Storm Clouds Rising

There was a shift in the supernatural wind about the time of the Judges in Israel. Followers of the moon-god faded into the background as worshipers of Baal became more of a problem for Israel.

What caused this change in the supernatural threat? Was it simply a swing in demographics, an example of diversity in action? Maybe. The Amorites from the east, who occupied lands that were mainly mountains, steppe, and desert, lived very differently than their city-dwelling cousins along the Mediterranean coast. From a naturalistic view, you can understand why the moon-god was more important than the storm-god where rainfall was rare. Amorites in the east lived where rain-fed agriculture wasn’t possible. Sure, the storm-god, called Ishkur in Mesopotamia, was a violent, dangerous deity who could flatten your crops in a single day, but he didn’t visit the desert all that often. So, in ancient Sumer (southern Iraq today), the storm-god was a junior member of the pantheon. The storm-god, under the name Addu or Hadad, called Baal in the Bible, only rose to kingship in the west—modern Syria, Turkey, Lebanon, and Israel (and later, Greece and Rome as Zeus/Jupiter)—where people could farm without irrigation canals.

Did this apparent transfer of power from the moon-god to the storm-god reflect a political change in the natural realm, tracking with the rising power of Baal-worshiping Arameans after about 1200 BC? Or was this a supernatural conflict between the Fallen?

There is evidence that these rebel gods don’t always get along. In chapter 10 of the Book of Daniel, the prophet is told by an angelic messenger that he’d been delayed for twenty-one days by “the prince of the kingdom of Persia.”[1] The angel only broke free to deliver his message when the archangel Michael arrived to take up the fight with the prince andthe “kings of Persia.” In that context, the angel can only have been referring to supernatural entities, what the people in Daniel’s day would have called the gods of Persia, and rightly so.

The point is this: A number of nations that were enemies of Israel—Egypt, Babylon, Assyria, Persia, Greece, and Rome—fought more with each other than they did with God’s chosen people. Why would they do that if the principalities and powers behind those kingdoms were hell-bent on destroying the bloodline that would someday produce the Messiah?

God wouldn’t have allowed it, of course. But consider this: If the Fallen had hubris enough to rebel against the Creator of the Universe, why wouldn’t they fight one another to become the supreme ruler? It’s like the premise of the supernatural television series Highlander—there can be only one. That is precisely the goal of the rebellious sons of God.

How you are fallen from heaven, O Day Star [KJV: “Lucifer”], son of Dawn! How you are cut down to the ground, you who laid the nations low! You said in your heart, “I will ascend to heaven; above the stars of God I will set my throne on high; I will sit on the mount of assembly in the far reaches of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.”

Isaiah 14:12–14 (ESV)

Lucifer, the divine rebel from Eden, didn’t just want to knock Yahweh off His throne, he hoped to elevate himself and his “mount of assembly” above the stars of God—a poetic way of saying that Lucifer wants to be supreme above everything and everyone.

So, the Book of Judges appears to mark a change in the main supernatural threat to Israel. Prior to the conquest, it was the moon-god, chief deity of the founders of Babylon and the occupants of Canaan. After the Israelites settled in the land, the forces arrayed against the people of Yahweh were more often than not worshipers of Baal and the other major gods of the western Amorites, such as El, his consort Asherah, and Astarte, better known as Ishtar (and later as Aphrodite and Venus). This seems to reflect division or competition between the rebel gods in the spirit realm. Imagine the power wielded by the fallen elohim who could claim victory over the people of Yahweh!

The story of Gideon and his three hundred is a perfect example of the changing times. This was around 1200 BC, a time called by scholars the Bronze Age Collapse. The Mediterranean world was in turmoil. The Trojan War had probably been fought about fifty years earlier on the west coast of what is now Turkey. For reasons still not completely understood, a wave of warlike peoples swept across the eastern Mediterranean, destroying the Hittite Empire and smaller Amorite kingdoms like Ugarit and Amurru in Syria. They even threatened Egypt itself, then ruled by Ramesses III, son of Ramesses the Great.

Scholars call this coalition the Sea Peoples for lack of a better term; the members of the league haven’t been positively identified, although it’s generally accepted that the Philistines were one of them. Other groups may have included remnants of the Minoan civilization from Crete, Mycenaean Greeks, Etruscans, Sicilians, Sardinians, or displaced Hittites fleeing the destruction of their civilization.

Whoever they were and whatever prompted the mass movement, evidence points to a tsunami of social upheaval around the eastern Mediterranean around 1200 BC, and Canaan was no exception.

This is the time recorded in the Book of Judges. Conflicts between the tribes of Israel and their neighbors are set against a backdrop of war and destruction from Greece to Babylon, where the Kassites, who’d ruled that land for four hundred years, were routed and sent into obscurity by Elam, a kingdom in northwestern Persia.

Bad Moon Rising

Things weren’t easy for the tribes of Israel. Although they had been in the Promised Land for two centuries, they weren’t exactly its masters. By the time we get to chapter 6 of Judges, the Israelites had already been oppressed by Aram, Moab, the Philistines, and Jabin, the Amorite king of Hazor, whose general Sisera appears to have been from the group of Sea Peoples called the Sherden or Shardana—possibly Sardinians who built the mysterious stone towers called nuragheon that island.[2]

So, by the time of Gideon, two hundred years after Joshua led the people against Jericho, Israelites must have been growing weary of this cycle of oppression. For seven years, Israel had been dominated by the Midianites, Amalekites, and “the people of the East.” They’d arrive every spring, so numerous that they and their camels couldn’t be counted, and they would devour or steal all the crops. Things got so bad, the Israelites were forced to hide out in caves.[3]

They couldn’t say God didn’t warn them.

When the people of Israel cried out to the Lord on account of the Midianites, the Lord sent a prophet to the people of Israel. And he said to them, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: I led you up from Egypt and brought you out of the house of slavery. And I delivered you from the hand of the Egyptians and from the hand of all who oppressed you, and drove them out before you and gave you their land. And I said to you, ‘I am the Lord your God; you shall not fear the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell.’ But you have not obeyed my voice.”

Judges 6:7–10 (ESV)

Catch that: “I am Yahweh your God; you shall not fear the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell.” Apparently, the people of Israel had failed to understand that Canaan now belonged to their God, Yahweh. It was no longer the possession of the gods of the Amorite pantheon.

We need to detour for a moment to explain the concept of “holy ground.” This was more than just the place where God was physically present, such as when Moses encountered the burning bush at Sinai or when the captain of Yahweh’s host met Joshua at Jericho. Canaan was now Israel, ground holy and sacred to Yahweh, and belonging to Him alone among the elohim. Unfortunately, His people hadn’t learned that yet. Maybe that’s why they had drifted away from God despite the miracles they’d seen in the recent past.

Dr. Michael Heiser points out that belief in the rights of gods to specific geography was the norm in Old Testament days.[4] For example, when David was on the run from King Saul, he lamented that being chased from the land of Israel meant he would be separated from Yahweh:

Saul recognized David’s voice and said, “Is this your voice, my son David?” And David said, “It is my voice, my lord, O king.” And he said, “Why does my lord pursue after his servant? For what have I done? What evil is on my hands? Now therefore let my lord the king hear the words of his servant. If it is the Lord who has stirred you up against me, may he accept an offering, but if it is men, may they be cursed before the Lord, for they have driven me out this day that I should have no share in the heritage of the Lord, saying, ‘Go, serve other gods.’”

1 Samuel 26:17–19 (ESV)

Another incident illustrates this point. Naaman of Damascus, the commander of the Aramean army, was healed of leprosy after following the instructions of the prophet Elisha. So, he made a strange request:

Then he returned to the man of God, he and all his company, and he came and stood before him. And he said, “Behold, I know that there is no God in all the earth but in Israel; so accept now a present from your servant.” But he said, “As the Lord lives, before whom I stand, I will receive none.” And he urged him to take it, but he refused. Then Naaman said, “If not, please let there be given to your servant two mule loads of earth, for from now on your servant will not offer burnt offering or sacrifice to any god but the Lord. In this matter may the Lord pardon your servant: when my master goes into the house of Rimmon to worship there, leaning on my arm, and I bow myself in the house of Rimmon, when I bow myself in the house of Rimmon, the Lord pardon your servant in this matter.”

2 Kings 5:15–18 (ESV)

As with David, Naaman understood that worshiping Yahweh required being on holy ground—Israel. Since Naaman lived in Damascus, this was a problem. His solution was to haul some holy ground with him back to Aram. (By the way, Rimmon was an epithet of the storm-god, Baal. It means “thunderer.”)

Do you see now why Jesus devoted so much of His ministry to casting out demons? Yes, Jesus was relieving the misery of those possessed by the evil spirits, but in the supernatural realm He was doing battle with the sons of the Watchers who dared to occupy ground sacred to Yahweh. Jesus was kicking them off of His property!

Back to Gideon’s day: The people of Israel apparently still felt they needed to appease the gods of the Amorites, which included the two main deities God had specifically attacked during the Exodus and conquest of Canaan—Baal, the storm-god, and Sîn/Yarikh, the moon-god. This time, with Gideon, God would teach them, and Israel, a lesson.

Gideon was the son of a Baal worshiper. His father, Joash of the tribe of Manasseh, had his own altar to the storm-god and an Asherah pole to boot. Scholars aren’t sure what those poles were, exactly, but since Asherah was considered a fertility goddess, you can guess what it may have represented.[5]

The Angel of Yahweh directed Gideon to destroy the altar and the Asherah, raise an army, and, to prove to Israel that this victory was not the work of a superior human general, send almost all of it home again.

Over the previous two hundred years, God had delivered Israel through Caleb’s son-in-law Othniel, Ehud, Shamgar, and Deborah (who practically had to shame Barak into leading the army). Still, the people turned from Yahweh to the gods of the Amorites. So, this time, God would make it obvious to everyone that the victory was His.

The Lord said to Gideon, “The people with you are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hand, lest Israel boast over me, saying, ‘My own hand has saved me.’”

Judges 7:2 (ESV)

Thirty-two thousand men answered the messengers Gideon sent throughout the territories of Manasseh, Asher, Zebulon, and Naphtali, the northern tribes. But even with thirty-two thousand soldiers, victory was no sure thing. The enemy army was four times bigger—about one hundred thirty-five thousand men were camped in the Valley of Jezreel.

Well, God was going to make it obvious that this victory was not the work of human hands. Through a series of tests, He reduced the size of Gideon’s army from thirty-two thousand to three hundred.

Then He lowered the boom.

[1] Daniel 10:13.

[2] Adam Zertal, Sisera’s Secret. (Haifa: Seker Publishing, 2016).

[3] See Judges 6:1–6.

[4] Dr. Michael S. Heiser, “Deuteronomy 32:8–9 and the Old Testament Worldview” (, retrieved 11/5/18.

[5] E. Tully, “Asherah.” In J. D. Barry, D. Bomar, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair Wolcott, … W. Widder (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016).

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