Deborah and Barak’s victory at the Brook Kishon secured the Israelites from further attempts of the remnant of the Canaanite population to recover their former ascendancy. However, the Israelites’ security again led to carelessness, and carelessness slowly returned to the old dark sin of idolatry. Therefore, the rod of chastisement was again brought upon them – this time, from the deserts of the south and the east. The Midianites (whom Israel had fought in Numbers 31) and the Amalekites (Israel’s first assailants in Exodus 17) united their forces with the Arab tribes of the eastern desert; and they came up in vast numbers by way of the plain of Esdraelon, with countless multitudes of oxen, sheep, donkeys, and camels. These marauders ravaged the whole land of Israel. Their method was to invade the country, year after year, just before the harvest; and like a swarm of locusts, they would destroy the entire produce of the fields. The Israelites, in their distress, did not dare to resist them; and so they fled to natural caves and ravines, and excavated additional hiding-places in the hill-sides. This continued through seven years of increasing misery and impoverishment; and then the repentant people, “out of the depths” of their distress, “cried unto the Lord.” And their prayer was heard! But first, an unnamed prophet was sent with a solemn reproof; and then followed a visit from the same Divine Personage Who had appeared to Joshua – and more recently, to their forefathers at Bochim.
Gideon was threshing a scanty supply of wheat which had been saved from the ravages of the invaders. Raising his eyes for a moment from his work, the young man laid his eyes upon a “man,” whose approach he had not noticed, quietly seated under the spreading canopy of a solitary oak tree. In such fearful times, the sight of any stranger was sure to excite anxiety; but the visitor fixed His gaze steadily upon Gideon, and spoke to him in a manner that was entirely unexpected: “The Lord is with thee, thou mighty man of valour!” (As if Gideon looked like the picture of might and bravery – he’s secretly threshing wheat in an out-of-the-way location, so that the enemy would not find it and steal it!)
Gideon was weak in faith – which made it hard to reconcile the assurances of the presence of God with the distress to which Israel had been brought. But Gideon’s visitor answered his objections. He told him to appear and act as Israel’s deliverer – and nothing more was necessary! When God called Gideon a “mighty man of valour,” He made him such a man.
Upon being commissioned to save Israel from the Midianites, Gideon quite naturally asked for a sign, which was granted. The refreshment which he had brought to his mysterious visitor was consumed by a touch of His staff! The “Angel of the Lord” turned this meat into an offering made by fire, in order to show that he was not a man who needed food; but rather, He was the Son of God, Who was to be served and honored by sacrifice, and Who – in the fullness of time – was to make Himself a Sacrifice! Hereby a sign was given to Gideon, assuring him that he had found grace in God’s sight; for ever since man’s sin has exposed himself to God’s wrath and curse, any kind of message from heaven has been a terror to him, as he scarcely dares to expect good tidings from that place.
In a dream, that same night, Gideon was commanded to destroy the altar of Baal, which his father Joash had built upon his own property. And this was an order which was zealously executed. See the power of God’s grace, that He could raise up a reformer and a deliverer for His people – even out of the family of a leader in idolatry! In the morning, the citizens discovered what had been done; and they were wicked enough to demand that Gideon should be led forth to execution because he had dared to throw down Baal’s altar. Gideon’s father, however, was now roused to a sense of his own unfaithfulness to Israel’s God; and he refused to pronounce judgment upon Baal’s behalf.
And now the time of the annual incursion arrived. According to their custom, the nomads came up through the valley of the Jordan and camped all over the plain of Jezreel. Impressed by the gravity of this crisis, Gideon’s faith implored one more sign, which was graciously granted in a double form. The night dews of Palestine are very copious; Gideon placed a woolen fleece upon the open threshing-floor, and asked that the dew might fall exclusively upon the fleece; and on the following night, he prayed that the dew might be everywhere else, but the fleece would remain dry. These signs were truly miraculous, and they were very significant. Gideon and his men were going to fight the Midianites; could the Lord distinguish between the small fleece of Israel, and the vast armies of Midian? Gideon was made to know that God could indeed do so! Was Gideon desirous that the dew of Divine grace might come down upon himself in particular? He saw the fleece wet with dew to assure him of it. Did he desire that God would be like the dew to all Israel? Behold, all the ground was wet. What great reason we sinners have for praising the name of the Lord that the dew of heavenly blessings – which was once confined to the nation of Israel – is now sent to all the inhabitants of the earth!
Lord, in the view of Israel’s repeated departures from You, we see a picture of our own hearts. We thank You that our Redeemer has saved us from our enemies; help us to never again forget the gracious hand that has effected our salvation! Amen.
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illustration by Charles Foster, 1915