Gideon (c.1208 - c.1170BC)
Judg 6:1-6 The Israelites turn away from the LORD again, and the Midianites rule Israel for seven years (c.1214 - c.1208BC). The Midianites plunder the Israelites’ crops and destroy their livestock (see 5 on Map 50).
Judg 6:7-27 The Angel of the LORD meets Gideon at Ophrah (modern-day Afula) where he is secretly threshing wheat in an underground winepress (see 6 on Map 50). He tells Gideon to cut down his father's symbol of the local fertility goddess, Asherah, and to destroy the altar to Baal. Gideon builds an altar to the LORD in its place.
Remains of the fortress at Afula (Deror_avi)
Judg 6:33-35 In c.1208BC, the Midianites and Amalekites camp in the Vale of Jezreel. Gideon assembles a mixed force of Israelites.
The Vale of Jezreel
The Vale of Jezreel (the ‘Valley of Israel’ – also known as the Plain of Esdraelon) was an important lowland corridor running from south east to north west, linking the Jordan Valley near Beth Shean to the coastal plain north of Mount Carmel (near the modern city of Haifa). At the coastal end, this lowland routeway joined up with the Via Maris – the ‘Way of the Sea’ which ran along the coastal plain linking the ancient civilisations of Egypt and Mesopotamia. Near its junction with the coastal plain, the Vale of Jezreel was guarded and controlled by the well-defended fortress at Megiddo – Biblical ‘Armageddon’.
Because of its strategic position, the Jezreel Valley was the site of many battles. The earliest recorded confrontation pre-dates the Israelite invasion of Canaan. During the 15th century BC, the Egyptian pharaoh Thutmose III defeated a Canaanite coalition under the kings of Kedesh and Megiddo at the Battle of Megiddo, fought in the Valley of Jezreel.
The Jezreel Valley from Megiddo (Joe Freeman)
Over two hundred years later, in c.1208BC, Midianites and Amalekites crossed the River Jordan and headed north west along the Vale of Jezreel to plunder and ravage the lands along the fertile coastal plain. Calling together men from the tribes of Manasseh, Asher, Zebulun and Naphtali, Gideon defeated the Midianites on the valley floor just north of Mount Gilboa (see 6 on Map 50 and Judges 6:33-35 & 7:1-25). Gideon, himself, was born in the Vale of Jezreel at Ophrah – usually identified as the modern-day city of Afula (see Judges 6:11 & 24).
Later, in 1011 BC, Saul – the first king of Israel – was killed by the Philistines at the Battle of Gilboa, overlooking the Vale of Jezreel, and his corpse was displayed on the walls of Beth Shean (see 1 Samuel 28:4, 29:1 & 31:1-10). Four hundred years later, in 610BC, King Josiah of Judah was killed at Megiddo by Pharoah Neco of Egypt, when Josiah tried to prevent the Egyptian king from crossing the Jezreel Valley en route to Assyria (see 2 Kings 23:29).
Judg 6:36-40 Gideon tests God’s promise of victory by asking for a sign. He puts out a lamb’s fleece overnight on the threshing floor. In the morning, the fleece is sodden with dew but the surrounding ground is dry. The following morning, exactly the opposite happens – the fleece is dry but the ground is covered in dew. Gideon takes this as a sign that God will grant him victory over the Midianites.
Judg 7:1 Gideon's men camp by the Spring of Harod. The Midianites are camped in the valley to the north by the Hill of Moreh i.e. below Mt Gilboa ('bubbling fountain') (see 6 on Map 50).
Mount Gilboa (Beivushtang)
Judg 7:2-8 Gideon reduces his troops from thousands to a crack force of three hundred men.
Judg 7:9-14 Gideon steals into the Midianite camp at night and overhears a man telling his friend about a dream in which the Midianites are defeated.
Judg 7:15-21 Encouraged by the dream, Gideon leads a surprise attack on the Midianite camp during the night and routs the enemy.
Judg 7:22 The enemy run away towards Zarethan as far as Beth Shittah ('house of the Acacia tree') and Abel Meholah ('meadow of Meholah') near Tabbath.
Judg 7:23-25 The men of Ephraim hold the Jordan fords as far as Beth Barah to stop the enemy retreating back across the Jordan to Midian. Oreb and Zeeb – two Midianite leaders – are killed.
Judg 8:1-9 Gideon pursues the enemy to Succoth and Penuel. Both towns refuse to give his men food (see 7 on Map 50).
Judg 8:10-12 Gideon catches up with the Midianite kings Zebah and Zalmunna at Karkor and captures them (see 8 on Map 50).
Judg 8:13-17 He returns across the Heres Pass and punishes the people of Succoth and Penuel for refusing to feed his men.
Judg 8:18-21 Gideon kills the Midianite kings and confiscates their camels.
Judg 8:22-27 The Israelites ask Gideon to be their king; but Gideon refuses, saying “The LORD will be your ruler” (Judges 8:23).
Judg 8:28-35 During Gideon’s lifetime, Israel enjoys peace for forty years. After Gideon dies, the Israelites turn to idolatry again, and worship Baal at the Temple of Baal-Berith in Shechem (see 9 on Map 50).