Judges 6:25: God's Command to Topple Baal's Altar

Verse 25:[1] And it came to pass the same night, that the LORD said unto him, Take thy father’s young bullock, even (or, and[2]) the second bullock of seven years old, and throw down the altar of Baal that thy father hath, and (Ex. 34:13; Deut. 7:5) cut down the grove that is by it…

[That night] That is, on the following night (Vatablus).

[Take the bull of thy father, and another bull of seven years,אֶת־פַּר־הַשּׁוֹר֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר לְאָבִ֔יךָ וּפַ֥ר הַשֵּׁנִ֖י שֶׁ֣בַע שָׁנִ֑ים] A young bull of an ox (a bull [Castalio, Syriac], a young bull [Munster], a young bull, an ox [Drusius], a calf, a bull [Septuagint, that eminent bull [Osiander]), which belongs to thy father, and a second young bull of seven years (Pagnine, Montanus, thus the Septuagint, Jonathan, Syriac, Arabic, Munster, Castalio). Others thus: a young bull of an ox (or, one more fully mature [Junius and Tremellius]), which belongs to thy father, namely (or, even indeed [Piscator]) that second young bull of seven years (Junius, Piscator, Dutch, English). The ו/and is exegetical, in that place of, that is (Piscator). Question: Whether only one young bull was sacrificed, or two? Response 1: Only one (Junius, Piscator, Cajetan in Serarius, Martyr); as it is evident from the following verse (Piscator). For no further mention of the former calf is made, neither does God give instructions as to what He might will to be done concerning it (Martyr). But [those thinking otherwise retort that] there is mention only of one, either because it was principally intended by God, or because from the offering of the second it is able sufficiently to be understood that the offering of the first went before (Bonfrerius). Response 2: Two bulls were sacrificed, as it is expressly held in the Hebrew and in the Septuagint (Serarius, Bonfrerius, Vatablus).

[The bull of thy father] That is, which thy father feeds; which is to say, that eminent bull, now full-grown and mature, which thy father takes care to feed, so that it might at last be sacrificed to the Baal idol (Vatablus). This bull had been set apart for sacrifice either by his father, etc., or by the community (Lapide). A פַּר is anything beyond a calf (because it is horned, Psalm 69:31,[3] and productive of offspring, Job 21:10[4]). But it is evident that it is younger, for in thirty passages it is called the son of an ox. The Hebrews maintain that they are so called around two or three years of age. Nevertheless, an older bull is called פַּר; which is both acknowledges by Kimchi, Aquinas,[5] and Pomarius,[6] and is here a פַּר of seven years, which in an ox is a mature age. They derive פַּר from פָּרָה, to be fertile; and they maintain that it is thus called as long as it is fertile, that is, from the fourth unto the twelfth year, as Columella testifies, Concerning Rural Business[7] 7:23 (Bochart’s Sacred Catalogue of Animals 1:2:27:277).

[And the other bull of seven years] Hebrew: the second.[8] Thus it is called, either, by order of birth, second-born (Martyr, Drusius); or, second, namely, after that one [the first, concerning which there has already been mention], that is, of second note, not so great, nor to be compared with the first (Vatablus); or, with respect to the arrangement of the stall, which was second in the orde of the stall (Piscator, Junius, Martyr, Drusius). The former is said to be of thy father, because it was specific to him, and determined for sacrifice in his name alone; the latter, the other bull, that is, public, and devoted in the public name of the city (Tirinus). Of seven years: Either, 1. because this was the mature age of an ox, like the virile age in the case of man (Bochart’s Sacred Catalogue of Animals). Or, 2. because for just so many years as that servitude had continued it had been fattened, and was to be fattened for a longer time, if the servitude had continued for a longer time, and at last devoted as a sacrifice to that God, by whose help it might come to pass that the yoke of Midianite servitude be removed (Tirinus). The Israelites had profited so little under the hand and rod of God that, even while the seven-year servitude was continuing, their souls were yet intent upon worshipping idols (Lightfoot). Or, 3. because Apis or Serapis, an ox to be sacrificed, was fattened for some many years in Egypt. It is not difficult to believe that this custom was kept among the idolatrous Hebrews, when they had been in Egypt, and were neighbors to it (Martyr). Or, 4. a bull the age of which was corresponding to the Midianite servitude, namely, of seven years (Menochius). Born in the same year in which that tyranny had begun (Junius). Or, 5. so that God might signify that, just as that young bull was to be burned in the seventh year of its age, so the tyranny of the Midianites would cease in that seventh year (Piscator). God will both these oxen to be sacrificed; the former, for the detestation of idolatry; the latter, to appease God. For God willed him to undertake his Generalship with some heroic deed at the beginning. But it was not fitting, that he be sent to liberate the Israelites while idolatry was yet thriving in his own house (Bonfrerius).

Even the second bullock: thus there was but one bullock, which was young, to wit, comparatively, but not simply, for it was seven years old; and of such this Hebrew word is used, Job 21:10; for these creatures are fruitful above seven years. Or thus, thy father’s young bullock, and the second bullock: so there were two bullocks. But because there is but one of them mentioned both in the next verse, and in the execution of this command, verse 28, it is probable it was but one; and the Hebrew particle ו/vau, and, is put exegetically for even, or, to wit, as is very usual. And this he calls his father’s young bullock, both because his father was the owner of it, and because his father kept and fed it for a sacrifice to Baal. But because it is likely his father kept divers of these cattle of differing ages and statures for that use, either at his own or at the people’s charge, therefore he adds, by way of limitation, that he should not take the eldest and the greatest, but the second, to wit, in age, or stature, or goodliness, or in the order of sacrifice, that which was to have been sacrificed to Baal in the second place. And this he singled out because of its age; for being seven years old, it began with the Midianitish calamity, and being now to be sacrificed, did fitly signify, that the period of that misery was now come.

[The altar of Baal that thy father hath] Thus it is designated, either, because it was erected at his expense, or rather, because it was erected on his land. But, that it was for common use, is sufficiently indicated in verse 28 (Bonfrerius).

That thy father hath; which thy father built in his own ground, though for the common use of the whole city, verses 28-30.

[And the grove] Idolaters were wont to plant groves around their altars: either so that the awe of the place might be increased by the pleasantness of the place and some darkness, and men might be drawn toward superstition; or because that darkness was opportune for the exercise of filthy lusts, of which there were many in the sacred rites of the idols (Bonfrerius). [But אֲשֵׁרָה/ Asherah, which the rest take appellatively, the Syriac and Arabic take as the proper name of an idol, and thus translate it, and with ASIRA, a feminine idol, cut down, which is upon the same altar: thus at the end of verse 26, and upon the heap of it add the wood of the idol Asira, which thou shalt cut down (Arabic). The Syriac likewise has here, the Esthera placed upon it thou shalt cut down; and in verse 26, construct a heap from the wood of Esthera, whom thou shalt cut down.]

The grove that is by it; planted by the altar for idolatrous or impure uses, as the manner of idolaters was. See Judges 3:7. This action might seem injurious to his father’s rights and authority; but God’s command was sufficient warrant, and Gideon was now called to be the supreme magistrate, whereby he was made his father’s superior, and was empowered, and authorized, and enjoined to root out all idolatry and superstition, and the instruments thereof.

[1] Hebrew: וַיְהִי֮ בַּלַּ֣יְלָה הַהוּא֒ וַיֹּ֧אמֶר ל֣וֹ יְהוָ֗ה קַ֤ח אֶת־פַּר־הַשּׁוֹר֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר לְאָבִ֔יךָ וּפַ֥ר הַשֵּׁנִ֖י שֶׁ֣בַע שָׁנִ֑ים וְהָרַסְתָּ֗ אֶת־מִזְבַּ֤ח הַבַּ֙עַל֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר לְאָבִ֔יךָ וְאֶת־הָאֲשֵׁרָ֥ה אֲשֶׁר־עָלָ֖יו תִּכְרֹֽת׃

[2] Hebrew: וּפַר.

[3] Psalm 69:31: “This also shall please the Lord better than an ox or bullock (מִשּׁ֥וֹר פָּ֗ר) that hath horns and hoofs.”

[4] Job 21:10: “Their bull (שׁוֹרוֹ) gendereth, and faileth not; their cow (פָּרָתוֹ) calveth, and casteth not her calf.”

[5] Thomas Aquinas (c. 1224-1274) was perhaps the greatest of the mediæval scholastic theologians. He wrote on much of the Bible, gathering together the comments, observations, and interpretations of the Fathers.

[6] David ben Isaac de Pomis (1525-1593) was an Italian physician, philosopher, and Rabbi. He produced an important Hebrew, Latin, and Italian dictionary (Zemah David).

[7] Lucius Junius Columella (first century AD) was a Roman soldier. After retiring from military service, he took up farming, writing Res Rustica, twelve books on husbandry. Res Rustica is probably the most important work of its kind surviving from this period.

[8] Hebrew: הַשֵּׁנִי.

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