John Kitto Morning Bible Devotions: June 13

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John Kitto Morning Bible Devotions: June 13

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Nothing can more graphically illustrate the circumstances which distinguished the Midianite oppression from others to which Israel had been subject, than the operations which we find under the hand of the next deliverer of Israel, when the Lord was pleased to call him to his great work.

We see a young man of Ophrah, in Manasseh, west of the Jordan, engaged in “threshing wheat by the wine-press, to hide it from the Midianites. How it was thus to be hidden from the Midianites does not strike the reader unversed in the customs of the East. It may here be observed that corn is usually threshed near the field where it is grown, on an open area prepared and leveled for the purpose. The winepress would necessarily be at a good distance among the vineyards, and would be on many accounts the least likely place for any one to suspect the threshing of corn. The time was come when the culture of the ground was for the most part abandoned, and the little corn that was therefore raised in a few places was guarded with the more care on the one hand, and sought for with the more avidity on the other. Further, corn was usually threshed by oxen, either by simple treading—as seems to have been generally the case in Scriptural times—or by their drawing over it a rude apparatus of logs, by which the grain was crushed out and the straw broken; only smaller seeds were beaten out by the flail. Isa_28:27. Yet in this case not only was the corn threshed at the wine-press, but it was done not by the usual treading of oxen, but by the flail. This does not appear in the translation. But it does in the original, where the word translated “threshed” indicates not only the fact but the mode of threshing. Why was this? Clearly for the sake of silence. The lowing of the oxen in so unusual a place might betray the thresher. But surely a flail makes noise enough? Yes, with us—but in the East, no wooden floor resounds beneath the strokes of the flail. The regular threshing floor even, is of trodden earth merely, and the place by the wine-press, was no doubt merely a smooth and clean spot of ground.

The sudden appearance of a stranger to Gideon under these circumstances, must have given much alarm to him in the first instance. An unexpected witness of what one wishes to conceal, is always startling. The first words of the stranger must, however, have reassured him—“The Lord is with thee, thou mighty man of valor!” One would think from this that Gideon had already found the opportunity of distinguishing himself by some well-known display of high courage or personal prowess. Assuming that the visitant had no appearance other than of an ordinary stranger, we suppose this to have been the case, rather than that the words form an anticipatory designation of his future exploits. The words “the Lord is with thee,” are not at variance with this—for it was but the ordinary form of salutation in religious and truthful times—as one may see by the same salutation being given in the very same generation by Boaz to his reapers. Rth_2:4. However the place was idolatrous, and a high seat of Baal’s worship. The name of Jehovah was seldom heard, therefore; and hence this once ordinary salutation sounded strangely in Gideon’s ears. Being strange, it struck him with a degree of emphasis and force such as the words always possessed, but which are not so readily recognized in phrases of daily and familiar iteration. His mind grasped the full significance of the phrase which in other days had passed with feebler impression upon his ear. They seemed like a cruel irony to him. The nation had forsaken Jehovah —and being therefore, for the time, forsaken of him, they came to confound cause and effect—and to trace their misery to his absence as a Protector, rather than to their sins by which that absence had been occasioned. Trace this in Gideon’s answer: “O my lord, if Jehovah be with us, why then is all this befallen us? and where be all his miracles which our fathers told us of?” The stranger did not argue the matter with him. He looked earnestly upon him—and in the words of authority and power said—“Go in this thy might, and thou shalt save Israel from the hand of the Midianites. Have not I sent thee?” What a disclosure was in that “I!

Gideon understood it partly: but although he no longer dared question that Israel might be saved—he, under views yet clouded, still, like Moses of old, demurred at the felt insufficiency of the instrument, whose fitness his modesty led him to underrate. “O my Lord, wherewith shall I save Israel? Behold my family is poor in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house.” Here there is another sort of “I”—the mortal and the immortal Ego confronted with each other. The immortal and the omnipotent is then more distinctly and authoritatively disclosed, bearing down, as it should do, the weakness of the mortal—“Surely I will be with thee, and thou shalt smite the Midianites as one man.” What did the matters of such great concernment to him—the position of his family in Manasseh, and his own position in his family—signify then? How small the whole matter seems in presence of that grandly simple assurance “I will be with thee!” Still Gideon’s ideas were so much bewildered, through the corruptions of the times—which had raised up so much false pretence, as rendered the presence of the true difficult to recognize by the spiritual sense—that he was not yet free from misgivings, and desired some sign, some work of supernatural power, by which his faith might be relieved from the hesitancy under which he still labored. And He who denied any other sign than that of Jonah to a hypocritical age—refused not to the sincere man the sign, which was required to strengthen his faith for the great work he was called to undertake.

But before he ventured to prefer his request, Gideon besought leave to offer the “present” which usage exacted of one who made a request, to which he had no right, of a superior, and such also as the hospitable usages of the East required him to offer to any stranger who came to him. Abraham, in the like case, had asked permission previously—and the reason in both cases was the same—that the knowledge of an intention which demanded some time to execute, might induce the stranger to wait until it could be performed. In this case the stranger must have waited at least an hour while Gideon made ready the meal which he brought forth. It was however such as might be most readily prepared, and such as, in substance, forms the meal usually presented in the like circumstances. A kid was dressed, and thin cakes of unleavened bread were baked for the occasion. This unleavened bread was more quickly got ready than any other, which was probably the reason for the form of bread chosen.

There is some noticeable particularity in the relation of the presentation of the meat. “The flesh he put in a basket, and he put the broth in a pot, and brought it out unto him under the oak.” The Orientals do not use broth in which meat has been boiled as soup, as we do. But they do use stews, such as the “pottage” for which Esau sold his birthright; and such as the sons of the prophet were preparing when they put into it by mistake some poisonous herb. Thus, we apprehend, part of the kid was prepared, and was the part brought up in the pot. While this was in preparation over the fire, the outer part had been cut up into slips, and roasted before the fire upon skewers, in which way meat is very rapidly dressed in the East into what is called kaboobs, which, for extemporizing a meal, stands in the same place as chops and steaks with us, only that the pieces are very much smaller. This, we apprehend, was what was brought in the basket. Some have thought that this was intended as a meat-offering to a Divine Being, and not as a meal to be eaten; and have remarked that the ingredients were the same as in a meat-offering. True, because a meat-offering was a meal; composed of such ingredients as were in use for a meal—hence the resemblance. The interpretation has arisen probably from what subsequently happened; but we apprehend that Gideon meant to show his respect and attention in the usual way, without thus looking further. The basket and the pot together were simply modes of preparation suggestive of a meal more than of an offering. Into an offering, and that by fire, the Heavenly Stranger however turned it, by directing Gideon to place the food on the top of a rock that was near. He then touched it with the end of his staff, and forthwith fire arose out of the rock, and consumed it all. This marvellous sight engaged the amazed attention of Gideon; and when he turned, the stranger had disappeared. That the result had not been expected by him—and that he had not been fully aware of the character of his guest—is clear from the amazement with which he now realized the conviction that he had spoken with one from heaven. “Alas, O Lord God!” he cried, “for because I have seen an angel of the Lord face to face.” This was founded on the old and very prevalent notion that no one could behold a visitor from heaven and live; or that the appearance of such was a sign of approaching death. Nor was this notion unsanctioned by the Lord’s declaration to Moses—“No man can see my face and live!” But that had regard to the beholding the fulness of his glory—and not to those manifestations which, in condescension to man’s weakness, he might choose to make of himself. In this case Gideon was relieved of his fears, for the Lord said to him, “Peace be unto thee; fear not: thou shalt not die.”