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Sefer Shoftim Chapter 6

In Chapter 5 we learned about the victory of Devora, Barak and Yael. Following this, the land of Israel was tranquil for forty years. However, at the start of Chapter 6 we once again see the oft repeated refrain that the people “did evil in the eyes of God” (Shofetim 6:1). This leads to a new Midianite oppression, which lasts seven years. The Midianites are compared to a “locust swarm” (6:5) as they destroyed all the crops and livestock, leaving the people with no food to eat. Struggling with this persecution, the people cry out to God for help. God sends an angel to appoint Gidon as the new Shofet who will rescue the Jewish people from this enemy.  

Gidon does not easily accept this new role. He questions God, asking for a sign that this is genuine. Gidon prepares meat and matzot and places them on a rock before pouring broth over the food. The angel touches it, and a fire appears, consuming all the food on the rock. Gidon now knows he has seen a true angel of God and builds an altar to praise God for this revelation.


Next, God orders Gidon to destroy his father’s idolatrous altar to Baal. He carries this out at night, fearing the wrath of the people if they see him do it. However, the next day the people find out and want to kill Gidon. His father comes to his rescue, exclaiming that Baal, if a real god, will deal with Gidon for what he has done.

In the meantime, the armies of Midian and Amalek are amassing to invade Israel. Gidon summons the tribes of Menashe, Asher, Zevulun and Naftali to gather for war. Gidon asks for one more sign from God, to provide Divine assurance. Gideon lays out a fleece on the threshing floor. On one night, the dew fell only on the fleece, not on the ground. On the next, the dew fell only on the ground, not on the fleece.

A different calibre of shofet?

There are a number of differences between Gidon and the previous Shoftim. Firstly, his reluctance to accept the leadership role is not seen elsewhere. It is possible to equate this hesitation with the humility of Moshe who likewise argued against his appointment as leader of the Jewish people. However, coupled with his request for a sign that he is conversing with a Divine emissary, it appears something more is going on.

Additionally, Gidon’s fear later leads him to destroy the idolatrous altar under the cover of darkness. It is understandable that he does not want to be discovered mid-task. However, this further hesitation on his part appears to represent a lack of Divine faith. Indeed, Chapter 6 ends with the protagonist asking for yet another sign before heading out to battle.


This constant request for signs is reminiscent of the very penchant for signs and portents for which his idolatrous Jewish neighbours are rebuked. Whilst Gidon is not openly criticised for this, it represents that we are now entering a new phase in the book of Shoftim. The leaders appointed from now on will be of a lower calibre. As we continue to follow the story of Gidon, we will see how doubt and hesitation will continue to plague his leadership.

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