The story of Gideon begins about forty years after the defeat of Sisera by the hands of Deborah and Barak. The enemies of Israel were defeated and the land enjoyed a long period of rest (Judges 5:31). However, after forty years, Israel went back to its old ways by forsaking the Lord and by devoting themselves to the worship of false gods: “The Israelites did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, and the LORD gave them into the hand of Midian seven years” (Judges 6:1).
The Oppression of Israel
Judges 6:2-5 presents the horrible situation faced by the people of Israel. The Midianites invaded Israel and brought a large army and settlers with them. They overwhelmed Israel’s social and economic life. Afraid of the threat the Midianites posed to their lives, the people of Israel fled to the hills and hid in the hill country and lived in caves and other safe places.
Because the Israelites had fled to the hills, they left their crops unprotected. Thus, whenever the farmers planted their crops, the Midianites and the Amalekites, the people from the east, would attack them and steal their crops. So intense was their assault that the Midianites and their allies left nothing for the people to eat. In addition to plundering the crops, the enemies also took away their sheep, their oxen, and their donkeys. So, the people of Israel went through seven years of torment, anxiety, and hunger.
According to the biblical text (Judges 8:10), the number of warriors in the army of the Midianites and their allies numbered more than one hundred thousand warriors. When this large invading army came to Canaan, they brought with them their cattle and their tents. They were so many and the devastation they caused to the land was so vast that the people of Israel compared the Midianite army with the devastation caused by locusts when they devour the land.
One new threat that Israel was facing with the invasion of the Midianites, one that they had never faced before, was the use of camels in battle. The Midianites had so many soldiers and so many camels that they could not be counted.
The Call of the Deliverer
In their desperate situation, the people of Israel cried out to the LORD for help. In his article, “Prayer as a Cry for Help,” Eugene Hensell, said that a large portion of prayers in the Old Testament focus on asking God for help. The cry for help comes when the individual or the community is facing situations of distress. He wrote that “The situations of distress that give rise to prayers for help come” when “people feel that God has abandoned or rejected them. Whatever the situation may be, it always seems to involve individuals or communities confronted with the reality of human limitation. Humans have run out of their own resources to solve their problems. In desperation they turn to God for help.”
In his grace, God revealed himself to a humble man to deliver Israel from the oppression of the Midianites. Against all odds, this man would fight against a mighty army in order to set his people free. God sent his angel to Gideon, son of Joash the Abiezrite.
The appearance of God in visible form is called a theophany. The Angel of the Lord is one way by which God reveals himself to his people. When the Angel of the Lord appeared to Moses in the burning bush, Moses turned to see what was happening. When Moses approached the place where the bush was, it was Yahweh who met him and spoke to him.
When the Angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon, he was threshing wheat in a winepress so he could hide the wheat from the Midianites. A winepress was a pit or a large receptacle where grapes were placed to be trodden upon so that juice could be squeezed from them in preparation for making wine. Threshing usually took place in the fields. The threshing floor consisted of a flat surface in an open place where it was exposed to air currents. During the harvest, the grain was separated from the straw and husks by winnowing. The reason Gideon was threshing wheat in a winepress was because he was afraid of the Midianites and because he was trying to protect the little wheat he had harvested from being taken away by the invaders.
When the Angel of the LORD appeared to Gideon in Ophrah, he sat under an oak tree. Gideon did not recognize him because the Angel of the Lord probably appeared to Gideon in human form (Webb 2012: 229). The Angel of the LORD said to Gideon, “The LORD is with you, mighty warrior” (Judges 6:12 NIV).
The expression “The LORD is with you” is a reference to the nearness of God, that God was present with him and that he was actively supporting him in the task he was about to receive. The expression “mighty warrior” indicates the kind of work he would do in liberating Israel from the oppression of the Midianites. Later on, in his dialogue with the Angel of the Lord, Gideon declared that he did not see himself as a mighty warrior. In his mind Gideon believed that he was incapable of doing God’s work, but his identity with God was that he was a “mighty warrior.” Gideon was looking at himself with all his deficiencies, but God was looking at the potential that was in him. What at times is invisible to human eyes can become a powerful instrument in the hands of God. Although Gideon could not deliver Israel by his own might, God came to prepare him to become a mighty warrior in Israel.
The Equipping of the Deliverer
Gideon responded to the Angel of the Lord, “But sir, if the LORD is with us, why then has all this happened to us?” (Judges 6:13). Gideon’s use of the word “sir” clearly indicates that he did not realize that he was speaking to Yahweh. In addition, Gideon, by complaining about the people’s situation, was only looking at the problems he and the people were facing.
Gideon told the Angel “that the LORD has abandoned us.” He also complained that Yahweh had given Israel into the hands of the Midianites. What Gideon failed to understand was that God cared very much for Gideon and for the people under the oppression of the Midianites, as much as he cared for the people who were oppressed in Egypt. Yahweh had delivered Israel into the hands of the Midianites, not because he had abandoned them, but because they had done evil and had violated the demands of the covenant by worshiping the gods of the Canaanites. But now, the time to save Israel had come.
Yahweh spoke to Gideon and said to him, “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?” (Judges 6:14 NIV). God told Gideon that he had been chosen to save Israel. God said to him, “go in the strength you have.” Although Gideon might believe that he was powerless to save Israel, God knew that he was capable to rise to the occasion and fight on behalf of his people. Gideon’s strength was the assurance that God had chosen him to deliver Israel and the assurance that God was with him. As Moses said when he delivered Israel from the Egyptian oppression, “The LORD is my strength” (Exodus 15:2 NIV). God told Gideon, “go . . . save Israel.” The salvation of Israel was coming through Gideon.
Gideon still did not understand with whom he was speaking. He called the messenger “sir.” He said, “But sir, how can I deliver Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family” (Judges 6:15). Gideon says that he was inadequate for the task of delivering Israel. God told Gideon he was a mighty warrior, but Gideon said that he came from the weakest clan in Manasseh. Gideon was still not aware of the new identity he had received from God, a “mighty warrior.” Gideon told the Lord that he was “the least in his family,” an expression that may indicate that he was the youngest member of his family. Gideon believed that he was unable to do the work God had chosen him to do. “God cannot use me.” That was the excuse Gideon gave so that he could justify his reluctance to serve God.
Notwithstanding all the excuses Gideon gave not to accept his mission, the Lord said “no” to him. Once again God assured Gideon of success in his mission: “The LORD said to him, But I will be with you, and you will strike down the Midianites, every one of them” (Judge 6:16). God’s promise that he would be with Gideon was all that Gideon needed to be assured that his mission would succeed. God’s assurance that Gideon would strike the Midianites, “every one of them,” would replace his sense of inadequacy and assure him that even though he was going against all odds, the victory was assured because God would be with him every step of the way.
In response to Gideon’s reluctance to accept the mission to deliver Israel, God made two promises to him that should motivate him to say “yes” to his commission. The first promise was the promise of God’s presence with him. God’s promise would transform the shy and reluctant Gideon into a mighty warrior for God. The second promise was that God assured Gideon that he would be victorious over his enemies, “you will strike the Midianites.”
But how will Gideon respond to God’s call? God wants to use Gideon, but can Gideon believe and trust God’s promises that God will be with him and give him the victory? Will Gideon accept his call to deliver Israel? In view of the great odds Gideon will face against a great army and a powerful enemy, how will Gideon respond? The answer to these questions will be the focus of the upcoming post.
God can use any person today to do the work that needs to be done for God’s glory. But, if we desire to be used mightily by God, we must know that God is always present with us, and that his presence gives us the assurance that we are not alone in whatever work God gives us to do. One also must believe that God can change a reluctant and an inadequate person into a mighty warrior. In the end, we must believe that God can use us.
The video below is the sermon Jeff Griffin, Senior Pastor of The Compass Church in Naperville, Illinois preached on June 9, 2019. The title of his sermon was “Against All Odds: Identity.” The text for the sermon was Judges 6:1-16. The above post is based on Jeff’s sermon.
In his sermon, Jeff explains the call of Gideon and relates God’s assurance to Gideon to believers today who may be reluctant to accept God’s call to Christian service. At the end of his sermon, Jeff has a powerful application of his sermon. In his application, Jeff shows how God can use the life of one person to touch thousands of lives throughout the world. It is a powerful conclusion to a great sermon.
Against all odds, know who you are in Christ.
Sermon: “Gideon: Against All Odds – Identity” by Jeff Griffin
NOTE: For a complete list on all the studies on Gideon, visit my post, “Studies on Gideon.”
Claude F. Mariottini
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary
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Hensell, Eugene, “Prayer as a Cry for Help,” The Bible Today 52 (March – April 2014): 88-94.
Webb, Barry G., The Book of Judges. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2012.