After 40 years of peace the Israelites again “Did evil in the sight of the Lord.” and were attacked by the Midianites and Amalekites. When the Israelites planted, the Midianites came in and destroyed the crops. Israel was 'greatly impoverished' by the Midianites and driven to live and hide in dens and caves in the mountains. Into this grim situation came an angel of God to deliver a message to a man named Gideon.
Gideon was secretly threshing wheat, to hide it from the Midianites. The angel said, “The Lord is with you, you mighty man of valor!”
Gideon's response was very modern. “If the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us?”
Gideon said to the angel, “O my Lord, how can I save Israel? Indeed my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father's house.” Yet the angel assured him that the Lord was with him and that he would overcome the Midianites.
Understandably, Gideon asked for a sign. “Show me a sign that it is You who talk with me.” Gideon brought a meat offering, unleavened bread and broth in a pot, intending to show hospitality, but the angel had him put it on a rock and pour the broth over it.
The angel held out his staff and touched the meat and bread “And fire rose out of the rock and consumed the meat and the unleavened bread. And the Angel of the Lord departed out of his sight.” Gideon's response was one of fear, but then God spoke to him. “Peace be with you; do not fear, you shall not die.”
From this point on, God began revealing instructions to Gideon, bringing him ever closer to the deliverance of Israel. First, he was to tear down the altar of Baal, and cut down the grove of the goddess Asherah by it, then build an altar for the Lord and offer a sacrifice with the wood from the grove.
Gideon took ten of his servants and did what the Lord commanded. The next morning, the men of the city found out and were ready to kill Gideon. Gideon's father, Joash, defended his son's actions and made the men stand down.
Next, Gideon sent messengers to some of the Israelites to stand with him against the Midianites. Asking God for a confirming sign of His presence and favour, Gideon put a fleece of wool on the threshing floor and said to God “If there is dew on the fleece only, and it is dry on all the ground, then I shall know that You will save Israel by my hand.”
The next morning he squeezed out of the fleece a bowlful of water. Then he said to God, “Let me test just once more with the fleece; let it now be dry only on the fleece, but on all the ground let there be dew.” God did what he had asked, confirming that His presence was with Gideon.
When the Israelite men were assembled, God told Gideon that there were too many, that they would claim the victory as their own, instead of giving God the glory. So He ordered Gideon to send home every man who was afraid.
Immediately, 22,000 men returned home, leaving only 10,000 remaining. God had Gideon further test their readiness and thinned the army down to 300 men.
That night, Gideon gave each man a trumpet, a torch and a clay jar. They surrounded the enemy camp, with each torch hidden inside the jar.
At Gideon's signal, every man blew his trumpet and broke his jar. The confused Midianites turned on one another, with the survivors fleeing the camp. Gideon and his courageous 300 men chased the escapees and cut off their retreat. The victory was the Lord's. Israel then had quietness for 40 years for the remainder of Gideon's life.
Once the Israelites were delivered from the oppression of the Midianites, they begged Gideon to be their king, but he refused. “I will not rule over you, nor shall my son rule over you; the Lord shall rule over you.”
His desire was for the Israelites to turn to God, their true King. For his valiant obedience and heart of humility, Gideon mentioned in the Hall of Fame of Faith in Hebrews 11. He did not seek self-glorification, but rather the glorification of God.