Next to Samson, Gideon is the most-told story in the book of Judges. A colorful Gideon figure appears in my one-year-old son’s Bible storybook and finds his way into most Sunday school curricula. In the handful of sermons that I’ve heard on Gideon’s life, the big idea usually goes something like this: Even when you feel weak and inadequate, God will use you if you surrender your gifts to him. It’s true: If God can use Gideon to defeat the Midianite army with trumpets and jars, he can use you. But it’s easy to jump to this application and forget that faithful Yahweh, not fearful Gideon, is the main actor in Judges 6-8.
When read in light of Israel’s larger narrative, new meaning emerges in Gideon’s story. The author of Judges includes echoes of the Mosaic exodus to make theological points about God and redemption. His original readers would have picked up on these clues much more quickly than we do. When someone says “crossing the Delaware,” for example, the American mind jumps to George Washington—perhaps even to Emanuel Leutze’s famous 1851 painting of Washington standing triumphantly on a small boat in the icy river. The crossing of the Delaware is a moment forever woven into the fabric of our national narrative. It evokes a sense of shared identity. Likewise, when Israel heard certain words, phrases, or images related to the exodus, they were immediately immersed in their own story, one which they had heard since birth (Deut. 6:21).
When God’s people experienced oppression in any form, they looked back to the exodus for assurance of God’s enduring faithfulness to deliver his covenant people.
The exodus was more than one of many significant events in Israel’s history. When Yahweh dramatically delivered the Hebrew people from the hands of their Egyptian oppressors, it became the definitive marker of their shared national identity. Who was Israel? God’s son called out of Egypt (Hos. 11:1). Who was God? The one who brought Israel out of the land of the Egyptians (Deut. 5:6; Ps. 81:10; Hos. 13:4). The exodus became the main paradigm for interpreting all future salvation events. When God’s people experienced oppression in any form, they looked back to the exodus for assurance of God’s enduring faithfulness to deliver his covenant people. This is clearly featured in the cherished story of Gideon.
The Latest Oppressor: Midian, a New Egypt
The Gideon story begins with the Midianites and the Amalekites devouring Israel’s crops, leaving no food for them or for their livestock (Judg. 6:3-5). Midian and Amalek were old foes of Israel closely associated with Moses. Recall the familiar image of Moses overlooking a battle against Amalek while Aaron and Hur support his upraised hands (Ex. 17:8-13). Barry Webb notes, “The reappearance of these ancient enemies here prepares the way for the Mosaic role in which Gideon will be cast in 6:11–8:3.”
As a result of the harassment, “Israel was brought very low because of Midian. And the people of Israel cried out for help to the LORD” (Judg. 6:6). Israel had been here before—though this time, their misery was the curse of covenant unfaithfulness. Their forefathers had been oppressed in Egypt and also turned to Yahweh: “the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help” (Ex. 2:23).
The next verse records Yahweh’s gracious response: “When the people of Israel cried out to the LORD on account of the Midianites, the LORD sent a prophet to the people of Israel” (Judg. 6:7). God called Gideon, we soon learn, to be Israel’s deliverer, prophet, and judge. Yahweh heard his people’s cries, as he had so many years ago: “Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob” (Ex. 2:23-25); the subsequent verses record the call of Moses—Israel’s deliverer (Ex. 3:10), prophet (Deut. 18:18), and judge (Ex. 18:13).
In Yahweh’s message to the Israelites under Midianite oppression, the exodus narrative is recapitulated:
Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: I led you up from Egypt and brought you out of the house of slavery. And I delivered you from the hand of the Egyptians and from the hand of all who oppressed you, and drove them out before and you and gave you their land. I said to you, “I am the LORD your God; you shall not fear the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell.” But you have not obeyed my voice. (Judg. 6:8-10)
Did Israel’s disobedience mean that the God of the exodus was no longer with them? Was Israel on its own to defeat Midian, the new Egypt-like oppressor? When the angel of the LORD appeared to Gideon, he assured him that God was still very much present. Gideon was perplexed: “If the LORD is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all his wonderful deeds that our fathers recounted to us, saying, ‘Did not the LORD bring us up from Egypt?” But now the LORD has forsaken us and given us into the hand of Midian” (Judg. 6:13).
This is a central tension in Gideon’s story: Will God deliver his oppressed people once more? Will he again remember his covenant for the sake of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? Will his faithfulness endure despite Israel’s failures? By presenting Gideon as a new Moses, the author of Judges answers with a resounding “Yes!”
An Unlikely Deliverer: Gideon, a New Moses
The angel of the Lord appears under a tree to call Gideon while he is beating out wheat in the winepress of his father Joash (Judg. 6:11). Years before, the same angel had appeared in a bush to call Moses while he was tending the sheep of his father Jethro (Ex. 3:1).
The angel provides no direct answer to Gideon’s questions; rather, “the LORD turned to him and said, ‘Go in this might of yours and save Israel from the hand of Midian; do not I send you?” (Judg. 6:14). The commission was the same to Moses: “I have sent you” (Ex. 3:12).
Gideon is depicted in Judges as a new Moses. The author ensures that his readers, deeply familiar with the Mosaic exodus, experience a sense of déjà vu as they read.
Gideon is astounded: “Please, Lord, how can I save Israel? Behold, my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house” (Judg. 6:15). Moses gave an equally insecure response when he received his call in Midian: “Moses said to the Lord, ‘Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent, either in the past or since you have spoken to your servant, but I am slow of speech and of tongue’” (Ex. 4:10). Both wanted someone else to save Israel (Ex. 4:13; Judg. 6:15). Cheryl A. Brown comments that “Gideon again looks like Moses, hustling to come up with any excuse to avoid getting involved (Exod. 3:11–4:11). The irony is, however, that the Israelites were in need of another exodus—right in the promised land.”
In Gideon’s weakness, “the LORD said to him, ‘But I will be with you’” (Judg. 6:16). The assurance is identical to when God “said [to Moses], ‘But I will be with you’” (Ex. 3:12).
God provides further assurance for Gideon: when Gideon put meat and unleavened cakes on a nearby rock, “fire sprang up from the rock” and consumed them (Judg. 6:21), a sign of the divine presence, much like the burning bush. Gideon reacts with fear, as did Moses (Ex. 3:6), and exclaims, “I have seen the angel of the LORD face to face” (Judg. 6:22). The reader is reminded once again of Moses: “the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend” (Ex. 33:11, cf. Ex. 33:20). Notably, face-to-face encounter with God characterized Moses: “there has not arisen a prophet since in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face” (Deut. 34:10).
Gideon goes on to ask for even more assurance that “I shall know that you will save Israel by my hand” (Judg. 6:37). Two signs follow: the wet fleece and the dry fleece. Likewise, when Moses expressed apprehension, the Lord gave him two signs: the serpent staff and the leprous hand (Ex. 4:9).
Other parallels could be drawn between Moses and Gideon. For example, it seems likely that Gideon’s clandestine destruction of the altar of Baal alludes to Moses’s secret killing of the Egyptian. Both are subversive acts against Israel’s oppressors that result in others seeking to kill them (cf. Judg. 6:30; Ex. 2:15). But one does not need to speculate to see that Gideon is depicted in Judges as a new Moses. The author ensures that his readers, deeply familiar with the Mosaic exodus, experience a sense of déjà vu as they read.
As God sent Moses to deliver Israel from their Egyptian oppressors “and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey” (Ex. 3:8), God sent Gideon to deliver Israel from Midian so that they could enjoy the fruits of the same land.
A Faithful God: Yahweh, the Covenant-Keeper
The rest of the story is familiar. God uses Gideon and his band of 300 men to defeat the overwhelming forces of the Midianite army. The thinning out of Gideon’s troops sends a clear message: Yahweh, not Gideon, is the savior of Israel. As God later declared, “I am the Lord your God from the land of Egypt; you know no God but me, and besides me there is no savior” (Hos. 13:4). In a new exodus, Yahweh sets his people free and embarrasses the Midianite gods, revealing himself as the only true and living God.
Gideon’s question, “If the LORD is with us, why then has all this happened to us?” could be answered: To reveal his hesed (steadfast covenant love and mercy) to a new generation. “And where are all his wonderful deeds that our fathers recounted to us, saying, ‘Did not the LORD bring us up from Egypt?’” On full display. Gideon had a new exodus story to recount to his children.
Raising up Moses to deliver Israel from Egypt is among the most gracious deeds recorded in Israel’s history. That Yahweh would raise up another Moses in Gideon, especially when Israel’s slavery was self-imposed through covenant unfaithfulness, demonstrates beyond question his longsuffering love.
The fact remains, however, that the Midianites were not the last evil power to oppress God’s people. Midian was just one nation in a long line of principalities and powers, animated by the serpent, to wrestle against the woman’s seed. The covenant-keeping God always intended to provide a greater seed than Moses or Gideon to crush the serpent’s head: a deliverer, prophet, and judge who would confront all the Pharaohs of this world once and for all.
The Final Deliver: Christ, the Greater Gideon
In the New Testament, Jesus arrives as Israel’s final savior (Mt. 1:21). The NT authors saw in Christ the typological fulfillment of all the Old Testament’s prophets and redeemers. Jesus is the “something greater” to which all the OT patterns pointed (Mt. 12:6; 12:41; 12:42). The NT authors (especially the authors of Matthew and Hebrews) use what Luke Stamps calls a “‘something greater than’ hermeneutic. OT stories have their own historical integrity, but their ultimate referent is Christ.” Among the roles that Jesus fulfills is the role of a new Moses who leads a new exodus (Deut. 18:18; cf. Acts 3:22; 7:37; Lk. 9:31, 36; Heb. 3:1-6). Jesus is the greater Moses and thus the greater Gideon; he is the prophet, judge, and redeemer that Israel always needed.
Jesus did not come to overthrow Rome, the latest in a long line of oppressors; he came to strike at the source. As the Passover lamb, he died “that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery” (Heb. 2:14-15). Christ secured the long-awaited new exodus which was promised in Isaiah 43:15–19.
Through the cross—an instrument far weaker than trumpets or jars—God confounded the wise.
God’s people needed a redeemer like Jesus because we “do not wrestle against flesh and blood” like the Midianites, “but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12). On the cross, “[God] disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in [Christ]” (Col. 2:15). Through the cross—an instrument far weaker than trumpets or jars—God confounded the wise (1 Cor. 1:27).
Gideon is the story of God’s enduring faithfulness to deliver his covenant people. In Christ, we see the supreme proof of Yahweh’s steadfast love. When we were still weak—in bondage to fear, sin, death, and oppression—God sent his Son to deliver us.