Judges Chapter 6 Bible Study: Gideon and the Power of Weakness P1

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Book of Judges Bible Study Commentary

Judges Chapter 6: Gideon and the Power of Weakness (Part 1)

by I Gordon


God loves to do the Gideon. Sounds like a dance I know but in actual fact, it's not. It is something that He has done throughout human history and will continue to do until the very day that He returns to sort this whole mess out! 'The Gideon' is where God takes weak, humble, sometimes fearful people and uses them to do wonderful things. He loves doing it! And the story of Gideon has been repeated (in each persons own way) through the lives of millions throughout history.

This study will be on Judges Chapter 6 where we are introduced to our hero Gideon, and learn a little about this man that God chose to deliver Israel. The second study will be on Chapter 7, the defeat of Midian, and its strikingly accurate portrayal of New Testament truth.

Enter the Midianites!

Judges 6:1-5 Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD, and for seven years he gave them into the hands of the Midianites. Because the power of Midian was so oppressive, the Israelites prepared shelters for themselves in mountain clefts, caves and strongholds. Whenever the Israelites planted their crops, the Midianites, Amalekites and other eastern peoples invaded the country. They camped on the land and ruined the crops all the way to Gaza and did not spare a living thing for Israel, neither sheep nor cattle nor donkeys. They came up with their livestock and their tents like swarms of locusts. It was impossible to count the men and their camels; they invaded the land to ravage it.

How low can you go! The NASB says 'so Israel was brought very low because of Midian.' The lowest they had ever been I would say. Instead of the 'land flowing with milk and honey' they lived in the caves and clefts in the rocks, too scared to face their enemy. What they did get to plant was destroyed by the enemy  [1]  . And I don't want to even mention what happened to their livestock. This is as bad as it ever gets! Now the name  Midian  [2]  means 'Strife'  and they were certainly being true to their name in their actions with God's people Israel! Midian speaks to us of the strife and trouble that comes to Christians while living in this world. Sometimes the strife is caused by the desires of our sinful nature; sometimes it is the strife and troubles that occur from simply living in a fallen world. Whatever the source of our strife, God uses all circumstances to teach us truth, and, as we shall soon see, the best victories often come when we are weakest.

Let's get to the source of the problem!

Judges 6:6-10 When the Israelites cried to the LORD because of Midian, he sent them a prophet, who said, 'This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: I brought you up out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. I snatched you from the power of Egypt and from the hand of all your oppressors. I drove them from before you and gave you their land.  I said to you, 'I am the LORD your God; do not worship the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you live.' But you have not listened to me.'

So Israel comes to the point of crying out to the Lord. About time too - only took seven years! Now In the past when Israel has cried out to the Lord, God has raised up a judge to deliver them... but not this time! This time He sends them a prophet to do two things - Firstly to convict them some more of their sins and their need of Him; and secondly, to show them where they have gone wrong. God knows that He can and will deliver them, but He is firstly interested that they see what the root cause of their bondage is so that they don't have to keep this cycle of sin and repentance going. Same goes for our lives. If we keep falling into the same trap then God will work so that we see the source of our problem  [3]  . It's not always just a matter of 'forgive me Lord' and then carrying on... God would like us to take the time to think over why we keep failing in a particular area. For Israel it was simple - they had again forgotten God. It wasn't so much a case of the Lord not being number one in their life anymore... it was a more a case of the Lord not being allowed to play any part in their life at all!

Why 'strife' if the Lord is with us?

Judges 6:11-13 The angel of the LORD came and sat down under the oak in Ophrah that belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, where his son Gideon was threshing wheat in a winepress to keep it from the Midianites.  When the angel of the LORD appeared to Gideon, he said, 'The LORD is with you, mighty warrior.' 'But sir,' Gideon replied, 'if the LORD is with us, why has all this happened to us?  Where are all his wonders that our fathers told us about when they said, 'Did not the LORD bring us up out of Egypt?' But now the LORD has abandoned us and put us into the hand of Midian.'

After the prophet had convicted Israel, God begins the deliverance. The angel of the Lord (not just an angel but the Lord Himself) comes and picks the vessel He will use to deliver Israel. It's that mighty warrior Gideon! (Not that Gideon himself knows anything of the sort!) The first thing we see from Gideon is that he is a man that doesn't give up easily, even in the midst of Midian's 'strife'. He is threshing wheat in a winepress so that the food won't be destroyed. Determined this man!

But he asks a good question - 'If the Lord is with Israel, how come all this bad stuff has happened?' The obvious is that Israel left their God... It was their sin which lead to this difficulty. But the question is even more valid for the lives of those today that face incredible strife and difficulty while living good, obedient, Christian lives  [4]  . The answer is what the 'Gideon principle' is all about and I will try to explain this in the study on Judges Chapter 7.

Attention all weaklings - God may choose you!

Judges -16 The LORD turned to him and said, 'Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian's hand. Am I not sending you?' 'But Lord,' Gideon asked, 'how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.' The LORD answered, 'I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites together.'

The first thing to notice in the passage above is that the Lord doesn't answer Gideon's question about why these things have happened. Maybe because it was obvious in Israel's case as God had already pointed out through the prophet He sent. But for us, if it is not our own desires and sinful tendencies that have lead us into 'strife', then the question of where the trouble comes from is often unanswered as it was with Job.  [5]  In these cases, we should learn to leave these things with God and by faith, look for the good that will be worked out of it.

Now Gideon doesn't exactly feel like the 'valiant warrior' that the Lord calls him. And as for him delivering Israel by himself... crazy talk! In fact Gideon feels more like a weakling than a warrior or someone valiant. 'You know the entire Manasseh  [6]  tribe?' he says to God... 'Well my family is bottom of the barrel. Dead last! And in the most insignificant family in Manasseh, yep, I'm the youngest and weakest! You may have bet on the wrong horse I'm afraid!' Ever felt like that? That you really don't have anything much to offer God and probably can't be used?  [7]  Well if you have, welcome to the Gideon factor! It just well may be, (if you can get your eyes off yourself  [8]  ) the very thing which propels you into being a likely candidate!

One God plus one weakling is always a majority in any fight. 'I will be with you' God tells Gideon, and that is all that we should ever need to know. (And it is what we should remind ourselves with!) Thankfully, this was enough for Gideon to know and his focus on his own inadequacies was not so deep rooted that it stopped him being obedient. But he certainly wanted this one thing confirmed (quite a few times actually!)

The request for a sign...

Judges -24 Gideon replied,  'If now I have found favor in your eyes, give me a sign that it is really you talking to me...    The angel of God said to him, 'Take the meat and the unleavened bread, place them on this rock, and pour out the broth.' And Gideon did so. With the tip of the staff that was in his hand, the angel of the LORD touched the meat and the unleavened bread. Fire flared from the rock, consuming the meat and the bread. And the angel of the LORD disappeared. When Gideon realized that it was the angel of the LORD, he exclaimed, 'Ah, Sovereign LORD! I have seen the angel of the LORD face to face!' But the LORD said to him, 'Peace! Do not be afraid. You are not going to die.' So Gideon built an altar to the LORD there and called it The LORD is Peace. To this day it stands in Ophrah of the Abiezrites.

Gideon asked for a sign that it really was God that was sending him. Probably fair enough too if you put yourself in his shoes... he was being asked to fight against and defeat the entire Midian army! You certainly would want to be sure wouldn't you? Gideon will ask again for a sign before the chapter is out, and again God will graciously respond. We always need to remember that Gideon is not some extraordinary man. He was an ordinary man from an ordinary family in an ordinary tribe. Quite like you and me actually. He was weak enough to cause God to chose him, and obedient enough to follow God's call even amidst doubt and uncertainty. With the divine fire of acceptance falling upon Gideon's offering, it suddenly dawns upon Gideon that he is speaking, face to face, with God! The appearing of the angel of the Lord is not just any old angel but is the pre-incarnate 'goings forth' of the Lord Jesus Himself!  [9]  The angel however tells Gideon that he can be at peace and should not fear. And God would say the same thing to you today if you have faith in Jesus and take the time to ask! (And listen of course...)

Judges -27 That same night the LORD said to him, 'Take the second bull from your father's herd, the one seven years old. Tear down your father's altar to Baal and cut down the Asherah pole beside it. Then build a proper kind of altar to the LORD your God on the top of this height... So Gideon took ten of his servants and did as the LORD told him.  But because he was afraid of his family and the men of the town, he did it at night rather than in the daytime. 

Before saving the entire nation from the clutches of the enemy (it's starting to sound like a superhero comic!) God has one small priority for young weak Gideon... put your family's house in order! Give that Baal the chop and establish the Lord God of Israel as Lord over this home! It will prove to be the very first step in some extremely quick lessons in obedience. Now, again we see the weak and fearful side of our hero in that being afraid of what might happen, he secretly cuts down the Baal altar at night, under the cover of darkness! Does God scold Gideon for his fear and lack of faith? Not at all! God knows Gideon and you for that matter, better than you know yourself. He knows we are weak and fearful creatures at times and doesn't expect perfection. The lesson and challenge for us however from this passage (especially if you are quite a fearful person) is to not allow your fear to prevent you from being obedient. Easily said I know. But God takes us and teaches us step by step if we will trust Him. Gideon, being weak like us, was fearful, but he still obeyed God's command. You would do well to ask God about this.

Judges -40 Gideon said to God, 'If you will save Israel by my hand as you have promised -  look, I will place a wool fleece on the threshing floor. If there is dew only on the fleece and all the ground is dry, then I will know that you will save Israel by my hand, as you said.' And that is what happened. Gideon rose early the next day; he squeezed the fleece and wrung out the dew - a bowlful of water. Then Gideon said to God, 'Do not be angry with me. Let me make just one more request. Allow me one more test with the fleece. This time make the fleece dry and the ground covered with dew.' That night God did so. Only the fleece was dry; all the ground was covered with dew.

Now lots have been said about this fleece in the past. In fact, think of Gideon and for a lot of people this is all they know! Bit sad really. If you are interested in whether we should 'put out a fleece' to God, then check the footnote  [10]  . The only real thing I want to add is that it again highlights Gideon's uncertainty and God's gracious response in confirming what was being asked of Gideon. God is again kind and will meet us to in our weakness if it is for the purpose of being obedient.


This study is just the beginning... an introduction into who God loves to use. And that is often people that others may look down on as not being overly useful! God has committed a simple message to simple people so that others may come to know Him. And He will often use the 'strife' of Midian to bring people to the place of weakness where they will totally rely on Him and His grace. This is what we shall see in the second part of this study where Gideon, fresh from squeezing his fleece out, will have to come against the entire Midian army! Good luck Gideon!

[1] ↩  This is a useful picture and a timely reminder for our lives if we are trying to plant seeds and be fruitful without having God in His rightful place in our lives. We may put in the effort, prepare the ground, plant the seeds etc, but it won't come to anything without God. The enemy can snatch and destroy the produce! Abide in the vine, however, as Jesus told us, and you will bear much fruit.

[2] ↩  Bits and bobs about Midian - Firstly the Midianites are descendants of Midian (it is probably about now you are starting to wonder why you bothered reading this footnote!) who was one of Abraham's sons. After Sarah died, Abraham took another wife, Keturah, and she bore Midian amongst others. (Gen 25:2) It was the Midianites that took Joseph as a slave down into Egypt (Gen 37:36). Later, God told Moses to attack Midian because of their tricks and treachery. Moses did what God asked and Midian was fully defeated. (Num 25:16-18, Num 31:1-9) So when Israel had lived in obedience and dependence upon God they dealt to Midian. But now in Judges they forget the Lord and Midian strikes back! What a shame it is when that which was once defeated rears its ugly head again and takes control. Ever have this happen in your life? Without the Lord, sins and habits that we thought were conquered can rise again. Our need is a daily looking to the Lord for His life to be manifest in ours.

[3] ↩  The following footnote comes with a warning - Do not try this at home!
Unfortunately, sometimes we can be dumber than sparrows when it comes to avoiding temptation and its resulting trouble. Learn this simple lesson from nature. I read recently that if you tear down a sparrows nest it will rebuild it in the same place (poor little sparrow!). Tear it down again and it will rebuild it in the same place again. Tear it down a third time and it will rebuild it but in a higher location! May have a wee-sparrow pea brain but at least it is smart enough to not keep putting itself in the place of danger! Christians could learn from this!

[4] ↩  As much as possible, try not to be one of those people who blames every difficulty on sin or the devil! Job was a righteous man yet his 'friend' Eliphaz said that it is only the wicked that perish and that you reap what you sow blah blah. (Job 4:4-9) Sounds sensible but its not! Job had another 'good friend' in Bildad. Bildad was really 'wise' as well saying that Job's trouble was due to his and his children's sins. (Job 8:4-6). As the saying goes, with friends like this, who needs enemies? No wonder Job pleaded for some kindness from them in the midst of his huge trial (Job -15). Jesus said that 'in this world you will have trouble.' It is a promise, so don't keep thinking that it is always the enemy or sin in someone's life that causes it. More often than not, it is so the glory of God can be revealed. (John 9:1-4)

[5] ↩  Job and his good, and not so good, buddies spend over 30 chapters discussing where Job's problems have come from. Finally in chapter 38 God intervenes (probably because of all the stupid conclusions Job's friends came to) and speaks to Job. But never does He answer why the trouble occurred and why He let it happen. These things we often have to leave to the wisdom of God. When God does speak, He poses over 70 questions to Job which shows God's divine control over all of creation, and highlights Job's ignorance! He is in control even though we may not understand.

[6] ↩  I'm sure you can remember how many fighting men were in the tribe of Manasseh when Israel was in the wilderness. I know, everyone knows that it was 32,200. What is interesting is that this was the smallest tribe in terms of numbers. (See Num 1:19-46) So when God sought out a man to deliver Israel he went to the smallest tribe, to the least family within that tribe, and then picked the youngest member - Gideon! Talk about choosing the weak to confound the wise!

[7] ↩  Someone once asked Hudson Taylor, the pioneer missionary to China, why he had been so successful in his missionary work in China. Hudson replied, 'it seems to be that God searched the entire world looking for the weakest man, and when He found me, He said 'you'll do!'.

[8] ↩  Ridout says a good thing about this when he says 'How common it is to find those who have done with boasting and thinking they are great, to now be preoccupied by their littleness. But little 'I' is as great a hindrance as great 'I'. It looks very humble to depreciate one's self, to keep in the background, but there is often a very subtle pride that wears this garb of humility. It is not self, good or bad, that is to be before us; weak or strong 'I' are to be alike refused, that God alone may have the glory.

[9] ↩  I have spoken about this before so I won't spend ages on it. Before being born as a baby in Bethlehem, the Lord Jesus had many 'goings forth' as Micah puts it. (Micah 5:2) These were often visitations to key Old Testament figures as 'the angel of the Lord'. The angel spoke as God, identified Himself with God, and exercised authority as God. The reaction of those that saw 'the angel' was that they had seen God and would surely die! See Gen 16:7-14, 21:17-21, 22:11-18, 31:11-13, Exodus 3:2, Judges 2:1-4, 2 Sam 24:16, Zech 1:12, 3:1. That should keep you going for a while! Although I get a sneaky suspicion that you're not even going to look them up are you?

[10] ↩  I quite like what the 'Believers Bible Commentary' says about it - 'Gideon's fleece is often misunderstood by Christians. There are two things about this incident that we should keep in mind: Gideon was not looking for guidance but for confirmation. God had already told Gideon what to do. Secondly, Gideon had asked for a supernatural sign, not a natural one. Today people use things as a 'fleece' that could happen naturally. This, too, is a wrong way to use the story. What we see here is God condescending to a man of weak faith to assure him of victory. God can, and does, give such assurances today in answer to prayer.'

There is also a prophetic significance to these signs (for those who are interested.) The fleece is representative of God's sheep (which at the time was the nation of Israel). The dew or water is often used as a symbol of the Holy Spirit. So in the first instance you have the fleece full of water and the surrounding ground dry. This speaks of God's work amongst his people Israel while the surrounding nations were (largely) without His Spirit. The second sign is the opposite however in that the ground has the dew (Holy Spirit) while the fleece (God's sheep Israel) is dry. That is what we see in the age in which we live in that God is moving amongst the nations, while Israel to some extent has been hardened and are dry. Not forever though!