Stories of Five Judges, Part 6

Gideon, Part One

Judges 6:11-24

The story of our fifth judge of Israel occupies a large chunk of the book of Judges, from chapter 6 to chapter 9, inclusive. In chapter 6 we read of Gideon’s call and how God used Gideon begins in chapter 7. Gideon’s story is far more interesting than Gideon himself. In fact, scholars say that Gideon was “mediocre” at best. Really, all of Israel’s judges were most unremarkable and riddled with weaknesses, which is why God chose to use them.

Before getting into Gideon’s call, some background information is necessary. At this time in world history, the great superpower, Egypt, had become a minor player in world affairs, mainly because of lackadaisical leadership and internal strife. Egypt was losing its influence over its outer provinces and colonies. Nomadic tribes, great warriors in their own right, had started to move into the Dead Sea area in search of farmable land because a sustained drought in the surrounding areas made farming impossible. These nomads had begun to push into not only Egypt’s territory, but Israel’s territory as well. These nomadic tribes had very familiar name: Midianites and Amalekites, among others, were the Bedouins of the desert that threatened Israel’s very existance.

These two large tribes were vicious and disorganized. They raided Israelite farms, stripped their crops and often took women and children back with them as slaves, or worse. There were so many of them, they could not be counted. As they moved along, pushing ever farther into Israelite land, they pitched their tents,. literally taking over.

Israel was weak, spiritually, morally and militarily. Overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of Midianites and Amalekites, the Israelites fled their homes and farms and took to living in caves and dens on the sides of mountains.

The cycle of failure is seen again. The people prospered under Deborah, but eventually backslid into idolatry and sin, and the Lord, working in human history, used the Midianites, primarily, as His tool of judgment.

1. A desperate cry for help, 6:7-10

Israel once again did evil in the sight of God, and they paid a heavy price. This is always the case when God’s people turn away from Him: bondage and oppression under the hand of an enemy. This enemy may take many forms. Sometimes it is sin, sometimes financial or emotional bondage, and in this case of Israel, a bondage of fear that led to physical bondage to the Midianite raiders. In their overwhelming distress, they cried out to God, and once again, God sent a prophet, then a deliverer.

The last time the Israelites sinned and turned back to God, God spoke through a prophet named Deborah. This time, the Lord sent another prophet, whose name we don’t know, to tell the people why they were suffering so. The last phrase of verse 10 is very telling:

But you have not listened to me.

That is God speaking, and He is using a Hebrew idiom for disobedience. Their sin was not so much idolatry or immorality, but disobedience to God and His Word. This disobedience was manifested in the form those particular sins, but what prompted God’s judgment was simply the sin of disobedience.

2. A bad situation, 6:11

The angel of the LORD came and sat down under the oak in Ophrah that belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, where his son Gideon was threshing wheat in a winepress to keep it from the Midianites.

This verse is a perfect picture of people living under the fear of man! Here was Gideon, who certainly was not mighty warrior, threshing his wheat in a winepress, a pit carved out of rocky ground. This was normally done out in the open, so the wind could carry away all the chaff.

We have, in once single verse, a picture of a fearful man. Contrast this sad picture of Gideon with that of Elijah, who was not afraid to stand up in the face of evil:

Now Elijah the Tishbite, from Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, “As the LORD, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word.” (1 Kings 17:1)

2. A word of an angel, 6:12

“The LORD is with you, mighty warrior.”

That’s how the angel of the Lord addressed this cowardly man. Was he speaking in faith? Or was he being funny? Or is there another option? The term translated “mighty warrior” (gibbor hehayil) is translated “mighty man of valor” in the KJV. Although it is often used in connection with soldiers, it may also refer to prominent men of wealth, like Boaz in Ruth 2:1. So, perhaps, the angel of the Lord wasn’t being funny or prophetic, or encouraging, just accurate, Gideon was part of a wealthy family that had at least ten servants (6:27).

But what is apparent, is that at this moment, Gideon was most assuredly not a warrior, mighty or otherwise. Even Gideon himself challenged the validity of the angel’s words.

3. Anxiety and identity exposed, 6:13, 14

But now the LORD has abandoned us and put us into the hand of Midian.

Gideon did not recognize the angel of the Lord and did not listen very carefully to what he said, either. The heavenly visitor did not say that the Lord with the nation of Israel, but that he was with Gideon only. And because he did listen to what the angel said, he misunderstood and accused God of things. Gideon spoke in an accusatory manner to this visitor because he hadn’t listened. This is a very common occurrence among Christians who think they know the Word of the Lord so well that they make decisions without paying heed to what it says. Then when they fail, they heap all manner of blame upon God when God has nothing to do with their failure.

With verse 14, the guest reveals himself to be the Lord. The phrase “The LORD turned to him” seems to suggest that part of God’s glory was revealed to Gideon.

We can glean some comfort from the way the Lord dealt with Gideon. This man, from a well-to-do family was, in his heart of hearts, a coward. There was nothing outstanding about him at all. One might say that Gideon was insignificant and insufficient. He had basically chastised God for the predicament Israel was in, showing how grossly ignorant he was of how God was working. Despite this, God still came to Gideon and wanted to use him.

4. A great commission and an old excuse, 6:14, 15

“But Lord , ” Gideon asked, “how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.”

God called Gideon in a way that reminds us of how he called Moses and later Isaiah. The strength of Gideon lay not in his skill or his physical strength, but in the fact that the he had the promise of the Lord’s presence. Herbert Wolf wrote that all Gideon had to do was exchange his weakness for God’s strength. The great apostle himself understood this concept:

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. (2 Corinthians 12:9)

Despite God promise (“I will be with you,” verse 16), Gideon follows in the tradition set by Moses: he doubts God’s call and questions God. We read Gideon’s excuses and find them lame. But we have the completed Word of God, and we understand something that Gideon may not have. God loves to use those who are young or humble and exalt them to a place of national prominence. The Old Testament is full of examples of this: David and Jephthah are two great examples of God choosing men from small beginnings. Again, the words of Paul come to mind:

Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.

Reminding God of your weaknesses, which He knows about already, betrays your lack of faith. We like to make God’s calling about “us,” but really it is all about Him. His strength, His wisdom, His will is perfected in our lives. James Smith makes an excellent observation:

The Lord expects that His abounding grace should never beget in us anything like self-confidence, self-loathing, or boasting of any kind. Our conscious weakness is one of the best qualifications for the work of the Lord.

5. Seeking a confirmation, 6:17-21

If now I have found favor in your eyes, give me a sign that it is really you talking to me.

One wonders why the Word of the Lord wasn’t enough for Gideon. Why should Gideon need a sign when God was standing right in front of him. Presumably, that wasn’t enough for Gideon. But God is ever patient and gracious, and in His graciousness, sometimes He adapts His way of working to the weaknesses of man. God bends to our needs.

To make extra sure that Gideon had God’s approval for what he was about to undertake, he asked for a sign. In fact, this would be the first of three signs Gideon would see. But before the sign, Gideon wanted to feed his visitor, and so he prepared a very generous meal for the Lord. Considering the state of the nation, this meal was lavish indeed.

The Lord used this meal as an excuse to give Gideon the sign he was seeking. He told Gideon to put the meat on a rock, and obeying in silence, God made fire come up out of the rock, consuming the meat. God is a God who answers by fire! The rock upon which Gideon placed the meat became an altar at that moment. Of note: the holy fire of God came only after an offering had been poured out according to God’s instructions. Just as the fire of the Lord in the Old Testament had to do with the offerings on the altar, so the fire of the Holy Spirit comes to believers now as God’s sign to them that their life is a life consecrated to Him.

6. An simple act of adoration, 6:24

So Gideon built an altar to the LORD there and called it The LORD is Peace.

When our hero witnessed the fire coming up out of the rock, he was full of fear, which seemed to be in keeping with his personality. He finally knew that he had been speaking face to face with the Lord, and wrongly thought he would die from that experience. God put Gideon’s spirit to rest by promising him “peace” and continued well being. Gratefully, Gideon immediately built an altar to commemorate the Lord’s promise to him that day.

In the New Testament, we have this promise:

For he is our peace. (Eph. 2:14)

And in Galatians 5:22, we are told that one of the fruit of the Holy Spirit is peace. We have something Gideon and the people of his generation could never have: an abiding peace in our lives because of an abiding presence of God in our lives.

Gideon’s altar, like the altar of the Cross, speaks powerfully of the peace of God. In both instances, what was needed was peace. In Gideon’s life, he needed peace to do the work of God, to which the Lord had called him. In our lives, peace has been made through the altar of the cross.

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace.

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