What does Judges chapter 6 mean?The pattern of Israel's faithlessness and God's judgment repeats once more. After 40 years of peace, Israel returns to the evil practices of serving Baal and other false gods of the Canaanites. As promised, God turns Israel over to oppression. This period of hardship comes in a form much different than earlier struggles.
Israel's subjugation under the Midianites is not like prior conquests. Israel is not occupied by their enemies, nor enslaved by them. Rather, Midian and their allies from east of the Jordan River invade the land every year at harvest time. They arrive with countless camels and tents and overwhelming numbers of soldiers and take all the crops and livestock away from Israel, leaving them with almost nothing. Israel's enemies lay waste to the land and then leave until the next harvest season (Judges 6:1–5).
After seven years, Israel is completely crushed. The phrasing used in this passage implies more than military defeat. Israel is humiliated, despairing, and miserable. The nation is just as emotionally and spiritually ruined as they are helpless. Finally, they beg God for rescue (Judges 6:6).
This time, God does not immediately raise up a deliverer. First, He sends a prophet. That messenger reminds the people that He is their Provider and Savior. They are suffering because they did not obey Him (Judges 2:11–19). This prophet is not named. Neither does Scripture say, exactly, whether the people responded to his message in any way (Judges 6:7–10).
When the Lord raises up a new judge, he selects an improbable man. The Angel of the Lord—likely Christ in a pre-incarnate form—appears to a man named Gideon. This son of Joash is processing grain in a winepress. Normally this work would have been done in a roomy meadow. Because of Midianite raids, Gideon is hiding as he does the work of a servant. Still, the Angel refers to Gideon as if he were an established warrior. Gideon objects that he is the least of an unimportant clan. Yet God insists Gideon will save Israel because the Lord will be with him. Gideon asks for and receives miraculous evidence that this message is truly from the Lord God (Judges 6:11–24).
The Lord's plans for Gideon do not wait. That same night, Yahweh commands Gideon to dismantle an altar to Baal and an Asherah pole on his father's land. These were artifacts used in the worship of the false gods of that region. Gideon is told to replace those with an altar to the One True God of Israel, and to sacrifice one of his father's bulls. Gideon obeys—at night, with as much secrecy as possible. As expected, the men of the town quickly discover what he has done. Gideon's father, Joash, saves Gideon from the mob. He vows to kill anyone who kills Gideon. He also points out that the neighbors' own beliefs about Baal imply that Baal should be able to defend himself. Gideon's second name becomes Jerubbaal, reminding the people of his contention with the Canaanite deity (Judges 6:25–32).
As promised, the Spirit of the Lord comes on Gideon. This inspires his clansmen, and fellow tribesmen. People of the surrounding tribes answer the call to follow Gideon into battle against the Midianites. The enemy is once more camped in the Valley of Jezreel. As they prepare for their attack, Israel's forces begin to assemble (Judges 6:33–35).
Despite seeing many confirmations, Gideon seems to have yet another crisis of faith. Though he seems to realize he's being presumptuous, Gideon asks God to respond to a test. Gideon's request is meant to prove that a supernatural God is the one giving him these commands. Gideon uses a furry animal skin to create this test. When God successfully completes the miracle, Gideon unbelievably asks God to do another, this time in reverse. God graciously does this, as well. These moments are the source of the phrase "putting out a fleece," meaning to ask God for some unreasonably narrow sign to prove He is speaking. This incident might suggest just how fearful Gideon was—which makes his obedience and eventual success even more admirable (Judges 6:36–40).