Here we have, I. The descent which the enemies of Israel made upon them, Jdg. 6:33. A vast number of Midianites, Amalekites, and Arabians, got together, and came over Jordan, none either caring or daring to guard that important and advantageous pass against them, and they made their headquarters in the valley of Jezreel, in the heart of Manasseh’s tribe, not far from Gideon’s city. Some think that the notice they had of Gideon’s destroying Baal’s altar brought them over, and that they came to plead for Baal and to make that a pretence for quarrelling with Israel; but it is more likely that it was now harvest-time, when they had been wont each year to make such a visit as this (Jdg. 6:3), and that they were expected when Gideon was threshing, Jdg. 6:11. God raised up Gideon to be ready against this terrible blow came. Their success so many years in these incursions, the little opposition they had met with and the great booty they had carried off, made them now both very eager and very confident. But it proved that the measure of their iniquity was full and the year of recompence had come; they must now make an end to spoil and must be spoiled, and they are gathered as sheaves to the floor (Mic. 4:12, 13), for Gideon to thresh.
II. The preparation which Gideon makes to attack them in their camp, Jdg. 6:34, 35. 1. God by his Spirit put life into Gideon: The Spirit of the Lord clothes Gideon (so the word is), clothed him as a robe, to put honour upon him, clothed him as a coat of mail, to put defence upon him. Those are well clad that are thus clothed. A spirit of fortitude from before the Lord clothed Gideon; so the Chaldee. He was of himself a mighty man of valour; yet personal strength and courage, though vigorously exerted, would not suffice for this great action; he must have the armour of God upon him, and this is what he must depend upon: The Spirit of the Lord clothed him in an extraordinary manner. Whom God calls to his work he will qualify and animate for it. 2. Gideon with his trumpet put life into his neighbours, God working with him; he blew a trumpet, to call in volunteers, and more came in than perhaps he expected. (1.) The men of Abiezer, though lately enraged against him for throwing down the altar of Baal, and though they had condemned him to death as a criminal, were now convinced of their error, bravely came in to his assistance, and submitted to him as their general: Abiezer was gathered after him, Jdg. 6:34. So suddenly can God turn the hearts even of idolaters and persecutors. (2.) Distant tribes, even Asher and Naphtali, which lay most remote, though strangers to him, obeyed his summons, and sent him in the best of their forces, Jdg. 6:35. Though they lay furthest from the danger, yet, considering that if their neighbours were over-run by the Midianites their own turn would be next, they were forward to join against a common enemy.
III. The signs which God gratified him with, for the confirming both of his own faith and that of his followers; and perhaps it was more for their sakes than for his own that he desired them. Or, perhaps, he desired by these to be satisfied whether this was the time of his conquering the Midianites, or whether he was to wait for some other opportunity. Observe, 1. His request for a sign (Jdg. 6:36, 37): “Let me by this know that thou wilt save Israel by my hand, let a fleece of wool, spread in the open air, be wet with the dew, and let the ground about it be dry.” The purport of this is, Lord, I believe, help thou my unbelief. He found his own faith weak and wavering, and therefore begged of God by this sign to perfect what was lacking in it. We may suppose that God, who intended to give him these signs, for the glorifying of his own power and goodness, put it into his heart to ask them. Yet, when he repeated his request for a second sign, the reverse of the former, he did it with a very humble apology, deprecating God’s displeasure, because it looked so like a peevish humoursome distrust of God and dissatisfaction with the many assurances he had already given him (Jdg. 6:39): Let not thy anger be hot against me. Though he took the boldness to ask another sign, yet he did it with such fear and trembling as showed that the familiarity God had graciously admitted him to did not breed any contempt of God’s glory, nor presumption on God’s goodness. Abraham had given him an example of this, when God gave him leave to be very free with him (Gen. 18:30, 32), O let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak. God’s favour must be sought with great reverence, a due sense of our distance, and a religious fear of his wrath. 2. God’s gracious grant of his request. See how tender God is of true believers though they be weak, and how ready to condescend to their infirmities, that the bruised reed may not be broken nor the smoking flax quenched. Gideon would have the fleece wet and the ground dry; but then, lest any should object, “It is natural for wool, if ever so little moisture fall, to drink it in and retain it, and therefore there was nothing extraordinary in this,” though the quantity wrung out was sufficient to obviate such an objection, yet he desires that next night the ground might be wet and the fleece dry, and it is done, so willing is God to give to the heirs of promise strong consolation (Heb. 6:17, 18), even by two immutable things. He suffers himself, not only to be prevailed with by their importunities, but even to be prescribed to by their doubts and dissatisfactions. These signs were, (1.) Truly miraculous, and therefore abundantly serving to confirm his commission. It is said of the dew that it is from the Lord, and tarrieth not for man, nor waiteth for the sons of men (Mic. 5:7); and yet God here in this matter hearkened to the voice of a man; as to Joshua, in directing the course of the sun, so to Gideon in directing that of the dew, by which it appears that it falls not by chance, but by providence. The latter sign inverted the former, and, to please Gideon, it was wrought backward and forward, whence Dr. Fuller observes that heaven’s real miracles will endure turning, being inside and outside both alike. (2.) Very significant. He and his men were going to engage the Midianites; could God distinguish between a small fleece of Israel and the vast floor of Midian? Yes, by this he is made to know that he can. Isa. Gideon desirous that the dew of divine grace might descend upon himself in particular? He sees the fleece wet with dew to assure him of it. Does he desire that God will be as the dew to all Israel? Behold, all the ground is wet. Some make this fleece an emblem of the Jewish nation, which, when time was, was wet with the dew of God’s word and ordinances, while the rest of the world was dry; but since the rejection of Christ and his gospel they are dry as the heath in the wilderness, while the nations about are as a watered garden.