Sunday School Lesson
Lesson 7 (KJV)
The Call of Gideon
Devotional Reading: 2 Corinthians 12:1–10
Background Scripture: Judges 6:1–27 Judges 6:1–2,7–16a
1 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.
2 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.
7 And it came to pass, when the children of Israel cried unto the LORD because of the Midianites,
8 That the LORD sent a prophet unto the children of Israel, which said unto them, Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, I brought you up from Egypt, and brought you forth out of the house of bondage;
9 And I delivered you out of the hand of the Egyptians, and out of the hand of all that oppressed you, and drave them out from before you, and gave you their land;
10 And I said unto you, I am the LORD your God; fear not the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but ye have not obeyed my voice.
11 And there came an angel of the LORD, and sat under an oak which was in Ophrah, that pertained unto Joash the Abiezrite: and his son Gideon threshed wheat by the winepress, to hide it from the Midianites.
12 And the angel of the LORD appeared unto him, and said unto him, The LORD is with thee, thou mighty man of valour.
13 And Gideon said unto him, Oh my Lord, if the LORD be with us, why then is all this befallen us? and where be all his miracles which our fathers told us of, saying, Did not the LORD bring us up from Egypt? but now the LORD hath forsaken us, and delivered us into the hands of the Midianites.
14 And the LORD 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?
15 And he said unto him, Oh my Lord, wherewith shall I save Israel? behold, my family is poor in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house.
16a And the LORD said unto him, Surely I will be with thee.
The LORD said unto him, Peace be unto thee; fear not: thou shalt not die. —Judges 6:23
God’s Exceptional Choice
Unit 2: Out of Slavery to Nationhood
After participating in this lesson, each learner will be able to:
1. Describe the historical context of Israel’s oppression.
2. Articulate the presupposition behind Gideon’s first question.
3. Determine one or more ways to avoid false thinking regarding whether God is with or not with him or her.
How to Say It
Gilead Gil-ee-ud (G as in get).
A. Getting into Action
Rather than sitting at home and worrying during the pandemic of 2020, retirees Ted and Ellen decided to act. Many families in their community had been unemployed or underemployed as a result of the pandemic, so Ted and Ellen “adopted” seven families and brought them food each week. Some of the food was from a local food bank and some from their own kitchen.
This couple took the initiative to do something for others. While food matters, human connection matters more. Their work and presence brought a bit of God’s deliverance to those who needed it.
When we read the “big” stories of the Bible, we may be tempted to imagine that God works only or primarily through dramatic events. But countless “small” stories of generosity and faith have occurred through the centuries as God has worked through the hands and feet of believers (compare Mark 9:41; 12:42). When people of faith answer God’s call, the blessings of unexpected opportunities to serve follow.
B. Lesson Context
The book of Judges features accounts of a series of leaders (“judges”) who arose to rescue Israel from foreign oppressions during the era 1380 to 1050 BC. These stories fit together to paint a picture of a dreary pattern: the Israelites sinned, God punished them with foreign oppression, the Israelites repented, a deliverer came, and peace followed. Gideon, the deliverer-judge of today’s lesson, was the fifth of perhaps 14 judges; he served in that capacity during the first half of the twelfth century BC. The Midianites, the oppressors whom Gideon was to confront in today’s text, came from what is now northern Saudi Arabia or southeastern Jordan. They had created a sophisticated society based on trade across the Arabian Peninsula with the cultures around its perimeter (Egypt, Syria, Palestine, and Mesopotamia; compare Genesis 37:28). They were not barbarians. The Midianites shared a history with Israel (see Exodus 18:1; etc.), a history that included conflict (see Numbers 25:14–18; Psalm 83:9–12).
I. Midianite Oppression
A. Punishment (v. 1)
1. 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.
The book of Judges often begins the accounts of deliverer-judges by referring to the evil that the nation of Israel had engaged in (Judges 3:7, 12; 4:1; 10:6; 13:1). Their evil actions are the first part of a pattern of sin ➔ servitude ➔ supplication ➔ salvation that structures most of the book of Judges. The length of the suffering of seven years is relatively short when compared to oppressions lasting 8 (3:8), 18 (3:14; 10:8), 20 (4:3); and 40 years (13:1).
The nature of the evil that the children of Israel did is not specified. But in other instances where the phrase “evil in the sight of the Lord” occurs, the evil is idol worship (Judges 2:11–13; 3:7; 10:6).
What Do You Think?
How can you tell whether hard times are God’s judgment for sin or simply the result of living in a fallen world?
How will your reactions differ between the two?
B. Hiding (v. 2)
2. 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.
The land of Israel features large and small caves, both natural and man-made. When people felt vulnerable, they might flee to one of them for refuge (see 1 Samuel 13:6; 1 Kings 18:4; compare Revelation 6:15; compare the nonbiblical 2 Maccabees 6:11). Strong holds are fortresses with difficult access (1 Samuel 23:14, 19; Ezekiel 33:27). Fight, Flight, or Freeze?
I saw my sister’s hair spread on the pillow behind her on the couch. I was angry because of an insult she had hurled at me, so I grabbed a handful of hair and pulled. Incensed, she jumped up and lunged at my own hair, pulling a handful. I screamed, and a fight ensued. This was a rare occurrence since we usually got along well. For some reason, we overreacted, and we had the biggest fight of our lives.
The fight did not last long. I knew if I told my parents about the fight, we would both get in trouble. I did not want to be in trouble myself, and deep down I did not want her to get punished. So, confronted with the options of fight, flight, or freeze, I chose the middle option—running away and hiding in the other room.
We may struggle to know whether fight, flight, or freeze is best; the Scriptures offer many right and wrong examples of all three choices (compare and contrast Genesis 19:17, 26; 27:43; Exodus 14:13; Psalm 46:10; John 18:10–11; Hebrews 6:18; etc.). One thing we know: God’s Word guides us in these choices (Matthew 10:23; etc.). But one other issue comes before all that: How do we ensure that the opposition we face is not God’s response to our own sin? —L. M. W.
II. Divine Deliverance
A. Prophetic Warning (vv. 7–10)
7. And it came to pass, when the children of Israel cried unto the LORD because of the Midianites.
The pattern of deliverance involved Israel pleading for help. The prayers may have resembled the petitions found elsewhere in Scripture (see Psalm 44; Lamentations 5). In such compositions, the writers both complained to God about their situations and asked for help in relieving them.
8. That the LORD sent a prophet unto the children of Israel, which said unto them, Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, I brought you up from Egypt, and brought you forth out of the house of bondage.
The 17 prophetic books of the Old Testament do not always state the precise occasion that prompted their prophetic oracles. However, some texts do speak of prophets appearing on the scene in order to warn their audience or to call them to action (examples: 1 Samuel 2:27–36; 1 Kings 13:1–10).
The unnamed prophet in the verse before us, however, brings a word of challenge that will ultimately bring about the people’s deliverance. Prophets were not all that unusual in the life of Israel. God had spoken through Moses regarding His will that the people listen to His prophet (Deuteronomy 18:14–22). God used both men and women (see Exodus 15:20; Judges 4:4; 2 Kings 22:14) to serve as prophets and declare His directives for His people.
This prophet’s message is grounded in Israel’s core story: the story of the exodus. The phrase house of bondage always shows up in stories about Israel’s departure from Egypt (Exodus 13:3, 14; 20:2; Deuteronomy 5:6; 6:12; 7:8; 8:14; 13:5, 10; Joshua 24:17; etc.). By the time of the events of today’s text, the exodus was more than 250 years in the past. Generations had come and gone. But the Israelites did not need a reminder of what it was like to be oppressed—they were being oppressed by the Midianites at the time! Rather, the prophet was reminding the people of Israel of the one who had delivered their ancestors.
9. And I delivered you out of the hand of the Egyptians, and out of the hand of all that oppressed you, and drave them out from before you, and gave you their land.
The deliverance had two parts: exodus and settlement. God’s gift of the land (Exodus 23:31; etc.) had made it possible for the people to enjoy their relationship with God in the rhythms of holy life.
Appeal to the story of the settlement appears also in Amos 2:9–11. According to that prophet, God had driven out the pagan population in order to make possible the delivered people’s place in their land. The Israelites, however, ultimately imitated the people they had displaced by engaging in idol worship, thereby disowning their redeemer (see commentary on Judges 6:1, above).
10. And I said unto you, I am the LORD your God; fear not the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but ye have not obeyed my voice.
The foundational story of the exodus always should have pointed the Israelites toward loyalty to the Lord. His displacement of the Amorites to make room for the Israelites should have done so as well. Amorites are mentioned dozens of times in the Old Testament, along with numerous other “-ites” whose lands were given to Israel. The Amorites seemed to have been particularly sinful, in light of Genesis 15:16 (compare 2 Kings 21:11). Whether the writer is referring to Amorites specifically or just using that designation to refer to all the dispossessed “-ites” in general is uncertain.
Since the Lord had demonstrated His power in forming and settling Israel as a nation, it made no sense to fear other gods. But for ancient peoples, worship was less about matters of pro and con arguments than it was about not leaving any gods accidentally unworshipped (examples: 2 Kings 17:24–41; Acts 17:23). The idea of worshipping one and only one God, no matter where one lived, was highly unusual. This outlook is reflected in the fact that the plural word gods occurs more than 200 times in the Old Testament.
But commonly accepted cultural practices do not necessarily have God’s approval. Idolatry was an act of disloyalty. When Israel adopted pagan cultural practices, they abandoned the religion that Moses had led them in decades earlier.
What Do You Think?
What are some ways to warn people of God’s judgment while “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15)?
What do you do if people then dismiss you as being judgmental?
B. Angelic Assurance
11a. And there came an angel of the LORD, and sat under an oak which was in Ophrah.
The second scene in this story involves a different sort of messenger, a heavenly being, who appears near a certain oak tree. Large trees—whether solitary or in a grove—were often used as landmarks and significant places for the people (Genesis 12:6; 18:1; 35:4; Joshua 19:33; Judges 4:11; etc.). They also served as shade and so places of rest and conversation for people who had worked all day and wanted a break. For various references to oak trees specifically, see Joshua 24:26; 2 Samuel 18:9–10; 1 Kings 13:14; Ezekiel 6:13.
There are two biblical towns named Ophrah. One was located in the tribal territory of Benjamin, about a dozen miles north-northeast of the city later known as Jerusalem (Joshua 18:21–24). The other Ophrah, the one under consideration here, was in the tribal territory of Manasseh; some students propose that the name is another designation for the town of Gilead mentioned in Judges 10:17. In any case, this is “Ophrah of the Abiezrites” (Judges 6:24; also see 6:11b, next).
11b. That pertained unto Joash the Abiezrite: and his son Gideon threshed wheat by the winepress, to hide it from the Midianites.
This half verse reveals that the oak tree under which the heavenly messenger was sitting was on the property of father Joash which would pass to son Gideon. To be an Abiezrite was to be of the tribe Manasseh (see Joshua 17:2). For Gideon to be threshing wheat is a time indicator: the wheat harvest in this region occurs in the month of Sivan, which is late May or early June. The winepress won’t be used for its intended purpose until the grapes ripen later in the summer months.
Gideon could have been threshing either by striking sheaves with a flail or by having oxen pull a threshing sledge on a hard outdoor surface (compare 1 Chronicles 21:20–23). Threshing is different from winnowing, the latter occurring after the former, although they occur in the same place (compare Ruth 3:2; Matthew 3:12; Luke 3:17). That Gideon felt the need to hide the wheat indicates the oppressive treatment from the Midianites regarding Israel’s crops (Judges 6:3–6). 12. And the angel of the LORD appeared unto him, and said unto him, The LORD is with thee, thou mighty man of valour.
The heavenly messenger greeted Gideon not on the basis of his past achievements (as far as we know), but as a foreshadowing of what he was to become: a mighty man of valour. The statement that the Lord is with thee is not a cliché; it occurs rather rarely in the Bible. The only other place a heavenly messenger uttered this phrase unconditionally is in Luke 1:28, to Mary. The phrase was used presumptively by Nathan the prophet (2 Samuel 7:3). The longer, conditional use of the phrase is found in 2 Chronicles 15:2: “The Lord is with you, while ye be with him; and if ye seek him, he will be found of you; but if ye forsake him, he will forsake you.”
More common is the assurance that “God is with thee” (Genesis 21:22; 1 Samuel 10:7; 1 Chronicles 17:2). Combining the words God and Lord in such an assurance occurs elsewhere (see 22:18; 28:20; Zephaniah 3:17).
C. Gideon’s Response (v. 13)
13. And Gideon said unto him, Oh my Lord, if the LORD be with us, why then is all this befallen us? and where be all his miracles which our fathers told us of, saying, Did not the LORD bring us up from Egypt? But now the LORD hath forsaken us, and delivered us into the hands of the Midianites.
Gideon’s cynical response reflected a sense of despair as he pointed out the gap between his then-current experience and the age-old stories of deliverance. The reader knows that the Midianite oppression was the due punishment brought on by Israel’s sins (see Judges 6:1, above). Did Gideon not realize this?
This sort of protest appears often in the Bible as various people wonder about God’s apparent lack of involvement or concern (examples: Joshua 7:7; Lamentations 2; Habakkuk 1:2–3). Gideon’s question should not strike us as rude, much less unfaithful, but as a heartfelt attempt to make sense of his experiences.
Questions about the message of predecessors seem especially important. Moses encouraged parents to teach their children about the experiences of deliverance (Exodus 13:14–16). Israel’s poetic literature proclaimed the importance of remembering God’s deeds (Psalm 78:1–8). Gideon has trusted the message of his ancestors. At the time, however, he could not resolve the apparent disconnect between “then” and his “now.”
D. God’s Clarification (vv. 14–16a)
14. And the LORD 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’s call to become the deliverer bears similarities to those of Moses (Exodus 3:1–4:17) and Joshua (Joshua 1:1–9). The reference to this thy might seems strange. What so-called might did Gideon have? The text says nothing of his political intelligence or past military experience. His skills as a farmer might have prepared him for the physical rigors of warfare, but little else.
Perhaps the answer lies in the previous verse. Gideon knew the ancient story of Israel’s deliverance as told in the exodus story. He dared to question God as to why his present realities seemed so different. The strength that Gideon desired would fill him as he went where God sent him (see Judges 6:34).
An Unexpected Christmas Sermon
I like shaking people out of long-held and complacent expectations. One time when I did so was in using Judges 6:14 as a text for a Christmas sermon. For those who expected a sermon from Matthew 1; 2; or Luke 2, the shock was rather total!
My impetus for using Judges 6:14 at Christmas was the oft-heard lament that Christ was being taken out of Christmas. The greeting “Merry Christmas” was being replaced with “Happy Holidays.” Stores stocked increasing numbers of lawn displays of Santa Claus and decreasing numbers of Nativity scenes. Christmas was ever more becoming commercialized. It seemed as if the truth of Emmanuel, meaning “God with us” (Matthew 1:23; compare Judges 6:12), was disappearing by means of secular commercialism.
My answer and challenge to the problem was an extended application of Judges 6:14: Go in your might and save your Christmas! Begin first at home: prioritize the placement of Nativity scenes. Replace expectations of receiving things with gratitude of having already received. Identify and avoid provocations that cause the season of love to become a season of shove.
The challenge of Judges 6:14 can apply to many areas of Christian life. The most important area right now is the one where you need to set aside the complaint of “If the Lord be with us, why then is all this befallen us?” (Judges 6:13). Otherwise, you won’t be able to hear God’s declaration “Go in this thy might” and solve the problem. —R. L. N.
What Do You Think?
What unused spiritual gifts has God given you that you can begin to use this week?
Would you seek the counsel of a fellow Christian before doing so? Why, or why not?
15. And he said unto him, Oh my Lord, wherewith shall I save Israel? behold, my family is poor in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house.
Gideon objected to the call on the basis of insignificant lineage (compare Isaiah 6:5; Jeremiah 1:6). A leader in antiquity needed family connections and alliances with other families. When Gideon pointed to the insignificance of his family, he was not simply being modest. He knew that political leaders needed a power base of connections.
What Do You Think?
What task is God giving you today that will stretch you beyond your comfort zone?
When was a time that service to God caused you to place more trust in Him than in yourself?
16a. And the LORD said unto him, Surely I will be with thee.
The explicit promise I will be with thee is the strongest assurance Gideon can receive! This promise is all the more striking given the phrase’s rarity in the Old Testament (see Genesis 26:3; 31:3; Exodus 3:12; Joshua 1:5; 1 Kings 11:38; Isaiah 43:2). These can be contrasted with the opposite, the Lord’s promise elsewhere to not be present (see Deuteronomy 1:42; Numbers 14:43; Joshua 7:12).
What Do You Think?
When sensing a call to action, how can you know that the calling is really from God?
Which Scripture passages help you most to answer that question?
A. From Why to What’s Next
Today’s text begins an account of how Israel experienced deliverance from an oppression. It draws on the most important Israelite story—the exodus—by pointing out the gap between the memory of the story and the present experience. God had delivered in the past, but He seemed no longer willing to do so. As with many stories of the call of prophets or kings, the hero here (Gideon) gets to express the confusion that the readers must also feel and that we may still feel when our beliefs and our experiences seem to clash.
When that happens, we can get stuck brooding in an endless cycle of asking why, as Gideon did (compare Jeremiah 5:19; 13:22; 16:10; etc.). In that regard, it is important to note what is missing in Judges 6:14: the Lord did not answer Gideon’s why question of Judges 6:13. We are answerable to the Lord, not He to us (compare Job 38–41). Our why questions will not always be answered; sometimes the Lord will only tell us what’s next. Sometimes trouble can result when we try to run ahead of the Lord by assuming we know what’s next (examples: Numbers 14:39–45; Joshua 7:1–12). Gideon also seems to have allowed himself to fall into this trap later (Judges 8:24–28).
Yet on balance Gideon was attentive to the Lord’s will. He refused to become king, insisting that God alone should rule Israel (Judges 8:22–23). Like all of us, Gideon experienced both successes and failures. When he heard the call to act, he stated his doubts openly, asking God for answers. But when God did not answer those questions, Gideon wanted miraculous signs (see 6:17–22, 36–40).
It’s been said that there are two ways to learn things: by wisdom and by experience. Wisdom is when we learn from the mistakes of others; experience is when we learn from our own mistakes. The life of Gideon is recorded that we might learn from his successes and failures (compare Romans 15:4; 1 Corinthians 10:11; 2 Timothy 3:16). While his call differs from that of Christians, Gideon’s life still has much to teach us. The Lord still calls us to serve. He still says that He is with us (Matthew 28:19–20). But are we with Him?
Oh God who warns and challenges, raise us up to be Your hands and feet in Your saving work. May our questions reflect direction as You remind us of Your presence. We pray in the name of Your Son, Jesus. Amen. C. Thought to Remember Let God work through your faith.