The Midianites invade the land seven years. Israel cries to Jehovah, and is an swered through a prophet, who reminds them of their sins
1And the children [sons] of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord [Jehovah]: and the Lord [Jehovah] delivered them into the hand of Midian seven years 2 And the hand of Midian prevailed [was strong] against [over] Israel: and because of the Midianites the children [sons] of Israel made them the dens [grottoes] which3are in the mountains, and [the] caves, and [the] strong holds. And so it was, when Israel had sown [his fields], that the Midianites came up, and the Amalekites, and the children [sons] of the east, even they came up against them [and passed over them]:[FN1] 4And they encamped against [upon] them, and destroyed [ruined] the increase [produce, cf. Deuteronomy 32:22] of the earth, till thou come unto Gaza; and left no sustenance[FN2] for [in] Israel, neither sheep, nor ox, nor ass 5 For they came up with their cattle and their tents, and they came as grasshoppers [locusts] for multitude; for both they and their camels were without number: and they entered into the land to destroy [ruin] it 6 And Israel was greatly impoverished [reduced] because of the Midianites; and the children [sons] of Israel cried unto the Lord [Jehovah]. 7And it came to pass, when the children [sons] of Israel8 cried unto the Lord [Jehovah] because of the Midianites, That the Lord [Jehovah] sent a prophet unto the children [sons] of Israel, which [and he] said unto them, Thus saith the Lord [Jehovah, the] God of Israel, I brought you up from Egypt [cf. 1 Samuel 10:18] and brought you forth out of the house of bondage [ Exodus 13:3]; 9And 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; 10And I said unto you, I am the Lord [Jehovah] your God; fear not [ye shall not fear, i.e. reverence] the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but ye have not obeyed my voice.
TEXTUAL AND GRAMMATICAL
1 Judges 6:3—וְעָלוּ עָלָיו: literally, “came up upon him,” or, “came up against him.” Dr. Cassel supplies שָׂרֵהוּ after זָרַע, and accordingly makes “him” refer to “field.” But although this rendering suits the connection admirably well, it cannot be supposed that the Hebrew writer would have left the accusative after זָרַע unexpressed if he had intended to refer back to it by means of a pronoun, especially when the latter could so readily be referred to another noun. ועָלוּ עָלָיו. simply adds the idea of hostility, which the preceding עָלָה left unexpressed. In like manner, עֲלֵיהֶם, in the next verse, explains that the “encamping” was “against” Israel—had hostile purposes is view.—Tr.]
2 Judges 6:4.—מִחְיָה: Dr. Cassel, Lebensmitteln, “means of life.” So also Keil: “They left no provisions (produce of the field) in Israel, and neither sheep, nor cattle, nor ass.” Dr. Cassel, in a foot-note, gives a simple reference to 2 Chronicles 14:12 (13), where, however, the word unquestionably means anything “alive.” Bertheau adopts that meaning here; but cf. Judges 17:10.—Tr.]
EXEGETICAL AND DOCTRINAL
Judges 6:1. And Jehovah delivered them into the hand of Midian. Of the death of Deborah and Barak, no mention is made; the peace which their great deeds procured lasted forty years. But those deeds were already forgotten again; and with them the God whose Spirit had begotten them. Then fresh bondage and misery came, and reminded the people of Him who alone can save. Numerous tribes of eastern nomads invaded, plundered, and devastated the land. The transjordanic tribes could at that time offer them no such resistance as, according to 1 Chronicles 5:10; 1 Chronicles 5:19, they were able, at a later date, to make against the Hagarites, Jetur, Nephish, and Nodab. The present invaders are called Midian, and appear in league with Amalek and the “sons of the east.” The Midianites are wandering tribes in the desert of Sinai, in the neighborhood of the Moabites, answering both in name and manner of life to the Bedouins. In the constantly occurring interchange of מ and כ (m and b) in the Semitic dialects, the Arabic tongue seems to prefer the כ, while the Hebrew inclines to the מ (cf. Timnath and Tibneh). The Bedouin derives his name from the Arabic כאריה, the desert; an expression of which the Hebrew כָּרַר, to be desolate and waste, readily reminds one. The derivation from מִרְכָּר, formerly current, is too artificial, since the prominent idea of the term Bedouin is not a reference to pasture lands, but to the desert. The name Midian manifestly belongs to the same root—מרין[FN3] being the same as כרין, primitive Bedawin, who, like the Towara of the present day (Ritter, xiv937), engaged in the carrying trade between the Euphrates and Egypt, and in general pillage. Not all desert tribes boast the same descent, as in fact the Ishmaelites and the Midianites did not belong to the same family; both, however, followed similar modes of life, and hence are sometimes designated by one and the same name ( Genesis 37:25; Genesis 37:28; Judges 8:22; Judges 8:24). They are dwellers in tents, as contrasted with those who till the earth or dwell in cities.
Judges 6:2. And the sons of Israel made them the grottoes which are in the mountains, and the caves and the strongholds. The word for grottoes is מנְחָרוֹת, and an entirely satisfactory description of them is given by Wetzstein (Hauran, p45): “At some rocky, elevated, and dry place, a shaft was sunk obliquely into the earth; and at a depth of about twenty-five fathoms, streets were run off, straight, and from six to eight paces wide, in the sides of which the dwellings were excavated. At various points these streets were extended to double their ordinary width, and the roof was pierced with airholes, more or less numerous according to the extent of the place. These airholes are at present called, rôsen plural rawâsin(windows).” From this may be seen how accurately Raschi and Kimchi explained the above word, when they made it mean “caves with air-holes like windows.” The remark of R. Tanchum is likewise correct, that watchmen were employed, who gave alarm signals when the enemy approached. As soon as these were given, the ploughmen and herds hurried quickly into the earth, and were secure. Commonly, says Wetzstein, these excavations had a second place of exit; and consequently, in a region whose inhabitants are liable to constant attacks from the desert (he speaks of the Hauran), are regarded as strongholds. Quite appropriate, apparently, is the rendering of that Greek version which translates מִנְהָרָה by μάνδρα, an inclosed space, a fold, stable. In later times, eastern monks, who lived in such grottoes, called the cloister itself μάνδρα.[FN4]
Judges 6:3-4. Till thou come unto Gaza.[FN5] They were expeditions for plunder and devastation, such as the Bedouin tribes of the present day are still accustomed to undertake against hostile communities.[FN6] Their general direction was towards the plain. The invaders, however, did not content themselves with ruining the growing crops from east to west, but also scoured the land towards the south. Gaza, moreover, formerly as in later times, was the great bazaar of stolen wares, brought together there by the Bedouins from their expeditions (Ritter, xiv924).[FN7]
Judges 6:5. As locusts (Sept. ἄκρις, cf. Il. 2112) for multitude: a comparison suggestive both of their numbers and of the effects of their presence. The Midianite devastation was like that by locusts. In Hauran, says Wetzstein, various plagues are found; the locust is bad, but the worst are the Bedouins (p43). A Bedouin said to him: “The Ruwala have become like the hosts of God,” i.e., numerous as the locusts, for these are called Gunud Allah (Hauran, p138).—Camels without number. In such extravagant hyperbolisms the speech of Orientals has always abounded. When Burk-hardt asked a Bedouin, who belonged to a tribe of three hundred tents, how many brothers he had, throwing a handful of sand into the air, he replied, “equally numberless.” The invaders’ object was not to gather the harvest, but only to destroy. What they needed, they had with them—cattle, tents, and camels.
Judges 6:6-10. And the sons of Israel cried unto Jehovah. When the people were brought low (וַיִּרַּל), they repented. Distress teaches prayer. With Israel repentance went hand in hand with the remembrance of their former strength. They lose themselves when they lose their God; they find themselves when they turn to Him. This the prophet sets before them. The words put into the mouth of the unknown preacher, reproduce the old penitential discourse. In various but similar forms that discourse ever reappears; for it rests on Mosaic warnings and declarations whose truth all the fortunes of Israel confirm. For the first time, however, the verb יָרֵא, to fear, elsewhere used only with reference to God, is here connected with heathen gods; but only to point out the fact that disobedient Israel has yielded to idol gods the reverence which it owed to the eternal God. When such rebukes are gladly heard by the people, deliverance is near at hand. When they believe themselves to have deserved such admonitions and punishments, they again believe God. In accepting the Judges, we secure the deliverer. Such is the historical experience of all ages.
Israel had again apostatized, notwithstanding the victory and the song of Deborah. Sailer “When one has drunk, he turns his back upon the fountain; but it is only the ingrate who does this.” Israel was altogether as it had been formerly, but God’s judgment assumes a new form. Greater than ever was the humiliation. Israel was not simply oppressed by a tyranny like that of Sisera, who was in the land, but it was like a slave who toils for a foreign master. Had it accomplished its task? Midian came and seized the fruit. So he who falls away from God who gives, must for that very reason serve sin, which takes.—Starke: The strongest fortress, defense, and weapon, with which in danger we can protect ourselves, is prayer.
[Bp. Hall: During the former tyranny, Deborah was permitted to judge Israel under a palmtree; under this, not so much as private habitations will be allowed to Israel. Then, the seat of judgment was in sight of the sun; now, their very dwellings must be secret under the earth. They that rejected the protection of God, are glad to seek to the mountains for shelter; and as they had savagely abused themselves, so they are fain to creep into dens and caves of the rocks, like wild creatures, for safeguard. God had sown spiritual seed amongst them, and they suffered their heathenish neighbors to pull it up by the roots; and now, no sooner can they sow their material seed, but Midianites and Amalekites are ready by force to destroy it. As they inwardly dealt with God, so God deals outwardly by them; their eyes may tell them what their souls have done; yet that God whose mercy is above the worst of our sin, sends first his prophet with a message of reproof, and then his angel with a message of deliverance. The Israelites had smarted enough with their servitude, yet God sends them a sharp rebuke. It is a good sign when God chides us; his round reprehensions are ever gracious forerunners of mercy; whereas, his silent connivance at the wicked argues deep and secret displeasure; the prophet made way for the angel, reproof for deliverance, humiliation for comfort.—Henry: Sin dispirits men, and makes them sneak into dens and caves. The day will come, when chief captains and mighty men will call in vain to rocks and mountains to hide them.—Tr.]
FN#1 - Judges 6:3—וְעָלוּ עָלָיו: literally, “came up upon him,” or, “came up against him.” Dr. Cassel supplies שָׂרֵהוּ after זָרַע, and accordingly makes “him” refer to “field.” But although this rendering suits the connection admirably well, it cannot be supposed that the Hebrew writer would have left the accusative after זָרַע unexpressed if he had intended to refer back to it by means of a pronoun, especially when the latter could so readily be referred to another noun. ועָלוּ עָלָיו. simply adds the idea of hostility, which the preceding עָלָה left unexpressed. In like manner, עֲלֵיהֶם, in the next verse, explains that the “encamping” was “against” Israel—had hostile purposes is view.—Tr.]
FN#2 - Judges 6:4.—מִחְיָה: Dr. Cassel, Lebensmitteln, “means of life.” So also Keil: “They left no provisions (produce of the field) in Israel, and neither sheep, nor cattle, nor ass.” Dr. Cassel, in a foot-note, gives a simple reference to 2 Chronicles 14:12 (13), where, however, the word unquestionably means anything “alive.” Bertheau adopts that meaning here; but cf. Judges 17:10.—Tr.]
FN#3 - A Madian near the Arabian Gulf is mentioned by Abulfeda; cf. Geogr., ed. Paris, p86; Arnold, in Herzog’s Realencykl., i463.
FN#4 - Keil: “The power of the Midianites and their confederates bore so heavily on the Israelites, that these ‘made for themselves the clefts which are in the mountains, and the caves, and the strongholds,’ those, namely, which were afterwards (at the time when our Book was written) everywhere to be found in the land, and in times of war offered secure places of refuge. This is indicated by the definite article before מִנְהָרוִת and the other substantives. The words, ‘they made for themselves,’ are not at variance with the fact that in the limestone mountains of Palestine there exist many natural caves. For, on the one hand, hey do not affirm that all the caves found in the land were made at that time by the Israelites, nor on the other does עָשׂה, to make, exclude the use of natural caves for purposes of safety, since it applies not only to the digging and laying out of new caves, but also to the fitting up of natural ones. … For the rest, these clefts, caves, and strongholds, were to serve, not merely as hiding-places for the fugitive Israelites, but much more as places of concealment and security for their property and the necessaries of life. For the Midianites, like genuine Bedouins, were more intent on plunder and pillage, and the desolation of the country, than on the destruction of the people.”—Tr.]
FN#5 - On Gaza, cf. the Com. on Judges 16:1.
FN#6 - See Thomson, The Land and the Book, ii163; Kitto Daily Bible Illustrations, Moses and the judges, p340, etc.—Tr.]
FN#7 - Bertheau: “Since the expeditions of eastern tribes follow the same plan at every repetition, and since, according to Judges 6:33, they encamped in the valley of Jezreel, and moreover made their incursion with their herds and camels, it is evident that they must have entered the country by the one great connecting road between the East and Palestine, which crosses the depression of the Jordan near Bethshean, and issues into the plain of Jezreel. The extension of their inroads thence, is indicated by the fact that Gaza, at the southwestern extremity of the land, is named as the limit of their advance.” Cf. Dr. Cassel’s remarks on Judges 6:11, p111.—Tr.]
The Angel of Jehovah appears to Gideon, and commissions him to deliver Israel
11And there came an angel of the Lord [Jehovah], and sat under an [the] oak which was [is] in Ophrah, that pertained unto Joash the Abi-ezrite: and his son Gideon threshed [was threshing][FN8] wheat by [in] the wine-press, to hide it from theMidianites 12 And the angel of the Lord [Jehovah] appeared unto him, and said unto him, The Lord [Jehovah] is with thee, thou mighty man of valour [valianthero]. 13And Gideon said unto him, O [Pray,] my Lord, if the Lord [Jehovah] 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 [Jehovah] bring us up from Egypt: but now the Lord [Jehovah] hath forsaken us, and delivered us into the hands of the Midianites 14 And the Lord [Jehovah] looked upon [turned towards] him, and said, Go in this thy might, and thou shalt save [and save thou] Israel from the hand of the Midianites: have not I sent thee? 15And he said unto him, O [Pray,] my Lord,[FN9] wherewith shall I save Israel? behold, my family is poor [the most insignificant] in Prayer of Manasseh, and I am the least [youngest] in my father’s house 16 And the Lord [Jehovah] said unto him, Surely [Nay, but] I will be with thee, and thou shalt smite the Midianites as one Prayer of Manasseh 17And he said unto him, If now I have found grace in thy sight, then shew me a sign that [it is] thou [who] talkest with me 18 Depart not hence, I pray thee, until I come [again] unto thee, and bring forth my present, and set it before thee. And he said, I will tarry until thou come again 19 And Gideon went in, and made ready a kid, and unleavened cakes of an ephah of flour: the flesh he put in a [the] basket, and he put the broth in a [the] pot, and brought it out unto him under the oak, and presented it. 20And the angel of God said unto him, Take the flesh and the unleavened cakes, and lay them upon this21[that] rock, and pour out the broth. And he did so. Then [And] the angel of the Lord [Jehovah] 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 [And] the angel of the Lord22[Jehovah] departed [disappeared] out of his sight. And when [omit: when] Gideon perceived that he was an angel of the Lord [Jehovah, and] Gideon said, Alas, O Lord God [Jehovah]! for because[FN10] I have seen an angel of the Lord [Jehovah] face to face 23 And the Lord [Jehovah] said unto him, Peace be unto thee; fear 24 not: thou shalt not die. Then [And] Gideon built an altar there unto the Lord [Jehovah], and called it Jehovah-shalom [Jehovah (is) Peace]: unto this day it is yet in Ophrah of the Abi-ezrites.
TEXTUAL AND GRAMMATICAL
1 Judges 6:11.—Literally, “was beating” (חֹבֵט) sc. with a stick, ῤαβδἰζελν. The more usual word for threshing is דּוּשׁ. Threshing was generally done by treading with oxen, or by means of a drag-like machine drawn over the grain by oxen or other animals. But for small quantities, and for certain minor seeds ( Isaiah 28:27), a stick was used, ct. Ruth 2:17.—Tr.]
2 Judges 6:15.—אֲדֹנָי: thus pointed, this word always refers to God, and the possessive suffix (for such –ָי is most probably) is lost sight of. “From the words in Judges 6:15 Gideon perceived that he who talked with him was not a mere man. Hence, he now no longer says: ‘Pray, my lord’ (אַדֹנִי, Judges 6:13), but, ‘Pray, Lord’ (אֲדֹכָי, God the Lord).” So Keil. Dr. Cassel apparently points the text here as in Judges 6:13, for he translates “My Lord.” Compare what he says on Judges 6:17.—Tr.]
3 Judges 6:22.—בִּי־עַל־בֵּו: “for therefore,” “for on this account.” Dr. Cassel renders it here by also, “so then” (illative). But the phrase regularly indicates the ground or reason for what goes before, cf. Genesis 18:5; Genesis 19:8; Genesis 33:10; etc.; and Ewald, Gram. 353 a. Gideon’s thought is: “Woe is me! for therefore—scil. to give me cause for my apprehension of danger—have I seen,” etc. Cf. Bertheau and Keil. The E. V. would be rendered accurate enough by striking out either “for” or “because.”—Tr.]
EXEGETICAL AND DOCTRINAL
Judges 6:11. In Ophrah. The place is expressly designated as belonging to the family of Abiezer, to distinguish it from another Ophrah in Benjamin ( Joshua 18:23). Abiezer was a son of Prayer of Manasseh, whose seats were on this side the Jordan ( Joshua 17:2). To the western half tribe of Prayer of Manasseh, belonged also Beth-shean (Scythopolis), Jibleam, Taanach, Megiddo, the fertile districts of the plain of Jezreel. Manasseh therefore suffered especially, when the Midianites crossed the Jordan near Beisan, in order to desolate the land. From Judges 6:33-35 it may be inferred that Ophrah was situated in the northwestern part of the plain, in the direction of Dora, which likewise belongs to Manasseh. Since the enemy, after crossing the Jordan, encamped in Jezreel, and Gideon invoked assistance against them from Asher, Naphtali, and Zebulun, this inference may be considered tolerably certain. That Asher was called on, shows that Ophrah was in the West, and the appeal to Naphtali and Zebulun indicates that it lay to the north; since otherwise the army of Midian would have prevented a junction. Ophrah was inhabited by a branch of the family of Abiezer, at whose head Joash stood; but among them dwelt others (אַנְשֵׁי הָעִיר, “the men of the city,” Judges 6:27), who were probably of the original inhabitants whom Manasseh had suffered to remain.
Under the oak, תַּחַת הָאֵלָה. Septuagint; τερέμινθος (interchangeable with τερέβινθος), the terebinth. The Targums have בּוּטְמָא, oak. אֵלָה and אַלּוֹן are evidently different species of the same stately tree, and probably differ from each other as the quercus and ilex. The oak and terebinth are too little alike to make it probable that they had almost the same name. Ilex is clearly a cognate term. Böttiger’s remarks about an “ancestral terebinth,” and a “sacred tree” under which “Jehovah appears” (Baumkultus der Hellenen, p521), have no support in the passages in which those trees are mentioned. The magnificent tree afforded a grateful shade, and therefore invited persons to sit and rest beneath it. Whoever knows the East, knows also how to estimate the value of shade;[FN11] though indeed everywhere a large tree near a homestead or in a village, becomes the meeting and resting-place of the inhabitants as well as the traveller. Besides, the tree in Ophrah has nothing whatever to do with what farther happens. The whole section in Böttiger’s book is a misunderstanding. The tree is mentioned here only to make it appear natural that a stranger could seat himself under it without drawing special attention and exciting surprise.
And his son Gideon was threshing wheat in the wine-press. In German, also, “wine-press” (Kelter) sometimes stands for the place in which the pressing is done, as well as for the vat into which the wine flows. The same is the case in Hebrew. While גַּת is the press-house or place, יֶקֶב stands for the vat; but they are frequently interchanged. Here it is of course the place, of which Gideon makes use to thresh wheat; threshing on exposed threshing-floors being avoided on account of the pillaging propensities of the Midianites. Here that had again come to pass which Deborah lamented, and the cure of which she had celebrated in her song—there was no פְּרָזוֹן, no open country, in the land.
Judges 6:12-13. And the Angel of Jehovah appeared unto him. Hitherto מַלְאַךְ יְהוָֹה always signified a human messenger of God (cf. Judges 2:1; Judges 5:23). Here it is otherwise. The mention of a “prophet of Jehovah” in Judges 6:8, already indicated that the מַלְאַךְ now spoken of, is not a human messenger. That hint is now rendered plain and unmistakable by the phrase ויֵּרָא אֵלָי, there “appeared” to him, which is only used when the invisible divine nature becomes visible. As Gideon looked up, a stranger stood before him,—who, while exhibiting nothing unusual in his outward appearance, must yet have had about him that which commanded reverence. This stranger greeted him.