The commission had come directly from God. “I want you to make a bold statement against the false gods of the Philistines. Pull down Baal’s altar and cut up the Asherah pole. Then build an altar to Me where the others stood, and offer sacrifices there.” Gideon, who could never be accused of rushing hastily into anything, decided that instead of making a “bold statement”, he would settle for simply making a “statement”. So, rather than risking his life by carrying out this daring act during the day in the sight of all, he took ten of his servants and snuck in at night while everyone was sleeping.
The next morning, the people of the town quickly found out it was Gideon who had attacked their gods. They called for his head, but Gideon’s dad came to the rescue with some quick logic – “If Baal is so great, shouldn’t he be able to defend himself?” Gideon was saved. But rather than it being divine protection, it was dad who bailed him out. Still, Gideon came away from the incident with a bold nickname given to him by the people – Jerub-baal, which means “Let Baal contend with him”.
Biblical critics will tell you that rather than this being a historical narrative, it is simply an interesting story. It is part of the Gideon legend – a fable concocted in order to show the faithfulness of God to one who is inherently doubtful. “There is no archaeological evidence of this Gideon story,” they say, “and very little to even suggest that there was a period of the Judges.” To which those who understand anything about the nature of biblical archaeology say, “Just wait.”
Good biblical archaeologists understand what Dr. Nelson Glueck said so well in his book, Rivers in the Desert, “It may be stated categorically that no archaeological discovery has ever controverted a Biblical reference. Scores of archaeological findings have been made which confirm in clear outline or exact detail historical statements in the Bible. And, by the same token, proper evaluation of Biblical description has often led to amazing discoveries.”i
Recently, the attitude of “Just wait” was once again proven when a remarkable discovery was made at Khirbet el Rai, near Lachish. At this 12-11th centuries B.C. Philistine-era settlement were unearthed 20 storage silos filled with all sorts of debris and ancient trash.ii As the team sifted through their find, they came across three small pottery sherds each containing part of a painted inscription. When the pieces were fit back together, five letters appeared in an early Alphabetic/Canaanite script.iii It was a name – Yeruba’al or Jerubbaal. That’s right, our friend Gideon.
It’s quite possible that there were others around that the very popular god Baal contended with. So, this small pot, likely used for some precious liquid-like perfume or a medical concoction,iv could have belonged to someone else who had been given that nickname. In the words of Professor Yosef Garfinkle and archaeologist Sa`ar Ganor from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, co-directors of excavations at the site, “In view of the geographical distance between the Shephelah [the site of the dig] and the Jezreel Valley [where Gideon was], this inscription may refer to another Jerubbaal and not the Gideon of biblical tradition, although the possibility cannot be ruled out that the jug belonged to the judge Gideon. In any event, the name Jerubbaal was evidently in common usage at the time of the biblical judges.”v
What Garfinkle and Ganor are saying is that the events of Judges 6-8 fit perfectly into what is known about the history of that time period in the land, right down to the nickname that Gideon is given. So, while it would be great if the inscription had read, “Belonging to Gideon – Yeah, that Gideon”, we will take it for what it is – one more evidence that what you read in the Bible is 100% truth, right down to each and every historical event that it details.
i Glueck, Nelson. Rivers in the Desert a History of the Negev. Grove Press, 1959.
ii Borschel-Dan, Amanda. “Five-Letter Inscription Inked 3,100 Years Ago May Be Name of Biblical Judge.” The Times of Israel, 12 July 2021, www.timesofisrael.com/five-letter-inscription-inked-3100-years-ago-may-be-name-of-biblical-judge/.
iv Schuster, Ruth. “Israeli Archaeologists Find Biblical Name ‘Jerubbaal’ Inked on Pot from Judges Era.” Haaretz.com, Haaretz, 12 July 2021, www.haaretz.com/archaeology/israeli-archaeologists-find-biblical-name-jerubbaal-inked-on-pot-from-judges-era-1.9990617.
v Tercatin, Rossella. “3,000-Year-Old Inscription Bearing Name of Biblical Judge Found in Israel.” JPost.com, 13 July 2021, m.jpost.com/archaeology/3000-year-old-inscription-bearing-name-of-biblical-judge-found-in-israel-673576.