The Story of Patriarchs and Prophets
by Ellen G. White
Chapter 53: The Earlier Judges
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The king of Mesopotamia, the king of Moab, and after them
the Philistines, and the Canaanites of Hazor, led by Sisera, in
turn became the oppressors of Israel. Othniel, Shamgar, and
Ehud, Deborah and Barak, were raised up as deliverers of their
people. But again "the children of Israel did evil in the sight of
the Lord; and the Lord delivered them into the hand of Midian."
Heretofore the hand of the oppressor had fallen but lightly on
the tribes dwelling east of the Jordan, but in the present calamities
they were the first sufferers.
The Amalekites on the south of Canaan, as well as the Midianites
on its eastern border, and in the deserts beyond, were
still the unrelenting enemies of Israel. The latter nation had
been nearly destroyed by the Israelites in the days of Moses, but [p. 546] they had since increased greatly, and had become numerous and
powerful. They had thirsted for revenge; and now that the
protecting hand of God was withdrawn from Israel, the opportunity
had come. Not alone the tribes east of Jordan, but the whole
land suffered from their ravages. The wild, fierce inhabitants of
the desert, "as locusts for multitude" (Judges 6:5, R.V.), came
swarming into the land, with their flocks and herds. Like a
devouring plague they spread over the country, from the river
Jordan to the Philistine plain. They came as soon as the harvests
began to ripen, and remained until the last fruits of the earth
had been gathered. They stripped the fields of their increase and
robbed and maltreated the inhabitants and then returned to the
deserts. Thus the Israelites dwelling in the open country were
forced to abandon their homes, and to congregate in walled
towns, to seek refuge in fortresses, or even to find shelter in caves
and rocky fastnesses among the mountains. For seven years this
oppression continued, and then, as the people in their distress
gave heed to the Lord's reproof, and confessed their sins, God
again raised up a helper for them.
Gideon was the son of Joash, of the tribe of Manasseh. The
division to which this family belonged held no leading position,
but the household of Joash was distinguished for courage and
integrity. Of his brave sons it is said, "Each one resembled the
children of a king." All but one had fallen in the struggles
against the Midianites, and he had caused his name to be feared
by the invaders. To Gideon came the divine call to deliver his
people. He was engaged at the time in threshing wheat. A
small quantity of grain had been concealed, and not daring to
beat it out on the ordinary threshing floor, he had resorted to a
spot near the winepress; for the season of ripe grapes being still
far off, little notice was now taken of the vineyards. As Gideon
labored in secrecy and silence, he sadly pondered upon the
condition of Israel and considered how the oppressor's yoke might
be broken from off his people.
Suddenly the "Angel of the Lord" appeared and addressed
him with the words, "Jehovah is with thee, thou mighty man
"O my Lord," was his answer, "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 [p. 547] Egypt? but now the Lord hath forsaken us, and delivered us
into the hands of the Midianites."
The Messenger of heaven replied, "Go in this thy might, and
thou shalt save Israel from the hand of the Midianites: have not
I sent thee?"
Gideon desired some token that the one now addressing him
was the Covenant Angel, who in time past had wrought for
Israel. Angels of God, who communed with Abraham, had once
tarried to share his hospitality; and Gideon now entreated the
divine Messenger to remain as his guest. Hastening to his tent,
he prepared from his scanty store a kid and unleavened cakes,
which he brought forth and set before Him. But the Angel bade
him, "Take the flesh and the unleavened cakes, and lay them
upon this rock, and pour out the broth." Gideon did so, and then
the sign which he had desired was given: with the staff in His
hand, the Angel touched the flesh and the unleavened cakes,
and a flame bursting from the rock consumed the sacrifice. Then
the Angel vanished from his sight.
Gideon's father, Joash, who shared in the apostasy of his
countrymen, had erected at Ophrah, where he dwelt, a large
altar to Baal, at which the people of the town worshiped. Gideon
was commanded to destroy this altar and to erect an altar to
Jehovah over the rock on which the offering had been consumed,
and there to present a sacrifice to the Lord. The offering of sacrifice
to God had been committed to the priests, and had been
restricted to the altar at Shiloh; but He who had established
the ritual service, and to whom all its offerings pointed, had
power to change its requirements. The deliverance of Israel was
to be preceded by a solemn protest against the worship of Baal.
Gideon must declare war upon idolatry before going out to
battle with the enemies of his people.
The divine direction was faithfully carried out. Knowing that
he would be opposed if it were attempted openly, Gideon
performed the work in secret; with the aid of his servants,
accomplishing the whole in one night. Great was the rage of the men
of Ophrah when they came next morning to pay their devotions
to Baal. They would have taken Gideon's life had not Joash—who
had been told of the Angel's visit—stood in defense of his
son. "Will ye plead for Baal?" said Joash. "Will ye save him? he
that will plead for him, let him be put to death whilst it is yet [p. 548] morning: if he be a god, let him plead for himself, because one
hath cast down his altar." If Baal could not defend his own altar,
how could he be trusted to protect his worshipers?
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