September 1 – Gideon the Judge

August 28, 2014

Gideon or Gedeon (Hebrew “hewer”), also called JEROBAAL (Judges, vi, 32; vii, 1; etc.), and JERUBESHETH (II Kings, xi, 21, in the Hebrew text).

GideonGideon was one of the Greater Judges of Israel. He belonged to the tribe of Manasses, and to the family of Abiezer (Judges, vi, 34). Gideon’s father was Joas, and lived in Ephra (Judges, vi,11).

The following is in substance the account of Gideon’s judgeship as related in Judges, vi-viii: Israel, having forsaken Yahweh’s worship, had been for seven years exceedingly humbled by the incursions of the Madianites and of other Eastern tribes. At length, they turned to God who sent them a deliverer in the person of Gideon. In a first theophany, granted him by day while he was threshing wheat, Gideon received the difficult mission of freeing his people; whereupon he built an altar to the Lord (Judges, vi, 24). In a second theophany during the following night, he was directed to destroy the village-altar to Baal, and to erect one to Yahweh. This he did with the result that the people clamoured for his death to avenge his insult to their false god. Joas, however, saved his son’s life by the witty taunt, which secured for the latter the name of Jerobaal: “Let Baal revenge himself!” (vi, 25-32). Thus divinely commissioned, Gideon naturally took the lead against Madian, and Amalec, and other Eastern tribes who had crossed the Jordan, and encamped in the valley of Jezrael.

Gideon selects his army of 300 by observing their manner of drinking from a stream.

Gideon selects his army of 300 by observing their manner of drinking from a stream.

Comforted by the famous signs of the fleece (vi, 36-40), and accompanied by warriors from Manasses, Aser, Zabulon, and Nephthali, he took up his position not far from the enemy. But it was God’s intervention to show that it was His power which delivered Israel, and hence He reduced Gideon’s army from 32,000 to 300 (vii, 1-8). According to a divine direction, the Hebrew commander paid a night visit to the enemy’s camp and overheard the telling of a dream which prompted him to act at once, certain of victory (vii, 9-15). He then supplied his men with trumpets and with torches enclosed in jars, which, after his example, they broke, crying out: “The sword of Yahweh and Gideon.” Panic-stricken at the sudden attack, Israel’s enemies turned their arms against one another, and broke up in flight towards the fords of the Jordan (vii, 16-23). But, summoned by Gideon, the Ephraimites cut off the Madianites at the fords, and captured and slew two of their princes, Oreb and Zeb, whose heads they sent to the Hebrew leader, rebuking him at the same time for not having called earlier upon their assistance. Gideon appeased them by an Eastern proverb, and pursued the enemy beyond the Jordan river (vii, 24; viii, 3).

Gideon's cave in Maayan Harod National Garden in Israel.

Gideon’s cave in Maayan Harod National Garden in Israel.

Passing by Soccoth and Phanuel, he met with their refusal of provisions for his fainting soldiers, and threatened both places with vengeance on his return (viii, 4-9). At length, he overtook and defeated the enemies of Israel, captured their kings, Zebee and Salmana, returned in triumph, punishing the men of Soccoth and Phanuel on his way, and finally put to death Zebee and Salmana (viii, 10-21). Grateful for this glorious deliverance, Gideon’s countrymen offered him the dignity of an hereditary king, which he declined with these noble words: “I will not rule over you, neither shall my son rule over you, but Yahweh shall rule over you” (viii, 22-23). He nevertheless asked and obtained from his soldiers the golden rings and other ornaments which they had taken from the enemy; and out of this spoil he made what seems to have soon become an object of idolatrous worship in Israel. Gideon’s peaceful judgeship lasted forty years. He had seventy sons, and “died in a good old age, and was buried in the sepulchre of his father in Ephra” (viii, 24-32). His victory is alluded to in Isaias, x, 26, and in Ps. lxxxii, 12 (Heb., lxxxiii, 11), where the four kings mentioned in Judges, vii, viii, are distinctly named- a fact which shows that, at the time when this psalm was composed, the narrative of Gideon’s exploits was commonly known in its present form.

Gideon and His Three Hundred Men are victorious.

Gideon and His Three Hundred Men are victorious.

The various literary features exhibited by the text of Judges, vi-viii, have been minutely examined and differently appreciated by recent scholars. Several commentators look upon these features- such for instance as the two names, Gideon and Jerobaal; the two theophanies bearing on Gideon’s call; the apparently twofold narrative of Gideon’s pursuit of the routed enemies, etc.- as proving conclusively the composite origin of the sacred record of Gideon’s judgeship. Others, on the contrary, see their way to reconcile all such features of the text with the literary unity of Judges, vi-viii. However this may be, one thing remains perfectly sure, to wit, that whatever may be the documents which have been utilized in framing the narrative of Gideon’s exploits, they agree substantially in their description of the words and deeds of this Greater Judge of Israel.

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Catholic commentaries on the book of Judges by CLAIR (Paris, 1880); VON HUMMELAUER (Paris, 1888); LAGRANGE (Paris, 1903); Non-Catholic by MOORE (New York, 1895); BUDDE (Freiburg im Breisgau, 1897); NOWACK (Göttingen, 1900).

FRANCIS E. GIGOT (Catholic Encyclopedia)

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