Gideon Could Easily Have Been Born in the 21st Century
On the surface, very little has changed from the days of Gideon, the fifth judge of Israel: we are still unfaithful to God, we still serve idols, we are still in bondage to our enemies, we still cry out to God to save us… and He still does. But underneath the surface, in the spiritual realm, EVERYTHING is different: Christ our Savior has come to live within us, He has broken the chains of slavery PERMANENTLY, He has defeated our enemies FOREVER, and He has made us MORE THAN CONQUERORS NOW.
So why don’t we live that way?
The days of Gideon were very much like any other age: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” as Charles Dickens wrote in A TALE OF TWO CITIES. “Every man did what was right in his own eyes.” (Judges 17:6) There was an overarching Law, because the Ten Commandments had been given; but people picked and chose how much they would obey that Law, much as Christians do today. There was no unifying culture because the people of Israel were mixing in with the pagan cultures around them, contrary to God’s will; and so new, diverse cultures were arising. It was very much like the United States today, with one significant difference: there was an oppressive government bearing down on the people. (Some might argue that that, too, is like the United States today; but that’s hardly the case… yet.)
The Midianites had invaded the land and were stripping it of all its resources. The Bible says they were like locusts. (Judges 6:5) In that regard, the times were very much like England following the Norman invasion. You will remember how, in the days of Robin Hood, the people were so oppressed that many of them had taken to the forests to survive. It was the Normans who were doing the oppressing, and the Saxons – the people who had settled in England prior to the Norman invasion – who were under the heel. Prince John, a Norman, was on the throne while his brother, King Richard, was off fighting in the Crusades.
That’s how it was with Israel. The people had settled in Canaan, the Promised Land, between 1400 and 1300 BC. They were followed by the Midianites a century or so later, who took over the land and were taking everything the people of Israel had. It got so bad, the people had to hide out in caves in the mountains just to survive. So much for “the Promised Land!” But the people had brought all this on themselves because of their disobedience to God: they were doing EXACTLY what He had told them NOT to do – namely, intermarrying with the pagans around them and worshipping their gods. The Israelites had fallen in love with the Amorites and their culture, much as Christians today have fallen in love with the worldly elements of our society and its culture: fame, fortune, success, unfettered sex, unrestricted violence, and entertainment galore.
In this world of lost dreams and oppressive conquerors lived Gideon, a young farmer of the tribe of Manasseh. One day, as he was beating out the wheat in his father’s winepress – rather than doing it on a threshing floor, the way you’re supposed to, so the Midianites wouldn’t find out and try to steal his grain – an angel appeared to him. The angel addressed him as “Mighty Man of Valor” – so Gideon DID have some natural abilities and, evidently, the heart of a knight. But he lacked the vision and purpose to go with it. He asked the angel, “How come, if the Lord is with us, all these bad things have happened to us? Where are all the mighty deeds He’s supposed to have performed for His people? He has forsaken us.”
We could ask those same questions today: where is the Lord? Why is He allowing all these bad things to happen to His people: divorce, bankruptcy, alcoholism, drug addiction, rebellious kids, broken homes, divided churches, unsafe communities, a broken economy, an out-of-control government, world-wide terrorism, poverty and more? But just like the children of Israel, we only have ourselves to blame. We cannot use the excuse, “Well, we live in a fallen world. What do you expect?” No. We live in a sinful world, and WE ARE THE SINNERS. We have rebelled against God just as surely as the people of Israel did. It is not THEM – it’s US. WE are the problem.
But just as Gideon, one man, could change everything in his world just by changing his vision and purpose, so can we.
So, how did Gideon change? God said, “Go and save Israel.” Gideon responded, “How?” Then he listed for God all his deficits: “My clan is the weakest in Manasseh. I’m the least in my father’s house. I’m a nobody.” Magic words. God LOVES to use the nobodies of the world. God said, “I will be with you.”
That’s all anybody needs: to have God on his side. As we’ve heard many, many times: “God plus you makes a majority.” So stop giving a continual, running inventory of your deficits to yourself and God: “I’m not smart, I’m not pretty, I’m not rich, I’m not strong, I’m not fast, I’m not well-educated.” NEITHER WERE THE GREAT HEROES OF OLD. IF THEY HAD ANY OF THESE QUALITIES, IT WAS BECAUSE OF GOD, NOT THEM. You want to know the worst excuse of all? “I don’t have time.” What a sorry, sorry excuse, and we use it all the time.
Yes, Gideon was reluctant, and why not? He was the underdog of underdogs. So, even with God’s personal guarantee of success, he needed a sign. And God gave him one: fire sprang from a rock and consumed the meal offering he had prepared for his angel guest, after which the angel disappeared. Pretty good sign.
That night, God had Gideon destroy his father’s altar to the bull-god Baal, and use his other idols as firewood. The next morning, when everybody found out, not just Gideon’s dad was mad, but the entire town was up in arms, to the point of wanting Gideon dead. But his dad talked them out of it.
After that, the Midianites and their allies showed up wanting their usual tribute. They were actually more like the bandits in THE SEVEN SAMURAI and THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN – just more of them. They were there to rape and pillage. But this time, they faced resistance from someone other than a bunch of scared farmers. The Bible says that “the Spirit of the Lord clothed Gideon,” which is a beautiful word-picture showing that he was wearing GOD’S ARMOR. (Judges 6:34).
Gideon called his clan and tribe together, along with some of the other tribes of Israel, to fight against the Midianites. Yet, Gideon was still reluctant: he needed another sign; so he laid out his now famous fleece – twice. (Judges 6:36-40.) I don’t see this as too different from Jesus asking God to take the cup of His crucifixion from Him. If I had a job to do as big as Gideon’s, I’d want plenty of reassurance as well. Whatever it takes to get you ready to do what God has called you to do, that’s what you should do.
The Midianites had about 135,000 soldiers to Israel’s 32,000 militiamen, who were really just soldier-farmers. But God thought these odds were too easy; so He had Gideon send 22,000 of his men home. That made 135,000 to 10,000: 13.5 to 1 odds. Still too many from God’s perspective, so He had Gideon test his men: they were to show how they drank water from a stream. If they knelt when they drank – which indicated they probably had had a lot of experience kneeling, especially to pagan gods – they were rejected. But if they laid down and lapped the water like a dog, which indicated that they hadn’t, they were accepted. There were only 300 that lapped like dogs, but those were the ones God chose. Now the odds were 450 to 1.
God won’t use the unfaithful or the impure of heart to do His great works of deliverance, which may explain why there are so few miracles being done in America today. We have sold our souls to our idols. We, for the most part, are among the 9,700 who knelt to drink. But that is not a condition that is irreversible. God can make us faithful, He can make us pure. But we have to trust Him and stop trusting our idols.
Now, don’t talk to me about the 300 SPARTANS. I know they were tremendously brave, well-seasoned fighters, standing against a couple million Persians and their allies at Thermopylae. But that’s the problem: they were well-seasoned fighters. These guys from Israel were farmers. Plus, THE 300 SPARTANS DIDN’T WIN – THE 300 ISRAELITES DID. The 300 Spartans, as wonderful as they were, were flesh standing against flesh. The 300 Israelites were spirit standing against flesh. God made the difference against the Midianites. Had He been at Thermopylae with the 300 Spartans, He would have made the difference there as well.
No, it wasn’t by the might of those 300 Israelites that God defeated the Midianites. He had a much more clever plan in mind: get the Midianites to kill each other. And that’s what happened: with their 300 lanterns and their 300 trumpets, they caused so much confusion in the Midian camp that the Midianites turned on each other and began slaying their fellow soldiers. That was God’s idea, and it’s a great example of the difference between how God saves and how Man saves. Man would NEVER have thought of that. That strategy doesn’t exist in any strategy book on the planet.
120,000 of the enemy died at the hand of their comrades. The remaining 15,000 fled, were pursued by the Israelites, and, I assume, either killed or scattered. At least we know that the Israelites captured the two kings of Midian and killed them, which brought about 40 years of peace in Israel.
So what happened to Gideon after this? The men of Israel wanted to make him their ruler; but he responded to their offer by saying, “The Lord will rule over you.” (Judges 8:23) How many of us would have responded that way? They were offering him fame, fortune and power, and he turned them down. I can just hear his wife: “You fool! We would have been set for life! Your family would have been at the top of the social register. No more farming. I married an idiot!” Actually, I doubt that. I’ll bet he had a better wife than that.
Gideon’s response showed his pureness of heart, a heart that was focused on God. The people thought Gideon was SOMEBODY; but Gideon knew he was still a NOBODY. Only now, he had a friend in the Lord, the only SOMEBODY in the Universe. Instead of giving Gideon glory and honor, he wanted the people to give it to God. That’s very different than accepting an honor and saying, “I’d just like to thank Jesus for this.” It’s the equivalent of saying, “I can’t accept this honor because I don’t deserve it. If you want to honor someone, honor Jesus, because He DOES deserve it.” I’ve never heard that, and I probably never will; but if I do, I’ll fall out of my chair and praise God until the cows come home because an individual will have finally gotten it. ALL HONOR BELONGS TO CHRIST.
We’re just like the Israelites. We want to honor and glorify PEOPLE. We have so many award ceremonies today, it’s becoming ridiculous. We actually believe the people who receive those awards are SOMEBODIES. They’re not. We fear and worship THEM rather than God, the only SOMEBODY in the Universe. “The Lord is a Warrior. The Lord is His name.” (Exodus 15:3) He is the One who fights our battles. He is our Ruler. He deserves our worship and praise.
Eventually Gideon returned home – back to farming, back to his normal lifestyle. He had seventy sons and lived to a ripe old age. But there’s a tragic twist to his story – not for him, necessarily, but for his family and his people. First, unwittingly and unwisely, Gideon had a golden ephod (priest’s vestment) made from the golden earrings taken from the Midianites, in order to memorialize their victory. The people ended up making an idol of it. Though Gideon’s intentions were good, this was not God’s idea, so it had disastrous results. It’s a foreshadowing of what would happen with King Saul, a man full of good intentions, but totally and absolutely wrong.
Second, the people forgot about the Lord and how He had delivered them from the Midianites. Evidently the ephod didn’t work! And they forgot about Gideon and how God had used him in that deliverance. It’s amazing how short the memories of people in the Bible are. It’s amazing how short OUR memories are! Which says something about God’s patience. All He ever says is, “Remember, remember, remember.” If we can just remember to do that!
And third, of Gideon’s 70 sons, one of them, Abimelech, slaughtered all his brothers (except for one that escaped) so that he could be ruler of his people. NOT LIKE HIS DAD AT ALL, WAS HE. One wonders how such great men could have such lousy sons; but King David had the same problem, as do many parents today. You can also ask yourself, how did such lousy parents, like Gideon’s, have such a wonderful son? I think parents take far too much credit and far too much blame for their children. God is going to do with a child what he wants to do regardless of how badly a parent screws up or how good a job they do.
Gideon did finally got honored, but not by man: by God – he’s listed in God’s Hall of Faith, which is Hebrews 11. That is worth far more than all the accolades Man can give. God honors those who honor Him. (I Samuel 2:30) Gideon certainly did. If you’d like to read about Gideon and how he trusted God, he’s in Judges 6-8.
So, what’s the point? The point is, if Gideon could do what he did back in the days of the Judges, how much more ought we be able to do today; since we are not only clothed in the Spirit of Christ, as Gideon was, but have His Spirit IN us as part of our very being. We can trust God because we have the faith of Christ, even if we’re reluctant at first, as Gideon was. We can have a vision for our lives, like Gideon, because God has spelled out that vision in the Bible. And we can have a pure heart, the way Gideon did, because God is working in us to sanctify us and make us holy as He is Holy. We just need to cooperate in that process. But it’s all there. Reluctant or not, we can be warriors like Gideon because “The Lord is a Warrior. The Lord is His name.” And He will be with us, as He was with Gideon.
Waitsel Smith, July 5, 2010
Text © 2010 Waitsel Smith. All Rights Reserved.