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Judges 6:1–10, The Midianite Oppression
Stephen O. Smoot
Another judge cycle begins with the opening of Judges 6. This cycle involves Gideon, who, along with Sampson (Judges 14–16), enjoys one of the lengthier narrative treatments in the book of Judges (spanning Judges 6–8). The oppressor this time was the Midianites, a seminomadic people from the region west of the Jordan River (Judges 6:1). The Midianites featured in biblical history as early as Genesis, where they famously appeared in the Joseph story as the caravanners who took Joseph into captivity (Gen 37:28, 36). In the wilderness narratives, the Midianites were depicted as Israel’s enemy (Numbers 31:2–3, 7), thus making them an old foe in their reintroduction in Judges.
The Midianites (with their Amalekite confederates) attacked Israel at harvest time in seasonal raids that targeted the land’s food supply (Judges 6:3–5). The author indulged in some poetic license with his exaggerated depiction that “both [the Midianites] and their camels were without number” (v. 5), probably to emphasize Israel’s plight and to instill a sense of drama in the reader. The result was, unsurprisingly, that Israel was made “greatly impoverished” and undoubtedly driven to great desperation (v. 6). In response to this crisis, the children of Israel cried out to the Lord, who sent them an unnamed prophet with a divine oracle of reassurance (vv. 7–10).
Judges 6:11–40, The Commission of Gideon
Stephen O. Smoot
After introducing the latest conflict that required the intervention of a new judge on behalf of Israel (Judges 6:1–11), the second half of the sixth chapter of Judges introduces the judge himself: Gideon, whose commission is narrated at vv. 11–24. Gideon’s call parallels Moses’ prophetic commission in Exodus 3–4 in a number of remarkable ways. These includes a divine charge (v. 14) followed by the reluctance on the part of the recipient (v. 15), divine reassurance (v. 16), and finally theophany (v. 22). The intent is clearly to depict Gideon as a divinely ordained Moses-like figure, not unlike how the author of the book of Joshua depicted the eponymous hero of that text.
Gideon’s theophany and commission is also striking in how strongly it depicts God, or the “angel of the LORD” (i.e., Jehovah), in humanlike terms. At the outset of the narrative, the Lord is said to have sat under an oak tree while Gideon worked in the field (v. 11). Gideon also appeared at first to mistake the Lord for another human, since the two carried on an extended conversation without Gideon’s recognizing it was Jehovah until later at verse 22. The passage is thus highly charged with significant divine corporeality.
The first thing Gideon did after his divine commission was to cut down his father’s altar to the Canaanite deity Baal and its accompanying sacred poles (“wood of the grove”) commemorating the female deity Asherah, thus commencing his judgeship on a familial level (vv. 25–32). Among other things, this act played off Gideon’s name, which derives from the root gdꜥ, meaning “to cut off, scatter.” Gideon is thus portrayed as the Hacker whose act of tearing down the altar to Baal foreshadows his military career. The nickname bestowed on Gideon by his kinsmen, Jerubbaal (v. 32), also forms a pun on Gideon’s action: “Therefore on that day he called him Jerubbaal [yerubbaꜥal], saying, Let Baal plead against him [yareb bo habaꜥal], because he hath thrown down his altar.”
As seen previously at Judges 3:10 with Othniel, Gideon’s legitimacy as judge is ratified at the end of the chapter with the comment that he enjoyed the divine power that comes with having the Spirit of the Lord (Judges 6:34).
 Note how in verse 20 this personage is identified as “the angel of God” (ʾelohim).
 Throughout verses 12–21 while Gideon addresses his interlocutor, he uses the honorific title ʾadonai (“my lord”). It is not until verse 22 after the conversation is over that Gideon realizes he was speaking with Jehovah, finally pronouncing the divine name.
 Gideon’s altar, identified in v. 24 with the name Jehovahshalom (“Jehovah is peace”), further indicates the warrior’s interlocutor was none other than the Lord himself.
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