The last post talked about how “the Word of God” was an important character that John identifies as “Jesus of Nazareth” in his gospel. While I hope that last post made that point, now I’m going to concentrate more about how the second person of the trinity — who became flesh and was called “Jesus” — has ALWAYS made the Father known.
This post is going to talk about the story of Gideon. But before I do that, we need to talk about two ancient Hebrew words that are translated into English as “prophet” and “angel.”
The Hebrew Word “Prophet”
Here is a question that I have. What IS a prophet? We could say that a prophet is someone who speaks from God. That is simple enough, and it is true. But I want you to realize just how LITERALLY true that definition is. As we explained in the last post, prophets weren’t merely people who got a nice idea that they felt really-deep-down was important enough to be “from God.” Instead, we showed that “the word of the Lord” IS the Lord, and in light of that, we can read things like the following:
And the word of the Lord came to me, saying, “And you, son of man, will you judge, will you judge the bloody city? Then declare to her all her abominations. You shall say, Thus says the Lord God: A city that sheds blood in her midst, so that her time may come, and that makes idols to defile herself! You have become guilty by the blood that you have shed, and defiled by the idols that you have made, and you have brought your days near, the appointed time of your years has come. Therefore I have made you a reproach to the nations, and a mockery to all the countries. Those who are near and those who are far from you will mock you; your name is defiled; you are full of tumult. (Ezekiel 22:1-5)
In other words, the prophets were people who were DELIVERING MESSAGES from God himself. And they got their messages LITERALLY FROM GOD HIMSELF. He came to them. The told them what to say, and they said it. Or at least, they wrote it down in the books that we have to deliver it to the relevant people.
Therefore, we have a simple definition of a prophet:
A prophet is a messenger from God.
This is affirmed by God himself, when he describes the relationship between Moses (who did not like to speak much) and Aaron (who was able of speaking will) and Pharaoh (who God wanted Moses to go and speak to). This is what he says:
And the Lord said to Moses, “See, I have made you like God to Pharaoh, and your brother Aaron shall be your prophet. You shall speak all that I command you, and your brother Aaron shall tell Pharaoh to let the people of Israel go out of his land. (Exodus 7:1-2)
Now, it was MOSES who was the real prophet in this situation, but God is saying that Moses is going to be “like God” to Pharaoh, and Aaron is going to be “your prophet.” That’s because Moses is going to tell Aaron what God told Moses, and Aaron is going to deliver the message to Pharaoh. That is because:
A prophet is a messenger from God.
So, that is that.
The Hebrew Word “Angel”
Now we come to the Hebrew word for “Angel.” Now, our modern idea of “angel” is more informed by the underlying Greek meaning that the underlying Hebrew meaning. This is important, and confusing.
It is confusing because the definition of the Greek word that we translate into “angel” is slightly different from the definition of the Hebrew word that we translate into “angel.” While there is overlap between the Hebrew and Greek words, the difference is that the Hebrew word is primarily a description of a job or role, while the Greek word is a description of a species of beings. I hope this will become clear by the time I get done with this section.
The Hebrew word “angel” is the Hebrew word מֲלְאָךְ (malak). You will find it in verses like this:
And God heard the voice of the boy, and the angel (malak) of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What troubles you, Hagar? Fear not, for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is. (Genesis 21:17)
Now, if God in heaven hears something on earth, and an angel comes from God to the woman Hagar, this definitely sounds like a certain type of not-human being, right? Sure. Of course it does.
However, the same Hebrew word is used in verses like this, as well:
Moses sent messengers (malak)from Kadesh to the king of Edom: “Thus says your brother Israel: You know all the hardship that we have met: how our fathers went down to Egypt, and we lived in Egypt a long time. And the Egyptians dealt harshly with us and our fathers. And when we cried to the Lord, he heard our voice and sent an angel (malak)and brought us out of Egypt. And here we are in Kadesh, a city on the edge of your territory. Please let us pass through your land. We will not pass through field or vineyard, or drink water from a well. We will go along the King’s Highway. We will not turn aside to the right hand or to the left until we have passed through your territory.” (Numbers 20:14)
The first time the word is used, these aren’t people sent from heaven. These are people sent from MOSES. These are human beings. However, the second time it is used, it is definitely a heavenly being. But they are referred to using the SAME WORD that was previously used to indicate a messenger from Heaven: Malak.
Therefore, we should understand that there is no word for “angel” meaning “beings from heaven” in Hebrew, even though it can mean that. It is not specific. If the Bible wants to be specific for “beings from heaven,” it normally uses the word “elohim” or “sons of God.” See this post for more on that.
Therefore, we see that the Hebrew word malak is a JOB DESCRIPTION of being a “messenger” that may or may not refer to people from heaven.
This is in contrast to the Greek word ἄγγελος (angelos), which is a description of a certain form of not-from-earth people. But there is difficulty when translating. That’s why the Psalm 8 says the following about man:
When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him?
Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings (elohim)
and crowned him with glory and honor.
But when Hebrews quotes this verse in Greek, it says the following:
For it was not to angels (angelos) that God subjected the world to come, of which we are speaking. It has been testified somewhere,
“What is man, that you are mindful of him,
or the son of man, that you care for him?
You made him for a little while lower than the angels (angelos);
you have crowned him with glory and honor,
putting everything in subjection under his feet.”
Do you see that? The Hebrew elohim is translated to angelos in the New Testament. But what we forget is that elohim is normally translated as “god” in the old testament, not “angels.” In other words, there is a FLEXIBILITY in the term “angels” that we do not recognize, but which the New Testament writers did. We need to understand this in order to understand the way the writers of the Bible understood things. This understanding can explain the confusion that comes by the following verse in that same chapter:
Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will. (Hebrews 2:1-4)
When many Christians read this, the question is “Wait, what is the message declared by angels?”
The answer is quite simple: THE PROPHETS. That’s because an angel (malak) is a regular word for a “messenger” and prophet is a messenger FROM GOD. What the author of Hebrews is saying is that because the message FROM THE PROPHETS proved to be reliable, how much more should we pay attention to a message that was delivered BY THE LORD HIMSELF.
The Prophet and Angel in the Story of Gideon
With that in mind, I want you to look at the story of Gideon. Let’s just read the entire chapter, and I will ask questions and explain a bit as we go forward:
The people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord gave them into the hand of Midian seven years. And the hand of Midian overpowered Israel, and because of Midian the people of Israel made for themselves the dens that are in the mountains and the caves and the strongholds. For whenever the Israelites planted crops, the Midianites and the Amalekites and the people of the East would come up against them. They would encamp against them and devour the produce of the land, as far as Gaza, and leave no sustenance in Israel and no sheep or ox or donkey. For they would come up with their livestock and their tents; they would come like locusts in number—both they and their camels could not be counted—so that they laid waste the land as they came in. And Israel was brought very low because of Midian. And the people of Israel cried out for help to the Lord.
When the people of Israel cried out to the Lord on account of the Midianites, the Lord sent a prophet to the people of Israel. And he said to them, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: I led you up from Egypt and brought you out of the house of slavery. And I delivered you from the hand of the Egyptians and from the hand of all who oppressed you, and drove them out before you and gave you their land. And I said to you, ‘I am the Lord your God; you shall not fear the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell.’ But you have not obeyed my voice.” (Judges 6:1-10)
Now, in your Bible, you might get a little heading that separates that part from the next part of the chapter. What I need to remind you of is that THIS HEADING DOESN’T EXIST IN THE ORIGINAL. Therefore, after this prophet without a name, look at what comes next in a SINGLE AND CONTINUOUS STORY:
Now the angel of the Lord came and sat under the terebinth at Ophrah, which belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, while his son Gideon was beating out wheat in the winepress to hide it from the Midianites. And the angel of the Lord appeared to him and said to him, “The Lord is with you, O mighty man of valor.” (Judges 6:11-12)
Now, isn’t this weird? After we leave this prophet, we now have “the angel of the Lord” who sat under a terebinth tree. This character has no introduction, but we are told that it is the angel of the Lord. Strange indeed, but let’s look at what happens next.
And Gideon said to him, “Please, my lord, if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all his wonderful deeds that our fathers recounted to us, saying, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the Lord has forsaken us and given us into the hand of Midian.” (Judges 6:13)
Here is the most interesting part of this dialogue between Gideon and the angel of the Lord: Gideon seems to know who he is. He talks with him. He argues with him. He calls him “my lord.” He treats him with respect. Strange indeed, but let’s look what happens next.
And the Lord turned to him and said, “Go in this might of yours and save Israel from the hand of Midian; do not I send you?” And he said to him, “Please, Lord, how can I save Israel? Behold, my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house.” And the Lord said to him, “But I will be with you, and you shall strike the Midianites as one man.” And he said to him, “If now I have found favor in your eyes, then show me a sign that it is you who speak with me. Please do not depart from here until I come to you and bring out my present and set it before you.” And he said, “I will stay till you return.” (Judges 6:14-18)
We see here that Gideon is asking for a sign. And to get the sign, he brings a “present,” which is the Hebrew word מִנְחָה (minchah). This is also the same word for “offering” or “sacrifice.” This is rather important.
Asking for a Sign in Ancient Times
I hope you see what is happening here. Gideon is asking for a sign so that he can trust this random prophet guy. How do you know that a prophet is “fer-real”? You get a sign. This “asking for a sign” is a very common thing that happens in the Bible. Elijah and the prophets of Baal do it in 1 Kings 18:20-40. In that story, the prophets and witnesses are looking for some external sign from nature, looking for a signal about which side is more powerful with the realm “up there” in heaven.
This is also the case in non-Christian sources. In Herodotus’s Histories, there are examples of “signs from heaven” that send signals to the people on earth.
The Eclipse of Thales
The first comes in a battle between the Medes and the Lydians. This war started because a king of the Lydians sent out his sons with the Scythians in a hunting expedition, but the Scythians returned with nothing, and the king, whose name was Cyaxares, treated them very badly. So the next time the Scythians took the king’s son out, they returned with the skin of the king’s son, tanned as if it were the hide of an animal, and presented it to the king in revenge.
This obviously started a war. The war was between the Medes (who were the overarching rulers of the Scythians) and the Lydians. But here is how the war ended:
After this, seeing that Alyattes would not give up the Scythians to Cyaxares at his demand, there was war between the Lydians and the Medes for five years; each won many victories over the other, and once they fought a battle by night. They were still warring with equal success, when it chanced, at an encounter which happened during the sixth year, that during the battle the day was suddenly turned to night. Thales of Miletus had foretold this loss of daylight to the Ionians, fixing it within the year in which the change did indeed happen. So when the Lydians and Medes saw the day turned to night they ceased from fighting, and both were the more zealous to make peace. Those who reconciled them were Syennesis the Cilician and Labynetus the Babylonian; they it was who brought it about that there should be a sworn agreement and an exchange of wedlock between them: they adjudged that Alyattes should give his daughter Aryenis to Astyages, son of Cyaxares; for without a strong bond agreements will not keep their strength. These nations make sworn compacts as do the Greeks; moreover, they cut the skin of their arms and lick each other’s blood. (Herodotus, Histories, Book 1, Chapter 74)
In other words, the eclipse was SUCH A BIG SIGN, that even though there was OBVIOUSLY A GOOD REASON for the war, they were like “Nope. Nevermind. Heaven has shown us that they don’t want us fighting. We need to make peace.” And that was that. They made peace.
Spartan Reluctance to Fight the Persians
The importance of “signs” also happened in the Second Persian Invasion of Greece, when the Spartans offered a sacrifice before they marched off of the Peloponnese to join the Athenians against the Persian Army. We find that the Spartans did not join the Athenians when the Persians came to burn Athens for the following reason:
This was the counsel he gave to the ephors, who straightway took it to heart; saying no word to the envoys who were come from the cities, they bade march before dawn of day five thousand Spartans, with seven helots appointed to attend each of them; and they gave the command to Pausanias son of Cleombrotus. The leader’s place belonged of right to Pleistarchus son of Leonidas; but he was yet a boy, and Pausanias his guardian and cousin. For Cleombrotus, Pausanias’ father and Anaxandrides’ son, was no longer living; after he led away from the Isthmus the army which had built the wall, he lived but a little while ere his death. The reason of Cleombrotus’ leading his army away from the Isthmus was that while he was offering sacrifice for victory over the Persian the sun was darkened in the heavens. Pausanias chose as his colleague a man of the same family, Euryanax son of Dorieus. (Herodotus, Histories, Book 9, Chapter 10)
Now, this is a little confusing, so I’ll explain what happens. Cleombrotus is the general of the Spartans. He’s at “the Isthmus” of Corinth, and as is normal before marching off to a war, you offer a sacrifice to the gods for success in your campaign. However, after this sacrifice was made, “the sun was darkened.” This is a physical thing.
And actually, it was a REAL EVENT. If you take my chronology of the Second Persian Invasion of Greece, which you can read about here, it happened on August 1, 477 B.C. While this was a total eclipse visible from Africa, in Greece, it was just a tiny sliver of a solar eclipse. However, this “sign” was so important of an omen to the Spartans that they DID NOT assist the Athenians at first against the Persian army. Herodotus describes a lot of debate about this obviously crazy idea not to fight the Persians, and when Sparta eventually changes its mind, it offers sacrifices TWICE to make sure that it is okay:
As for the Lacedaemonians, when they were come to the Isthmus, they encamped there. When the rest of the Peloponnesians who chose the better cause heard that, seeing the Spartans setting forth to war, they deemed it was not for them to be behind the Lacedaemonians in so doing. Wherefore they all marched from the Isthmus (the omens of sacrifice being favourable) and came to Eleusis; and when they had offered sacrifice there also and the omens were favourable, they held on their march further, having now the Athenians with them, who had crossed over from Salamis and joined with them at Eleusis. When they came (as it is said) to Erythrae in Boeotia, they learnt that the foreigners were encamped by the Asopus, and taking note of that they arrayed themselves over against the enemy on the lower hills of Cithaeron. (Herodotus, Histories, Book 9, Chapter 19)
You see what they are doing? They sacrifice, and they look for signs. The sacrifice is an invitation to the divine world, and the sign is the answer that the divine world gives back to the physical world to answer the inquiry. It’s an extremely anxiety-inducing thing about whether the gods are on your side, even if you are Spartans.
The Aeneid of Virgil
We can also see the idea of a “sign” in fictional works of ancient times. The Aeneid tells the story of the Trojan War, but in a more “historical fiction” type of way (as it was written in the time of the Roman Empire). The following happens when Aeneus is trying to convince his father to flee with him. In the story, Aeneus is visited by his mother, Aphrodite/Venus, and she tells him to gather his family and flee Troy, and that she will protect them. So Aeneus goes to fetch his father, but his father does not believe that they will be saved, so he asks for a sign, and one is given:
‘O Jupiter, all-able one, if you
are moved by any prayers, look on us.
I only ask you this: if by our goodness
we merit it, then Father, grant to us
your help and let your sign confirm these omens.’
“No sooner had the old man spoken so
than sudden thunder crashed upon the left,
and through the shadows ran a shooting star,
its trail a torch of flooding light. It glides
above the highest housetops as we watch,
until the brightness that has marked its course
is buried in the woods of Ida: far
and wide the long wake of that furrow shines,
and sulphur smokes upon the land. At last,
won over by this sign, my father rises,
to greet the gods, to adore the sacred star:
‘Now my delay is done; I follow; where
you lead, I am. Gods of my homeland, save
my household, save my grandson. Yours, this omen;
and Troy is in your keeping. Yes, I yield.
(The Aeneid of Virgil, translated by Allen Mandelbaum (1971))
In other words, someone says something is going to happen, and the beings “up there” will help his prediction come about. In other words, he has powerful beings on his side. The person on earth doesn’t believe it, and so they ask for a sign that these powerful heavenly beings are on his side. When the sign is good enough to indicate that this is message is not merely “human,” but a message from heaven (delivered by an “angel” or a “prophet”), then that is enough for the human on earth to believe in the success of his venture.
The Signs Given to Gideon
So that’s what’s happening here. Gideon is asking for a sign, and the sign is going to come after a certain sacrifice. Gideon makes the sacrifice, and then this happens:
So Gideon went into his house and prepared a young goat and unleavened cakes from an ephah of flour. The meat he put in a basket, and the broth he put in a pot, and brought them to him under the terebinth and presented them. And the angel of God said to him, “Take the meat and the unleavened cakes, and put them on this rock, and pour the broth over them.” And he did so. Then the angel of the Lord reached out the tip of the staff that was in his hand and touched the meat and the unleavened cakes. And fire sprang up from the rock and consumed the meat and the unleavened cakes. And the angel of the Lord vanished from his sight. Then Gideon perceived that he was the angel of the Lord. And Gideon said, “Alas, O Lord God! For now I have seen the angel of the Lord face to face.” But the Lord said to him, “Peace be to you. Do not fear; you shall not die.” Then Gideon built an altar there to the Lord and called it, The Lord Is Peace. To this day it still stands at Ophrah, which belongs to the Abiezrites. (Judges 6:19-24)
So notice what happened. Gideon prepares a sacrifice or offering to the Lord. He takes it out to this person, and is setting up the ancient “test” to see if his word is from God or if he is just faking it. In this matter, the angel of the Lord reaches out the tip of his staff and touches the sacrificial offering, and then EVERYTHING DISAPPEARS.
Explaining the Story of Gideon
Here is the most important detail you need to realize when reading this story that makes EVERYTHING make sense:
THERE ARE ONLY TWO CHARACTERS IN THIS ENTIRE STORY: GIDEON AND THE LORD
Look at all the names we have of the people who are interacting here:
- A prophet
- The angel of the Lord
- “my lord”
- The Lord
What I am telling you is that ALL OF THESE INDIVIDUALS IN THE STORY ARE THE SAME PERSON. In other words:
The prophet that was telling Israel that they turned away from their God WAS THE LORD.
The “angel of the Lord” is that same prophet (because that’s what a prophet is). Gideon called this ordinary-looking person “my lord” because he is giving due respect to a prophet, even though he doesn’t believe him. You don’t disrespect kings or prophets. You might argue with them, but you give due respect.
But what the narrator knows (and communicates to us) is that Gideon is talking to “the Lord” the whole time.” Gideon only realizes this when the man disappears. Look at the events in the story:
- Israel does what is wrong and cries out to the Lord
- The Lord sends a prophet (who just so happens to be the Lord), who tells them to repent of their sins because the Lord is still with them.
- Israel (as evidenced from Gideon’s reaction) simply does not believe this prophet
- This prophet (who is a “messenger from the Lord”) then goes to Gideon and tells him he will deliver Israel from the Midianites.
- Gideon argues with the prophet (who is, by definition, an “angel from the Lord”)
- The prophet (who is not only an angel/messenger from the Lord, but also THE LORD himself) assures Gideon that HE will be with Gideon
- Gideon decides to test this prophet’s claims, and prepares a sacrifice.
- When the prophet meets the sacrifice, he touches it, and then the sacrifice and the prophet himself DISAPPEAR!
Do you see it?
Here is what everybody is missing:
THE FIRST HALF OF THE STORY IS GIDEON REALIZING WHO IS SPEAKING TO HIM.
That is the key part of the story. And as soon as Gideon realizes it, the man/angel/prophet DISAPPEARS.
While the narrator of the story knows who “the angel of the Lord” is, Gideon does not. Instead, Gideon only knows the “prophet” who he does not truly recognize or give proper attention to. That is the big-reveal of the first part of the story of Gideon.
This first half of the story is COMPLETELY MISSED in most bible translations. They don’t understand sacrifices or “signs” in an ancient pagan way, and that’s why the story is not told very well (though it is very close). You see, we get a problem in translation that is only reflected in CAPITALIZATION. This mistake exists in most all translations (except for the NIV and the NRSV, so far as I can tell). Here is the error:
And he said to him, “Please, Lord, how can I save Israel? Behold, my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house.”
Instead, it should be this:
And he said to him, “Please, lord, how can I save Israel? Behold, my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house.”
That’s because Gideon does not know who he is talking to even though the narrator of the passage knows the identity of this person. The whole point of this part of the story is that Gideon does not realize that the person who he is ignoring is kind of a big deal, if you know what I mean.
The Second Half of the Story of Gideon
But the story continues. And it is important that the story continues, because now the focus of the story is on Gideon continuing to believe what this prophet — WHO WAS THE LORD — told him would be the case:
And the Lord turned to him and said, “Go in this might of yours and save Israel from the hand of Midian; do not I send you?” And he said to him, “Please, Lord, how can I save Israel? Behold, my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house.” And the Lord said to him, “But I will be with you, and you shall strike the Midianites as one man.” (Judges 6:14-16)
The question and doubt that Gideon has is whether or not this OBVIOUSLY MAGICAL person will continue to be with him when he is going to face the army of Midian who was absolutely devastating Israel. But we continue to see that the Lord talks to Gideon, but Gideon needs reassurance that it is the Lord.
Why? Well, after this event, the Lord is no longer visible to Gideon.
Instead, God comes to Gideon “at night,” which implies that he is coming by dreams. And in this state, Gideon is terrified because of the lack of “reality” to the messages. Look at what we read:
That night the Lord said to him, “Take your father’s bull, and the second bull seven years old, and pull down the altar of Baal that your father has, and cut down the Asherah that is beside it and build an altar to the Lord your God on the top of the stronghold here, with stones laid in due order. Then take the second bull and offer it as a burnt offering with the wood of the Asherah that you shall cut down.” So Gideon took ten men of his servants and did as the Lord had told him. But because he was too afraid of his family and the men of the town to do it by day, he did it by night. (Judges 6:25-27)
And after this, we get interactions between Gideon and the Lord that are just prayers and physical descriptions of God’s reply, absent verbal commands:
Then Gideon said to God, “If you will save Israel by my hand, as you have said, behold, I am laying a fleece of wool on the threshing floor. If there is dew on the fleece alone, and it is dry on all the ground, then I shall know that you will save Israel by my hand, as you have said.” And it was so. When he rose early next morning and squeezed the fleece, he wrung enough dew from the fleece to fill a bowl with water. Then Gideon said to God, “Let not your anger burn against me; let me speak just once more. Please let me test just once more with the fleece. Please let it be dry on the fleece only, and on all the ground let there be dew.” And God did so that night; and it was dry on the fleece only, and on all the ground there was dew. (Judges 6:36-40)
In other words, the Lord is not speaking to Gideon by any audible words or any physical appearance. Things just happen in the real world.
Next, we see that the Lord speaks to Gideon many times, but this is always timed to when Gideon and the Israelites are “encamped” or again when it is “at night.” This implies that the messages come in DREAMS. Read the entire chapter that comes next, and see how this plays out. It makes the story quite understandable:
Then Jerubbaal (that is, Gideon) and all the people who were with him rose early and encamped beside the spring of Harod. And the camp of Midian was north of them, by the hill of Moreh, in the valley.
The Lord said to Gideon, “The people with you are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hand, lest Israel boast over me, saying, ‘My own hand has saved me.’ Now therefore proclaim in the ears of the people, saying, ‘Whoever is fearful and trembling, let him return home and hurry away from Mount Gilead.’” Then 22,000 of the people returned, and 10,000 remained.
And the Lord said to Gideon, “The people are still too many. Take them down to the water, and I will test them for you there, and anyone of whom I say to you, ‘This one shall go with you,’ shall go with you, and anyone of whom I say to you, ‘This one shall not go with you,’ shall not go.” So he brought the people down to the water. And the Lord said to Gideon, “Every one who laps the water with his tongue, as a dog laps, you shall set by himself. Likewise, every one who kneels down to drink.” And the number of those who lapped, putting their hands to their mouths, was 300 men, but all the rest of the people knelt down to drink water. And the Lord said to Gideon, “With the 300 men who lapped I will save you and give the Midianites into your hand, and let all the others go every man to his home.” So the people took provisions in their hands, and their trumpets. And he sent all the rest of Israel every man to his tent, but retained the 300 men. And the camp of Midian was below him in the valley.
That same night the Lord said to him, “Arise, go down against the camp, for I have given it into your hand. But if you are afraid to go down, go down to the camp with Purah your servant. And you shall hear what they say, and afterward your hands shall be strengthened to go down against the camp.” Then he went down with Purah his servant to the outposts of the armed men who were in the camp. And the Midianites and the Amalekites and all the people of the East lay along the valley like locusts in abundance, and their camels were without number, as the sand that is on the seashore in abundance. When Gideon came, behold, a man was telling a dream to his comrade. And he said, “Behold, I dreamed a dream, and behold, a cake of barley bread tumbled into the camp of Midian and came to the tent and struck it so that it fell and turned it upside down, so that the tent lay flat.” And his comrade answered, “This is no other than the sword of Gideon the son of Joash, a man of Israel; God has given into his hand Midian and all the camp.”
As soon as Gideon heard the telling of the dream and its interpretation, he worshiped. And he returned to the camp of Israel and said, “Arise, for the Lord has given the host of Midian into your hand.” And he divided the 300 men into three companies and put trumpets into the hands of all of them and empty jars, with torches inside the jars. And he said to them, “Look at me, and do likewise. When I come to the outskirts of the camp, do as I do. When I blow the trumpet, I and all who are with me, then blow the trumpets also on every side of all the camp and shout, ‘For the Lord and for Gideon.’” (Judges 7:1-18)
Notice what is happening. Gideon is getting these messages IN DREAMS. When was the last time you got reliable information from a dream? Gideon is obviously worried that this “plan” to attack the Midianites with 300 people is CRAZY. But he takes pleasure when he is walking in the camp, and another person shares HIS OWN dream, and Gideon is like…. ….wait, you’re getting dreams, too?
The dream is that a small loaf of bread rolls down a hill, hits a tent, and the tent collapses to the ground. The other man interprets the dream as a victory, and Gideon is happy, because he now has confirmation through ANOTHER DREAM and a RANDOM HAPPENSTANCE CONVERSATION that his own message that he got in a dream is reliable.
Notice that Gideon never again gets any “physical” signs that he will triumph. He’s working on faith and small messages in very supernatural ways. He is forced to trust in the Lord as he goes about the plan.
THE SECOND HALF OF THE STORY IS GIDEON TRUSTING IN THE LORD, DESPITE HIS PHYSICAL ABSENCE.
And the plan works, and then this is what happens:
So Gideon and the hundred men who were with him came to the outskirts of the camp at the beginning of the middle watch, when they had just set the watch. And they blew the trumpets and smashed the jars that were in their hands. Then the three companies blew the trumpets and broke the jars. They held in their left hands the torches, and in their right hands the trumpets to blow. And they cried out, “A sword for the Lord and for Gideon!” Every man stood in his place around the camp, and all the army ran. They cried out and fled. When they blew the 300 trumpets, the Lord set every man’s sword against his comrade and against all the army. And the army fled as far as Beth-shittah toward Zererah, as far as the border of Abel-meholah, by Tabbath. And the men of Israel were called out from Naphtali and from Asher and from all Manasseh, and they pursued after Midian.
Gideon sent messengers throughout all the hill country of Ephraim, saying, “Come down against the Midianites and capture the waters against them, as far as Beth-barah, and also the Jordan.” So all the men of Ephraim were called out, and they captured the waters as far as Beth-barah, and also the Jordan. And they captured the two princes of Midian, Oreb and Zeeb. They killed Oreb at the rock of Oreb, and Zeeb they killed at the winepress of Zeeb. Then they pursued Midian, and they brought the heads of Oreb and Zeeb to Gideon across the Jordan. (Judges 7:19-25)
So this plan actually works, and Israel is saved. Not only is Israel saved, but they send to Ephraim and Naphtali and Asher and Manasseh, and they chase after the armies of Midian. They strike them down, eventually capturing the two princes of Midian, cutting off their heads.
And that’s the end of the story.
…..or is it?
The Prophetic Role of the Day of Midian
While there is much more to explore about the story of Gideon, I want to tell you that this is NOT the last time the story of Gideon is mentioned in the Bible. Instead, Gideon is an important preview of the life, ministry, death, and mission of Christ.
Here’s how I’m going to make that case. After Jesus was raised from the dead, we read about the following encounter he had with two people on the road to Emmaus:
And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.
So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He acted as if he were going farther, but they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem. And they found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread. (Luke 24:25-35)
Something I want you to see in that story is that Jesus explained to these two men, “starting with Moses” and continuing with “all the Prophets,” how the scriptures concerned “HIMSELF.”
But wait, if he started with Moses and ended with the prophets, then that means….
….he covered the story of Gideon!!!!
Let’s look at the parallels of this story with the works of Jesus:
In Gideon’s time, Israel was being called to repent by a prophet of God who was sent by God. In Jesus’s time, the Jews were being called to repent by a prophet of God who was sent by God. And wouldn’t you know it…
THESE PROPHETS WERE THE SAME PERSON: THE LORD HIMSELF
In Gideon’s time, the prophet told Israel that they should repent and return to their God, because their God was still able to save them if they followed him. In Jesus’s time, he and John the Baptist told the Jews that they should repent and return to their God, because their God was able to save them if they followed him.
THIS MESSAGE WAS THE SAME MESSAGE: “REPENT, FOR THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN IS NEAR.”
In Gideon’s time, nobody believed this prophet, because the message seemed ridiculous: “if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us”? In Jesus’s time, nobody believed Jesus, because the message seemed ridiculous:
So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking about the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken. (John 2:18-22)
THE DOUBT WAS THE SAME: THE MESSAGE IS FOOLISHNESS!
In Gideon’s time, the prophet approached Gideon and said that HE would go in his zeal and lead a war against Midian and defeat them. In Jesus’s time, he approached Peter and said that HE would go in his zeal and lead a war against hell itself:
Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. (Matthew 16:13-18)
THE PROPHESY WAS THE SAME: A WEAK MAN OF LITTLE FAITH WAS GOING TO LEAD AN ATTACK ON THE ENEMY
In Gideon’s time, the prophet gave Gideon a sign. A sacrifice was offered, and then something crazy happened. In Jesus’s time, Jesus gave his disciples a sign. A sacrifice was offered, and then something crazy happened.
THE SIGN WAS THE SAME: THE SACRIFICE AND THE PROPHET DISAPPEARED!!!!!
In Gideon’s time, even after he saw the prophet disappear and knew he had been in the presence of the Lord, his faith was weak and he needed reassurance, because the prophet was no longer physically with him. In Jesus’s time, even after his disciples saw him crucified and rise from the dead, and even after he had told and shown them who he was, their faith was weak and they needed reassurance, because he was no longer with them.
Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. (Matthew 28:16-17).
And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” (Acts 1:4-5)
THE DOUBT AND ABSENCE WAS THE SAME
In Gideon’s time, the Lord devised a plan by which 300 small flames in “earthen vessels” delivered Israel from its enemies. In Jesus’s time, stretching even into today, starting with 3,000 small flames in “earthen vessels” have delivered the entire world from the dominion of hell.
When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. . . . And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. (Acts 2:1-3, 38-41)
THE WEAPON OF THE LORD IS THE SAME
The story of Gideon is ABOUT Jesus because the story of Gideon INVOLVES Jesus. Jesus was the one doing everything in the defeat of Midian, and he even declared that the victory we would have in Christ was going to be just like that day:
But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.
The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
on them has light shone.
You have multiplied the nation;
you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
as with joy at the harvest,
as they are glad when they divide the spoil.
For the yoke of his burden,
and the staff for his shoulder,
the rod of his oppressor,
you have broken as on the day of Midian.
For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult
and every garment rolled in blood
will be burned as fuel for the fire.
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
Do you see how this whole Midian thing was just a 1500-year old premonition of what Jesus Christ was going to do to save not only Israel from Midian, but the entire world FROM SATAN HIMSELF?
Yep. That’s the prophetic importance of the story of Gideon.
Notice that the end of the story is that the princes of Midian, who are the ring-leaders of this oppression are the ones that Gideon eventually defeats, even though the physical presence of the Lord is not with him.
And guess what? The physical presence of the Lord is not with us anymore, either. Look what Jesus says:
“These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I will come to you.’ If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you before it takes place, so that when it does take place you may believe. (John 14:25-29)
In other words, just as the Lord gave Gideon a plan to defeat Midian, the Lord is also sending a plan to defeat Satan. And guess what? Gideon and his 300 men have a strong parallel to the church today. And look what the Bible says about that coming battle:
The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. (Romans 16:20)
So look again at what Gideon asks the Lord, and the response that he gives:
And the angel of the Lord appeared to him and said to him, “The Lord is with you, O mighty man of valor.” And Gideon said to him, “Please, my lord, if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all his wonderful deeds that our fathers recounted to us, saying, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the Lord has forsaken us and given us into the hand of Midian.” And the Lord turned to him and said, “Go in this might of yours and save Israel from the hand of Midian; do not I send you?” And he said to him, “Please, Lord, how can I save Israel? Behold, my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house.” And the Lord said to him, “But I will be with you, and you shall strike the Midianites as one man.” (Judges 6:12-16)
And look what Jesus Christ has told us to do today:
Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:16-20)
Do you see the parallel?
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