“Jehovah’s Sword and Gideon’s!”
THEY are as numerous as locusts, reducing fertile fields to a wasteland. It is sometime during the period when judges rule in Israel, and the Israelites are in despair. For seven years, just as sown seed has begun to sprout, plundering hordes of camel-riding Midianites, Amalekites, and Easterners descend upon the land. The marauders’ flocks spread out in search of pasturage, devouring everything green. But the people of Israel have neither ass nor bull nor sheep. So severe is Midian’s reign of terror that the poverty-stricken Israelites resort to underground storage in the mountains, the caves, and places difficult to approach.
Why such a plight? Apostate Israel is serving false gods. In turn, Jehovah has abandoned them to oppressors. When the sons of Israel can stand it no longer, they call to Jehovah for aid. Will he listen? What can Israel’s experience teach us?—Judges 6:1-6.
Cautious Farmer or “Valiant, Mighty One”?
Israelite farmers normally thresh wheat with an ox and a sledge in an exposed, airy location so that the breeze can catch the chaff and separate it from the grain in the winnowing process. But the threat posed by marauders intent on stripping the land makes that far too conspicuous. Out of sight of the Midianites, Gideon threshes wheat in a winepress—likely a large, sheltered vat carved out of rock. (Judges 6:11) There the grain can likely be beaten with a stick in small quantities only. Under the circumstances, Gideon is improvising.
Imagine Gideon’s surprise when Jehovah’s angel appears to him and says: “Jehovah is with you, you valiant, mighty one.” (Judges 6:12) As a man secretly threshing grain in a winepress, Gideon must feel anything but valiant. Yet, those words indicate divine confidence that Gideon can be a valiant leader in Israel. Even so, he himself needs to be convinced.
When Jehovah commissions him to “save Israel out of Midian’s palm,” Gideon modestly states: “Excuse me, Jehovah. With what shall I save Israel? Look! My thousand is the least in Manasseh, and I am the smallest in my father’s house.” Cautious Gideon requests a sign that God would be with him in striking down Midian, and Jehovah is willing to accommodate Gideon’s reasonable need for assurance. So Gideon presents a gift of food to his angelic visitor, and fire ascends out of a rock, consuming the offering. After Jehovah has allayed Gideon’s fright, Gideon builds an altar at that location.—Judges 6:12-24.
“Let Baal Make a Legal Defense”
Israel’s biggest problem is not Midianite oppression. It is bondage to Baal worship. Jehovah is “a jealous God,” and no one can serve him acceptably while revering other gods. (Exodus 34:14) Therefore, Jehovah commands Gideon to destroy his father’s altar to Baal and to cut down the sacred pole. Fearing his father’s reaction and that of others if he does this during the day, Gideon acts at night, with the help of ten servants.
Gideon’s caution is justified, for on discovering his “sacrilege,” local Baal worshippers demand his life. With unassailable logic, however, Gideon’s father, Joash, reasons with the people that if Baal were God, he would be able to defend himself. At that, Joash aptly calls his son Jerubbaal, meaning “Let Baal Make a Legal Defense Against Him.”—Judges 6:25-32, footnote.
God always blesses his servants for taking a bold stand for true worship. When the Midianites and their allies again invade Israelite territory, ‘Jehovah’s spirit envelops Gideon.’ (Judges 6:34) Under the influence of God’s spirit, or active force, Gideon musters troops from the tribes of Manasseh, Asher, Zebulun, and Naphtali.—Judges 6:35.
Preparing for Action
Although Gideon now has an army of 32,000, he asks God for a sign. If a fleece left on the threshing floor becomes wet with dew while the ground remains dry, this will indicate that God will save Israel through him. Jehovah performs this miracle, and Gideon seeks and receives confirmation when the sign is reversed—wet ground and a dry fleece. Is Gideon being overly cautious? Apparently not, for Jehovah grants his request for reassurance. (Judges 6:36-40) We do not expect such miracles today. Yet, we can receive Jehovah’s guidance and reassurance from his Word.
God now raises the point that Gideon’s army is too big. If they prevail over their enemies with such a large force, the Israelites might brag that they have saved themselves. But Jehovah must receive credit for the coming victory. The solution? Gideon is to apply a provision of the Mosaic Law by inviting the fearful to withdraw. At that, 22,000 of his men do so, leaving only 10,000.—Deuteronomy 20:8; Judges 7:2, 3.
From God’s standpoint, there are still too many men. Gideon is told to have them go down to the water. Jewish historian Josephus says that God had Gideon march his troops to a river in the heat of the day. Be that as it may, Gideon observes how the men drink. Just 300 dip one hand in the water and lap from it while watching for a possible enemy attack. Only the vigilant 300 will go with Gideon. (Judges 7:4-8) Imagine yourself in their shoes. Since your enemies number 135,000, you must surely conclude that a victory could come about only by Jehovah’s power, not your own!
God invites Gideon to take along an attendant and scout the Midianite camp. While there, Gideon overhears a man relating a dream to a companion who unhesitatingly interprets it to mean that God has determined to give Midian into Gideon’s hand. That is just what Gideon needs to hear. He is certain that Jehovah will grant him and his 300 men victory over the Midianites.—Judges 7:9-15.
The 300 are divided into three bands of 100 each. Every man is given a horn and a large empty jar. A torch is hidden in the jar. Gideon’s first order is this: ‘Watch me, and do just as I do. When I blow the horn, you blow yours and shout “Jehovah’s sword and Gideon’s!”’—Judges 7:16-18, 20.
The 300 Israelite warriors stealthily move to the edge of the enemy camp. It is about ten o’clock in the evening—just after the changing of the guard. This seems to be the opportune time to strike, for it will take a while before the eyes of the new sentries adjust to the darkness.
What terror the Midianites now experience! Suddenly, the stillness is broken by the shattering of 300 jars, the blare of 300 horns, and the shouts of 300 men. Stunned, especially by the cry “Jehovah’s sword and Gideon’s!,” the Midianites add their own cries to the din. In the chaos, it is impossible for them to tell friend from foe. The 300 stand still in their assigned positions as God causes the enemies to use their own swords to slaughter one another. The camp is routed, escape is cut off, and mop-up operations involving an arduous pursuit permanently remove the Midianite threat. The long and murderous occupation has finally come to an end.—Judges 7:19-25; 8:10-12, 28.
Even after this victory, Gideon is modest. When the Ephraimites, who apparently feel slighted at not being called for the fight, pick a quarrel with him, he responds mildly. His mild answer turns away their rage and calms their spirit.—Judges 8:1-3; Proverbs 15:1.
Now that peace has been established, the Israelites urge Gideon to become their king. What a temptation! But Gideon rejects it. He has not lost sight of who won the victory over Midian. “I myself shall not rule over you, nor will my son rule over you,” he declares. “Jehovah is the one who will rule over you.”—Judges 8:23.
Being imperfect, however, Gideon does not always exercise good judgment. For some unstated reason, he makes an ephod with the spoils of war and exhibits it in his city. The record says that all Israel begins to have “immoral intercourse” with the ephod. They worship it, and it becomes a snare even to Gideon and his household. Yet, he has not become a rank idolater, for the Scriptures reckon him a man with faith in Jehovah.—Judges 8:27; Hebrews 11:32-34.
Lessons for Us
Gideon’s story provides lessons of both warning and encouragement. It warns us that if Jehovah should remove from us his spirit and blessing because of our wayward conduct, our spiritual condition would become like that of poverty-stricken residents of a land ravaged by locusts. We live in critical times and should never forget that Jehovah’s blessing “is what makes rich, and he adds no pain with it.” (Proverbs 10:22) We enjoy God’s blessing because we “serve him with a complete heart and with a delightful soul.” Otherwise, he would cast us off.—1 Chronicles 28:9.
We can draw encouragement from the account about Gideon, for it proves that Jehovah can deliver his people from any menace, even by using those who appear weak or helpless. That Gideon and his 300 men were able to vanquish 135,000 Midianites attests to God’s infinite power. We may find ourselves in desperate straits and may seem to be hopelessly outnumbered by our enemies. Yet, the Bible account involving Gideon encourages us to trust in Jehovah, who will bless and deliver all of those exercising faith in Him.