Title: Judges 6. Gideon, part 1: In chastisement the Lord is near.
JDG 6:1 Then the sons of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord; and the Lord gave them into the hands of Midian seven years.
The means of divine judgment against Israel is Midian.
The Midianites were descendants of Abraham and Keturah and were involved in the sale of Joseph to Egypt. They were defeated by Moses 2 centuries earlier (Num 31) but have recovered their strength.
We have already been twice introduced to one branch of the Midianites called the Kenites. With the Kenites Moses found shelter and married one of them. Her father, Jethro, became a believer and a close personal advisor to Moses. The Kenites journeyed with Israel into the Promised Land and in Joshua's time had settled in the south in the Negev. One of their families was Heber who left the southern settlement and moved to the northern Canaanite territory where he became an ally of them, but his wife Jael was not pro-Canaanite as evidenced by her use of a tent spike. Other clans of Midian were not pro-Israel and they likely carried the memory of the great defeat the Israel had dealt to their forefathers 200 years prior. They were anti-Semitic and they easily oppressed Israel for 7 years.
JDG 6:2 And the power of Midian prevailed against Israel. Because of Midian the sons of Israel made for themselves the dens which were in the mountains and the caves and the strongholds.
"dens" - minharah = mountainous ravines, hollowed out by wadis, which the Israelites used to hide themselves and their possessions from the Midianite plunderers.
The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament defines this word as "bed of a stream in a rocky gorge, caves cut out of the rock face, and subterranean hideaways.
The Jews obviously didn't make the mountain ravines, they simply made these ravines into strongholds, which were makeshift living quarters and storage areas.
Wadis are formed from many years of water flow, but in the desert the water doesn't flow all year, and so when dry they become traveling routes preferable to the mountains passes. During the rainy season they can flash flood and at various points, silt and soil deposits can dam up the wadi. They possess many caves hewn out in the walls which the Jews used as dwellings and storage of their goods. The occasional water that flowed cause some vegetation to grow which was also helpful in sustaining life in hiding.
pic: Wadi Qelt: originating near Jerusalem and terminating near Jericho.
JDG 6:3 For it was when Israel had sown, that the Midianites would come up with the Amalekites and the sons of the east and go against them.
The Midianites were nomads and so had no desire for permanent settlement. They came after the produce of the land and were not interested in the land or its residents.
They would sweep in at certain times of the year and set up their nomadic tents, ones that looked just like Jael's tent that Sisera was killed in.
They overwhelmed Israel with sheer numbers. They were joined by the Amalekites who were a problem for Israel in 3:13 when they allied with Eglon, king of Moab. They seem to relish any chance to plunder or fight Israel. Also added to the Midianites and Amalekites are the sons of the east who are Bedouin raiders whose use of camels enabled them to take waterless journeys of several days, which earlier nomads on donkeys could not do.
Midianites, Amalekites, and Bedouin raiders would sweep in, camp, overwhelm a part of Israel, take what goods they could, destroy the rest, and then break camp and leave.
The perfect description, which of course God uses, is locusts. The sweep through and eat and destroy everything. God described this exact situation as a consequence of not obeying Him in Lev 26 and other passages.
DEU 28:15 "But it shall come about, if you will not obey the Lord your God, to observe to do all His commandments and His statutes with which I charge you today, that all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you.
DEU 28:33 A people whom you do not know shall eat up the produce of your ground and all your labors, and you shall never be anything but oppressed and crushed continually.
DEU 28:49 "The Lord will bring a nation against you from afar, from the end of the earth, as the eagle swoops down, a nation whose language you shall not understand,
DEU 28:50 a nation of fierce countenance who shall have no respect for the old, nor show favor to the young.
DEU 28:51 Moreover, it shall eat the offspring of your herd and the produce of your ground until you are destroyed, who also leaves you no grain, new wine, or oil, nor the increase of your herd or the young of your flock until they have caused you to perish.
What they could not take with them as plunder they destroyed and in this latter bit they reveal their hatred of Israel.
JDG 6:4 So they would camp against them and destroy the produce of the earth as far as Gaza [south-west coast], and leave no sustenance in Israel as well as no sheep, ox, or donkey.
JDG 6:5 For they would come up with their livestock and their tents, they would come in like locusts for number, both they and their camels were innumerable; and they came into the land to devastate it.
They likely camped in the Jezreel valley or the Plain of Sharon, or both, as well as other hospitable plains, fertile and flat and spacious and from there went out on gathering excursions to the north and south, plundering, burning the goods and killing the livestock that they couldn't carry. Both they and their camels were without number.
For the first time since anyone in Arabia can remember the Levant is devoid of power [Egyptians, Canaanites, and Israelites are all very weak] and open for the taking.
At this time the Egyptians are very weak due to internal decay. The Canaanites are very weak thanks to God's war against them through Deborah and Barak. The Hittite Empire in the north has fallen apart and the kingdoms in Syria are disconnected, not unified. The Israelites are also very weak due to their apostasy and so there is a gaping power vacuum in this furtive land. This news motivates many Bedouins in Arabia to join the rest in plundering the land of its resources. It is the love of money that motivates then and God has opened wide the door of opportunity.
These nomadic people are always on the move. They don't want to settle the land. They would hate to settle down, but want to always be free to move. So rather than grow crops, which takes settling down, it is better to take them.
No sooner did the golden harvest stand in the field, or was stored into granaries, than the enemy unexpectedly arrived. Like the plague of locusts, they left nothing behind. What they could not carry away as spoil, they destroyed. Such was the feeling of insecurity to life and property, that the people made for themselves homes and storehouses in the mountain wadis, and for seven long years this prison continued more painful than the entire 20 years of Canaanite oppression.
JDG 6:6 So Israel was brought very low because of Midian, and the sons of Israel cried to the Lord.
As in the last four cycles, Israel cries out to the Lord, but this time, before granting deliverance, the Lord sent a prophet to bring Israel to a knowledge of their guilt as a source of their misery.
JDG 6:7 Now it came about when the sons of Israel cried to the Lord on account of Midian,
JDG 6:8 that the Lord sent a prophet to the sons of Israel, and he said to them, "Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, 'It was I who brought you up from Egypt, and brought you out from the house of slavery.
JDG 6:9 'And I delivered you from the hands of the Egyptians and from the hands of all your oppressors, and dispossessed them before you and gave you their land,
JDG 6:10 and I said to you, "I am the Lord your God; you shall not fear the gods of the Amorites in whose land you live. But you have not obeyed Me."'"
Before delivering them through Gideon, the Lord sent a prophet to reprove the people for not hearkening to the voice of their God.