Judges 6
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Chs. 6–8. Gideon delivers Israel from the Midianites

For some years the Midianites had been the terror of Central Palestine. These nomad Arabs from the S.E. desert used to pour into the country during harvest time, and devastate the fertile neighbourhood of Shechem and the plain of Jezreel. At last Gideon, a Manassite belonging to the clan of Abiezer, contrived with a small band of fellow clansmen to rid the land of this intolerable scourge: he inflicted a severe defeat upon the invaders, and put their chiefs to death. As a trophy of the victory he made out of the spoils an ephod, which he set up in the sanctuary of Jehovah at Ophrah, his native village, where he spent the rest of his days with much dignity and influence. The ‘day of Midian’ was long remembered as a notable instance of. Jehovah’s intervention on behalf of Israel: see Isaiah 9:4; Isaiah 10:26, Psalm 83:9-12.

The main outlines of the story are clear, but the details raise problems which have not yet been solved. Different traditions have been pieced together; these again have received later additions; and the various elements are interwoven in a manner which renders the literary analysis of these chapters unusually difficult and uncertain. (a) It will be noticed at once that Jdg 8:4-21 is not the sequel of the preceding narrative. In Jdg 8:4-21 Gideon with 300 men pursues the Midianite kings Zeba and Zalmunna on the E. of the Jordan as far as the edge of the desert, captures them, and slays them with his own hand; on one of their forays they had murdered his brothers at Tabor; the motive of Gideon’s pursuit is to satisfy his personal revenge. In Jdg 6:1 to Jdg 8:3 Gideon is called by God to deliver Israel from the repeated incursions of the Midianites; he attacks their camp near Mt Gilboa and creates a disastrous panic; the men of Ephraim are summoned to his aid, and they cut off the fugitives at the fords of Jordan; they capture and kill the two princes Oreb and Zeeb. Here the whole action, like the deliverance, is national. In Jdg 7:25 b and Jdg 8:10 b an editor has tried to harmonize the two accounts. They do not necessarily contradict one another. It is quite likely that private motives spurred Gideon to place himself at the head of a united resistance, when God called him, and that he took the opportunity to wipe off a score of his own against the common enemy, (b) But Jdg 6:1 to Jdg 8:3 itself is not a consistent whole. Thus the call of Gideon is described in Jdg 6:11-24 and again, altogether differently, in Jdg 6:25-32; the summons to the neighbouring tribes is sent out before the battle in Jdg 6:35, and after it in Jdg 7:23; two traditions seem to be mingled in the account of the attack, Jdg 7:15-21, in one of them the trumpets were remembered as a feature of the story, in the other the torches and pitchers.

It is difficult to decide whether the antecedents of Jdg 8:4-21 can or cannot be traced in the composite narrative, Jdg 6:1 to Jdg 8:3. Some critics regard Jdg 8:4-21 as an excerpt from a third source and unrelated to what precedes; others attempt to connect it with one of the two accounts of Gideon’s call and his attack upon the camp near Mt Gilboa. On the one hand Jdg 8:4-21 does not suggest that a disastrous battle and a desperate flight had just occurred; the Midianite kings are encamped on the edge of the E. desert in careless security; apparently they have returned from a foray in the West, most likely the one in which they killed Gideon’s brothers; they do not suspect any pursuit. But, on the other hand, this episode does imply some previous account of Gideon and of a Midianite invasion; possibly too (but this is more questionable), some tradition of a recent attack upon the Midianites on the W. of Jordan (cf. Jdg 8:5). We may therefore connect Jdg 6:2-6 (in part), Jdg 6:11-24; Jdg 6:34, Jdg 7:1; Jdg 7:16-21 (in part) with Jdg 8:4-21, remembering, however, that the connexion with Jdg 7:1; Jdg 7:16-21 (in part) is less evident. The other narrative, generally allowed to be the later of the two, will then consist of Jdg 6:7-10; Jdg 6:25-33; Jdg 6:35 a, Jdg 6:36-40, Jdg 7:9-21 (in part), Jdg 7:22 to Jdg 8:3.

It will be seen that both in the older (Jdg 8:4) and in the later narrative (Jdg 8:2 f.) Gideon’s force was composed of his own Abiezrites; the number 300 seems to have been a fixed element in the general tradition. The description of the way in which the immense host of volunteers was reduced to this figure, Jdg 6:35 f., Jdg 7:2-8, must have been added later to the two main narratives.

The closing verses, Jdg 8:22-35, contain the loose ends of the fragmentary traditions which have been pieced together in the preceding history. The ephod belongs to the archaic stage of religion; Jdg 8:24-27 a (to Ophrah) fit in very well as the conclusion of the early narrative, Jdg 8:4-21. As it stands, Jdg 8:29 is obviously out of place after Jdg 8:27, but it would form a suitable sequel to Jdg 8:3. The offer and refusal of the kingship, Jdg 8:22-23, betray the theocratic bias of a later age. Jdg 8:30-32 furnish the transition to the story of Abimelech, and shew signs of a late editorial hand. In Jdg 8:27 b, Jdg 8:28; Jdg 8:33-35, as in Jdg 6:1 and here and there in Jdg 6:2-6, we recognize the familiar handiwork of the Deuteronomic redactor, who, in his customary manner, provided the whole story with introduction and conclusion, and interpreted it on his own religious principles.

The preceding analysis is merely an attempt to account for the way in which the narrative has been put together. The text as we have it contains inconsistent and duplicate versions, which to a certain extent can be distinguished, but it is impossible to trace them apart all the way through.

And the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD: and the LORD delivered them into the hand of Midian seven years.
1–6. The Midianite oppression

1. The Deuteronomic editor introduces a fresh subject in his accustomed manner: cf. Jdg 2:11; Jdg 2:14, Jdg 3:7, Jdg 4:1.

Midian] The Midianites had their homes on the E. of the ‘Arâbah; see Genesis 25:6. At times they are found as far N. as Moab (Genesis 36:35, Numbers 22:4; Numbers 25:15 ff; Numbers 31:1-12), while some section of them lived as far S. as the Gulf of ‘Aḳăbah; a trace of this southern settlement was long preserved in the name of the town called Modiana by Ptolemy (Jdg 6:7; Jdg 6:2) and Madyan by Arab geographers, 75 miles S. of Elath; cf. Euseb., Onom. Sacr., 136 f. Again, the Midianites are said to have inhabited the Sinaitic peninsula. Horeb, the mountain of God, lay in their territory, Exodus 2:15 ff; Exodus 3:1, cf. Habakkuk 3:7; from 1 Kings 11:18 Midian appears to be a district between Edom and Paran on the way to Egypt, i.e. in the N.E. of the Sinaitic desert. These various statements do not enable us to fix any exact boundaries; probably the Midianites shifted their territory in the course of ages. They ranged over the desert E. and S. of Palestine, engaged chiefly in warfare and in escorting trade-caravans (Genesis 37:28, Isaiah 60:6). The tendency of Arab tribes was to move northwards; accordingly we find the Midianites advancing up the desert E. of the caravan-route, and making forays from time to time into Edom1[35], Moab, and Gilead; on this occasion they even enter Palestine, probably by the valleys Wadi Jâlûd or W. Fara‘, which lead up from the Jordan into the central district. They were tempted by the harvests, and their incursions, here described as taking place repeatedly, caused wide-spread misery. The Bedouin of the desert always looked upon the agricultural population as lawful prey.

[35] Ewald made the attractive suggestion that the battle alluded to in Genesis 36:35 may have been a secondary result of Gideon’s victory described here. Hist. Isr. ii. 336.

And the hand of Midian prevailed against Israel: and because of the Midianites the children of Israel made them the dens which are in the mountains, and caves, and strong holds.
2. the hand … prevailed] A formula of Rd; cf. Jdg 3:10.

dens] This translation is a guess from the context. The mention of caves prepares the way for 11b; for strong holds cf. 1 Samuel 23:14; 1 Samuel 23:19; 1 Samuel 23:29 etc. Under pressure from the Philistines at a later time similar refuges were used, 1 Samuel 13:6.

And so it was, when Israel had sown, that the Midianites came up, and the Amalekites, and the children of the east, even they came up against them;
3. the Amalekites] Hereditary foes of Israel, Exodus 17:8 ff.; see on Jdg 3:13. The children of the East were Bedouin from the desert E. of Moab and Ammon; see Jeremiah 49:28, Ezekiel 25:4; Ezekiel 25:10. These tribes appear again in Jdg 6:33 and Jdg 7:12. There is no reason why they should not have joined the Midianite raids, but they do not belong to the earlier form of the tradition which is concerned with the Midianites only.

And they encamped against them, and destroyed the increase of the earth, till thou come unto Gaza, and left no sustenance for Israel, neither sheep, nor ox, nor ass.
4. Gaza] in the far south-west, near the coast; a long way from the Manassite district.

For they came up with their cattle and their tents, and they came as grasshoppers for multitude; for both they and their camels were without number: and they entered into the land to destroy it.
5. as locusts] Repeated in Jdg 7:12; for the comparison see Jeremiah 46:23. The text of Jdg 6:3-5 shews signs of a mixed origin. Thus the grammar is irregular, frequentative tenses in Jdg 6:3 are followed by narrative aorists in Jdg 6:4, and these again by frequentatives in Jdg 6:5. Notice the repetition of came up in Jdg 6:3 and came into in Jdg 6:5; the Amalekites, and the children of the east is due to the same hand as Jdg 6:33 and Jdg 7:12; till thou come to Gaza has the look of an editorial exaggeration. Perhaps in their simplest form the verses may have run: “(3) And it used to happen that when Israel had sown, Midian used to come up against him, (4) and they used to leave no sustenance … nor ass, (5) for they and their cattle used to come up, and their tents, and come into the land to destroy it.” This may have formed the introduction to the earlier of the two narratives which are combined in 6–8; and the remaining sentences may have been derived from the introduction to the later of the two narratives (Moore, Nowack, Lagrange), or they may be merely glosses (Budde). The whole passage has been pieced together by the Dtc. editor.

And Israel was greatly impoverished because of the Midianites; and the children of Israel cried unto the LORD.
6. and … cried] Editorial formula; see Jdg 3:9 n.

And it came to pass, when the children of Israel cried unto the LORD because of the Midianites,
7–10. A prophet is sent with a reproof

8. a prophet] This prophetic expostulation reminds us of the words of the Angel in Jdg 2:1 b – Jdg 2:5 a, of Jehovah in Jdg 10:11-16, of Samuel in 1 Samuel 7:3 f., Jdg 10:17-18, Jdg 12:6-15; cf. also 2 Kings 17:35-40. The prophet here is anonymous. His appeal for loyalty is based upon (a) the deliverance from Egypt, which was regarded by the earliest prophets as the starting-point of Israel’s career as the people of Jehovah, Amos 2:10; Amos 3:1; Amos 9:7, Hosea 11:1; Hosea 12:9; Hosea 12:13; Hosea 13:4, and (b) the law in Exodus 20:2 f. (= Deuteronomy 5:7) requiring the exclusive worship of Jehovah.

That the LORD sent a prophet unto the children of Israel, which said unto them, Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, I brought you up from Egypt, and brought you forth out of the house of bondage;
And I delivered you out of the hand of the Egyptians, and out of the hand of all that oppressed you, and drave them out from before you, and gave you their land;
9. that oppressed you] See on Jdg 2:18; and drave them out cf. Exodus 34:11 JE, Joshua 24:18 E. Jdg 6:8-9 are repeated in 1 Samuel 10:18, possibly copied from here.

The aim of Jdg 6:7-10 is to enforce the principle that reformation must precede deliverance. But the prophet has hardly reached this point when his speech is abruptly broken off, and one of the main narratives begins (11–24). These verses must be earlier than the Dtc. compiler, who would not have curtailed the speech had he inserted it himself. They seem to be the handiwork of the Elohistic school; thus because of in Jdg 6:7 (an uncommon expression in Hebr.), cf. Genesis 21:11; Genesis 21:25, Numbers 12:1 etc. E; brought you up from Egypt Jdg 6:8, cf. Genesis 46:4; Genesis 50:24, Joshua 24:17 E (also in J); from the house of bondage Jdg 6:8, cf. Exodus 13:3; Exodus 13:14 JE, Exodus 20:2 E, Joshua 24:17 E (also in D); the Amorites Jdg 6:9, cf. Genesis 15:16, Numbers 21:13; Numbers 21:21; Numbers 21:31, Joshua 24:8; Joshua 24:15; Joshua 24:18 etc. E, and see Jdg 1:34 n. The parallels with Joshua 24:15-20 are particularly noticeable.

And I said unto you, I am the LORD your God; fear not the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but ye have not obeyed my voice.
And there came an angel of the LORD, and sat under an oak which was in Ophrah, that pertained unto Joash the Abiezrite: and his son Gideon threshed wheat by the winepress, to hide it from the Midianites.
11–24. The call of Gideon. Sequel of 2–6a

11. the angel of the Lord] i.e. Jehovah Himself in manifestation; see on Jdg 2:1. Closely parallel are the appearances in Jdg 13:3-23 and Genesis 18 J; the Angel or Messenger appears in human form, and in the end is recognized as Jehovah; cf. also Genesis 16:7-14 J, Genesis 32:24-30 J (cf. Hosea 12:4 f.), Exodus 3:2-6 E. Here the Angel shews himself in the guise of a ‘traveller unknown,’ resting under a tree, with a staff in his hand. Both here and in ch. 13 the thought and language contain much in common with the narratives of J in the Pentateuch.

the oak] Marg. terebinth, Hebr. ’çlâh; it is better to keep the rendering oak for the Hebr. ’allâh, ’allôn. The terebinth or turpentine tree bears a resemblance to the oak, but it grows singly, not in clumps. The terebinth at Ophrah was no doubt a sacred tree, hence the Angel appeared under it; for the same reason Jehovah appeared ‘among the terebinths of Mamre’ Genesis 18:1; cf. Genesis 13:18 J. Sacred trees are still to be met with in Palestine (Curtis, Primitive Sem. Religion To-day, pp. 90 ff.).

in Ophrah] called O. of the Abiezrites in Jdg 6:24, Jdg 8:32, to distinguish it from the Benjamite Ophrah Joshua 18:23, 1 Samuel 13:17. The town probably lay to the S. of the Great Plain and not far from Shechem (ch. 9), but the site is unknown. The tree, not Ophrah, was the property of Joash; in the parallel account, Jdg 6:25-32, it is the local altar which belonged to him. Abiezer was a clan of Manasseh, Numbers 26:30, Joshua 17:2.

the winepress] where the grapes were trodden. It was a tank or trough (Hebr. gath) excavated in the rock, and connected by a drain with the wine vat (Hebr. yeḳeb Jdg 7:25), into which the juice ran. As the threshing-floor (Jdg 6:37) was always situated in an exposed place, Gideon had to use the winepress in order to escape notice, and there the corn could only be ‘beaten out’ with a stick in small quantities at a time; cf. Ruth 2:17.

And the angel of the LORD appeared unto him, and said unto him, The LORD is with thee, thou mighty man of valour.
12. The Lord is with thee] Cf. Jdg 6:16 : an assurance given to chosen instruments of God’s purpose, such as Jacob, Genesis 28:15, Moses, Exodus 3:12, Joshua, Joshua 1:5. The Angel noticed the energy which Gideon put into his work; he was a strong man, like Jephthah Jdg 11:1. The winepress must have been situated near the terebinth.

And Gideon said unto him, Oh my Lord, if the LORD be with us, why then is all this befallen us? and where be all his miracles which our fathers told us of, saying, Did not the LORD bring us up from Egypt? but now the LORD hath forsaken us, and delivered us into the hands of the Midianites.
13. his wondrous works … from Egypt] Cf. Exodus 3:20; Exodus 34:10, Joshua 3:5 J. Tradition, handed down from father to son (Psalm 44:1; Psalm 78:3), regarded the deliverance from Egypt and the divine interventions during the wanderings as the starting-point and evidence of Jehovah’s special relation to Israel. These words have the appearance of a later insertion.

And the LORD looked upon him, and said, Go in this thy might, and thou shalt save Israel from the hand of the Midianites: have not I sent thee?
14. the Lord turned towards him] The narrator lets us into the secret, though Gideon has not yet recognized who the Traveller is; LXX here and in Jdg 6:16 (cf. LXX Exodus 4:24) reads ‘the angel of the Lord,’ an obvious way of introducing consistency.

Go in this thy might] See on Jdg 6:12. Gideon’s natural qualities were capable of being set to higher tasks. ‘God takes men as they are and makes them what they are not.’

have not I sent thee?] do not I send thee? The language of the speaker both here and in Jdg 6:16 seems to us to betray his real character; but Gideon does not see through the disguise till Jdg 6:22.

And he said unto him, Oh my Lord, wherewith shall I save Israel? behold, my family is poor in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father's house.
15. Oh Lord] Read with a slight change, Oh my lord as in Jdg 6:13.

my family … the least] Saul used the same plea, 1 Samuel 9:21. ‘Family’ is lit. ‘thousand,’ a division of the tribe which corresponds to a ‘clan’ (mishpâḥâh); the ‘clan’ or ‘thousand’ consisted of several ‘fathers’ houses,’ the ‘house’ of a number of individuals; see 1 Samuel 10:19-21.

And the LORD said unto him, Surely I will be with thee, and thou shalt smite the Midianites as one man.
16. Surely I will be with thee] The same words as in Exodus 3:12 E. The LXX reads ‘And the Angel of the Lord said unto him, The Lord will be with thee’; hence Moore and Budde emend ‘and he said, Jehovah will be with thee.’ If the text be allowed to stand, we must suppose that the narrator is thinking of the reader, who knows the secret, rather than of Gideon, who is still in ignorance.

And he said unto him, If now I have found grace in thy sight, then shew me a sign that thou talkest with me.
17. shew me a sign that it is thou] Gideon asks for a sign that it is indeed Jehovah who charges him with this great undertaking (Jdg 6:14; Jdg 6:16); but in the following verse Gideon clearly does not know who is addressing him. Jehovah wills partly to retain and partly to withdraw the disguise. His words suggest to Gideon that He is no ordinary stranger. But some scholars think that these words (Jdg 6:17 b) cannot come from the same hand as Jdg 6:18.

Depart not hence, I pray thee, until I come unto thee, and bring forth my present, and set it before thee. And he said, I will tarry until thou come again.
18. Depart not hence] is the natural sequel of Jdg 6:17 a. Like Abraham (Genesis 18:3 ff.) and Manoah (ch. Jdg 13:15), Gideon presses hospitality upon the stranger. He had to run home in order to prepare the food, for the winepress was outside the village.

my present] The word has this meaning in Jdg 3:15; Jdg 3:17, Genesis 32:13 ff; Genesis 33:10; Genesis 43:11 ff. etc.; but it is used more frequently of an offering made to God, whether of animals or of the fruit of the earth, e.g. Genesis 4:3-5, 1 Samuel 2:17; 1 Samuel 2:29; in the later ritual usage it becomes the technical term for the meal- or grain-offering, Ezekiel 46:14, and always in P. In the present case Gideon prepares a present of food for his guest, not an offering to God; but in view of what happened the writer chose a word which might bear either sense. The LXX definitely renders ‘sacrifice.’ Cf. Jdg 13:19.

And Gideon went in, and made ready a kid, and unleavened cakes of an ephah of flour: the flesh he put in a basket, and he put the broth in a pot, and brought it out unto him under the oak, and presented it.
19. a kid] Cf. Jdg 13:15; Jdg 13:19 and Genesis 18:7 (a calf). An ephah was approximately equivalent to our bushel; in Genesis 18:6 Abraham orders the same quantity, ‘three seahs’ (= one ephah, cf. Isaiah 5:10 ephah in LXX = μέτρα τρία). Unleavened cakes could be made rapidly, 1 Samuel 28:24; for the basket and pot cf. Genesis 40:16 ff., 1 Samuel 2:14.

and presented it] lit. ‘brought it near,’ cf. Genesis 27:25. Perhaps we should read with the LXX and drew near (involving only a change of vowels), for the meal has not yet passed out of Gideon’s hands; he is expecting to be told what to do with it.

And the angel of God said unto him, Take the flesh and the unleavened cakes, and lay them upon this rock, and pour out the broth. And he did so.
20. He is now told to set down the flesh and the cakes upon the rock, and to pour out the broth. The latter act was distinctly sacrificial, though broth is not used elsewhere for a libation. There is reason to think that this verse did not belong to the original form of the narrative; note the terms ‘messenger of God,’ ‘rock’ (a different word from ‘rock’ in Jdg 6:21). At the same time a sentence is required, in view of Jdg 6:21, stating that Gideon set down the meal.

Then the angel of the LORD put forth the end of the staff that was in his hand, and touched the flesh and the unleavened cakes; and there rose up fire out of the rock, and consumed the flesh and the unleavened cakes. Then the angel of the LORD departed out of his sight.
21. fire … and consumed] The food intended for a meal is converted into a sacrifice, and supernatural fire betokens the divine acceptance; cf. Jdg 13:20, 1 Kings 18:38, 2 Chronicles 7:1, Leviticus 9:24, 2Ma 2:10.

and the angel of the Lord departed] But in Jdg 6:23 Jehovah is still present and speaks to Gideon. Perhaps some distinction was felt at this point between Jehovah and the Angel of Jehovah; the partial manifestation was withdrawn, Jehovah Himself remained. Moore’s suggestion that these words were inserted on the analogy of Jdg 13:20 seems hardly necessary.

And when Gideon perceived that he was an angel of the LORD, Gideon said, Alas, O Lord GOD! for because I have seen an angel of the LORD face to face.
22. Now at last Gideon recognizes the nature of his Guest; he is overwhelmed with terror, for he has intruded upon the holiness of God, and death must be the penalty; cf. Jdg 13:22 and Genesis 16:13; Genesis 32:30, Exodus 33:20 (all J), Deuteronomy 4:33; Deuteronomy 5:24; Deuteronomy 5:26, Isaiah 6:5.

And the LORD said unto him, Peace be unto thee; fear not: thou shalt not die.
23. Peace be unto thee] Jehovah cherishes no resentment, nothing but good-will, cf. Genesis 43:23. This idea is finely developed by a prophet in Isaiah 54:9-10.

Then Gideon built an altar there unto the LORD, and called it Jehovahshalom: unto this day it is yet in Ophrah of the Abiezrites.
24. built an altar there] where the Deity had appeared; the patriarchs observed this custom, see Genesis 12:7; Genesis 26:25; Genesis 35:1. The altar with its name Jehovah is peace, i.e. well-disposed, commemorated the revelation; cf. the naming of an altar in Genesis 33:20; Genesis 35:7, Exodus 17:15 (all E). For Kittel’s interpretation of the episode see on Jdg 13:19. Perhaps Gideon’s experience conveyed to his mind a new religious idea. According to primitive belief, the Deity dwelt in a sacred tree or stone; but not in the terebinth or rock at Ophrah; the Messenger of Jehovah has no such dwelling; He comes as a traveller from some region that no one knows. Whether the burning of the sacrifice marked a change in religious practice is more doubtful.

The foregoing narrative presents several difficulties. The inconsistent use of Jehovah in Jdg 6:14; Jdg 6:16 may be accounted for by a lapse from strict dramatic fitness on the part of the writer; but the expressions in Jdg 6:14; Jdg 6:16-17 which imply that Gideon recognized the Angel before Jdg 6:22, cannot perhaps be explained in this way. It has been suggested (1) that these expressions have been inserted by a later editor to emphasize from the first the divine nature of Gideon’s Visitor and the sacrificial character of the meal; or (2) that the confusion is due to a double version, Jdg 6:14 b do not I send thee, Jdg 6:16-17 b being assigned to E, the rest belonging to J. But the distinction between the sources cannot be made out with much success. It is possible to explain the difficulty in Jdg 6:17 b in the way attempted in the note; but we must allow that the present form of the narrative cannot be original.

And it came to pass the same night, that the LORD said unto him, Take thy father's young bullock, even the second bullock of seven years old, and throw down the altar of Baal that thy father hath, and cut down the grove that is by it:
25. the same night] Not the night after the events related in 11–24, for the reasons just given. Moore suggests the night after the prophet delivered his message, 7–10. It is safer to say that the original connexion is lost.

thy father’s bullock and the second bullock of seven years old] The text is unintelligible and corrupt. The ‘bullock’ (lit. ‘the steer of the ox’) and ‘the second bullock’ are probably doublets; ‘the second bullock’ in Jdg 6:26; Jdg 6:28 must be derived from the corrupt form here. The LXX, cod. A and Luc, reads ‘the fatted calf’ instead of ‘the steer of the ox’; but no satisfactory emendation has been proposed. Probably the text originally contained a direction to take a young bullock for the purpose of a sacrifice.

the altar of Baal that thy father hath] To mark the resemblance to the previous clause, render thy father’s altar of Baal: this means that Joash was not merely the custodian but the proprietor of the altar, contrast Jdg 6:11. But the altar appears to belong to the village; the inhabitants are furious when they find it destroyed. Hence thy father’s (lit. ‘which belongs to thy father’) is probably a corrupt repetition of the same words in the sentence before. So Lagrange.

the Asherah that is by it] The sacred pole which stood beside the altar of Baal; see on Jdg 3:7.

25–32. Gideon overthrows the altar of Baal and receives the name Jerub-baal. This story has no connexion with the preceding narrative Jdg 6:11-24; for after Gideon had built the altar Jehovah-shalom (Jdg 6:24), it is not likely that he would have been told to build another altar at once and in the same place (Jdg 6:26). So far as any antecedents of the story exist they are to be found in Jdg 6:7-10, which denounce the worship of Canaanite (‘Amorite’) gods.

And build an altar unto the LORD thy God upon the top of this rock, in the ordered place, and take the second bullock, and offer a burnt sacrifice with the wood of the grove which thou shalt cut down.
26. build an altar unto the Lord] The present narrative tells another story about Gideon independently of what has gone before, Jdg 6:24.

this strong hold] Strictly ‘place of refuge’; but sometimes, as here and in Isaiah 17:9-10, the idea of strength is added. For Jehovah’s altar a new site is to be chosen.

in the orderly manner] The cognate verb is used in Numbers 23:4 of arranging altars, and elsewhere of arranging in order offerings or wood for sacrifice. The noun generally means a row or rank, esp. the ranks of an army, e.g. 1 Samuel 4:2; 1 Samuel 4:12 (‘army,’ marg. ‘array’); hence it may denote here the row or course of stones built into the altar. But the exact sense of the word is uncertain. The marg. may be ignored.

the second bullock] Probably the second has been introduced here and in Jdg 6:28 for the sake of verbal harmony with Jdg 6:25, where, however, the text is corrupt.

Then Gideon took ten men of his servants, and did as the LORD had said unto him: and so it was, because he feared his father's household, and the men of the city, that he could not do it by day, that he did it by night.
27. ten men of his servants] Clearly Gideon and his family held a position of consequence in the village.

And when the men of the city arose early in the morning, behold, the altar of Baal was cast down, and the grove was cut down that was by it, and the second bullock was offered upon the altar that was built.
And they said one to another, Who hath done this thing? And when they inquired and asked, they said, Gideon the son of Joash hath done this thing.
Then the men of the city said unto Joash, Bring out thy son, that he may die: because he hath cast down the altar of Baal, and because he hath cut down the grove that was by it.
30. Bring out thy son] If the father gave up his son there would be no blood-feud.

And Joash said unto all that stood against him, Will ye plead for Baal? will ye save him? he that will plead for him, let him be put to death whilst it is yet morning: if he be a god, let him plead for himself, because one hath cast down his altar.
31. Will ye plead for Baal?] Cf. Job 13:8. The pron. is emphatic: ‘Will ye contend for Baal? will ye save him?’ The next sentence, ‘whoever takes up arms for the false god shall be put to death forthwith,’ interrupts the argument, and introduces an idea foreign to the context; the words appear to have been inserted to make it plain that Joash did think Baal to be no real divinity. ‘Will ye contend for Baal? will ye save him? If he is a god let him contend for himself!’ Moore appropriately quotes as an illustration the saying of Tiberius to the consuls, ‘Deorum injuriae diis curae,’ Tacitus, Annal. i. 73.

whilst it is yet morning] i.e. ‘during the morning,’ cf. Jdg 3:26 ‘while they tarried,’ lit. ‘during their tarrying.’ But this use of the prep, is rare; lit. the words = until the morning, and this is best taken to mean by to-morrow morning, cf. Jdg 16:2.

Therefore on that day he called him Jerubbaal, saying, Let Baal plead against him, because he hath thrown down his altar.
32. on that day he called him Jerubbaal] Or with a slight change, he was called; in consequence of the foregoing episode the people give Gideon a new name. This is explained to mean ‘Let Baal contend against him’; but the explanation will not hold good, for (a) if Jerub-baal is connected with the verb rîb ‘contend,’ which is questionable, the meaning must be ‘Baal contends,’ without any further thought of ‘against him’: (b) of course Baal did not contend against Gideon, the point of the story is Baal’s impotence. The explanation given in the text rests, not upon a scientific etymology, but upon an assonance, as often elsewhere in the O.T. (e.g. Genesis 4:1, Exodus 2:10); Jerub-baal suggested the shrewd remark of Joash in Jdg 6:31, let Baal contend. Originally, no doubt, the name had quite another significance, and baal, i.e. ‘lord,’ referred to Jehovah. In early days baal could be used without offence in this way; thus we find such names as Ish-baal, Merib-baal, Baal-yada in the families of Saul and David, whose loyalty to Jehovah was above suspicion; one of David’s heroes was even called Baal-jah. But the dangerous associations of the title led the prophets to discountenance this usage (see especially Hosea 2:16), and it was given up; the names just mentioned were altered to Ish-bosheth (‘shame’), Mephi-bosheth, El-yada1[36]. Jerub-baal was allowed to stand, because the general drift of the present narrative (as distinct from the explanation given in this verse) suggested the interpretation ‘Adversary of Baal,’ cf. LXX. cod. A δικαστήριον τοῦ Βάαλ; nevertheless in 2 Samuel 11:21 the name is changed to Jerub-besheth. If the name, then, originally had nothing to do with the Canaanite Baal, and therefore was not given to Gideon in consequence of the episode related here, we can only suppose that the story grew out of a fanciful etymology. For linguistic reasons many scholars consider that Jerub-baal is not connected with the verb rîb ‘contend2[37] ,’ and that the proper spelling is Jeru-baal, i.e. ‘Baal (Jehovah) founds,’ like Jeru-el, Jeri-yahu; none of the forms in the LXX have the doubled letter (Ἀρβάαλ, Ἰαρβάλ, Ἰεροβάαλ, etc.).

[36] Cf. 1 Chronicles 9:39-40; 1 Chronicles 14:7; 1 Chronicles 12:5 with 2 Samuel 2:8; 2 Samuel 4:4; 2 Samuel 5:16.

[37] The imperfect of rîb is not yârôb (whence jerub) but yârîb; cf. the pr. name Jeho-yarib 1 Chronicles 24:7.

Then all the Midianites and the Amalekites and the children of the east were gathered together, and went over, and pitched in the valley of Jezreel.
33–40. The Midianite invasion; the sign of the fleece

33. Then all the Midianites … assembled themselves] Better, Now all the M.… had assembled themselves. This verse may be connected with Jdg 6:7-10; Jdg 6:25-32; it prepares the way for the account of the battle in ch. 7 For the Amalekites etc. see on Jdg 6:3.

the valley of Jezreel] Joshua 17:16, Hosea 1:5; not the Great Plain west of Jezreel, but the broad, deep valley which descends eastwards from Jezreel down to the Jordan. It was not till after OT. times that the Great Plain was called the Plain of Esdraçlon (the Greek form of Jezreel), Jdt 1:8. The Midianites advanced from the E., passed over Jordan, and entered Palestine by the valley (Wâdi Jâlud) which leads up to Jezreel (Zer‘în).

But the Spirit of the LORD came upon Gideon, and he blew a trumpet; and Abiezer was gathered after him.
34. the spirit of the Lord came upon] lit. ‘put on as a garment,’ i.e. took possession of Gideon; cf. 1 Chronicles 12:18, 2 Chronicles 24:20. The verb is used in Syriac with the same metaphorical sense; e.g. ‘Ignatius, God-clad and martyr,’ a frequent expression in the Syr. fragments of the Ignatian Epistles1[38]. Cf. also Romans 13:14. For the spirit of the Lord see on Jdg 3:10.

[38] Lightfoot, Apostolic Fathers i. 184–190, iii. 100, 111.

blew a trumpet] Cf. Jdg 3:27. Gideon’s own clansmen respond to the call; they seem to be the 300 who follow him in Jdg 8:4-21. This verse would form a suitable continuation of 11–24.

And he sent messengers throughout all Manasseh; who also was gathered after him: and he sent messengers unto Asher, and unto Zebulun, and unto Naphtali; and they came up to meet them.
35. In Jdg 7:23 these tribes, with the exception of Zebulun, gather together after the battle: here Gideon summons them before. It is difficult to reconcile the two statements. Some notice of a general muster is wanted to account for the large numbers with Gideon in Jdg 7:2-8; probably this was the reason why the verse was inserted here.

to meet them] i.e. the Midianites; the previous verb means they went up for war, as in Jdg 6:3, Jdg 1:1, Jdg 12:3 etc.

And Gideon said unto God, If thou wilt save Israel by mine hand, as thou hast said,
36. as thou hast spoken] The words are meant to refer to Jdg 6:14-16.

36–40. The divine impulse has seized Gideon, he has called out his men, he is ready to attack; but here he seems to be still at home, hesitating and waiting to be convinced. In order of time these verses are parallel, not subsequent, to Jdg 6:11-24; and indeed, after the revelation of the Angel, it is strange that Gideon should have demanded a second sign. Instead of ‘Jehovah’ and ‘the Angel of Jehovah’ the name ‘Elohim’ (God) is used here; the narrative from which these verses come was a work of the Elohist school; to the same narrative we may assign Jdg 6:7-10; Jdg 6:25-33; Jdg 6:35 a (?) in this ch.

Behold, I will put a fleece of wool in the floor; and if the dew be on the fleece only, and it be dry upon all the earth beside, then shall I know that thou wilt save Israel by mine hand, as thou hast said.
37. a fleece of wool on the threshing-floor] We may think of Gideon sleeping out of doors on the airy threshing-floor near his home; it is a hot night in July, when the dews are heavy in Palestine; at any rate it is the harvest season, for the Midianites are in the land. Gideon has with him a fleece, perhaps his sheepskin cloak with the wool on it; he resolves to use it for the purposes of a ‘sign.’ No doubt he speaks with God in a dream.

And it was so: for he rose up early on the morrow, and thrust the fleece together, and wringed the dew out of the fleece, a bowl full of water.
And Gideon said unto God, Let not thine anger be hot against me, and I will speak but this once: let me prove, I pray thee, but this once with the fleece; let it now be dry only upon the fleece, and upon all the ground let there be dew.
39. I will speak but this once] recalls the language of Abraham in Genesis 18:32 J. The dew would naturally soak the fleece more than the rocky threshing-floor; so Gideon asks for a sign still more extraordinary.

And God did so that night: for it was dry upon the fleece only, and there was dew on all the ground.
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