During the time of the judges, the people of Israel were oppressed by the Midianites and their allies for seven years. Their army was so large that it could not be numbered. They came with their livestock, their tents, and their camels. The Midianite oppression was so severe that the people of Israel were forced to hide themselves in the mountains, in caves, and other places of refuge.
At the time of the harvest the Midianites and their allies sent raiding parties to steal the crops. They also stole the livestock and left nothing for the people of Israel to live on. The oppression was so severe that the Midianites caused much suffering to the people of Israel. The people had little food to eat because of the devastation of the crops.
In their desperation, the people of Israel cried unto Yahweh for help: “Thus Israel was greatly impoverished because of Midian; and the Israelites cried out to the LORD for help” (Judges 6:6). The Lord answered the cry of the people by sending a prophet who told them about their redemption from Egypt and explained the reason for their oppression.
The prophet said that the people were being oppressed because they had abandoned Yahweh and worshiped the god of the Canaanites. Through the prophet, the Lord spoke to the people, “and I said to you, ‘I am the LORD your God; you shall not pay reverence to the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you live.’ But you have not given heed to my voice” (Judges 6:10).
After that, Yahweh sent his messenger to Gideon to commission him to fight against the Midianites. The most remarkable aspect of the manifestation of the Angel of Yahweh is that as he spoke with Gideon, he spoke as if he was identical with Yahweh himself. This identification of the Angel of Yahweh with Yahweh is found in several places in the Old Testament.
For instance, when Hagar met the Angel of Yahweh, the Angel of Yahweh appeared to her (Genesis 16:7), but then it is said that Yahweh “spoke to her” (Genesis 16:13). When Yahweh commanded Abraham to sacrifice his son, the Angel of Yahweh told him not to sacrifice his son (Genesis 22:11) and then Yahweh spoke to Abraham (Genesis 22:12). Finally, when the Angel of Yahweh appeared to Moses (Exodus 3:2), it was Yahweh who spoke to Moses (Exodus 3:4).
In the dialogue between Gideon and the messenger of Yahweh, Gideon did not recognize that he was speaking with Yahweh until later. Yahweh turned to Gideon and said, “Go in this strength of yours, and you will rescue Israel from the power of Midian. Am I not sending you myself?” (Judges 6:14 NJB).
In his commentary on Judges, Jack M. Sasson (2013: 331) wrote, “The Hebrew God himself engages Gideon apparently without any physical changes to make his divinity obvious.” Up to now, Gideon saw his visitor as the Angel of Yahweh, but as Sasson said, “The speaker is God himself.”
Gideon presented several reasons why he was not able to fight against the Midianites, but Yahweh did not accept Gideon’s excuses. The commission was clear: “Go in this might of yours and deliver Israel from the hand of Midian; I hereby commission you.” But Gideon presented another reason why he should not fight against the Midianites: “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).
In response, Yahweh said to him, “But I will be with you, and you shall strike down the Midianites, every one of them” (Judges 6:16 NRS). At this point the narrator identified the messenger of Yahweh with Yahweh himself. Gideon was in the presence of God, talking face to face with Yahweh, the God of Israel.
When God said to Gideon: “I will be with you” (Judges 6:16 NRS), the “I will be” in Hebrew is ʼehyeh, the same word that Yahweh used when he identified himself to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM” (Ehyeh-Asher-Ehyeh, Exodos 3:14).
Now Gideon understood that he was talking with Yahweh, however, he needed a sign to be reassured himself that he was speaking with Yahweh. Then he said to him, “If now I have found favor with you, then show me a sign that it is you who speak with me” (Judges 6:17). When Gideon said, “show me a sign that it is you who speak with me,” he wanted to know that the “you” was Yahweh. Mary J. Evans, in her commentary on Judges (2017: 90) wrote, “for Gideon the point of the sign is not to confirm the task but rather to validate God’s identity.”
Then Gideon said unto Yahweh: “‘Please do not go away from here until I come back to you, bringing you my offering and laying it before you.’ And he replied, ‘I shall stay until you come back’” (Judges 6:18 NJB).
Gideon’s desire was to prepare an offering for Yahweh and honor him with his gift. Gideon’s offering was to be an elaborate offering: “Gideon went in, prepared a young goat, and from an ephah of flour he made bread without yeast. Putting the meat in a basket and its broth in a pot, he brought them out and offered them to him under the oak” (Judges 6:19 NIV).
When Gideon brought the food, the messenger of Yahweh told him to put it on a rock, then he touched the food with his staff and fire consumed the food. “Gideon then knew that this was the Angel of Yahweh, and he said, ‘Alas, my Lord Yahweh! Now I have seen the Angel of Yahweh face to face!’ Yahweh answered, Peace be with you; have no fear; you will not die.’ Gideon built an altar there to Yahweh and called it Yahweh Shalom” (Judges 6:22-24 NJB).
So, throughout the incident Gideon was talking to Yahweh himself, but he did not know that the person in front of him was Yahweh. It was when the offering was consumed by fire that he realized who was talking to him. Gideon cried: “Alas, my Lord Yahweh.” And Yahweh told him that he was not going to die. Gideon then built an altar to Yahweh and called it Yahweh is Peace (Yahweh Shalom).
An amazing fact in this story is Yahweh’s attitude toward Gideon. When Gideon told Yahweh to wait “here until I come back to you,” Yahweh answered, “I shall stay until you come back” (Judges 6:18 NJB). As Sasson (2013: 335) wrote, “The Hebrew says: ‘I will sit until you return.’”
It is significant that when the Angel of Yahweh appeared to Gideon, he sat under an oak tree: “The Angel of Yahweh came and sat under the terebinth at Ophrah” (Judges 6:11 NJB). And now Yahweh himself sat under the oak tree to wait for Gideon’s return. Daniel I. Block (1999: 263), in his commentary on Judges followed the Hebrew text. He translated Yahweh’s answer as follows, “I will sit [here] until you return.” Susan Niditch (2008: 84), in her commentary on Judges also follows the Hebrew text. She translates, “I will sit still until you return.” The Targum plays down the fact that Yahweh had to wait for Gideon. Sasson (2013: 335) wrote, “The remarkably theomorphic notion of God agreeing to sit in wait is toned down in the Targum where he only ‘waits.’”
But Yahweh sat down to wait for Gideon to return. As Barry G. Webb (2012: 231) said in his commentary on Judges, “Graciously accommodating himself to Gideon’s need, Yahweh agrees to wait until Gideon returns with his offering.” But Yahweh would have to sit down and wait for Gideon for many hours. In order for Gideon to prepare that elaborate meal for Yahweh, it would take him several hours.
First, Gideon had to run home in order to prepare the food. Second, he had to find the goat, kill it, then cook it. Then, he had to make bread. An ephah of flour is approximately nine quarts or almost ten pounds of flour. After Gideon made the unleavened cakes, he put the meat in a basket and the broth in which it had been cooked he put in a pot and then brought the food to Yahweh.
During all this time, Yahweh was sitting under the oak tree, waiting for Gideon. We do not know how many hours Yahweh waited for Gideon, but when Gideon returned with his offering, Yahweh was there waiting for him. After the food was consumed by fire, “Gideon built an altar there to Yahweh” (Judges 6:24 NJB).
From our perspective today, it is difficult to understand how Yahweh agreed to sit down and wait for several hours for Gideon to return. The Targum could not accept the view that God was waiting for Gideon. And many people today will have a hard time accepting what the Bible says about the God of the Old Testament.
But this is not the first time God waited for someone. At one time, God had to wait for Abraham. To understand how God waited for Abraham, read my post, “Does God Wait On Us?”
The fact that God was willing to wait for Gideon to go home and prepare his meal, the fact that God had to spend hours waiting for Gideon reveals God’s compassion and God’s patience with a reluctant servant. Yahweh is a gracious God who was willing to accommodate himself in order to reassure Gideon and to prepare him for the task to which he was being called.
Another truth that must be learned from this incident is about the embodiment of God. Nowhere in the Old Testament it is written that Yahweh is without a body, that he is without form. For instance, Raphael Patai (1967: 21) wrote that God, “being pure spirit . . . is without body, he possesses no physical attributes.” But this contradicts the revelation of God in the Hebrew Bible.
Esther J. Hamori, in her book When Gods Were Men: The Embodied God in Biblical and Near Eastern Literature discusses the appearances of God in human form. In addition, several texts in the Old Testament mentioned that several people in Israel saw God in human form.
The God of the Old Testament is an amazing God. Unfortunately, many people are like Job. At one time Job knew God “only by hearsay” (Job 42:5 NJB). Once Job had a personal experience with God, “now, having seen you with my own eyes” (Job 42:5 NJB), Job changed the way he related to God. And so did every person who saw God with their own eyes.
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary
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Block, Daniel I. Judges, Ruth. The New American Commentary, Nashville: Broadman and Holman Publishers, 1999.
Evans, Mary J. Judges and Ruth. Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries. Downers Grove: IVP Academics, 2017.
Hamori, Esther J. When Gods Were Men: The Embodied God in Biblical and Near Eastern Literature. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2008.
Niditch, Susan. Judges. The Old Testament Library. Louisville: Westminster John Knox press, 2008.
Patai, Raphael. Hebrew Goddess. New York: KTAV, 1967.
Sasson, Jack M. Judges 1-12. The Anchor Yale Bible. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013.
Webb, Barry G. The Book of Judges. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2012.