Judges 6:11-24, The Call of Gideon
Rather than getting simpler, things seem to get more confusing in our story, The reason is that we quickly perceive there must have more than one source underlying Recensions A and B. That is, the Hebrew text of Judges must consist of at least two sources. Then, when we consider that Recensions A and B differ from each other (my thesis is that B makes use of and “cleans up” or “clarifies” A), we have further complexities.
One reason we know right away that two underlying Hebrew sources must be at work is the sheer number of divine, semi-divine or supra-human sources needed to get Gideon’s attention and call him to his task. If you applied Occam’s razor to this book, you would say that all you need is one divine figure to call and equip Gideon for his work. But, in fact, we have three figures in Judges 6. First, we had a προφήτην enter the picture in verse 7. My initial reaction is that this kind of person makes sense here because the purpose of a prophet is to “interpret” the past and “declare” the will of God for the present and future. Israel (and perhaps the reader) needed the interpretation that is given in vv 7-10.
But then, in verse 11, we have the άγγελος του κυρίου or angel of the Lord come to Gideon while he is sitting under the oak. Recension B will have him under a terebinth, but the word for “oak” in A (δρυς) can also be rendered “tree” so we have different word but the same concept. In any case, then in verse 25, after the angel of the Lord has left, having communicated to Gideon the message from God, God then decides to show up in person and speak. Prophet, angel, God…all of them present for Gideon. One might think for a moment that the Word of the Lord has been so infrequent in recent days that all possible figures want to get in on the act after the drought. So, the reader may be forgiven if s/he scratches the head, chuckles and wonders who is speaking. The uncertainty takes away only marginally from the effectiveness of the narrative.
Following the Story in Recension A
We now turn to the story, as told in Recension A, with differences from B noted along the way. As mentioned above, the άγγελος του κυρίου appears to Gideon. Gideon happens to be beating out the wheat in a wine press or small tub (ἐν ληνῷ, 6:11). The reason he did so in this small space, rather than a threshing floor, for example, was to avoid the watchful eye of the marauding MIdianites. While A has him working with πυρός (wheat, though the word might be mistaken for “fire”), B changes this to σιτον (“food/wheat”), which is subject to no ambiguity.
Whereas the greeting of the angel of the Lord to Gideon in the Hebrew is generally rendered, “The Lord is with you, you mighty man of valor” (6:12), the construction in Greek has the phrase “powerful in strength” modifying the Lord rather than Gideon, so that it says, “The Lord is with you; (the Lord) powerful in strength.” B slightly changes that to “powerful among the armies/hosts.”
Then, in verse 13, Gideon begins to interrogate the angel of the Lord. He wants to know why it is that if the Lord is really with them so many evil things have come their way. This question perhaps would have been a bit more appropriate if directed at the prophet of verse 7, but he disappeared before anyone could talk to him. Gideon contrasts the story of the Lord’s deliverance of the people in the past and their seeming rejection now. That rejection is captured through the vivid verb ἀπώσατο, from ἀπωθέω, but B uses the equally vivid verb εξέρρυψεν, from εκρύπτω, also to reject.
The angel then tells Gideon that he is the one chosen to save Israel (v 14) but, in true biblical fashion, Gideon objects because he comes from such insignificant parentage. He is from a “the most humble” (ταπεινοτέρα, with comparative used as superlative, v 15) thousand. Interestingly, B perhaps is a bit confused by A’s use of the comparative when the superlative is meant, and so he tosses out both and decides to use a verb in the indicative, my thousand ”was weak (ησθένησεν) in Manasseh.” Yet, he goes on to use the same adjective in the second clause, in the comparative (with superlative meaning) as A—that he is the “smallest” (μικρὸς is the positive form) in the house of his father.
Gideon is assured that he is the one who will strike Midian “as one man” (that is, as if Midian is a very small number). But still Gideon isn’t quite convinced, and so he asks the angel to give a demonstration or sign that he really is who he claims to be (v 17). Gideon then goes and gets items for an offering to the angel of the Lord and then returns. Several interesting things follow in vv 19-20. The text isn’t clear on all the ingredients that Gideon fetches for the angel. Emphasized are a “kid” which later becomes “meat” (κρέα) and an ephah of unleavened meal, which later becomes loaves of bread in A and just ‘unleavened’ material in B. After he collects these two things we are told that he pours out some broth, so I guess he went and fetched some of that, too.
What is interesting about this collection of items and ceremony that follows is that it isn’t portrayed as a sacrifice, though it has all the ingredients of a sacrifice. When Gideon has collected these supplies, he returns to the angel. A fascinating difference between A and B in verse 20 is that A has him “prostrating” himself/worshipping (προσεκύνησεν) before the angel of the Lord, while B has toned that down considerably to “approached/drawn near to the angel of the Lord” (προσεγγικεν). We can see how similar the verbs look, though the meaning world is quite different. In short, B wants to make sure that he isn’t promoting some kind of worship of intermediary beings.
The angel touches the tip of his wand to the meat and unleavened cakes, and a fire bursts out and consumes these items. Gideon now is convinced that he is speaking to the angel of the Lord and, for a moment, believes he will die. But he is quickly comforted by the angel and told that he will not die. Gideon is to build an altar to the Lord commemorating his experience. But there is much more at stake here for Gideon than just recognizing the presence of the Lord with him; he will now be confronted by the voice of God Himself and told to do some pretty controversial things, which I will describe in the next essay.