; Micah 6:15.)
No sustenance for Israel.—No support of life, or, as some render the word, “nothing alive.”
Sheep.—The margin has, “or goat.” The word means “smaller cattle.”
Their camels.—These were very uncommon in Palestine, and were brought by the invaders from the Eastern deserts.
Without number.—This is Oriental hyperbole. “When Burckhardt asked a Bedouin, who belonged to a tribe of 300 tents, how many brothers he had, he flung a handful of sand into the air, and replied, ‘Equally numberless’” (Cassel).
Cried unto the Lord.—See Judges 3:9; Judges 3:15; Judges 4:3; Psalm 107:13; Hosea 5:15.
Unto the children of Israel.—Perhaps assembled at some solemn feast, like the Passover.
I brought you up.—With the prophet’s message compare Judges 2:1-3; 2 Kings 17:36-38.
Out of the house of bondage.—A clear reference to Exodus 20:2. (Comp. Psalm 44:1-2.)
“As when five monarchs led to Gibeon’s fight
In rude array the harnessed Amorite.”
No deliverance can be promised till repentance has begun. When the warnings of the prophet are heeded the mission of the deliverer begins.
Under an oak.—Rather, under the terebinth (haêlah):—some well-known tree beside the altar in Ophrath. (Comp. Genesis 35:4.)
Ophrah.—This Ophrah was in Western Manasseh. There was another in Benjamin (Joshua 18:23). The name means “fawn,” and the place is identified by Van de Velde with Erfai, near the north border of Ephraim.
Joash the Abi-ezrite.—Joash was the head of the family which descended from Abiezer, the son of Gilead, the son of Machir, the son of Manasseh (Numbers 26:30; Joshua 17:2).
Gideon.—The name means “hewer.”
Threshed wheat by the winepress.—Perhaps, rather, beating it out than threshing it, as in Ruth 2:17 (LXX., rhabdizōn). There would hardly be room for regular threshing in the confined space of a winepress, for wine-presses were vats sunk in the ground.
To hide it.—Literally, to make it fly (Exodus 9:20). The threshing-floors—open circular places in the fields where the corn was trodden out by oxen—would naturally be the first places where an invading enemy would come to forage, as in 1 Samuel 23:1.
Why then is all this befallen us?—See Deuteronomy 31:17 : “Are not these evils come upon us, because our God is not among us?” The words “all this” sound like an echo of Gideon’s gloomy thoughts—the thoughts of his country and his brothers, which had been darkening his soul amid his hard toil. “A mighty indication of God’s favour to me that I am forced to use this wine-press instead of a threshing-floor” (Jos.).
Where be all his miracles?—See Psalm 78:12; Psalm 89:49.
The Lord hath forsaken us.—See Psalm 13:1; 2 Chronicles 15:2 : “If ye forsake him, he will forsake you.”
Have not I sent thee?—See 1 Samuel 12:11 : “The Lord sent Jerubbaal.”
Wherewith shall I save Israel?—We repeatedly find this preliminary diffidence of humility in those whom God selects for His service. (Comp. Exodus 4:1-13; 1 Samuel 9:21; Isaiah 6:5; Jeremiah 1:6-7, &c.)
My family.—Literally, my thousand (Exodus 18:21; 1 Samuel 10:19).
Poor.—Rather, the meanest, as is shown by the article “my thousand is the mean one,” just as David is called “the little one” of his brethren (1 Samuel 18:14). What had caused this depression of the house of Abiezer we do not know, but it may have been due in part to the overweening pride of Ephraim.
I am the least in my father’s house.—He was also the last of his father’s house. All his brethren had been slain.
Smite the Midianites as one man.—See Chap’
19 1:8; Numbers 14:15.
Shew me a sign that thou talkest with me.—Give me some clear proof that this is no mere vision, and that thy message is really from God, and portends me favour. (See Psalm 86:17; Isaiah 7:11.)
Depart not hence.—Comp. 1 Kings 13:15.
My present.—My minchah. The word means first “an offering,” but specially “an offering to God,” as throughout the Book of Leviticus for the meat-offering of flour, &c. Hence the LXX. render it “the sacrifice”: “and I will sacrifice before thee.” Gideon seems, however, purposely to use a neutral word, suspecting, but not yet being convinced, that the stranger under the terebinth is something more than man. The desire to be hospitable may have mingled with his deepening sense of awe. (Comp. Judges 13:15; Genesis 18:6.)
Of an ephah of flour.—About 22½ lbs. A homer would have been sufficient, as we see from Exodus 16:16. An ephah is ten homers; but Eastern hospitality considers nothing to be too lavish.
Presented it.—See Judges 13:19. The Vatican MS. of the LXX. renders it “approached,” which is inadequate, and the other MSS. “worshipped,” which is too strong. The word has a middle sense: “offered it with respect and reverence.”
Upon this rock.—Rather, upon yonder crag. The living rock (Exodus 20:22) served well as an altar.
Pour out the broth.—Comp. Genesis 35:14; Exodus 30:9; 1 Kings 18:34. In the first of these instances the “drink offering” is used as a libation; in the last Elijah pours the sea-water on the sacrifice, to show the impossibility of any deception. In 2 Maccabees 1:20-36 Nehemiah pours the “thick water,” called “Naphthai,” on the sacrifice, and when the sun shone “there was a great fire kindled, so that every man marvelled.”
There rose up fire.—The common sign of God’s presence and of His acceptance of an offering. (See Leviticus 9:24; 1 Kings 18:24; 1 Chronicles 21:26; 2 Chronicles 7:1.) Water is brought out of the rock for the blessing of man, and fire to show the presence of God.
Departed.—It is not said, as in Judges 13:20, that he ascended in the flame.
Alas !—There is no need to supply “I shall die” at the end of the clause, but that this was the apprehension in Gideon’s mind is shown by his cry of alarm.
For because.—Rather, for to this end. The belief that death or misfortune would be the result of looking on any Divine being was universal among the Jews. We find it in Judges 13:22; Genesis 16:13; Genesis 32:30; Exodus 20:19; Deuteronomy 5:24-25. He said, “Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live” (Exodus 33:20; Isaiah 6:5; Luke 5:8). The existence of the same belief among the heathen is shown in the legends of Semele, Actæon, Psyche, &c.; and Callimachus sings, “Whosoever, save by God’s own choice, looks on any of the immortals, sees them only to his own great cost.”
Peace be unto thee; fear not.—Comp. Daniel 10:7-9; Daniel 10:19; Ezekiel 1:28 to Ezekiel 2:1; Mark 16:8; Luke 1:13; Luke 2:10; Revelation 1:17, &c.
Jehovah-shalom.—“The Lord is peace.” We find similar names in Jehovah-jireh, “the Lord will provide” (Genesis 22:14); Jehovah-nissi, “the Lord my banner” (Exodus 17:15); and Jehovah-tsidkenn, “the Lord our righteousness” (Jeremiah 23:6). (Comp. Ezekiel 48:35.) See Pearson on the Creed, Art. 2.
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 yeàrs 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 Phœnician 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.”
In the ordered place.—The margin reads, “in an orderly manner;” but probably neither version is quite correct. The Hebrew word is bammaarachah (comp. Leviticus 24:6; 2 Chronicles 2:4); and as the particle be is used of the materials with which a thing is built in 1 Kings 15:22; some here render it, “with the materials.” That the Jews themselves were not quite certain of the meaning appears from the various versions. The LXX. render it, “in the arrangement,” and the Vulg., “on which you have before placed the sacrifice.” It means “with the Asherah pillar hewed down, and split up into firewood.” The Jews point out the peculiar features of this burnt offering: (1) It was not at Shiloh; (2) it was not offered by a priest; (3) it was offered at night; and (4) the fire was kindled with the unhallowed materials of an idol. The Divine command was, of course, more than sufficient to justify these merely ritual irregularities; and, indeed, it is clear that in these rude times, when the country was in the hands of the heathen, the Levitic order of worship became, for the time, impossible in many particulars. Prophets and those directly commissioned by heaven were tacitly regarded as exempt from the strict rules of outward ritual which were necessary for the mass of the nation.
His father’s household.—The Abi-ezrites.
The men of the city.—Of whom many may have been of Canaanite race.
Cast down.—They observed three things: viz., the demolished altar of Baal; the stump of the destroyed Asherah; and a new altar, with the remains of a burnt offering smoking upon it.
The second bullock.—It has been supposed that Gideon offered both bullocks, the first as a burnt offering for his family, and the second for the nation. Nothing, however, is said of the fate of the young bullock; and, apart from express direction, Gideon may have hesitated to offer to the Lord a sacrifice which may have been devoted to Baal.
Bring out thy son, that he may die.—For the phrase, see Genesis 38:24; 1 Kings 21:10; Luke 19:27.
Will ye plead for Baal?—The pronoun ye is very emphatic, being twice expressed in the Hebrew.
He that will plead for him, let him be put to death.—These words of Joash were extraordinarily bold and cunning. Possibly the brave act of his son may have roused his conscience, and Gideon may have told him that he had acted under Divine guidance. But he saves his son’s life, not by excusing his act, but by feigning such a zeal for Baal as to denounce it as a blasphemous impiety to suppose that Baal will not avenge his own insult—an impiety so monstrous, that the man who was guilty of it should be at once put to death. Thus he made Baal-worship a plea for not avenging the insult offered to Baal. He was well aware that if he thus gained time, the fact that Baal did not interfere to protect himself from such fearful outrage would weigh powerfully with all his worshippers. Among idolaters the sight of an act of open contempt for their idol often shakes their superstitious reverence. Aristophanes, Persius, and Lucían sneer at the inability of Jupiter to defend his own temple, golden locks, and golden beard. When Olaf had the huge image of Odin destroyed, and when the high priest Coifi at Saxmundham, clad in armour and mounted on horseback (two things which were forbidden to a priest), rode up to the Saxon idols and hurled them down, the people, seeing that no thunder followed, but that all went on as well as usual, were quite ready to embrace Christianity.
Whilst it is yet morning.—The Hebrew is ad habbōker (“until morning”); LXX., heōs prōi, which may mean, “before to-morrow’s sun has dawned.” (Antequan lux crastina veniat, Vulg.; as also the Syriac, Arabic, and Chaldee.) It is a much more likely rendering than that of the E.V., for it implies, “Let us wait till to-morrow, to see whether Baal will avenge himself.” Joash knew that in popular outbreaks procrastination means security.
If he be a god.—Compare the language of Elijah to the Baal and Asherah priests (1 Kings 18:21; 1 Kings 18:27).
Jerubbaal.—The name meant, “Let Baal strive;” but might also mean, “let it be striven with Baal,” or “Baal’s antagonist,” and this gave the name a more ready currency. It is possible that the name may have been yet more allusive, since from the Palmyrene inscriptions it appears that there was a deity named Jaribolos (Mover’s Phönizier, 1:434). If in 2 Samuel 11:21 we find the name Jerubbesheth, this is only due to the fondness of the Jews for avoiding the names of idols, and changing them into terms of insult. It was thus that they literally interpreted the law of Exodus 23:13 (comp. Joshua 23:7). It was a part of that contumelia numinum with which the ancients charged them (Plin. xiii. 9). I have adduced other instances in Language and Languages, p. 232. (Longmans.) Bosheth means “shame,” i.e., “that shameful thing,” and was a term of scorn for Baal (Hosea 9:10; Jeremiah 11:13). We have two other instances of this change in the case of the sons of Saul. Whether from a faithless syncretism, or a tendency to downright apostasy, he called one of his sons Esh-baal, i.e., “man of Baal,” and another Merib-baal (1 Chronicles 8:33-34); but the Jews angrily and contemptuously changed these names into Ishbosheth and Mephibosheth (2 Samuel 2:10; 2 Samuel 4:4). Ewald, however, and others have conjectured that both Baal and Bosheth may, at one time, have had more harmless associations (see especially 2 Samuel 5:20), and it appears that there was a Baal among the ancestors of Saul (1 Chronicles 8:30). The LXX. write the name Hierobalos; and Eusebius (Praep. Evang. i. 9), quoting from Philo Byblius, tells us that a Gentile historian named Sanchoniatho, of Berytus, whom he praises for his accuracy in Jewish history and geography, had received assistance “from Hierombalos, the priest of the god Iao.” Some have supposed that this is an allusion to Gideon, under the name Jerubbaal.
In the valley of Jezreel.—As the Philistines did afterwards (1 Samuel 29:1; 1 Samuel 29:11). Crossing the fords near Bethshean, they were probably encamped, not in the broad part of the plain of Jezreel, but in the valley between Gilboa and Little Hermon. The word Jezreel means “God’s sowing.” (See Hosea 2:22.)
Blew a trumpet.—See Judges 3:27. The trumpet is shophar, or ram’s horn (LXX., keratine). Gideon’s call was two-fold: the first he had already obeyed in destroying the Baal-worship at Ophrah; he now begins to obey the second, which was to deliver his country.
Asher.—This tribe, by faithfulness on this occasion, partly redeemed its honour from the tarnish attached of its former defection. This time Asher did not linger on the sands of Accho or the rocks of the Tyrian Ladder. Issachar, however, as before, “bowed his shoulder to the yoke.” Perhaps the fact that the Plain of Jezreel, the battle-field of Palestine, was in the domains of this tribe, though not far from the border of Manasseh (Joshua 17:16), was unfavourable to their independence and strength. The fierce and haughty character of the tribe of Ephraim, and their jealousy of any leader who did not come from themselves, may have prevented Gideon from risking a rebuff by sending to them.
Zebulun, Naphtali.—These tribes again distinguished themselves, as in the campaign against Jabin (Judges 5:18).
In the floor.—i.e., on the open threshing-floor. (See Note on Judges 6:11, and comp. Psalm 1:4; Hosea 13:3.)
If the dew be on the fleece only.—The very fact that this circumstance might be a purely natural result only shows the simple truthfulness of the narrative. Gideon would hardly have asked for this sign if he had been aware that, taken alone, it would be no sign of supernatural guidance. Bishop Hervey quotes Lord Bacon, who says (Nat Hist.) that “Sailors have used every night to hang fleeces of wool on the sides of their ships towards the water, and they have crushed fresh water out of them in the morning.” Every one must have noticed flocks of wool on the hedges, sparkling with dewdrops long after the dew on the leaves around them has evaporated. In Psalm 72:6 (Prayer Book), “He shall come down like the rain into a fleece of wool,” the Hebrew word is the same as here, and the ancient version takes it in the same sense (LXX., epi plokon; Vulg., in vellus); but perhaps the true sense is there “mown grass,” as in Amos 7:1 (mowings).