Harper’s Bible Dictionary
edited by Paul J. Achtemier (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1985)
You are strongly recommended to add to your library the excellent revised edition of Harper's Bible Dictionary titled, The Harper Collins Bible Dictionary, Revised Edition [book review], edited by Paul J. Achtemeier, with the Society of Biblical Literature (NY: Harper Collins, 1996). It is currently the best one-volume Bible dictionary in English, and it is available at Border's Books, Christian Science Reading Rooms, http://www.borders.com, or http://www.christianbook.com.
Gideon (from the Heb. root meaning to cut off; also called Jerubaal, Judg. 6:32), the son of Joash the Abiezrite of the town of Ophrah in the tribal area of Manasseh. Gideon is counted among the major judges although the narrative describing his exploits (Judg. 6:11-8:32) does not refer to him as such.
There is scholarly disagreement concerning the sources of the Gideon story and their dates of composition. Nonetheless, the placement of Gideon after Deborah appears logical, since Deborahs victory over the Canaanites may have opened the door to incursions by desert nomads. These incursions were common in times of political and military weakness. The story of Gideon is prefaced by the camel-mounted invasions of the Midianites, Amalekites, and children of the East who looted the Israelite crops and animals (6:1-6).
It is at this time of dire circumstances and impoverishment (6:2, 6, 11) that Gideon receives his call to action by an angel (6:11-23). His hesitancy (6:15-21) is reminiscent of the call to Moses (Exod. 3-4), while his confrontation of the divine face-to-face (6:22) recalls Jacobs wrestling with the angel (Gen. 32:30; thereby, the author indicates to the reader that Gideon will be one of the great heroes of Israel). The building of the altar (6:24) indicates Gideons preparedness. His first act is a religious revoltan attack on the local Baal-Asherah cult (6:25-32), which is deemed to be at the root of Israels suffering (6:1, 7-10).
Battle Against the Midianites: After the initial success, Gideon began preparation for his battle against the Midianites, which occupies the main body of the story (6:34-8:21). He gathered together men from the tribes of Manasseh, Asher, Zebulun, and Naphtali (6:36-40). In order to emphasize Gods might (and not the peoples), Gideons army was pared down from thirty-three thousand (7:3) to ultimately only three hundredthe most courageous and able warriors (7:2-8). That night Gideon and a servant gathered intelligence information (by way of a dream interpretation, 7:8-15) at the Midianite camp at En-dor between the hill of Moreh and Mt. Tabor (7:1; Ps. 83:11). That same night, using psychological warfare, surprise, and darkness, Gideon and his band attacked the Midianites with maximum effect, causing them to flee toward the Jordan Valley (7:16-22). Soldiers from the tribes of Naphtali, Ephraim, Asher, and Manasseh (the thousands sent back to lie in ambush?) cut the Midianites down at the Jordan fords and two Midianite princes, Oreb and Zeeb, were killed (7:23-25; Ps. 83:12-13). After calming down the Ephraimites who complained of not being included in the initial preparations (8:1-3), Gideon and his three hundred pursued the kings of Midian, Zebah, and Zalmunna beyond the Jordan. On the way, Gideon requested food for his men from Succoth and Penuel but was rebuffed (8:4-9). At Karkor, once again using stealth and surprise, Gideon fell upon the remnants of the Midianites (8:10, fifteen thousand out of a hundred and twenty thousand!) and captured the two kings (8:10-13). After exacting punishment upon Succoth and Penuel (8:14-17), Gideon, acting as the blood-avenger for his brothers deaths, killed Zebah and Zalmunna (8:15-21). The fame of this victory over the Midianites is attested by its reference in other Biblical sources (Isa. 9:3; 10:26; Ps. 83:10-12; cf. 1 Sam. 12:11; Heb. 11:12).
Gideons humility (cf. 6:15) and religiosity are evinced by his refusal to accept hereditary rulership over Israel with the immortal words, I will not rule over you, and my son will not rule over you; the Lord will rule over you (8:23). This incident illustrates the need for a stable leadership that eventually culminated in the monarchy as well as the view of the religious elite during the period of the judges that Israel could have only one king who was the permanent rulerGod; any attempt to create a human kingship was perceived as a revolt and rejection of God (1 Sam. 8:7). Despite Gideons rejection, after his death his son Abimelech tried to take the kingship for himself (Judg. 9).
One element of Gideons religiosity is criticized: his fashioning of an ephod out of the spoil of the golden earrings (cf. Exod. 32:2-3), which became the peoples fetish (8:24-27). The editors conclusion mentions Gideons seventy sons and his burial in the crypt of his father (8:29-32).
Edited for BibleTexts.com by Robert Nguyen Cramer