“Then the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD. So the LORD delivered them into the hand of Midian for seven years, and the hand of Midian prevailed against Israel. Because of the Midianites, the children of Israel made for themselves the dens, the caves, and the strongholds which are in the mountains. So it was, whenever Israel had sown, Midianites would come up; also Amalekites and the people of the East would come up against them. Then they would encamp against them and destroy the produce of the earth as far as Gaza, and leave no sustenance for Israel, neither sheep nor ox nor donkey. For they would come up with their livestock and their tents, coming in as numerous as locusts; both they and their camels were without number; and they would enter the land to destroy it. So Israel was greatly impoverished because of the Midianites, and the children of Israel cried out to the LORD” (Jud. 6:1-6).
What a sad description of the condition of the Israelites! They sinned against God, and He allowed them to suffer consequently (cf. 6:10). They were reaping what they sowed (cf. Gal. 6:7,8)! All of this suffering was preventable! In their sorrow, they penitently cry out for salvation and God hears them. He has a man in mind to deliver them–Gideon!
The Angel of the LORD appeared to Gideon and said – “The LORD is with you, you mighty man of valor!” (6:12). Gideon is skeptical, however. He asks why the nation has suffered so much and why God hasn’t performed miracles of deliverance as He did for their fathers. Things are so bad that Gideon was threshing wheat secretly in the winepress in order to hide it from the Midianites (who apparently were squatting on the land in great numbers and taking everything of value for themselves)! Disobedience was the reason for Israel’s pitiful condition, of course, and God was about to deliver them mightily through Gideon.
Gideon, after being told by the Angel that he would defeat the Midianites, speaks words of doubt – “O my Lord, how can I save Israel? Indeed my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house” (6:15). Gideon’s reluctance to lead is understandable against such overwhelming numbers. The Angel reassures him, but Gideon asks for a sign. He wants proof that this message really is from God. Gideon prepares a young goat and unleavened bread and places them on a rock. The Angel of the LORD touches them both with his staff and fire rises out of the rock and consumes both! The Angel then vanishes from Gideon’s sight.
Gideon is convinced that he has seen the Angel of the LORD, and he is instructed to tear down the local altar of Baal as well as the wooden image beside it (apparently owned by Joash, Gideon’s father). In order to be a great leader, he must first get his own house in order. Sometimes it is necessary for the ground to be cleared before a profitable crop can be planted. Evil and error must be uprooted before righteousness and truth can flourish. Gideon obeys and destroys the idolatrous altar of his father, though he does so at night due to fear. The next day some are angry about what has happened and they demand Gideon be put to death. However, his father Joash comes to his defense – “Would you plead for Baal? Would you save him? Let the one who would plead for him be put to death by morning! If he is a god, let him plead for himself, because his altar has been torn down!” (6:31). Evidently Gideon’s actions stimulated Joash to take a stand for truth. Likewise today, many will follow the way of righteousness if a godly man or woman shows them how!
Gideon’s success here encourages him some and the Spirit of the Lord came upon him. He blew the trumpet and gathered many thousands from various tribes of Israel to himself. He is preparing for battle against their oppressive enemies, the Midianites and Amalekites. But, before proceeding further he desires more confidence that the LORD really will save Israel by his hand. Thus, he asks God to perform two unique miracles (one each night) using a fleece of wool placed on the threshing floor: (1) To make the fleece wet with dew but the ground around it dry, and (2) To make the ground wet with dew but the fleece dry. God was willing to do so, and Gideon is now ready!