By Raymond Harris
Regarding Scripture: Various Passages from Judges 6-9
Note to the Reader – I encourage you to invest additional time reading the book of Judges in conjunction with this article.
Gideon: A Case Study
The book of Judges has so many opportunities for study it is difficult to determine where to begin. One could study the nations that Israel had to confront and be delivered from; or all the judges in totality, or the failure of spirituality. While all of these are valid, I considered that introducing the idea of a case study by looking Gideon might be an excellent starting point. When one sees that Gideon’s influence in Judges history begins in Chapter 6 and finishes at the end of chapter 9; and that his life influences occupy four full chapters (which represents both 19% of Judges’ chapters or a full 25% of Judges’ verses)1 we get a better picture of the value of this type of study.
One may ask, “what is a case study?” Wikipedia.com2 identifies case study in two ways, it is the second that suggests “…that case study should be defined as a research strategy, an empirical inquiry that investigates a phenomenon within its real-life context.” [emp. in original – rah] What we want to do is begin a process of an in-depth examination of Gideon. Some of the questions that help us begin are: Who was he? What did he do? Did he have redeeming qualities? Is it the best or worst of his time? How did he affect Israel’s history? What legacy did he leave? As well as things like: Why did Jehovah permit Gideon to be a judge? One might ask, “Why all the questions?” The answer: these inquiries help us investigate a real historical figure in the Biblical theological context in order to determine how we can apply Gideon’s righteousness, if any is found, to our present situation. Now, on with our study.
Who was Gideon?
Judges 6.11 tells us that Joash is Gideon’s father and that Gideon is a wheat farmer concerned about the Midianites. Gideon himself claims that his family is poor and that he is the least in the house (6.15). Least could be defined several ways: it could refer to one’s significance, but another application refers to one’s age. Knowing this, Gideon is more likely to be the youngest son than the least significant in his father’s family.
What did Gideon do?
His primary responsibility, as specified by God (6.14) was to deliver Israel from bondage under the Midianites, and Gideon succeeded in doing such (8.28). However, during the process he made what could arguably be called a “memento” of his exploits, but it became more than a souvenir; it became an idol that Israel worshipped (8.27). Interestingly, it seems that Judges does not record the destruction of the ephod, or ritual vest.3 Gideon fathers 70 sons (and perhaps/probably daughters, but the text does not specify) and has a large polygamist family (8.30) that includes concubines4 (8.31). Additonally, he fathers Abimelech (8.31) who rises up and slaughters 68 of his brothers (9.5).
Did Gideon have redeeming qualities?
Seeing what would seem like conflicting accomplishments, one might have to ask what good is there? In the King James, Gideon is described as a “man of valor” but other translations read as “mighty brave one”5 or “valiant hero”6 in either case Gideon seems to be, at least, a man of strength. However, physical strength was not his only quality. As the angel converses with Gideon, Gideon speaks about Jehovah and His affect on Israel’s history (6.13) and Gideon is a Jehovah worshipper not an idolater (6.22-24, 8.23). He is also one who hears what Jehovah says and follows through (6.25-27; 7.1-8); and understands that Jehovah is the true ruler (8.22). Yet we are allowed to see Gideon’s humanity and that his faith has, at least, one moment of doubt (6.36-40).
How did Gideon affect Israel’s history? Judges 8.28 records that he gave rest (quietness-KJV) to Israel. Yet, it is highly interesting that Gideon is so humble (for what other kind of man would deny himself and his family of such power) that he turns down the exalted honor of ruling Israel (8.22-23). The people ask him to lead and he refuses. While speculative at best, perhaps it is this event that influences Abimelech to attempt and secure a ruling position for himself.
Is Gideon the best or worst of his time? This too is probably speculation, but he seems to be the best Israel had to offer. God sent an angel to inform and enlist Gideon’s help (6.11-21), but one has to ask if Gideon was the wisest. When one evaluates his extended family, his vast amount of sons, his failure to positively influence against Israel’s idolatry, and his murderous self-ambitious son Abimelech, we are forced to re-examine the Torah Teachings and consider Gideon’s ability to reconcile those teachings with righteousness and wisdom.
The last two questions almost have to be combined: What legacy did Gideon leave? And why did Jehovah permit Gideon to be a judge? To answer the last, almost answers the first and this is why they are united. Unless I missed it, Judges does not record Gideon as a judge. The records provide no hint at him actually judging. Various passages7 record others as having “judged” Israel, but this language seems absent from Gideon’s history. So what is the legacy? Perhaps it is multifaceted, but primarily Gideon’s legacy is Israel’s deliverance and when offered a ruling position he rejected the offer, knowing that Jehovah reigns. But, perhaps, the last part is why Jehovah chose him to deliver His people even though Gideon is not described as a judge.
Gideon, a man with a seemingly long life but brief history within the Scriptures, yet his life still vastly outweighs some of the Judges who had only a footnote8 in history. Judges does not address eternal salvational issues with Gideon, we are simply told major events of his life. Do these events permit us to conclude that he did enough to satisfy Jehovah? I am not certain that we can. But when conjoining Judges and Hebrews 11.32 we seem to be assured that there are moments in one’s life that can vastly influence one’s eternal destination. May we learn the good qualities from Gideon and become even more pleasing to Jehovah.
- 21-total chapters in Judges; 4-total chapters of chs. 6, 7, 8, 9; calculations: 4 / 21 = 0.19047; conversion to percentage 0.19047 * 100 = 19.047%
618-total verses in Judges; 157-total verses in chapters 6-9; calculations: 157 / 618 = 0.254045; conversion to percentage 0.254045 * 100 = 25.4045%
- “case study” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Case_study, July 9, 2008.
- The Complete Jewish Bible uses the term “ritual vest” instead of ephod.
- A concubine is a wife of lesser status.
- Judges 6.12; Scriptures 98
- Judges 6.12; Complete Jewish Bible
- Judges 3.10; 4.4; 10.2, 3; 12.7, 8, 9, 11, 13, 14; 15.20 and 16.31; King James
- Footnoted: Judge Tola 10.1-2; Judge Jair 10.3-5; Judge Elon 12.11-12; Judge Abdon 12.13-15