Gideon: A Call in a Winepress

by Rabbi Jeffrey Adler

In Judges 6, Israel had again fallen into idolatry, leading to invasion and oppression by the nation of Midian. The Midianites sent their raiding parties throughout the country, stealing everything they could carry.

Gideon, in order to help his family survive, loaded some grain into a winepress and was threshing it there, hoping to hide it from the enemy. The desperate nature of the situation is demonstrated by the fact that no one would consciously choose to thresh it there; in order to do the work there, one would need to scrunch down, causing back pain in the heat. Imagine Gideon’s surprise when the angel of the Lord addresses him, blowing Gideon’s cover.

The angel greets him like a hero: “Adonai is with you, hero of the army.” What a seeming disconnect! Here is a man trying to secretly squirrel away some food- hardly an heroic act. Gideon expresses his doubts. If the Lord is with them, why the troubles the nation was experiencing? Where were the miracles of the past? It seemed that Adonai had abandoned His people.

Adonai replies, “Go in this your power and save your country.” What power was this? The key is in the choice of verb. The verb generally translated “turned” in verse 14 is the imperfect tense of “panah”- the root from which we get the Hebrew word “face”- “panim”. The power referred to was the Face or attention of Adonai. The attention of the Lord would turn this frightened man into a national hero. Then, in verse 16, Adonai states, “Ehyeh immak.” That is the expression the Lord had stated to Moses at the burning bush, as well as to Joshua after the death of Moses. It clearly implies that Gideon can count on the Lord to be with him as powerfully as He had been with those giants of Scripture.

After a few more encouragements, Gideon went on to trust the Lord and lead Israel to an historic deliverance. As the Lord was with Moses, and Joshua, He was with Gideon.

Rabbi Jeffrey Adler is president of the Board of HaShomer and also Rabbi of Sha’arey Yeshua in Indianapolis, IN.