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|Judges in the Bible|
|Italics indicate individuals not explicitly described as judges|
|Book of Joshua|
|Book of Judges|
|First Book of Samuel|
Gideon or Gedeon (//; Hebrew: גִּדְעוֹן, Modern Gid'on Tiberian Giḏʻôn), which means "Destroyer," "Mighty warrior," or "Feller (of trees)" was, according to the Hebrew Bible, a judge of the Israelites. His story is recorded in chapters 6 to 8 of the Book of Judges.  He is also named in chapter 11 of the Epistle to the Hebrews as an example of a man of faith.
As is the pattern throughout the book of Judges, the Israelites again turned away from God after 40 years of peace brought by Deborah's victory over Canaan and were allowed to be oppressed by the neighboring Midianites and Amalekites and the children of the east. God chose Gideon, a young man from the tribe of Manasseh, to free the people of Israel and to condemn their worship of idols.
Very unsure of both himself and God's command, he requested proof of God's will by three miracles: firstly a sign from an angel in Judges 6:16, and then two signs involving a fleece, performed on consecutive nights and the exact opposite of each other:
36 Then Gideon said to God, “If You will deliver Israel through me, as You have spoken, 37 behold, I will put a fleece of wool on the threshing floor. If there is dew on the fleece only, and it is dry on all the ground, then I will know that You will deliver Israel through me, as You have spoken.” 38 And it was so. When he arose early the next morning and squeezed the fleece, he drained the dew from the fleece, a bowl full of water. 39 Then Gideon said to God, “Do not let Your anger burn against me that I may speak once more; please let me make a test once more with the fleece, let it now be dry only on the fleece, and let there be dew on all the ground.” 40 God did so that night; for it was dry only on the fleece, and dew was on all the ground.
On God's instruction, Gideon destroyed the town's altar to the foreign god Baal and the symbol of the goddess Asherah beside it. He went on to send out messengers to gather together men from the tribes of Asher, Zebulun, and Naphtali, as well as his own tribe Manasseh in order to meet an armed force of the people of Midian and the Amalek that had crossed the Jordan River and were encamped in the Valley of Jezreel.
However, God informed Gideon that the men he had gathered were too many – with so many men, there would be reason for the Israelites to claim the victory as their own instead of acknowledging that God had saved them. God first instructed Gideon to send home those men who were afraid. Gideon then allowed any man who wanted to leave, to leave; 22,000 men returned home and 10,000 remained. Yet the number was still too many, according to God:
4 Then the Lord said to Gideon, “The people are still too many; bring them down to the water and I will test them for you there. Therefore it shall be that he of whom I say to you, ‘This one shall go with you,’ he shall go with you; but everyone of whom I say to you, ‘This one shall not go with you,’ he shall not go.” 5 So he brought the people down to the water. And the Lord said to Gideon, “You shall separate everyone who laps the water with his tongue as a dog laps, as well as everyone who kneels to drink.” 6 Now the number of those who lapped, putting their hand to their mouth, was 300 men; but all the rest of the people kneeled to drink water. 7 The Lord said to Gideon, "I will deliver you with the 300 men who lapped and will give the Midianites into your hands; so let all the other people go, each man to his home."
During the night God instructed Gideon to approach the Midianite camp. Gideon overheard a Midianite man tell a friend of a dream in which God had given the Midianites over to Gideon. Gideon worshiped God for His encouragement and revelation. Gideon returned to the Israelite camp and gave each of his men a trumpet (shofar) and a clay jar with a torch hidden inside. Divided into three companies, Gideon and the three hundred marched on the enemy camp.
17 He said to them, “Look at me and do likewise. And behold, when I come to the outskirts of the camp, do as I do. 18 When I and all who are with me blow the trumpet, then you also blow the trumpets all around the camp and say, ‘For the Lord and for Gideon.’” 19 So Gideon and the hundred men who were with him came to the outskirts of the camp at the beginning of the middle watch, when they had just posted the watch; and they blew the trumpets and smashed the pitchers that were in their hands. 20 When the three [b]companies blew the trumpets and broke the pitchers, they held the torches in their left hands and the trumpets in their right hands for blowing, and cried, “A sword for the Lord and for Gideon!” 21 Each stood in his place around the camp; and all the army ran, crying out as they fled. 22 When they blew 300 trumpets, the Lord set the sword of one against another even throughout the whole army; and the army fled as far as Beth-shittah toward Zererah, as far as the edge of Abel-meholah, by Tabbath.
Gideon sent messengers ahead into Israel calling for the Ephraimites to pursue the retreating Midianites and two of their leaders, Oreb and Zeeb. Gideon and the three hundred pursued Zebah and Zalmunna, the two Midianite kings. When he had asked for provisions in his pursuit, the men of Succoth and Peniel refused and taunted Gideon. After capturing the two kings, Gideon punished the men of Succoth, and pulled down the tower of Peniel killing all the men there. Finally, Gideon himself killed Zebah and Zalmunna as justice for the death of his brothers.
The Israelites pleaded with Gideon to be their king, but he refused, telling them that only God was their ruler. Interestingly, however, he went on to make an "ephod" out of the gold won in battle, which caused the whole of Israel again to turn away from God. Gideon had 70 sons from the many women he took as wives. He also had a concubine who bore him a son that he named Abimelech (which means "my father is king"). There was peace in Israel for forty years during the life of Gideon. As soon as Gideon died of old age, the Israelites again turned to worship the false god Baal-Berith and ignored the family of Gideon.
Historical-critical scholars consider the story of Gideon to be a composite narrative. Behind these various elements, and molded according to different view-points and intentions, lie popular traditions concerning historical facts and explanations of names once of an altogether different value, but now adapted to a later religious consciousness. The account of Gideon's war against Midian is a reflection of the struggle of his own clan or tribe with the hostile Bedouins across the Jordan for the possession of the territory, mixed with reminiscences of tribal jealousies on the part of Ephraim.
Gideon is regarded as a saint by the Eastern Orthodox/Eastern Catholic Churches as well as the Roman Catholic Church, who hold his feast day on September 26 (those churches which follow the traditional Julian Calendar, September 26 currently falls on October 9 of the modern Gregorian Calendar). His feast day is listed in the 2004 edition of the "Roman Martyrology" as (2) on September 26. He is also commemorated, together with the other righteous figures of the Old Testament, on the Sunday before Christmas (Fourth Sunday of Advent). He is commemorated as one of the Saints of the Armenian Apostolic Church on July 30.
Gideon of Manasseh
Cadet branch of the Tribe of Manasseh
|Judge of Israel||Succeeded by|