Our reading today begins with the Song of Deborah and Barak. God sovereignly delivered Israel from Jabin and his general Sisera through His people (Judges 4:23-24), and Deborah and Barak sing of the valor of the people (5:1). Note that they credit the leadership in Israel, which is a primary focus of the book of Judges. When there is Godly leadership, the people have reason to praise God, and are led to obey God. The Lord leaving Seir is a reference to His taking of the Holy Land (v. 4 – see Deut 33:2), and the rain and the earthquake are a reference to His sovereign power represented by “natural” occurrences (vv. 4-5 – earthquakes in the Old Testament are a symbol of God’s judgment). Verses 7 and 9 again praise God for the leadership He sovereignly appoints, but who at the same time willingly offer themselves to His people. Verse 8 is a reference to the pattern of idolatry in Israel. Verse 11 speaks of God’s sovereignty in victory, and yet the victory of God’s people.
In verses 14-18, we see that not all of God’s people shared in the victory. While Ephraim, Benjamin, Manasseh (represented by Machir – see Num 32:39-40), Zebulun, Issachar, and Naphtali fought for Israel, Reuben, Gad (represented by Gilead – see Josh 13:25), Dan, and Asher refrained from the battle. This shows the disunity already growing within Israel, which is only going to get worse. Verse 20 is praise to God for His sovereignty in the affairs of His people (like the migration of Heber from the Kenites – see 4:11, 17), and praises the instrument of His victory Jael in verses 24-27.
Chapter 6-8 tell the story of the judge Gideon. Note the refrain of Israel’s faithlessness in 6:1. Midian oppressed Israel severely, to the point that there was no food left to eat (vv. 3-5). We see that before God sends a deliverer this time, a prophet first reminds Israel why they are in the situation they are in: God gave them grace and salvation, but Israel responded with unbelief (vv. 8-10). In verse 11, the angel of the Lord enters the story once again. This is the pre-incarnate Christ. He appears to Gideon, who was beating out wheat while hiding from Midian (v. 11). Note the similarities between this story and the story of Moses. Like Moses, Gideon was carrying out the mundane work of everyday life when God appeared to him. Like Moses, he is commissioned by God directly to deliver Israel (v. 14). Like Moses, Gideon objects that he is not qualified for the job (v. 15). Like Moses, Gideon is told that God will be the true deliverer (v. 16).
We see that Gideon is a man of faith (v. 13), yet his faith is not as strong as Moses’. Whereas Moses asked for proof to offer Israel that God sent him, Gideon himself wants proof from God that He is sending him (vv. 17-21). Verse 22 shows that this is, in fact God Himself. Verse 23 shows that this is Christ, in Whom God is revealed to man face to face. Gideon was afraid of Midian, and therefore was threshing wheat in hiding, but in verse 27 we see that he is just as afraid of the idolaters of his own people around him. When it is discovered that Gideon destroyed the idolatrous altars of Baal and Ashteroth, we see why he was afraid: the people were committed to their idolatry (vv. 28-30)! Joash’s contention that real gods defend themselves (v. 31) is exactly the point – only one God does this. This incident earned Gideon (which means “to cut to pieces”) the name Jerubbaal (which means “to attack Baal”).
In verse 33, we see that Midian and a cohort of other peoples come against Israel. In response, Gideon, clothed in the Holy Spirit (v. 34) calls some of Israel to follow him into battle (vv. 34-35). Note that again, only some of the tribes go into battle. In verse 36, we see that Gideon asks for another sign from God, another indication of his weak faith (vv. 36-40).
In chapter 7, we see that God now offers His own proof that He is Who will fight for Israel (7:2). He whittles down 32,000 men to 300. First, the majority is excluded because of their lack of faith (v. 3). Then, God send 9,700 more men home (vv. 5-7). We see in verses 9-14 that God seeks to strengthen Gideon’s weak faith. God can use even a weak faith to accomplish His purposes! And Gideon responds through worship (v. 15). And in verse 22, we see that God sovereignly wins the victory again.
Chapter 8 brings into sharp focus the disunity in Israel. First, Ephraim is insulted that they were called to the battle late (8:1). Remember, Ephraim was supposed to be the de facto leader of Israel, and Gideon is one of their lesser brothers of the tribe of Manasseh. Gideon appeases their anger by giving them the credit for the victory. Second, we see that the men of Succoth (Gadites) are unwilling to support Gideon until they know he has defeated the kings of Midian (vv. 4-6). In response, Gideon vows revenge on them (v. 7). The same thing happens with the men of Penuel.
In verse 10 we see the amazing defeat of the Midianite cohort against the small band of Israelites. In verse 12, Gideon completes the victory with the capture of the two kings. He then exacts his revenge on the men of Succoth and Penuel. In verse 22, we see that the people of Israel want Gideon to rule over them. Gideon, however, has grown in faith, and rightly reminds them that God is their king (v. 23). In remembrance of the victory, Gideon fashions an ephod out of gold, and it becomes a idol for Israel, an idolatrous people (v. 27). The chapter ends by introducing Gideon’s son, Abimelech (v. 31), and with the start of the next cycle of disobedience (vv. 33-35).