1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Gideon
GIDEON (in Hebrew, perhaps "hewer" or "warrior"), liberator, reformer and "judge" of Israel, was the son of Joash, of the Manassite clan of Abiezer, and had his home at Ophrah near Shechem. His name occurs in Heb. xi. 32, in a list of those who became heroes by faith; but, except in Judges vi.-viii., is not to be met with elsewhere in the Old Testament. He lived at a time when the nomad tribes of the south and east made inroads upon Israel, destroying all that they could not carry away. Two accounts of his deeds are preserved (see Judges). According to one (Judges vi. 11-24) Yahweh appeared under the holy tree which was in the possession of Joash and summoned Gideon to undertake, in dependence on supernatural direction and help, the work of liberating his country from its long oppression, and, in token that he accepted the mission, he erected in Ophrah an altar which he called “Yahweh-Shalom” (Yahweh is peace). According to another account (vi. 25-32) Gideon was a great reformer who was commanded by Yahweh to destroy the altar of Baal belonging to his father and the ashērah or sacred post by its side. The townsmen discovered the sacrilege and demanded his death. His father, who, as guardian of the sacred place, was priest of Baal, enjoined the men not to take up Baal’s quarrel, for “if Baal be a god, let him contend (rīb) for himself.” Hence Gideon received the name Jerubbaal. From this latter name appearing regularly in the older narrative (cf. ix.), and from the varying usage in vi.-viii., it has been held that stories of two distinct heroes (Gideon and Jerubbaal) have been fused in the complicated account which follows.
The great gathering of the Midianites and their allies on the north side of the plain of Jezreel; the general muster first of Abiezer, then of all Manasseh, and lastly of the neighbouring tribes of Asher, Zebulun and Naphtali; the signs by which the wavering faith of Gideon was steadied; the methods by which an unwieldy mob was reduced to a small but trusty band of energetic and determined men; and the stratagem by which the vast army of Midian was surprised and routed by the handful of Israelites descending from “above Endor,” are indicated fully in the narratives, and need not be detailed here. The difficulties in the account of the subsequent flight of the Midianites appear to have arisen from the composite character of the narratives, and there are signs that in one of them Gideon was accompanied only by his own clansmen (vi. 34). So, when the Midianites are put to flight, according to one representation, the Ephraimites are called out to intercept them, and the two chiefs, Ōrēb (“raven”) and Zeēb (“wolf”), in making for the fords of the Jordan, are slain at “the raven’s rock” and “the wolf’s press” respectively. As the sequel of this we are told that the Ephraimites quarrelled with Gideon because their assistance had not been invoked earlier, and their anger was only appeased by his tactful reply (viii. 1-3; contrast xii. 1-6). The other narrative speaks of the pursuit of the Midianite chiefs Zebah and Zalmunna across the northern end of Jordan, past Succoth and Penuel to the unidentified place Ḳarḳor. Having taken relentless vengeance on the men of Penuel and Succoth, who had shown a timid neutrality when the patriotic struggle was at its crisis, Gideon puts the two chiefs to death to avenge his brothers whom they had killed at Tabor. The overthrow of Midian (cf. Is. ix. 4, x. 26; Ps. lxxxiii. 9-12) induced "Israel" to offer Gideon the kingdom. It was refused—out of religious scruples (viii. 22 seq.; cf. 1 Sam. viii. 7, x. 19, xii. 12, 17, 19), and the ephod idol which he set up at Ophrah in commemoration of the victory was regarded by a later editor (v. 27) as a cause of apostasy to the people and a snare to Gideon and his house; see, however, Ephod. Gideon’s achievements would naturally give him a more than merely local authority, and after his death the attempt was made by one of his sons to set himself up as chief (see Abimelech).
- “Baal contends” (or Jeru-baal, "Baal founds," cf. Jeru-el), but artificially explained in the narrative to mean “let Baal contend against him,” or “let Baal contend for himself,” v. 31. In 2 Sam. xi. 21 he is called Jerubbesheth, in accordance with the custom explained in the article Baal.
- See, on this, Cheyne, Ency. Bib. col. 1719 seq.; Ed. Meyer, Die Israeliten, pp. 482 seq.
- The names are vocalized to suggest the fanciful interpretations “victim” and “protection withheld.”
- As the account of this has been lost and the narrative is concerned not with the plain of Jezreel but rather with Shechem, it has been inferred that the episode implies the existence of a distinct story wherein Gideon’s pursuit is such an act of vengeance.