Judges 6:25. And it came to pass that night. “Ye have honored false gods instead of the eternal God,” the prophet had said above, “and therefore are come under the yoke.” For apart from its God, the maintenance of Israel’s nationality is an unnecessary thing. If they attach themselves to the gods of the nations, they must also wear their fetters. Only when they believe the Eternal is freedom either necessary or possible. The war against the oppressors, must begin against the gods of the oppressors. Gideon, fully convinced of the truth of Israel’s God, cannot summon to battle against the enemy, while an altar of Baal stands in his father’s own village. Israel’s watchword in every contest Isaiah, “God with us;” but before that word can kindle the hearts of the people, it must have been preceded by another—“Down with Baal!” This truth God himself enunciates in the valiant soul of Gideon. For now, being wholly filled with divine fire, he will delay no longer. But, only he who fears not Baal will find confidence among the people. The vigorous blows of his axe against the Asherah are the clearest proofs of his own faith. Such a faith kindles faith. Accordingly, Gideon must begin the liberation of Israel in his own house. Whoever will be truly free, must commence with himself and by his own fire-side—that is truth for all ages.
Take the ox-bullock, etc. Under divine inspiration, Gideon is as energetic as he is prudent. He neither delays, nor hastens overmuch. He chooses night for what he has to do, not from cowardice, but to insure a successful issue. By day, an outcry and contest would be inevitable, and would terrify the undecided. An accomplished fact makes an impression, and gives courage. His task is a twofold one: he must first tear down, then build up. The abominations of Baal must be thrown down. The altars of Baal, as the superior sun-god, were located on heights or elevated situations. They were built of stone, sometimes also of wood or earth ( 2 Kings 23:15), and were of considerable massiveness. Erected upon them, “planted” (לֹאתִפַּע, Deuteronomy 16:21), stood a tree, or trunk of a tree, covered with all manner of symbols. This was consecrated to Astarte, the fruitful, subordinate night-goddess. Such an image was that of Artemis in Ephesus, black (like the earth), fastened to the ground, and full about the breasts, to symbolize the fostering love of the earth. In other places, where the Greeks met with similar figures, Sparta, Byzantium, and elsewhere (cf. Gerhard, Griech. Mythol. § 332, 4, vol. i. p343), they were dedicated to Artemis Orthia, or Orthosia. In this name (ὀρθός, straight), that of the Asherah (from אַשֵׁר, to be straight) was long since recognized (cf. Zorn, Biblioth. Antiquar., p383). Asherah was the straight and erect idol of Astarte; the symbol of her sensual attributes. Its phallic character made it the object of utter abhorrence and detestation to the pure and chaste worship of Jehovah. And in truth the worship at Sparta (Paus. iii16, 7) did not differ essentially from that on Mt. Carmel ( 1 Kings 18:28). This idol was a common ornament of the altars of Baal,[FN20] by means of which these represented the worship of nature in its completeness. Hence it Isaiah, that we find Baal and Astarte joined together, as well as Baal and Asherah. Accordingly, Asherah and Astarte are not indeed altogether identical, as was formerly supposed; but neither are they, as Movers thought (Phoeniz. i561, etc.), different divinities. Asherah was the Astarte Orthia, the image which expressed the ideas represented by the goddess; but it was not, and need not be, the only image of the goddess. Without adducing here the many passages of Scripture in which Asherah and Astarte occur, the foregoing observations may suffice to explain every one of them. It will be found, upon reviewing them, that while persons could indeed worship Astarte, it was only Asherah which they could make for themselves, and again destroy. In form and idea, Baal and Astarte presented the perfect contrast to the living and creative God. Gideon, therefore, if he is to build up Israel anew, must begin with the overthrow of their idols. But this was not so slight an undertaking as to be within his own sole powers of execution. He needs men and carts for the purpose. He must wrench the altar of Baal out of its grooves, and throw it down; tear out the Asherah, and cut it to pieces. In their place (this is expressed by the הַוֶּה, “this,” of Judges 6:26), he is to erect an altar to the Eternal God. For this he cannot use the polluted fragments of the altar of Baal. He must bring pure earth and stones with him, out of which to construct it. Hence he uses ten servants to assist him, and a cart.
Take the ox-bullock which belongs to thy father, etc. The altar of Baal had been erected on his father’s estate. The guilt of his father’s house must be first atoned for. Therefore his cattle are to be taken. פַּר הַשּׁוֹר, ox-bullock, is not a young bullock, and does not answer to בֶּו בָּקָר. It is rather the first bullock of the herd, the “leader;” for even the second, being seven years old, is no longer young. Hesiod advises agriculturists to provide themselves two plough-bullocks of nine years old (Works and Days, 447). In Homer, bullocks of five years are offered and slaughtered (Il. ii403; Odyss. xix420). Down to the present day, the bullock of the plain of Jezreel and the Kishon surpasses, in size and strength, the same animal in the southern parts of the land (cf. Ritter, xvi703). This first bullock, this head of the herd, answers in a sense to the head of the family, which is Joash; it must help to destroy the altar which belongs to the latter. But as Gideon is not simply to destroy, but also to build up, the second bullock must also be taken, to be offered upon the new altar, in a fire made of the wood of the Asherah. The flames for which the idol must furnish the material—and we may thence infer how considerable a log of wood it was,—must serve to present an offering to the Eternal God.[FN21]
Judges 6:26-29. On the top of the fortification, on the forward edge, עַל רֹאשׁ הַפָּעוֹז: not the rock, near which God first appeared to Gideon. It was stated at the outset, that Israel made themselves grottoes, caves, and fortifications against the enemy. Some such place of protection and defense we are here to understand by the term מצוֹז. Upon this, the altar of Baal, the helper who could not help, had reared itself. In its place, an altar of the true Helper, the Eternal God, was now built, and placed בַּמַּצַרָכָה., on the forward edge. This word occurs repeatedly in the first book of Samuel, in the sense of “battle-array.” It answers to the Latin acies, and indicates that attitude of armies in which they turn their offensive sides toward each other; so that we are told ( 1 Samuel 17:21) that Israel and the Philistines had arranged themselves מַצֲרָכָה לִקְרַאת מַצֲרָכָה. Now, as acies came to signify battle-array because of the sharp side which this presented, so מַצֲרָכָה, as here used of the fortification, can only signify its forward edge.[FN22] The place where Gideon had to work was within the jurisdiction of Joash, but at some distance from the city, since otherwise the inhabitants would scarcely have remained ignorant of his proceedings till the next morning.
Judges 6:30. And the men of the city said unto Joash. Although the altar belonged to Joash, the people of the city nevertheless think themselves entitled to sit in judgment on the insult offered to Baal. Baal worshippers are not tolerant. The disposition of Joash however, seems even before this to have been similar to that of Gideon. For when it is said that Gideon feared to do his work by day, among all those whom he considers, his father is not mentioned, though he must be the most directly concerned. The same inference may be drawn from the energetic and ironical answer which he gives the men of the city. There is nothing to support Bertheau’s conjecture that Joash held the office of a judge. He is the head of the family; as such, he is required to deliver up Gideon, guilty of crime towards Baal. Joash is not merely indisposed to do this, but even threatens to use violence against any one who takes the cause of Baal upon himself. A few such forcible words were enough to quiet the people of the city. Israel had fallen into such deep torpidity and self-oblivion, that their enemies dared to demand of a father the life of his Song of Solomon, because he had done that which it was the duty of every Israelite to do. The first energetic resistance changes the position of parties, and puts the enemy to flight.
Judges 6:31. And Joash said, Will ye contend for Baal? In a similar manner,[FN23] Lucian ridicules the heathenism of his day, by representing Jupiter as laughed at for letting the sacriligious thieves depart from Olympia, untouched by his thunderbolts, although they had cut from his statue the golden locks of hairs, each of which weighed six minæ (in Jupiter Tragoedus). It lies in the nature of heathenism to identify God and the symbol which represents Him, since in general whatever testifies of God, every sensible manifestation of Deity, is made Deity itself by it. Joash ridicules the idea of his heathen neighbors, that the destruction of his altar is an insult to Baal. On the principles of heathenism, Baal’s protection of his altar, or the contrary, will demonstrate whether he is or is not. If he is able to take care of his own altar, Joash mockingly argues, it is an insult for another to undertake it for him. In this case, not he who injures, but he who would defend his altar, denies his deity. The latter first deserves to die. Many expositors have connected צַד חַבֹּקֶר, “till morning,” with יו·מת, “let him die,” which is against the sense of Joash’s speech. As to the destroyer of the altar, he says, we know not yet whether he has deserved death; wait till morning, and let us see whether Baal himself will do anything. But he who would take Baal’s place, and put the other to death, he deserves punishment at once; for he denies that Baal has any power at all, and by consequence that he exists. Wait till morning, if he be a god, he will contend for himself, because he hath cast down his altar. Joash denies that the altar belonged to him, although Judges 6:25 states that it did. The altar, he says, belongs to its god: let him see to it. The result of these words must have been, to make it evident to the men of the city that Joash and his house would have nothing more to do with Baal. For this they knew full well, that their Baal would do nothing to Gideon. It is one of the characteristic illusions of heathenism in all ages, that it does not itself believe in that for which it spends its zeal.
Judges 6:32. And at that time they named him Jerubbaal, that Isaiah, Baal will contend with him, for he hath thrown down his altar. Why expositors have not been content with this significant explanation, it is impossible to see.[FN24] It sets forth the utter impotence of Baal, and the mockery which it excited. Had Gideon been named “Contender with Baal,” it would have implied the existence of Baal. But if he was called, “Baal will contend with him, avenge himself on him,” and thus by his life, presence, and prosperity, strikingly manifested the impotence of the idol-god, who could not take vengeance on him, then his name itself was full of the triumph of the Israelitish spirit over its opponents. Baal can do nothing, Baal will do nothing, when his altars are overthrown. Baal is not: Israel has no occasion to fear. The superstition that he will avenge himself on his enemies, is idle. Of that, Jerubbaal affords living proof. In vain did Baal’s servants wait for vengeance to overtake Gideon—it came not; the hero only becomes greater and more triumphant. The name is therefore of greater ethical significance, than has been generally supposed. This fact secured its perpetuation and popular use. Even believers in the eternal God are deeply imbued with superstitious fear of Baal, which forbids them to do anything against him. How idle this fear Isaiah, Gideon shows. Samuel in his farewell address speaks of Gideon as Jerubbaal ( 1 Samuel 12:11); while Joab, speaking of Abimelech, calls him “son of Jerubbosheth” ( 2 Samuel 11:21). בּשֶׁת is a term of reproach for Baal ( Hosea 9:10).[FN25] Any connection between the name Jerubbaal and that of a god Jaribolos, discovered on Palmyrene inscriptions, is not to be thought of. First, for the self-evident reason, that no heathen god can possibly be called Jerubbaal; and secondly, because the like-sounding Jar can be better explained from יָרֵחַ, the moon, thus suggesting a moon-baal (cf. Corpus Insc. Grœc. iii. n4502, etc.; Ritter, xvii1531, etc.). It is interesting to notice that Gideon’s proper name, גּדְעוֹן, appropriately expresses the act with which he began his career. נָדַצ is equivalent to the Latin caedere, to fell. Deuteronomy 7:5 says: “Their altars ye shall throw down, .… their asherahs ye shall fell (תְּגַדֵּעוּן, cf. Deuteronomy 12:3. The same word is used ( 2 Chronicles 14:2; 2 Chronicles 31:1) of the felling of the Asherah, and Isaiah 9:9, of the felling of trees. Gideon, therefore, is the Feller, (Cæsar).
HOMILETICAL AND PRACTICAL
After the miracle of his election, Gideon enters on his calling. Othniel begins his official career in battle, Gideon in his own house. He must test at home his courage against foes abroad. Before he can proclaim the call of God against the enemies of Israel, who are inflicted on account of the prevalent idolatry, he must throw down the altar of Baal in his father’s house. The most difficult battle is to be fought first. Nearest neighbors are the worst adversaries. But he dares it because he believes God, and wins. Song of Solomon, when preachers of the gospel reap no fruit and gain no victory, it is often because they have not yet overthrown the altars in their own houses. The road to the hearts of the congregation, is over the ruins of the minister’s own Baal.—Starke: Christian friend, thou also hast a Baal in thine own heart, namely, evil concupiscence. Wilt thou please the Lord, first tear that idol down.
But Gideon must not merely tear down, but also build up; not only destroy the old altar, but also sacrifice on the new. Tearing down is of itself no proof of devotion; for an enemy’s enemy is not always a friend. The spirit that only denies, is an evil spirit. Divine truth is positive. Building involves confession; hence, to build up (edify) is to proclaim our confession and to preach the gospel of Him who is Yea and Amen. So did the Apostle not merely undermine the idolatry of Diana, but build up the church in Ephesus. Boniface, the Apostle of the Germans, not only cut down the oaks of heathenism, but founded churches. All churches are Gideon-altars, dedicated to Him who overthrew death, that He might build up the New Jerusalem.—Starke: He who would truly reform, must not only abolish, but put something better in its place.
Gideon’s sacrifice was to be consumed by the wood of the idol-image. The sole use which can be made of wooden gods, is to kindle a sacrifice to the true God. The wood was not unholy, but only the heart that fashioned it into an idol-image. The mountains on which the people worshipped were not unholy, but only the people who erected idols upon them. All sacrificial flames arise from the wood of idols previously worshipped. So the Apostle consumed his zeal as persecutor in the burning zeal of love. When the heart burns with longings after its Saviour, the flames consume the worldly idols which it formerly served. When prayer rises like the smoke of sacrifice, it springs from penitence in which old sins are burned to ashes.
Gideon is obedient to every direction, and is crowned with success. Notwithstanding apparent danger, obedience to God conducts only to happy issues. The most painful injunction is laid on Abraham; he obeys, and it turns to salvation. The enemies seek to slay Gideon; but they are sent home with derision. Gideon not only threw down the altar in his father’s house, but also won his father’s heart for God. Song of Solomon, confession of Christ often draws after it the hearts of parents. It is salvation, even if the first be last. However late, if at last men only come to God!—Lisco: The father had evidently derived new courage from his son’s bold exploit of faith, and declares war to the idolaters, if they touch his son.—Gerlach: The bold deed, of the son inspired the father also with new faith and courage. Hence, in this strife, Joash dared to judge as faith demanded.
And Gideon was called Jerubbaal. The hero is the wonderful type of the militant church: militant, that Isaiah, against unbelief, not engaged in internal warfare. His name proclaimed that Baal is nothing and can do nothing; but that God’s word is irresistable. Hence, it is a symbol of encouragement for all who confess the truth. He who fears and hesitates, does not love; but for him who has courage, Baal is vanished. Gideon threw down his altar, and built another for God, not for the stones’ sake, but for Israel’s benefit. Every Christian is a Jerubbaal, so long as instead of self-righteousness, he gives a place in his heart to the Cross. Thus, many in our days, who have more fear of man than courage in God, are put to shame by Jerubbaal. They exercise discretion, regard their position, look to their income, defer to superiors, and wish to please all,—but only he who seeks to please God alone, loses nothing and gains all.—Starke: As names given to men in memory of their good deeds are an honor to them, so to their adversaries they are a disgrace.—Gerlach: Henceforth the life and well-being of Gideon became an actual proof of the nothingness of idolatry; hence he receives the name Jerubbaal from the mouth of his father.
[Bp. Hall: The wood of Baal’s grove must be used to burn a sacrifice unto God. When it was once cut down, God’s detestation and their danger ceased. The good creatures of God that have been profaned to idolatry, may, in a change of their use, be employed to the holy service of their Maker.—Wordsworth: The Parthenons and Pantheons of heathen antiquity have been consecrated into Basilicas and Churches of Christ.—Henry: Gidson, as a type of Christ, mast first save his people from their sins, then from their enemies.—The same: It is good to appear for God when we are called to it, though there he few or none to second us, because God can incline the hearts of those to stand by us, from whom we little expect it.—TR.
FN#16 - 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.]
FN#17 - 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.]
FN#18 - 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.]
FN#19 - 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.]
FN#21 - Wordsworth: “Gideon, though not a priest, was made a priest for the occasion—as Manoah afterwards was ( Judges 13:19)—by the special command or God, who shows his divine independence and sovereign authority by making priests of whom he will, and by ordering altars to be built where he will. Cf. Hengst, Pentateuch, ii: 48.”—TR.]
FN#22 - Keil; “בַּמַּצֲרָכָה, ‘with the preparation (zurüstung).’ The explanation of this word is doubtful. Since בָּבָח is used ( 1 Kings 15:22) with בְּ of the building material, Studer and Bertheau understand מַצֲרָכָה of the materials of the overthrown Baal-altar, out of which Gideon was to build the altar to Jehovah—Studer applying the word more particularly to the stone of the altar itself, Bertheau to the materials, especially the pieces of wood, lying on the altar, ready to be used in offering sacrifices. But they are certainly wrong; for neither does מַצֲרָכָה mean building material or pieces of wood, nor does the definite article, which here precedes it, point to the altar of Baal. The verb צָרַדְ occurs not only quite frequently of the arrangement of the wood upon the altar ( Genesis 22:9; Leviticus 1:7, and elsewhere), but also of the preparation of the altar for the sacrifice ( Numbers 23:4). Accordingly, מַצֲרָכָה can scarcely be understood otherwise than of the preparation of the altar to be built for the sacrificial action, in the sense: ‘Build the altar with the preparation (equipment) required for the sacrifice.’ According to what follows, this preparation consisted in piling up the wood of the Asherah on the altar to consume the burnt-offering of Gideon.”—Tr.]
FN#23 - The same idea underlies the Jewish legends of Abraham’s destruction of the idols in his father’s house. Cf. Beer, Leben Abraham’s, Leipzig, 1869, p10.
FN#24 - Keil has come back to it.
FN#25 - On the names Ishbosheth and Mephibosheth, compare for the present my article on Ishbosheth in Herzog’s Realencykl. vii:83, where, however, the printer has erroneously put קרי מבצל for מריב בצל.
The Midianite marauders being encamped in the Plain of Jezreel, the Spirit of Jehovah takes possession of Gideon. The double sign of the fleece
33Then [And] all the Midianites, and the Amalekites, and the children [sons] of the east were gathered together, and went over, and pitched [encamped] in the 34 valley [plain] of Jezreel. But [And] the Spirit of the Lord [Jehovah] came upon Gideon, and he blew a [the] trumpet; and Abi-ezer was gathered after him 35 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.[FN26] 36And Gideon said unto God, If thou wilt save Israel by my hand, as thou hast said, 37Behold, I will [omit: will] put a fleece of wool in the [threshing] floor: and if the dew [shall] be on the fleece only, and it be dry upon all the earth [ground] besides, then shall I know that thou wilt save Israel by my hand, as thou hast said 38 And it was so: for [and when] he rose up early on the morrow, and [he] thrust [pressed[FN27]] the fleece together, and wringed 2 the [omit: the] dew out of the fleece, a [the[FN28]] bowl-full of water 39 And Gideon said unto God, Let not thine anger be hot [kindled] against me, and I will speak but this once: let me prove [try], 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 40 And God did so that night: for [and] it was dry upon the fleece only, and there was dew on all the ground.