As our story opens, Israel is not at peace. In fact, they are being so oppressed they are hiding in caves. Little wonder that our hero, Gideon, voices that age-old question: (to paraphrase) “If there is a God, why are we in so much trouble?” But let’s back up.
There is a pattern that repeats itself throughout the book of Judges: Israel falls into sin; God brings judgment upon them, usually in the form of invasion by one of the surrounding nations; Israel repents; and God delivers them—usually through some completely unexpected hero. So far in the book we have seen deliverance through Othneal (Judges 3:7-11), Ehud (Judges 3:12-30), Shamgar (Judges 3:31), and Deborah (Judges 4-5). Following the defeat of the Canaanites under Deborah, Israel had peace for 40 years. But Judges 6 opens with the words, “the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD [YHWH], and for seven years he gave them into the hands of the Midianites” (Judges 6:1)
The Israelites were becoming increasingly desperate. They would plant crops, but no sooner had they planted than they were invaded by Midianites, Amalekites and “other eastern peoples” (v. 3) who would sweep in, destroy the crops and either kill or capture their sheep, cattle and donkeys. The Bible describes the invading hordes as being like a swarm of locusts.
I remember as a child living through a locust plague in Kenya. The locusts swept through the country and ate everything green. Very quickly all the grass, every leaf, all the crops were gone. It left both people and animals in a very desperate situation. No wonder the Israelites “cried out to the LORD [YHWH] for help” (v. 6).
Verse 10 gives us insight into what had brought Israel into this desperate condition. God is speaking, “I said to you, ‘I am the LORD [YHWH] your God; do not worship the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you live.’ But you have not listened to me.” Nathan Stone explains, “Without obedience to Jehovah they had no right to the land. His people must be more than mere tillers of the soil and dressers of vineyards (in any age); otherwise they should not enjoy the land. They tilled and planted, but they did not reap.”
God had also made a promise to them: “If you follow my decrees and are careful to obey my commands,… you will eat all the food you want and live in safety in your land. I will grant peace in the land, and you will lie down and no one will make you afraid. I will remove savage beasts from the land, and the sword will not pass through your country” (Leviticus 26:3, 5-6). Verse 16 describes one consequence of disobedience: “You will plant seed in vain, because your enemies will eat it.”
With that background, we join Gideon as he is threshing wheat in a winepress. An entry in the NIV Cultural Background Study Bible explains, “[A winepress] generally involved two excavated depressions in the rock, one above the other. The grapes would be gathered and trampled in the upper, while a conduit would drain the juices to the lower. The present location might have been satisfactory for beating out the grain, but separating the grain from the chaff in these instances would have been more difficult. Either Gideon would have had to wait for a very windy day, or the grain and chaff mixture would have to be carried quickly to an exposed area, tossed in the air, and the grain quickly whisked away.”
It is here the angel of the LORD [YHWH] (quite possibly Jesus Himself), appears to Gideon, and addresses him as a “mighty warrior.” Gideon’s response is to question the goodness and power of God: “Pardon me, my lord,… but if the LORD [YHWH] is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our ancestors told us about?… But now the LORD [YHWH] has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian” (vv. 12-13).
Gideon was looking for a miracle; God was looking for an obedient man. You can read for yourself the lengths Gideon went through to confirm what the angel of the LORD was telling him (vv. 14-23). But, finally convinced, “Gideon built an altar to the LORD [YHWH] there and called it The LORD is Peace [Yahweh Shalom]” (v. 24). What is significant is that at this point there had been no victory, and there was no peace in the land. There was, however, peace in Gideon’s heart.
And that is the peace that God promises. As Nathan Stone explains, “Peace is everywhere spoken of in the New Testament as from God the Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. It may be had only by reconciliation with God through the blood of Christ who is the Jehovah-shalom of the New Testament.”
Romans 5:1-2 – “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.”
The peace that matters has nothing to do with your circumstances. In fact, the Bible tells us that God’s peace passes understanding (Philippians 4:6). Regardless of what is going on around you—if you are facing Midianite invaders, COVID-19, cancer, etc.—your heart can be at peace. God promises that those whose heart is turned toward Him will know peace because “the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:9)
If you are not familiar with the story, it’s well worth reading chapters 6-8 of Judges to learn the astonishing story of how the reluctant warrior Gideon, backed by a miracle-working God, defeated the Midianites with a woefully inadequate army. At the end of the day, Gideon had no doubt that Yahweh had not abandoned Israel!
Unfortunately, Israel very quickly forgot God once again, beginning new cycles of sin and punishment, but with decreasing repentance and thus eventually no longer experienced deliverance.
 See the companion article, “Who is Jehovah?” for an explanation of why I use Yahweh rather than Jehovah, except in quoted material.
 Nathan Stone, Names of God (Moody Publishers, Kindle Edition).
 NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible, ©2016 by Zondervan.
 Stone, Names of God.