Gideon

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Judges of Israel
Othniel
Ehud
Shamgar
Deborah and Barak
Gideon
Abimelech
Tola
Jair
Jephthah
Ibzan
Elon
Abdon
Samson
Eli
Samuel

Called also Jerubbaal (Jdg 6:29ff), was the first of the judges whose history is circumstantially narrated (Judg. 6-8). His calling is the commencement of the second period in the history of the judges.

After the victory gained by Deborah and Barak over Jabin, Israel once more sank into idolatry, and the Midianites and Amalekites, with other "children of the east," crossed the Jordan each year for seven successive years for the purpose of plundering and desolating the land. Gideon received a direct call from God to undertake the task of delivering the land from these warlike invaders.

He was of the family of Abiezer (Josh 17:2; 1Chr 7:18), and of the little township of Ophrah (Jdg 6:11). First, with ten of his servants, he overthrew the altars of Baal and cut down the asherah which was upon it, and then blew the trumpet of alarm, and the people flocked to his standard on the crest of Mount Gilboa to the number of twenty-two thousand men. These were, however, reduced to only three hundred. These, strangely armed with torches and pitchers and trumpets, rushed in from three different points on the camp of Midian at midnight, in the valley to the north of Moreh, with the terrible war-cry, "For the Lord and for Gideon" (Jdg 7:18, R.V.). Terror-stricken, the Midianites were put into dire confusion, and in the darkness slew one another, so that only fifteen thousand out of the great army of one hundred and twenty thousand escaped alive. The memory of this great deliverance impressed itself deeply on the mind of the nation (1Sam 12:11; Ps 8311; Isa 9:4; Isa 10:26; Heb 11:32).

The land had now rest for forty years. Gideon died in a good old age, and was buried in the sepulchre of his fathers. Soon after his death a change came over the people. They again forgot Jehovah, and turned to the worship of Baalim, "neither shewed they kindness to the house of Jerubbaal" (Jdg 8:35).

Gideon left behind him seventy sons, a feeble, sadly degenerated race, with one exception, that of Abimelech, who seems to have had much of the courage and energy of his father, yet of restless and unscrupulous ambition. He gathered around him a band who slaughtered all Gideon's sons, except Jotham, upon one stone. (See Ophrah.)


This entry includes text from Easton's Bible Dictionary, 1897.

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Gideon or Gedeon (Hebrew "hewer"), also called Jerobaal (Jdg 6:32; Jdg 7:1; etc.), and Jerubesheth (2Kg 11:21, in the Hebrew text).

Gideon was one of the Greater Judges of Israel. He belonged to the tribe of Manasses, and to the family of Abiezer (Judges, vi, 34). Gideon's father was Joas, and lived in Ephra (Judges, vi,11).

The following is in substance the account of Gideon's judgeship as related in Judges, vi-viii: Israel, having forsaken Yahweh's worship, had been for seven years exceedingly humbled by the incursions of the Madianites and of other Eastern tribes. At length, they turned to God who sent them a deliverer in the person of Gideon. In a first theophany, granted him by day while he was threshing wheat, Gideon received the difficult mission of freeing his people; whereupon he built an altar to the Lord (Judges, vi, 24). In a second theophany during the following night, he was directed to destroy the village-altar to Baal, and to erect one to Yahweh. This he did with the result that the people clamoured for his death to avenge his insult to their false god. Joas, however, saved his son's life by the witty taunt, which secured for the latter the name of Jerobaal: "Let Baal revenge himself!" (vi, 25-32). Thus divinely commissioned, Gideon naturally took the lead against Madian, and Amalec, and other Eastern tribes who had crossed the Jordan, and encamped in the valley of Jezrael. Comforted by the famous signs of the fleece (vi, 36-40), and accompanied by warriors from Manasses, Aser, Zabulon, and Nephthali, he took up his position not far from the enemy. But it was God's intervention to show that it was His power which delivered Israel, and hence He reduced Gideon's army from 32,000 to 300 (vii, 1-8). According to a divine direction, the Hebrew commander paid a night visit to the enemy's camp and overheard the telling of a dream which prompted him to act at once, certain of victory (vii, 9-15). He then supplied his men with trumpets and with torches enclosed in jars, which, after his example, they broke, crying out: "The sword of Yahweh and Gideon." Panic-stricken at the sudden attack, Israel's enemies turned their arms against one another, and broke up in flight towards the fords of the Jordan (vii, 16-23). But, summoned by Gideon, the Ephraimites cut off the Madianites at the fords, and captured and slew two of their princes, Oreb and Zeb, whose heads they sent to the Hebrew leader, rebuking him at the same time for not having called earlier upon their assistance. Gideon appeased them by an Eastern proverb, and pursued the enemy beyond the Jordan river (vii, 24; viii, 3). Passing by Soccoth and Phanuel, he met with their refusal of provisions for his fainting soldiers, and threatened both places with vengeance on his return (viii, 4-9). At length, he overtook and defeated the enemies of Israel, captured their kings, Zebee and Salmana, returned in triumph, punishing the men of Soccoth and Phanuel on his way, and finally put to death Zebee and Salmana (viii, 10-21). Grateful for this glorious deliverance, Gideon's countrymen offered him the dignity of an hereditary king, which he declined with these noble words: "I will not rule over you, neither shall my son rule over you, but Yahweh shall rule over you" (viii, 22-23). He nevertheless asked and obtained from his soldiers the golden rings and other ornaments which they had taken from the enemy; and out of this spoil he made what seems to have soon become an object of idolatrous worship in Israel. Gideon's peaceful judgeship lasted forty years. He had seventy sons, and "died in a good old age, and was buried in the sepulchre of his father in Ephra" (viii, 24-32). His victory is alluded to in Isaias, x, 26, and in Ps. lxxxii, 12 (Heb., lxxxiii, 11), where the four kings mentioned in Judges, vii, viii, are distinctly named- a fact which shows that, at the time when this psalm was composed, the narrative of Gideon's exploits was commonly known in its present form. The various literary features exhibited by the text of Judges, vi-viii, have been minutely examined and differently appreciated by recent scholars. Several commentators look upon these features- such for instance as the two names, Gideon and Jerobaal; the two theophanies bearing on Gideon's call; the apparently twofold narrative of Gideon's pursuit of the routed enemies, etc.- as proving conclusively the composite origin of the sacred record of Gideon's judgeship. Others, on the contrary, see their way to reconcile all such features of the text with the literary unity of Judges, vi-viii. However this may be, one thing remains perfectly sure, to wit, that whatever may be the documents which have been utilized in framing the narrative of Gideon's exploits, they agree substantially in their description of the words and deeds of this Greater Judge of Israel.

Catholic commentaries on the book of Judges by CLAIR (Paris, 1880); VON HUMMELAUER (Paris, 1888); LAGRANGE (Paris, 1903); Non-Catholic by MOORE (New York, 1895); BUDDE (Freiburg im Breisgau, 1897); NOWACK (Göttingen, 1900).

Portions of this entry are taken from The Catholic Encyclopedia, 1907.




—Biblical Data:

Son of Joash the Abiezrite; also called "Jerubbaal" (Judges vi. 32; "Jerubbesheth" in II Sam. xi. 21); one of the prominent judges of Israel. His story is told in Judges vi.-viii. Midianites and other Bedouin peoples harry Israel for seven years, this bitter experience being a providentially appointed punishment of the descendants of those whom Yhwh had freed from Egyptian bondage, but who did not harken unto His voice (see the speech of the prophet in vi. 8-10). At everyharvest-time the enemy descends upon the land in swarms, like voracious locusts, and strips it bare. While "beating out wheat in the wine-press" Gideon is summoned by Yhwh's messenger, sitting under the holy tree in Ophrah, his father's possession, to free Israel (vi. 11-24). He doubts Yhwh's solicitude for Israel and himself, in view of the fact that "his family is the poorest in Manasseh" and he himself is its most insignificant member. But his disinclination is overcome at seeing the fire consume the food he has prepared for his divine visitor, who after giving this sign vanishes from sight. Gideon, reassured by Yhwh that he will not die as a consequence of seeing His messenger (that is, Yhwh Himself) face to face, builds an altar (which was still standing at the time the narrative was written), and names it "Jehovah-shalom" (God is well disposed).

The very night after this theophany, Gideon is called by Yhwh to destroy Baal's altar, belonging to his father, and the Asherah standing beside it, and to build instead an altar to Yhwh and dedicate it by an offering of a bullock. He obeys the divine command. His fellow townsmen, discovering the destruction, demand his death; but his father, Joash, with fine irony persuades them to leave the outrage to be avenged by Baal. As Baal is expected to contend with him, Gideon is named "Jerubbaal" (vi. 25-32). The Midianites and their allies cross the Jordan and encamp in the Great Plain. The spirit of Yhwh now fills Gideon; he rouses his clan Abiezer, then the tribe Manasseh and finally the tribes of Asher, Zebulun, and Naphtali, to march out to meet the invaders. Gideon asks a sign that Yhwh will give him the victory. A fleece exposed at night on the thrashing-floor is drenched with dew, the ground around remaining dry. The test is repeated with reversed conditions (vi. 33-40). Gideon with 32,000 men pitches his camp at the well of Harod. Lest the victory be claimed by the people as due to their strength, Gideon sends back all those that are timorous. Ten thousand remain, from whom 300 are finally selected, only those that lap the water with their tongues, "as a dog lappeth," being chosen. These he provides with food and the horns of the others. Thereupon reconnoitering the camp of the enemy in the valley beneath, accompanied by Thurah, his "boy," he overhears a Midianite telling an ominous dream of a "cake of barley bread" rolling through the camp and striking and overturning a tent. The Midianite's comrade explains the dream to refer to the sword of Gideon, into whose hands God has delivered the host of Midian (vii. 1-15). Gideon, returning, calls upon his 300 men, and divides them into three parties, each man carrying a horn, and a jar with a torch inside. Each is to do as Gideon does: when he blows a blast, they alsoshall blow. At the beginning of the middle watch Gideon creeps upon the camp: following his example, his men blow their horns, smash their jars, brandish their torches, and cry: "The sword of the Lord and of Gideon" (vii. 15-20). The Midianites, panic-stricken, mistake friend for foe in the darkness, and flee for safety, Naphtali and Manasseh pursuing them. Ephraim is rapidly summoned to intercept Midian's flight at the Jordan. Two chiefs, Oreb and Zeeb, are captured and put to death, and their heads brought to Gideon (vii. 21-26).

The Ephraimites quarrel with Gideon (viii. 1-3). After allaying their anger by a well-turned compliment, he takes up the pursuit of Midian across the Jordan. Refused food by the men of Succoth and Penuel, he presses on, threatening vengeance (viii. 4-9). Surprising the camp of Midian, he makes two kings prisoners (viii. 10-12). Retracing his steps, he takes vengeance on the elders and men of Succoth, and destroys Penuel, slaying its inhabitants. Zebah and Zalmunna, the captured kings, he then puts to death to avenge his brothers, slain by them in a foray (viii. 18-21). He declines the kingdom which is offered him, and makes an EPHOD out of the rings of the fallen Midianites, which ephod he sets up at Ophrah (viii. 21-27).

Gideon had seventy sons. He lived to a ripe old age, and was buried in Ophrah, in the burial-place of his father (viii. 28-32).

—Critical View:

The critical school declares the story of Gideon to be a composite narrative, mainly drawn from three sources: the Jahvist (J), the Elohist (E), and the Deuteronomic (D) writers. In the portion credited to E there is recognized by the critics an additional stratum, which they denominate "E2". Besides, later interpolations and editorial comments have been pointed out. Behind these various elements, and molded according to different view-points and intentions, lie popular traditions concerning historical facts and explanations of names once of an altogether different value, but now adapted to a later religious consciousness. The account of Gideon's war against Midian is a reflection of the struggle of his own clan or tribe with the hostile Bedouins across the Jordan for the possession of the territory, mixed with reminiscences of tribal jealousies on the part of Ephraim; while the interpretation of the name of the hero, and the endeavor to connect Yhwh with the shrine at Ophrah, indicate the religious atmosphere of a later (prophetic) age. "Jerubbaal" is a theophorous name in which "Baal" originally and without scruples was the synonym of "Yhwh," its meaning being "Ba'al contends" or "Ba'al founds" = (image) , from (image) . The story (Judges vi. 29-32) belongs to a numerous class of similar "historical" explanations of names expressive of a former religious view, either naively provoked by the no longer intelligible designation, or purposely framed to give the old name a bearing which would not be offensive to the later and more rigorous development of the religion of Yhwh, a purpose clearly apparent in the change of such names as "Ishbaal" and "Jerubbaal" into "Ishbosheth" and "Jerubbesheth" (II Sam. xi. 21). While it is exceedingly difficult to separate in all particulars the various components of the three main sources, the composite nature of the Gideon narrative is apparent not so much, as has been claimed by some, from the use of the two names "Gideon" (an appellative meaning "hewer") and "Jerubbaal" as from the remarkable repetitions in the narrative. The incidents repeated or varied are as follows:

The summons of Gideon and the sign of his appointment (Judges vi. 11-24 and vi. 33-38, 39-40; comp. also vii. 1-15).

Gideon's offering (vi. 20 and vi. 25).

The erection of the altar (vi. 23 against vi. 26; comp. viii. 27: in the first passage he fears lest he die, having seen Yhwh; in the second he shows fear of the people and their "contending" Baal).

Ephraim's jealousy (viii. 1-3) against that of the men of Succoth and Penuel (viii. 4-10).

The captive chiefs Oreb and Zeeb (vii. 25, viii. 3) and their fate as against that of the captured kings Zalmunna and Zebah (viii. 7-12, 18-20).

The offering of the crown to Gideon (viii. 22 et seq.) contrasted with his uneventful return "to his house" (viii. 29).

Clearly to the editor belongs the introduction vi. 1, 6b; it gives the usual pragmatic explanation of Israel's suffering as appointed for a punishment for their doing "evil in the sight of the Lord"; while in vi. 2-6a the Deuteronomic phraseology is apparent.

The Sources.

To the oldest narrative (J) are assigned: Judges viii. 4-10a, 11-21, 24-27a, 29-32. Gideon, prompted by the desire to avenge the death of his brothers (viii. 18), attacks and pursues with 300 men of his own clan Abiezer the Midianite chiefs Zebah and Zalmunna, and slays them, after having punished the Israelitish subclans Succoth and Penuel. He makes from the booty an idol ("ephod"), in consequence of which his city (Ophrah) becomes the seat of an oracle, and he is enabled to lead the life of a rich chief with a large harem, enjoying almost royal honors. The somewhat later narrative (E) comprises: vi. 11-24 (possibly 25-32, which, however, more probably belongs to E2), 33, 34, 36-40; vii. 1 (2-8, E2), 9-11, 13-22, 25a; viii. 1-3 (22 et seq., E2). It regards the struggle as concerning all the northern tribes. Gideon is commissioned by Yhwh. It utilizes old traditions somewhat different from those of J (compare the names of the chiefs in vii. 25). Its religious point of view is one of antipathy to idolatry (vi. 25 et seq.), and Gideon is a fighter for Yhwh (= "Jerubbaal"; compare the battle-cry, vii. 18; viii. 22, E2). The Deuteronomic editor in vi. 3-33, vii. 12, viii. 10 adds to the Midianites the Amalekites and other eastern enemies, and in vi. 7-10, viii. 27b-28, 33, 34 emphasizes the religious element.

Gideon's victory is alluded to in Isa. ix. 3, x. 26 ("Oreb" here is a rock [or idol]), and in Ps. lxxxiii. 12 (A. V. 11), where the four chiefs are quoted, showing that at the time when the psalm was written the story must have been known in its present Biblical form.

Bibliography:

  • Studer, Das Buch der Richter, 1835;
  • the commentaries on Judges by Bertheau, Moore, Budde, and Nowack;
  • the histories of Israel by Stade, Kittel, and others;
  • the introductions by König, Wildeboer, Cornill, Driver, and Baudissin;
  • Winckler, Altorientalische Forschungen, i. 42 et seq.;
  • Wellhausen, Die Composition des Hexateuchs und der Historischen Bücher des Alten Testaments;
  • Kuenen, Historisch-Kritisch Onderzoek naar het Ontstaan en de Verzameling van de Boeken des Ouden Verbonds, vol. ii.


This entry includes text from the Jewish Encyclopedia, 1906.
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