Notes & Commentary:
Ver. 1. Madian. This nation had formerly been almost extirpated by Moses, Numbers xxxi. 7, &c. (Haydock) — But they had re-established themselves, and dwelt in the neighbourhood of the Moabites, whom they had assisted. They now made a league with Amalec, and other eastern nations, (Calmet) in order to revenge themselves upon the Israelites. (Haydock) — Madian was a descendant of Abraham by Cetura, Genesis xxv. 2. The shortness of the servitude, which the Israelites had to suffer from them, was compensated by its severity. (Menochius)
Ver. 2. Resist is not expressed in Hebrew; neither did Israel dare to encounter the enemy. They retreated into the strongest holds, to rescue their goods and persons from the depredations of the Madianites. (Haydock)
Ver. 3. Amalec was formerly widely dispersed through Arabia. Some dwelt to the south of the promised land, Exodus xvii., Numbers xiii. 3., 1 Kings xv. 6., and xxxi. 1. But these inhabited the eastern countries, concerning whom Balaam spoke, Numbers xxiv. 20. The Amalecites were scattered from Hevila upon the Euphrates, as far as the Red Sea and Sur, which is near Egypt, 1 Kings xv. 7., and xxvii. 8. The other eastern nations denote those who inhabited the desert Arabia, the Moabites, Ammonites, Idumeans, Cedarenians, &c., Isaias xi. 14., Jeremias xlix. 28., and Ezechiel viii. 7.
Ver. 4. Blade. Hebrew, “the increase of the earth.” They waited till the corn was almost ripe, and what they could not carry off they destroyed. (Calmet) — It seems they had allowed Gedeon time to gather in some corn, (ver. 11.) and other Israelites would seize their opportunity, and perhaps cut the corn before it was perfectly ripe, which the Vulgate may insinuate by mentioning the blade. — Gaza. They ravaged the whole country from east to west. (Haydock) — This method of warfare is, in effect, more cruel than any other. — Asses. They left no cattle, nor animals that they could take, wherewith the Isrealites might cultivate the earth. (Calmet) — In the extremity of famine, the flesh of asses would have been used to sustain life, as the text insinuates. (Haydock)
Ver. 5. Locusts. This comparison shews the rapacity and devastation of the enemy. Locusts in those countries often obscure the air with their numbers, and presently eat up every green thing. They proceed in regular order like a great battalion, and it is reported that they send some before to explore the country. (St. Jerome in Joel ii.; Bochart; Calmet) (Genesis x. 4.)
Ver. 8. A prophet. The people no sooner repent, than God shews them mercy. (Haydock) — The name of this prophet is unknown. The Jews say it was Phinees; others think it was an angel in human shape: but he might be one divinely commissioned on this occasion, to make an exhortation to the people, assembled on some of the great festivals, (see chap. ii. 1.; Calmet) though he might continue to exercise his authority afterwards. (Menochius) — St. Augustine (q. 31,) thinks that the angel (ver. 11,) is here called a prophet, because he appeared in human form. (Worthington)
Ver. 10. Fear not. Idols can do you no hurt, if you continue faithful to me. (Haydock) — Shew them no respect or worship. The fear of Isaac means the God (Calmet) whom Isaac worshipped, Genesis xxxi. 42. Idolatry owed its rise to a groundless fear: primos in orbe deos fecit timor. (Lucretius) The pagans offered sacrifice to Paventia, to fear and paleness, &c., that they might be secure from them. (Lactan.) (Haydock)
Ver. 11. Angel; Michael. (Menochius) — Some think it was the prophet who had addressed the people, or Phinees, according to the Rabbins. See St. Augustine, q. 31. Others believe it was the Son of God, who takes the name of Jehovah. (Broughton and other Protestants) — But the most natural opinion is, that a real angel was sent, in the name of God, like that which appeared to Moses, and assumed the incommunicable name, as the ambassador of God. Gedeon took him for a man, and presented him a noble feast, without designing to offer sacrifice to him. Maimonides and Grotius seem to suppose that all this passed in a dream; but the sequal refutes this opinion. — Ephra, a city of the half tribe of Manasses, on the west side of the Jordan, of which Joas was the richest citizen. He was of the family of Ezri, and a descendant of Abiezer, 1 Paralipomenon viii. 18. Hebrew might be rendered, “Joas, the Abiezerite,” chap. viii. 32., and xiii. 2. — Madian. Not having the convenience of cleansing the wheat in the open field, Gedeon was doing it privately, with a design to carry it off, at the approach of the enemy, and to support himself and family in some cavern. Hebrew takes no notice of cleaning: “Gedeon threshed wheat, by the wine press, to hide it, or to flee,” &c. He probably used a flail, or some smaller sticks, such as were employed to beat out olives, Isaias xxviii. 27., and Ruth ii. 17. (Calmet) — The wheat harvest was about Pentecost, that of barley was at Easter. It seems the Madianites had been later than usual this year, in making their incursions, ver. 33. (Haydock)
Ver. 12. Is. We should naturally translate, be with thee, if the answer of Gedeon did not shew (Calmet) that it is to be taken as an assertion, that the Lord was already reconciled to Israel, and had made choice of this valiant man to rescue his people from slavery, though he was not of the first nobility, ver. 15.
Ver. 13. My lord. This he says out of respect, supposing that he was addressing a prophet, (Haydock) or some virtuous person, of whom he desires to know what reasons could be given for the assurance of divine favour, which he held out. He speaks not out of distrust. (Menochius)
Ver. 14. Lord, Jehova. (Haydock) — The Chaldean and Septuagint have, “the angel of the Lord,” as the best interpreters understand it. (Calmet) — Upon him, with benevolence and an air of authority, that he might know that he was speaking to some one more than man. (Haydock) — Strength, with which I have endued thee. (Menochius) — Though Gedeon was naturally brave, he was no more disposed to attack the Madianites than the rest of his dispirited countrymen; and, even after he was strengthened from above, he was so conscious of his own inability to effect so great a deliverance, that he stood in need of the most convincing miracles, to make him act as the judge of Israel. (Haydock)
Ver. 15. The meanest in Manasses, &c. Mark how the Lord chooses the humble (who are mean and little in their own eyes) for the greatest enterprises. (Challoner) — Hebrew and Septuagint literally, “My millenary is poor, or lowly,” &c. This term means a great family, from which many others spring, or a city inhabited by such. Bethlehem was of this description in Juda, Micheas v. 2. Ephra and the family of Abiezer were not the first in Manasses. Grotius observes, that Gedeon and Cincinnatus were called to the highest offices, when they least expected it.
Ver. 17. Thou, the Lord, or his angel, capable of fulfilling these great promises; or be pleased, by some sign, to manifest thyself to me. (Calmet) — He began to perceive that he was talking with some person of authority: (Haydock) yet still he did not suspect that it was a spirit, otherwise he would not have offered food, nor would he have been so much surprised and afraid, only when the angel disappeared so suddenly, ver. 22.
Ver. 18. A sacrifice, or some provisions to present unto thee. Hebrew mincha, is taken for a present, particularly of flour and wine. It is used to denote those presents which were made by Jacob to Esau, and Joseph, and by Aod to the king of Moab, chap. iii. 15., and Genesis xliii. 14. (Calmet) — To sacrifice, often means to kill things for a feast, Matthew xxii. 4. What Gedeon brought, was afterwards turned into a sacrifice by the angel, ver. 21. (Menochius) — Gedeon was not a priest, nor was there any altar prepared for a sacrifice. If Gedeon had intended to offer one, he would not have boiled nor baked the food, which he presented before his guest. (Calmet)
Ver. 19. Measure. Hebrew, “epha,” containing ten gomors, each of which was sufficient for the daily maintenance of a man; so that Gedeon brought as much as would have sufficed for ten men. Abraham presented no more before the three angels, Genesis xviii. 6. The magnificence of the ancients consisted rather in producing great abundance, than in multiplying dishes. — Broth. Syriac and Arabic translate, “a good (old) wine.”
Ver. 20. Thereon. Thus he would shew Gedeon that he had no need of food. He would exercise his obedience, and manifest a greater miracle, as the flesh and bread would be less apt to take fire, when the angel touched them, even though some might imagine that he caused a spark to come from the rock. For the like purpose, Elias ordered thrice four buckets of water to be poured on the bullock, which fire from heaven would miraculously consume, 3 Kings xviii. 34. (Haydock) — This broth might serve to anoint the altar, (Exodus xl. 10.; Menochius) or answer instead of the usual libations. (A. Montan.)
Ver. 22. Alas. He makes this exclamation, concluding that he should soon die, Exodus xxxiii. 20. Callimachus says that “it was a law of Saturn, that the man who saw an immortal, unless the god himself chose to shew him that favour, should pay dearly for it.” (Grotius) — This opinion was groundless; and it is wonderful that it should prevail among the Israelites, (Haydock) since so many had seen angels without receiving any harm. (Menochius)
Ver. 23. Said to him, as he was ascending into heaven, (Menochius) or the following night. (Calmet) — It seems that Gedeon heard the angel’s proclamation of peace, and shewed his gratitude by forming the rock, or stone, into a kind of rough altar, which he entitled Yehova shalom, “God’s peace,” (Haydock) for doing which he received an order, ver. 26. (Menochius) — Others erect altars, in various places; but they must be authorized by God. (Calmet) — Ezri. Protestants, “unto this day it is yet in Ophra, of the Abiezrites.” Septuagint is ambiguous. “He, or it, being yet in Ephra,” &c. (Haydock)
Ver. 25. And another, or “the second.” Only one seems to have been sacrificed; (ver. 28.; Cajetan) though others think that the second bullock was designed for a peace-offering. (Bonfrere) Some infer that it had been fattened for Baal. Septuagint observe, that the first bullock or “calf was fattened:” but it does not appear for what purpose. (Calmet) — Seven years, in memory of the duration of the slavery. (Menochius) — Before that age, bulls were not deemed so fit for yoking. Hesiod would have them to be nine years old. — Altar. We may render the Hebrew, “Cut down the idol which is upon the altar; or, Break in pieces the ashera,” &c. This is the title of the idol of the grove, Astare or Asteroth. (Syriac and Arabic) The Septuagint is favourable to this explanation. (Calmet) — But the groves themselves were to be cut down, where an altar of God was to be erected. It seems this altar and the grove belonged to Joas, who is hence supposed to have joined in the worship of Baal. If he did formerly, his eyes were now opened, and he boldly approved of the conduct of his son, (ver. 31.; Haydock) who had probably never been infected. (Menochius)
Ver. 26. Top. Hebrew, “on the top of this fortress, (Mawz. Daniel xi. 38.; Septuagint) on the platform, (Calmet) or place appointed.” (Haydock) — Offer. Though Gedeon was not a priest, he was authorized to offer sacrifice. (Menochius) — God can dispense with his own laws. (Haydock)
Ver. 27. House, his relations and fellow-citizens, (Calmet) who were addicted to idolatry. Prudence dictated that he should do this privately, lest he might be prevented by them. They would soon perceive the weakness of their idol. Yet some of the servants, or others who had been on the watch, disclosed to the idolaters that Gedeon had done the daring deed, unless perhaps they accused him on suspicion, as his enmity to that worship could not be concealed. (Haydock)
Ver. 30. Bring. Parents took cognizance of the evil actions done in their family. The citizens require Joas to punish his son, or to deliver him up to them. On the same principle, the Israelites insisted that the tribes of Benjamin should not neglect to punish the citizens of Gabaa; and the Philistines demand Samson, chap. xv. 12., and xx. 13. Cato advised that Cæsar should be given up to the Germans, whom he had unjustly invaded; and the Gauls would not be satisfied, unless the Fabii should be abandoned unto them. (Grotius, Jur. ii. 21, 4.[24?]) (Haydock)
Ver. 31. His, Baal’s, or rather my son’s adversary; (Calmet) let him die before this morning be spent, as the Hebrew insinuates. Joas represents to the men of the city, who looked upon him with a degree of respect, (Haydock) as the first in power and riches among them, (Calmet) how ill it became the Israelites to vindicate an idol. If Baal were truly so powerful, as they seemed to imagine, (Haydock) and so eager to revenge himself, he could never be restrained from bringing his adversary to condign punishment. “Let the gods punish those who injure them,” said Tacitus, Ann. i. “They would take care that their sacred things were not abused.” (Livy x.) This argumentation would suit the idolaters, who supposed that their gods were animated with the same sentiments and eagerness for revenge as themselves. But the true God, who can feel no such impressions, bears for a long time with the impiety of men, though he requires that those who are in power should punish notorious offenders. The magistrate is the instrument of God’s justice, and must stop, as much as possible, the growth of vice and irreligion. (Calmet) — It seems the citizens of Ephra acquiesced to the reason or authority of Joas, and even enlisted under the banners of Gedeon. (Haydock)
Ver. 32. Altar. Protestants, “Therefore on that day he called him Jerubbaal, saying, let Baal plead against him, because he hath thrown down his altar.” Septuagint Alexandrian says that he then styled it (auto, the altar,) “the judgment-seat of Baal,” Dikasterion Baal. But the Vatican copy [of the Septuagint] leaves Terobaal; and this title rather belonged to Gedeon. (Haydock) — David, out of horror for the name of Baal, calls him Jeruboseth, 2 Kings xi. 21. “Let confusion plead,” &c. For the same reason, Esbaal and Meribaal are called Isboseth and Miphiboseth in Scripture. We read that Sanconiathon consulted “Jerombaal, priest of the god Jao,” concerning the antiquities of Phœnicia, which has led some to conclude that he had seen Jerobaal. The work, however, of that author is generally supposed to be a fabrication of Porphyrius, and was unknown to Josephus. It contains a multitude of fabulous accounts, intermixed with some truths, which might be taken from the Bible. Gedeon was no priest, and we may suppose little concerned about the Phœnician affairs or antiquities. (Calmet)
Ver. 33. Jezrael. The crossed the Jordan, probably at Bethsan, expecting to find rich booty in this most fertile vale, where it is reported that grass, or the plants, grow to such a size, that a man on horseback can scarcely be seen! They met with a defeat near Endor and Mount Thabor, chap. viii. 18., and Psalm lxxxii. 11. (Calmet)
Ver. 34. Him. He first calls his relations, and then the neighbouring tribes, to march against the enemy. He had before declared God’s orders, and was recognized as judge and deliverer of Israel; so that no one objects to his exercising this act of sovereignty.
Ver. 35. Him. Hebrew, “them.” (Menochius) — The people readily obey the summons, though many of them had not got the better of their fears, chap. vii. 3. (Haydock)
Ver. 38. So. Gedeon besought the Lord to confirm his mission, in order to raise the drooping spirits of his soldiers. If he had not believed that he was chosen for the purpose of rescuing Israel, he would never have exposed himself, by destroying the idol and grove of Baal, and by calling the people to arms. Yet he might fear at present, lest he might be destitute of some of the necessary qualifications, and might entertain some apprehensions, lest the promises of God might by only conditional. The readiness with which God grants his requests, shews that he was inspired to act as he did, and his faith is greatly commended, Hebrews xi. 32. Other great saints have asked for a miraculous confirmation of what was promised, Exodus iv. 1., Josue v. 13., and Luke i. 34. (Calmet) — Vessels. Hebrew sephel, Septuagint lecané, “a dish.” Syriac, “a basin.” The dew in Chanaan is very copious, resembling a shower of rain, insomuch that the roads are rendered extremely slippery. (Roger. i. 2.) (Calmet)
Ver. 40. Ground. In these two miracles the Fathers observe, that the fleece represented the Jewish nation, favoured with so many graces, while the rest of the world was dry and barren; and that, when the latter was watered with dew from heaven, by the coming of Jesus Christ, the Synagogue was deprived of those favours. (Origen, hom. viii.; Theodoret, q. 14.; St. Jerome, ad Paulin.; St. Augustine; &c.) — In the first miracle we may also contemplate, the incarnation of our Saviour [Jesus Christ] in the womb of the most pure Virgin [Mary], Psalm lxxi. 6. (St. Bernard, serm.; St. Jerome, epist. Paul.) (Calmet)
Bible Text & Cross-references:
The people, for their sins, are oppressed by the Madianites. Gedeon is called to deliver them.
1 And the children of Israel again did evil in the sight of the Lord: and he delivered them into the hand of Madian seven years,
2 And they were grievously oppressed by them. And they made themselves dens and caves in the mountains, and strong holds to resist.
3 And when Israel had sown, Madian and Amalec, and the rest of the eastern nations, came up:
4 And pitching their tents among them, wasted all things as they were in the blade, even to the entrance of Gaza: and they left nothing at all in Israel for sustenance of life, nor sheep, nor oxen, nor asses.
5 For they and all their flocks came with their tents, and like locusts filled all places, an innumerable multitude of men, and of camels, wasting whatsoever they touched.
6 And Israel was humbled exceedingly in the sight of Madian.
7 And he cried to the Lord, desiring help against the Madianites.
8 And he sent unto them a prophet, and he spoke: Thus saith the Lord, the God of Israel: I made you to come up out of Egypt, and brought you out of the house of bondage,
9 And delivered you out of the hands of the Egyptians, and of all the enemies that afflicted you: and I cast them out at your coming in, and gave you their land.
10 And I said: I am the Lord your God, fear not the gods of the Amorrhites, in whose land you dwell. And you would not hear my voice.
11 And an angel of the Lord came, *and sat under an oak that was in Ephra, and belonged to Joas, the father of the family of Ezri. And when Gedeon, his son, was threshing and cleansing wheat by the wine-press, to flee from Madian,
12 The angel of the Lord appeared to him, and said: The Lord is with thee, O most valiant of men.
13 And Gedeon said to him: I beseech thee, my lord, if the Lord be with us, why have these evils fallen upon us? Where are his miracles, which our fathers have told us of, saying: The Lord brought us out of Egypt? but now the Lord hath forsaken us, and delivered us into the hand of Madian.
14 And the Lord looked upon him, and said: *Go, in this thy strength, and thou shalt deliver Israel out of the hand of Madian: know that I have sent thee.
15 He answered, and said: I beseech thee, my lord, wherewith shall I deliver Israel? Behold, my family is the meanest in Manasses, and I am the least in my father’s house.
16 And the Lord said to him: I will be with thee: and thou shalt cut off Madian as one man.
17 And he said: If I have found grace before thee, give me a sign that it is thou that speakest to me:
18 And depart not hence, till I return to thee, and bring a sacrifice, and offer it to thee. And he answered: I will wait thy coming.
19 So Gedeon went in, and boiled a kid, and made unleavened loaves of a measure of flour: and putting the flesh in a basket, and the broth of the flesh into a pot, he carried all under the oak, and presented to him.
20 And the angel of the Lord said to him: Take the flesh and the unleavened loaves, and lay them upon that rock, and pour out the broth thereon. And when he had done so,
21 The angel of the Lord put forth the tip of the rod, which he held in his hand, and touched the flesh and the unleavened loaves: and there arose a fire from the rock, and consumed the flesh and the unleavened loaves: and the angel of the Lord vanished out of his sight.
22 And Gedeon seeing that it was the angel of the Lord, said: Alas, my Lord God: for I have seen the angel of the Lord face to face.
23 And the Lord said to him: Peace be with thee: fear not, thou shalt not die.
24 And Gedeon built there an altar to the Lord, and called it the Lord’s peace, until this present day. And when he was yet in Ephra, which is of the family of Ezri,
25 That night the Lord said to him: Take a bullock of thy father’s, and another bullock of seven years, and thou shalt destroy the altar of Baal, which is thy father’s: and cut down the grove that is about the altar:
26 And thou shalt build an altar to the Lord thy God, in the top of this rock, whereupon thou didst lay the sacrifice before: and thou shalt take the second bullock, and shalt offer a holocaust upon a pile of the wood, which thou shalt cut down out of the grove.
27 Then Gedeon, taking ten men of his servants, did as the Lord had commanded him. But fearing his father’s house, and the men of that city, he would not do it by day, but did all by night.
28 And when the men of that town were risen in the morning, they saw the altar of Baal destroyed, and the grove cut down, and the second bullock laid upon the altar, which then was built.
29 And they said one to another: Who hath done this? And when they enquired for the author of the fact, it was said: Gedeon, the son of Joas, did all this.
30 And they said to Joas: Bring out thy son hither, that he may die: because he hath destroyed the altar of Baal, and hath cut down his grove.
31 He answered them: Are you the avengers of Baal, that you fight for him? he that is his adversary, let him die before to-morrow light appear: if he be a god, let him revenge himself on him that hath cast down his altar.
32 From that day Gedeon was called Jerobaal, because Joas had said: Let Baal revenge himself on him that hath cast down his altar.
33 Now all Madian, and Amalec, and the eastern people, were gathered together, and passing over the Jordan, camped in the valley of Jezrael.
34 But the spirit of the Lord came upon Gedeon, and he sounded the trumpet, and called together the house of Abiezer, to follow him.
35 And he sent messengers into all Manasses, and they also followed him: and other messengers into Aser, and Zabulon, and Nephthali, and they came to meet him.
36 And Gedeon said to God: If thou wilt save Israel by my hand, as thou hast said,
37 I will put this fleece of wool on the floor: if there be dew in the fleece only, and it be dry on all the ground beside, I shall know that by my hand, as thou hast said, thou wilt deliver Israel.
38 And it was so. And rising before day, wringing the fleece, he filled a vessel with the dew.
39 And he said again to God: Let not thy wrath be kindled against me, if I try once more, seeking a sign in the fleece. I pray that the fleece only may be dry, and all the ground wet with dew.
40 And God did that night as he had requested: and it was dry on the fleece only, and there was dew on all the ground.
11: Year of the World 2759, Year before Christ 1245.
14: 1 Kings xii. 11.