Gideon’s purpose was approved by God and supported by his father Joash. None, mind you, NONE even from his own tribe of Manasseh believed in the method or the purpose which he undertook on his own and when God recognised him as a ‘thou mighty man of valour’ – he did not bask in the certificate of the angel of God, yet when he had to engage with his enemies, Gideon took an ASSURANCE from God. An Assurance through two impossible signs.
There are three signs Gideon takes before he embarks on a fight against the Midianites, the Amalekites and the children of the East.
First, when the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon while he was stealthily threshing wheat, and told him “Go in this thy might, and thou shalt save Israel from the hand of the Midianites: have not I sent thee?” The sign Gideon received was that when the Angel of the Lord, who sat under an oak in Abiezer, touched the offering poured out on the rock and touched it by his staff, the whole offering was consumed.
Experience had taught Gideon that he should not only have an assurance but an assurance from the Lord who could do great things.
When the Pharisees asked for a sign from Jesus, they were not seeking for a sign to believe, but to debunk the sign and rely on their own Unbelief in Christ and rightly Jesus says : no sign would be given (Gospel of Mark) except for the sign of Jonah ( Gospels of Matthew & Luke). Jesus calls such seeking of signs by His contemporaneous generation as “wicked & adulterous”.
Wickedness could be defined as a ‘wilful choice of the evil’ and Adulterous means ‘not faithful to the choice made and showing waywardness in accepting favours, protection or resources by succumbing to the enticements and show of power by someone other than the God to whom one has chosen to stay committed’.
A sign is a prediction of the outcome. A prediction about the events to come in the future without the person seeking a sign not having made up his mind. A sign could turn out to be like Chananah’s son Zedekiah’s prediction before Ahab and Jehoshaphat, regarding the battle which they had undertaken to pursue on a prediction of positive outcome.
The difference between Gideon seeking a sign and Ahab or the Pharisees seeking a sign is VAST. Gideon had already embarked on the path of confronting the Midianites, the Amalekites and the children of the East. He was NOT asking which way the wind would blow. He wanted the wind to blow his way and he wanted an assurance from the Creator of the wind to blow his way.
If one understands the difference, it would be exhilarating. Gideon was finding a way to win. He wanted God to be on his side, whereas Ahab and the Pharisees had not hoisted their sails nor would till they were told through a sign that they would obtain a particular result. Otherwise, they were willing to desist and altogether abandon their embarking on the battle or their course.
Gideon had chosen his path, his request for a sign was a prayer for sanctification of the path already embarked by him.
Gideon places the fleece and requests God, truly humbly, that the fleece should be drenched with dew whereas the outside of the fleece should be without dew. Gideon does not request for a human possibility – except through fraud. When Gideon finds that God had made it happen, he once again humbly requests God to perform the reverse of his earlier ‘sign’- which by hindsight is even more humanly impossible – the fleece should be dry but the area surrounding the fleece should be wet with dew. God makes it happen, AGAIN.
God’s eyes which run to and fro have found Gideon – a mighty man of valour – willing to stand as a single man and resist the Midianites. Even God wants to convince Gideon to go to take the Midianites head on. God gives Gideon an unsolicited third party assurance- an enemy soldier dreams and another soldier interprets that dream reassuring an eavesdropping Gideon. An event not ‘intended’ but an independent assurance that Gideon would win.
Sure enough he wins.
Even after victory, he faces humiliation from the twin tribe of Manasseh – Ephraim. The Ephraimites chide Gideon the Manassehite as to why he did not involve the tribe of Ephraim.
None from the Ephraim could have imagined the nocturnal threshing that Gideon was doing to shore up the merge resources left unplundered by the marauding Midianites. Yet he comes up with two classic statements to assure the Ephraimites of their putative superiority over the tribe of Manasseh.
One is that he gives the Ephraimites the credit for killing the Princes Zeeb and Oreb. In fact the tribe of Naphtali and Asher, sniffed a deliverer in Gideon and joined Gideon in the pursuit of the Midianites, but the Ephraimites waited for an invitation and possibly the scent of victory before they took the Midianites at Bethbarah and Jordan. Yet Gideon ascribes the victory to the Ephraimites. Gideon kills it when he draws an imagery of the grapes thus:
“Is not the gleaning of the grapes of Ephraim better than the vintage of Abiezer?”
This victory for freedom effervescent in the blood of Gideon was able to overlook the fact as to who contributed more to the victory over the Midianites. It was not mere generosity of the soul of Gideon; nor was it the political acumen to harness the dominant tribe of Ephraim, I see it as the fulfilment of the thirst of Liberty which was willing to forgo credit for the freedom achieved.
Gideon ranks in my list as next only to Moses as the Greatest Liberator.
We as individuals are all labouring under some Midianite or Amalekite force trampling and swindling our resources and livelihood, yet we eke out our meagre existence with a fervent Hope that one day we may be called as ‘mighty man of valour’ – while threshing our own wheat sheaves in our own backyard in the dark of the night‼️