6 7 1 9

A Mighty Chief Called Barley Cake

As a nation, Israel had become a drunkard's song and the joke of her enemies since the borders were no longer guarded. The Midianites came and went at will, taking everything portable and burning the rest. Nothing could save Israel now, it was so overrun and pillaged--noting its own men could do, that is.

Plurah, like a good servant, did as he was told, though he grumbled to himself often enough while doing it. With conditions as they were, getting harder all the time, it was getting very hard to restrain himself. At times he had almost come right out with hot words to his master’s face! That was what the times had come to. He had almost accused his master of doing nothing, letting everything go to wrack and ruin, leaving them faced with starvation and a dog’s wretched death on the garbage heap outside town. Did he deserve such a fate? No!

“He says, ‘Look out and see if they are coming, and if they come then run back and tell me so I can hide the grain.--does he think my legs can stand all that running. I’m not a bare-bottomed child to be sent running back and forth like that at my age!”

Plurah, nearing forty, was right about his advancing age. Fewer people, since the Midianites had come to scour the country clean of everything edible, were advancing to that age anymore. Starvation and sickness had taken thousands in the last ten years. Famine would take many times that number if the Midianites continued coming, flood after flood of them on wing-swift, tall camels! Word came from Shiloh that even the priests were starving at the holy shrine! That was what Israel, except for a few spots too mountainous and inaccessible for camels, had come to!

He shaded his weary, bloodshot eyes and gazed out over the cultivated fields, and beyond that to big barren hills and dry wadis south of Ophrah. Nothing so far! He dropped his hand, and sat back down to rest.


Would his master ever get the thrashing done? he grumbled. They were both in danger if they were caught at it. The enemy weren’t adverse to killing the people outright with their swords and arrows, if they knew for sure grain was being thrashed in secret and hidden away in caves. No, they wanted to gather the harvest whole from each poor village. And so they waited for the right moment to make a swoop all through the country, moving so swiftly and unexpectedly that no one had time to hide anything they had thrashed. By the time each village heard they were coming, it was too late. Who could move faster than they to spread the news? Nobody had such camels!

“Why didn’t holy Israel have camels like those?” he wondered outloud. “And how could the sons of Midian have tamed such terrible, refractory beasts? They were the same no doubt in temperament, and so they loved each other as cousins! But if a Hebrew laid so much as a hand on one, the beast would spit and kick like a fury. So in that way the sons of Midian had got the edge over the sons of Israel, oppressing the holy nation to the point of destruction.

It truly was a dismal prospect Israel faced, and Plurah, seeing it all round him, could not help his eyes welling with tears. But he had wept many tears before this time over the matter, and they had done him absolutely no good, nor gained him any advantage, so he swept them away with his ragged sleeve. Lines from an old prayer of the forefathers ran through his mind. “--Restore us, O God! Cause your Face to shine, and we shall be saved! O Lord God of hosts, how long will you be angry with the prayer of your people? You have fed them with the bread of tears, and given them tears to drink in great measure. You have made us a strife to our neighbors, and our enemies laugh among themselves--”

Giving a sigh of assent to the unbidden sentiments, Plurah’s lips grimaced, and he immediately felt a weight lift from his thin, bowed shoulders. His vision cleared, he looked out again, remembering his duty. What was that? he wondered, panic in his heart. He sprang up, shading his eyes, peering toward the dusty plume that rose in the distance. The multitude of Midian coming, like a swarm of devouring locusts? He could not tell for sure. Wind swept up and down the dry wadis, and raised dust. That was why the sons of Midian preferred the wadis for their roadsteads. They could ride low in them, raising some dust maybe, but too often the Hebrew watchmen grew tired of spotting dust plumes that turned to nothing and gave up being alert, so that they could be taken unawares in many cases. How clever the sons of Midian were compared to their victims, who were nothing more than their slaves, toiling on fields whose produce went to fill the mouths of Midian year after year until the whole land cried out in sore distress.

When nothing more happened, Plurah decided it was not enough cause for alarm, and he sat back down, wrapping his robe around himself against the swirling wind. He was still sitting there when he felt the earth tremble. Then he sprang to his feet just in time to see the hordes of camels and their riders coming at break-neck speed, every thief on his mount screaming obscene things to unsettle and cow the poor villagers into putting up no resistance. Himself too cowed and surprised to try and run for shelter, Plurah stood paralyzed with fear and numb misery as the multitude swept down upon him.

Suddenly, at a command from a leader, the mass turned before the village and headed northwest toward a larger village. Ophrah thought he heard the man’s words repeated several times, something like--”Too stinking poor!” “Flea-bitten donkey rump of Ophrah!” “Hahaha, not worth it! Keep on, comrades!” “The next one will be better! Their fields and women are both fat and sleek! Onward, holy brothers!”

Choking in the dust thrown up, Plurah stumbled away as the last of the host swept by, hooting and casting oaths at his poor, old head. When it was safe to do so, he spat and threw some good oaths concerning their mothers’ backsides being ridden by wild asses. Then, horrified to think what trouble he was in, he recalled his duty and, hitching up his robes under his girdle to his thighs, ran like a youth to the winepress where he knew his master was anxiously threshing grain in a windpress, of all places.

Gideon Threshing

The uphill jaunt cost Plurah all his breath. When he reached the winepress in the grove by the first houses, he was gasping and wheezing. “The sons of Midian, master--they--” he cried, pointing at the departing horde of locusts.

“You miserable son of a donkey!” Gideon, son of Joash, spat, his eyes flaming hot.

“Mercy, mercy--they caught me unawares!” Plurah pleaded, quite truthfully, though he kept back the reason perhaps. “I might as well as not sent you at all!” Gideon cried, the thrashed grain clearly visible in the winepress. “Even this little, if they had come up here, we would have lost. And that is all we have! All!”

“Yes, yes, your servant knows it,” moaned the servant, thoroughly ashamed of himself now that he was not so terrified of the sons of Midian. “It would have been my fault if you had to beat me for the loss of it.” Gideon gave him a look of disgust, then relented. He chuckled, shaking his head. “What good would a beating do? Speak sense to me! What good--you’ll never change--not until the dry spittle in our mouths turns to wheaten bread and honey!”

“True, true, I’ll surely change for the better once that happens,” acknowledged Plurah, relieved at his master’s turn of good humor, and a smile played on his own lips. “You might as well beat the olives thrice, for all the fine oil you will get!”

Gideon sighed. He turned back to the sobering task. Where was he to hide the basket of grain? The same place as before, a new one? The sons of Midian had a way of intimidating people into revealing the secret places. If they held a sword to a woman--someone’s aged mother, or beloved daughter, or some such--they usually got what they wanted, the exact directions to the whole family’s supply. Family by family, they did this until they got the village’s bread corn. What locusts these Midianites were! They neither sowed nor reaped, yet in this manner they easily gathered in more corn than they could carry away, and let their camels feast on what men needed to live! What heartless oppressors! To snatch the bread from the mouths of people and give it to savage beasts rather than the starving people!

With Plurah dogging meekly at his heels, Gideon started off, then halted abruptly. He turned to Plurah. “Run, get another shock of grain, and bring it quickly. I might as well do as much as I can now before they decide to circle back on us for Ophrah’s few crumbs! Now hurry! Maybe we’ll get enough to keep us in bread for several weeks!” Plurah, needing no more reason to earn his master’s good graces, forgot his dignity and ran. It was at least downhill to the fields. He found a sickle he had laid away under certain stones, then cut some standing grain the camels had not trodden down and with as much as he could carry rushed back up the hill. Exhausted, sweat pouring from his brow, he saw Gideon’s pleased look, and was himself pleased. Gideon set to work and soon was finished with the thrashing. He was hurriedly putting the bread cornmeal into a second basket when he straightened up suddenly. A strange, young man was standing among the trees, observing them. His robes were so white they shone like bright rays on water. But his face was truly alarming, it was so fierce like a lion’s as well as too bright to stare at.

Time seemed to stand still that moment, as Gideon, his heart nearly stopping, beheld the stranger. An insect, beating at tattoo on a distant tree limb, carried all the way to his ears, and his eyes widened. “Who--?” Gideon began, then checked himself. Plurah’s eyes bulged. They both guessed it at the same time, and their knees snapped and gave way. No ordinary young man, the angel with the flames shooting out of his hair without burning him came and stopped by the winepress. “Hail, mighty man of valor!” the servant of heaven greeted the son of Joash. His heart also melting to water before so fierce and noble a being, Gideon’s mouth fell open, not merely at the sight an angel, which was astonishing enough, but at so unaccountable a greeting.

Yet, awesome as the sight was, the appalling circumstances of Gideon's life rose up, until he had to say something or choke.

“Would a mighty warrior be reduced to threshing bread corn in a winepress, sire?” he burst out, rising up. Now Gideon, hard-pressed as he was, had spoken untowardly, without faith, calling the angel’s words into question if not denying them. Since an angel could not lie and no one could call an angel a liar and go unpunished, the angel looked at him without change of expression, which penetrated Gideon with a gaze that came from heaven’s lofty heights and seemed to encompass everything Gideon ever thought and did and was. For a moment Gideon’s fate hung in the balance for this slighting remark done God’s servant on a holy, secret mission--yet the angel was overruled in his holy anger, on account of the plight of the people, which included the offending Gideon. The angel continued, after the pause. “Nevertheless, you are mighty, and you will deliver My people from the oppressor, says the Lord!” Gideon, hearing this and sensing how close he had come to annhilation, collapsed back down with a groan. His hands raised, his fists clenched, he made the agonized sound of one bound long in prison and tortured daily. “My lord, servant of the Most High God!” he cried. “Deliver us, I pray. Deliver the seed of Abraham and Jacob!” Plurah also lay prostrate, groaning and lying still as if slain, not caring if the people were saved if only he could be saved. The angel put his hand on Gideon’s trembling shoulder, imparting strength, and Gideon felt life return, whereas before he was stricken absolutely faint in the presence of the Almighty’s holy messenger. When he got his voice back again, he spoke to the angel of the Lord with loud cries, unable to restrain his breaking heart and bewilderment of mind. “But I am as you see a poor man, son of a small clan in this village, of the tribe of Manasseh, but we are least in it! How am I to lead an army against the sons of Midian and gain a victory?” The angel touched Gideon again, and a second surge of strength shook Gideon’s frame, and he rose like a new man. “Give me, O holy one, a sign to thy servant, and I will do this mighty thing heaven asks of me. Send that cloud over Ophrah down this moment, make it rain directly upon my feet!” The angel hardly paused after hearing Gideon’s request. He unwrapped his golden girdle, threw it, and it flew skywards, lengthening as it went, until it reach the dark cloud.

The dark cloud Gideon pointed to in the sky was caught, pulled down to the village and immediately shed rain on Gideon’s feet as he jumped up and down laughing in the wonderful, refreshing sign.! Gideon, bowing in the mud, cried out again, as the cloud, released of the golden girdle, flew rapidly skywards. “Wait, noble lord! Send another cloud down to my servant you see lying there like a dead dog, and this time don’t let it rain on his feet but cast hail stones.”

The next fleece from the sky pulled from the sky by the angel’s golden belt, making rumbling sounds, and moved toward the cringing, terrified Ophrah. But instead out shot hail stones that parted round the poor servant, so that he was not hurt. Then when released the cloud departed to the heavens after the other. What a wonderful demonstration--doubled! Gideon was given boldness, even if poor Plurah still had misgivings even though he had been spared the hailstones. “Here, I will make an offering unto Thee!” Gideon cried. “Please remain while I go and make ready for it.”

The angel appeared offended, as the flames shot even higher from his head, threatening to swoop down and consume Gideon, poor terrified Plurah clinging to the ground, and everything else around.

“No, not to me, but unto the Lord God! And He no longer requires burnt offerings and sacrifices. Your own holy book, read where it says the sacrifice of a broken and contrite heart is all that the God of heaven and earth requires.”

Gideon stared, as if he hadn’t heard. “What?” he said. No god of Ophrah cared anything about broken and contrite hearts! It made him think. “How can I honor you then as our guest?” he asked. “As your host I would be ashamed not to offer you anything. But if you will attend the offering and put heaven’s approval on it by some sign, that is all I ask.” The angel lifted his face toward heaven. He turned next to Gideon, saying, “The Lord requires no sacrifice. He alone is the Worthy Sacrifice. But He will grant you a sign regarding your offering to him of your best.”

Gideon ran off, getting a lamb, then returned at a run. He thrust some wood together from the trees, ran and got some fire from a hearth in the village, got a fire going, and soon had the lamb slain, and some of the precious grain ground in a kneading-trough and mixed with water to make unleavened dough. With the bread frying on some rocks in the fire, the lamb sacrificed and roasting above it, the whole preparation took the time of ten degrees on the sun dial--so expert was Gideon, or so invigorated and skillful he was made by the touch of the angel. Whatever it was, Gideon’s work was soon done excellently, without a mistake, or fault, and he put the lamb on a large, smooth threshing rock, along with the bread, and then poured water over the meal.

How Plurah, looking on, drooled as he smelled the aroma of the meat and the fragrance of the good bread! Plurah’s out-stretched hand, luckily for him, was stepped on by Gideon as he poured the water out. The moment the water touched the offering, the lamb, bread, and water burst into flames, and the angel flew and stood in the rising flame, which rose upwards suddenly, vanishing straight into heaven.

Throwing himself on the ground after seeing water consumed by heaven’s flame, as well as the angel ascending back to heaven in the holy flame, Gideon worshipped, not the angel but the Lord God Almighty of Israel! Meanwhile, Plurah, rubbing fingers he might have lost if they had reached the holy food, also worshipped in case heaven take note of his lack of piety and strike him.

The holy moment over, Gideon and Plurah, still alive, looked at each other with surprise, then at the sky, then at the village. A beetle beat a distant tattoo that carried, along with a mourning dove’s call, to them from afar. How dead it seemed without the angel. How utterly like it had been before!

Gideon’s face filled with dismay, and his servant mirrored his expression. Desperate to bolster their sagging faith, they arose, and Gideon went over to the altar, and there was not a trace of the offering. It had been utterly consumed! There wasn’t even a trace of smoke or fire!

Had the whole incident actually happened? Yet Plurah had seen it! The great, staggering event was written all over his uncomely countenance! So Gideon knew he had a witness. But he himself was not so sure. Gideon turned and faced the village, yet no one yet had dared to creep out, since they were all hiding in the houses, afraid of the Midianites. Feeling totally alone and powerless, Gideon hardly knew what to do. He looked at Plurah, Plurah stared at Gideon, and then they turned to look to see where the angel might have gone. But two grown men cannot stand all day looking up into an empty sky, and they soon had to consider the practical aspect of the day. Midian! Once they had finished with the bigger villages, they’d be back to burn what they had scorned to take!

Gideon hastily brushed his clothes free of dust, then made for his father’s house. He thought of the coming of the angel, and the words the angel had spoken, but who would believe it? He paused, with Plurah bumping into him from behind. “I cannot tell him!” he decided. “The people no longer follow the Lord as I do, and they will be angry that I sacrificed a sheep for nothing but thin air! They will say I was mistaken, and it was the abomination, their beloved Chillelu, come to rescue us, only I must have annoyed him, for he has gone utterly away. How can I lie, when I have seen the Lord’s angel--have I not, Plurah?”

Plurah, wisely, ducked his head. Gideon, screwing up his courage, went into his father’s house, tight-lipped, after having cautioned his servant to say nothing as well. “So is this all you gathered?” his mother Baghalia said sourly where she sat on a striped and tasseled Midianite cushion. “Here I gave you suck on my knees, and now you neglect your poor mother, without even a kab of flour to ease her troubles!” “But I didn’t gather more than I could thresh in the time I had,” Gideon protested, his voice rising. “Give me my seah now, before you take it away and hide it!” a sister, Agrabha, demanded. “I’ve got to make an offering to Lord Chillelu and Lady Hibishu, or my friends will all think all we eat is barley here--” “No, give me my seah, she got hers the last time, and I went without!” cried another sister, Muhlababa, pushing the younger roughly aside and adding a pinch that made Agrabha scream.. Gideon, holding on tight to the basket, moved on into the house until he found his father, and then he presented it before him where he sat under a tree stripped of figs and leaves--figs for eating, leaves for the milch goat tethered to the tree.

“Well?” Joash said, with a shrug. “Take it and put it in the secret place, and tell no one on the way where you are going. No one here is to eat of it until the provision is sufficient to keep us for the year. Let them eat barley cake until then. We still have some of that the Ishmaelite traders are willing to bring and trade to us. Now be careful, I say! We can’t afford to lose this little bit!” Gideon’s eyes flushed hot as his cheeks. “You need not tell me that, father! You know I am always careful. Otherwise why would you send me out to thresh and not send my brothers instead?” Joash looked to one side and spat. Then he turned his head and looked narrowly at Gideon, pointing the knife in his hand that he had been using to carve a cane. “Now don’t you puff yourself up! I cannot replace your older brothers. They are my staff of bread for my old age. You, O Barley Cake, I won’t need once things improve and Chillelu drives these sons of Midian away from holy Israel! If the sons of Midian catch you threshing, and kill you, I will grieve, certainly, but I will not go without in my old age.”

Gideon’s face was a wonder to behold. He looked at that moment like he might throw down the basket and fly at his father. And would Chillelu drive the sons of Midian away? Did his father really believe such a stinking lie? If so, why hadn’t the god done it before they had all been reduced to poverty and eating barley cake with the animals? Joash saw it and laughed good-naturedly. He tapped the unfinished cane willow on Gideon’s shoulder. “Now don’t be wroth with me for saying that. You have no right, being the youngest. Now go and do my bidding. I am depending on you, and my sons will not meddle with you, as they have demanded to do. Isn’t that enough for you?”

Gideon knew the threat was real, though implied. His brothers had demanded him for the abominations they practiced in the grave for the god. But so far Joash had refused his brothers and the other young men making sport of him. Taking the basket, Gideon shoved out between his sneering brothers and flung himself out of the house. Once outside the shut gate, he leaned back against the wall, breathing hard. He had forgotten his errand, and how dangerous it was to be showing that he had grain, when most of his neighbors had nothing. Plurah, coming out, saw the problem at once. “Master! Master!” he hissed. “You’re forgetting yourself! Come at once. We must hurry, or the sons of Midian might be upon us any minute!” “I could kill each one of them with my hands, if I had the chance!” thought Gideon, recovering a bit, and hearing Plurah’s urgent plea.

That would have been a large undertaking, since Joash had twenty one sons and two daughters-- such a size not uncommon among the fertile Abiezites. As a headman, Joash was entitled to holding slaves, which he employed as household servants and nurses--so his house being large held many people at one time and would not be easily attacked and overcome.

Gideon’s head wrenched around to one side, hearing giggles. It wasn’t Plurah this time. His sister Muhlababa, running, sinking down, giggling, then making her up and down motions again against the wall as she came to him. Then she flung herself up at him, crying, “Give me bread corn for my holy offering to Hibishu, and you can suck these!” Gideon looked aghast. Giggling, she had torn open her bodice and bared her breasts to him! He fled, but he was not quick enough. An elder brother ran and caught him, pulling on his robe to make him stop. “Give me some bread corn for my offering, dear brother! Only don’t tell father! And you can lie with me, Barley Cake, this very night, if you will give me a measure of grain! You are an ignorant virgin, I know, but I can teach you some wonderful things!”

Gideon, doubled over with sudden retching, was beside himself. “I’ll kill you if you don’t let me go!” Gideon spat in his brother’s face. Holding on to the bread corn basket for dear life, he wrenched away out of his brother’s grasp, tearing off part of his robe, and ran--Plurah calling for him to stop or at least slow down. . Once free of the village, continuing toward the secret place, Gideon’s lungs expanded, and the poison he had breathed in was expelled. Gideon’s head cleared, and he began to feel sickened over his own murderous heart.

“How could I think to slay my own brothers?” he wondered as he stumbled along, his eyes blurring with tears. Yet a few minutes before he would have gladly done it, if the weapon had been in his hand. Horrified at himself, he continued on, almost fleeing down the road, with Plurah trying his best to keep up, and grumbling at the unnecessary speed. “Master, they’ll think we are up to something, if you keep such an unnatural pace!” But Gideon heard not a word, and kept going as fast as he could. The further he went the freer he got of Ophrah and all the hate and division in his family, seething like a boiling pot every time he stepped through the door. Sisters fighting sisters, brothers fighting brothers--this group against that group, mother against the father, and all against him.

“Why do they hate me so? Why am I so contemptible in their eyes?” he wondered. “I risk my life for them, day after day, but it counts for nothing in their eyes. I am a criminal to them, a wretch from the street is treated better than they treat me!” Wounded with these thoughts, Gideon could think of no reason except that he loathed their idols, the ones devoted to Chillelu and Hibishu his consort. He could never get close to them in his heart as they did, and they resented it. He thought he was better than they for not worshipping Chillelu, his family accused him. Was the Lord better than Chillelu who furnished them with all manner of food and drink? What had the God of Jacob ever given them in Ophrah? they had challenged him, when all he wanted to do was avoid their contention. But they pressed him, day and night, on it. Why didn’t he love and worship Chillelu? What was wrong with Chillelu? Why did he think he was better than other people, who all followed after Chillelu the great god of the harvest? Why didn’t he ever enter into the sacred dancing, or go to the sacred grove and present his offering, or do any of the other things that would gain the god’s favor for himself, his family, and his city?

Yes, indeed, why? How could he explain it? How could he explain the cold loathing he felt for the things and images of Chillelu? How? So, though his father and mother and his entire family was at odds with him, he remained apart from the family altar. “Would they love me any better if I went whoring after their god?” Gideon cried out to himself. “No!” He knew they would despise him even more, just as they despised each other for the foul things they did to gain the god’s favor, each vying to outdo the other. The whole village whored after the god, and the most vile things in the sacred grove before the images and in other places as well. Yet there was no peace. Family strove with family, mother with father, sons against fathers, daughters against mothers--Ophrah was filled with continual strife, though all were united in one worship--Chillelu!

Poor Plurah grumbling and shaking his head over his young master’s dangerous haste, Gideon decided he would not return to Ophrah. He would go and rouse the neighboring villages, where he had a much better chance of being believed than in his own home village. As for his family, they could stew in their own juices!

On the way they crept down into a cleft, following a goat’s path until coming to a small opening just wide enough for a man to crawl into. There Gideon put the baskets Plurah handed in, and then covered bound them tightly with his outer garment. Now what was he to do? Where was he to go? The angel of the Lord--what good was his coming if he was left alone on the road like this, nobody to help or befriend him! Back on the road, just as he expected, they saw the Midianites coming, and it gave them time to hide off to the side behind some olive trees in a roadside field. When the vanguard had passed out of sight, they returned to the road.

Feeling totally forsaken, they trudged along, away from Ophrah because Gideon detested the thought of going back. “I might as well send Plurah back, crawl into some hole, and die!” the poor Barley Cake of Ophrah thought to himself. Before long they came to the first village, hearing it from some distance off, as the women wailed and the children cried and the dogs barked. Young men of fighting age had run out on the road, and were still there shaking their fists, as their womenfolk tore their ragged clothes, and the older men and elders hung back with woebegone, hopeless faces turned to the ground.

Gideon could see at a glance that the village had been stripped bare of their newly gathered harvest. The fields were all harvested, and they had lost all, not leaving some of the ripe grain by to be harvested at different times, as his own village practiced, thus hoping to keep something from the locusts of Midian. “They should have known better, the foolish people!” Plurah commented. “Harvest all, lose all!”

“Shut up!” Gideon flung back at him. “It’s bad enough for them without your evil speaking.” Suddenly, a thought came to him. Gideon, pausing to single out the leaders among the young men, then went to those he saw gathered in a group to one side of the main gathering.

“I am Gideon, son of Joash of the Abiezites, and my father’s village is--” “Yes, we know who you are, and your village--” broke in a tall, fierce-eyed youth. “--but what is your business here? I am Abiathar, son of Hanaiah, and we have lost everything! Just like last year’s harvest! I went to tell the elders this would happen, and begged them not to harvest the fields as they had always done, but they wouldn’t listen to a youth of twenty years, and now--” He raised his hands and his fingers clenched as if he wanted to seize someone and shake him to pieces on the spot!

Gideon’s eyes shone with admiration, to see such spirit in a man of Israel. It made him bold to take the next step that seemed natural for him to take. He glanced up the road, at the groups of beaten, older men, whose women were mad with grief, knowing they would have nothing now to feed the children. He raised his hand to the shoulder of the good youth and gripped it, and the fellow looked in turn at him with surprise, impressed because of his bold gesture.

“I have important news for such as you! Can we go someplace apart, with your friends?” The youth’s eyes sobered at once, and he glanced at his friends, and they nodded eagerly. Clapping his hand over Gideon’s, Abiathar led Gideon off without a word, his servant Plurah, eyes rolling about in their sockets, going with them. In a grove down the road, they would not be disturbed, and there they stopped, the young men turning to face Gideon. Abiathar stepped up to Gideon, placing both hands on him at the shoulders. “I want to hear it now why you came to us!” This won Gideon’s heart, and he felt knit to the youth’s soul as he had never felt knit to anyone in Ophrah, where everyone distrusted his brother and sought some advantage against him. The door had swung completely open to these events, and so Gideon continued.

“I have seen an angel of God,” Gideon replied, his eyes level and straight as those that gazed into his. The youth’s eyes flickered briefly, then cleared and turned hard. “So? Chillelu sometimes comes that way, I am told, though I don’t know why he bothers with such villages as ours. Was it Lord Chillelu?” Gideon turned his head sharply, spat, then turned back to face the strong youth. “No! Not him! It was the holy angel of the Lord, that goes before the armies of the Almighty!” The young man’s eyes faltered a moment. His mouth twisted. “How do we know that for sure? Can we trust you? How do we know that you have not defiled yourself, and come to us a deceiver?”

Gideon had heard of such things being done in the olden times. Now it was the occasion for doing likewise as he had heard the forefathers had done it, when legal documents were declared and not written, and a man’s seal was to place the witnesses’ hand under his own thigh, the seat of the holy Covenant sign. Anything done with this act to authorize and seal it was regarded as done beneath the gaze of heaven itself. Keeping his eyes locked on the youth’s, he took the youth’s hand and placed it on his own Covenant sign. Alone of the whole village of Ophrah and his family, he had kept held true to the Covenant. He knew that whatever else was lost this holy thing had worth keeping, and so he had not whored after other gods as his broithers and sisters, parents, and brethren had done. By this act, he affirmed his most solemn surety for the covenanting pledge between the young man and himself.

“Heaven knows I have not bowed the knee and whored after other gods, neither have I lain with man, or woman, or beast, as all others of my people have done, so that this great oppression has come upon the land to punish us!” declared Gideon. “Know for certain that it was the angel of the Almighty, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And where holiness stands, Chillelu shall be driven out!” The youth’s companions drew back away from them, and the youth swallowed. He licked his lips, then seemed to consider what next he would say. “I would like that! Chillelu and his ways driven out from our villages and all our country! There is nothing but strife and fighting, brother against brother, and all bond-slaves to Chillelu! But what do you want of us here? What charge did the Lord give you, son of Joash?”

Gideon stepped away a few feet. His whole life, in this brief exchange, had changed tremendously, and would never be the same again, he knew instantly. Grown bold as a lion, he swung back to face Abiathar and his friends. “So you want what I want! I charge you to gather all the young men who can fight for the holy land against our foes the sons of Midian. The Lord has promised us a great victory! After that, we will destroy the images of Chillelu wherever we find them and purge the land of his abominations. Will you do this? I appoint you, Abiathar, my first commander of hundreds, and each of your companions are captains under you.”

That was all Gideon needed to say. They believed him because they believed the purity of his sign and confession before them. They believed him, acknowledging that there was such a man in Israel, when he knew nobody in Ophrah would have. And all they needed was to be asked to join the army of the Lord, and they were committed, heart and soul and body, wherever Gideon should lead them. That was what Gideon had seen they would do, when he first looked at them and took their measure. For he had heard tales of their forefathers, how they feared Yahweh the Almighty alone in this place, and so he knew there would be still some with faithfulness running in their veins. As for himself, maybe his blood and faith were as good, but he was faint with hardship and troubles, he was not bold in spirit, yet the Lord’s touch had put courage into him, and new spirit in his heart, and so he had been emboldened to go to this village and recruit the first leaders, who each in turn would recruit hundreds, who would in turn recruit thousands. That was how it had been done in times past, when the land was oppressed and needed to raise an army, and that was how it would be done now. As for the older men, they had no spirit at all left in them. They might as well stay with the women, and children, and the priests and images of Chillelu!

His great business of the “new Gideon” accomplished, Gideon changed his mind. He and his servant returned to Ophrah, to face the wrath of his family for taking a sheep--the story got out somehow--sacrificing it on a stone by the winepress. As for the appearance of the Lord’s angel, Gideon said nothing about it, and the talk went that Chillelu had come as a young man, and Gideon had sacrificed the sheep to him, when he should have offered a turtledove, since the village was so poor at present and the god should know better than to make big demands. Gideon, hearing that, could hardly keep his scorn and disgust to himself. His family had no clue that their little “Barley Cake” was God’s chosen vessel for deliverance of the land. Well, let them stew in their ignorance! And as for the abominations they trusted? “Their own chosen god, and they do not honor him! What wretched people these Ophratites are!”

He turned and spat. “I spew them out like foul, camel’s spittle! I do not own them as my people!” Just the same, Gideon was no fool, to think he, a lone man, could confront the Chillelu worshipers face to face. Everyone was happy to unite against the common enemy, the sons of Midian. But Chillelu? The god that divided the people while making harlots of them? No, they had drunk too deep of his wine and whoredoms--and their souls were besotted with his lasciviousness worship. Chillelu, they would not give up willingly. In truth, they would die for their abominations. Yet, having faced the Lord and then faced men and enlisted them in the cause, Gideon knew what a true leader must do. He went out at night to the grove of Chillelu, and then overturned the images, smashing the images to pieces. Then he ran and crept back into his place in his father’s house, for he was afraid for his life.

Villages are chock full of watching eyes--eyes of humans, animals, vermin. Somehow, even in the dark, his movements were detected, and at dawn the village arose angry, and the men went to Joash’s house, determined to put Gideon to death for his act of sacrilege. As he was the village headman, a post that his father and his father’s father had held, Joash held authority. He was not their whipping boy, and though he worshipped Yahweh and Chillelu together, he did not intend to punish his son. “But I know nothing about it!” he temporized to the angry men, scratching his groin. “If the great Chillelu cannot protect himself, why should I be concerned and tear my garments? Make him new images--the old ones were outworn anyway! But don’t bother me about it. We have troubles enough with the Midianites coming and taking all our bread corn!”

That was apt enough. The men, shaking their fists ineffectually, moved off and left the house of Joash unburnt. Mention of the loss of bread corn struck home with them. They faced starvation once again, and what were a few, old stone images then to them--nothing to fight about. New ones could be made, as Joash said. They dropped the matter then and there and went back to their own troubles. Having won in the matter of Chillelu’s images, Gideon’s courage revived and he grew even bolder. He left Ophrah, where nothing good could happen and where he felt soiled and tainted, and toured the surrounding country, and hundreds, then thousands hearing he had come flocked to him. Abiathar was first among them, of course. As Gideon proceeded further, the army grew, until it spread over the hills, a great host like that of the Midianites. In the way of things, Gideon was now as good as a commander of the army of holy Israel!

Feeling strong and assured, he decided then never to return to the dungheap of Ophrah. He had no heart in the place, no love left for it--and anyway it was Israel he loved, not the half-hearted Ophratites who clung to Baalim even when Chillelu had deserted them and left them nothing but wretchedness. In a tent prepared for him, Gideon went to lay down at nightfall. Abiathar shared his tent, but went outside for a time to talk to various chiefs, and Gideon slept. Then he dreamed, and the Lord spoke to him. “Do you not remember your offering, and how I consumed it with my fire? Your army is too great, and by numbers and strength they will boast that they have gained the victory. So send them back home, all those who will go when you give them opportunity.”

Gideon, stunned by the word of the Lord concerning the forgotten offering, obeyed the Lord in the morning. To the men he said, “Those who have married in this year, return home. It is not right to grieve your beloved, if you should be slain.” The new bridegrooms arose, a thousand or so, and departed the camp. “Those of you who have aged parents--return home. It is not right to make beggars of them if you should be slain in battle.” Four thousand arose and departed. “Those of you who have no sons, or only one son who may yet die--return. It is not right to deprive your wife of support when she is old.” Two thousand arose and departed. “Those of you who are afraid of doing battle against so fierce a foe, or have some lameness of leg or arm, or lack a weapon to fight, or are too young or too old, or--” These all took the opportunity to depart, leaving six hundred. Gideon, sure that he had obeyed the Lord and His holy flame had consumed his offering once again, went to his tent for the night, and slept. Then he dreamed, and the Lord again spoke to him. “Your offering is not entirely consumed. There remain too many. Take them to the water and test them. Those that drink like a dog, and those that drink from their hand--separate them, and send the ones that drink like a dog home.”

Feeling himself cut to absolute nothing, nevertheless, Gideon did as commanded. Abiathar and and Gideon and Plurah stood and singled out those who drank water that they took in their cupped hands, and there were three hundred. These they kept. though they they did not think to hold their weapons ready to resist an attacker. The remaining three hundred, fierce, manly virgins untainted by Chillelu worship who had held their weapons while drinking, these God had them send home, since they were the finest of the entire army.

Now all the while this was going on, Gideon furnishing himself and the Lord with the worst of the entire army, the Midianites had not left the country. They were, as was their custom, swooping up and down, this way and that, gathering in the food of the whole country at harvest-time. Finishing, they moved to a camp close by the Jordan, and would no doubt follow it down, continuing beyond the Dead Sea to the Gulf, where they would then spread out to their various family camp with the food and booty they had gathered that season. At the Jordan camp, however, they began the feasting and drinking. Each man had a train of at least a dozen camels, all heavily laden, so everyone was well provisoned for the feast.

No Hebrew in his right mind, ordinarily, would follow an army of Midianites. If detected, he’d be speared immediately, and if not so lucky as to be killed he would be taken and made to furnish sport for the men. Hebrews, thus taken, had been stripped naked, their beards cut off, then made to dance about in female veils, and worse things were later done to them, before they were flayed alive, their intestines cut out and shown to them, before being impaled still alive on stakes outside the camp as a warning to their compatriots once the camp had departed.

Frightened to an inch of his life, Gideon had no intention of going near the Midianite camp with so few as he now possessed. He had obeyed the Lord, he had pleased the Lord with a wholly consumed offering of his fighting strength, but his heart had lost all boldness. The Glory of the Lord was one thing, but to command so pitiful a remnant against so mighty a host of Midianites was another. What was the Lord about? Gideon had to wonder. Plurah, whose tongue was a bit more loose, grumbled out of turn. “It’s the death of us, master! Sending us few against their multitudes like this! Be reasonabe! Let us return to Ophrah at once! We will all be slain--and then where will the people of Israel be? No better off than before, and back where we started!”

“I told you to shut up!” Gideon commanded. “How many times must I listen to your evil speaking tongue? Once more let it trip, and I’ll cut it out myself and tie it around your fool neck!”

Plurah flung out his arms over his face, crying for mercy, and Gideon, nearly spoiling the effect of his words by chuckling, turned away to keep his expression from being seen by his repenting servant. Plurah next flung himself down at Gideon’s feet. “That’s enough, you fawning dog of Midian!” Gideon cried. “Out of the tent, while I think what to do with you!” Feeling a little better thanks to Plurah’s antics, Gideon went and lay down on his bed. He sighed, shutting his eyes. It had been a long day, and a worry to him the entire day. What would he do without a big army? What, indeed? He knew that unless the Lord intervened spectacularly, there would be a slaughter of himself and his tiny band. The Lord’s Hand would have to deliver them out of the hand of the Midianites! He had cast himself and his fate entirely on the Lord, and it was now up tot he Lord to tip the scales against the Midianites.

Late in the night he finally slept. Then he dreamed, and as before the Lord spoke in his dream. “Divide your remnant into three companies. Then go to the camp by the Jordan. Listen to what you hear there. Each man of you take a lighted lamp, a pitcher to hold the lamp, and a horn to blow. I will tell you what to do when it is time.” Gideon’s eyes shot bolt open when the dream ended. He could hardly believe what He had just dreamed, though it remained clear in his mind. Astounded, he could not grasp what the Lord was up to! How would such a tactic work against the Midianites? It seemed so ludicrous that he dared not mention what the Lord had commanded to Plurah, or risk the fool’s laughter at his expense.

Yet he could not deny the Lord’s word to him. In the morning he did as commanded, and refused to explain any of it to the men. Either they obeyed him, or he was sending them back, he told them. “It is the word of the Lord to us, to attack in this manner,” he assured the men. “He will bring us victory somehow, if we only do as He has instructed me. Can you follow me in this? Say!” Though not military men in any sense, they all chose obedience rather than risking a return home--for three hundred men would be caught by the Midianites and massacred, and not one would reach his home. Even Plurah held silence for once, though Gideon detected considerable grumbling in him, something to the effect that, “He brought us all out here to this dangerous wilderness, and then says we can go home if we like--just like the man to do that to us!”

But though they were resolved to follow Gideon in his novel plan, rather than tuck their tails in and run for their lives, it was clearly sheer madness to approach the Midianite camp during the day, so they waited until nightfall. The Midianites were feasting, drinking, and dancing, all day, and into the night. As Gideon and Abiathar and Plurah crept ahead of the others, they heard men speaking in a tent. One described a dream he had just had. “I saw a little barley cake, the type these wretched men of Israel knead together with water and bake on a hot stone--well this barley cake became mighty in size and rolled down into our camp and smote every tent of ours. I take this to mean Gideon, their leader. He is the Barley Cake, and the Lord will give him the victory over us!”

Gideon was thunderstruck. He knelt right there and worshipped the Lord. Without a word, he turned and led the men back to his camp, and then he waited for the Lord’s final instruction, which he knew would surely come, now that he had heard the Midianite interpret his own dream. And the Lord said to Gideon, plainly, in his heart, “Break the pitcher at the time you appoint, and the others will break their pitchers. Blow your horns, and shout in praise of the Holy One of Israel. Then hold up your lamps and go into the camp of the Midianites with drawn swords and slay them. I will give them all into your hand, and into each other’s hands, for they will be confused and fall upon each other as enemies, and the Midianites, and the Arabians and Amalekites, in their separate places, will fight each other as foes instead of friends. Arise, mighty man of valor!”

Gideon obeyed. His three hundred nincompoops followed. When Gideon blew a trumpet, the pitchers were smashed, making a crashing sound at three points Gideon had selected, then the three companies moved forward at once, lamps held up, blowing their horns and shouting the high praises of the Lord. Plurah, trying to follow command, smashed both his pitcher and lamp, and when he got the horn tohis mouth oil ran out on his lips and chin, so that he sputtered and gasped, and then when he stumbled forward with a sword he tripped over something and landed head down in a big vat, actually the laver for ablutions stolen from some Chillelu holy place and poured full of wine. Gasping for breath, he scrambled up, half choked.

Meanwhile the battle moved rapidly on from that point, leaving him alone, except for the dead bodies of the foe, and a white ass, a sort of pet of the Midianite kings, that splayed its its legs and now put its head down in the wine and took a large draught.

But this was but one tiny incident in a night of chaos. Stuck with terror and confusion, the drunken Midianites and their allies stumbled from their beds, ran into each other, fell into their tent folds and were entangled, and shouting and crying out they rushed this way and that, each without being able to see, coming upon allies and thinking them enemies, fighting with swords, slaying each other and their allies alike, until the whole camp was reduced to ignorant armies clashing at night.

Gideon and his band slew many, but it did not matter that they didn’t have strength to kill more, and the enemy destroyed itself. Two kings, Zeeb and Oreb, meaning “Wolf” and “Raven, were killed with their men, and the eleven thousand out of the hundred thousands that escaped over the Jordan were pursued and caught and destroyed by the men of Israel, together with two more kings, Zebah and Zalmunna. It was a victory more glorious than anything imagined, and the booty was tremendous. Israel was greatly enriched in a night and a day, and the food stores taken were distributed to the people far and wide throughout the country. But not all Israel--for Gideon made sure nothing went to succor Ophrah’s vileness, a village he despised for its abandoment to idolatry and the whoredoms of Chillelu and Hibishu.

Kings’ heads were brought and presented to Gideon. He himself was given the honor of killing Zebah and Zalmunna, who had oppressed his people without mercy for many years. The people, coming out to his camp, with Plurah’s ardent leadership wanted to make him king with himself as Chief Counsellor, but Gideon, Israel’s deliverer, stoutly refused.

“The Lord will rule over you,” he told the people, reserving the thought that no man could rule such a people. Plurah, crushed, was deserted by his cohorts, and he slunk away into the crowd

Now Gideon continued as a great man, living quietly, but with great honor and love among the people as one of them, and he had many wives and many children. Indeed, he advanced a long way from the winepress of Ophrah, where he chided the angel of the Lord for addressing him as a mighty man of valor. Plurah, taking the gold Gideon had awarded him as booty, took four wives, entertained himself like a king, and suffered much from gout in his feet, so that he had to keep to his couch. There he grew so fat he could not stand, even when the gout improved. But by then he preferred his couch to the public streets, and his public career ended in obscurity as a very fat, very rich man whom all his servants laughed at behind his hearing. All the while he kept complaining, that his lord Gideon had done poorly by his most faithful servant Plurah. He ought to be in a royal palace serving the king than in a private house living like any common man. After all, hadn’t he given Gideon the idea of the pitchers and lanterns which saved all Israel from the pestilential Midianites? Or was it the Ammonites? He wasn’t sure anymore, his memory was failing a bit due to advancing age and infirmity and the amount of effort it took him to consume his daily banquets. He only knew that Israel’s greatest champion was himself, and he had not received his full reward in life for delivering Israel.

And all this while the land, which he purged of Chillelu, was healed not only of immorality but much strife, to the point where the fearers of God gained such strength of faith and increased in such numbers that one night a flaming star shot up out of the land where it lay hidden, a gleaming, brazen ball of wickedness and fratricide, smoking with wrath but unable to keep its place. Shooting out thunderbolts that lost their power before they could touch the trees and flocks and villages, the star-stone retreated, faster and faster, knowing that its powers diminished as long as it anywhere near where Gideon held sway.

Once only, by chance, Gideon passed by Ophrah in a golden palanquin attended by many mighty champions and young men of skillful harping. He paused, asking word concerning his father, mother, brothers and sisters. “They have not fared well,” he was told. “We beseech thee, do not go up.” Gideon went up to see for himself. His heart smote him when he found his mother, shrunken to a stick, sitting on the bare floor, clutching a tiny Chillelu image to her shriveled breast. Joash his father was dead. His brothers? Sisters? His flesh came trembling out to him, and threw themselves in the dust. Gideon drew back his feet from their clutching fingers. In horror, his eyes filled with devastation, he gazed upon them, and when he heard that they, like his mother, still held tenaciously to Chillelu, he could not cover grief for himself and for them, and he went away weeping, the hands of his mighty men holding his hands so he would not stumble on the pathway down.

“Whether the Lord’s or Chillelu’s, all flesh is grass, which flourishes and perishes in a day, ” he observed later concerning the visit to Ophrah. “But the Word of the Lord endures forever.”

Retrol Star Directory and Linking Page

Copyright (c) 2005, Butterfly Productions, All Rights Reserved