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Matthew Henry's Commentary – Verses 11–24
Verses 11–24

It is not said what effect the prophet’s sermon had upon the people, but we may hope it had a good effect, and that some of them at least repented and reformed upon it; for here, immediately after, we have the dawning of the day of their deliverance, by the effectual calling of Gideon to take upon him the command of their forces against the Midianites.

I. The person to be commissioned for this service was Gideon, the son of Joash, Jdg. 5:14. The father was now living, but he was passed by, and this honour put upon the son, for the father kept up in his own family the worship of Baal (Jdg. 5:25), which we may suppose this son, as far as was in his power, witnessed against. He was of the half tribe of Manasseh that lay in Canaan, of the family of Abiezer; the eldest house of that tribe, Josh. 17:2. Hitherto the judges were raised up out of that tribe which suffered most by the oppression, and probably it was so here.

II. The person that gave him the commission was an angel of the Lord; it should seem not a created angel, but the Son of God himself, the eternal Word, the Lord of the angels, who then appeared upon some great occasions in human shape, as a prelude (says the learned bishop Patrick) to what he intended in the fulness of time, when he would take our nature upon him, as we say, for good and all. This angel is here called Jehovah, the incommunicable name of God (Jdg. 5:14), and he said, I will be with thee.

1. This divine person appeared here to Gideon, and it is observable how he found him, (1.) Retired—all alone. God often manifests himself to his people when they are out of the noise and hurry of this world. Silence and solitude befriend our communion with God. (2.) Employed in threshing wheat, with a staff or rod (so the word signifies), such as they used in beating out fitches and cummin (Isa. 28:27), but now used for wheat, probably because he had but little to thresh, he needed not the oxen to tread it out. It was not then looked upon as any diminution to him, though he was a person of some account and a mighty man of valour, to lay his hand to the business of the husbandman. He had many servants (Jdg. 5:27), and yet would not himself live in idleness. 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.

2. Let us now see what passed between the angel and Gideon, who knew not with certainty, till after he was gone, that he was an angel, but supposed he was a prophet.

(1.) The angel accosted him with respect, and assured him of the presence of God with him, Jdg. 5:12. He calls him a mighty man of valour, perhaps because he observed how he threshed his corn with all his might; and seest thou a man diligent in his business? whatever his business is, he shall stand before kings. He that is faithful in a few things shall be ruler over many. Gideon was a man of a brave active spirit, and yet buried alive in obscurity, through the iniquity of the times; but he is here animated to undertake something great, like himself, with that word, The Lord is with thee, or, as the Chaldee reads it, the Word of the Lord is thy help. It was very sure that the Lord was with him when this angel was with him. By this word, [1.] He gives him his commission. If we have God’s presence with us, this will justify us and bear us out in our undertakings. [2.] He inspires him with all necessary qualifications for the execution of his commission. “The Lord is with thee to guide and strengthen thee, to animate and support thee.” [3.] He assures him of success; for, if God be for us, who can prevail against us? If he be with us, nothing can be wanting to us. The presence of God with us is all in all to our prosperity, whatever we do. Gideon was a mighty man of valour, and yet he could bring nothing to pass without the presence of God, and that presence is enough to make any man mighty in valour and to give a man courage at any time.

(2.) Gideon gave a very melancholy answer to this joyful salutation (Jdg. 5:13): O my Lord! if the Lord be with us (which the Chaldee reads, Isa. the Shechinah of the Lord our help? making that the same with the Word of the Lord) why then has all this befallen us? “all this trouble and distress from the Midianites’ incursions, which force me to thresh wheat here by the wine-press—all this loss, and grief, and fright; and where are all the miracles which our fathers told us of?” Observe, In his reply he regards not the praise of his own valour, nor does this in the least elevate him or give him any encouragement, though it is probable the angel adapted what he said to that which Gideon was at the same time thinking of; while his labouring hands were employed about his wheat, his working head and daring heart were meditating Israel’s rescue and Midian’s ruin, with which thought he that knows the heart seasonably sets in, calls him a man of valour for his brave projects, and open him a way to put them in execution; yet Gideon, as if not conscious to himself of any thing great or encouraging in his own spirit, fastens only on the assurance the angel had given him of God’s presence, as that by which they held all their comfort. Observe, The angel spoke in particular to him: The Lord is with thee; but he expostulates for all: If the Lord be with us, herding himself with the thousands of Israel, and admitting no comfort but what they might be sharers in, so far is he from the thoughts of monopolizing it, though he had so fair an occasion given him. Note, Public spirits reckon that only an honour and joy to themselves which puts them in a capacity of serving the common interests of God’s church. Gideon was a mighty man of valour, but as yet weak in faith, which makes it hard to him to reconcile to the assurances now given him of the presence of God, [1.] The distress to which Israel was reduced: Why has all this (and all this was no little) befallen us? Note, It is sometimes hard, but never impossible, to reconcile cross providences with the presence of God and his favour. [2.] The delay of their deliverance: “Where are all the miracles which our fathers told us of? Why does not the same power which delivered our fathers from the yoke of the Egyptians deliver us out of the hands of the Midianites?” As if because God did not immediately work miracles for their deliverance, though they had by their sins forfeited his favour and help, it must be questioned whether ever he had wrought the miracles which their fathers told them of, or, if he had, whether he had now the same wisdom, and power, and good-will to his people, that he had had formerly. This was his weakness. We must not expect that the miracles which were wrought when a church was in the forming, and some great truth in the settling, should be continued and repeated when the formation and settlement are completed: no, nor that the mercies God showed to our fathers that served him, and kept close to him, should be renewed to us, if we degenerate and revolt from him. Gideon ought not to have said either, First, That God had delivered them into the hands of the Midianites, for by their iniquities they had sold themselves, or, Secondly, That now they were in their hands he had forsaken them, for he had lately sent them a prophet (Jdg. 5:8), which was a certain indication that he had not forsaken them.

(3.) The angel gave him a very effectual answer to his objections, by giving him a commission to deliver Israel out of the hands of the Midianites, and assuring him of success therein, Jdg. 5:14. Now the angel is called Jehovah, for he speaks as one having authority, and not as a messenger. [1.] There was something extraordinary in the look he now gave to Gideon; it was a gracious favourable look, which revived his spirits that dropped, and silenced his fears, such a look as that with which God’s countenance beholds the upright, Ps. 11:7. He looked upon him, and smiled at the objections he made, which he gave him no direct answer to, but girded and clothed him with such power as would shortly enable him to answer them himself, and make him ashamed that ever he had made them. It was a speaking look, like Christ’s upon Peter (Luke 22:61), a powerful look, a look that strangely darted new light and life into Gideon’s breast, a 8000 nd inspired him with a generous heat, far above what he felt before. [2.] But there was much more in what he said to him. First, He commissioned him to appear and act as Israel’s deliverer. Such a one the few thinking people in the nation, and Gideon among the rest, were now expecting to be raised up, according to God’s former method, in answer to the cries of oppressed Israel; and now Gideon is told, “Thou art the man: Go in this thy might, this might wherewith thou art now threshing wheat; go and employ it to a nobler purpose; I will make thee a thresher of men.” Or, rather, “this might wherewith thou art now endued by this look.” God gave him his commission by giving him all the qualifications that were necessary for the execution of it, which is more than the mightiest prince and potentate on earth can do for those to whom he gives commissions. God’s fitting men for work is a sure and constant evidence of his calling them to it. “Go, not in thy might, that which is natural, and of thyself, depend not on thy own valour; but go in this thy might, this which thou hast now received, go in the strength of the Lord God, that is, the strength with which thou must strengthen thyself.” Secondly, He assured him of success. This was enough to put courage into him; he might be confident he should not miscarry in the attempt; it should not turn either to his own disgrace or the damage of his people (as baffled enterprises do), but to his honour and their happiness: Thou shalt save Israel from the hand of the Midianites, and so shalt not only be an eye-witness, but a glorious instrument, of such wonders as thy fathers told thee of. Gideon, we may suppose, looked as one astonished at this strange and surprising power conferred upon him, and questions whether he may depend upon what he hears: the angel ratifies his commission with a teste meipsoan appeal to his own authority; there needed no more. “Have not I commanded thee—I that have all power in heaven and earth, and particular authority here as Israel’s King, giving commissions immediately—I who am that I am, the same that sent Moses?” Exod. 3:14.

(4.) Gideon made a very modest objection against this commission (Jdg. 5:15): O my Lord! wherewith shall I save Israel? This question bespeaks him either, [1.] Distrustful of God and his power, as if, though God should be with him, yet it were impossible for him to save Israel. True faith is often weak, yet it shall not be rejected, but encouraged and strengthened. Or, [2.] Inquisitive concerning the methods he must take: “Lord, I labour under all imaginable disadvantages for it; if I must do it, thou must put me in the way.” Note, Those who receive commissions from God must expect and seek for instructions from him. Or rather, [3.] Humble, self-diffident, and self-denying. The angel had honoured him, but see how meanly he speaks of himself: “My family is comparatively poor in Manasseh” (impoverished, it may be, more than other families by the Midianites), “and I am the least, that have the least honour and interest, in my father’s house; what can I pretend to do? I am utterly unfit for the service, and unworthy of the honour.” Note, God often chooses to do great things by those that are little, especially that are so in their own eyes. God delights to advance the humble.

(5.) This objection was soon answered by a repetition of the promise that God would be with him, Jdg. 5:16. “Object not thy poverty and meanness; such things have indeed often hindered men in great enterprises, but what are they to a man that has the presence of God with him, which will make up all the deficiencies of honour and estate. Surely I will be with thee, to direct and strengthen thee, and put such a reputation upon thee that, how weak soever thy personal interest is, thou shalt have soldiers enough to follow thee, and be assured thou shalt smite the Midianites as one men, as easily as if they were but one man and as effectually. All the thousands of Midian shall be as if they had but one neck, and thou shalt have the cutting of it off.”

(6.) Gideon desires to have his faith confirmed touching this commission; for he would not be over-credulous of that which tended so much to his own praise, would not venture upon an undertaking so far above him, and in which he must engage many more, but he would be well satisfied himself of his authority, and would be able to give satisfaction to others as to him who gave him that authority. He therefore humbly begs of this divine person, whoever he was, [1.] That he would give him a sign, Jdg. 5:17. And, the commission being given him out of the common road of providence, he might reasonably expect it should be confirmed by some act of God out of the common course of nature: “Show me a sign to assure me of the truth of this concerning which thou talkest with me, that it is something more than talk, and that thou art in earnest.” Now, under the dispensation of the Spirit, we are not to expect signs before our eyes, such as Gideon here desired, but must earnestly pray to God that, if we have found grace in his sight, he would show us a sign in our heart, by the powerful operations of his Spirit there, fulfilling the work of faith, and perfecting what is lacking in it. [2.] In order hereunto, that he would accept of a treat, and so give him a further and longer opportunity of conversation with him, Jdg. 5:18. Those who know what it is to have communion with God desire the continuance of it, and are loth to part, praying with Gideon, Depart not hence, I pray thee. That which Gideon desired in courting his stay was that he might bring out some provision of meat for this stranger. He did not take him into the house to entertain him there, perhaps because his father’s house were not well affected to him and his friends, or because he desired still to be in private with this stranger, and to converse with him alone (therefore he calls not for a servant to bring the provision, but fetches it himself), or because thus his father Abraham entertained angels unawares, not in his tent, but under a tree, Gen. 18:8. Upon the angel’s promise to stay to dinner with him, he hastened to bring out a kid, which, it is likely, was ready boiled for his own dinner, so that in making it ready he had nothing to do but to put it in the basket (for here was no sauce to serve it up in, nor the dish garnished) and the broth in a vessel, and so he presented it, Jdg. 5:19. Hereby he intended, First, To testify his grateful and generous respects to this stranger, and, in him, to God who sent him, as one that studied what he should render. He had pleaded the poverty of his family (Jdg. 5:15) to excuse himself from being a general, but not here to excuse himself from being hospitable. Out of the little which the Midianites had left him he would gladly spare enough to entertain a friend, especially a messenger from heaven. Secondly, To try who and what this extraordinary person was. What he brought out is called his present, Jdg. 5:18. It is the same word that is used for a meat-offering, and perhaps that word is used which signifies both because Gideon intended to leave it to this divine person to determine which it should be when he had it before him: whether a feast or a meat-offering, and accordingly he would be able to judge concerning him: if he ate of it as common meat, he would suppose him to be a man, a prophet; if otherwise, as it proved, he should know him to be an angel.

(7.) The angel gives him a sign in and by that which he had kindly prepared for his entertainment. For what we offer to God for his glory, and in token of our gratitude to him, will be made by the grace of God to turn to our own comfort and satisfaction. The angel ordered him to take the flesh and bread out of the basket, and lay it upon a hard and cold rock, and to pour out the broth upon it, which, if he brought it hot, would soon be cold there; and Gideon did so (Jdg. 5:20), believing that the angel appointed it, not in contempt of his courtesy, but with an intention to give him a sign, which he did, abundantly to his satisfaction. For, [1.] He turned the meat into an offering made by fire, of a sweet savour unto himself, showing hereby that he was not a man who needed meat, but the Son of God who was to be served and honoured by sacrifice, and who in the fulness of time was to make himself a sacrifice. [2.] He brought fire out of the rock, to consume this sacrifice, summoning it, not by striking the rock, as we strike fire out of a flint, but by a gentle touch given to the offering with the end of his staff, Jdg. 5:21. Hereby he gave him a sign that he had found grace in his sight, for God testified his acceptance of sacrifices by kindling them, if public, with fire from heaven, as those of Moses and Elias, if private, as this, with fire out of the earth, which was equivalent: both were the effect of divine power; and this acceptance of his sacrifice evidenced the acceptance of his person, confirmed his commission, and perhaps was intended to signify his success in the execution of it, that he and his army should be a surprising terror and consumption to the Midianites, like this fire out of the rock. [3.] He departed out of his sight immediately, did not walk off as a man, but vanished and disappeared as a spirit. Here was as much of a sign as he could wish.

(8.) Gideon, though no doubt he was confirmed in his faith by the indications given of the divinity of the person who had spoken to him, yet for the present was put into a great fright by it, till God graciously pacified him and removed his fears. [1.] Gideon speaks peril to himself (Jdg. 5:22): When he perceived that he was an angel (which was not till he had departed, as the two disciples knew not it was Jesus they had been talking with till he was going, Luke 24:31), then he cried out, Alas! O Lord God! be merciful to me, I am undone, for I have seen an angel, as Jacob, who wondered that his life was preserved when he had seen God, Gen. 32:30. Ever since man has by sin exposed himself to God’s wrath and curse an express from heaven has been a terror to him, as he scarcely dares to expect good tidings thence; at least, in this world of sense, it is a very awful thing to have any sensible conversation with that world of spirits to which we are so much strangers. Gideon’s courage failed him now. [2.] God speaks peace to him, Jdg. 5:23. It might have been fatal to him, but he assures him it should not. The Lord had departed out of his sight, Jdg. 5:21. But though he must no longer walk by sight he might still live by faith, that faith which comes by hearing; for the Lord said to him, with an audible voice (as bishop Patrick thinks) these encouraging words, “Peace be unto thee, all is well, and be thou satisfied that it is so. Fear not; he that came to employ thee did not intend to slay thee; thou shalt not die.” See how ready God is to revive the hearts of those that tremble at his word and presence, and to give those that stand in awe of his majesty assurances of his mercy.

3. The memorial of this vision which Gideon set up was a monument in form of an altar, the rather because it was by a kind of sacrifice upon a rock, without the solemnity of an altar, that the angel manifested his acceptance of him; then an altar was unnecessary (the angel’s staff was sufficient to sanctify the gift without an altar), but now it was of use to preserve the remembrance of the vision, which was done by the name Gideon gave to this memorial, Jehovah-shalom (Jdg. 5:24)--The Lord peace. This is, (1.) The title of the Lord that spoke to him. Compare Gen. 16:13. The same that is the Lord our righteousness is our peace (Eph. 2:14), our reconciler and so our Saviour. Or, (2.) The substance of what he said to him: “The Lord spoke peace, and created that fruit of the lips, bade me be easy when I was in that agitation.” Or, (3.) A prayer grounded upon what he had said, so the margin understands it: The Lord send peace, that is, rest from the present trouble, for still the public welfare lay nearest his heart.