The Call of Gideon. 1The Israelites did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, who therefore delivered them into the power of Midian for seven years, 2so that Midian held Israel subject. From fear of Midian the Israelites made dens in the mountains, the caves, and the strongholds.a 3For it used to be that whenever the Israelites had completed sowing their crops, Midian, Amalek, and the Kedemites* would come up, 4encamp against them, and lay waste the produce of the land as far as the outskirts of Gaza, leaving no sustenance in Israel, and no sheep, ox, or donkey. 5For they would come up with their livestock, and their tents would appear as thick as locusts. They would be too many to count when they came into the land to lay it waste. 6b Israel was reduced to utter poverty by Midian, and so the Israelites cried out to the LORD.
7When Israel cried out to the LORD because of Midian, 8c the LORD sent a prophet to the Israelites who said to them: Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: I am the one who brought you up from Egypt; I brought you out of the house of slavery. 9I rescued you from the power of Egypt and all your oppressors. I drove them out before you and gave you their land. 10And I said to you: I, the LORD, am your God; you shall not fear the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are dwelling. But you did not listen to me.
11Then the messenger of the LORD came and sat under the terebinth in Ophrah that belonged to Joash the Abiezrite. Joash’s son Gideond was beating out wheat in the wine press to save it from the Midianites, 12and the messenger of the LORD appeared to him and said: The LORD is with you, you mighty warrior! 13“My lord,” Gideon said to him, “if the LORD is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are his wondrous deeds about which our ancestors told us when they said, ‘Did not the LORD bring us up from Egypt?’ For now the LORD has abandoned us and has delivered us into the power of Midian.” 14e The LORD turned to him and said: Go with the strength you have, and save Israel from the power of Midian. Is it not I who send you? 15But he answered him, “Please, my Lord, how can I save Israel? My family is the poorest in Manasseh, and I am the most insignificant in my father’s house.”f 16The LORD said to him: I will be with you,* and you will cut down Midian to the last man. 17He answered him, “If you look on me with favor, give me a sign that you are the one speaking with me. 18Please do not depart from here until I come to you and bring out my offering and set it before you.” He answered: I will await your return.
19So Gideon went off and prepared a young goat and an ephah* of flour in the form of unleavened cakes. Putting the meat in a basket and the broth in a pot, he brought them out to him under the terebinth and presented them. 20g The messenger of God said to him: Take the meat and unleavened cakes and lay them on this rock; then pour out the broth. When he had done so, 21the messenger of the LORD stretched out the tip of the staff he held. When he touched the meat and unleavened cakes, a fire came up from the rock and consumed the meat and unleavened cakes. Then the messenger of the LORD disappeared from sight. 22* Gideon, now aware that it had been the messenger of the LORD, said, “Alas, Lord GOD, that I have seen the messenger of the LORD face to face!”h 23The LORD answered him: You are safe. Do not fear. You shall not die. 24So Gideon built there an altar to the LORD and called it Yahweh-shalom.* i To this day it is still in Ophrah of the Abiezrites.
25That same night the LORD said to him: Take your father’s bull, the bull fattened for seven years, and pull down your father’s altar to Baal. As for the asherah* beside it, cut it down 26and build an altar to the LORD, your God, on top of this stronghold with the pile of wood. Then take the fattened bull and offer it as a whole-burnt sacrifice on the wood from the asherah you have cut down. 27So Gideon took ten of his servants and did as the LORD had commanded him. But he was too afraid of his family and of the townspeople to do it by day; he did it at night. 28Early the next morning the townspeople found that the altar of Baal had been dismantled, the asherah beside it cut down, and the fattened bull offered on the altar that was built. 29They asked one another, “Who did this?” They inquired and searched until they were told, “Gideon, son of Joash, did it.” 30So the townspeople said to Joash, “Bring out your son that he may die, for he has dismantled the altar of Baal and cut down the asherah that was beside it.” 31But Joash replied to all who were standing around him, “Is it for you to take action for Baal, or be his savior? Anyone who takes action for him shall be put to death by morning. If he is a god, let him act for himself,j since his altar has been dismantled!” 32So on that day Gideon was called Jerubbaal,* k because of the words, “Let Baal take action against him, since he dismantled his altar.”
33Then all Midian and Amalek and the Kedemites mustered and crossed over into the valley of Jezreel, where they encamped. 34And Gideon was clothed with the spirit of the LORD,* l and he blew the horn summoning Abiezer to follow him. 35He sent messengers throughout Manasseh, and they, too, were summoned to follow him; he also sent messengers throughout Asher, Zebulun, and Naphtali, and they advanced to meet the others. 36Gideon said to God, “If indeed you are going to save Israel through me, as you have said, 37I am putting this woolen fleece on the threshing floor, and if dew is on the fleece alone, while all the ground is dry, I shall know that you will save Israel through me, as you have said.” 38That is what happened. Early the next morning when he wrung out the fleece, he squeezed enough dew from it to fill a bowl. 39Gideon then said to God, “Do not be angry with me if I speak once more. Let me make just one more test with the fleece. Let the fleece alone be dry, but let there be dew on all the ground.” 40That is what God did that night: the fleece alone was dry, but there was dew on all the ground.
* [6:3] Midian, Amalek, and the Kedemites: three groups of camel nomads, whose raids were a constant threat to settled peoples like the Israelites during the period of the Judges.
* [6:16] I will be with you: narratives telling how the Lord commissions someone for a task depict the person’s reactions of reluctance, confusion, or sense of inadequacy, and the Lord’s reassurance (“I will be with you”), sometimes accompanied by a sign (cf. Ex 3:12; Jer 1:8). Lk 1:28–37 is modeled on this pattern.
* [6:22] Ancient Israel thought that seeing God face to face meant mortal danger, as Ex 33:20 indicates and as Gideon’s reaction here shows. Compare the reaction of Samson’s parents (13:22–23) when they realize they have been conversing with the Lord.
* [6:32] Jerubbaal: similar in sound to the Hebrew words meaning, “Let Baal take action.”
* [6:34] Clothed with the spirit of the LORD: narratives about the selection of leaders in early Israel typically attribute their prowess to “the spirit of the Lord,” not to their own qualities (cf. v. 15). The Lord’s spirit “comes upon” them (3:10; 11:29; 13:25) or “rushes upon” them (14:6, 19; 15:14; 1 Sm 11:6), and they are transformed into effective leaders. Here, Gideon is “clothed” with the Lord’s spirit; cf. the clothing or vesture imagery in Is 59:17; 61:10; Ez 16:10–14; Jb 29:14.