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Meaning and etymology of the name Gideon

Gideon Gideon

There's only one Gideon in the Bible. He's the fifth judge of Israel, having succeeded Deborah. Gideon is called by God to judge Israel after Israel's been on a losing streak for seven years and Midian has them in the pocket. Gideon's first act is to tear town the local Baal and Asherah shrine. The next morning the townsfolk demand his extradition but Gidion's father Joash talks them out of it by saying that Baal should stand up for himself, if he's really a god. And he calls his son Jerubbaal, meaning Let Baal Contend Against Him.

After that Gideon goes after the Midianites and the other members of the Eastern Coalition. Of the 32,000 men from Israel who show up for the battle, only 300 remain after God has Gideon weed out the chosen ones from the masses. He gives the 300 each a trumpet, a pitcher and a torch. By midnight they attack and their unusual approach causes the Midianites to stampede. As they flee, Gidion summons the entire army of Israel and they pursue them, kill their leaders and 120,000 of their swordsmen. Israel remains undisturbed for 40 years after that. When Gideon dies, his son Abimelech takes the office of Judge of Israel.

The name Gideon comes from the Hebrew verb gada (gada'), meaning to hew down or cut off. This verb usually shows up when conflicting convictions slug it out, and one party destroys the regalia of the other (Ezekiel 6:6). Or when a person, or a body gets expelled from the mother group (Judges 21:6) or gets cut down a size (Isaiah 10:33). Or even when an entity separates from a quality (Lamentations 2:3).

The waw-nun extension denotes a personification of the verb: he who does what the verb means.

This verb is curious because it is used quite frequently in the Bible but it has no derivatives. There's no noun that means 'a cutting off,' and there's no noun that notes that what's been cut off. Since the Hebrew language is quite fluidic, and verbs spawn nouns at the drop of a hat, this absence of nouns may be taken as an indication that whatever gets cut off, stays cut off and is remembered or even mentioned no more.

HAW Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament doesn't often discuss the meaning of names but for Gideon it makes an exception: "His name is connected with his occupation, that is, he was a Hacker or One Who Hewed Down the enemy." NOBS Study Bible Name List reads Cutter Of Trees, but the tree-part is unnecessary. Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names renders Feller, Cutter Down.



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