Read the Passage: Judges 6
Oppression by Midianites (6:1–10)
After the victory of Deborah and Barak over Jabin and Sisera, the Israelites enjoyed forty years of peace (cf. Judg. 5:31). As could be expected, though, once again “the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord” (Judg. 6:1). This resulted in seven years of harsh oppression by the Midianites. So begins the fourth cycle of oppression narrated in the book of Judges. The feud between the Israelites and Midianites extended for more than 300 years and reached back to the time of Moses. Recall that the Midianites were the people who had hired Balaam to curse the Jews as they approached the Promised Land (cf. Num. 22–24) and had later been responsible for leading the Israelites into sexual sin at Peor, which resulted in a plague that killed twenty-four thousand people (cf. Num. 25:1–15). Note that God had earlier sent His armies against the Midianites in retribution for their treachery (cf. Num. 25:16–18; 31:1–11).
In the earlier cycles of oppression narrated in the book of Judges, God’s response was to send a judge for deliverance. However, when the Israelites cried out to Him about the Midianite oppression, the Lord sent a prophet. Observe that only a few men are explicitly called prophets prior to this point in Scripture, including Abraham (cf. Gen. 20:7), Moses (cf. Deut. 18:18), and Aaron (cf. Exod. 7:1). Note, too, that Miriam (cf. Exod. 15:20) and Deborah (cf. Judg. 4:4) are called prophetesses. It wasn’t until after the time of Samuel, which was roughly 125 years in the future, that prophets began to proliferate in Israel. Therefore, the unnamed prophet whom God sent at Judg. 6:7–10 is quite significant. As with the later prophets whom God would send, this man delivered a word from God to mankind. This prophet’s message was that God had been continually faithful; however, the Israelites had been repeatedly disobedient.
Call of Gideon (6:11–35)
In Judg. 6:11–27, Gideon is introduced. Gideon would become the fifth judge of Israel. Of the twelve judges described in this book, only Samson has more material written about him in Scripture. The details about Gideon extend from Judg. 6:11–8:32. Note, as well, that Gideon is one of only four judges mentioned by name in the New Testament (cf. Heb. 11:32). Here in Judges 6 we learn that Gideon is threshing grain, in secret, and meets the angel of the Lord. Upon meeting Him, Gideon complained about the Midianite oppression, even accusing God of having forsaken the Israelites (cf. Judg. 6:13). Clearly, Gideon was not aware the he was speaking to the Lord, and he displayed a brash attitude and was later surprised by God’s directive that he save Israel. Like Moses before him (cf. Exod. 33:12–23), and Manoah after him (cf. Judg. 13:1–25), Gideon sought a sign to confirm God’s instructions, to which God graciously agreed.
In Judg. 6:25–27 God had instructed Gideon to tear down an altar and wooden image of Baal, build an altar to God, and sacrifice a bull to the Lord. In this passage we once again see the timidity of Gideon, as he brings ten men with him to accomplish this task and he orchestrates the event under the cover of darkness. Judg. 6:28–35 narrates the reaction of the townspeople in the morning. Predictably, the people are upset at the loss of their altar and wooden image. When they learn that Gideon is responsible, they demand that Gideon’s father, whose name we learn was Joash, surrender Gideon to be killed. The response of Joash in Judg. 6:31–32 is surprising, as he points out the ineptitude of Baal to defend his own altar and image. Note the similar response of Elijah, over 300 years later, at 1 Kings 18. The result of these events was the marshaling of the armies to engage in battle.
Sign of the Fleece (6:36–40)
The details of the narrative about Gideon’s fleece are well-known by most Christians: in order to confirm that he would deliver the Israelites from Midianite oppression, Gideon tested God on successive evenings by putting out a fleece. Gideon first asked that the fleece be wet and the ground remain dry, and then that the ground be wet and the fleece remain dry. God graciously accommodated both of Gideon’s requests, thus confirming to Gideon his place as Israel’s deliverer. Some believers view Gideon’s example as a blueprint to be followed as they metaphorically “put out a fleece” in order to discern the will of God via some contrived test. However, since God had already explicitly revealed His will to Gideon via His words (see Judg. 6:11–27), it is evident that Gideon’s request for a sign was actually born out of doubt and spiritual immaturity. Thus, the sign of the fleece was not a demonstration of faith to be mimicked, but an accommodation of God, which merely confirmed His already revealed will.
- What do you know about the judge Gideon? What are the differences between God’s judgment for sin and His discipline of those whom He loves?
- Why do you think God sent a prophet before He sent a judge? What is the significance of the prophet’s message at Judg. 6:8–10?
- Why does Gideon fear once he realizes that the messenger with whom he has been talking is the Lord (cf. Judg. 6:22–23)?
- Like Gideon, have you ever doubted God’s Word or delayed your obedience? How has God’s long-suffering, compassion, and grace been evident in your life?
- Have you ever constructed a test on your own in an attempt to discern the will of God? What are the dangers of trying to design our own fleece-type events?