Again the Israelites did what was evil in the LORD's sight. So the LORD handed them over to the Midianites for seven years.
The Midianites were so cruel that the Israelites fled to the mountains, where they made hiding places for themselves in caves and dens.
Whenever the Israelites planted their crops, marauders from Midian, Amalek, and the people of the east would attack Israel,
camping in the land and destroying crops as far away as Gaza. They left the Israelites with nothing to eat, taking all the sheep, oxen, and donkeys.
These enemy hordes, coming with their cattle and tents as thick as locusts, arrived on droves of camels too numerous to count. And they stayed until the land was stripped bare.
So Israel was reduced to starvation by the Midianites. Then the Israelites cried out to the LORD for help.
When they cried out to the LORD because of Midian,
the LORD sent a prophet to the Israelites. He said, "This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: I brought you up out of slavery in Egypt
and rescued you from the Egyptians and from all who oppressed you. I drove out your enemies and gave you their land.
I told you, 'I am the LORD your God. You must not worship the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you now live.' But you have not listened to me."
Then the angel of the LORD came and sat beneath the oak tree at Ophrah, which belonged to Joash of the clan of Abiezer. Gideon son of Joash had been threshing wheat at the bottom of a winepress to hide the grain from the Midianites.
The angel of the LORD appeared to him and said, "Mighty hero, the LORD is with you!"
"Sir," Gideon replied, "if the LORD is with us, why has all this happened to us? And where are all the miracles our ancestors told us about? Didn't they say, 'The LORD brought us up out of Egypt'? But now the LORD has abandoned us and handed us over to the Midianites."
Then the LORD turned to him and said, "Go with the strength you have and rescue Israel from the Midianites. I am sending you!"
"But Lord," Gideon replied, "how can I rescue Israel? My clan is the weakest in the whole tribe of Manasseh, and I am the least in my entire family!"
The LORD said to him, "I will be with you. And you will destroy the Midianites as if you were fighting against one man."
Gideon replied, "If you are truly going to help me, show me a sign to prove that it is really the LORD speaking to me.
Don't go away until I come back and bring my offering to you. "The LORD answered, "I will stay here until you return."
Gideon hurried home. He cooked a young goat, and with half a bushel of flour he baked some bread without yeast. Then, carrying the meat in a basket and the broth in a pot, he brought them out and presented them to the angel, who was under the oak tree.
The angel of God said to him, "Place the meat and the unleavened bread on this rock, and pour the broth over it." And Gideon did as he was told.
Then the angel of the LORD touched the meat and bread with the staff in his hand, and fire flamed up from the rock and consumed all he had brought. And the angel of the LORD disappeared.
When Gideon realized that it was the angel of the LORD, he cried out, "Sovereign LORD, I have seen the angel of the LORD face to face!"
"It is all right," the LORD replied. "Do not be afraid. You will not die."
And Gideon built an altar to the LORD there and named it "The LORD Is Peace." The altar remains in Ophrah in the land of the clan of Abiezer to this day.
That night the LORD said to Gideon, "Take the second best bull from your father's herd, the one that is seven years old. Pull down your father's altar to Baal, and cut down the Asherah pole standing beside it.
Then build an altar to the LORD your God here on this hill, laying the stones carefully. Sacrifice the bull as a burnt offering on the altar, using as fuel the wood of the Asherah pole you cut down."
So Gideon took ten of his servants and did as the LORD had commanded. But he did it at night because he was afraid of the other members of his father's household and the people of the town. He knew what would happen if they found out who had done it.
Early the next morning, as the people of the town began to stir, someone discovered that the altar of Baal had been knocked down and that the Asherah pole beside it was gone. In their place a new altar had been built, and it had the remains of a sacrifice on it.
The people said to each other, "Who did this?" And after asking around and making a careful search, they learned that it was Gideon, the son of Joash.
"Bring out your son," they shouted to Joash. "He must die for destroying the altar of Baal and for cutting down the Asherah pole."
But Joash shouted to the mob, "Why are you defending Baal? Will you argue his case? Whoever pleads his case will be put to death by morning! If Baal truly is a god, let him defend himself and destroy the one who knocked down his altar!"
From then on Gideon was called Jerubbaal, which means "Let Baal defend himself," because he knocked down Baal's altar.
Soon afterward the armies of Midian, Amalek, and the people of the east formed an alliance against Israel and crossed the Jordan, camping in the valley of Jezreel.
Then the Spirit of the LORD took possession of Gideon. He blew a ram's horn as a call to arms, and the men of the clan of Abiezer came to him.
He also sent messengers throughout Manasseh, Asher, Zebulun, and Naphtali, summoning their warriors, and all of them responded.
Then Gideon said to God, "If you are truly going to use me to rescue Israel as you promised,
prove it to me in this way. I will put some wool on the threshing floor tonight. If the fleece is wet with dew in the morning but the ground is dry, then I will know that you are going to help me rescue Israel as you promised."
And it happened just that way. When Gideon got up the next morning, he squeezed the fleece and wrung out a whole bowlful of water.
Then Gideon said to God, "Please don't be angry with me, but let me make one more request. This time let the fleece remain dry while the ground around it is wet with dew."
So that night God did as Gideon asked. The fleece was dry in the morning, but the ground was covered with dew.
So Jerubbaal (that is, Gideon) and his army got up early and went as far as the spring of Harod. The armies of Midian were camped north of them in the valley near the hill of Moreh.
The LORD said to Gideon, "You have too many warriors with you. If I let all of you fight the Midianites, the Israelites will boast to me that they saved themselves by their own strength.
Therefore, tell the people, 'Whoever is timid or afraid may leave and go home.'" Twenty-two thousand of them went home, leaving only ten thousand who were willing to fight.
But the LORD told Gideon, "There are still too many! Bring them down to the spring, and I will sort out who will go with you and who will not."
When Gideon took his warriors down to the water, the LORD told him, "Divide the men into two groups. In one group put all those who cup water in their hands and lap it up with their tongues like dogs. In the other group put all those who kneel down and drink with their mouths in the stream."
Only three hundred of the men drank from their hands. All the others got down on their knees and drank with their mouths in the stream.
The LORD told Gideon, "With these three hundred men I will rescue you and give you victory over the Midianites. Send all the others home."
So Gideon collected the provisions and rams' horns of the other warriors and sent them home. But he kept the three hundred men with him. Now the Midianite camp was in the valley just below Gideon.
During the night, the LORD said, "Get up! Go down into the Midianite camp, for I have given you victory over them!
But if you are afraid to attack, go down to the camp with your servant Purah."
Listen to what the Midianites are saying, and you will be greatly encouraged. Then you will be eager to attack. "So Gideon took Purah and went down to the outposts of the enemy camp.
The armies of Midian, Amalek, and the people of the east had settled in the valley like a swarm of locusts. Their camels were like grains of sand on the seashore -- too many to count!
Gideon crept up just as a man was telling his friend about a dream. The man said, "I had this dream, and in my dream a loaf of barley bread came tumbling down into the Midianite camp. It hit a tent, turned it over, and knocked it flat!"
His friend said, "Your dream can mean only one thing -- God has given Gideon son of Joash, the Israelite, victory over all the armies united with Midian!"
When Gideon heard the dream and its interpretation, he thanked God. Then he returned to the Israelite camp and shouted, "Get up! For the LORD has given you victory over the Midianites!"
He divided the three hundred men into three groups and gave each man a ram's horn and a clay jar with a torch in it.
Then he said to them, "Keep your eyes on me. When I come to the edge of the camp, do just as I do.
As soon as my group blows the rams' horns, those of you on the other sides of the camp blow your horns and shout, 'For the LORD and for Gideon!'"
It was just after midnight, after the changing of the guard, when Gideon and the one hundred men with him reached the outer edge of the Midianite camp. Suddenly, they blew the horns and broke their clay jars.
Then all three groups blew their horns and broke their jars. They held the blazing torches in their left hands and the horns in their right hands and shouted, "A sword for the LORD and for Gideon!"
Each man stood at his position around the camp and watched as all the Midianites rushed around in a panic, shouting as they ran.
When the three hundred Israelites blew their horns, the LORD caused the warriors in the camp to fight against each other with their swords. Those who were not killed fled to places as far away as Beth-shittah near Zererah and to the border of Abel-meholah near Tabbath.
Then Gideon sent for the warriors of Naphtali, Asher, and Manasseh, who joined in the chase after the fleeing army of Midian.
Gideon also sent messengers throughout the hill country of Ephraim, saying, "Come down to attack the Midianites. Cut them off at the shallows of the Jordan River at Beth-barah." And the men of Ephraim did as they were told.
They captured Oreb and Zeeb, the two Midianite generals, killing Oreb at the rock of Oreb, and Zeeb at the winepress of Zeeb. And they continued to chase the Midianites. Afterward the Israelites brought the heads of Oreb and Zeeb to Gideon, who was by the Jordan.
Then the people of Ephraim asked Gideon, "Why have you treated us this way? Why didn't you send for us when you first went out to fight the Midianites?" And they argued heatedly with Gideon.
But Gideon replied, "What have I done compared to you? Aren't the last grapes of Ephraim's harvest better than the entire crop of my little clan of Abiezer?
God gave you victory over Oreb and Zeeb, the generals of the Midianite army. What have I done compared to that?" When the men of Ephraim heard Gideon's answer, they were no longer angry.
Gideon then crossed the Jordan River with his three hundred men, and though they were exhausted, they continued to chase the enemy.
When they reached Succoth, Gideon asked the leaders of the town, "Will you please give my warriors some food? They are very tired. I am chasing Zebah and Zalmunna, the kings of Midian."
But the leaders of Succoth replied, "You haven't caught Zebah and Zalmunna yet. Catch them first, and then we will feed your warriors."
So Gideon said, "After the LORD gives me victory over Zebah and Zalmunna, I will return and tear your flesh with the thorns and briers of the wilderness."
From there Gideon went up to Peniel and asked for food, but he got the same answer.
So he said to the people of Peniel, "After I return in victory, I will tear down this tower."
By this time Zebah and Zalmunna were in Karkor with a remnant of 15,000 warriors -- all that remained of the allied armies of the east -- for 120,000 had already been killed.
Gideon circled around by the caravan route east of Nobah and Jogbehah, taking the Midianite army by surprise.
Zebah and Zalmunna, the two Midianite kings, fled, but Gideon chased them down and captured all their warriors.
After this, Gideon returned by way of Heres Pass.
There he captured a young man from Succoth and demanded that he write down the names of all the seventy-seven rulers and leaders in the town.
Gideon then returned to Succoth and said to the leaders, "Here are Zebah and Zalmunna. When we were here before, you taunted me, saying, 'You haven't caught Zebah and Zalmunna yet. Catch them first, and then we will feed your exhausted warriors.'"
Then Gideon took the leaders of the town and taught them a lesson, punishing them with thorns and briers from the wilderness.
He also knocked down the tower of Peniel and killed all the men in the town.
Then Gideon asked Zebah and Zalmunna, "The men you killed at Tabor -- what were they like?" "Like you," they replied. "They all had the look of a king's son."
"They were my brothers!" Gideon exclaimed. "As surely as the LORD lives, I wouldn't kill you if you hadn't killed them."
Turning to Jether, his oldest son, he said, "Kill them!" But Jether did not draw his sword, for he was only a boy and was afraid.
Then Zebah and Zalmunna said to Gideon, "Don't ask a boy to do a man's job! Do it yourself!" So Gideon killed them both and took the royal ornaments from the necks of their camels.
Then the Israelites said to Gideon, "Be our ruler! You and your son and your grandson will be our rulers, for you have rescued us from Midian."
But Gideon replied, "I will not rule over you, nor will my son. The LORD will rule over you!
However, I have one request. Each of you can give me an earring out of the treasures you collected from your fallen enemies." (The enemies, being Ishmaelites, all wore gold earrings.)
"Gladly!" they replied. They spread out a cloak, and each one threw in a gold earring he had gathered.
The weight of the gold earrings was forty-three pounds, not including the crescents and pendants, the royal clothing of the kings, or the chains around the necks of their camels.
Gideon made a sacred ephod from the gold and put it in Ophrah, his hometown. But soon all the Israelites prostituted themselves by worshiping it, and it became a trap for Gideon and his family.
That is the story of how Israel subdued Midian, which never recovered. Throughout the rest of Gideon's lifetime -- about forty years -- the land was at peace.
Then Gideon son of Joash returned home.
He had seventy sons, for he had many wives.
He also had a concubine in Shechem, who bore him a son named Abimelech.
Gideon died when he was very old, and he was buried in the grave of his father, Joash, at Ophrah in the land of the clan of Abiezer.
As soon as Gideon was dead, the Israelites prostituted themselves by worshiping the images of Baal, making Baal-berith their god.
They forgot the LORD their God, who had rescued them from all their enemies surrounding them.
Nor did they show any loyalty to the family of Jerubbaal (that is, Gideon), despite all the good he had done for Israel.
Scripture quotations marked NLT are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright 1996. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Wheaton, Illinois 60189. All rights reserved. (New Living Translation - The Bible Online)