To properly study Gideon and his work of delivering Israel, we must begin our study by focusing on why Israel needed to be delivered. Joseph Parker rightly said, "We must realize this condition of things before we can understand the arduousness of the mission of Gideon. If we do not understand the situation we cannot understand Gideon’s distress, hesitation, hopelessness."
Gideon came on the scene during the period of the Judges in Israel. This period of approximately four hundred years followed the settlement of Israel in Canaan under the leadership of Joshua and preceded the monarchy which began with King Saul.
It was a dark period in Israel’s history, so dark that J. Sidlow Baxter said, "Would that we might erase from the tablets of Israel’s history the many dark doings and sad happenings which make up the bulk of this seventh book of the canon!" The last verse of the book of Judges sums up the darkness of those days by saying, "In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did that which was right in his own eyes" (Judges 21:25).
Thirteen of these Judges are recorded in the book of Judges. They include twelve men and one woman, and they come from eight different tribes of Israel. Gideon was the sixth Judge and one of the most prominent of the Judges. He and Samson, the thirteenth and last Judge in the book, have more recorded of them in the book of Judges than do any of the other Judges.
These Judges were raised up by the Lord to deliver the nation of Israel from great crisis. "The Lord raised up judges, who delivered them out of the hand of those who spoiled them" (Judges 2:16). When Gideon was thrust into his work of leading Israel, the Israelites were really being "spoiled" by the Midianites. In this study we will consider the awful ruin that characterized the land in Gideon’s day, and from which Israel desperately needed deliverance. We will look at the explanation for the ruin, the extent of the ruin, and the effect of the ruin.
A. THE EXPLANATION FOR THE RUIN
"The children of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord; and the Lord delivered them into the hand of Midian seven years . . . so it was, when Israel had sown, that the Midianites came up . . . And they encamped against them, and destroyed the increase of the earth" (Judges 6:1,3,4). The explanation for why Israel was in such ruin was twofold. There was a primary and secondary cause. The primary cause was the iniquity of Israel; the secondary cause was the invasion by Midian.
1. The Iniquity of Israel
"Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord" (v. 1) was the primary reason for the ruin that plagued the Israelites. Sin always brings unnecessary suffering. Not so holiness. God gave commandments to bless us, not to burden us. "His commandments are not grievous [burdensome]" (1 John 5:3). Sin, on the other hand, does not bless us but burdens us with untold grief. Therefore, as Matthew Henry said, "Let all that sin expect to suffer."
Both the particulars of Israel’s sin and the perceiving of Israel’s sin are spoken of in our text for this study.
The particulars of Israel’s sin. "And I said unto you, I am the Lord your God; fear not the gods of the Amorites . . . but ye have not obeyed my voice" (v. 10). The specific sin mentioned in our text of which Israel was guilty was the sin of idolatry. As we will see in our next chapter, the particular idolatry they were guilty of was the worshiping of Baal. Worship affects how man walks; and so because of their worship of Baal, they would also be guilty of the gross immoralities—conduct that always accompanies idolatry. Good theology raises our morals, but bad theology lowers our morals. The low moral condition of our land evidences the corruption of the theology that prevails in our land.
The perceiving of Israel’s sin. Note that Israel’s evil was said to be done "in the sight of the Lord" (v. 1). Their sin was not hidden from God. No sin is. God is omniscient. He knows all about us. Psalm 139 underscores this fact: "Thou understandest my thought afar off . . . and art acquainted with all my ways. For there is not a word in my tongue, but, lo, O Lord, thou knowest it altogether" (Psalm 139:2–4). We may conceal our deeds and thoughts from man, but never will we conceal them from God. Therefore, we will have to reckon with God for all that we have ever thought, said, or done. A sobering thought indeed, and one that ought to clean up our lives.
2. The Invasion by Midian
The secondary cause of Israel’s ruin was the invasion of the Midianites. But Israel, as we will see later, tried to make the secondary cause the primary cause. Mankind prefers to first put blame upon the Midianites of their lives as the main problem and to ignore their own doing of "evil in the sight of the Lord"
as a factor. Interestingly, verse 1 puts "did evil in the sight of the
Lord" first in the verse, and that is where it belongs, too, as the cause of Israel’s ruin. Midian was the secondary cause. Midian was the rod of God’s chastening hand, for it was "the Lord" who "delivered them [Israel] into the hand of Midian." When we are disciplined, it is not the chastening rod that is our primary problem, rather it is that which causes the use of the chastening rod. Samuel Ridout said, "The power of any enemy is put in his [the enemy’s] hands by the unfaithfulness of God’s people." It is not the enemy, but it is our unfaithfulness that causes the enemy to inflict us.
Looking at this secondary cause, we will note here the composition of the invaders, the corruption of the invaders, and the character of the invasion.
The composition of the invaders. The invaders were chiefly Midianites. But we learn from the Scriptures that the invaders also included some "Amalekites, and the children of the east" who came along with the Midianites and are mentioned three times (Judges 6:3,33; 7:12) in the story of Gideon as being part of this Midianite group. They came from east of the Jordan River, from the deserts to the east of Palestine. The Midianites were descendants of Abraham through his second wife Keturah (Genesis 25:1,2). The Amalekites were descendants of Esau (Genesis 36:12).
The corruption of the invaders. The Midianite record in Scripture will be forever stained by their unsavory conduct towards the Israelites during Moses’ time. They, along with Moab, tried to get Balaam to curse the Israelites when they were being led by Moses toward Canaan. Failing in this they then resorted to corrupting the Israelites through their women (Numbers 23–25). Because of the evil the Midianites were to Israel, God commanded Moses to "Vex the Midianites, and smite them," and "Avenge the children of Israel of the Midianites" (Numbers 25:17; 31:2); and this Moses did and with decisiveness (Numbers 31:3–12). This decisive dealing with Midian was so effective that it was some two hundred years before Midian again became a problem for Israel.
What a good lesson this is on how to deal effectively with evil, a lesson we will see again in the story of Gideon. If we expect to conquer evil in our lives, we must oppose it with great earnestness. We must not give it any quarter, but must deal it strong and repeated blows.
While the Amalekites are a minor part of the Midianite invasion, it is worthy to note that they too have a record greatly stained with unsavory conduct. Specifically did they incur the curse of God when they attacked Israel shortly after Israel had escaped Egypt under Moses’ leadership (Exodus 17:8–16). The attack by the Amalekites upon Israel was very cowardly, cruel, and crafty; for they "smote the hinder most of thee [rear of the camp], even all that were feeble behind thee, when thou wast faint and weary" (Deuteronomy 25:18). But Moses dealt firmly with them, too. He sent Joshua out to lead the Israelites in war against the Amalekites, and Joshua was most successful, for he "discomforted [overthrew] Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword" (Exodus 17:13). Later God said, "It shall be, when the Lord thy God hath given thee rest from all thine enemies round about, in the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee for an inheritance . . . thou shalt blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven" (Deuteronomy 25:19). Israel was never to tolerate the Amalekites. Neither should we tolerate evil. All that Amalekites represents, we must forever oppose.
The character of the invasion. This was not primarily a military invasion like that of an army invading a land. True, the Midianites were armed (135,000 "drew sword" [Judges 8:10]) and could engage in military action; but they were more than an army. This invasion was more of a gypsy-type migration. Luke Wiseman said, "It was a general migration of the combined hordes of the desert; the same phenomenon, a thousand times magnified, as occurs summer after summer at the present day [1800s—the time of Wiseman’s writing], when the roving Arabs of the Hauran and of Gilead come far up the plain of Esdraelon, plundering all they meet with." These hordes would come into the land during harvest time when they could plunder "the increase of the earth" (v. 4). Every year for "seven years" (v. 1) they "came up with their cattle and their tents" (v. 5) and "encamped against them [Israel]" (v. 4). It was no small group either, but a large host of people and animals that swarmed across the country. "They came as grasshoppers [locusts] for multitude; for both they and their camels were without number" (v. 5). The Midianites simply dominated the country. Israel no longer had dominion of their land.
Sin ever takes away dominion. "Israel had bowed to the gods of the heathen, therefore they must bow to the tyranny of the heathen" (Wiseman). And "If we act as the Israelites acted we shall suffer as they suffered" (Ibid.).
Gideon certainly had to deal with a formidable group in order to deliver Israel. It was comprised of some old and vicious enemies of Israel who had gained a great foothold in the land. Gideon’s task was not going to be easy. But then it is never easy to take on evil when it is firmly entrenched in the land. Therefore it will take great dedication to fight the good fight against the foes of righteousness. A dedication that unfortunately we see very little of today.
B. THE EXTENT OF THE RUIN
The ruin of the land was great. For "seven years . . . Midian prevailed . . . and because of the Midianites, the children of Israel made themselves the dens which are in the mountains, and caves, and strongholds . . . And they [Midianites] encamped against them, and destroyed the increase of the earth . . . and left no sustenance for Israel . . . And Israel was greatly improvished" (vv. 1, 2, 4, 6). As Matthew Henry did, we sum up the extent of the ruin of Israel in a twofold way: Israel was imprisoned and Israel was impoverished.
1. Israel was Imprisoned
"Because of the Midianites, the children of Israel made themselves the dens which are in the mountains, and caves, and strongholds" (v. 2). When the hordes of Midianites and their allies swarmed into Israel, the Israelites moved from the plains where their fields were and moved into the mountains to hide. Scripture cites three types of hiding places: dens (F. C. Cook says, "The word rendered ‘dens’ is only found in this passage. It is best explained of ravines hollowed out by torrents, which the Israelites made into hiding places."), caves (Jamieson says some of the caves were capable of holding several thousand people), and strongholds (which are fortress like dwellings). Fearful of the Midianites, who not only plundered the crops but sometimes also murdered their victims (cp. Judges 8:18), they became virtual prisoners of the marauders by moving into these hiding places.
This hiding, justified as it may seem, was, however, cowardly action. It evidenced that Israel did not have the character to put up much resistance to this evil invading of the land by the Midianites. When the Midianites came into the land, the Israelites simply ran and hid. Wiseman said, "They had the character of too often preferring a dishonorable peace to an honorable though difficult resistance." Matthew Henry spoke likewise when he said, "This [hiding] was owing purely to their own timorousness and faint-heartedness, that they would rather fly than fight; it was the effect of a guilty conscience, which made them tremble at the shaking of a leaf . . . the heart that departs from God is lost, not only to that which is good, but to that which is great. Sin dispirits men, and makes them sneak into dens and caves."
Israel’s actions are mirrored by many in our own land today—such as those who protest any war. Under the guise of being for peace, they oppose any armed conflict with others no matter what the issue. They are shortsighted in their reasoning, for they never seem to realize that there are times when it is better to shed some blood now rather than much more blood later. They are the kind who condemn the United States for dropping the A-bomb on Japan because of all the casualties it produced, but who will not admit that the A-bomb stopped the war and prevented much more casualties than it produced. It is the attitude that wants peace at any price, forgetting that peace of that kind is not peace at all.
But regardless of how clever these pacifists talk, we need to be reminded that it is generally corruption in character that produces such an attitude. Unwillingness to deal firmly with evil is a result of lack of character. It was Israel’s problem, and it is also a problem in our society today. It even shows up in our churches, too, in their refusing to stand up against the dissident in the church. But such conduct is not charity; it is corruption!
2. Israel was Impoverished
The Midianites "destroyed the increase of the earth, till thou come unto Gaza, and left no sustenance for Israel, neither sheep, nor ox, nor ass . . . And Israel was greatly impoverished" (vv. 4, 6). Not only did the Midianites take the fruit of the crops, but they also took the Israelites’ livestock. It was a wholesale plundering of the land that left the land in ruin materially. It was an economic disaster. Israel, however, was only reaping what they had sown. There was considerable justice in their experience. They had, because of their idolatry, failed to honor God with their substances. What they should have been giving God they gave to Baal. Now the Midianites take it all.
Israel had the same trouble in the time of the prophet Hosea. Hosea says, "She [Israel] did not know that I [God] gave her corn, and wine, and oil, and multiplied her silver and gold, which they prepared for Baal [instead of for Jehovah]. Therefore will I return, and take away my corn in its time, and my wine in its season, and will recover my wool and my flax given to cover her nakedness" (Hosea 2:8,9). Israel experienced God’s blessings, but they used the blessings for the wrong things. Instead of honoring God with the blessings, they honored Baal; and that cost them dearly.
This problem continues today. God blesses us in many areas; but instead of using these blessings to honor Him, we use them to depart from Him. God gives us such things as health, wealth, convenience, and time which should enable us to really give much of ourselves to serving the Lord faithfully. But instead of service, about all God gets are excuses. People with all sorts of advantages complain they just are not able to serve regularly in the church. Such an attitude begs for judgment from God in the form of a stripping of their blessings. Hence, when we lose some of our blessings, we need to take serious thought as to whether we were using these blessings for God as we ought. Such serious thinking will prevent the loss of further blessings, for it will cause us to correct our delinquency and to be better stewards of what we still have left.
C. THE EFFECT OF THE RUIN
"And the children of Israel cried unto the Lord. And it came to pass, when the children of Israel cried unto the Lord because of the Midianites, That the Lord sent a prophet unto the children of Israel" (vv. 6–8). The troubles of Israel were salutary. They resulted in Israel coming back to God. How often this is the case. Trouble drives us to God. But as F.B. Meyer said, "Alas! that God has so often to drive men to Himself." Would that we responded better to God’s chidings, so we did not have to always be brought low and put in painful circumstances before we finally turned to God.
The effect the ruin had upon the Israelites, as seen from our text, can be detailed in a twofold way. It produced prayer and it produced preaching.
1. The Praying It Produced
"And the children of Israel cried unto the Lord" (v. 6). The troubles with the Midianites caused Israel to pray to God. Their prayer was delinquent, diligent, and deficient.
A delinquent prayer. "When the children of Israel cried unto the Lord . . . the Lord sent a prophet" (vv. 7, 8). The "when" should have been a lot sooner than it was. For "seven years" (v. 1) they watched as the Midianites stripped their land bare at harvest time and stole their livestock. Finally they got around to praying to the Lord. But why did they wait so long before they sought God in prayer? The answer is that when we are far from God, we are not inclined to do much praying. When we are walking in disobedience to Him, we have little interest in praying even though our troubles are many. Prayerand disobedience do not go together. An example of this is seen in who the crowd is that attends the church’s prayer meet ings. The backslidden crowd is seldom there. They are not very interested in the prayer services. They may show up when a church service is entertaining, that is, when it has some musical or some celebrity featured; but they will not show much enthusiasm for the prayer service.
How often is it that the people who have the most problems are the least likely to pray. You can observe this in church again and again. You would think these folk who have so many problems in their lives would be the first ones to show up for prayer. But, no, they are generally the last to pray, the last to show up at the church’s prayer service. This is one of the great perils of disobedience. Disobedience creates problems and puts within us disinterest in going where the problems can be solved.
A diligent prayer. Israel "cried" unto the Lord. The basic meaning of the word "cried" is to "cry out with a loud voice" (William Wilson). So there was great effort put forth in this prayer. They were earnest in their praying. They were not going through the motions. They were not mumbling through some prayer book in a monotone voice. They were in great distress because of the ruin which covered the land, and, therefore, they "cried" out for relief.
Earnestness is needed if our praying is to be acceptable. How can we expect God to get earnest about something we are praying about if we are not earnest about it? God is not in the business of paying much respect to prayers that lack earnestness. If we are not earnest in our request, we need not expect God to be earnest in His response.
A deficient prayer. The prayer was deficient because of the priority of its concerns. Some may wonder why it was deficient praying here to pray for deliverance from the Midianites, for Israel surely needed deliverance from the Midianites. The answer is that Israel first needed to be delivered from that which permitted the Midianites to come into their land. As we noted earlier, the problem of the Midianites was the secondary cause, not the primary cause. The primary cause was Israel’s sin. But they were not praying about that. To correct this deficiency, to encourage them to continue to seek Him for help, and to begin to answer their prayer, God sent them a prophet who did some great preaching. We will consider this preaching next.
2. The Preaching It Produced
"When the children of Israel cried unto the Lord because of the Midianites . . . the Lord sent a prophet unto the children of Israel, who 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 who oppressed you, and drove them out from before you, and gave you their land; 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" (vv. 7–10). The prophet God sent to Israel had a good message. This message, though especially needed by Israel in Gideon’s day, gives us some important ingredients that need to be in every preacher’s message in any age. This message can be divided into three parts: rescue, responsibility, and rebellion.
Rescue. The message reminded Israel that God had rescued Israel from great troubles in the past. "I delivered you out of the hand of the Egyptians, and out of the hand of all who oppressed you" (v. 9). Such a reminder would rebuke Israel for not seeking God sooner. But it would also encourage Israel that God was able to deliver them from the Midianites, too, and that they were therefore wise to come to Him for help, for He—not the idols they had been worshipping—was the One Who could help them. Our messages need to remind people of the greatness of God, and what He has already done for us.
Responsibility. The message reminded Israel of their responsibility to not go after other gods. God had plainly commanded them to not "fear [worship or serve] the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell" (v. 10). It is only fitting that they should be loyal to the God Who had delivered them from their enemies. We have an obligation to be faithful to God for what He has done for us. Any attitude to the contrary is grossly ungrateful and totally illogical.
One of our great problems today is the lack of emphasis on our responsibilities, on our obeying God’s commands. We seem mostly concerned about what we want God to do for us, but not very concerned about what He tells us to do for Him. This problem includes our human relationships, too. We are more concerned about what others are doing for us than what we are doing for them. People will sign petitions, picket, and protest for their rights; but when it comes to their responsibilities, they seem to look only for excuses for not fulfilling them. Our messages need to put more emphasis on our obligations. Our messages not only need to tell of the promises of God, but also of the precepts of God.
Rebellion. The message rebuked Israel for their rebellion. The command to not go after other gods was disobeyed. "But ye have not obeyed my voice," (v. 10). This was the climax of the message from the prophet dealing with the deficiency in their prayer. It told Israel what their main trouble was, where they most needed help, and, therefore, what they really ought to be praying about first. Israel had been primarily concerned about the consequences of their evil, but God was primarily concerned about the cause of their evil. Israel was most concerned about their distress, but God was most concerned about their disobedience which brought about their distress. Israel was chiefly concerned about their material problems, but God was chiefly concerned about their spiritual problems which were the root cause of their material problems.
How wise it was for God to first deliver Israel from the problem of their sins before He delivered them from the problem of their suffering. It would have been a mistake to deliver Israel from Midian without first dealing with their spiritual problem, for if the cause of the problem is not dealt with then Israel will not be given genuine help. So a prophet who indicts the people for their sin must precede a Gideon who delivers the people from their suffering. Before the people can be delivered from the evil of their circumstances, they must first become convicted about the evil of their conduct. This is always God’s way. Therefore, John the Baptist must first come and proclaim to the people the sinfulness of their deeds before Jesus the Savior comes on the scene. Jesus must first come to save His people from the tyranny of their sins before He saves them from the tyranny of Rome. We must preach the holiness of God before the redemption of God will be properly appreciated and received. We must first be burdened with the guilt of our sin before we will be truly concerned about forsaking our sin. And a church asking God for help should not be surprised if He sends them a preacher who knows how to preach against sin.
The world, of course, does not like this order. The people in Jesus’ day were more concerned about the tyranny of Rome than the tyranny of sin. Governments lay out billions for welfare without dealing with what causes welfare—alcohol, immorality, and just plain laziness. Churches preach a social Gospel trying to take people out of the slums without addressing the need of first taking the slums out of the people which produced the slums of their circumstances. Rescue Missions become more interested in addressing the material needs of their clients than in addressing their moral and spiritual needs. But such an approach will never work in solving men’s problems because it does not get to the root cause of the problem. However, few seem to understand or are willing to accept this truth today—which explains why we are not doing a very good job in solving the problems of humanity, though we have tons of experts and programs highly praised by man.
With the preaching of the prophet, the stage is now set for Gideon to come on the scene to deliver Israel. Hearts have been prepared for him to do his work. The days of Midianite dominion are fast coming to an end.