Gid'eon (Heb. Gidon', גַּדעוֹן, tree-feller, i.e., warrior, comp. Isa 10:33; Sept. and N.T. Γεδεών), a Manassite, youngest son of Joash of the Abiezrites, an undistinguished family, who lived at Ophrah, a town probably on the western side of Jordan (Jg 6:15). He was the fifth recorded judge of Israel, and for many reasons the greatest of them all, being the first of them whose history is circumstantially narrated (Judges 6-8). B.C. 1362- 1322.
1. When we first hear of him he was grown up and had sons (Jg 6:11; Jg 8:20), and from the apostrophe of the angel (Jg 6:12) we may conclude that he had already distinguished himself in war against the roving bands of nomadic robbers who had oppressed Israel for seven years, and whose countless multitudes (compared to locusts from their terrible devastations, Jg 6:5) annually destroyed all the produce of Canaan, except such as could be concealed in mountain-fastnesses (Jg 6:2). The Midianites, in conjunction with the Amalekites and other nomadic tribes, invaded the country every year, at the season of produce, in great numbers, with their flocks and herds, rioting in the country after the manner which the Bedouin Arabs practice at this day. It was probably during this disastrous period that the emigration of Elimelech took place (Ru 1:1-2; Jahn's Hebr. Comm. § 21). Some ave identified the angel who appeared to Gideon (φάντασμα νεανίσκου μορφῇ Josephus, Ant. 5:6) with the prophet mentioned in 6:8, which will remind the reader of the legends about Malachi in Origen and other commentators. Paulus (Exeg. Conserv. 2:190 sq.) endeavors to give the narrative a subjective coloring, but rationalism is of little value in accounts like this. When the angel appeared, Gideon was threshing wheat with a flail (Sept. ἔκοπτε) in the wine-press, to conceal it from the predatory tyrants. Such was the position and such the employment in which he was found by the angel of the Lord, who appeared to him and said, "Jehovah is with thee, thou mighty man of valor." It was a startling address, and one that seemed rather like a bitter irony, when viewed in connection with the existing state of affairs, than the words of soberness and truth. Therefore Gideon replied, "Oh! my Lord, if Jehovah be with us, why then is all this befallen us? and where be all the miracles which our fathers told us of, saying, Did not Jehovah bring us up from Egypt? But now Jehovah hath forsaken us, and delivered us into the hands of the Midianites." The desponding tone of the reply was not unnatural in the circumstances, and what followed was designed to reassure his mind, and brace him with energy and fortitude for the occasion. Jehovah, it is said for, instead of the angel of Jehovah, as formerly, it is now Jehovah himself Jehovah looked upon him, and said, Go in this thy might, and thou shalt save Israel from the hand of the Midianites; have not I sent thee?" Gideon still expressed his fear of the result, mentioning his own comparative insignificance, and that of his father's family, but was again met with a word of encouragement, "Surely I will be with thee, and thou shalt smite the Midianites as one man." Gideon's heart now began to take courage; but to make him sure that it really was a divine messenger he was dealing with, and that tie commission he had received was from the Lord, he requested a sign from heaven; and it was given him in connection with an offering, which he was allowed to present, of a kid and some unleavened cakes. These the angel touched with the tip of his staff, and a fire presently rose out of the rock and consumed them. Immediately the angel himself disappeared, though not till he had by a word of peace quieted the mind of Gideon, which had become agitated by the thought of having seen the face of the Lord (comsp. Ex 20:19; Jg 13:22).
The family of Joash had fallen into the prevalent idolatry of the times, which was characterized by backsliding from the true worship of Jehovah; and it was the first task of Gideon as a reformer to rebuke this irreligion, and his first sphere was at home. In a dream the same night he was ordered to throw down the altar of Baal and cut down the Asherah (A. Vers. "grove") upon it SEE ASHESRAH, which his father had caused, or at least suffered, to be erected on the family grounds; and with the wood of this he was to offer in sacrifice his father's "second bullock of seven years old," an expression in which some see an allusion to the seven years of servitude (Jg 6:26,1). Perhaps that particular bullock is specified because it had been reserved by his father to sacrifice to Baal (Rosenmüller, Schol. ad loc.), for Joash seems to have been a priest of that worship. Bertheaus can hardly be right in supposing that Gideon was to offer two bullocks (Richt. page 115). At any rate, the minute touch is valuable as an indication of truth in the story (see Ewald, Gesch. 2:498, and note). Gideon, assisted by ten faithful servants, obeyed the vision. He deemed it prudent, however, to do this under cover of the darkness. The same night, apparently, he built on the spot desecrated by the idolatrous shrine the altar Jehovah-shalom (q.v.), which existed when the book of Judges was written (Jg 6:24). As soon as the act was discovered, and the perpetrator suspected and identified, which was immediately on the following morning, he ran the risk of being stoned; but Joash appeased the popular indignation by using the common argument that Baal was capable of defending his own majesty (compare 1Ki 18:27). This circumstance gave to Gideon the surname of Jerubbaal (ירֻבִּעִל, "Let Baal plead," 6:32; Sept. ῾Ιεροβἁαλ), a standing instance of national irony, expressive of Baal's impotence. Winer thinks that this irony was increased by the fact that ירבעל was a surname of the Phoenician Hercules (comp. Movers, Phoeniz. 1:434). We have similar cases of contempt in the names Sychar, Baal-zebul, etc. (Lightfoot, Her. Fleb. ad Matthew 12:24). In consequence of the name, some have identified Gideon with a certain priest, Jerosembolus ( ῾Ιερόμβαλος), mentioned in Euseabius (Praep. Evang. 1:10) as having given much accurate information to Sanchoniatho the Berytian (Bochart, Phaleg, page 776; Huaetius, Deam. Evang. page 84, etc.), lent this opinion cannot be maintained (Ewald, Gesch. 2:494). We also find the name in the fores Jesrubbesheth (2Sa 11:21); probably indicative of contempt for the heathen deity (comp. Eshlaal, 1Ch 8:33, with Ishbosheth, 2 Samuel 2 sq.). The mind of Joash, at all events, was confirmed by this bold act of his son, and he seems resolved to leave the solution of the controversy to divine Providence.
2. Gideon soon found occasion to act upon his high commission. The allied invaders were encamped in the great plain of Jezreel or Esdraelon, when, "clothed" by the Spirit of God (Jg 6:34; comp. 1Ch 12:18; Lu 24:49), he blew a trumpet, and thus gathered round him a daily increasing host, the summons to arms which it implied having been transmitted through the northern tribes by special messengers. Being joined by "Zebulun, Naphtali, and even the reluctant Asher" (which tribes were chiefly endangered by the Midianites), and possibly also by some of the original inhabitants, who would suffer from these predatory "sons of the East" no less than the Israelites themselves, he encamped on one of the neighboring slopes, from which he overlooked the plains covered by the tents of Midian. Mount Gilead, indeed, is named in the movement of Gideon against Midian, but probably only as the first place of rendezvous for his army (Jg 7:3). For the sake of security, he might be obliged to assemble the people on the mountainous lands to the east of Jordan. Stanley (Sinai and Palestine, page 342), after Le Clerc, without any authority from MSS., would substitute Gilbaoa for Gilead in the passage referred to. This is otherwise objectionable, its one does not see how thousands from Asher, Naphtali, about and beyond Esdraelon, could have been able to meet on Gilboa, with the Midianitish host lying between. Ewald is perhaps right in regarding the name as a sort of war-cry and general designation of the Manassites. (See too, Gesenius, Thes. page 804, n.).
The inquietude connected with great enterprises is more sensibly felt some days before than at the moment of action; and hence the two miraculous signs which, on the two nights preceding the march, were required and given as tokens of victory. The first night a fleece was laid out in the middle of an open threshing-floor, and in the morning it was quite wet, while the soil was dry all around. The next might the wonder was reversed, the soil being wet and the fleece perfectly dry. Strengthened by this double sign from God (to which Ewald gives a strange figurative meaning, Gesch. 2:500), Gideon advanced to the brook Harod, in the valley of Jezreel. SEE HAROD. He was here at the head of 32,000 men; but, lest so large a host should assume the glory of the coming deliverance, which of right belonged to God only, two operations, remarkable both in motive and procedure, reduced this large host to a mere handful of men. First, by divine direction, the usual proclamation (De 20:8; comp. 1 Macc. 3:56) was made that all the faint-hearted might withdraw; and no fewer than 22,000 availed themselves of the indulgence. The remaining 10,000 were still declared too numerous: they were therefore all taken down to the brook, when only those who lapped the water from their hands, like active men in haste, were reserved for the enterprise, while all those who lay down leisurely to drink were excluded. The former numbered no more than 300, and these were the appointed vanquishers of the huge host which e covered the great plain. It was but a slight circumstance which marked the difference between them and the others, but still it indicated a specific quality; they were the persons that took the more expeditious method of quenching their thirst, and thereby gave proof of a nimbleness and alacrity which bespoke a fitness for executing quick movements in attacking or pursuing an enemy. This affords a perfectly sufficient and natural explanation and there is no need far resorting, as many do, to peculiar usages in the East, and no one who knows anything of the manners of people in rural and highland districts can need to be told how common it is for them, when wisbing to get a hasty refreshment at a a running stream, to lift the water to their mouths in the palm of their hand, instead of leisurely bending down, or laying themselves along to get a fuller draught. Josephus, however, explains these men to have been the most cowardly in the army (Ant. 5:6, 3).
Finally, being encouraged by in words fortuitously overheard (what the later Jews termed the Bath-Kol) (compare 1Sa 14:9-10; Lightfoot, flor. Hebr. ad Mt 3:14), in the relation of a significant dream, Gideon framed his plans, which were admirably adapted to strike a panic into the huge and undisciplined nomad host (Jg 8:15-18). We know from history' that large and irregular Oriental armies are especially liable to sudden outbursts of uncontrollable terror; and when the stillness and darkness of the night were, suddenly disturbed in three different directions by the flash of torches and by the reverberating echoes which the trumpets and the shouting woke among the hills, we cannot be astonished at the complete rout into which the enemy were thrown. It must be remembered, too, that the sound of 300 trumpets would make them suppose that a corresponding number of companies were attacking them. It is curious to find "lamps and pitchers" in use for a similar purpose at this very day in the streets of Cairo. The Zabit or Ayha of the police carries with him at night "a torch which burns soon after it is lighted, without a flame, excepting when it is waved through the air, when it suddenly blazes forth: it therefore answers the same purpose as our dark lantern. The burning end is sometimes concealed in a small pot or jar, or covered with something else, when not required to give light" (Lane's Mod. Eg. 1, chapter 4). For specimens of similar .stratagems, see Livy, 22:16; Polynus, Strateg. 2:37; Frontinus, 2:4; Sallust, Jug. 99; Niebuhr, Desc. de l´Arabie, page 304; Journal As. 1841, 2:516. The custom of dividing an army into three seems to have been common (1Sa 11:11; Ge 14:15), and Gideon's war-cry is not unlike that adopted by Cyrus (Xenoph. Cyr. 3:28). He adds his own name to the war-cry, as suited both to inspire confidence in his followers and strike terror in the enemy. His stratagem was eminently successful, and the Midianites, breaking into their wild peculiar cries, fled headlong "down the descent to the Jordan," to the "house of the Acacia" (Beth-shitta), and the "meadow of the dance" (Abel- meholah), but were intercepted by the Ephraimites (to whom notice had been sent, Jg 7:24) at the fords of Beth-barah, where, after a second fight, the princes of Oreb and Zeeb ("the Raven" and "the Wolf") were detected and slain — the former at a rock, and the latter concealed in a wine-press, to which their names were afterwards given. The Ephraimites took their heads over to Gideon, which amounted to an acknowledgment of his leadership. but still the always haughty and jealous Ephraimites were greatly annoyed that they had not in the first instance been summoned to the field; and serious consequences might have followed but for the tact of Gideon in speaking in a lowly spirit of his own doings in comparison with theirs. Gideon's "soft answer," which pacified the Ephraimite warriors, became a proverb (Jg 8:13). Meanwhile the "higher sheiks, Zebah and Zalmunna, had already escaped," and Gideon resolved to pursue them into eastern Manasseh, and burst upon them among the tents of their Bedouin countrymen. On that side the river, however, his victory was not believed or understood, and the people still trembled at the very name of the Midianites. Hence he could obtain no succor from the places which he passed, and town after town refused to supply even victuals to his fatigued and hungry, but still stout-hearted troop. He denounced vengeance upon them, but postponed its execution until his return. Continuing his pursuit of the Midianites southward, he learned that they had encamped with the remnant of their army in fancied security at Karkor, just without the limits of Palestine; he therefore resolved to surprise them by a rapid detour through the edge of the nomadic region of the Hauran, a measure which he accomplished so successfully that, falling suddenly upon them from the east by night, he utterly routed them, and by sunrise was on his way to the Jordan. In this his third victory he avenged on the Midianitish emirs the massacre of his kingly brethren whom they had slain at Tabor. In those days captives of distinction taken in war were almost invariably slain. Zebah and Zalmunna had made up their minds to this fate; and yet it was Gideon's humane intention to spare them till he learned that they had put to death his own brothers under the same circumstances; upon which, as the avenger of their blood, he slew the captives with his own hand. In these three battles only 15,000 out of 120,000 Midianites escaped alive. It is indeed stated in Jg 8:10, that-120,000 Midianites had already fallen; but here, as elsewhere, it may merely be intended that such was the original number of the routed host. During his triumphal return Gideon took signal and appropriate vengeance on the coward and apostate towns of Succoth and Peniel. The memory of this splendid deliverance took deep root in the national traditions (1Sa 12:11; Ps 83:11; Isa 9:4; Isa 10:26; Heb 11:32),
3. After this there was a peace of 40 years, and we see Gideon in peaceful possession of his well-earned honors, and surrounded by the dignity of a numerous household (Jg 8:29-31). It is not improbable that, like Saul, he had owed a part of his popularity to his princely appearance (Jg 8:18). In this stage of his life occur alike his most noble and his most questionable acts. Gideon magnanimously rejected, on theocratic principles, the proffer of hereditary royalty which the rulers in the warmth of their gratitude made him. He would only accept the golden earrings (q.v.) which the victors had taken from the ears of their slaughtered foes, and with these he made an ephod, and put it in his city Ophrah (Jg 8:22-27). But whether Gideon intended it as a commemorative trophy, or had a Levitical priest in his house, as Micah on Mount Ephraim, and the Danites at Laish, it is difficult to determine (Jg 17:5-13; Jg 18:15-31). The probability is that the worship rendered there was in honor of Jehovah. It became, however, a snare to the Hebrews in the vicinity, who thus, having an ephod and worship in their own country, would not so readily go over to the talbernacle at Shiloh, and consequently fell into idolatry by worshipping the gods of the Phoenicians (Jg 8:33). Gesenius and others (Thes. page 135; Bertheau, page 113 sq.) follow the Peshito in making the word ephod here mean an idol, chiefly on account of the vast amount of gold (1700 shekels) .and other rich: material appropriated to it.
But it is simpler to understand it as a significant symbol of an unauthorized worship. (See Crit. Sacr. Thes. 1:425.) SEE EPHOD.
The evil consequences of this false step in religion were realized in the miserable sequel of Gideon's family. After his death his numerous sons were destroyed by Abimelech, their brother, who afterwards reigned at Shechem (Jg 8:35; Jg 9:5). (See Evans, Script. Biog. 2:55; Kitto, Daily Bible Illustrations, ad loc.; Stanley, Jewish Churchu. 1:374; Duncan, Gideon, Son of Joash, London, 1860). SEE ABIMELECH.