New European Commentary

 

About | PDFs | Mobile formats | Word formats | Other languages | Contact Us | What is the Gospel? | Support the work | Carelinks Ministries | | The Real Christ | The Real Devil | "Bible Companion" Daily Bible reading plan


Deeper Commentary

 

Jdg 6:1 The children of Israel did what was evil in the sight of Yahweh, and Yahweh delivered them into the hand of Midian for seven years-
The events of these chapters are to be read as typical of Israel's latter-day conflict with her enemies. Psalm 83 is a well-known description of the final invasion of Israel to "cut them off from being a nation", concluding with the imprecation "Make their nobles like Oreb, and like Zeeb;  yes, all their princes as Zebah, and as Zalmunna" (Ps. 83:11) - whom Gideon destroyed. Isaiah 9 is set in the context of the Assyrian invasions of the land, the last of which they were saved from by Hezekiah, the primary fulfilment of the "great light" which appeared to an Israel under Assyria's dominance.   The destruction of the invaders was to be "as in the day of Midian" (Is. 9:4), i.e. it would be typified by Gideon's destruction of Midian previously.   The context in Isa. 8:12, 19-22 speaks of Israel living in fear of an Arab confederacy, having thrown off their faith in God, stubbornly refusing to seek "to the law and to the testimony", and with the land full of "trouble and darkness" so that "they shall pass through it, hardly bestead and hungry", due to the invaders destroying the crops. This language recalls the scenario portrayed in Jud. 5:6,7, where the Jews creep around their own land after a total collapse of infrastructure.

Is. 9 then speaks of how God "lightly afflicted the land of Zebulon and the land of Naphtali (in the first Assyrian invasion - 2 Kings 15:29) and afterward did more grievously afflict her" (Is. 9:1) in the second invasion. The suffering of Israel at this time is spoken of in terms of their abuse in Egypt, which is clearly typical of the last days: "You have multiplied the nation (as God did in Egypt - Ex. 1:7), and not increased the joy... You have broken the yoke of his burden, and the staff of his shoulder (the language of Israel in Egypt), the rod of his oppressor (s.w. "taskmaster" in Ex. 1:11) (Is. 9:3,4).

This was to be "as in the day of Midian" (Is. 9:4) when Israel's saviour was Gideon. Yet Is. 9:2 speaks of their saviour as "a great light" arising in the darkness, and this is quoted in Mt. 4:15,16 as referring to Jesus. Gideon therefore becomes a type of Christ's breaking of the yoke of sin, and also of His latter-day deliverance of Israel from sin's political manifestation. Similarly the account of David's victory over Goliath has reference to our Lord's victory over sin on the cross, and also over "the man of sin" who will oppress Israel in the last days.

"The children of Israel did evil in the sight of Yahweh" is a refrain which occurs seven times in Judges (Jud. 2:11; 3:7,12; 4:1; 6:1; 10:6; 13:1), recalling how Israel both over history and in the last days were to be punished "seven times" for their sins (Lev. 26:23,24).

It is possible that a 'time' may also refer to a year, so the fact that "the Lord delivered them into the hand of Midian seven years" (Jud. 6:1) may refer to this "seven times" punishment for sin, which was to come after their refusal to be reformed by their previous sufferings (Lev. 26:23,24). A seven-year duration of Israel's final holocaust is hard to square with hints elsewhere that this will last for three and a half years. But Dan. 9:25-27 implies that after 69 weeks ('sevens') there would be a final week of punishment for Israel's sins, which would be split into two halves of three and a half years each. The first three and a half years may apply to the AD 70 period, and the latter to the last days. See on :25.


Jdg 6:2 The hand of Midian prevailed against Israel, and because of Midian the Israelites made themselves dens in the mountains, the caves and the strongholds-
"Yahweh delivered" Israel "into the hand of Midian" (:1) uses the same Hebrew word as in Lev. 26:25, "I will punish you yet seven times...ye shall be delivered into the hand of the enemy". To fulfil this, "the hand of Midian became strong (Hebrew) against Israel". Such a revival of Israel's enemies coupled with increasing military success against Israel is a process which is already beginning, and which, despite short-term fluctuations, we should expect to continue.

Identical language of hiding in caves is found in 1 Sam. 13:6 concerning Israel's pining away when under attack by the Philistines.  There can be no doubt that these incidents are the focus of Heb. 11:37,38, which describes nameless men of faith as being "slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins... being destitute, afflicted, tormented... they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth". This therefore teaches us that there were definitely some in Israel at those times who had a remarkable degree of faith, and it surely follows that the final tribulation which these previous invasions typify will likewise lead to the existence of a minority of faithful in Israel.

The Hebrew word translated "caves" occurs again in Ez. 33:27 in a passage speaking of the final desolation of the Land which will lead to Israel's repentance.  "They that be in the forts and in the caves shall die of the pestilence (cp. the plagues to come upon Israel in the last days , Lev. 26:25). For I will lay the land most desolate... none shall pass through (cp. "the highways were unoccupied", Jud. 5:6). Then shall they know that I am the Lord, when I have laid the land most desolate" (Ez. 33:27-29). All this suggests a desolation of the land physically and a state of total breakdown of infrastructure.

 

The Israelites who fled to the dens and caves are described as heroes of faith because of what they did (Heb. 11:38). And yet their domination by the Philistines was a result of their idolatry. They were idolatrous, and yet some had faith; and it was this faith when surrounded by weakness which was perceived by God.  


Jdg 6:3 So when Israel had sown their seed, the Midianites, the Amalekites and the people of the east came up against them-
This is exactly what one would expect from the allusion to Lev. 26:26, speaking of the curses to come for breaking the covenant:  "If... you break my covenant I also will do this unto you (i.e. break My side of the covenant, in that) I will even appoint over you terror, consumption... and cause sorrow of heart:  and ye shall sow your seed in vain, for your enemies shall eat it".

Jdg 6:4 and they encamped against them, and destroyed the crops as far as Gaza, and left no sustenance in Israel, neither sheep nor ox nor donkey-
Note that the initial motive for the raids was to spoil the land and steal cattle. The Ezekiel 38 latter day invader has similar motivation, "To take a spoil... to take a prey... to take away cattle and goods" (Ez. 38:13). It should be noted, however, that such connections do not necessarily indicate that the invasion prefigured in Judges 6 is to be equated with that of Ezekiel 38. The point is that all the latter-day invasions of Israel have broadly similar motives, and all consistently involve the neighbours of Israel, rather than nations like Russia.

Jdg 6:5 For they came with their livestock and their tents; they came up as locusts for multitude; both they and their camels were without number, and they came into the land to destroy it-
This 'scorched earth' policy of the invaders is the prototype for Joel's latter day prophecy of the locust / grasshopper invaders leaving the land physically empty before Israel are forced to their final repentance. We note how the destruction as if by locusts means that Israel were treated as Egypt, to where they returned in their hearts and whose gods they had taken with them. See on :7. 


Jdg 6:6 Israel was brought very low because of Midian and the children of Israel cried to Yahweh-
"Very low" is the word used about Israel's latter day humiliation which leads to their final repentance (Is. 17:4). It's not that God willingly humiliates; it's that humility is necessary for relationship with Him, and pride leads to sin. And it is this humiliation which leads to our crying out to God. David uses the word of himself (Ps. 79:8; 116:6; 142:6), as if he saw in Israel at this time something of himself. As we can.      

Jdg 6:7 When the Israelites cried to Yahweh because of Midian-
Their crying to Yahweh is twice emphasized (:6,7). The phrase is used of how Israel did so in Egypt (1 Sam. 12:8), and of how they will in the last days (Joel 1:14). We noted the allusion to Joel in :5.

Jdg 6:8 Yahweh sent a prophet to them, and he said to them, Thus says Yahweh, the God of Israel, ‘I brought you up from Egypt and brought you out of slavery-
The response to their crying to Yahweh is not deliverance, but rather a prophet coming to them and attempting to convict them of their sin and failure to respond to God's wonderful deliverance of them from the Gentile world. Their repentance is therefore presented as utterly critical to their further deliverance. But there is no record of this repentance being forthcoming. Instead, a weak man who doubts his own faith is chosen and strengthened to deliver them. This was absolutely a case of salvation by grace. 

The salvation from the Egyptians was at the Red Sea, long ago (Ex. 14:30). The Israelites were repeatedly reminded of this (Jud. 2:1; 6:8; 10:11). But they failed to perceive that God's actions in history were in fact their personal salvation, an act of grace shown to them also. David grasped that point, and his Psalms often thank God for the exodus, as if it had happened to him personally. But the problem is that Israel like all people tended to only see what was before their face at that moment. They had no sense of God's historical salvation of them, and the guarantee that He would likewise come through for them, if they remained faithful to Him.

In the latter day context, this must have a connection with the suggestion that Elijah will be "sent" to Israel during their suffering, "before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord" (Mal. 4:5).   This "dreadful day" must be that of the final destruction of Israel's invaders rather than simply the return of Christ. Joel similarly speaks of how during the time when the Jewish heavens and earth are turned into "blood and fire, and pillars of smoke", the Jews will possess the Spirit gifts "before the great and the terrible day of the Lord come" (Joel 2:28-31).   This connection between Joel and Malachi would hint that the possession of these gifts is associated with the work of Elijah.


Jdg 6:9 and I delivered you out of the hand of the Egyptians and out of the hand of all who oppressed you, drove them out from before you, and gave you their land-
"
Oppress" is the word used of how Israel were oppressed in Egypt (Ex. 3:9). But the intention, as with Israel's latter day oppression, is that it would lead them to cry out for Yahweh's salvation, 'Jesus': "For they will cry to Yahweh because of oppressors, and He will send them a saviour and a defender, and He will deliver them" (Is. 19:20 s.w.). All the judges were therefore types of the ultimate deliverance of Israel by the Lord Jesus in the last days.


Jdg 6:10 I said to you, I am Yahweh your God; you shall not fear the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But you have not listened to My voice’.
And so the message ended. There is no record of this repentance being forthcoming. Instead, a weak man who doubts his own faith is chosen and strengthened to deliver them. This was absolutely a case of salvation by grace. 

In the latter day context, the prophet reminding Israel of the covenant they made with God in Horeb (Jud. 6:10), is precisely the work of Elijah (Mal. 4:4).  

Jdg 6:11 The angel of Yahweh came and sat under the oak which was in Ophrah, which belonged to Joash, the Abiezrite, and his son Gideon was beating out wheat in the winepress, to hide it from the Midianites-
As noted on :10, this further initiative to save Israel without their repentance is a Divine movement of absolute grace. We have a picture here of Israel's desperation and poverty, as well as the extent of the domination by the Midianites. They had to hide even their wheat and flour from the marauding bands. We deduce that the winepress is not in use- for one of the curses for breaking the covenant was that the vintage would cease, and wine would be cut off from Israel.

Note the parallel between an Angel sitting under an oak and a prophetess sitting under an oak (Jud. 4:5; 6:11). In Jer. 23:18,22 we find prophets standing in the “council of the Lord” (RV) to receive His word; and yet this sounds very much like Angels standing in the court of Heaven to receive God’s word of command. “The God of the spirits [Angels] of the prophets sent his Angel” to the prophet John (Rev. 22:6 RV); implying that as God had sent His Angel-Spirits to inspire the prophets, so now He did to John. Ps. 147:15,18 speak of the sending out of God’s word to melt snow and send rain; this must surely refer to the Angels being sent out from the court of Heaven to do these things. The way the “watcher and holy one” came down from Heaven is paralleled with the word of Divine command likewise coming down from Heaven (Dan. 4:23,31). The universe is not just ticking away on clockwork; the Angels are actively being sent out from Heaven to perform what may appear the most mundane and repetitious of things. Thus God sends out His Angels; He sends out His word; and He also sent out His prophets (Haggai- Hag. 1:12; Ezekiel- Ez. 3:5,6). God rose up and sent out His prophets (2 Kings 17:13; Jer. 7:25 and many others). He is described as doing this because those prophets likewise identified with the word and became part of their own message.


Jdg 6:12 The angel of Yahweh appeared to him and said, Yahweh is with you, you mighty man of valour-
The Angel assured Gideon that "Yahweh is with you [singular]"; and yet Gideon seems to have intentionally misunderstood this by arguing back that if Yahweh is really with us, then why are they suffering so much (Jud. 6:12,13). He flinched at the personal call to action- just as we can, seeking instead to take refuge behind the community. Yet God Himself turns to Gideon and bids him "go in the strength of this one"- the Hebrew grammar referring to the Angel. Robert Boling comments: "The referent of "this one" is the Yahweh envoy [i.e. the Angel], presumably in his capacity as commander of Yahweh's army". And this is the same call to us- to go in the strength of the Angel which goes before us, and seek to replicate Him, Heaven's plan for us, on this earth. And God backed up this call to Gideon to follow the Angel by saying he should go out in faith, "because Ehyeh is with you" (Jud. 6:16)- a direct quotation from the Angelic manifestation to Moses in Ex. 3:12. It's an interesting exercise to follow the parallels between the Angelic commander of Yahweh's armies, and Joshua as the human commander of them on earth. And one doesn't have to be a military leader in iron-age Israel to feel that same call to follow the Angel.

Jdg 6:13 Gideon said to him Oh, my lord, if Yahweh is with us why then has all this happened to us? Where are all His wondrous works which our fathers told us of, saying ‘Didn’t Yahweh bring us up from Egypt?’ But now Yahweh has forsaken us and delivered us into the hand of Midian-
See on :12. Gideon is focusing upon the statements that Yahweh had brought Israel out of Egypt- and ignoring the consequences of Israel's sin of returning to Gentile domination by worshipping Gentile gods. This is typical of human 'difficulties' with God. They focus upon one aspect of the equation, and refuse to factor in the consequence of human sin.

We need to realize that God deals with us as individuals. No matter how functional and holy, or dysfunctional and evil, is our church, we are still treated by the Father as His individual children. So many have struggled with this, tending to see themselves rather as inevitably part of a community, faceless cogs in a machine. And this is actually quite attractive to humanity- hence the popularity of Roman Catholicism. Reflect a while on how God told Gideon: “I will be with thee” [you singular], and yet Gideon responds: “Oh my Lord, if the Lord be with us…” (Jud. 6:12,13). Gideon had to be taught that God saw him as a separate, unique individual, and didn’t deal with him automatically merely as part of a community as a whole. But it was a slow process. When Gideon saw in a dream a man saying that God had delivered Midian into his [singular] hand, Gideon then tells Israel that God had delivered Midian into their hands (Jud. 7:14,15). He still found it so hard to believe that God treated him as so important to Him.

Jdg 6:14 Yahweh looked at him and said, Go in the strength of this One and save Israel from the hand of Midian. Haven’t I sent you?-
I prefer the AV / ESV: "Go in this might of yours and save Israel". There is a purposeful juxtaposition between Gideon's whining weakness, and God's statement that this is his "might" and by this strength / might, Gideon is to deliver Israel. All within us cries out that Gideon is not strong in faith; indeed he goes straight on to express his lack of faith that he could save Israel (:15). And that is exactly the point. Gideon is a parade example of those [like ourselves] who out of weakness are made strong (Heb. 11:34). It continues the theme of God rejoicing to save Israel by the weak, the left handed, the women, those who consider their faith is weak.  

Or "Go in the strength of this One" could be God speaking directly to Gideon whilst the Angel stood there; as if bidding him follow his Angel in the path to victory which had already been potentially enabled.

Jdg 6:15 He said to him, O Lord, how can I save Israel? My family is the poorest in Manasseh and I am the least in my father’s house-
"Poorest" could be as LXX and Hebrew, "my thousand is weakened", or diminished. This is evidence enough that the Hebrew term "thousand" doesn't mean literally 1,000, but a group of some kind; for the 1,000 is here diminished, and yet still remains a "thousand". This helps explain the otherwise very high numbers which we find in some places in the Hebrew Bible. The family had been brought down very low. But this was so that God might use Gideon in his weakness, and through him manifest His saving strength. The answer as to "How can I save...", is 'through Yahweh's saving', Yahoshua, 'Jesus'. So many questions are effectively posed by God in our lives through our experiences, which have the same answer: Yah's salvation, Jesus.

Gideon argued that his "thousand" in Manasseh was diminished or reduced. But he was to learn that this was the kind of "strength" which he was to go against the Midianites with. And when he does, he finds that his strength is greatly diminished again, twice; from 32,000 to 10,000, and then from 10,000 to 300. But this theme of diminishing his strength had begun when his "thousand" was diminished.

We note the consistent theme of initial resistance to the Divine call (Ex. 3:11; 4:10,13; 1 Sam. 10:21,22; Jer. 1:6; Am. 7:14,15; Lk 5:8). We can too easily excuse our lack of devotion by saying that we are unfit and unworthy. But this is a lack of faith in His forgiveness and grace. 


Jdg 6:16 Yahweh said to him Surely I will be with you, and you shall strike the Midianites as one man-
Gideon was bidden rise up to the example of Moses- for there were many similarities between his call by the Angel, and the Angelic calling which Moses received at the burning bush. Thus Gideon was called to follow the Angel in faith, "because Ehyeh is with you" (Jud. 6:16)- a direct quotation from the Angelic manifestation to Moses in Ex. 3:12. And yet he responds: "Alas! For I have seen Yahweh's envoy face to face!" (Jud. 6:22). Gideon knew full well that Moses had seen the Angel "face to face" (Dt. 34:10). Gideon's fear is therefore rooted in a sense that "No! I'm simply not Moses!". And it's the same with us. We can read of all these reasons to believe that Moses is really our pattern, and respond that "No! This ain't me...". But there, in the record of Gideon and his success, lies our challenge to rise up to the spirit of Moses.

The huge numbers of the Midianites are spoken of "as one man". Gideon was perhaps confident to fight a single Midianite in one on one combat, for he appears to have been a physically strong warrior. And God is saying that fighting the Midianites will be no more difficult than that for Gideon.


Jdg 6:17 He said to Him, If now I have found grace in Your eyes, then show me a sign that it is really You Who talk with me-
Gideon perceives he is being led as Moses was (see on :16,22). And so he uses the phrase Moses used, "If now I have found grace in Your eyes". But he does so without attention to context, for Moses said that when being almost sarcastic to God in his effectively refusing the way God wished him to go in.


Jdg 6:18 Please don’t go away until I come to you and bring out my present and lay it before you. He said, I will wait until you come back-
Circumstances repeat within our lives, and between our lives and those of other believers. This incident was to repeat in Jud. 13:15. Such connections are why we meet together, why we share our lives with others; and one of the reasons why we read the Bible, which is God's selected choice of various biographies which He knows will speak to each of us in a unique way.

Jdg 6:19 Gideon went in and prepared a young goat and unleavened cakes of an ephah of meal. He put the meat in a basket and he put the broth in a pot and brought it out to him under the oak and presented it-
Oaks were typically associated with idolatry, and the altar of Baal was apparently standing on the property belonging to Gideon's father. It was as if the Angel is demanding that Gideon and his people no longer serve Baal, but Yahweh; and give to Yahweh what they had intended for Baal (see on :25).


Jdg 6:20 The angel of God said to him, Take the meat and the unleavened cakes and lay them on this rock and pour out the broth. He did so-
That there was a rock altar beneath an oak (:19) makes it clear enough that the family sacrificed to idols at this point. But as explained on :25, they were now to quit that and sacrifice instead to Yahweh. Tragically it was probably upon the rock upon which Gideon first sacrificed to Yahweh (Jud. 6:20) that his seventy sons were to be slain by Abimelech, with the help of men who worshipped Baal Berith (Jud. 9:5).


Jdg 6:21 Then the angel of Yahweh stretched out the end of the staff that was in his hand and touched the meat and the unleavened cakes, and fire went up out of the rock and consumed the meat and the unleavened cakes, and the angel of Yahweh departed out of his sight-
Gideon being told to "pour out the broth" upon his offering, making it wet so that the consumption by fire from heaven was clearly miraculous (Jud. 6:20,21 cp. 1 Kings 18:33,34), was encouraging Gideon to see himself as the prototype Elijah-prophet. This would provide the basis for Elijah dousing his sacrifice with water before it was accepted in an identical way. Gideon still doesn't learn, for he proceeds to ask for a repeat of this miracle concerning wetness; he asks that there should only be dew upon the ground (or perhaps even upon the whole land of Israel, see Hebrew text) according to his word of faithful prayer (Jud. 6:37-39). Elijah saying that "there shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word" (1 Kings 17:1) is surely a conscious replica of this. It is quite possible that we, too, may be given certain prompts in life by reason of particular experiences repeating those of a Biblical character.   


Jdg 6:22 Gideon saw that he was the angel of Yahweh, and Gideon said, Alas, Lord Yahweh! I have seen the angel of Yahweh face to face!-
See on :16, where we saw how Gideon is being set up as Moses. His panic at having seen the face of an Angel is therefore due to failing to appreciate this. For Moses saw the Angel's face, and lived. And there was no reason why Gideon couldn't. We see in his panic a man struggling with the calling he was being given. And yet despite all his wriggling, he does finally accept it, and does act in faith, as Heb. 11 makes clear.

I suggest that Gideon is transferring his real guilt into a form of false guilt, as often happens within the human mind. He realized his family, Israel and probably himself were guilty of idolatry. But he can't quite bring himself to confess that to himself, and so instead he feels guilt stricken over something which wasn't a sin, i.e. seeing the face of an Angel. For Moses and others had done so, and it was no sin.

It was no random chance that Gideon was later led to victory at Penuel (Jud. 8:9). Penuel was so named to celebrate how Jacob had sene the face of God and lived (Gen. 32:30). Gideon had earlier thought he would be slain as he had been so unworthy to see the face of the Angel. As with our lives, God was leading him to perceive ever more His grace. See on :23.


Jdg 6:23 Yahweh said to him, Peace! Don’t be afraid. You will not die-
"Peace" in the Bible usually refers to peace with God through forgiveness. The assurance that he will not die was because he had been forgiven. I explained on :22 that he did have a conscience of sin, but he couldn't quite bring himself to confess it, and transferred that true guilt into a false guilt. But this was enough for God; that movement of conscience within Gideon was accepted as repentance, and he is assured peace with God. And he perceives this and memorializes that peace in the name of the altar he will build.

I noted on :22 that Gideon was later reminded at Penuel of how he like weak Jacob had seen the face of God and lived. And he at that time tells the men of Penuel that he will "come again in peace" (Jud. 8:9). Coming "in peace" reflected how he had learned the lesson from seeing the face of the Angel; for he had built an altar called 'Yahweh is peace', and now he was confident that indeed he was at peace with God despite all his weaknesses.


Jdg 6:24 Then Gideon built an altar there to Yahweh and called it Yahweh is Peace-
As explained on :23, this was a celebration of peace with God; and it implies therefore his repentance and forgiveness. What was required in order to lift the Midianite oppression was repentance; and Gideon's very weak repentance was as it were used by God to enable Him to lift it.

To this day it is still in Ophrah of the Abiezrites-
I would consider the book of Joshua to have largely been written by Joshua, under Divine inspiration, although edited [again under Divine inspiration] for the exiles. And the book of Judges likewise. For the exiles too were set to reestablish God's Kingdom in the land and to inherit it again as the Israelites first did. The phrase "to this day" occurs several times in Joshua / Judges, and appears to have different points of historical reference (Josh. 4:9; 5:9; 6:25; 7:26; 8:28,29; 9:27; 10:27; 13:13; 14:14; 15:63; 16:10; 22:3; 23:8,9; Jud. 1:26; 6:24; 10:4; 15:19; 18:12). I would explain this by saying that the book was edited a number of times and the remains of those edits remain in the text. For God's word is living and made relevant by Him to every generation.

Jdg 6:25 The same night Yahweh said to him, Take your father’s bull, the second bull seven years old, and throw down the altar of Baal that your father has and cut down the Asherah that is by it-
The seven year old bull represented the seven years of Midianite domination of Israel (:1). "The second bull" may have been an animal which was being raised especially for sacrifice to Baal. It was only by ending this Baal worship that the seven years of domination would be ended. And the seven year old bull was therefore to be seen as a kind of atonement sacrifice for those seven years of apostacy.


Jdg 6:26 build an altar to Yahweh your God on the top of this stronghold in the proper way, and take the second bull and offer it as a burnt offering with the wood of the Asherah which you cut down-
"This stronghold" may refer to the heap of stones under the oak tree which they had used for worshipping idols. I suggested on :25 that the "second bull" [it could be translated just "the other bull"] was one being bred for sacrifice to Baal.  


Jdg 6:27 Then Gideon took ten of his servants and did as Yahweh had spoken to him, and because he feared his father’s household and the men of the city, he could not do it by day, so he did it by night-
Again we see his weakness, and yet his desire to respond, however weakly. And God eagerly used that. Clearly his family were idolaters and the altar was on his father's property, so it would be surprising if Gideon was not also an idolater.

Jdg 6:28 When the men of the city arose early in the morning, the altar of Baal was broken down and the Asherah was cut down that was by it and the second bull had been offered on the altar that was built-
The record presents Gideon's complete (if nervous) obedience through the eyes of the observers early that morning. Gideon knew they would soon find out that he had done it. But he doesn't flee the village. He did it at night because he feared the other people would forcibly stop him from doing it.


Jdg 6:29 They said one to another, Who has done this? When they inquired and asked, they said, Gideon the son of Joash has done this-
We note that Gideon doesn't call them out on their idolatry. Rather he lets them come to him. He was no fearless prophet, denouncing idolatry in God's Name. 


Jdg 6:30 Then the men of the city said to Joash, Bring out your son that he may die, because he has broken down the altar of Baal and because he has cut down the Asherah that was by it-
They were twisting the Mosaic laws of apostacy to apply them to Gideon for desecrating Baal's altar. They were psychologically able to do this because they considered that Baal worship was a form of Yahweh worship. And it was this continual mixture of flesh and spirit, of truth and error, which was and is the abiding weakness of God's people. 


Jdg 6:31 Joash said to all who stood against him, Will you contend for Baal? Or will you save him? He who will contend for him, let him be put to death by morning. If he is a god, let him contend for himself, because someone has broken down his altar-
Joash had presumably been a committed Baal worshipper; for the altar was on his territory, and the village would have been quite small. He responds not at all as we, or probably Gideon, expected. We can be encouraged that there is a spiritual conscience within all people, and when they see someone like Gideon have the courage to stand up and be counted, they are relatively easily motivated to do the same. Thus the Gospel penetrates strongly Islamic or atheistic communities- because one person within them stands up and is counted for Christ.

Self-expression, or even self-manifestation, is one of God’s features, and so He intends it to be in us who are made after His image. God manifestation doesn’t in that sense mean the destruction or ignoring of the individual human person; rather, the very opposite, in that the real character, the new life, will be eternally developed and preserved. This is where Hinduism is so wrong, as wrong as any monolithic, apostate version of Christianity- the person disappears into the great Whole. Joash understood where ‘God manifestation’ can be taken too far; he told the Baal worshippers to let Baal plead for himself, rather than them pleading for him. This needs thinking through. He was saying that they were assuming that they had to ‘play God’ for Baal; they had to mindlessly, unthinkingly manifest the god they thought existed. Joash says that if Baal really exists, he himself will act for himself, openly. And this of course is where the One True God excels; He does act for Himself, and doesn’t rely solely upon manifesting Himself through men in order to achieve anything. Note the intentional surprise for us in Is. 43:1: "Thus says the Lord that created you... I have redeemed you, I have called you by your name; you are Mine". We expect the creator, owner and redeemer of someone or something to name it with His name. But God dashes that expectation- He says instead that we are called by our name.


Jdg 6:32 Therefore on that day he named him Jerub-Baal, saying, Let Baal contend against him because he has broken down his altar-
We see here how names were given to people because of life experiences; this explains why the same person or place can have several names. Joash was struck by the power of the logic which had occurred to him; Baal ought to argue for himself if he were a real god. Baal's total dependence upon men for his actions was evidence enough that he had no real existence. And Joash was grateful to Gideon for pointing this out. 

Jdg 6:33 Then all the Midianites and the Amalekites and the people of the east assembled themselves together and they crossed over and encamped in the valley of Jezreel-
People who had been yelling for Gideon's blood now go strangely silent. Joash was perhaps the elder of the village, and his logic was hard to argue back against. The eastern peoples then crossed over Jordan, all set to now wipe out the Israelites and take their land. This was indeed the punishment for breaking the covenant, and only the weak faith and shaky repentance of Gideon was going to stop it.


Jdg 6:34 But the Spirit of Yahweh came upon Gideon, and he blew a trumpet; and Abiezer was gathered together after him-
This language is picked up in Is. 61:1,2: "The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me... to preach good tidings... liberty to the captives...to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God". Primarily this refers to Isaiah preaching an inspired message of deliverance to an Israel threatened by the Assyrian invasion, whilst it is also quoted in the Gospels  concerning the work of Christ. Both these applications have their basis in the Spirit of God coming upon the judges, showing that they typify both the work of Christ and of the Elijah prophet, of which Isaiah was an early manifestation.

Abiezer, his home village, gathered loyally around Gideon; when just recently they had demanded his death for apostacy against Baal. We see here how fickle people are; and yet more positively, how relatively easy it is for people to change. Because there is a spiritual conscience in everyone, and it often needs just one person within their family or community to step out for Christ, and they will too.

 

Jdg 6:35 He sent messengers throughout all Manasseh and they also were gathered together after him, and he sent messengers to Asher, to Zebulun and to Naphtali and they came up to meet them-
The idea may be that all Manasseh supported him, but the three other tribes came up to discuss with him, just "to meet them". Or it could be that they all responded, at least eventually (Jud. 7:23). We recall how Deborah's appeal for support from Asher and some of the leaders of these tribes had been refused. And after God gave the great victory, she taught everyone the song of Deborah in Jud. 5 which lamented their lack of response. So perhaps that had worked, and now they responded. We may fail a call the first time, but then it is repeated, and we accept it. Just as Gideon had motivated the village of Abiezer, so now Abiezer motivated "all Manasseh" and perhaps they in turn motivated Asher, Zebulun and Naphtali.

Jdg 6:36 Gideon said to God, If You will save Israel by my hand, as You have spoken-
Gideon's fragile faith is in fact a great encouragement to us. He nervously kept on in his spiritual path, although ever wanting visible evidence of God's presence with him.


Jdg 6:37 I will put a fleece of wool on the threshing floor; if there is dew on the fleece only and it is dry on all the ground, then I will know that You will save Israel by my hand as You have said-
The giving or withholding of dew was a reflection of whether or not Israel were receiving the blessings or cursings of the covenant. They deserved no dew, for they had sinned. Elijah was to be inspired by Gideon's weak faith in later asking for dew and rain to be withheld (1 Kings 17:1). We too are to be motivated by the faith of others, no matter how weak. The threshing floor is also a symbol of judgment. If God gave His blessings, the dew, to Gideon's fleece but not to the ground / land of Israel generally, then Gideon would know that indeed God was uniquely with him, even if the rest of Israel deserved judgment and the withholding of the covenant blessings. "Ground" is eretz, the usual word for the land of Israel. If just the soil around the fleece were in view, a different word would have been used. 


Jdg 6:38 That is what happened, for he got up early the next day and squeezed the fleece together and wrung the dew out of the fleece, a bowl full of water-
There is a much repeated characteristic of God's servants: that they 'rose up early in the morning' and did God's work. In each of the following passages, this phrase is clearly not an idiom; rather does it have an evidently literal meaning: Abraham (Gen. 19:27; 21:14; 22:3); Jacob (Gen. 28:18); Job (1:5); Moses (Ex. 8:20; 9:13; 24:4; 34:4); Joshua (Josh. 3:1; 6:12; 7:16; 8:10); Gideon (Jud. 6:38; 7:1). This is quite an impressive list, numerically. This can be a figure for being zealous (Ps. 127:2; Pr. 27:14; Song 7:12; Is. 5:11; Zeph. 3:7). God Himself rises up early in His zeal to save and bring back His wayward people (Jer. 7:13,25; 11:7; 25:3,4; 26:5; 29:19; 32:33; 35:14,15; 44:4). Yet the above examples all show that men literally rose up early in their service to God; this was an expression of their zeal for God, in response to His zeal for us. I'm not suggesting that zeal for God is reflected by rising early rather than staying up late; but it wouldn't be too much to suggest that if we are men of mission, we won't waste our hours in bed. Get up when you wake up.


Jdg 6:39 Gideon said to God, Don’t let Your anger be kindled against me and I will speak but this once-
Gideon is inspired by the words and spiritual ambition of Abraham (Gen. 18:32). Perhaps he feared it was just a coincidence, seeing that fleeces naturally attract dew.

Please let me make a trial just this once more with the fleece. Let it now be dry only on the fleece and on all the ground let there be dew-
I suggested on :37 that Gideon specifically understood the dew as covenant blessing from God, which the ground / land of Israel didn't deserve. He had asked God to show him that he, Gideon, was going to receive those blessings, even if the land didn't. But his faith still faltered. By asking for it to now be done the other way around, Gideon was effectively asking for all Israel to be blessed with dew- because of his lack of faith, and needing everything to be demonstrated to him again. Again we note that "ground" is eretz, the usual word for the land of Israel. If just the soil around the fleece were in view, a different word would have been used. 


Jdg 6:40 God did so that night, for it was dry on the fleece only and there was dew on all the ground-
The Hebrew word for "fleece" is literally 'that which is cut down / cut off', and it can also effectively mean that which is destroyed (s.w. Nah. 1:12 "thus shall they be cut down"; "they are soon cut off", Ps. 90:10). Israel had indeed been cut down by the Midianites. Gideon had just cut down the symbols of Baal worship (same idea, although a different word is used- Jud. 6:26,28,30). I suspect he simply asked for the miracle to be done again, in reverse order, because of his own weak faith and not because he saw any great symbology in the whole scene at the time. But later, he may have perceived that he had been asking God to place His blessing of dew upon that which was cut down, or retract it. And indeed God demonstrated that He could do this with ease- and do it at Gideon's word. The blessing or cursing of Israel was to depend upon Gideon and his faith. For generally Israel had not repented, and that was what was necessary for the Midianite domination to end. But Gideon's weak repentance was going to be accepted by God as it were for all Israel. This was how eager God was to save them from Midian, despite their idolatry. And it looks ahead to His eagerness to save us, through the work of the Lord Jesus and His far greater righteousness being imputed to us, who are more willing to receive it than were Israel. Arguments like this make us have every confidence that we shall indeed be saved, by His amazing grace.