Fausset's Bible Dictionary


("a hewer"), i.e. warrior, or the hewer down of Baal (Isa 10:33). Of Manasseh; youngest son of Joash, of the Abiezrite family at Ophrah (Jdg 6:11; Jdg 6:15). Fifth of the judges of Israel, called by the angel of the Lord to deliver Israel from the seven years' yoke of the Midianite hosts, which like swarming locusts consumed all their produce except what they could hide in caves and holes (Jdg 6:2; Jdg 6:5-6; Jdg 6:11). There they fled, and "made" artificial caves besides enlarging natural caves for their purpose, God permitting them to be brought so low that their extremity might be His opportunity. Midian had long before with Moab besought Balaam to curse Israel, and through his counsel, by tempting Israel to whoredom with their and the Moabite women, had brought a plague on Israel, and had then by God's command been smitten sorely by Israel (Num 25:17-18; Num 31:1-16, etc.).

But now after 200 years, in renewed strength, with the Amalekite and other plundering children of the E. they were used as God's instrument to chastise His apostate people. Crossing Jordan from the E. they spread themselves from the plain of Jezreel to the sea coast of Gaza. Affliction led Israel to crying in prayer. Prayer brought first a prophet from Jehovah to awaken them to a sense of God's grace in their former deliverances and of their own apostasy. Next the Angel of Jehovah came. i.e. Jehovah the Second Person Himself. Former judges, Othniel, Ehud, Barak, had been moved by the Spirit of God to their work; but to Gideon alone under a terebinth in Ophrah, a town belonging to Joash, Jehovah appeared in person to show that the God who had made theophanies to the patriarchs was the same Jehovah, ready to save their descendants if they would return to the covenants.

His second revelation was in a dream, commanding him to overthrow his father's altar to Baal and to erect an altar to Jehovah and offer a burnt sacrifice with the wood of the Asherah ("grove") or idol goddess of nature, probably a wooden pillar (Deu 16:21). In the first revelation Jehovah acknowledged Gideon, in the second He commanded Gideon to acknowledge Him. As God alone, Jehovah will not be worshipped along with Baal (1Ki 18:21; Eze 20:39). Gideon at the first revelation was knocking out (habat) with a stick wheat in the winepress, sunk in the ground or hewn in the rock to make it safe from the Midianites; for he did not dare to thresh upon an open floor or hardened area in the open field, but like poor gleaners (Rth 2:17) knocked out the little grain with a stick. The address, "Jehovah is with thee thou mighty man," seemed to Gideon, ruminating on the Midianite oppression which his occupation was a proof of, in ironical and sad contrast with facts.

"If Jehovah be with us why is all this befallen us?" alluding to Deu 31:17. But God's words guarantee their own accomplishment. JEHOVAH (no longer under His character. "Angel of Jehovah," but manifested as JEHOVAH) replied, "Go in this thy might (the might now given thee by ME, Isa 40:29), and thou shalt save Israel from the hand of the Midianites; have not I sent thee?" Then followed the requested "sign," the Angel of the Lord with the end of the staff in His hand consuming with fire Gideon's "offering" (minchah), not a strict sacrifice but a sacrificial gift), the kid and unleavened cakes (compare Genesis 18, the theophany to Abraham very similar). Compare and contrast the conduct of the angel and the acceptance of Manoah's sacrifice in Jdg 13:20. Gideon in gratitude built an altar and called it "Jehovah Shalom," a pledge of "Jehovah" being now at "peace" with Israel again (Jer 29:11; Jer 33:16).

The "second" in age of Joash's bullocks, "seven years old," was appointed in the dream for an offering to Jehovah, to correspond to Midian's seven years' oppression because of Israel's apostasy. Gideon with ten servants overthrew Baal's altar and Asherah in the night, for he durst not do it in the day through fear of his family and townsmen. Joash, when required to bring out his son to die for the sacrilege, replied, "Will ye plead for Baal? .... he that will plead for him shall be put, to death himself, let us wait until the morning (not 'shall be put to death while it is yet morning') and see whether Baal, if he be a god, will plead for himself." So Gideon got the surname "Jerubbaal," "Let Baal fight," i.e. vindicate his own cause on the destroyer of his altar; and as the Jews in contempt changed Baal in compounds to besheth, "Jerubbesheth," "Let the shameful idol light." Then the Spirit of God "clothed" Gideon as his coat of mail (1Ch 12:18; 2Ch 24:20; Luk 24:49; Isa 61:10).

His own clan the Abiezrites, Manasseh W. of Jordan, Zebulun, and Naphtali followed him. At his prayer the sign followed, the woolen fleece becoming saturated with dew while the earth around was dry, then the ground around being wet while the fleece was dry. Dew symbolizes God's reviving grace: Israel was heretofore the dry fleece, while the nations around were flourishing; now she is to become filled with the Lord's vigor, while the nations around lose it. The fleece becoming afterward dry while the ground around was wet symbolizes Israel's rejection of the gospel while the Gentile world is receiving the gracious dew. Afterward Israel in its turn shall be the dew to the Gentile world (Mic 5:7). Gideon pitched on a height at the foot of which the fountain Harod ("the spring of trembling," now perhaps Ain Jahlood) sprang (2Sa 23:25). Midian pitched in the valley of Jezreel (Jdg 6:33).

The timid were first thinned out of Gideon's army (Deu 20:8). In Jdg 7:3, "whosoever is fearful let him return from mount Gilead," as they were then W. of Jordan, the mount in eastern Palestine cannot be meant; but the phrase was a familiar designation of the Manassites. To take away still further all attribution of the victory to man not God, the army was reduced to 300 by retaining those alone whose energy was shown by their drinking what water they lifted with their hands, not delaying to kneel and drink (compare as to Messiah Psa 110:7). Then followed Gideon's going with Phurah his servant into the Midianite host, and hearing the Midianite's dream of a barley cake overturning the tent, that being poor men's food, so symbolizing despised Israel, the "tent" symbolizing Midian's nomadic life of freedom and power. The Moabite stone shows how similar to Hebrew was the language of Moab, and the same similarity to the Midianite tongue appears from Gideon understanding them.

Dividing his 300 into three attacking columns, Gideon desired them in the beginning of the middle watch, i.e. at midnight (this and the morning watch dividing the night into three watches in the Old Testament), after him to blow the trumpets, break the pitchers, and let the lamps in their left hand previously covered with. the pitchers (a type of the gospel light in earthen vessels, 2Co 4:6-7), suddenly flash on the foe, and to cry "the sword of Jehovah and of Gideon," and to stand without moving round about the Midianite camp. A mutual slaughter arose from panic among the Midianites (a type of Christ's final overthrow of antichrist, Isa 9:4-7), each trumpet holder seeming to have a company at his back. The remnant fled to the bank of the Jordan at Abelmeholah, etc.

Then the men of Asher, Naphtali, and all Manasseh, who had been dismissed, returned to join in the pursuit. Gideon requested Ephraim to intercept the fleeing Midianites at the waters of Bethbarah and Jordan, namely, at the tributary streams which they would have to cross to reach the Jordan. A second fight ensued there, and they slew Oreb (the raven) and Zeeb (the wolf). Conder (Palestine Exploration, July, 1874, p. 182) observes that the nomadic hordes of Midian, like the modern Beni Suggar and Ghazawiyeh Arabs, come up the broad and fertile valley of Jezreel; their encampment lay, as the black Arab tents do now in spring, at the foot of the hill March (Nebi Dahy) opposite to the limestone knoll on which Jezreel (Zer'ain) stands. The well Harod, where occurred the trial which separated 300 men of endurance from the worthless rabble, was the Ain Jalud, a fine spring at the foot of mount Gilboa, issuing blue and clear from a cavern, and forming a pool with rushy banks and a pebbly bottom, 100 yards long.

The water is sweet, though slightly tasting of sulphur, and there is ample space for gathering a great number of men. Concealed by the folds of the rolling ground the 300 crept down to Midian's camp in the valley. The Midianite host fled to Bethshittah (the modern village Shatta), in Zererath (a district connected with Zerthan or Zeretan, a name still appearing in Ain Zahrah, three miles W. of Beisan), and to the border of Beth Meholah (wady Maleh), a course directly down the main road to Jordan and Beisan. Thus, Midian fled ten or fifteen miles toward the Jordan. A systematic advance followed. Messengers went S. two days' journey to Ephraim; the lower fords of Jordan at Bethbarah were taken (Bethabara of the New Testament). Meantime Gideon, having cleared the Bethshan valley of Midianites, crossed at the southern end of Succoth (now Makhathet Abu Sus), and continued the pursuit along the eastern bank.

The Midianites followed the right bank S. toward Midian, intending to cross near Jericho. Here the men of Ephraim met them and executed Oreb and Zeeb, and sent their heads to Gideon "on the other side." Thus, "the Raven's Peak" and "the Wolf's Den" seem identical with Ash el Ghorab and Tuweil el Dhiab. Gideon's victory over self was still greater than that over Midian; by a soft answer he turned aside Ephraim's proud and unreasonable wrath at his not summoning them at the first: "is not the gleaning of grapes of Ephraim (their subsequent victory over the fleeing Midianites) better than the vintage of Abiezer?" than my first victory over them (Isa 10:26; Pro 15:1; Pro 16:32). Contrast the unyielding temper of Jephthah (Jdg 12:1, etc.). Then followed the churlish unpatriotic cowardice of Succoth and Penuel, in answer to his request for provisions, through fear of Midian and disbelief of God's power to make victorious so small and so "faint" a force as Gideon's 300.

Coming unexpectedly on the host which thought itself "secure" amidst their Bedouin countrymen at Karkor, in a third battle he defeated them and slew Zebah and Zalmunnah the two kings (emirs) after battle, in just retribution for their having slain his kingly brothers in cold blood at Tabor; then he taught by corporal punishment with thorns the elders of Succoth to know their error, and beat down the tower of Penuel. Of 120,000 Midianites only 15,000 survived. Declining the proffered kingdom because Jehovah was their king, Gideon yet made a gorgeous jeweled ephod with the golden rings the Israelites had got as booty, besides the ornaments (verse 21, golden crescents or little moons), and collars (ear pendants), and purple raiment, and collars about their camels' necks.

The ephod had the breast-plate (choshen) and Urim and Thummim. Gideon "kept" it in his city Ophrah; wearing the breast-plate, he made it and the holy 'lot his means of obtaining revelations from Jehovah whom he worshipped at the altar. His sin which became a "snare" (means of ruin) to him and his house was his usurping the Aaronic priesthood, and drawing off the people from the one lawful sanctuary, the center of theocratic unity, and so preparing the way for the relapse to Baal warship at his death.

But his unambitious spirit is praiseworthy; he, the great Baal fighter, "Jerubbaal," instead of ambitiously accepting the crown, "went and dwelt in his own house" quietly, and died "in a good old age," having secured for his country "quietness" for 40 years, leaving, besides 70 sons by wives, a son by a concubine, Abimelech, doomed to be by ambition as great a curse to his country as his father was in the main a blessing.


Taken from: Fausset's Bible Dictionary by Andrew Robert Fausset (1821-1910)