Judges 5-6: The Iconoclastic Controversy

Judges 5:  The Praise Song as Eschaton

The Song of Deborah and Barak

1(BG) Then sang Deborah and Barak the son of Abinoam on that day:
2“That the leaders took the lead in Israel,
that(BH) the people offered themselves willingly,
bless the LORD!

3“Hear, O kings; give ear, O princes;
to the LORD I will sing;
I will make melody to the LORD, the God of Israel.

4“LORD,(BI) when you went out from Seir,
when you marched from the region of Edom,
(BJ) the earth trembled
and the heavens dropped,
yes, the clouds dropped water.
5The mountains(BK) quaked before the LORD,
(BL) even Sinai before the LORD, the God of Israel.

6“In the days of(BM) Shamgar, son of Anath,
in the days of(BN) Jael,(BO) the highways were abandoned,
and travelers kept to the byways.
7The villagers ceased in Israel;
they ceased to be until I arose;
I, Deborah, arose as a mother in Israel.
8(BP) When new gods were chosen,
then war was in the gates.
(BQ) Was shield or spear to be seen
among forty thousand in Israel?
9My heart goes out to the commanders of Israel
who(BR) offered themselves willingly among the people.
Bless the LORD.

The song opens with praise as it should be, and is very similar in theme and construction as Moses’ song in Exodus 15 – both songs beginning with a pattern of praise, followed by a poetic narrative of God’s mighty works, ending with a phrase of praise (compare v.9 “Bless the LORD” in Judges 5 and the end of Moses’ song’s “The LORD will reign forever”, “Sing to the LORD”).  Such is the joy of those who really know Christ, who are in a relationship with Him, who see His majestic hand guiding the Christians through these toils, through times when the highways were abandoned and travellers kept to the byways (v.6), when villagers ceased in Israel (v.7), when new gods were chosen, and war as in the gates (v.8).

Trinitarian analogy of Deborah and Barak

In another apparently confusing phrasing of the Hebrew, we find a mentioning of two Lords between verses 4 and 5 – the LORD who went out from Seir, marching from the region of Edom; and the mountains quaking before the LORD (as if now referring to a third person, when v.4 had been referring to the LORD as a second person).  This is a similar phrasing used in Exodus 19 and even earlier in Genesis 19:24, in relation to the Angel who is the visible LORD of the unseen LORD, the Father in third heaven.  Once again we see some direct support of the Trinitarian presence of God in the Old Testament, and even more importantly it seems to suggest that the LXX addition as Adam Clarke had earlier suggested in Judges 4:8 (and later on in v.23, the Angel of the LORD is once more referred to as participating in this symbolic war when He was seemingly absent in the narrative of chapter 5) – that this Angel, the Sent One, is the One who gives victory to Barak, who would march before him as He had with Israel before arriving at Mount Sinai.

Secondly we see how Deborah in v.7 refers to herself as a ‘mother’ in Israel, indirectly saying that the male judges are seen as ‘fathers’ in Israel, amplifying the acknowledgment that these judges are shadows of the true Parent of Israel, that being the Father God sending His angel to guide them, to guide Barak, by the power of the Spirit as shown through the prior episodes of Ehud and Shamgar.  Deborah and Barak, the wife of one who is called “torches” (indicating her fiery spiritual character as judge and prophetess) and Barak, he who is called “shining lightning” a name indicating the nature of an angelic appearance, both symbolically portray the Spirit and the Son respectively – sending forth the armies against God’s enemies – imitating the Son’s eternal dependence on the Spirit, and the Spirit’s prompting of the Son as His Wisdom and His Power.

10“Tell of it,(BS) you who ride on white donkeys,
you who sit on rich carpets[c]
and you who walk by the way.
11To the sound of musicians[d] at the watering places,
there they repeat the righteous triumphs of the LORD,
the righteous triumphs of his villagers in Israel.

We then turn to V.10 which speaks of ‘nobility and gentry’ as Matthew Henry reads from the expression of those riding on “white asses” and those who sit on “rich carpets”.  Deborah is here effectively speaking of the glory of the Israelites being given more through the victory.  It is no mere restoration of wealth, for the Israelites did not have such great wealth to begin with – they were merely a wandering nation with limited material possessions; and now they are amongst the ranks of those who ride rare white asses and are able to sit on rich carpets, emblematic of the recapitulation which Irenaeus taught, as opposed to mere restorationism.  Restoring ourselves to Eden is not the goal, but our goal is enjoy new creation where we inherit richer blessings, that we may enter New Jerusalem by an ass like Christ, that we may sit and enjoy true rest on beautiful materials as promised to us.  This is indeed a righteous triumph (v.11), worthy to be sung about – and such is the nature of ancient worship, that contemporary practice of praise and worship through songs written as if for one’s significant other is so pitifully empty of the theological weight and heart-warming experience through which Deborah and Barak’s song is intimately sung.

“Then down to the gates marched the people of the LORD.

12(BT) “Awake, awake, Deborah!
Awake, awake, break out in a song!
Arise, Barak,(BU) lead away your captives,
O son of Abinoam.
13Then down marched the remnant of the noble;
the people of the LORD marched down for me against the mighty.
14From(BV) Ephraim their root(BW) they marched down into the valley,[e]
following you, Benjamin, with your kinsmen;
from(BX) Machir marched down the commanders,
and from Zebulun those who bear the lieutenant’s[f] staff;
15the princes of Issachar came with Deborah,
and Issachar faithful to(BY) Barak;
into the valley they rushed at his heels.
Among the clans of Reuben
there were great searchings of heart.
16Why did you sit still(BZ) among the sheepfolds,
to hear the whistling for the flocks?
Among the clans of Reuben
there were great searchings of heart.
17(CA) Gilead stayed beyond the Jordan;
(CB) and Dan, why did he stay with the ships?
(CC) Asher sat still(CD) at the coast of the sea,
staying by his landings.
18(CE) Zebulun is a people who risked their lives to the death;
Naphtali, too, on the heights of the field.

19“The kings came, they fought;
then fought the kings of Canaan,
at(CF) Taanach, by the waters of(CG) Megiddo;
(CH) they got no spoils of silver.
20(CI) From heaven the stars fought,
from their courses they fought against Sisera.
21(CJ) The torrent Kishon swept them away,
the ancient torrent, the torrent Kishon.
March on, my soul, with might!

So between verses 12-21 we see a very wholesome treatment of the seven tribes’ involvement in the battles – a mobilisation of the majority of the church of Israel, the body of Christ, to do His will.  While the entire song is a victory fanfare, it is interesting how the song focuses on the waters of Megiddo and the ancient torrent Kishon.  I have already mentioned how the waters would be strategically beneficial for the Israelites because of the enemies’ chariots being disabled by the water.  And so v.19-21 is also an echo back to Moses’ song in the sense of the chariots of Pharoah being equally destroyed by the waters of judgment; yet there is something more nuanced here by the inclusion of Megiddo, which is both the place of “Armageddon” and also where Josiah the king of Judah was pierced (2 Kings 23:29).  All of these point towards our Christ who was pierced and will avenge his piercing at Megiddo and pushes forward the eschatological nature of these victory songs as pointing towards the final inevitable victory of Christ over Satan.  This battle carries such symbolism that even v.20, the fighting of the stars, is seen in such light by Adam Clarke:

The angels of God came to the assistance of Israel: and the stars in their orbits fought against Sisera; probably some thunder storm, or great inundation from the river Kishon, took place at that time, which in poetic language was attributed to the stars. So our poet sung relative to the storms which dispersed the Spanish armada in 1588: –

“Both winds and waves at once conspire

To aid old England – frustrate Spain’s desire.”

Perhaps it means no more than this: the time which was measured and ruled by the heavenly bodies seemed only to exist for the destruction of the Canaanites. There may be also a reference to the sun and moon standing still in the days of Joshua.”

While Clarke looks at the amazing geological manipulations of the LORD in construing the destruction of the Canaanites, I see the prophetic phrase by the prophetess of the stars fighting to mean the angelic forces against the Satan as represented by Sisera (a legitimate reading of the pagan kings representing Satan, c.f. Ezekiel 28), and only in the light of the eschaton, of the Resurrection Day that we see how Deborah and Barak, the Spirit and the Son’s great victory over Satan is imminent for light shines into darkness and darkness shall be entirely eliminated.

That is why, in this light, we see the song constructed for two purposes:  to praise God for His mighty works by the Angel; and secondly to shame those who did not participate in this work – namely Dan, Asher and Reuben (c.f. “great searchings of the heart”).  The church, once again, must work as an entire body, otherwise they are body parts which we should cut off so that the entire body does not go to hell (Matthew 18:8).

22“Then loud beat the horses’ hoofs
with the galloping, galloping of his steeds.

23“Curse Meroz, says the angel of the LORD,
curse its inhabitants thoroughly,
(CK) because they did not come to the help of the LORD,
to the help of the LORD against the mighty.

The Angel, Christ, here notably curses Meroz bitterly (according to Adam Clarke’s translation: ארו ארור  oru aror, curse with cursing – use the most awful execrations):

“This curse is pronounced by the angel of the Lord, our Lord Jesus, the captain of the Lord’s host (and those whom he curses are cursed indeed), and further than we have warrant and authority from him we may not curse. He that will richly reward all his good soldiers will certainly and severely punish all cowards and deserters. This city of Meroz seems to have been at this time a considerable place, since something great was expected from it; but probably, after the angel of the Lord had pronounced this curse upon it, it dwindled, and, like the fig-tree which Christ cursed, withered away, so that we never read of it after this in scripture.” – Matthew Henry

Indeed, this Meroz, meaning “refuge”, is anything but refuge.  Like the fig tree which did not bear fruit for Christ, so also Meroz did not bear the true name of refuge by failing to support those who would give true refuge (the Israelites), and instead passively supported Sisera who provided false refuge, in the form of enslavement.  Let us therefore learn from the tent-dweller Jael, just as Abraham himself lived in a tent (Hebrews 11) – and remember the typological symbolism provided in the following verses:

24“Most blessed of women be(CL) Jael,
the wife of Heber the Kenite,
of tent-dwelling women most blessed.
25(CM) He asked water and she gave him milk;
she brought him curds in a noble’s bowl.
26(CN) She sent her hand to the tent peg
and her right hand to the workmen’s mallet;
she struck Sisera;
she crushed his head;
she shattered and pierced his temple.
27Between her feet
he sank, he fell, he lay still;
between her feet
he sank, he fell;
where he sank,
there he fell—dead.

V.26-27 are particularly graphic concerning the death of Sisera – and given the typological nature of the song as referencing the Day of Christ’s return when He would destroy the enemy, so the analogy of Sisera as Satan carries forward especially to the ultimate focus of the song.  Jael is the blessed bride, far different from the whore of Babylon, and it is repeated that “between her feet” Satan fell, “between her feet” Satan fell.  This is a picture of how Satan is subjected under the feet of the church, by the tent peg Christ who nailed Satan to the cross as he is subjected to God’s wrath as Christ had experienced prior to His resurrection.  This phrase of “between one’s feet” is used in Genesis 49:10 to mean “offspring” (the ruler’s staff from between Judah’s feet, a reference of the Saviour coming from the offspring of Judah); and in Deuteronomy 28:57 too refers to pregnancy and birth.  From this perspective, we should understand v.27 to mean the creation experiencing birth pains, and since Christ’s incarnation when He, our Head, has ascended and is the firstfruit of New Creation, so the rest of His body, the church, is awaiting physical re-birth just as Paul mentioned in Romans 8:22 – waiting for the revelation of the true sons of God, the co-heirs with Christ, that everything is revealed between the feet of Christ under Whom all of creation was subjected to (Ephesians 1:22; Hebrews 2:8; Revelation 12:1).  Thus, as the sons of God and the true church is revealed, so also the true enemy is thrown into the lake of fire, the tent peg as a sign of his” bruised” head (Genesis 3). 

28(CO) “Out of the window she peered,
the mother of Sisera wailed through(CP) the lattice:
‘Why is his chariot so long in coming?
Why tarry the hoofbeats of his chariots?’
29Her wisest princesses answer,
indeed, she answers herself,
30‘Have they not found and(CQ) divided the spoil?—
A womb or two for every man;
spoil of dyed materials for Sisera,
spoil of dyed materials embroidered,
two pieces of dyed work embroidered for the neck as spoil?’

31(CR) “So may all your enemies perish, O LORD!
But your friends be(CS) like the sun(CT) as he rises in his might.”

(CU) And the land had rest for forty years.

And so the song ends with the enemy’s family crying – a picture which would describe very much the nature of today’s Christianity:  a bag of compromises as we over-sympathise and forget the LORD’s wrath at both sin and sinner.  Yes, we are called to be sensitive – but are called to be convicted about the awesome message of sin and salvation.  Sisera subjected himself to this fallen life and his spoil is given to his enemy, the church, a direct parallel between Jael and her husband, and Sisera and his mother.  The picture of two families, and victory, joy and praise founded on the gospel cutting through such family relations (Matthew 10:34) – the cries and wails of the Egyptians against the celebration of the Israelites during the death of the firstborn at the Passover; the cries and wails of Sisera’s mother against the celebration of Jael, the one in her family to stand up as a witness to Christ.  This brings us to v.31, that we are encouraged to have friends like the “sun as he rises in his might” – personifying the sun as a type of the sun of righteousness (Psalm 37:6; Malachi 4:2), Jesus Christ.

Yet, once again, these victories are ‘short-lived’ – for the reign of the judges are still subject to the infection of death.  The rest of 40 years, even in and unto itself a time of testing for the Israelites, for this typological rest cannot be achieved for eternity unless the 40 years are lived out bearing the fruit of the Spirit – something which the Israelites continually failed at doing.  So also we must remember that mere restoration to Adam will only lead us back to the Tree of Good and Evil – we must be deified in the meaning of the Patristic teachings – and thus live out our lives as true saints as new creation is made in us by the Spirit every day.

Judges 6:  The New in the Old

Israel and the Neighbouring Nations

1(CV) The people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, and the LORD gave them into the hand of(CW) Midian seven years. 2And the hand of Midian overpowered Israel, and because of Midian the people of Israel made for themselves the dens that are in the mountains and(CX) the caves and the strongholds. 3For whenever the Israelites planted crops, the Midianites and(CY) the Amalekites and(CZ) the people of the East would come up against them. 4They would encamp against them(DA) and devour the produce of the land, as far as Gaza, and leave no sustenance in Israel and no sheep or ox or donkey. 5For they would come up with their livestock and their tents; they would come(DB) like locusts in number—both they and their camels could not be counted—so that they laid waste the land as they came in. 6And Israel was brought very low because of Midian. And the people of Israel(DC) cried out for help to the LORD.

The unrest for seven years is as expected from the list of curses in Deuteronomy 28:38 – that the Midianites, the Amalekites, and the people of the East would come like locusts in number – laying waste to the land (v.5).  As such, the Israelites are but planting continually the crops which they wish to taste, but their very vineyard is continually taken away from them (Deuteronomy 28:30).  Such is the reality of their sin, and such is the ability of God to enable the neighbouring nations to teach Israel the lesson of spiritual warfare which Israel largely failed at and neglected in the times of temporary rest.  This is the sad nature of us sinful men, that God be the only One who remembers His eternal election and covenant with His Son, but those who stand outside of His Son are infected with the inability to remember, and contrarily positively sin against God by forgetting Him and His mighty work of redemption on the cross as typified by the great exodus:

7When the people of Israel cried out to the LORD on account of the Midianites, 8the LORD sent a prophet to the people of Israel. And he said to them, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel:(DD) I led you up from Egypt and brought you out of the house of bondage. 9And I delivered you from the hand of the Egyptians and from the hand of all who oppressed you, and(DE) drove them out before you and gave you their land. 10And I said to you, ‘I am the LORD your God;(DF) you shall not fear the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell.’ But you have not obeyed my voice.”

The Call of Gideon:  The Old Testament in the Old Testament

11Now the angel of the LORD came and sat under the terebinth at Ophrah, which belonged to Joash(DG) the Abiezrite, while his son(DH) Gideon was beating out wheat in the winepress to hide it from the Midianites.

Once again, the narrative is revealing much about the Angel of the LORD – for we see here that He could have simply appeared to Gideon (as in v.12).  Instead, prior to His appearance, He sat under the terebinth at Ophrah, which is south-west of Shechem.  We have been taught the importance of the terebinth tree near Shechem in Genesis 35:4 and Joshua 24:26; by nature, the tree has good shade as well (Hosea 4:13).  However, I believe the importance to lie in the fact that Christ is appealing to the symbolism of the terebinth tree near Shechem reminding the Israelites of the covenant between Christ and God expressed in the Genesis narrative through Jacob.

The irony is that Jacob, in the story, hid all the idols under the terebinth tree.  And here, by the end of the story, we see the rise (and ‘partial’ fall) of Gideon, ironically by the idol he created from the spoils of victory from the LORD.  Are our hands so dirty when we rely not on the Spirit?

If we return to the text and progression of the Angel sitting under the terebinth tree as a sign of covenant-reminder, and moving swiftly to Gideon beating out wheat in the winepress to hide it from the Midianites, we see a prophetic analogy to the progression of the Old Testament: for God’s covenant with Israel expressed and cut by the blood of circumcision, yet it is hidden from the eyes of Satan (Ezekiel 28:3) who had wanted to peer into this mystery of salvation revealed only to Christians from Old Testament to New.  This mystery is symbolised by Gideon beating out wheat in the winepress to hide it from the Midianites, just as God had been working through Israel, the weakest of all nations, when Satan had been conjuring the strongest enemies, from the Canaanites to the Rephaim, from pagan kings to the Nephilim – but God chose the foolish to thoroughly confound the wise, chose the weak but wise David to thoroughly humiliate the strong but Spirit-less Goliath.  And so chapter 6 opens with a clear symbolism of the unnamed prophet, akin to John the Baptist, preparing the way for the Angel who identified Himself as the covenant-making Son of God by sitting under the terebinth tree, and thus appears to Gideon in quietness, in intimacy, not in the presence of the enemy as such intimacy is an affair of Bride and Bridegroom – and commission him to do the works of spiritual warfare embodied in actual warfare.  As Matthew Henry observes,

“We put ourselves in the way of divine visits when we employ ourselves in honest business. Tidings of Christ’s birth were brought to the shepherds when they were keeping their flocks. The work he was about was an emblem of that greater work to which he was now to be called, as the disciples’ fishing was. From threshing corn he is fetched to thresh the Midianites, Isa_41:15. (3.) Distressed; he was threshing his wheat, not in the threshing-floor, the proper place, but by the wine-press, in some private unsuspected corner, for fear of the Midianites. He himself shared in the common calamity, and now the angel came to animate him against Midian when he himself could speak so feelingly of the heaviness of their yoke. The day of the greatest distress is God’s time to appear for his people’s relief.

12And(DI) the angel of the LORD appeared to him and said to him,(DJ) “The LORD is with you, O mighty man of valor.” 13And Gideon said to him, “Please, sir,[g] if the LORD is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are(DK) all his wonderful deeds(DL) that our fathers recounted to us, saying, ‘Did not the LORD bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the LORD has forsaken us and given us into the hand of Midian.”

Our Angel Immanuel is preaching immanuel – the LORD is with us, the LORD is with you – the same message preached throughout Scripture (c.f. Deuteronomy 31:6, 31:8; Joshua 1:9; 2 Samuel 14:17; Isaiah 7:14, 8:8), like v.16 later on in this chapter.  Although the actual Hebrew “immanuel” is not present in Judges, the referenced verses bear the foundational meaning of this name of Christ.   Yet, Gideon’s reply in v.13 is that of desperation, similar to that of the Hebrews in Egypt and that of Moses, crying to the LORD for salvation.

Such is the cry of Christ on the cross when He was given all the sin of mankind – that He was so entirely detached from the communion with His Father, but the eternal relation maintained only by the Spirit for fear of the potential implosion of all creation (Colossians 1 – for all of creation is held together in Christ).  Matthew Henry notes in particular the Chaldee reading of v.13, which states: “O my Lord! if the Lord be with us (which the Chaldee reads, Is the Shechinah of the Lord our help? making that the same with the Word of the Lord) why then has all this befallen us?”  The irony, and the humour, of the scenario is that the Word of God is right now standing before Him, and right now commissioning Gideon as the typological Saviour in preparation to the true Saviour yet to be incarnate.  For Christ to congratulate Gideon’s valour, it may come from him threshing the wheat in the winepress in secrecy for the glory and survival of his fellow brothers and sisters of Israel – and it matters not that Gideon is the weakest in Manasseh (v.15), for there is no other recorded instance of the Israelites standing up against the Midianites in secrecy or not, a sign of faith waiting to be nurtured by the Shepherd, just like the faith of Peter when he walked on water but failed upon being ‘inwardly-curved’ in unbelief:

14And the LORD[h] turned to him and said, “Go in this might of yours and save Israel from the hand of Midian;(DM) do not I send you?” 15And he said to him,(DN) “Please, Lord, how can I save Israel? Behold,(DO) my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house.” 16And the LORD said to him,(DP) “But I will be with you, and you shall strike the Midianites as one man.”

The ESV footnote for v.14 mentions the Angel of the LORD (also in the LXX) turning to Gideon, and thus we see how the term ‘LORD’ and the Angel as interchangeable, just as the Son and Father are interchangeable in terms of their equality as the One True and Living God (c.f. John 5).  And here, the choice of Gideon as the next judge follows on from the theme of choosing the weak to confound the strong – the tribe which has been greatly thinned and reduced to destroy the enemies which are like locusts.  The mighty claim of God in v.16 – Gideon shall strike the Midianites as one man; so also all the enemies of Yahweh shall be destroyed by the One Man Jesus Christ.  Gideon by no means worked alone, and so also Christ’s victory needs to be proclaimed to the four corners of the earth by His co-heirs:

32And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of(A) Gideon,(B) Barak,(C) Samson,(D) Jephthah, of(E) David and(F) Samuel and the prophets— 33who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises,(G) stopped the mouths of lions, 34(H) quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness,(I) became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.

And thus proclaims the writer of Hebrews in chapter 11:32-34 – that these judges, like Gideon, by faith in Christ completed all these things.  This it the Christ Whom Gideon sacrificed meat as an offering to, this is the Christ Who appeared to him, this is the Christ who commissioned him:

17And he said to him,(DQ) “If now I have found favor in your eyes, then(DR) show me a sign that it is you who speak with me. 18Please(DS) do not depart from here until I come to you and bring out my present and set it before you.” And he said, “I will stay till you return.”

19So Gideon went into his house(DT) and prepared a young goat and unleavened cakes from an ephah[i] of flour. The meat he put in a basket, and the broth he put in a pot, and brought them to him under the terebinth and presented them. 20And the angel of God said to him, “Take the meat and the unleavened cakes, and put them(DU) on this rock, and(DV) pour the broth over them.” And he did so. 21Then the angel of the LORD reached out the tip of the staff that was in his hand and touched the meat and the unleavened cakes.(DW) And fire sprang up from the rock and consumed the meat and the unleavened cakes. And the angel of the LORD vanished from his sight. 22Then Gideon perceived that he was the angel of the LORD. And Gideon said,(DX) “Alas, O Lord GOD! For now I have seen the angel of the LORD face to face.” 23But the LORD said to him,(DY) “Peace be to you. Do not fear; you shall not die.” 24Then Gideon built an altar there to the LORD and called it,(DZ) The LORD Is Peace. To this day it still stands at(EA) Ophrah, which belongs to the Abiezrites.

What is interesting here is the choice of food for the ‘mysterious sir’ – unleavened cakes.  This is symbolic of the hurriedness to leave Egypt in the Passover; and secondly a young goat.  These sacrifices are hardly as ‘grand’ as those offered by the High Priest, and also prepared hurriedly (hence the unleavened cakes) – but the acceptance is most notable as, in v.21, it is noted that “fire sprang up from the rock and consumed the meat and the unleavened cakes”.  In 1 Kings 18:24, we learn from Elijah that Yahweh is the living God who answers by fire, and this sign taken as a precursor to the Pentecost when tongues of fire occurred to the men of all nations in Acts 2.  Matthew Henry in particular notes the Hebrew word used in v.18, the “present” – as the same word used for meat-offerings, perhaps used in its dual meaning as both a gift and an offering, and it is proven that the “present” was received as a free-will offering of sorts, confirming Gideon’s suspicions when he had cautiously hoped to be in the favour of the eyes of this Angelic figure (v.17).

Additionally, we see the angel holding a staff (v.21) – and the theology of the staff is important given its constant usage in Exodus and Numbers 17 – to identify that He who holds the staff is the one with authority, the High Priest, the Mediator, affirming once more the mysterious nature of this Angel to be that of Christ Himself.  Unlike Moses in Numbers 20:11 who knocked a rock with his staff to produce his desired effect against God’s will, this Angel instead reached out the tip of his staff and touched the meat and unleavened cakes to confirm His own identity as One who is greater than Moses.

Upon the confirmation that He is indeed the Christ to come, the Messiah to be incarnate as man Jesus, He vanishes – a type of His own ascension, whereupon now Gideon is anointed by the Spirit to complete the work required of him.  We must attribute the vanishing of the Angel as carrying some theological depth, for later that evening the LORD chose to speak with Gideon and we assume no longer in the form of the Angel, perhaps through a vision or dream instead (though the text is silent on how the LORD spoke to Gideon that evening):

25That night the LORD said to him, “Take your father’s bull, and the second bull seven years old, and pull down the altar of Baal that your father has, and cut down(EB) the Asherah that is beside it 26and build an altar to the LORD your God on the top of the(EC) stronghold here, with stones laid in due order. Then take the second bull and offer it as a burnt offering with the wood of the Asherah that you shall cut down.” 27So Gideon took ten men of his servants and did as the LORD had told him. But because he was too afraid of his family and the men of the town to do it by day, he did it by night.

I personally find difficulty reading this verse, and it so happens that Adam Clarke has come to a similar observation:

There is some difficulty in this verse, for, according to the Hebrew text, two bullocks are mentioned here; but there is only one mentioned in Jdg_6:26, Jdg_6:28. But what was this second bullock? Some think that it was a bullock that was fattened in order to be offered in sacrifice to Baal. This is very probable, as the second bullock is so particularly distinguished from another which belonged to Gideon’s father. As the altar was built upon the ground of Joash, yet appears to have been public property, (see Jdg_6:29, Jdg_6:30), so this second ox was probably reared and fattened at the expense of the men of that village, else why should they so particularly resent its being offered to Jehovah?

Indeed, it is likely that the father has been worshipping Baal, or has sympathy towards Baal and that the first bull (the father’s bull) is an unclean sacrifice (Malachi 1:7-13), but that the second bull is the more worthy sacrifice (v.26).  Hence we see a direct displacement of the altar to Baal by the altar to the LORD “on top of the stronghold”, with stones laid in due order.  Such is the manner that we destroy the idols of our mind, the importance of the subject of Christ-focused theology, lest we become victims of idolatry because we have failed to destroy all the pagan icons as God had commanded.  This picture is extremely indicative of the Christian faith, that even the name of the altar is fitting in light of the context: what anxiety the non-Christians would have felt, to find their ‘god’ tarnished and destroyed; but what peace it is for the Israelite who knows that even if the tabernacle is taken, even if there is no temple to sacrifice at, so the true Christian like Daniel will still pray to God when the government forbids him to – because true offering is Christ himself and our circumcised hearts by the baptism of the Spirit.

v.27 is interesting and it can be seen in both ways – one, that is carrying forward the analogy of the mysteriousness and underground methods which Gideon employs as a continual imagery of the hidden plan of salvation from non-Christians though thoroughly revealed and sweetened in the eyes, hearts and ears of the Christian.  The Old Testament progression towards the incarnation of Christ as that of the dark night, towards the dawn of Christ the light entering the world as a new-born firstborn babe.  Though He be the object of faith of the Christians of all generations, it was known only by a few; and his incarnation as the Messiah was expected by some, but surprised many not because it was not revealed, but because many are too hard-hearted and blinded by the night.  So also Gideon’s act reflects this truth, as some join him in the act in the evening as akin to those faithful Old Testament Christians, but many did not recognise this truth of the Asherah destroyed until the time of day when the light reveals the shame of all men for what they really are.

Secondly, though this is a typology of what is to come, Gideon is seen as doing this at night not primarily to display a prophetic gospel truth – for his act in the evening is primarily a result of his fear of men.  This will return to create a consequence of large proportions in chapter 9, as we learn how his fear of men has led him to create one of the largest idolatries through icon worship in the latter part of chapter 6.

The True Icon

28When the men of the town rose early in the morning, behold, the altar of Baal was broken down, and the Asherah beside it was cut down, and the second bull was offered on the altar that had been built. 29And they said to one another, “Who has done this thing?” And after they had searched and inquired, they said, “Gideon the son of Joash has done this thing.” 30Then the men of the town said to Joash, “Bring out your son, that he may die, for he has broken down the altar of Baal and cut down the Asherah beside it.” 31But Joash said to all who stood against him, “Will you contend for Baal? Or will you save him? Whoever contends for him shall be put to death by morning. If he is a god, let him contend for himself, because his altar has been broken down.” 32Therefore on that day Gideon[j] was called(ED) Jerubbaal, that is to say, “Let Baal contend against him,” because he broke down his altar.

It would seem that overnight, the father Joash is released from his spiritual bondage whatever allegiance he might have had with Asherah – because in v.31 we see Joash defending his son by exclaiming, “let Baal yasha, to redeem, to save, himself!”  This is the nature of spiritual bondage, that as soon as the idol is destroyed, the captivated subject is healed.  Thankfully, our God is living and as such we are equally defined as ‘living’ in the image of the Father by being united to Christ by the Spirit.  He is the only ‘icon’, if you will, that we can ever expect to hold onto and live.  Every other icon will be destroyed, and the icon being our head, we would equally die.

It is ironic that Baal needs redemption because that is indeed the very thing which this ‘god’ requires alongside the rest of creation.  But because Baal is a silent, dead god created by the hands of men, he will not be able to defend himself; but only the Son of the Father can complete the work of redemption and in His incarnation humble Himself to us so that we are brought to be with Him.

33Now(EE) all the Midianites and the Amalekites and the people of the East came together, and they crossed the Jordan and encamped in(EF) the Valley of Jezreel. 34But(EG) the Spirit of the LORD clothed Gideon,(EH) and he sounded the trumpet, and the Abiezrites were called out to follow him. 35(EI) And he sent messengers throughout all Manasseh, and they too were called out to follow him. And he sent messengers to Asher, Zebulun, and Naphtali, and they went up to meet them.

Thus, the anointing of the Spirit in v.34 is suitably located in the commissioning of Gideon to fight the war against the Midianites and Amalekites lest he rely on himself (as God had prophesied that he, one man, shall defeat the enemy) and be completely destroyed.  No – the prophesy concerning the one man can only mean Christ alone of Whom Gideon was a type of, as Gideon is now relying on the very help of the Abiezrites (v.34).  Having said that, the clothing of the Spirit is akin to the expression of the clothing of righteousness in Isaiah 61, teaching us that the sign of victory by the trumpet can only occur by the righteousness of the One Man Christ, who gave the Spirit to all so that even Gideon can conform to this mighty One Man who shall win the war for him.

The Sign of the Fleece

36(EJ) Then Gideon said to God, “If you will save Israel by my hand, as you have said, 37behold, I am laying a fleece of wool on the threshing floor. If there is dew on the fleece alone, and it is dry on all the ground, then I shall know that you will save Israel by my hand, as you have said.” 38And it was so. When he rose early next morning and squeezed the fleece, he wrung enough dew from the fleece to fill a bowl with water. 39Then Gideon said to God,(EK) “Let not your anger burn against me; let me speak just once more. Please let me test just once more with the fleece. Please let it be dry on the fleece only, and on all the ground let there be dew.” 40And God did so that night; and it was dry on the fleece only, and on all the ground there was dew.

It is important to distinguish Gideon’s requests as different from the testing as spoken of in Deuteronomy 6:16 – the testing here is that of confirmation, the testing of Deuteronomy 6 stemming from a rebellious and doubtful heart.  It is furthermore interesting to see how both Adam Clarke, Origen (Op. vol. ii.) and Irenaeus (Against Heresies Book III) amongst other theologians seeing this as a portrayal of the relation between Israel and the Gentiles in the Old and New Testament: the wet fleece and dry ground representing the one nation blessed with the dew, the Spirit of God, as every other nation is deprived of such fountain of grace; and Israel becoming hardened, equal to the dry fleece and the wet land as representing the Gentiles now also having the Spirit but the Israelites being too hard to receive Christ as the Saviour Whom they have been anticipating.  The fleece of sheep (Deuteronomy 18:4) is seen as a covering of warmth (Job 31:20) – and the dew of heaven (Genesis 27:28) is seen as a good thing, coming down and going up with the manna coming down with it (Exodus 16:13-14; Numbers 11:9); and the word of God seen as dew as well (Deuteronomy 32:2).  It is thus important to see this dew as representing of Christ dependent on the Spirit in His incarnation, coming down (the dew descending) to give us the true living bread and ascending, leaving (the dew ascending) the manna for our consumption as a sacrament of the true manna – Christ.  Such is the nature of dew in the morning, when everything glistens and is struck alive by the morning rays of the sun of righteousness and the waters of spiritual life, the creation awaiting the next morning day when the dew once more arrives to give it the replenishing which can only be found eternally in Jesus.

And so it is only fitting that Gideon should ask the LORD to reveal these truths to him, for he is after all Jerubbaal – he who contends with Baal, and it is thus this true LORD who had elected the spiritual Israelites and spiritual non-Israelites, rather than the fleece in itself however warming the land of Canaan appears to be, because it is but a shadow to the true fleece, the true robe of righteousness with which we are clothed, as we await the day for true warmth and gladness in New Canaan, New Creation, New Jerusalem.

Judges 5-6: The Iconoclastic Controversy

One thought on “Judges 5-6: The Iconoclastic Controversy

  1. Polly says:

    Thank you for this insite which I was looking for regarding chapter 5. I love digging deeper. Do you have anything like this for chapter 4 or the types and shadows on Deborah? We are doing a bible study on her. My assignment is how Deborah has responded to, what happens when men don’t take their rightful place and how and in what ways does Deborah emulate Proverbs 31. Any food for thought? Thanks.

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