The story of Gideon and his life begins with God allowing the Israelites to be dominated, for seven years, by the Midianites. This was done as punishment for the people's sins (Judges 6:1). The Midianites were a wandering band of nomads who, with help from the Amalekites and others, would make regular incursions into Israel to plunder and destroy their crops and animals (verses 3 to 5).
The people were so oppressed that they hid in fortified areas, caves and mountainous dens in order to protect themselves and some of their belongings (Judges 6:2). Their sufferings were so great that they "cried to the LORD" (verse 6, HBFV throughout) for help. Their cry is heard and the Eternal sends a prophet to inform them why they were being oppressed (verses 8 - 10). He then sends an angel of the Lord to a man named Gideon who, at the time of the visit, was threshing wheat near a winepress in order to avoid detection (verse 11).
Gideon is commissioned to free the Israelites from their oppressors. His first act, however, is to tear down his father's pagan altar and replace it with one dedicated to the true God (Judges 6:25 - 28). Soon after this event, the Midianites gather in the valley of Jezreel (verse 33) with a combined strength of 135,000 fighting men (Judges 8:10). After blowing a trumpet to sound the alarm of war, Gideon sends messengers to several tribes in order to summon an army. Still lacking faith, however, he asks for and receives two miracles involving a fleece (verses 36 to 40).
The Eternal, not wanting his people to believe their own strength freed them from their enemies, decides to whittle down the initial 32,000 men (Judges 7:3) who volunteered to fight the Midianites.
2. And the LORD said to Gideon, "The people with you are too many for Me to give the Midianites into their hands, lest Israel boast themselves against Me, saying, 'My own hand has saved me' (Judges 7:2)
The number of men who will ultimately go against the enemy is reduced to 300, a staggering decrease of more than 90% (Judges 7:2 - 7)! The small army is commanded to attack at night (verse 9). God, however, aware that Gideon's resolve needs one final assurance of victory, tells him to visit, in secret, the enemy camp. While in the camp, he hears the interpretation of a divinely inspired dream. The interpreter mentions his name and then states ". . . for into his hand God has delivered Midian and all the army" (verse 14)!
Reassured of victory, the Israelites surround the enemy camp. When signaled, the men blow a trumpet, then smash a jar to reveal a lighted torch, then shout as loud as they can "For the LORD and for Gideon" (Judges 7:18)! The sudden noises, coupled with the appearance of torches, bring chaos and confusion to the enemy. While many begin to fight and kill each other, still others flee the area in fear (verses 21 - 22)!
Those Midianites who make it out of camp with their life begin to travel east toward the Jordan River with three Israelite tribes pursuing them. Messengers are also sent to the tribe of Ephraim requesting that they guard some of Jordan's strategic crossing areas. The Ephraimites not only guard some passages but also kill two Midianite princes (Judges 7:22 - 25). Gideon's 300-man army also pursues the enemy. Ultimately, many of the remaining 15,000 enemy troops are killed and two Midianite kings are put to death (Judges 8:10 - 21).
The people of Israel, grateful for the victory, ask Gideon to be their king and establish a ruling dynasty over them (Judges 8:22). He flatly refuses their offer by reminding them that they already have a King.
"I will not rule over you, neither shall my son rule over you. The Lord shall rule over you" (Judges 8:23)
As a reward, however, Gideon asks for and receives the gold earrings worn by the slain enemy. He later melts some of the jewelry into an ephod which, sadly, the people soon use for idolatrous purposes (Judges 8:24 - 27). After his military exploits he serves as a Judge in Israel for forty years (1145 to 1105 B.C.). During his time as Judge the land is at peace (Judges 8:28). He marries many wives (polygamy) who give him seventy sons (verse 30) and many daughters.
More words are written, in the KJV Bible, about Gideon and his exploits (Judges 6 - 8) than any other Judge. He is also the seventh person to serve as a Judge, the first six being Joshua, Othniel, Ehud, Deborah, Barak and Eli.
His calling could be considered an example of ironic humor within Scripture. The angel who first appeared to him called him a "mighty warrior" or "mighty man of valor" (Judges 6:12). This was said even though, at the time, he was SECRETLY threshing wheat in fear the Midianites would steal his food or otherwise threaten his life!
The Bible lists the names of three of Gideon's sons. His firstborn was called Jether (Judges 8:20). The other two named sons are Abimelech (Judges 8:31, 9:1) and Jotham (verse 5). Abimelech, after his father died, used deceit and murder to rule like a Judge AND king in Israel for three years. His sins catch up with him, however, and he is ultimately killed by a woman (Judges 9:53 - 54).
The Gideons International is named after the man who, during his life, was able to accomplish great things with few resources. Started in 1908, the group has given out more than two billion copies of Scripture through places such as hotels, hospitals, prisons and schools.