Gideon and His Companions: Part 1

Judges 6‑8  •  11 min. read  •  grade level: 7
(Judg. 6—viii.)
In studying the history of the nation of Israel, we notice two distinct eras, namely, the era of unity, and the era of individuality—the period in the which the twelve tribes acted as one man, and the period in the which one man was called to act for the twelve tribes. We may take the book of Joshua as illustrating the former; and the book of Judges as a sample of the latter. The most cursory reader cannot fail to discern the difference between these two books. The one is characterized by external power and glory; the other by weakness and failure. Power is stamped on the former, ruin on the latter. In that, Jehovah gives the land to Israel; in this, Israel fails to take the land from Jehovah.
Now, all this is expressed in the two words which may be regarded as the motto of the two books, namely, " Gilgal" and " Bochim." In the book of Joshua, we find the congregation always starting from Gilgal to prosecute the war, and returning thither to celebrate their victory. Gilgal was their center, because there they were circumcised; and there the reproach of Egypt was rolled away. See Josh. 5:9, 109And the Lord said unto Joshua, This day have I rolled away the reproach of Egypt from off you. Wherefore the name of the place is called Gilgal unto this day. 10And the children of Israel encamped in Gilgal, and kept the passover on the fourteenth day of the month at even in the plains of Jericho. (Joshua 5:9‑10).
But no sooner have we opened the book of Judges than the eye rests upon the sad record, " An angel of the Lord came up from Gilgal to Bochim, and said, I made you to. go up out of Egypt, and have brought you unto the land which I sware unto your fathers; and I said, I will never break my covenant with you. And ye shall make no league with the inhabitants of this land; ye shall throw down their altars; but ye have not obeyed my voice; why have ye done this? Wherefore I also said, I will not drive them out from before you; but they shall be as thorns in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare unto you. And it came to pass, when the angel of the Lord spake these words unto all the children of Israel, that the people lifted up their voice, and wept. And they called the name of that place Bochim [i. e. weepers]; and they sacrificed there unto the Lord." Judg. 2:11And an angel of the Lord came up from Gilgal to Bochim, and said, I made you to go up out of Egypt, and have brought you unto the land which I sware unto your fathers; and I said, I will never break my covenant with you. (Judges 2:1)—δ.
Here, then, we have, very remarkably, the contrast between the two books of Joshua and Judges—the book of unity and the book of individuality—the book of external power and glory, and the book of internal weakness, failure, and ruin. Alas é alas! the glory speedily departed. Israel's national greatness soon faded away. " The people served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders that outlived Joshua, who had seen all the great works of the Lord, that he did for Israel. And Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died, being an hundred and ten years old.........And also all that generation were gathered unto their fathers: and there arose another generation after them, which knew not the Lord, nor yet the works which he had done for Israel. And the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord, and served Baalim.........And they forsook the Lord, and served Baal and Ashtaroth. And the anger of the Lord was hot against Israel, and he delivered them into the hands of spoilers that spoiled them, and he sold them into the hands of their enemies round about, so that they could not any longer stand before their enemies. Whithersoever they went out, the hand of the Lord was against them for evil, as the Lord had said, and as the Lord had sworn unto them: and they were greatly distressed."
This, truly, is a gloomy and humiliating record. Joshua's sword was sheathed. Those palmy clays in the which he had led Israel's compact host to splendid victories over the kings of Canaan, were passed and gone. The moral influence of Joshua and of the elders that survived him had passed away, and the whole nation had rushed, with terrible avidity, into the gross moral evils and abominable idolatries of those nations whom they ought to have driven out from before them. In a word, the ruin was complete, so far as Israel was concerned. Like Adam, in the garden; and Noah, in the restored earth; so Israel, in the land of Canaan, utterly failed. Adam ate the forbidden fruit; Noah got drunk; and Israel bowed before the altars of Baal.
Thus much as to man. But, thank God, there is another side of the picture. There is what we may call a bright and beauteous "Nevertheless for God will be God, no matter what man may prove himself to be. This is an unspeakable relief and consolation to the heart. God abideth faithful. Here is faith's stronghold, come what may. God is always to be counted upon, spite of all man's failure and shortcoming. His goodness and faithfulness form the resource and the refuge of the soul amid the darkest scenes of human history.
This soul-sustaining truth shines out with remarkable luster in the very passage from which we have just given such a depressing quotation. " Nevertheless, the Lord raised up judges, which delivered them out of the hand of those that spoiled them." But mark the following words, so illustrative of the individuality of the book of Judges. " And when the Lord raised them up judges, then the Lord was with the judge, and delivered them out of the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge: for it repented the Lord because of their groanings by reason of them that oppressed them and vexed them." Judg. 2:10, 1810And also all that generation were gathered unto their fathers: and there arose another generation after them, which knew not the Lord, nor yet the works which he had done for Israel. (Judges 2:10)
18And when the Lord raised them up judges, then the Lord was with the judge, and delivered them out of the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge: for it repented the Lord because of their groanings by reason of them that oppressed them and vexed them. (Judges 2:18)
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In these last quoted words, we have the great root principle of the book of Judges—the divine secret of the ministry of the Baraks, the Gideons, the Jephthas, and the Samsons, the record of whose ministry occupies so large a portion of this most interesting section of inspiration. Israel had failed—sadly, shamefully, inexcusably failed. They had forfeited all claims to the protection of Jehovah's shield. They were justly given over into the ruthless hands of the kings of Canaan. As to all this there could be no possible question. " Nevertheless" Jehovah's heart could feel for His poor, oppressed, and groaning Israel. True, they had proved themselves naughty and unworthy, yet His ear was ever ready to catch their very earliest groan; yea, we are even told, in chapter 10., that " his soul was grieved for the misery of Israel."
What touching words! What exquisite tenderness! What deep compassion! How such a statement lets us into the profound depths of the heart of God! The misery of His people moved the loving heart of Jehovah. The very faintest and earliest symptoms of brokenness and contrition, on the part of Israel, met with a ready and gracious response, on the part of Israel's God. It mattered not how far they had wandered, how deeply they had sunk, or how grievously they had sinned; God was ever ready to welcome the feeblest breathings of a broken heart. The springs of divine mercy and compassion are absolutely inexhaustible. The ocean of His love is boundless and unfathomable; and hence, the very moment His people take the place of confession. He enters the place of forgiveness. He delights to pardon, according to the largeness of His heart, and according to the glory of His own Name. He finds His peculiar joy in blotting out transgressions, in healing, restoring, and blessing, in a manner worthy of Himself. This glorious truth shines in the history of Israel; it shines in the history of the Church; and it shines in the history of every individual believer.
But it is high time we should turn to our immediate subject, namely, " Gideon and his companions," as presented in that portion of the book of Judges given at the head of this paper. May the eternal Spirit unfold and apply its precious contents to our souls!
Chapter vi. opens with a very sad and depressing record- a record only too characteristic of Israel's entire history. " And the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord; and the Lord delivered them into the hand of Midian seven years. And the hand of Midian prevailed against Israel; and because of the Midianites the children of Israel made them the dens which are in the mountains, and caves, and strong holds." What a humiliating picture! What a reverse · for the Israel of God! What a contrast to the conquering host that had crossed the Jordan and walked across the ruins of Jericho! How sad, how humbling, to think of Israel crouching and hiding in the dens and caves of the mountains, through terror of the uncircumcised Midianites!
It is well for us to gaze upon this picture, and ponder its salutary lesson. Israel's power and glory consisted simply in having the presence of God with them. Without that, they were as water spilled upon the ground. They were as the autumn leaf before the blast. But the divine presence could not be enjoyed in connection with allowed evil: and therefore, when Israel forgot their Lord, and wandered away from Him into the forbidden paths of idolatry, He had to recall them to their senses by stretching out His governmental rod, and causing them to feel the crushing power of one or another of the nations around.
Now all this has a voice and a lesson for us. So long as God's people walk with him in holy obedience, they have nothing to fear. They are perfectly safe from the snares and assaults of all their spiritual foes. Naught can, by any means, harm them while they abide in the shelter of God's own presence. But, clearly, that presence demands and secures holiness. Unjudged evil cannot dwell there. To live in sin and talk of security—to attempt to connect the presence of God with sanctioned evil—is wickedness of the very deepest dye. No, it must not be! " God is greatly to be feared in the assembly of the saints; and to be had in reverence of all them that are round about him." " Thy testimonies are very sure; holiness becometh thy house, Ο Lord, forever." If God's people forget these wholesome truths, He knows how to recall them to their remembrance by the rod of discipline; and, blessed forever be His name, He loves them too well to spare that rod, however reluctant He may be to use it. " Whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons: for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons. Furthermore, we have had fathers of our flesh, winch corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live? For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness. Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous; nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby. Wherefore lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees." Heb. 12 G—12.
These are encouraging words for the people of God, at all times. The discipline may be—and no doubt is—painful; but when we know that a Father's hand is in it, and when we realize what His object is, we can pass through the trial with exercised hearts, and thus reap the peaceable fruits of righteousness. On the other hand, if we meet the discipline with an impatient spirit, a rebellious will, an unsubdued mind, we only render it necessary for the pressure to be continued and augmented, for our loving Father will never let us alone. He will have us in holy subjection to Himself, cost what it may. He graciously takes our part against ourselves, subdues the proud risings of our will, and crushes all that in us which hinders our growth in holiness, grace, and divine knowledge.
Oh! what infinite grace shines in the fact that our God occupies Himself with our very failures and follies, our waywardness and willfulness, our sins and shortcomings, in order to deliver us from them! He knows all about us. He understands and takes into account all our surroundings and all our inward tendencies, and He deals with us in infinite wisdom and perfect patience, keeping ever before Him that one gracious object, to make us partakers of His holiness, and—wondrous thought!—to bring out in us the expression of His own nature and character. Surely, then, in the presence of such abounding grace and mercy, we may well " lift up the hands that hang down, and the feeble knees."
(To be continued, if the Lord will)