What does Judges 6 mean?
Chapter Commentary:
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).
Verse Context:
Judges 6:1–10 begins, once again, with Israel's descent into evil (Judges 2:11–14). God turns them over to the Midianites, who invade every year with their allies from the east. These raids take Israelite crops and livestock. God's people cry out for help after seven years. Before sending a deliverer, the Lord first appoints an unnamed prophet to deliver a message. He reminds them that He is the one who freed them from their enemies and gave them their land. They suffer now because they have not obeyed His voice.
Judges 6:11–27 begins in a town called Ophrah. There, the Angel of the Lord appears to a man named Gideon. The Lord calls Gideon mighty, despite his apparent lack of influence or power, and commands him to save Israel from Midian. After a display of power, God commands Gideon to tear down the town's altars to false idols, replacing them with an altar to Yahweh complete with a sacrifice of his father's bull. Gideon does so under the cover of darkness out of fear of his family and the townspeople.
Judges 6:28–35 describes what happens when Gideon's neighbors discover he has toppled the Baal altar and Asherah pole and replaced them with an altar to Yahweh. They demand Gideon's father Joash let them kill Gideon. Joash defends his son, challenging Baal to fight his own battles, if he cares to. This earns Gideon the nickname Jerubbaal, implying his conflict with Baal. When the Midianites return on another raid to take Israel's food (Judges 6:1–5), God empowers Gideon and people from several tribes to battle against Midian and her allies from east of the Jordan.
Judges 6:36–40 describes two miracles that are simultaneously encouraging and absurd. Gideon, called by God to rescue Israel, has already seen evidence of God's favor (Judges 6:34–35) and miraculous confirmation of the Lord's message (Judges 6:19–21). And yet, Gideon is still wracked with doubt and insecurity. He not only asks God to provide more proof, but he even specifies the exact sign he wants to see. Almost unbelievably, he reacts to that miracle by asking God to invert the marvel in yet another test. This event is the source of the derisive expression "laying out a fleece:" when someone imposes a narrow demand that challenges God to "prove" His will.
Chapter Summary:
Israel follows the sad pattern of the book of Judges, and once again turns to evil and idols. God turns them over to the Midianites. These foreign raiders spend the next seven years invading and consuming Israel's crops and livestock. Israel cries for help to the Lord. His first step is to send a prophet to remind them of God's goodness and their disobedience. The Lord then appears to Gideon, commanding him to save Israel because God will be with him. Gideon obeys God's command to tear down a Baal altar and build one to Yahweh in its place. He calls his countrymen to follow him and asks for signs from God.
Chapter Context:
The book of Judges contains a series of stories with a common theme: Israel falls into sin, suffers, and is rescued by God, only to fall once again (Judges 1—2). The next phase in Israel's downward spiral comes after 40 years of peace, won by Deborah and Barak (Judges 4—5). Israel is punished for sin through the Midianites. After seven years, the Israelites cry out for help. The Lord appears to Gideon, challenging the timid man to lead the battle against Israel's oppressors. Empowered by the Spirit, Gideon calls for his people to follow him, but still asks the Lord for signs. Gideon's successful campaigns are depicted in chapters 7 and 8.
Book Summary:
The Book of Judges describes Israel's history from the death of Joshua to shortly before Israel's first king, Saul. Israel fails to complete God's command to purge the wicked Canaanites from the land (Deuteronomy 7:1–5; 9:4). This results in a centuries-long cycle where Israel falls into sin and is oppressed by local enemies. After each oppression, God sends a civil-military leader, labeled using a Hebrew word loosely translated into English as "judge." These appointed rescuers would free Israel from enemy control and govern for a certain time. After each judge's death, the cycle of sin and oppression begins again. This continues until the people of Israel choose a king, during the ministry of the prophet-and-judge Samuel (1 Samuel 1—7).
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