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Judges 6:31

ESV But Joash said to all who stood against him, “Will you contend for Baal? Or will you save him? Whoever contends for him shall be put to death by morning. If he is a god, let him contend for himself, because his altar has been broken down.”
NIV But Joash replied to the hostile crowd around him, 'Are you going to plead Baal's cause? Are you trying to save him? Whoever fights for him shall be put to death by morning! If Baal really is a god, he can defend himself when someone breaks down his altar."
NASB But Joash said to all who stood against him, 'Will you contend for Baal, or will you save him? Whoever will contend for him shall be put to death by morning. If he is a god, let him contend for himself, since someone has torn down his altar!'
CSB But Joash said to all who stood against him, "Would you plead Baal's case for him? Would you save him? Whoever pleads his case will be put to death by morning! If he is a god, let him plead his own case because someone tore down his altar."
NLT But Joash shouted to the mob that confronted him, 'Why are you defending Baal? Will you argue his case? Whoever pleads his case will be put to death by morning! If Baal truly is a god, let him defend himself and destroy the one who broke down his altar!'
KJV And Joash said unto all that stood against him, Will ye plead for Baal? will ye save him? he that will plead for him, let him be put to death whilst it is yet morning: if he be a god, let him plead for himself, because one hath cast down his altar.

What does Judges 6:31 mean?

The men of the town of Ophrah have come to Joash with an angry demand. They insist he turn over his son Gideon so he can be executed. Their intent is to defend the honor of their Canaanite god, Baal, after Gideon desecrated his altar and the Asherah pole (Judges 6:25–28). Whether they know Gideon was ordered to do this by Yahweh, it makes no difference. They have no interest in hearing about or obeying Israel's One True God.

As in many places, this part of Scripture leaves many details unexplained. We're not sure what Joash knows about his son's encounter with the Lord on the prior day (Judges 6:11–12). Scripture does not indicate whether Joash agrees with Gideon, is angry with him, or simply does not care. Nothing in the text proves or disproves that Gideon convinced his father that Yahweh has appeared to him and commanded these actions. Perhaps Joash is simply standing up for his son. Whatever his motive, Joash's response to the men of the town is both threatening and backed with potent logic.

First, Joash makes it clear that anyone attacking his son will, themselves, face consequences. He asks those eager for his son's blood if they will attempt to defend the god Baal. He challenges them over their readiness to risk their own lives to defend their god's honor. Joash ominously implies that anyone who harms Gideon will be dead by the following morning.

This is not an idle threat. Even according to ancient customs, all legal rights are on Joash's side. Though the desecrated altar was apparently used by the men of the town, it stood on his land. Gideon, as well, is there on Joash's property. If a neighbor killed Gideon, there or anywhere else, Joash could claim the legal right of retribution against the murderers. As a man with both land and servants (Judges 6:27), he clearly had the influence to see anyone who hurt his son killed within a day.

Second, Joash makes an excellent theological argument about Gideon's act of blasphemy: if Baal is a real god, he should fight his own battles. According to the beliefs of Baal-worshippers, themselves, Gideon's act should result in some supernatural, obvious punishment. If this desecration is so terrible, Baal should be able to obtain his own retribution. There's no reason for the townspeople to seek revenge if they really believe Baal is both powerful and easily offended. In fact, if the people attempt to attack Gideon, they would be insulting Baal by acting as if he cannot or will not do so himself. It's an argument that works just as well coming from a believer in Baal as from one who worships Yahweh.

This reply works, and the townspeople will let Gideon live (Judges 6:32).

Three times in this reply, Joash uses the root word riyb, translated as "contend" or "struggle." That phrasing leads the townspeople to label Gideon with a second name, Jerubbaal, literally meaning "let Baal contend." In modern speech, this would be like a combination of, "what is Baal going to do about it?" and "whom Baal should destroy." The longer Gideon lives, and the more success he has against Baal worship (Judges 7:24–25; 8:28), the clearer it becomes that the Canaanite god is no god, at all.
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