Who Was Gideon From The Bible?

If you've stayed a night at a major hotel chain in recent years, you may have noticed a Bible tucked away in a drawer somewhere. That's because for decades, according to Mental Floss, a Christian group known as Gideons International has been handing out free copies of the King James Bible to provide to hotels as an indirect form of proselytizing.

The group takes its name from that of Gideon, a relatively minor Old Testament character whose name sits in the shadow of other, bigger OT names such as those of Abraham, Moses, and David. However, Gideon perhaps could stand some bigger recognition. He was and is an example of obeying God at great personal risk, even though he famously had some doubts about his calling (and indeed, his method of testing the waters, so to speak, became something of a figure of speech centuries later). He also did and does represent how in those days God used seemingly insignificant people for greater purposes, turning a humble farmer into a warrior who defeated a powerful army.

Gideon was a nobody who became a somebody

After the Jews returned to the Promised Land from slavery in Egypt, they were first ruled by a series of Judges (and indeed, the Book of Judges takes its name from that period of history). During the time of the Judges, according to Bible Study Tools, God's people had a problem of disobeying God and instead taking after neighboring tribes, specifically, by worshipping idols. Calamity would then befall the Jews, they would beg for God's intervention, he would send a Judge, and the cycle would repeat.

In Gideon's time, the Jews were being menaced by a neighboring tribe known as the Midianites, who were pillaging the Hebrews' agricultural harvest. Gideon, a farmer, chose to hide out rather than risk confrontation, as told in Judges 6. An angel appeared and told Gideon that he was to lead the Israelites against Midian. Gideon, afraid and doubting, offered a sort of test to see if God was telling the truth: He would put out a fleece (viz, the hide of a sheep) on the ground at night, and if the ground was dry and only the fleece had dew on it, Gideon would know God wasn't tricking him. To this day, the phrase "putting out the fleece" refers to offering God a test, according to BJU Press.

Gideon defeated a powerful army through chicanery

Having been satisfied that God wasn't pulling a fast one on him, Gideon set about gathering his army. According to Judges 7, he'd recruited thousands of men, but God thought that was too many, and eventually whittled down Gideon's men to just a few hundred.

Under cover of darkness, Gideon and his 300 men surrounded the Midianite camp and, on their captain's command, began shouting, blowing trumpets, and smashing jars. The confused invaders thought they were surrounded by an overwhelming army and began shouting and running about in panic. In their madness, according to the narrative, some used their swords on each other. The rest fled, only to be pursued by Gideon's men.

After defeating Midian once and for all, Israel enjoyed 40 years of peace under Gideon's rule. Unfortunately, once Gideon died, the cycle started again. "No sooner had Gideon died than the Israelites again prostituted themselves to [idols and foreign gods]," according to the Bible.