Like the hero’s journey, we have arrived at the point in every classic story when our hero enters the new world. For all the film nerds out there, this usually happens a third of the way through a film. In literature, it would be a third of the way through a book or novel. This is when Gideon steps out in faith and does something he would never have done, if not running into his mentor, God, sitting in a tree. He is about to go out and take his first stand of opposition towards the establishment of wickedness. It’s a pivotal moment that changes Gideon permanently for the duration of his life because there is no turning back for him. He must keep going from this point onward, but before we get to that let’s dive into the text first for some well-rounded context:
“Now on the same night the LORD said to him, “Take your father’s bull and a second bull seven years old, and pull down the altar of Baal which belongs to your father, and cut down the Asherah that is beside it; and build an altar to the LORD your God on the top of this stronghold in an orderly manner, and take a second bull and offer a burnt offering with the wood of the Asherah which you shall cut down.” Then Gideon took ten men of his servants and did as the LORD had spoken to him; and because he was too afraid of his father’s household and the men of the city to do it by day, he did it by night. When the men of the city arose early in the morning, behold, the altar of Baal was torn down, and the Asherah which was beside it was cut down, and the second bull was offered on the altar which had been built. They said to one another, “Who did this thing?” And when they searched about and inquired, they said, “Gideon the son of Joash did this thing.” Then the men of the city said to Joash, “Bring out your son, that he may die, for he has torn down the altar of Baal, and indeed, he has cut down the Asherah which was beside it.” But Joash said to all who stood against him, “Will you contend for Baal, or will you deliver him? Whoever will plead for him shall be put to death by morning. If he is a god, let him contend for himself, because someone has torn down his altar.” Therefore on that day he named him Jerubbaal, that is to say, “Let Baal contend against him,” because he had torn down his altar (NASB Judges 6:25-32).”
So the LORD comes back and gives Gideon further instruction to further His plan of redemption for the Hebrews by tearing down the altar to Baal. Without getting deep into paganism, Baal is one bad, evil, lil’ god. Very, very, vile things were done and are done in worship to this demonic god. Such as self-mutilation, sacrificing of the firstborn child, sacred sexual orgies, copulation with animals, and so on. There is a great, detailed article that thoroughly explains Baal worship, which you can read here: http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/judaica/ejud_0002_0003_0_01786.html. Most likely, this was Baal-berith because of the name drop later on in Chapter 8 of Judges, but it could have been any variation of Baal.
First thing that we notice is the way God instructs Gideon to tear down the altar to Baal and cut down the Asherah beside the altar. He commands Gideon to do a number of things in sequential order: 1) take your father’s bull and a 7-yr. old bull, 2) pull down the altar of Baal and cut down the Asherah beside it, 3) build an altar to the LORD on the stronghold previously holding Baal’s altar, 4) and then finally take the second bull and make an offering to the LORD using the wood from the Asherah. Let’s breakdown this 4-part command from the LORD. Notice how God tells Gideon to bring 2 bulls, his father’s and a 7-yr. old bull. Now the 7-yr. old bull was used for the sacrifice, but what was his father’s bull used for?
I am going to infer based on the Scripture at hand that God’s intention for bringing Gideon’s dad’s (Joash) bull was so that Gideon could pull down the altar set up for Baal by Joash, along with his ten male servants. Think about it: why else would God command Gideon to bring his father’s bull, if not to use it to tear down an altar made of extremely heavy stones that weighed 1000s of tons? He couldn’t have done it by himself. He couldn’t have done it with just 10 male servants. Of course he used the bull to pull down the altar. In fact, he probably used both bulls before sacrificing the second bull. Even with his 10 male servants they couldn’t possibly have done this task without the strength of the two bulls. Logically, Gideon tore down the altar and the Asherah with the help of his 10 male servants and the usage of 2 bulls. Based on the text provided, this is the best explanation.
So we now know why 2 bulls, but what about the Asherah? Well, the Asherah in ancient times is believed to have been made almost always out of terebinth trees because they were considered sacred and the etymology of the word Asherah, elat, is almost exactly the same for terebinth tree, ela., in Hebrew. For more on that, go here: http://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/asherahasherim-bible. Since the Asherah was made of wood, Gideon could easily cut it down with an axe of some sort and probably wouldn’t need help from the bull to do that either.
With all of that in mind, God then commands Gideon to build an altar for the LORD and then offer the 7-yr. old bull as a sacrifice using the wood of the Asherah, which is so significant to say the least. God’s basically putting His foot down and saying “I’m Gideon’s God. Whoever messes with Gideon, is messing with the great I Am” by having Gideon do all of this stuff for God’s glory. Gideon likewise was making a statement as well by affirming who not only is his God, but who is the only God, which we will see in a little bit.
Yet Gideon’s bold stance is suddenly made so much bold-less when we realize that he was afraid of his father’s household and the men of the city, so he did all of this in the middle of the night. How sad is that? That Gideon compromised out of fear of others? Sad indeed it is that such an awesome proclamation of faith was undermined by an abundance of fear. Oh, how often I see this in my life. Where God wants me to do something or go somewhere and how I undermine the “God-moments” with compromise over something not worth compromising over. I think we can all relate to that fear that Gideon was experiencing during this time. It’s an understandable fear in the sense that anyone can relate to it, but also an irrational fear because God is with us who believe in Him. With Him, we ought not to fear anyone; not even those who desire to stop us.
But then opposition comes Gideon’s way when the men of the city find out that the altar has been destroyed. So they go to the household of Joash and demand for Gideon’s head. Like, they seriously wanted to kill Gideon. They were a lil’ on edge. Keep in mind, that Joash is not aware of what Gideon has done and is hearing these accusations against Gideon for the first time. His reaction is unparalleled when considering this prospect. He should have allowed the men of the city to take Gideon and kill him out of anger towards Gideon tearing down Joash’s own altar, but nonetheless that’s not what happens. In fact, what we do see Joash do is protect his son Gideon by putting the responsibility of exacting judgment onto their own god, Baal, and making it his responsibility, not their responsibility. In other words, Joash told them that if your god is so powerful, let him take care of Gideon.
Then again, maybe Joash did know about Gideon tearing down the altar before the men of the city told him or Gideon confessed to his father that night because of the fear that he felt of his father’s wrath. Either way, it’s hard to understand why his father, Joash, responded in the way that he did, but there are only two options. One, Joash had a change of heart before the men of the city came for Gideon or he had a change of heart when the men of the city came to him and told him all that happened. Bottom line: something or someone changed Joash’s heart because he let Gideon live and stood up for him. Now this is what every father should be doing, but are not doing. Supporting their children when they make the right decision and protect them from opposition to their actions. We need more parents like this.
Once the men of the city hear this bold proclamation from Joash and leave, Joash then renames Gideon Jerubbaal, which means “Let Baal contend against him.” As if to say, Gideon will struggle with Baal. We will see what this foreshadowing means, but for now let’s stick to the text at hand. I like the insight that Jon Ericson adds. He writes at this link: http://hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/2384/what-is-the-significance-of-switching-from-gideon-to-jerubbaal that
“the name Gideon seems to be associated with the man’s struggles and victories over foreign nations and the name Jerubbaal is associated with his struggles against idolatry.”
This makes sense then because the first mention of his name as Jerubbaal is in this chapter and is given to him as he struggled, both physically and mentally, to tear down the altar to Baal. Then in the spiritual sense, Gideon had to choose between the one, true God’s will or the will of other men’s gods. A tough decision and a life defining struggle indeed that as we proceed through the life of Jerubbaal (Gideon) will be ever more apparent. Until next time, Godspeed and Jesus bless!