In my last post, I forgot to mention that there’s something kind of funny that Gideon does between the first test he gives God and the later, more famous tests with the fleece.
After Gideon finally gets that he’s been talking with an angel, God gives him a homework assignment before he can go on to greater things like driving away the Midianites: Gideon has to destroy his father’s altar to Baal and use the accompanying Asherah pole for kindling for a burnt sacrifice made using his father’s second best bull.
Yeah, Gideon’s dad is probably kind of peeved about that.
Of course, the kicker for this story is that Gideon does his desecration in the middle of the night (because he doesn’t want anyone to know what he’s doing) with the help of some of his family’s servants (because it’s too big a job for one person), so the next day when the townsfolk see the altar’s been desecrated, they ask around and someone points to Gideon.
The moral of that story is don’t involve anyone in your midnight pranks, because other people will always crack.
More seriously, the townspeople are upset that Gideon’s destroyed their Baal altar (it’s interesting that they’re taking such an interest in something that God said belonged to Gideon’s father, especially after Gideon said that his clan was the weakest in the tribe of Manasseh) and they go to his father to demand immediate retribution of the lethal kind.
Now let’s imagine for a moment that we’re in Gideon’s dad’s shoes. You wake up to find that your altar has been destroyed, and the second best bull of your herd has been sacrificed and is smoldering on top of a new altar that’s been built from the remains of the old one. Your neighbors are really upset about this, because that was the altar that everyone used to appease your local god. You don’t know what’s going on, but you’re pretty upset too since you’ve just lost both a very valuable asset (bulls are expensive!), and one of your signs of social status in the community (everyone comes to your altar). Then, after searching around, someone probably threatens and beats one of your servants into naming your son as the culprit.
At this point, we find that Gideon’s father has to make a choice about what’s more important. He’s lost both social and economic clout because of his son, but the townspeople are asking that Gideon be put to death for defiling an altar. Though not much time is spent dwelling on this incident, I imagine it was a rather agonizing one for Gideon’s dad. Of course, the solution that he comes up with shows that Gideon isn’t the only shrewd one in his family.
See, Gideon’s dad decides that killing his son for doing something stupid is probably too harsh a punishment, so he pretty much just laughs in the faces of the townspeople. “He destroyed our altar to Baal? Then let Baal punish him, if it’s that serious. We’re just puny mortals, so why should we try to defend the honor of a god?”
I’m sure that Gideon’s father also had a sizable number of loyal servants who were willing to stand behind him, since he also promises that anyone who tries to defend Baal’s honor by killing Gideon will be dead before the next morning.
And that ploy works. The locals all back off, and Gideon gets a new nickname, Jerub-Baal.
This is an interesting anecdote in Gideon’s life because it has elements that tie him with earlier tricksters like Ehud (his destruction of the altar at night and attempts to hide what he’s done from more powerful people), and also because it demonstrates a very human capacity for love between Gideon and his father. Gideon does something that’s reckless and could have very serious social consequences for his family, and his father chooses to stand by him, even though he’s probably furious at the same time.
I suppose I would be too if my son were such a troublemaker.