Jehovah (is) with thee, thou valiant hero. Gideon cannot have referred this greeting merely to heroic deeds of war. It is much rather the evident pleasure of the stranger in the nervous energy and vigor with which he threshes, to which with a sense of shame he replies. True, indeed, he is conscious of strength and energy; but of what avail are they? Is it not matter of shame that he cannot even thresh his wheat on the threshing-floor? Hence his respectfully spoken answer: No, my lord; God is not with me; for were He with us, would such things come upon us? would I be driven to thresh wheat in the wine-press? But this answer shows that he believed God; from the greeting (יְהוָֹה) he had perceived that he stood in the presence of one of the friends and confessors of God. It shows, also, that his courageous heart had long demurred against Israel’s dishonor. The national tradition of Israel’s ancient glory was not yet extinct. The deliverance from Egypt was the beginning of Israel’s nationality and freedom. Doubtless, says the strong Prayer of Manasseh, then, as our fathers tell us, God was with Israel, and freed us from Egypt; but now—we are unable to defend ourselves against the pillaging Bedouins! The doubt which he thus utters, does not spring from an unbelieving and pusillanimous soul. He gladly believed and delighted in what was told of other days. His lament is that of a patriot, not of a traitor. Because such is his character, he has been found eligible to become the deliverer of Israel. The Angel therefore comes to him, and says:—
Judges 6:14-16. Go thou in this thy strength[FN12]. … do not I send thee? The difference between Gideon’s call and that of former heroes, must be carefully observed. Of Othniel it is said, that the “Spirit of Jehovah” was with him; Ehud is “raised up” to be “a deliverer;” Barak is called through the prophetess. The latter hero does not immediately proceed to victory. He refuses to go, unless Deborah go with him. In Gideon’s case much more is done. An angel of God assumes the human form in order to call him. He condescends to work miracles before him. How much more, apparently, than Deborah had to contend with, must here be overcome by the angel! The grounds of this difference have been profoundly indicated in the preceding narrative. What was the all-important qualification demanded of one who should be a deliverer of Israel? Decided and undivided faith in God. Faith in God was the root of national freedom in Israel. Whatever energy and enthusiasm the love of country called out among the Greeks and Romans; that, faith in God called out in Israel. Israel existed in God, or not at all. The hero, therefore, who would fight for Israel, must thoroughly believe in God. This faith, undivided, unwavering, not looking to earthly things, and unconcerned about life or danger—a perfect unit with itself in devotion to God, and therefore hostile to the idol gods, the representatives of the enemies—this faith the call must find in him whom it selected for the work of deliverance. The men hitherto called did not come from the same tribes. Othniel was of Judah; Ehud of Benjamin. In these tribes, the worship of the true God was less mixed with that of the false gods, because here the old inhabitants had been obliged to yield. Barak was of Naphtali, where idolatry, though existing in many places along side of the true worship, did certainly not prevail as in Manasseh. Precisely those places which constituted the richest portion of this half tribe, and which consequently suffered most from the inroads of Midian, namely, the cities of the plain, had never, as the narrator expressly recorded, been vacated by the original inhabitants. They had continued to dwell in Beth-shean, Taanach, Megiddo, Jibleam and Dor ( Judges 1:27). Here altars of Baal raised themselves everywhere, fully authorized and perfectly unrestrained. Amid such surroundings, the position of the faithful is a difficult one at all times, but especially in evil days, when Baal seems to triumph. Their hearts become saddened; and the contrast between the former glory, in which they so gladly believe, and the present impotence, unmans and confuses them. If the modest soul of Gideon is to be prepared for bold hazards in behalf of the truth of God, he must first be fully convinced that God is still what He was anciently in Israel; that He still works wonders, and in them reveals his love for the nation. In his home and in his city he is surrounded by idolatry. Hebrews, the youngest, is to assume an attitude of authority towards all. That he may do this boldly and condently, the heavenly visitant must inspire him with a divine enthusiasm which shall rise superior to the suggestions of common prudence. [The way to this is opened by the promise, “But I will be with thee!” which is at the same time a challenge to test the speaker.—Tr.] The narrative could not, in so few sentences, teach the love of God, which will thus be tested, more beautifully. Gideon is no presumptuous doubter. It is his humility that requires the miracle. He builds no expectations on his personal strength. If God will show that He is truly “with him,” he is ready to do everything. He asks much, because he deems himself altogether insufficient.
Judges 6:17. Then give me a sign that thou art He who talketh with me. The angel appeared to Gideon as man; otherwise he could neither have seen him, nor offered him food. His appearance must have been venerable; for Gideon always addresses him deferentially and humbly, with the words בִּי אֲדֹנִי, “Pray, my lord.” Now, when this stranger says, “I send thee—I will be with thee,” and that without adding who He Isaiah, Gideon could hardly fail to conclude that He who addressed him was a supernatural being; especially as these words were used in answer to his own, “if Jehovah were with us.” It Isaiah, therefore, very instructive that the doubtful Gideon asks for a sign to know “whether thou art he who speaks with me,” i.e., whether thou art one who can say, “I am with thee,” and not to know “whether thou art God,” a thought which he is not yet prepared to entertain.
Judges 6:18-20. Depart not hence, I pray thee, until I come again unto thee. Gideon is not yet convinced; but nevertheless the word that has been spoken burns within him. The remark in Judges 6:14, “וַיִּפֶך, and Jehovah turned towards him,” was doubtless intended to intimate that the heavenly visitant turned his face, beaming with the light of holiness, full upon Gideon. Gideon feels the breath of divinity,—but certain he is not. Should the apparition now depart, he would be in twofold dread. He will gladly do whatever is commanded—but, is the commander God? He thinks to solve this question by means of the duties of hospitality which devolve on him. Hence he prays him to remain, until he has entertained him. He is not so poor, but that he can offer a kid and something more to a guest. Flocks of goats still form a considerable part of Palestinian wealth, and find excellent pasturage in the plain of Jezreel. Time permits Gideon to prepare only unleavened cakes; but the supply is bountiful, for he uses apephah (i.e., a measure containing about1994, according to others1985, or only1014, Par. cubic inches, cf. Böckh, Metrologische Untersuchungen, p261) of flour in their preparation. That which appears singular, is the statement that he put the flesh in the basket (סַל). Wherever else this word occurs, it denotes a bread-basket. The explanation Isaiah, that Gideon was unwilling to call a servant, and hence used the basket for both bread and meat. He requires, however, a separate “pot” for the broth, which the basket cannot hold. He thinks now that by this meal he will learn to know his guest. Celestials, according to popular belief, took no earthly food. The angel who appears to Manoah, says ( Judges 13:16): “I will not eat of thy bread.” True, of the angels who came to Abraham ( Genesis 18:8), it is said, “and they did eat;” but the Targum explains, “they seemed to him to eat.”[FN13] This belief has no resemblance to the Homeric conception, according to which the gods, though they eat not bread or drink wine (Iliad, v341), do nevertheless, like mortals, stretch forth their hands after ambrosia and nectar. The angels, like all that is divine in the Bible, have their spiritual abode in heaven, with nothing earthly about them, consequently with no corporeal wants. The explanation of Psalm 78:25, as if לֶחֶם אַבִּירִים meant bread such as angels feed on, is erroneous (unhappily, it has been again put forth by Böhmer, in Herzog’s Realencykl. iv20); the words have long since been properly explained (by Hengstenberg and Delitzsch) of the manna, which came from heaven, i.e., from on high. Hence, as late as the author of Tobias, the angel is made to say ( Tobit 12:19): “I have neither eaten nor drunk, but ye have seen an apparition.” Nor did Gideon err in his expectations. His guest does not eat. In verse20, מַלִאַךְ הָאֱלֹהִים once takes the place מַלְאַךְ יִהוָֹה; but the rule that in the Book of Judges Jehovah stands regularly for the God of Israel, Elohim for the gods of the heathen, is not thereby destroyed. This is shown by the article prefixed to Elohim. The reason for the interchange in this passage lies in the fact that the nature of the angel, as a divine being, here begins to declare itself. In order to describe the angel who speaks to Gideon as the messenger of that unity from which the multitude of the angels proceeds (hence אֶלֹהִים), the narrator introduces the term הָאֱלֹהִים. He thereby explains how the angel in his individual appearance, can nevertheless contain in himself the power of God. The Angel of Jehovah, he means to say, is none other than an angel of the Elohim; hence, Hebrews, the messenger, speaks as Jehovah.
Judges 6:21-24. And the Angel of Jehovah put forth the end of his staff. The angel, like a traveller, but also like the prophets, like Moses and Elijah, carried a staff. They also used it, as he does, to work miracles. Among the Greeks likewise, the staff, in the hands of Æsculapius and Hermes, for instance, is the symbol of the divine power to awaken and subdue.[FN14] The angel touches the flesh and bread, and they ascend in fire. What was brought as a gift to the guest, is accepted by fire as a sacrifice. Fire is the element in which divine power and grace reveal themselves. A flame of fire passed between the parts of Abraham’s sacrifice ( Genesis 15:17). Fire came down on the offerings of Song of Solomon, when he had made an end of praying, and consumed them ( 2 Chronicles 7:1). Fire fell from heaven in answer to Elijah’s prayer that the Lord would make it manifest that He was God in Israel, and consumed the sacrifice before the eyes of the rebellious people ( 1 Kings 18:38). To give a similar sign, the angel now touched the flesh and cakes. By the fire which blazed up, and by the disappearance of his visitor, Gideon perceived that his guest was actually a celestial being, who had called down fire from above. He was perfectly convinced. No doubt could any longer maintain itself, and in place of it fear seized upon him.
And Gideon said, Ah Lord Jehovah! Gideon makes this exclamation, because, like Manoah ( Judges 13:22), he thinks that he must die; for he has seen what ordinarily no living man does see. This view is deeply rooted in the Israelitish idea of God, and directly opposed to Hellenic conceptions. In fact, heathenism, as pantheism, knows of no real partition-wall between the individual gods and men (cf. Nägelsbach, Homer. Theologie, p141); but between the God who inhabits the invisible and eternal, and man who dwells in the world of sense, there was seen to be an absolute difference. Every human being is too sinful, and too much under the dominion of sense, to endure the immediate glory of the Incomprehensible. He cannot see God, to whom “to see” means to receive the light of the sun into eyes of flesh. When, therefore, Moses, notwithstanding that he spake with God, as friend converses with friend ( Exodus 33:11), would see his glory, the answer was ( Judges 6:20): “Thou canst not see my face; for no man sees me, and continues to live.” It is implied in this idea, that only the living man cannot see God, that to see Him is to die. That, therefore, the dead can see Him, is an inference close at hand, and important for the O. T. doctrine concerning the soul and immortality.—Gideon, however, has no cause for lamentation, for after all he has only seen the man. Jacob’s life also was preserved, for his wrestling had been with “the man” ( Genesis 32:24; Genesis 32:31 (30). “No man hath seen God at any time” ( John 1:18). When, therefore, Philip says, “Show us the Father,” Jesus answers: “He that hath seen me, hath seen the Father” ( John 14:9). Hence, a voice is heard—the voice of the now unseen God—saying: “Fear not; thou shalt not die!” It was for the very purpose that Gideon might live, that the angel had not appeared as God. The wife of Manoah wisely draws this same conclusion herself ( Judges 13:23). And God speaks “Peace” to him. Where peace Isaiah, there is no occasion for fear; for peace is the fruit of reconciliation. The divine messenger did not come to punish Israel still further, but to bring them help. When He comes to save, He must have previously forgiven. This forgiveness is the “peace.” So Gideon understands it, when he builds an altar, and calls it יהוָֹה שַׁלוֹם, God-Peace, i.e., the Peace of God. Humility and penitence prompt him to this. Above, in Judges 6:13, when he was not yet certain that God had appeared to him, he had said nothing to indicate that, was Israel’s own fault that God was not with them. Of this he becomes conscious while standing in the presence of the divine messenger. The fear that to see God involves death, rests first of all on the moral ground of conscious sinfulness. Undoubting faith is ever followed by true repentance, namely, love for truth. Gideon builds his altar to the Peace of God, i.e., to his own reconciliation with God, and salvation from the judgment of God.[FN15] The narrator seizes on this penitential feeling of Gideon’s, to which he joyfully consecrated his altar, and by means of it continues the thread of his story. The altar was known to the author as still extant in his time.
HOMILETICAL AND PRACTICAL
Israel repented, and God’s compassion renewed itself. Manifold as nature is the help of God. It is not confined to one method; but its wonders become greater as Israel’s bondage becomes more abject. It was a great thing to select a woman to be the deliverer of Israel. This woman, however, had grown up in the Spirit of Jehovah; she was a prophetess already, accustomed to counsel the people. The choice of Gideon was therefore still more extraordinary. He was not only the youngest in the least family, but he belonged to a city in which the heathen had for the most part remained. Idolatry prevailed, invading even his father’s house. God took him like a brand from the fire, to make him the deliverer of his people.
So God converted his Apostle, from amidst the multitude of enemies and their plots, on the way to Damascus. So Luther went forth from his cloister to preach the gospel of freedom. God calls whoever He will, and no school, faculty, or coterie, limits the field of his election.
Starke: When we think that God is farthest from us, that in displeasure He has entirely left us, then with his grace and almighty help He is nearest to us.—The same: Even in solitude the pious Christian is not alone, for God is always near him.
God does not err in his calling. Gideon was the right Prayer of Manasseh, though he himself did not believe it. He desires a sign, not from unbelief, but humility. He who thus desires a miracle, believes in miracles. He desires it not to be a proof of God, but of himself. To him the censure of Jesus does not apply: “Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will not believe;” for those wished them as grounds of faith in Jesus, Gideon as evidence that himself was the right man. Gideon’s humility was evidence of his strength.—Hedinger: Conceit and pride do not lead man to God, but humility and lowliness do.
Thus Gideon believed the angel whom he beheld vanishing toward heaven; the Jews did not believe Jesus, when He wrought miracles and rose from the dead. But Gideon’s eye was the humility with which he looked at himself. When Christians do not believe, it is because of pride which does not see itself. It is not for want of a theophany that many do not believe; for all have seen angels, if their heart be with God. “For the angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear Him, and delivereth them” ( Psalm 34:8).
Starke: Even the strongest faith has always something of weakness in it.—Lisco: From Judges 6:14 Gideon seems already to have perceived who it was that spake with him. His answer is the language not so much of unbelief as of modesty.—Gerlach: His prayer was not dictated by unbelief, but by a childlike, reverential acknowledgment of the weakness of his faith, as in the case of Abraham.
[Bp. Hall ( Judges 6:11): What shifts nature will make to live! O that we could be so careful to lay up spiritual food for our souls, out of the reach of those spiritual Midianites! we could not but live in despite of all adversaries.—The same ( Judges 6:13): The valiant man was here weak, weak in faith, weak in discourse, whilst he argues God’s absence by affliction, his presence by deliverances, and the unlikelihood of success by his own inability—all gross inconsequences.—Scott: Talents suited for peculiar services may for a time be buried in obscurity; but in due season the Lord will take the candle from “under the bushel,” and place it “on a candlestick,” to give light to all around; and that time must be waited for, by those who feel their hearts glow with desires of usefulness which at present they have no opportunity of executing.—Tr.]
FN#8 - 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.]
FN#9 - 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.]
FN#10 - 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.]
FN#11 - Clearly and charmingly apparent in Genesis 18:1-4.
FN#12 - Keil: “In this thy strength, i.e., in the strength which thou now hast, since Jehovah is with thee. The demonstrative ‘this’ refers to the strength now imparted to him through the divine promise.”—Tr.]
FN#13 - The same explanation is adopted by Josephus and Philo, and is not to be rejected as Delitzsch (Genesis, p383) and others have done. Genesis 18. to Judges 6:12 speaks only of “men.” But as they only seemed to be men, so they only seemed to eat The instance of the risen Saviour is not to be adduced, for angels before Christ were not born like Christ.
FN#14 - On the subversion of the staff as a symbol of blessings into an instrument of sorcery, cf. my Eddischen Studien, p76.
FN#15 - Keil: “The design of this altar .… is indicated in the name given to it. It was not to serve for sacrifices, but as a memorial and witness of the theophany vouchsafed to Gideon, and of his experience that Jehovah is Peace, i.e., does not desire to destroy Israel in his wrath, but cherishes thoughts of peace.” Cf. Hengstenberg, Diss. on Pent. 2. p34.—Tr.]
Gideon destroys the altar of Baal, and builds one to Jehovah. His father, Joash, defends him against the idolaters. His new name, Jerubbaal
25And it came to pass the same [that] night, that the Lord [Jehovah] said unto him, Take thy father’s young [ox] bullock, even [and][FN16] the second bullock of seven years old, and throw [pull] down the altar of Baal that thy father hath, and cut down the grove [Asherah] that is by [upon] it: 26And build an altar unto the Lord [Jehovah] thy God upon the top of this rock [fortification], in the ordered place,[FN17] and take the second bullock, and offer a burnt-sacrifice with the wood of the 27 grove [Asherah] which thou shalt cut down. Then [And] Gideon took ten men of his servants, and did as the Lord [Jehovah] 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.[FN18] 28And when the men of the city arose early in the morning, behold, the altar of Baal was cast down, and the grove [Asherah] was cut down that was by [upon] it, and the second bullock was offered upon the altar that was built 29 And they said one to another, who hath done this thing? And when [omit: when] they inquired and asked [searched], [and] they said, Gideon the son of Joash hath done this thing 30 Then the men of the city said unto Joash, Bring out thy Song of Solomon, that he may die: because he hath cast down the altar of Baal, and because he hath cut down the grove [Asherah] that was by31[upon] it. And Joash said unto all that stood against [about] him, Will ye plead [contend] for Baal? will ye save him? he that will plead [contendeth] for him, let him be put to death whilst it is yet morning;[FN19] if he be a god, let him plead [contend] for himself, because one [he] hath cast down his altar 32 Therefore on that day he [they] called him Jerubbaal, saying, Let Baal plead [contend] against him, because he hath thrown down his altar.
TEXTUAL AND GRAMMATICAL
1 Judges 6:25.—Bertheau and Wordsworth also find two bullocks in the text. “The original text,” says the latter, “seems clearly to speak of two bullocks, and the ancient versions appear to distinguish them (see Sept, Vulg, Syriac, Arabic).” De Wette and Bunsen, too, render “and,” not “even.” Keil argues, that “if God had commanded Gideon to take two bullocks, He would surely also have told him what he was to do with both.” But does He not tell him plainly enough in the words, “and pull down the altar of Baal?” See the commentary, below.—Tr.]
2 Judges 6:26.—בַּמַּצֲרָכָה. Our author’s translation of this word, “on the forward edge,” is too precarious to allow of its introduction into the text. It probably means: “with the arrangement of wood” (cf. below). On the use of בְּ in this sense, see Ges. Lex., s. v, B2, a.—Tr.]
3 Judges 6:27.—The E. V. is singularly awkward here. Dr. Cassel: “and as, on account of the house of his father and the men of the city, he feared to do it by day, he did it by night.”—Tr.]
4 Judges 6:31.—Dr. Cassel translates the foregoing clause thus: “he that contendeth for him, let him die! Wait till morning;” etc. Keil interprets similarly.—Tr.]