Gideon earned the title Jerubbaal (or Jerub-Baal) after he destroyed his family’s altar of Baal. “Because Gideon broke down Baal’s altar, they gave him the name Jerub-Baal that day, saying, ‘Let Baal contend with him’” (Judges 6:32). The name Jerubbaal means “Baal will contend” and is a combination of two Hebrew words: the first is riyb or rub, which means literally “to grapple” and holds the figurative meaning “to wrangle” or “to hold a controversy.” The second is the proper noun Baal, the name of the Phoenician god that Gideon picked a fight with.
In Gideon’s day, Israel was rife with idolatry, and the Lord “gave them into the hands of Midianites” for seven years (Judges 6:1). When Israel cried out to God for help (verse 6), He sent a prophet who reminded the Israelites of God’s past deliverance and God’s commands against honoring false gods (verse 10). Israel had disobeyed, and Baal and Asherah worship was rampant. It was time for Gideon to become Jerubbaal.
To create His Jerubbaal, God sent the Angel of the Lord to Gideon, the son of Joash the Abiezrite. The angel sat under a tree watching Gideon thresh wheat in the winepress to keep it hidden from the Midianite raiders. The angel said to Gideon, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior” (Judges 6:12). Gideon’s reply showed a weak faith: “If the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our ancestors told us about when they said, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up out of Egypt?’ But now the Lord has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian” (verse 13). The Lord then commissioned Gideon to “save Israel out of Midian’s hand” (verse 14). The angel confirmed God’s Word with a miracle (verses 20–22) and gave Gideon a promise: “I will be with you” (verse 16).
That night, after his meeting with the Lord, Gideon was ready to transform into Jerubbaal. Following God’s specific instructions (Judges 6:25–26), Gideon and ten of his servants tore down Baal’s altar on his family’s property and cut down the Asherah pole next to it. Gideon then built a proper altar to God, laid the wood of the Asherah image on top, and sacrificed a bull to the Lord. “But because he was afraid of his family and the townspeople, he did it at night” (Judges 6:27).
The next morning, the men of the town discovered that Gideon had torn down the altar to Baal, and they were incensed that someone had disrespected their god. The men came to Joash, Gideon’s father, and said, “Bring out your son. He must die, because he has broken down Baal’s altar and cut down the Asherah pole beside it” (Judges 6:30). Defending his son, Joash replied to the mob, “Are you going to plead Baal’s cause? Are you trying to save him? . . . If Baal really is a god, he can defend himself when someone breaks down his altar” (verse 31). The logic was irrefutable. If Baal was really a god, then Baal could save himself. If Gideon should be punished, then let the god he destroyed punish him personally. After that, Gideon was called Jerubbaal, or “Let Baal contend with him” because Gideon had broken down the altar of Baal (verse 32).
Gideon not only contended with Baal but also with the Midianites. God was true to His promise, and Gideon won a decisive victory over the enemy. Later, Gideon is still being called Jerubbaal (Judges 7:1; 8:29; 9:1). Scripture uses the names Gideon and Jerubbaal interchangeably in those passages. Baal never did exact vengeance upon Jerubbaal; rather, God poured out His blessing on Gideon.