“Therefore on that day he called him (Gideon) Jerubbaal, saying, Let Baal plead against him, because he hath thrown down his altar.”
Already the night of the same day in which he had been, but he was also a man and had not been left unaffected by his spiritual weakness and was put to the first great test of his faith.
Gideon was a believing child of God and had always been; but he was also a man and had not been left unaffected by the spiritual weakness which characterized his age. To a certain extent he shared the weakness of his father. Upon his father’s land was an altar and a grove dedicated to the service of Baal. It was not that his father was an ardent worshiper of Baal. If he did take part at all, it was half-heartedly; and at the same time he tried privately to maintain the worship of Jehovah in his home. It was just that the people wanted this altar to Baal, and he did not have the courage to resist them. It was somewhat the same with Gideon. It was true that he had never taken part in the worship of Baal, and every one knew that he was opposed to it because he still trusted in Jehovah. But at the same time he had done nothing about this terrible Baal worship that was going on there on his father’s own land. He endured it without open opposition.
Thus it was, that God’s first command to him was, “Take thy father’s young bullock, even the second bullock of seven years old, and throw down the altar of Baal that thy father bath, and cut down the grove that is by it: and build an altar unto the LORD thy God upon the top of this rock, in the ordered place, and take the second bullock, and offer a burnt sacrifice with the wood of the grove which thou shalt cut down.”
There was good reason why this command of God had to be given to Gideon before anything else. This existence of idolatrous groves and idols in the land was the most critical problem confronting the nation. As long as they were there, God would not deliver their nation from the oppression of the enemy. Gideon’s first duty would be to see that the people put all of this idolatry away. But, if he was to do this, it would be necessary that his own house and his own family should give an example that would be above reproof. As long as his own father maintained an altar and a grove to Baal on his land, it could not be expected that anyone would listen to his instruction. This had to be gotten out of the way.
Once Gideon had received this command from God there was no question in his heart but that it had to be obeyed. But at the same time he realized full well what the reaction of the people should be to this. There were many in the land who loved the service of these heathen idols more than anything else. In recent years they had become very bold; for, while they had increased in power and influence in the land, the worshipers of Jehovah who remained had withdrawn into secrecy. If now a follower of Jehovah should presume to go out and lay to ruin one of the favored altars and groves of Baal, it was hard to tell with what ferocity the Baa1 worshipers would respond. They might well come forth to Baal’s defense with all the wicked zeal which they showed in their heathenish acts of worship.
Thus it was that Gideon waited until all was dark and everyone was sleeping. Then he called to him ten men of his own household. These were trusted men who commonly joined him in his daily household devotions to Jehovah. Quietly, swiftly, and with determination they went out under the cover of darkness to do their work. There was a great deal of hard work to do. The altar of Baal had to be disassembled, and the great trees of the grove had to be cut down without awaking the people of the neighborhood. After that twelve large, uncut stones had to be gathered and built together into an altar such as was used only for the service of Jehovah. Finally, his father’s bullock of seven years old had to be slaughtered and presented as an offering upon the altar. All through the night the men labored so that by the time the first rays of dawn began to shine they fell upon the smoke of the sacrifice rising gently up toward heaven.
Hardly had the eleven men left the scene before the people of the district began to stir about. And it did not take long before the work of the night was discovered. A shout went up and soon a large crowd of people were gathered about the altar with the smoke of its sacrifice still rising unto heaven. It burned with the wood of the grove that had been torn down in the same place where formerly they had so often engaged in their wicked rituals. It did not take them long to conclude whose work this was. Gideon was the only one of the district known to have remained faithful to the service of Jehovah. In an ugly mood the crowd began to move toward the buildings where Gideon and his family lived, although secretly there were perhaps a goodly number who felt twinges of conscience from looking upon a sacrifice to Jehovah whom they also had been taught to worship in their youth. But all was covered up with a loud determination to have the life of the one who had ruined their grove.
At the house Joash, Gideon’s father, was waiting for them. He had learned through the night what Gideon and his servants were doing. Although he had never done it himself because he knew so well what the reaction of the people would be, he was not sorry to see this center of iniquity cleaned out from off his land. In fact as he had lain through the night listening to the muted sounds of destruction that came from the grove, he had begun to feel pride in the courage which his son was showing. He had decided to stand by Gideon no matter what the price might be. When in the morning the crowd stood angrily before his door, he was ready for them.
There was no ceremony or explanation from the crowd as they faced Joash. Boldly and with finality they made their demand, “Bring out thy son, that he may die: because he hath cast down the altar of Baal, and because he hath cut down the grove that was by it.”
But Joash knew his people and how to answer them. He would not deny what Gideon had done, or even excuse it. Such would only compromise the testimony of defiance to Baal which Gideon’s actions had given. Joash did not plead with the people or argue. Rather, when he spoke, his words were dripping with ridicule, “Will ye plead for Baal? will ye save him? he that will plead for him, let him be put to death whilst it is yet morning: if he be a god, let him plead for himself, because one hath cast down his altar.”
These were words that cut deep into the consciences of the people. They had all been raised in the tradition of Jehovah, and they knew that in His holiness He would defend Himself against anyone who sinned against Him. This was to be expected because He was God. In fact, although they seldom allowed themselves to think of it that way, they knew deep in their hearts that their present suffering was the judgment of Jehovah upon their unfaithfulness to Him. And now Joash was challenging the divinity of Baal. It was a fair challenge. If Baa1 was a god as they claimed, let him defend and justify himself even as Jehovah was now doing. If any one would insist upon pressing for Gideon’s life, he would only do so because he did not trust Baal to take care of himself. This would be fully as presumptuous as Gideon’s deed. But even as Joash spoke, everyone knew that Baal would never work vengeance upon Gideon. Never yet had he proved himself in that way. He was helpless in his own cause. But now that they thought of it, each was reminded anew that Jehovah was not helpless like that. If they wanted their grove restored, they would have to put Gideon out of the way themselves. But did they dare? Already they were suffering an almost unbearable punishment at the hand of Jehovah; did they dare to challenge Him still further, as Joash did Baal? One by one they turned away, apparently to wait for Baal to justify himself, but in reality to think with shame on the helplessness of the idol which they worshiped, compared to the greatness of Gideon’s God.
And it was not there that day that the matter died. The report of what had happened passed from mouth to mouth until it filled the land. The new name that Joash had given his son, Jerubbaal, began to be known everywhere, for as Joash said, “Let Baal plead against him, because he has thrown down his altar.” Everywhere people were repeating the ridicule of Joash’s challenge, “If Baal be god, let him save himself.” People who before had been timid and afraid, hiding their devotion for Jehovah in secret, became bold to imitate the actions of Gideon. Out of his simple work of faith, performed secretly in the darkness of the night, Gideon saw his reputation established throughout the land as the leader in the cause of Jehovah.
It was harvest time and once again the Midianites and their allies were upon them. These were wandering peoples, and they could always be found where and when the most booty could be taken. As so often before, the children of Israel were helpless before them. They moved in and took what they wanted when they wanted it, and no one was able to resist them. But this time there was a new spirit in the land. Formerly whenever the Midianites had come like this, the people had tried to drown their sorrows with ever more frequent and more wicked rituals of idolatry. But not now. Idols and groves were rather disappearing. In the people there was a new spirit of hope and anticipation. It was as though the people who before had fatalistically submitted to this oppression now were looking to someone for deliverance. The Midianites might laugh, but the people remained confident. To the more thoughtful of the Midianites it was disturbing.
And then it happened—a trumpet was heard in Israel, not so much literally as figuratively. The Spirit of God came upon Gideon and he summoned the people to come and fight against Midian. Swiftly the message was carried through the land. The people heard gladly and listened. First it was Gideon’s own kinfolk of Abiezer, who had so shortly before demanded his life. They had rethought their actions and now gathered behind him. And then it was his own tribe, Manasseh, and Asher, and Zebulun, and Naphtali. Men began to come to Gideon from all directions, ready to take up arms behind him. Oh yes, corn; pared to the vast hordes of Midian, they were so few that the Midianites hardly noticed that there was any kind of movement afoot. Or if they did notice it, they thought they could afford to ignore it. After all, they filled the valley of Jezreel with thousands upon thousands of armed and experienced fighters. What did they have to fear of Gideon with his mere 38,000 crude and undisciplined farmers? What they failed to consider was the spirit of these men. They were come in faith, trusting in Jehovah their God to deliver them.