4.25 Judges -- Gideon vs Midian
It was only after he destroyed the altar that Gideon was filled with the Spirit, i.e. empowered to lead Israel (Judg 6:34). The literal reading is that the Spirit of the Lord “clothed Himself with” Gideon. He then blew the trumpet that summoned several of the tribes to war. Even so, Gideon was a timid soul, doubtful either of himself or of his accuracy in hearing God. Like Barak, he wanted someone else to "buy in" to this venture before he staked his life on it. Here, however, there was no prophet to inquire of -- he was cast solely on his own recollection of his experience with God. In the clearer light of day, facing the enormity of the task, he hesitated. He wondered, "Did God really call me to do this?" No doubt he got a lot of criticism from the other tribal leaders, who told him how hopeless it was to take on the Midianites. Not once but twice did he test God in the matter of laying out fleeces (Judg 6:36-40), thereby setting a precedent in spiritual decision-making that is with us to this day. Well, what could he do? He wasn't a priest, so the Urim and Thummim were not available to him.
God did not rebuke him for cowardice or faithlessness, but fulfilled his requests for confirmation. He then proceeded to gather the fighting force, which God whittled down to an impossibly low number of 300 men (Judg 7:7). The lesson was plain -- Gideon was not to get the credit, nor was Israel itself, for the defeat of Midian. It was made clear to everyone that the battle was the Lord's. This was God's response to Gideon's complaint:
"If the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all the wonders that our fathers told us about?" (Judg 6:13).
He was walking right into the midst of one. Still, Gideon was fearful. It is hard to be on the near side of a miracle, because by definition that is an impossible situation. So God came once again to reassure him, by letting him overhear the dream of a Midianite soldier (Judg 7:9-15). This dream portended the destruction of Midian by "the sword of Gideon." Finally, Gideon believed!
The surprise attack caused panic in the camp. The Midianites fled, and were pursued by the larger Israelite army. 120,000 Midianites were killed (Judg 8:10), and later the two kings, Zebah and Zalmunna. The land had peace for 40 years (Judg 8:28).
Israel invited Gideon to start a ruling dynasty, but Gideon had the good sense to decline:
"The Lord will rule over you" (Judg 8:23).
It's just as well he said no, he would not have been a wise king. He asked the Israelite soldiers for gold earrings from the plunder, and from this fashioned a gold ephod. This may have been a priestly garment - a sign of authority, but perhaps also a tool for divination, an aid to discerning the will of God. It led Gideon into worshiping the true God in an improper way. Gideon also had a Canaanite concubine, who bore him a son named Abimelech (Judg 8:31). Here again, Gideon violated the Law of Moses. The offspring of this union destroyed his house. As for the rest of the Israelites, they soon reverted to their foreign gods (Judg 8:33-34).