Maybe more than the rest of the judges, the story of Gideon functions as a cycle. His story begins with a lengthier section devoted to the cycle of sin and deliverance within Judges and itself includes a cycle to describe Gideon's behavior and action. The narrative cycle in Judges is described at length in chapter two and includes these elements:
- There is peace in the land (2:6-7).
- The people do evil in God's sight and abandon God for idols (2:11-12).
- God has them overrun by enemies (2:14).
- The people cry out for help (2:15).
- God sends a judge to rescue them (2:16).
- There is once again peace in the land (2:18).
- The judge dies and the people once again turn to evil, thereby starting the cycle all over again.
This cycle is not limited to chapter two and Gideon--it appears throughout the entire book of Judges. For example, Othniel's story begins with a description of the "evil" committed by the Israelites. They were "sold" into the hands of the king of Aram because God's anger "burned against" them. But they cried out to God to be delivered and God raised up Othniel as a deliverer to save them. The result: the people had peace in the land.
This cycle appears both in short descriptions (as in the case of Othniel; 3:7-11) and in long descriptions (as in the case of Gideon and Jephthah, whose stories take up three chapters each in Judges, and possibly in the case of Samson, who has four chapters dedicated to him). Other episodes where this cycle is seen include:
- Othniel (3:7-11) vs. Aran-naharaim
- Ehud (3:12, 15, 30) vs. The Moabite coalition
- Shamgar (3:31) vs. Philistia
- Deborah (and Barak); 4:1-3; 5:31b) vs. Canaan
The cycle—1) 5:31b; 2) 6:1; 3) 6:1; 4) 6:6; 5) 6:7, 12; 6) 8:28; 7) 8:33
Note that the cycle actually begins at the end of the previous narrative, due to the efforts of Deborah, Jael, and Barak. Because of their deliverance of the Israelites from Sisera, the land is at peace (5:31b). But quickly, and without any triggering event (which indicates to us how quick, easy, and almost unnoticeable it is to fall away from peace to evil), the Israelites are back to committing evil in the eyes of God (6:1). Consequently, God "gave them into" the hands of the Midianites, who oppressed them for seven years (6:1, 4). Finally, the people had enough and cried out to God for help (6:6).
But this time, there is an interlude of sorts to the cycle. When the Israelites cried out, God first sent a prophet to remind them that what happened to them was a result of their own actions: they had not listened to God (6:7-10). Then, without telling the Israelites, God sent an angel to raise up Gideon, the "mighty warrior" (6:12), to deliverer the Israelites. Gideon, of course, is successful and the land has peace during his lifetime (8:28). Sadly, after his death, the people turned back to idolatry, thus beginning the cycle over again (8:33).
But what happened in between this cycle? How was Gideon a deliverer?
Another Cycle in the Life of Gideon
The story of Gideon is actually told as another cycle, one of being called by God, answering him, testing him, serving him, finding victory, but ending in failure. Because of this, Gideon is an example of how we can be called by God and even be victorious in our work for God but end in failure if we do not keep our commitment to God.
1. 6:1-12--The call of God, in God's time
Gideon's story begins during Israel's oppression under the Midianities. The Midianites were vicious and destroyed everything Israel had. The story even indicates to us that the Midianites would come to Israel with the sole intent of burning and destroying the Israelites' crops, which meant they were destroying not just a source of food but also the food-based economy within Israel. As a result, the people were afraid of Midian, which is why we see Gideon hiding as he goes about his work.
Gideon may have lived out of fear, but God saw something different in him. When the angel came to Gideon, he called him "mighty warrior." This shows us that God's view of us is sometimes very different from our view of ourselves. We may look down on our flaws, fears, and failures, but God sees what we can truly be. He called Gideon, the mighty warrior, because he needed a warrior to deliver. God raised up whom he needed at the time he needed.
2. 6:13-24--Testing God
At first, Gideon didn't know what to think. He even wonders if it's the "true" God who has sent this message--after all, the "God" he knows is a God who does great things and is far different from the "God" who has abandoned them to the Midianites (6:13). To get at the truth (as he considers it) he decides to test God. He asks God to "wait" for him while he goes and gets some supplies with which God, if it is really him, can do something great.
But God showed his great patience by waiting. And when Gideon returned, he set out the offering and God consumed it with fire. Gideon then realized it really was God and worshiped him.
3. 6:25-32--Serving God
Gideon was now ready to serve God. God had passed his test, revealed himself to Gideon, and Gideon worshiped him. But the task God asked of Gideon wasn't exactly the first thing Gideon would think of: God wanted him to tear down his father's idol to Baal! He wanted Gideon to take a stand for God, starting in his own home! Gideon accepted the challenge, but because of fear, he did it at night so he wouldn't be seen.
The next morning, when the townspeople realized what had happened, they were in an uproar! And Gideon was nowhere to be found. His father, whose idol had been destroyed by Gideon, had to defend Gideon. Gideon's fear was too much for him.
4. 6:33-40--Testing God II
Gideon's fear led him to test God again. When God called him to command an army to go against the Midianites, Gideon asked for another sign to test the veracity of God's promise (6:36). He asked God first to provide dew on a fleece Gideon laid out but have the ground be dry, and after God passed this test, Gideon asked him to reverse this: keep the fleece dry while making the ground around the fleece wet. Of course, God passed this test, too.
We may be tempted to see ourselves in this story. How often have we tried to test God with our own "fleece"? But this story is really about God--specifically about his patience in working with us with our own limitations. God knew what Gideon was capable of, but he waited while Gideon learned what he was capable of. God is always faithful to us.
5. 7:1-15--Overcoming Fear
Gideon now knew that God was with him. This realization allowed him to overcome fear and, combined with a revelation from God through a dream to another (6:13), he gathered the army as God directed him to, whittling it down to a size by which they would be victorious only because God was with them.
Of course, because God was with them and because Gideon had overcome his fear to serve God, Israel was victorious in their battle against Midian. God led the small fighting force of Israel to victory against a much larger army. Yet, even in this victory, Gideon shows a hint of the pride that will later be his downfall as he link himself to God in his victory shout (7:18). As a result of this victory, Israel is able to enjoy peace in their land.
Sadly, it does not end well for Gideon. He got his start by tearing down an idol but finished by setting up a new idol. The Israelites came to their military hero and asked him to be their king. Gideon turned down the invitation...but then acted as a king anyway. The false humility in Gideon's reply and actions demonstrate that pride had taken root in his life. He created a gold-covered clothing item but set it up as an idol so it became a snare to his family and caused Israel to "prostitute" themselves to other gods (8:33). Gideon left behind a legacy of idolatry.