Judges in the Bible
|Italics indicate individuals not explicitly described as judges|
|Book of Joshua|
|Book of Judges|
|First Book of Samuel|
Gideon (//; Hebrew: גִּדְעוֹן, Modern: Gīdʿōn, Tiberian: Gīḏəʿōn) also named Jerubbaal[a] and Jerubbesheth,[b] was a military leader, judge and prophet whose calling and victory over the Midianites are recounted in Judges 6–8 of the Book of Judges in the Hebrew Bible.
Gideon was the son of Joash, from the Abiezrite clan in the tribe of Manasseh and lived in Ephra (Ophrah). As a leader of the Israelites, he won a decisive victory over a Midianite army despite a vast numerical disadvantage, leading a troop of 300 "valiant" men.[Judges 7] Archaeologists in southern Israel have found a 3,100-year-old fragment of a jug with five letters written in ink that appear to represent the name Jerubbaal, or Yeruba'al.
The nineteenth-century Strong's Concordance derives the name "Jerubbaal" from "Baal will contend", in accordance with the folk etymology, given in Judges 6:32.[c] According to biblical scholar Lester Grabbe (2007), "[Judges] 6.32 gives a nonsensical etymology of his name; it means something like 'Let Baal be great.'"
Likewise, where Strong gave the meaning "hewer" to the name Gideon, Biblical scholar Simon John DeVries (1975) suggests the etymology "driver".
The "besheth" part of the name "Jerubbesheth" (II Samuel 11:21) means "shame", a pious editorialization of "Baal" as is also found in Saul's son Ish-bosheth and grandson Mephibosheth.
According to Yairah Amit, Mark S. Smith, and Simon John De Vries, the use of both names "Gideon" and "Jerubbaal" reflects two originally independent sets of stories combined by an editor who wishes them to be seen as referring to a single character.
As is the pattern throughout the Book of Judges, the Israelites again turned away from Yahweh after 40 years of peace brought by Deborah's victory over Canaan, and Midianites, Amalekites and other Bedouin peoples harried Israel for seven years. According to Louis Ginzberg's Midrash anthology The Legends of the Jews: "Elated by the victory over Sisera, Israel sang a hymn of praise, the song of Deborah, and God, to reward them for their pious sentiments, pardoned the transgression of the people. But they soon slipped back into the old ways, and the old troubles harassed them. Their back-sliding was due to the witchcraft of a Midianite priest named Aud. He made the sun shine at midnight, and so convinced the Israelites that the idols of Midian were mightier than God, and God chastised them by delivering them into the hands of the Midianties. They worshipped their own images reflected in the water, and they were stricken with dire poverty. They could not bring so much as a meal offering, the offering of the poor. On the eve of one Passover, Gideon uttered the complaint: "Where are all the wondrous works which God did for our fathers in this night, when he slew the first-born of the Egyptians, and Israel went forth from slavery with joyous hearts?" God appeared unto him, and said: "Thou who art courageous enough to champion Israel, thou art worthy that Israel should be saved for thy sake." God chose Gideon, a young man from the tribe of Manasseh, to free the people of Israel and to condemn their idolatry. The Angel of the Lord, or "the Lord’s angelic messenger" (Judges 6:11 NET) came "in the character ... of a traveller who sat down in the shade [of the terebinth tree] to enjoy a little refreshment and repose" and entered into conversation with Gideon. The narrative has echoes of the meeting between Abraham and the visitors who came to him in the terebinths of Mamre and promised Abraham and Sarah, in their old age, that they would have a son (Genesis 18:1–15).
The Angel of the Lord greeted Gideon:
The Lord is with you, you mighty man of valor!
Gideon requested proof of God's will by three miracles: firstly a sign from the Angel of the Lord, in which the angel appeared to Gideon and caused fire to shoot up out of a rock (Judges 6:11–22), and then two signs involving a fleece, performed on consecutive nights and the exact opposite of each other. First waking to his fleece covered in dew, but the surrounding ground dry. Then the next morning, his fleece dry but the surrounding ground covered in dew. (Judges 6:36–40).
On God's instruction, Gideon destroyed the town's altar to Baal and the symbol of the goddess Asherah beside it, receiving the byname of Jerubbaal from his father:
Therefore on that day he (Joash) called him Jerubbaal, saying, Let Baal plead against him, because he hath thrown down his altar.
He went on to send out messengers to gather together men from the tribes of Asher, Zebulun, and Naphtali, as well as his own tribe of Manasseh, in order to meet an armed force of the people of Midian and the Amalek that had crossed the Jordan River, and they encamped at the Well of Harod in the Valley of Jezreel. But God informed Gideon that the men he had gathered were too many – with so many men, there would be reason for the Israelites to claim the victory as their own instead of acknowledging that God had saved them. God first instructed Gideon to send home those men who were afraid. Gideon invited any man who wanted to leave, to do so; 22,000 men returned home and 10,000 remained. Yet with the number, God told Gideon they were still too many and instructed him to bring them to the water. All those who lap the water with their tongues, as a dog laps, you shall put to one side; all those who kneel down to drink, putting their hands to their mouths, you shall put to the other side. The number of those that lapped up the water raised to their mouths by hand was three hundred; but all the rest of the troops knelt down to drink water. Then the Lord said to Gideon, “With the three hundred that lapped I will deliver you, and give the Midianites into your hand. Let all the others go to their homes.” (Judges 7:4–7).
During the night, God instructed Gideon to approach the Midianite camp. There, Gideon overheard a Midianite man tell a friend of a dream in which "a loaf of barley bread tumbled into the camp of Midian" (Judges 7:13), causing their tent or camp to collapse. This was interpreted as meaning that God had given the Midianites over to Gideon. Gideon returned to the Israelite camp and gave each of his men a trumpet (shofar) and a clay jar with a torch hidden inside. Divided into three companies, Gideon and his 300 men marched on the enemy camp. He instructed them to blow the trumpet, give a battle cry and light torches, simulating an attack by a large force. As they did so, the Midianite army fled (Judges 7:17–22).
Gideon sent messengers ahead into Israel calling for the Ephraimites to pursue the retreating Midianites and two of their leaders, Oreb and Zeeb. Gideon and the three hundred pursued Zebah and Zalmunna, the two Midianite kings. When he had asked for provisions in his pursuit, the men of Succoth and Peniel refused and taunted Gideon. After capturing the two kings, Gideon punished the men of Succoth, and pulled down the tower of Peniel killing all the men there. Gideon invited his eldest son, Jether, to slay Zebah and Zalmunna, but being still young at the time, he did not have the confidence to carry out his father's request, so Zebah and Zalmunna called on Gideon to perform the deed himself. Gideon then killed Zebah and Zalmunna as justice for the death of his brothers (Judges 8:19–21). The place where Gideon slew Oreb after the defeat of the Midianites was called the Rock of Oreb. It was probably the place now called Orbo, on the east of Jordan, near Bethshean. Zeeb was killed at "the wine press of Zeeb".
The Israelites invited Gideon to become their king and to found a dynasty, but he refused, telling them that only God was their ruler (Judges 8:22–23). G. A. Cooke, writing in the Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges notes the discontinuity between Ephraimite anger towards Gideon shown in Judges 8:1–3 and the proposition of kingship over [all] Israel, and therefore concludes that "these verses appear to come from a [secondary] source".
Gideon went on to make an ephod out of the gold won in battle; according to Ginzberg's The Legends of the Jews: "..In the high priest's breastplate, Joseph was represented among the twelve tribes by Ephraim alone, not by Manasseh, too. To wipe out this slight upon his own tribe, Gideon made an ephod bearing the name of Manasseh. He consecrated it to God, but after his death homage was paid to it as an idol. In those days the Israelites were so addicted to the worship of Beelzebub that they constantly carried small images of this god with them in their pockets, and every now and then they were in the habit of bringing the image forth and kissing it fervently."; according to the Bible this action eventually caused the whole of Israel to turn away from God yet again and the ruin of Gideon and his family. Gideon had 70 sons from the many women he took as wives. He also had a Shechemite concubine who bore him a son whom he named Abimelech, which means "my father is king" (Judges 8:31).
There was peace in Israel for 40 years during the life of Gideon. As soon as Gideon died of old age, the Israelites again turned to worship the false god Baal Berith and ignored the family of Gideon (Judges 8:33). Ginzberg's The Legends of the Jews records the following remarks on Abimelech: "Tanhuma B 1 103. The parable of Jotham is said to refer to the prominent judges: Othniel [=Olive tree], Deborah [=fig tree], Gideon [=vine], and Abimelech [=bramble]. Tan. also states that Abimelech reigned for three years, as a reward for the modesty of his father Gideon, who in a "tripartite" sentence refused the royal crown offered him by his people; see Jud. 8.23. Abimelech, in contrast to his father [Jud.8.27], was very greedy for riches, and his end therefore came speedily; Aggadat Bereshit 26, 54., see also ibid., 52–53 where Abimelech's wickedness and greed was contrasted with the piety and liberality of his namesake Abimelech, the King of Getar. The ingratitude of the Israelites who permitted Abimelech to murder the children of their benefactor Gideon was counted unto them as though they had forsaken God; ingratitude is as grave a sin as idolatry; Yelammedenu in Yalkut II, 64."
In the early twentieth century, the text of Judges 6–8 was regarded by the "critical school" as a composite narrative, combining Jahwist, Elohist and Deuteronomic sources, with further interpolations and editorial comments of the Second Temple period. Emil G. Hirsch alleged a historical nucleus in the narrative, reflecting the struggle of the tribe of Manasseh with hostile Bedouins across the Jordan, along with "reminiscences of tribal jealousies on the part of Ephraim" in the early period of Hebrew settlement, later conflated with the religious context of connecting Yahweh with the shrine at Ophrah.
The D source or (D) material has an overwhelming presence in Judges 6–8. The earlier source material used is present. However, the message and theological view has the style of the Deuteronomistic school of Authors. The core (Jahwist) narrative consists of Gideon wishing to avenge the death of his brothers, gathering 300 men of his own clan and pursuing the Midianite chiefs Zebah and Zalmunna, slaying them and consecrating an idol (ephod) made from the spoils of war, which makes his city of Ophrah the seat of an oracle and giving Gideon himself the status of a rich chief with a large harem (Judges 8:4–10a, 11–21, 24–27a, 29–32).
The name Jerubbaal given to Gideon is originally a theophoric name meaning "Baal strives", but it was later given the interpretation of "let Baal strive against him" in order to avoid conflict with the more rigorous development of the religion of Yahweh in later centuries.[d]
In the New Testament, Gideon is mentioned in chapter 11 of the Epistle to the Hebrews as an example of a man of faith, one of several "heroes of faith" mentioned there:
Time would fail me to tell of Gideon [and others] who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of the aliens.
Gideon is regarded as a saint by Eastern Orthodox, Eastern Catholic and Latin Rite Catholic Churches. He is also commemorated, together with the other righteous figures of the Old Testament, on the Sunday before Christmas (Fourth Sunday of Advent). He is commemorated as one of the Saints of the Armenian Apostolic Church on July 30, and in the Roman Martyrology of the Latin Rite on September 26.
In the Protestant Reformation, the Gideon narrative was employed in polemics against the Catholic clergy. Hans von Rüte's Gideon (1540) compares the removal of saints' relics from churches to Gideon's destruction of Baal's altar.
Gideons International is an American organization dedicated to Christian evangelism, founded in 1899, dedicated to the distribution of free Bibles. The organization's logo represents a two-handled pitcher and torch, symbolizing the implements used by Gideon to scare the Midianite army.
The origin of the phrase "putting out a fleece" is a reference to the story of Gideon meaning to look for a sign from God before undertaking some action or carrying out some plan.
Much like the 300 Spartans at Thermopylae, Gideon has become symbolic of military success of a small elite force against overwhelming numerical odds. The 12th-century Poem of Almería invokes "the strength of Samson and the sword of Gideon" in the context of the Reconquista of Almería led by Ponce Giraldo de Cabrera (1147). Benedikt Gletting (16th century) invokes the "Sword of Gideon" in a call for a pious and confident defense of the Old Swiss Confederacy against the threat of the Franco-Ottoman alliance. The Gideon narrative was invoked by Covenanter commander Archibald Strachan prior to Battle of Carbisdale (1650). The Gideon Force was a small British-led special force in the East African Campaign during World War II. El Junquito raid code-named Operation Gideon in 2018 and Operation Gideon (2020) were dissident military operations in Venezuela.
A five-letter inscription appearing to represent the name Jerubbaal (another name used in the Hebrew Bible for Gideon) was discovered on a 3100-year old fragment of a jug in Israel. According to Smithsonian Magazine, "the artifact's age lines up with the time period depicted in the book of judges."
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