Question: "Who was Gideon in the Bible?"
Answer: The account of Gideon’s life is recorded in Judges 6:11-8:32. The backdrop for Gideon’s biography begins with the Israelites being ravaged by the Midianites as a consequence of their disobedience to God (Judges 6:1). For seven years they faced invasions from the Midianites, Amalekites, and Eastern foreigners who ruined their crops and destroyed their cattle. Although they had been unfaithful to God by worshiping the gods of the Amorites, they cried out to God for His help without realizing why this was happening to them (Judges 6:6). And so God sends them a prophet to remind them of how the one true God had provided for them in the past and yet how quickly they had forsaken Him (Judges 6:8-10).
God hears their cries and graciously intervenes by sending an angel to Gideon to call him into service (vss. 11-14). Gideon, whose name means “cutter” or “cutter of trees,” belonged to an undistinguished family of the Abiezrites, but from the angel’s greeting we can assume that Gideon had already proved to be a mighty warrior (Judges 6:12). Though Gideon was a willing servant of God, he needed assurance that it was, in fact, God calling him to this divine service (vs.17). In accomplishing the mission set before him by God, Gideon proves himself to be faithful, a mighty warrior, a strong leader of men (Judges 7:17), and a diplomat (Judges 8:1-3). As such, he is included in a fitting testimonial for the great men of faith in Hebrews 11:32-34. Gideon was the fifth judge and renowned as the greatest of Israel.
The highlights of Gideon’s life include his victorious battle against Israel’s enemies. However, we mustn’t overlook his amazing faith, by which he carried out God’s mission and which was first put to the test and confirmed when he destroyed the Baal idols his father and the community had been worshiping (Judges 6:25-27). Gideon’s battle triumph is preceded by God’s anointing (Judges 6:34). It was no small feat that Gideon managed to enlist his tribesmen, the Abiezerites, to go into battle with him. These were the men whose idols he had destroyed and who had renamed him “Jerub-baal” (Judges 6:32). Before entering battle, Gideon’s troops number 32,000, but in obedience to God he reduces them by 22,000 (Judges 7:2-3). Again in obedience to God he decreases the remaining 10,000 by a further 9,700, leaving him with just 300 men (vss. 7-8). This was against an enemy that is described as “thick as locusts” with “camels as numerous as the grains of sand on the seashore” (Judges 7:12). With the battle finally won, the people suggest that Gideon rule over them as their king, but he declines their accolades and tells them the Lord will rule over them (Judges 8:22-23).
Gideon had proved his faithfulness to God, and his obedience had required him to take a stand against his own father and tribe. And, although he feared his own people (Judges 6:24), from the three requests he made for the Lord’s confirmation of His will, it is evident he feared God much more. In battle he took on far greater odds than were realistic to mere mortals. When the Israelites wanted to honor him as their king for triumphing over their enemies and restoring Israel’s pride, Gideon, recognizing God as the real victor in the battle, declines their request and affords the rightful sovereignty to God. This was a great test of Gideon’s faithfulness, when he could so easily have succumbed to pride by accepting the people’s honor. So, it is with great surprise that we see Gideon go on to compromise his faith by requesting they all contribute gold from the plunder of the battle so he could create an “ephod,” a breastplate or mask used in cultic worship (Judges 8:24-26). And, as we see in verse 27, it became a snare to Gideon and his family.
From Gideon’s example we can learn that no matter how great the odds against us may be, our faithful God is sovereign, and He will always see us through whatever battles we face in life, as long as we remain faithful to His calling and obedient to His commands. “Trust the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5-6). We can also see how God uses ordinary people to accomplish His plans, although with Gideon, the key factor was his willingness to obey God.
Sometimes, the most difficult people to witness our faith to are our families. And we can see after Gideon destroys the false gods his family had been worshiping that he receives an anointing from the Lord. It was because of this anointing that he was able to accomplish the mission that God had set before him. And it is with God’s anointing on our lives that we can truly claim “I can do everything through Him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13). Gideon had gone from being a warrior in hiding, threshing wheat at the foot of a hill out of sight of the enemy, to vanquishing the same enemy in battle. However, he was careful to ensure that it was God’s will he was obeying. As the Apostle Paul wrote, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2).
However, unlike Gideon, who had proved his faithfulness to God and received God’s answers to his requested signs as an encouragement, we must not expect God to do likewise for those who request signs from God because of their doubts or weak faith. (See our article on laying out fleeces at http://www.gotquestions.org/prayer-fleece.html.) There may be times when everyone around us does lack the faith to go on, and it is up to us, like Gideon, to take the lead by our example and encourage the weak among us (Judges 7:17; Romans 15:1).