Meet Gideon: A Doubter Raised Up by God

Gideon, the reluctant warrior, overcame doubt to answer God's call

Gideon in the Bible
The angel puts fire on the alter of Gideon. Culture Club / Contributor / Getty Images

The story of Gideon in the Bible is told in Judges chapters 6-8. The reluctant warrior is also referenced in Hebrews 11:32 among the heroes of faith. Gideon, like many of us, doubted his own abilities. He suffered so many defeats and failures that he even put God to the testnot once but three times.

Key Accomplishments of Gideon

  • Gideon served as the fifth major judge over Israel.
  • He destroyed an altar to the pagan god Baal, earning him the name Jerub-Baal, meaning contender with Baal.
  • Gideon united the Israelites against their common enemies and through God's power, defeated them.
  • Gideon is listed in the Faith Hall of Fame in Hebrews 11.

Gideon's Story in the Bible

After seven years of brutal oppression by the Midianites, Israel cried out to God for relief. An unknown prophet told the Israelites that their wretched conditions were a result of their forgetting to give exclusive devotion to the one true God.

Gideon is introduced in the story threshing grain secretly in a winepress, a pit in the ground, so the marauding Midianites did not see him. God appeared to Gideon as an angel and said, "The LORD is with you, mighty warrior." (Judges 6:12, NIV) Don't miss the hint of humor in the angel’s greeting. The "mighty warrior" is threshing secretly for fear of the Midianites.

Gideon replied: 

"Pardon me, my lord, but if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our ancestors told us about when they said, 'Did not the Lord bring us up out of Egypt?' But now the Lord has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian." (Judges 6:13, NIV)

Two more times the Lord encouraged Gideon, promising he would be with him. Then Gideon prepared a meal for the angel. The angel touched the meat and unleavened bread with his staff, and the rock they were sitting on spewed fire, consuming the offering. Next Gideon put out a fleece, a piece of sheepskin with the wool still attached, asking God to cover the fleece with dew overnight, but leave the ground around it dry. God did so. Finally, Gideon asked God to dampen the ground overnight with dew but leave the fleece dry. God did that as well.

God was patient with Gideon because he had chosen him to defeat the Midianites, who had impoverished the land of Israel with their constant raids. Over and over the Lord assured Gideon what his mighty power would accomplish through him. Aware of his own weakness and the daunting task before him, Gideon was an ideal vehicle for the Lord’s tremendous work of deliverance.

Gideon gathered a huge army from the surrounding tribes, but God reduced their number to only 300. There would be no doubt that victory was from the Lord, not from the army's might.

That night, Gideon gave each man a trumpet and a torch concealed inside a pottery jar. At his signal, they blew their trumpets, broke the jars to reveal the torches, and shouted: "A sword for the LORD and for Gideon!" (Judges 7:20, NIV)

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Gideon's men blowing horns and breaking pitchers with lamps inside. Getty Images

God caused the enemy to panic and turn on each other. Gideon called out reinforcements and they pursued the raiders, destroying them.

Later in life, Gideon took many wives and fathered 70 sons. His son Abimelech, born to a concubine, rebelled and murdered all 70 of his half-brothers. Abimelech died in battle, ending his short, wicked reign.

The life of this hero of faith ended on a sad note. In anger he punished Succoth and Penuel for not helping in his war against the Midianite kings When the people wanted to make Gideon their king, he refused, but took gold from them and made an ephod, a sacred vestment, probably to commemorate the victory. Unfortunately, the people were led astray by it, worshipping it as an idol. Gideon's family did not follow his God.

Background

The name Gideon means "one who cuts to pieces." Gideon's hometown was Ophrah, in the Valley of Jezreel. His father was Joash from the tribe of Manasseh. In his life, Gideon worked as a farmer, military commander, and judge over Israel for 40 years. He was the father of Abimelech as well as seventy unnamed sons.

Strengths

  • Even though Gideon was slow to believe, once convinced of God's power, he was a loyal follower who obeyed the Lord's instructions.
  • Gideon was a natural leader of men.

Weaknesses

  • In the beginning, Gideon's faith was weak and needed proof from God.
  • He showed great doubt toward the Rescuer of Israel.
  • Gideon made an ephod from Midianite gold, which became an idol to his people.
  • He also took a foreigner for a concubine, fathering a son who turned evil.

Life Lessons From Gideon

God can accomplish great things through us if we forget our weaknesses, trust in the Lord, and follow his guidance. "Putting out a fleece," or testing God, is a sign of weak faith. Sin always has bad consequences.

Key Bible Verses

Judges 6:14-16
"Pardon me, my lord," Gideon replied, "but how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family." The LORD answered, "I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites, leaving none alive." (NIV)

Judges 7:22
When the three hundred trumpets sounded, the LORD caused the men throughout the camp to turn on each other with their swords. (NIV)

Judges 8:22-23
The Israelites said to Gideon, "Rule over us—you, your son and your grandson—because you have saved us from the hand of Midian." But Gideon told them, "I will not rule over you, nor will my son rule over you. The LORD will rule over you." (NIV)