I have always been drawn to the “call stories” of the Bible, where God announced what He was going to do and then invited a particular man or woman to play a part in His plan. When I was in seminary, I used to read these stories over and over. I read about the call of Abraham (Genesis 12), Moses (Exodus 3), Samuel (1 Samuel 3), Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1), Isaiah (Isaiah 6), Ezekiel (Ezekiel 2), Peter (Luke 5), and Paul (Acts 9). I loved to look at how God revealed His plan and the reaction of the person whom was called.
I would marvel out how God met each person in a unique way. God strikes like lightning, never the same way twice. He used a burning bush with Moses, but called out to Samuel in the tabernacle. Isaiah and Ezekiel and Paul had incredible visions, but Peter heard the call while He was fishing. God is truly creative and there is no one set formula that He used to call people into Kingdom service.
In Judges 6, we encounter another one of these great call stories, the call of Gideon. Israel has once again fallen in a time of oppression. The Midianites are oppressing them in such an overwhelming fashion that the nation is in near poverty. Finally, after seven years, the people begin to cry out to the One who could do something about it. “They cry to the Lord for help” (Judges 6.6). In response, God sent them a prophet to remind them of the reason why there were being oppressed in the first place. Since they had forsaken the Lord and had worshipped the gods of the Amorites, they had provoked the anger of the Lord and He had raised up these raiders to plunder them (see Judges 2.12-15). But as the cycle of the judges goes, the Lord would raise up a judge who would save them from out of the hands of these raiders. Gideon is the fifth judge whose story is told in the book of Judges.
Judges 6.11-16 NIV
11The angel of the LORD came and sat down under the oak in Ophrah that belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, where his son Gideon was threshing wheat in a winepress to keep it from the Midianites. 12When the angel of the LORD appeared to Gideon, he said, “The LORD is with you, mighty warrior.”
13“But sir,” Gideon replied, “if the LORD is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our fathers told us about when they said, ‘Did not the LORD bring us up out of Egypt?’ But now the LORD has abandoned us and put us into the hand of Midian.”
14The LORD turned to him and said, “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?”
15“But Lord,” Gideon asked, “how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.”
16The LORD answered, “I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites together.”
Threshing Wheat in a Winepress
The first time we meet Gideon, he is threshing wheat in a winepress. That little detail may escape our attention, but it should not. As Gary Inrig writes,
Normally, a person would thresh wheat on a wooden threshing floor, using a threshing sledge pulled by oxen. The floor would be in an exposed place, usually the top of the hill, so that the winds would carry away the lighter chaff and leave only the heavier grain. Only the very poor would have so little grain that they would beat it with a stick, and even they wouldn’t do it in a winepress, which was usually sheltered. But these weren’t’ normal times. Gideon was acting as he was, cautiously beating out a few sheaves of wheat in a sheltered winepress under a tree, because he was desperately afraid that the Midianites would confiscate his meager supply. (Hearts of Iron, Feet of Clay, 96)
If the image of threshing wheat with a stick because of the small size of the harvest sounds familiar, it may be because the image of Ruth doing so is stuck in your heard (Ruth 2.17).
Gideon is hiding out in a winepress to keep what little harvest the Midianites had not already confiscated from being taken. He can’t really thresh the wheat properly, out in the open using the power of the wind to separate the wheat from the chaff. But that is not really a problem since the amount of wheat he has the thresh is so meager and small. We instantly have the image of oppression and hopelessness.
The Angel of the Lord
The visitor who joins Gideon at the winepress is none other than the angel of the Lord. “The angel of the Lord” is much different than just “an angel of the Lord.” The angel of the Lord only appears several times in the Old Testament, and in almost all of these appearances, it is quite clear that there is something very different about “the angel of the Lord.”
In Genesis 16, the angel of the Lord appears to Hagar. After speaking with the angel, Hagar gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her, “You are the God who sees me” (Genesis 16.13).
In Genesis 22, the angel of the Lord appears to Abraham on the mountain where he was about to sacrifice his son, Isaac. The angel of the Lord called out to Abraham from heaven, “I swear by myself, declares the Lord…that I will surely bless you…because you have obeyed me (see Genesis 22.15-18).
In Exodus 3, the angel of the Lord appeared to Moses in flames of fire from within a burning bush. Then “God called to him from within the bush.” The conversation that follows is between the Lord Himself and Moses. Moses even hid his face because he was afraid to look at God (see Exodus 3.1-6).
In Numbers 22, the angel of the Lord blocks the path of the prophet Balaam because he was about to utter a false prophecy. The angel of the Lord said to Balaam, “I have come here to oppose you because your path is a reckless one before me” (Numbers 22.32).
In Judges 2, the angel of the Lord appears to all of the people saying, “I brought you up out of Egypt and led you into the land that I swore to give to your forefathers” (Judges 2.1). This may be the only time that the angel of the Lord appeared to a large gathering of people.
In Judges 13, the angel of the Lord will appear to Manoah and his wife telling them both about the son she is about to bring into this world. Samson would be a special man, dedicated to the Lord under the vow of the Nazarenes. After a lengthy conversation with the angel of the Lord, he ascended in the flames of the altar towards heaven. In response, Manoah said, “We are doomed to die. We have seen God” (Judges 13.22).
In 2 Samuel 24, the angel of the Lord visited Israel with a hand of judgment because of David’s sin to count the fighting men of Israel. “When David saw the angel who was striking down the people, he said to the Lord, ‘I am the one who has sinned and done wrong. These are but sheep. What have the done? Let your hand fall upon me and my family’” (2 Samuel 24.17).
In each of these seven stories, and to those we can add this one in Judges 6, the angel of the Lord is identified in some manner as the Lord Himself. Hagar gives a special name to the Lord who spoke to her. It is the Lord Himself who speaks to Abraham. The angel of the Lord appears to Moses in the burning bush and it is God who speaks to Moses through the bush. Manoah and his wife believed that by seeing the angel of the Lord, they had seen God.
And in this story, when the angel of the Lord visits Gideon under an oak tree, the conversation begins between Gideon and the angel. But in verse 14, the conversation takes a significant turn: “The Lord turned to him and said…” Gideon is not longer speaking to the angel of the Lord but to the Lord Himself.
So then who is the angel of the Lord? If John 1.18 is any guide, and surely it is, “No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.” This means that anytime a person has seen God, they are actually seeing the One and Only who is at the Father’s side, or the second person of the Trinity. In other words, the angel of the Lord in the Old Testament is none other than the pre-incarnate Christ. It was Christ who met Hagar in the wilderness. It was Christ who met Abraham on the mountain. It was Christ who met Moses in the bush. It was Christ who blocked the path of Balaam and his donkey. It was Christ who appeared to the parents of Samson. And it was Christ who appeared to Gideon under the oak tree by the winepress.
Very quickly, of course, we find ourselves asking the question, “What difference does it make that the angel of the Lord was the pre-incarnate Christ?” First of all, it reminds us that Christ is part of the eternal triune God. Christ did not come into existence on Christmas morning. He was the creator of all things (see John 1.3) which means He was part of the “us” of God who made man in “their” image (see Genesis 1.26). Christ was not just sitting on His hands waiting until the time of the incarnation, but He was very busy in the sovereign rule over creation.
Secondly, our understanding of the second person of the Trinity must be informed by the eternal Christ and not just the incarnate Christ. Too often we see Jesus as the shepherd with the lost sheep hanging on His shoulders or the “Mister Rogers” type with kids sitting in His lap. But if our image of Christ was more informed by the pre-incarnate Christ and the post-incarnate Christ (for example, see Revelation 19.11-21 for an image of the returning Christ who will “tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God”), our image of Christ might be quite different. For example, in the Gideon story, the pre-incarnate Christ is the mighty warrior who will be with Gideon to strike down all of the Midianites (see Judges 6.16).
Third, and here is where the ground gets more controversial, we must consider the possibility that the incarnation was not the only time the eternal Christ revealed Himself to mankind in the form of a man. The angel of the Lord was definitely in the form of a man when he appeared to Manoah (see Judges 13.6), and he must have had some kind of form to have an extended conversation with Hagar and Gideon. We know that Christ appeared to at least one other person in His post-incarnation self. We all know that the risen Christ met Paul on the road to Damascus (see Acts 9), but we often look over the fact that the Lord “stood near Paul” one night in Jerusalem and said to him, “Take courage. As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome” (Acts 23.11). Is it possible that the eternal Christ might appear on earth again before the second coming? Such knowledge is too wonderful for me to know.
All of this does put the events of Judges 2 in a new light. The angel of the Lord appeared before all of Israel and spoke these words,
“I brought you up out of Egypt and led you into the land that I swore to give to your forefathers. I said, ‘I will never break my covenant with you, 2and you shall not make a covenant with the people of this land, but you shall break down their altars.’ Yet you have disobeyed me. Why have you done this? 3Now therefore I tell you that I will not drive them out before you; they will be thorns in your sides and their gods will be a snare to you.” (Judges 2.1-3 NIV)
What this means is that the second person of the Trinity appeared before all of Israel, and yet His appearance was not enough to motivate them to obey the Lord. If seeing the Lord Himself is not enough to motivate you to worship Him and Him only, then what could possibly do the trick?
In most of the call stories, the reaction of the called is less than wonderful. Moses pretty much refused, but the majority reaction is an overwhelming awareness of their sinfulness (see Isaiah and Peter). Gideon’s response is unique. He asks a simple question, “If the Lord is with us, then why have all these bad things happened to us? And if God is so powerful, then where have all the miracles gone?” As Gideon was stuck beating his few grains of wheat in a winepress, hiding from the Midianites, it seemed to him that the Lord has abandoned Israel. Surely, the Lord was not with Israel at all.
Did you notice how the angel of the Lord addressed Gideon? He called him, “mighty warrior.” Gideon was not much of a mighty warrior at that moment. He was more like a “wimpy thresher.” But God is fond of giving people new name to indicate not what they are in their own strength but what they can become in the power of God. Simon, the scared fisherman, will become Peter, the Rock. Abram, the father of none, will become Abraham, the father of a multitude. The angel of the Lord sees in Gideon a mighty warrior, because He knows what Gideon can do in the power of the Lord.
Gideon did not see himself as a might warrior. In his own eyes, he was the least in his family and from an insignificant family at that (see Judges 6.15). He was a poor wheat thrasher in a wine press from an insignificant family. Who was he to be used by God to do great things?
We are not really told much about Gideon’s faith at this moment. We do know that after this experience that he tears down the idols of the false gods and builds an altar to the Lord, at the Lord’s direction (see Judges 6.25-26). We also know that he will take bold steps of faith based upon the word of the Lord (see Judges 7.7-8). But, we don’t know if Gideon is like the rest of the Israelites who had been worshipping the god of the Amorites or not. His father was a Baal worshipper, and Gideon might very well have been, too. We must remember that God chose Gideon not because he was worthy but because of grace. Gideon’s encounter with the grace of God changed his life and he became a follower of the one true God.
Of course, we should not dismiss Gideon’s concerns too quickly. He was quite right, from looking at the situation, it would appear that the Lord had abandoned Israel. In fact, that is exactly what had happened. The Lord had given Israel over to raiders to plunder them. The miraculous, delivering hand of the Lord was absent from Israel. All that Gideon could believe in was the word of the Lord: “I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites together” (Judges 6.16). The NRSV translates the last phrase, “And you shall strike down the Midianites, every one of them.” The NASB translates it as “And you shall defeat Midian as one man.” The picture is of a complete defeat of Midian. Gideon will totally defeat Midean and they will no longer plunder the wealth of the Israelites any more.
But who could believe such a promise? How could Gideon believe such a promise. That will be the subject of the rest of chapter 6.
(Dr. Todd Pylant is the Senior Pastor at the First Baptist Church of Benbrook in Fort Worth, Texas. If you enjoyed this article, you may also enjoy reading Word of God Speak: Understanding the Bible, Hearing God’s Voice. Learn more at Word of God Speak.)
 Othniel, Ehud, Shamgar, and Deborah are the other four.