Gideon

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Gideon or Gedeon (/ˈɡɪd..ən/;[1] Hebrew: גִּדְעוֹן, Modern Gid'on Tiberian Giḏʻôn), which means "Destroyer," "Mighty warrior," or "Feller (of trees)" was, according to the Tanakh, a judge of the Hebrews. His story is recorded in chapters 6 to 8 of the Book of Judges in the Hebrew Bible. Judges 6–8. He is also named in chapter 11 of the Epistle to the Hebrews as an example of a man of faith.

Family[edit source | edit]

Gideon is the son of Joash, from the Abiezrite clan in the tribe of Manasseh and lived in Ephra.[2]

Biblical narrative[edit source | edit]

"Gideon thanks God for the miracle of the dew", painting by Maarten van Heemskerck (Musée des Beaux-Arts de Strasbourg)

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. 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 6:16ff, 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.(Judges 6:36–40, New American Standard Bible)

On God's instruction, Gideon destroyed the town's altar to the foreign god Baal and the symbol of the goddess Asherah beside it.[2] 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:

4But Adonai Elohim Said to Gideon, "There are still too many men. Take them down to the water, and I will sift them for you there. If I say, 'This one shall go with you, he shall go; but if I say, this one shall not go with you, he shall not go." 5 So Gideon took the men down to the water. There Adonai Elohim Told him, "Separate those who lap the water with their tongues like a dog from those who kneel down to drink." 6Three hundred men lapped with their hands to their mouths. All the rest got down on their knees to drink. 7 Adonai Elohim Said to Gideon, "With the 300 men that lapped I will save you and give the Midianites into your hands. Let all the other men go, each to his own place.(Judges 7:4–7, NIV Bible)

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)[3] and a clay jar with a torch hidden inside. Divided into three companies, Gideon and the three hundred marched on the enemy camp.

17"Watch me," he told them. "Follow my lead. When I get to the edge of the camp, do exactly as I do. 18When I and all who are with me blow our trumpets, then from all around the camp blow yours and shout, 'For Adonai and for Gideon.' " .... 20The three companies blew the trumpets and smashed the jars. Grasping the torches in their left hands and holding in their right hands the trumpets they were to blow, they shouted, "A sword for Adonai and Gideon!" 21While each man held his position around the camp, all the Midianites ran, crying out as they fled. 22When the three hundred trumpets sounded, Adonai caused the men throughout the camp to turn on each other with their swords. (Judges 7:17–22, NIV Bible)
Gideon's fleece, as symbol of Mary, in a "Hunt of the Unicorn Annunciation" (ca. 1500) from a Netherlandish book of hours. For the complicated iconography, see Hortus Conclusus.

Gideon sent messengers ahead into Israel calling for the Ephriamites to pursue the retreating Midianites and two of their leaders, Oreb and Zeeb.[2] 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 carries on to make an "ephod" out of the gold won in battle, which causes 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 view[edit source | edit]

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.[4]

Christian Orthodox and Catholic interpretation[edit source | edit]

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 Calendar of Saints of the Armenian Apostolic Church on July 30.

Gideon of Manasseh
Cadet branch of the Tribe of Manasseh
Preceded by
Deborah
Judge of IsraelSucceeded by
Abimelech

References[edit source | edit]

  1. ^ LDS.org: "Book of Mormon Pronunciation Guide" (retrieved 2012-02-25), IPA-ified from «gĭd´ē-un»
  2. ^ a b c Gigot, Francis. "Gideon." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 6. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1909. 26 Jan. 2013
  3. ^ An interesting theory about the significance of the shofar is advanced in Chapter 3-1 of Hearing Shofar: The Still Small Voice of the Ram's Horn. The author, Michael Chusid, hypothesizes that most of Gideon's troops owned their own shofar and used them as drinking vessels similar to rhyton. The three hundred that had to kneel were so poorly equipped they did not even own a shofar. This underscores that God wanted Gideon to have a weak force so it would be impossible to claim that their victory was by force of arms and not by divine intervention.
  4. ^ "Gideon", Jewish Encyclopedia