Gideon and the Midianites
In the book of Judges, which purports to tell the history of the Israelites during the period immediately following Joshua, the Canaanites are very much alive and well, and they and other tribes hostile to the Israelites occupied the land of the twelve tribes alongside them. The proximity of idolatry to the Israelites led them astray and a judge arose to lead them back to the Lord, usually through the slaughter of the tempting tribe of idolators. One such judge was Gideon, to whom God sent a messenger in the form of an Angel. Gideon demanded proof that he was actually dealing with God, in the form of three miracles.
Once God had established His credentials to Gideon’s satisfaction, the latter destroyed the symbols of idolatry worshiped by some of his offending Manasseh tribe and at God’s instruction raised an army to attack a force of Amalek and Midian soldiers encamped near the Jordan. Gideon recruited an army of 22,000 from his own and other Israelite tribes, an army God found too large. God wanted to ensure that the Israelites recognized that their coming victory had been at His hand. So Gideon sent home those who were afraid, leaving him with a force of 10,000. God found this to be still too large, and He gave Gideon specific instructions on how to pare down the force further.
When the army was brought to the Well of Harod, those who lay beside the water and lapped at it as dogs do in order to drink were set aside as Gideon’s troops. The remainder were sent home. God then sent Gideon to the Midianite camp, where he overheard a story of a tent collapsing after being hit with a loaf of bread. Gideon returned to his troops, divided the 300 into three companies, and with each man blowing on a trumpet and brandishing a torch, attacked the Midianites, who thought that they were under attack by a much larger force. The Midianites fled. Gideon sent messengers to the Ephraimites, urging them to pursue the enemy.
Gideon and his men chased the fleeing Midianite kings, Zebah and Zalmunna. He asked for support from the towns of Succoth and Peniel, when it was not forthcoming he destroyed the towns, killing the men of their populations. Once the Midianite kings were in his custody he killed them too, after first offering to his eldest son the privilege of slaying the Midianites. Gideon’s victory over the Midianites led to a period of peace in Israel, of about forty years, during which the Israelites gradually grew away from their God and began to worship Baal, a cycle which repeats in the Book of Judges. Accordingly, the period covered by Judges is roughly three centuries.
The victory of Gideon over the Midianites led to the Israelites asking him to be their king, to rule over the nation of Israel, an honor he declined. Gideon’s historicity, as with many of the wars described in the Book of Judges, has been questioned, it was written much later than the period of time it presents, probably as a collection of oral tribal histories. Nonetheless, Gideon’s name has been invoked by military leaders ever since, as a symbol of a small force headed by a determined leader succeeding in battle despite the odds being against them. Judges are also cited as being anti-monarchist, frequently repeating “â¦In those days there was no king in Israel”.